The huge support for Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign for Labour leader is a reminder that what seems like an overwhelmingly dominant right-wing “consensus” in bourgeois politics can be limited and unstable. It shows that large numbers of people, including working-class and young people, want a politics that is different to, to the left of, the consensus of neo-liberalism — that the “market” must rule, the welfare state must be cut back, and getting rich is the best thing to aspire to in life.
Workers’ Liberty supporters are active in the Corbyn campaign in many areas of the country, in the trade unions, the Labour Party, Young Labour and the student movement. We urge everyone who wants to strengthen the left to join the Labour Party or register as a supporter to vote for Corbyn. But we will also be using the campaign to argue for a renewal of class-struggle and socialist politics.
Argue for class politics
Some on the left – people who have been stunned by the dominance of right-wing capitalist ideas, or grown up in a period when working-class struggle is not very strong or visible – have argued that a left politics based on class is no longer viable. That is wrong. Certainly as far as the employers who rule our society are concerned, the class struggle has not disappeared. They are highly “class conscious”, acutely aware of their collective identity and interests, and organised to ensure working-class people are low paid or impoverished and that unions are seriously limited in their power to defend workers.
To counter this, the largest possible numbers of workers – teachers and train drivers, cleaners and social workers, factory and office workers, IT workers and childminders – must become class-conscious and organised too. That is how big changes, like workers’ rights, the welfare state and NHS, and even the vote, were won in the past; it is how progress can be made now and in the future.
Conflict in the workplace between bosses and workers over wages, conditions, etc., helps drive the process of social progress, but the building of self-conscious working-class political organisations is the only way to really make progress. And those organisations will not appear overnight; they will not get built unless left-wing people and socialists intervene to make it happen.
The idea that in the past all or most workers were automatically class conscious (and ready to build organisations for political change), but now that distinct working-class consciousness is no longer possible doesn’t add up. Throughout the history of capitalism the working class has always been divided along various lines and, at least to some degree, dominated by various bourgeois ideas. There have always been working-class Tories for instance. There have been ups and downs, steps forwards and steps backwards. The ebbs and flows were dependent on the state of working-class organisation, decisively political organisation.
Constituting the working class as a conscious, united force requires strong and consistent anti-capitalist political ideas and organisation. The weakening of working-class consciousness today is a result of vicious class struggle by those with power and wealth, inflicting defeat after defeat on the labour movement. Seriously reversing those defeats requires building up working-class political confidence and consciousness in the labour movement, transforming it in the process, and in wider society. Success for the Corbyn campaign will give us opportunities to do that.
Argue for socialism
We should use those opportunities to renew and popularise socialist ideas, based on the self-liberation of the working class. This implies different politics from those argued by the mainstream of the Corbyn campaign. The campaigns' politics are, of course, radical compared to the Labour right and Corbyn should be supported for taking a strong stand against cuts, for migrants’ rights, etc. There are more radical notes in the campaign – a vision of a different society and how to get there – but they are submerged. Socialists need to turn up the volume.
If we don’t formulate and push socialist “big ideas”, in order to challenge the big ideas of the ruling class – ideas which are pushed non-stop, every day – we will not be as effective as we can be even in immediate defensive struggles. Socialist ideas are necessary to develop working-class policies and consciousness with force and clarity.
We need to argue, as clearly and loudly as possible, for socialism as a society radically different from capitalism, in which the exploiting class is abolished (as a class) and the means of producing wealth, the offices and factories and corporations, are owned collectively by the community and run for the common good.
For a Labour government with an emergency plan
Socialism will only become possible when a solid majority of the working class, and the people, are convinced of replacing capitalism and ready to make it happen. A Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn after the next election, say, could not implement socialism if it wanted to. What it could do is implement strong measures in the interests of the working class, measures to weaken the capitalists, shift the balance of power and help workers struggle.
The alternative to an Alexis Tsipras-style collapse is moving boldly to implement an “emergency plan” of anti-capitalist measures in the interests of the majority, like:
• Scrapping all anti-trade union laws;
• Public ownership of the banks and heavy taxation of the rich;
• Stopping and reversing cuts, stopping and reversing privatisation, rebuilding public services;
• A decent wage or benefits for all, abolish poverty and attack inequality;
• Stopping deportation and detention of migrants, repealing anti-immigration laws;
• Public ownership of and investment in renewable energy, transport etc to tackle climate change.
We must argue for bold campaigns around these kinds of positive pro-working class measures, not just general “anti-austerity” agitation, and for a government which serves the working class as the Tories serve the bosses.
Fight for Labour Party democracy
The call from right-wing Labour MP John Mann to suspend the leadership election in order to stop Corbyn is a reminder, if we needed it, of the New Labour machine’s total contempt for democracy. Even if Corbyn is elected, such people will not hesitate to undermine party decisions and democracy (and the party’s electoral chances) in order to unfairly take back what they have lost in a democratic fight.
The left should campaign for a thoroughgoing democratisation of party and labour movement structures, including making the nomination procedure for leadership elections more open, replacing Policy Forums by a genuinely sovereign decision-making conference, and making it much easier to replace councillors and MPs. We need to hold to account those who vote for cuts, who refuse to fight the Tories and who spit on the movement’s democracy – political representatives as well as union leaders!
We should demand more democracy in society too. We want a democratic federal republic, with re-empowered local government, more frequent elections, abolition of the monarchy and the House of Lords. Without such changes radical policies in working-class interests can be blocked far more easily.
Whether Corbyn wins or loses, all these struggles demand a renewed left, including in the Labour Party. If you are convinced by our arguments, work with and join Workers’ Liberty to help make that happen.