It is time to stand up for socialism!

Submitted by Matthew on 11 May, 2016 - 2:51 Author: Editorial

All in all, Labour didn't do too badly in the 5 May elections.

Everything was weighted against them. The media had its own anti-Labour agenda and tried to force events into its own pre-set patterns. It spent much of its time discussing Jeremy Corbyn and who liked him and didn't like him.

A big chunk of Labour's Blairite right wing behaved as if they were trying to whip up an electoral catastrophe for the party. Some who claim to be on the left, notably Ken Livingstone, behaved in the same way. Labour's Compliance Unit continued to behave like the Red Queen in Alice: Off with their heads! To get someone of Muslim background elected as mayor of London was, in these circumstances, an achievement in itself.

Nobody sensible would argue that elections, winning elections, beating the Tories, is not important to the Labour Party and the labour movement. Unfortunately, a lot of otherwise sensible people argue, or thoughtlessly assume, that winning elections is the central and all-defining thing for the labour movement irrespective of whether, having beaten the Tories, we have a political alternative to Toryism and Blair-Brownism. There is only one segment of the labour movement for which such an approach makes any sense: the give me a job political careerists. But those people are allowed to set the tone and the pace.

They and the media comment on political questions and on the performance of Labour politicians as if they were talking about football and football management, or reviewing a film: how was so-and-so's performance? do you think this policy is a vote-winner or not? That is the media's way these days of controlling the political agenda, focusing it on its chosen concerns, defocusing it from everything else, stifling discussion on serious political questions or, often, making it more or less impossible.

But political parties don't just exist to win elections and good jobs for slavering political careerists. Serious political parties have another, all-determining political purpose: to shape, educate, and call into being support for what they think are important ideas of public policy. The Labour Party, and trade union leaders like Ernest Bevin, did that in the years following the defection of Labour's leaders, MacDonald and Snowden, to the Tories in 1931, and Labour's crushing defeat in the general election that followed. They worked to elaborate an alternative to the dominant bourgeois economic wisdoms, and to shape public opinion to support that alternative. If they hadn't done that, the modern welfare state, and specifically the National Health Service, wouldn't have been won in 1945 and after.

And not just the Labour Party: serious bourgeois politicians have often done the same thing. When in 1885-6 the Liberal leader and prime minister William Ewart Gladstone became convinced that Home Rule for Ireland was necessary and just, he campaigned at giant mass meetings all over the country to convince his party and the electorate. A Home Rule Bill was defeated in 1886, and Gladstone lost power. By 1893 he was able to get a majority for Home Rule in the House of Commons. The Lords then had an absolute veto, and used it to scuttle Home Rule.

Or take Joseph Chamberlain, the Liberal Imperialist who broke with Gladstone over Home Rule and joined the Tories to form a Unionist party. When Chamberlain become convinced that free trade should end and be replaced by a system of Empire Free Trade (tariffs on trade outside the British Empire), he did what Gladstone had done: he launched a campaign to shape opinion for the policy he thought right and necessary.

The notion that political parties exist at all times primarily to win elections, on any terms, cuts them off from one of the great historical functions of serious political parties. The Tories can do that without thereby putting out their own social and political eyes. For them, policy is hammered out, opinion formed and shaped, reformed and reshaped, by the serious bourgeois press, the Economist, the Financial Times, through to the Guardian on the left. The labour movement and the Labour Party, in so far as they aspire to anything outside the contemporary bourgeois consensus, can't do like the Tories, and for policy feed off existing bourgeois opinion.

The media at the other end of the spectrum from the serious press, the Sun and Daily Express end, function as ideological thugs to beat down any stirrings of thought independent of the bourgeois norms, using demagogy, caricature, misrepresentation, and downright lies to shape public opinion to the needs of the bourgeoisie.

The Labour Party leaders should launch a great campaign against the policies and values of Toryism and for the central ethos of the labour movement and the socialist working class: solidarity. It will not necessarily be the sort of socialism that would satisfy Marxists like those who publish this paper. But a campaign for the ideas of social responsibility, against the present-day rule of, by, and for the rich; a campaign to defend the NHS; an educational campaign about the inadequacies of present-day democracy and for real improvements in it: -- all those and many other issues can and should be proclaimed and fought for by the Labour Party.

Much of the work that prepared public opinion for what Labour did in the 1940s was done in the 1930s by campaigning socialists, including Labour leaders. We have made such suggestions in this paper over the last few months. If the Labour leaders can't and won't do it, then the rank and file must act independently. We need to put together a broad socialist coalition to educate public opinion about socialist ideas and anti-capitalist ideas and possibilities.

Setting up this campaign, and preventing from being aborted at the start by disputes over fine points of policy, would be a task to daunt Karl Marx himself. Yet we need to do it. If the labour movement does not move forward from Corbyn's victory, then it may regress. The left has not for decades had such a chance as it has now. We must not miss the tide. If we do, it may not come again for decades.

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