We will be discussing this key question on Wednesday September 28 at our ‘Future of the Left’ event – get your tickets here to watch the livestream or join us in person in Liverpool! Here is a sneak preview of the different positions put forward by Graham Bash, Chris Williamson, Roger Silverman and Kevin Bean
Now is not the time to leave the Labour Party! says Graham Bash, previous editor of Labour Briefing Magazine
Context is everything. The Tories have just made what is a rare but decisive error in electing Truss as leader.
This means a crisis not just for the Tories – but for Labour too. Starmer is now more likely than not to form a Labour government within the next two years.
Starmer would come to office in the midst of an acute economic and cost of living crisis – without any effective programme to solve that crisis in the interests of the working class. That means conflict with the trade unions – just at a time of resurgence of trade union militancy.
So the stage is set for a major conflict between a Starmer-led neo-liberal Labour government and the trade unions – an acute form of class struggle.
This period could well define the future of the Labour Party and the nature of its historic relationship with the trade unions.
Now is not the time to leave the Labour Party! Now is not the time to step aside from what could be a momentous battle!
Build the resistance within the trade unions and beyond – and let us unite to face what may be the last fight for the future of the Labour Party.
The Labour Party has always been a tool of the establishment rather than a tribune of the people, says Chris Williamson, former Labour Party MP
Its senior figures have continually been more interested in reassuring the ruling elites than in kicking over the traces to deliver a socialist alternative to the capitalist and imperialist status quo.
Philip Snowden, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the first minority Labour Government, that was elected almost a century ago, summed up the party’s contempt for socialism that has prevailed ever since. He said “We might use the opportunity for a demonstration and introduce some bold socialist measures, knowing, of course, that we should be defeated upon them. Then we could go to the country with this illustration of what we would do if we had a socialist majority. This was a course which had been urged by the extreme wing of the party, but it was not a policy which commended itself to reasonable opinion. I urged very strongly to this meeting that we should not adopt an extreme policy but should confine our legislative proposals to measures that we were likely to be able to carry. We must show the country that we were not under the domination of the wild men”
Even the 1945 Labour Government failed to go as far as it could have done on the domestic front, and its foreign policy was positively imperialist. Nye Bevan, who spearheaded Labour’s greatest achievement by founding the NHS, instructed local authorities to cut off gas and electricity to premises being squatted by homeless ex-servicemen and their families after WW2.
But many people stuck with the party, content with some crumbs from the table in the naïve belief that Labour was a democratic institution, and that its members could steer the party towards socialism. We just needed to recruit sufficient numbers of people who believed in a progressive socialist alternative.
Then along came Jeremy Corbyn, and we achieved the mass party many of us had yearned for. But even with a left-wing leader and mass membership, the party was still controlled by right-wingers committed to protecting the economic and foreign policy status quo.
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi’s election to Labour’s NEC will make no difference whatsoever to the direction of the party. In fact it’s worse than that. Pyrrhic victories like Naomi’s offer false hope, and encourage people to waste yet more time trying to push Labour to the left. An impossible task. Furthermore, by remaining inside the Labour Party, socialists and trade unionists are giving cover to Sir Keir Starmer and his cronies. It is an entirely abusive relationship. The party’s elites protect the interests of corporate capitalism and hostile foreign powers like Israel, while simultaneously attacking socialists, trade unionists and anti-imperialists.
Comparisons with Labour’s previous right-wing leaders like Blair, Kinnock and Callaghan are invalid, because we hadn’t gone through the experience of the Corbyn project back then. We now know, from the light of experience, that delivering even a modest form of socialism and anti-imperialism via the Labour Party is impossible.
Labour is there to give the illusion of democratic choice to the electorate. By continuing to urge people to support the Labour Party undermines the very meaning of democracy.
The Labour Party is well and truly dead as a vehicle for socialism; our job is to bury it for the good of humanity.
Not yet, says Kevin Bean, expelled secretary of Liverpool Wavertree CLP
Although the recent election of Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi to Labour’s NEC was a rare piece of good news for the left, many argue that the continued stranglehold of the Labour right means that Labour is now dead as a working-class party. They point to Keir Starmer’s continued shift to the right and the strains between the party leadership and the trade unions as evidence that we need a new party that can offer a socialist alternative to the Tories and capitalism.
