Labour, the Left and the Need For Unity, Whoever Wins The Leadership Race

In the middle of August, I received an email from the Labour Party informing me that my application to rejoin the party, submitted on the morning of May 8th when I woke late, hungover and in despair at the prospect of five more years of David Cameron, had been rejected by the NEC. The reason for this electronic blackballing was "We have reason to believe that you do not support the aims and values of the Labour Party or you are a supporter of an organisation opposed to the Labour Party,” which I presume was because I stood for Trade Unionists and Socialist Coalition against the Labour Party in the Dene Ward of Newcastle City Council in the May 2014 elections; a course of action I came to bitterly regret. It would be inaccurate to say my membership had simply lapsed, as the last year I had paid my annual subs would have been 1984, partly out of disgust with Neil Kinnock’s point blank refusal to back the National Union of Miners during the strike, partly because I’d moved away from the Militant dominated Felling ward in the Gateshead East constituency where I grew up.

However there was also an ideological element to my decision, for as soon as I read Socialist Standard, the journal of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, I realised that the nonsensical, reformist Leninist belief in vanguardism that Militant zealots endlessly parroted (when they weren’t trying to bleed people dry for the “fighting fund”) was plain wrong. Immediately I understood the full meaning of the declaration of principles of the SPGB, I realised I had found an explanation of not just why, but how the world could be transformed. The SPGB vision didn’t involve autocratic, absolutist leaders requiring disciples to fund the lavish lifestyles of the vanguard’s dynastic super elite. It didn’t involve violence. It didn’t involve venerating workerism to the extent that adopting anti-sexist, anti-homophobic and anti-racist attitudes was seen as evidence of being “sectarian” and “middle-class” or, worst of all, “undialectical” by “comrades” (yes, they still call themselves that, without a scintilla of irony).  Since that day in summer 1984, I have described myself as a supporter of the SPGB, rather than a member.

we are no closer to changing society than we were the day my Labour Party membership expiredSadly, I’ve come to accept that my party political activity over the past 30 years has been an abject failure. Not just my activity, but every single one of us who stood outside the Labour Party since the late 60s onwards. Instead of uniting in the only organisation capable of harnessing and mobilising mass working class support and activism, we’ve wasted decades on snide ad hominem abuse, internecine warfare and irrelevant recondite theorising. It is still happening; Owen Jones suffers the vilest slander from Militants, simply because he turned away from the grotesque parody of a “revolutionary party” he was born into. The fact is this, despite venal claims that “somebody has to be right,” which I still believe is the SPGB, we are no closer to changing society than we were the day my Labour Party membership expired.

Ultimately, while I know the SPGB and other companion parties in the World Socialist Movement are correct in their analysis of capitalism and the failings of the so-called revolutionary left in Britain, especially the Trot factions, my sense of reality, honed through many years of trade union activism, does not allow me to sacrifice pragmatism for impossibilist theory, however alluring. I cannot  fully accept the SPGB position, which states that Socialists need to be equally hostile to all other parties or to remain indifferent as to the need to strive for the best possible conditions for our members, as piecemeal reforms apparently do nothing other than perpetuate the wage system within capitalism. As regards the first of these positions, I’ve taken every single opportunity to cast my vote to the left of Labour over the past 30 years, believing that impossibilism needs to be tempered with gestures of opposition, however small or even futile. This means I’ve voted variously for: SPGB, Respect, Communist, Green and once, to my utter shame and regret, for TUSC; though in defence I was voting for myself. Not one of them has won; they’ve almost invariably finished bottom of the poll and the lot of the working classes under capitalism has not been improved one iota.

to be outside of it is a futile gesture destined to result in the political and social wildernessDespite such voting history, I’ve never given any credence to the notion that the everyone in the Labour Party is an enemy of the working class, nor have I, in all conscience, wanted anything other than a Labour government and I feel a great affinity with many of the Labour MPs in my region, showing my SPGB adherence to be either a theoretical or faint-hearted one, depending on one’s perspective. In October 2011 I went to London on union business to meet Mary Glindon, MP for North Tyneside, in the House of Commons. As it was half term, I took my son Ben down with me. He’s a Socialist by breeding and instinct, so when Mary took us out onto the terrace and we met Dennis Skinner, it made Ben’s day. When we were introduced I said to Dennis he’d always been a hero of mine. He expressed thanks but also announced “we must avoid the cult of personality. Ideas are what matters.” The power with which he delivered these words mesmerised Ben, who says that was the moment his political die was cast. I’m proud to say my son became part of the Labour Party a few days after the election as well as my partner Laura, who has never been in a political party in her life, but knows that we must all flock to Labour to save this country. To me, this mass application for new memberships following the election is incontrovertible proof that our movement must be a synonym for the Labour Party; to be outside of it is a futile gesture destined to result in the political and social wilderness.  

When I first heard of TUSC, I was naively enthused by the idea of a left of Labour coalition, probably because Bob Crow had just died and I’d found his speech at the Durham Big Meeting in 2013 utterly inspirational. Of course if Crow, whose union RMT had a policy of forming a new workers’ party to replace Labour, were around today I’m sure he would not want any dealings with the bizarre, dirigistic Leninist cult that has hijacked TUSC. Militant’s descendents are still in the business of being the Trotskyite equivalent of the Moonies or Jim Jones and the People’s Temple. Before I realised a Militant leopard never changes its spots, I stood as a TUSC candidate in the Dene ward for Newcastle City Council in 2014 and polled 180 votes, which was 6% of the total vote; it wasn’t an earthquake, but it was a respectable showing I thought. Contrast it with the fact TUSC got 170 (0.2%) votes in Newcastle East at the general election, when fielding an unquestioning devotee.  It was not just a disappointing result; it was pathetic. It was humiliating for those who continue to pretend, or even believe, that Militant are revolutionary. Or even relevant.

It does not essentially matter to me who wins the leadership election, because I still want to be in the Labour PartyThe general election result, with particular focus on TUSC’s farcical flatlining, made me rethink my whole political approach. Did I support the ideas and philosophy of the SPGB? Definitely yes. Could I see myself spending another 30 years outside of the Labour Party arguing the SPGB’s case considering how little had been achieved over the previous decades? Definitely no. This country needs massive investment in social housing, education, healthcare and welfare benefits. It does not need Trident or to reward devious, rapacious banking criminals. The only way we can possibly hope to turn the country round again is to involve ourselves in reforming the Labour Party, wresting it back from the terrible mistakes of the failed New Labour experiment and ensuring Labour stands on a socially inclusive, socially just and broadly Socialist platform in 2020.

The simple and unavoidable truth is this; the Labour Party is our only realistic hope. It is our party. It is the party of the working class, the party of trade unions and trade unionists, the only party ever to have granted us concessions to make life under capitalism bearable. Universal, free healthcare. A cradle-to-grave welfare state that protects the weak. A party that seeks to make society fair. To make citizens healthy, educated, securely housed, suitably and gainfully employed, regardless of ethnicity, nationality, class, creed or sexuality. The Labour Party did all these things in the past and it still exists. It does not essentially matter to me who wins the leadership election, because I still want to be in the Labour Party whether it is Liz Kendall or Jeremy Corbyn leading us.

The only way we can possibly hope to turn the country round again is to involve ourselves in reanimating the Labour Party, and ensuring Labour is elected in 2020 on a socially inclusive, socially just and broadly Socialist platform, which is why I successfully appealed against the NEC’s decision to exclude me from the leadership election vote.

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