Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Why Socialists should be in the Labour Party.....
Currently there is a debate raging about whether it is the correct strategy to be in the Labour Party. There have been arguments which state that it is not and that the Labour Left is dead as a dodo. As a Labour Party member and a supporter of the John4Leader campaign I want to put forward my position which argues that Socialists should indeed be in the LP and campaigning for John McDonnell.
Comparisons have been made with the challenge to deputy leader by Tony Benn in 1981. There was a high groundswell of support for the Benn and figures (not precise) were around 40,000-80,000 militant activists who joined the LP and who were interested in the class struggle and supported an orientation to the labour movement.
My political background is the fourth international and during that historical period the IMG (International Marxist Group) took a position to work as entryists within the LP. The IMG took a long time to get into the LP in the early 1980’s. When it did it kinda fell in: the line did not change as the result of a conference decision and the IMG ended splitting over whether to go into the LP with a view to linking with the labour left. Certainly the tendency around Brian Grogan that wanted to have the membership to all get jobs in “industry” i.e. factories was extremely hostile to work in the LP.
The IMG thus paid with its political existence with its original ultra-left take on working in the LP. The take that the IMG had on the LP during the late 70’s and the very early 80’s was the usual one that it was a reformist dead end and that what was needed was something called a “revolutionary pole of attraction”…maybe this is a term from quantum mechanics it had little practical use in orientating or indeed attracting any of the many people coming into leftwing politics at the time.
Maybe, to jump a political era or two, Respect is what a revolutionary pole of attraction is like. The IMG, which prided itself, usually with a good deal of justification, as a political group that could analyse the political dynamics of a situation with Leninist objectivity fell into the trap that many who refuse to have anything to do with the LP do. This mistake is that because the LP is such disaster for the class we must keep ourselves pure and have nothing to do with it. This is the logic that has always underlined the position of the SWP towards the LP, although the SWP strangely likes to support left campaigns within the LP such as the Benn-Heffer campaign in the late 80’s and currently supports the John4leader campaign.
What the IMG and some of it’s successors came to realise was that the best place to challenge the politics of the LP was from within the LP, as Walter Wolfgang managed to do with one superbly timed word this is the best place from which to directly challenge LP whether in its equally rotten old or new varieties.
Within the LP there was a political space to argue for socialist politics. What I would also argue is that the Left did have an influence on the structure of the LP such as support for self-organisation and autonomous campaigns such as Women’s sections, Black sections and lesbian and gay rights. And the Left were light years ahead over these issues than the Left groups outside the Labour Party
The political situation is absolutely different but the arguments are the same. There isn’t the same large number of LP members with an orientation to the class struggle but that means the Left has to fight for change. Yes, that involves a hard slog and the long haul but the LP is an important springboard. If you go away from the Labour Movement you are striking out into nowhere fast. Again, look at Respect and the CNWP.
Figures show Labour's membership fell slightly in 2005 to 198,026, half the number of members in 1997. But so is Respect membership falling and why aren’t disillusioned LP members running into the arms of Respect or even the CNWP? They aren’t…
I don’t have the number regarding how many people have rejoined the LP due to the John4Leader campaign or whether it has regenerated LP activity. I can only use anecdotal evidence. On a personal level, the campaign has increased my interest and energised me into doing something positive. It is also worth reiterating that (yes, it was unofficial) 59% of TUC delegates at last year’s conference voted for John McDonnell as leader.
The Labour Party is still the bourgeois workers party but it does still have the link with the trade union movement though the Blairites would dearly love to wriggle free of that commitment (putting a cap on political donations which would include the trade unions).
That is why it is necessity to work within the trade union movement and the LP and preserve that link.
In conclusion, the question I want to ask socialists who are hostile to rejoining the LP is, what exactly are you doing instead? I get criticised for being a member of the “pro-war”, “neo-liberal” LP but I reject these politics and the politics of Blairism and many others do as well. I do feel like a political dissident in the LP but where else is there to go?
I am not simply arguing that it is the LP or nothing but there is a solid challenge to Blairism. To take a position that says the campaign is a dead end as McDonnell aint gonna win is daft as we know that BUT the John4Leader campaign can precisely act as a springboard and re-energise the Labour Left. Yes, the fallout from the Labour leadership challenge could have negative repercussions on the left but equally it could also be the start of something new. Something positive and dynamic maybe?
Why hang around outside when you could be inside fighting with other socialists and making a big noise in British politics?