Keir Starmer may be the one of the most right-wing leaders in the history of the party, but he is by no means unique in that regard. Remember Tony Blair or James Callaghan in the 1970s? What about Ramsay MacDonald in 1931? These are just some of the long line of careerists who have made Labour a reliable second eleven for capitalism since the party’s foundation in 1900.
Likewise, the current weakness of the left in the party is not that unusual. Again, think historically. There has never been a golden age for the Labour left. The left was under the cosh during the Blair years and the right has always been dominant in the PLP, the party bureaucracy and amongst the trade union leadership. While the 1970s and 1980s, like the Corbyn years, saw the growth of the left in the CLPs and at conference, Kinnock’s counter-attack from 1985 onwards only paved the way for Blair and the New Labour reactionaries in the 1990s and 2000s.Corbynism was the exception, not the rule, in Labour’s history. So, given this dismal record for socialism in the Labour Party shouldn’t we just give it up as a bad job altogether?
Agreed that both the record of both Labour leaders and Labour governments in siding with capitalism and attacking the working class is pretty dreadful, but, no matter bad the party has proven to be, socialists in Britain cannot simply wish Labour out of existence. Historically, Labour has been a contradictory party with an openly pro-capitalist leadership with close ties to the establishment and a base rooted in the organised working -class through the trade unions.
Despite the recent strains in that relationship, it is likely to continue, if only because the union leaders believe that it’s possible to do business with a Labour government and make some gains for their members. So, because of this trade union link, many working class people continue to see Labour as their party, and , as history has shown, when they want radical change, they move into the Labour party.
However, as the Corbyn period showed , this is not an automatic process producing a serious and consistent left-wing capable of transforming Labour into an instrument for socialist politics. The housetrained ‘official left’ , tamed in Momentum and the Socialist Campaign Group, preferred surrender to a battle with the Labour right. No , this transformation not only demands taking the fight to the pro-capitalists and driving them out of our movement, but also reforging Labour as a united front of all socialist and working-class organisations. That’s vital because its only with such a re-founded movement that we really could begin to build a militant working-class party committed to overturning capitalism and the struggle for socialism internationally.
Labour has been twitching on its deathbed for a quarter of a century, infected by a fatal plague, says Roger Silverman. It managed one last brief heroic rally, but it has finally succumbed.
Labour was founded as the political voice of the trade unions. Even prior to its adoption of a socialist programme, Lenin had recommended its affiliation to the Socialist International on the grounds that “Labour may not recognise the class struggle, but the class struggle will inevitably recognise the Labour Party.”
And so it proved. In 1918, under the impact of the Russian revolution, Labour adopted its socialist Clause Four. And at that party conference it pledged to “play no role in reconstituting or defending capitalism” and to enact “fundamental redistribution of power from the bosses to the working class”.
Clause Four remained the stated goal of the Labour Party for the following 76 years. When the right-wing Labour leader, Gaitskell (a precursor of Blair) tried to remove it in 1959, he was blocked by a furious revolt from the ranks of the CLPs and affiliated trade union branches.
True, Labour’s own anthem acknowledged the party’s infestation (“let cowards flinch and traitors sneer”), but it retained its nominal socialist objective until 1994, when it finally succumbed to seizure by a crypto-Tory clique masquerading under the label New Labour.
Blair’s first act on becoming leader (under Rupert Murdoch’s patronage) was to convene a special conference to remove Clause Four, as a guarantee to the ruling class that they would no longer even pretend to aspire to change society.
Having languished for years under New Labour, in 2015 the left won the leadership and there was a surge in membership. But the right wing tightened its grip on the parliamentary party which actively undermined Jeremy, and retained control of the party machine which sabotaged its work.
Due to an arrogant blunder, the right wing had deluded themselves that opening the floodgates to non-members would guarantee them victory. They will never again make that mistake. In future elections they will once again change the rules to suit their interests.
The idea that “our time will come” is wrong. Our time did come… and went.
That’s why a split is inevitable and long overdue. A one-sided split is being ruthlessly enforced by the right wing. They are hell-bent on a mass purge. Thousands of activists are being “terminated”, and hundreds of thousands have left the party in despair.
Britain is entering a period of unprecedented class struggles. The creation of a genuine workers’ party is urgent.
No individual, no matter how charismatic, can create such a party out of thin air. The stage is littered with previous failed attempts.
Several trade unions are questioning the purpose of their affiliation to Starmer’s pale Tory party. There is an urgent need to campaign for a decisive break with Labour, rally the currently homeless former left activists, and launch a mass left alternative.