Sunday, August 07, 2016
Labour needs criticism and debate
I joined the Labour Party at the age of fifteen, going to meetings of the Labour Party Young Socialists (LPYS) at which I was (initially) the only person who wasn\'t a supporter of the Militant Tendency (as it then was). I learned to argue with people to my right and people who thought they were to my left.
I learned that the Party was a contentious place, and that what it needed from its left-wing was consistent criticism as we tried to hold our leaders to account. The Party then had a socialist left-wing, engaged in political activity wishing to change the world, and a social democrat right-wing, whose focus was on winning and holding office in order to ameliorate the worst of the world around us.
We didn\'t then have a pro-market neoliberal faction, such as Progress is today, to use the Party as a career path for a caste of professional \'politicians\'. Nevertheless, we had vigorous debate and disagreement.
One of the greatest strengths of the Labour Left, in my opinion as a part of that strange political creature for more than a generation, has been our mistrust of leaders. We have a healthy desire to knock down those we have raised up, and an emphasis on accountability of the powerful which distinguishes us not just from the careerists in our own Party but from the \'democratic centralists\' (ostensibly) to our left, trapped in the various decaying remnants of twentieth century Leninism.
That is why I have not joined Momentum, an entity with no obvious internal democracy which is essentially indistinguishable from a fan club. The jury has to be out on the question of whether this top-down organisation is or will be part of the Labour Left. It\'s not just that I justifiably mistrust some leading figures in Momentum - though I do. After all, I am arguing that the authentic politics of the Labour Left is founded, in part, precisely upon mistrust of leaders.
No. There are careerists and opportunists around Momentum as there are in all spheres of political life - and they are as vile there as anywhere - but a vibrant rank and file, informed and energised by critical thought and the proper veneration of disobedience and dissent, can hold such people in check. Our current problem is that we are failing to encourage such a rank and file and to honour dissent and disagreement.
The sometimes absurdly vitriolic recent online response to the slightly silly overstatement of \'pessimism of the intellect\' from Owen Jones is one expression of this problem.
Of course it is essential to choose sides right now in defence of Jeremy Corbyn\'s leadership of the Labour Party. Owen Smith is a completely fabricated construct of the corporate interests whose expression in the Party is generally through the thoroughly anti-working-class \'Progress\' faction. Loyalty to socialism and our class requires unequivocal support for Corbyn against Smith.
Such loyalty also requires constant criticism of Corbyn as a leader, as we would expect to criticise any leader. Whilst the nonsensical \'justification\' for the pathetic choreographed resignations of Shadow Ministers (that Corbyn\'s honestly critical support for the EU is somehow responsible for Brexit) is transparently absurd, that does not mean that the best Labour Leader of my lifetime should escape criticism for the stupid decision to \'rule out\' a second referendum on the UK\'s membership of the EU.
To say that there could never be such a second referendum is as daft as the silly \'promise\' of such a second referendum from Owen Smith (who knows, of course, that he shall never be asked to keep that promise as he will never even make it to Leader of the Opposition, let alone Downing Street). Since the reactionary decision to leave the European Union is contrary to the interests of the working class (and particularly threatening to migrant workers and all those who experience racism) Corbyn was wrong to rule out the possibility of reversing this. There is no principle of socialist political thought which states that a plebisicite must always be respected.
Thankfully, the policy of the Labour Party is determined by our Conference, not our Leader (not even Jeremy) and so socialists who believe that the exit of the UK from the EU should still be frustrated if possible can continue to support the socialist (incumbent) candidate for Leader.
Owen Smith (who did far less than Corbyn to campaign for the UK to remain in the EU and - in common with the \'coup\' plotters - failed to win those who elected him to support the policy of our Party and the TUC against Brexit) is a tedious irrelevance to working class people. No socialist or genuine trade union activist would waste a moment considering a vote for that corporate lobbyist.
However, whilst giving unequivocal support to Jeremy Corbyn in the current leadership election, the true Labour Left will continue to value criticism, debate and dissent and will prepare to continue to argue hard for the interests of working class people and to hold to account all those whom we elect.
Even when we win.
Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.