Friday, 25 September 2015

What Can Corbyn Do? What Can the Movement Do?

What should we - supporters of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the Labour Party - want? The point of socialist politics is not to form governments on the basis that they will lead the majority of people towards some bright future, but to build confidence among working people, a confidence in the idea that they can really change things themselves, through institutions they participate in and with ideas they help develop. Of course, election victories are part of that and we should all work towards a socialist election victory. But our ends are much bigger and broader: we want to see a change across society, and to achieve this we want to help change how people think about both society and politics. We want it acknowledged by the broadest number of people possible that the present society is exploitative and, crucially, that it can and should change for the better.

Were Jeremy Corbyn to succeed in these aims, it would indeed spell the effective end of the Labour Party as we know it - not the Party as it has been since Blair or Kinnock but as it has been since its inception. For Labour is, in Cliff and Gluckstein's phrase, "the capitalist party of the working class." It is dedicated wholly to the pursuit of a few, albeit legitimate, desires of British workers via strictly electoral means, with an ideology of class "neutrality." This set up has persevered doggedly across conjunctures. But to follow such a critical position through fully we must also accept the obverse: as long as Corbyn and his followers remain fast-fixed within the confines of the old Party processes, they cannot succeed. For the very electoral logic they pursue must necessarily dismantle the broader program for systemic change that has propelled them this far. 

From this perspective the crux is neither to prioritise victory within the Labour Party (winning over MPs through compromising and inclusive measures) nor to win "the electorate" in the abstract, but to encourage the mobilisation of working people as a group with their own distinctive needs and powers, armed with alternative institutions to those of the ruling class. A movement conscious of its goals and challenges is always the priority. 

Corbyn's attempts to win over sections of the Labour Party are necessary for fostering a wider politicisation; they are also far from the whole story. Of course, convincing, radical policy platforms and parliamentary victories are necessary. However, the momentum can only continue if these "official" political events bounce dialectically off extra-parliamentary developments. Leadership must mean the power to drive social developments in a direction of political intensification. Meanwhile, working people must drive towards articulating socialist goals in the spaces cleared by the leadership. The two must drive each other forward. Without such an interaction between extra-parliamentary protest and the leadership (which means an ability to listen and react to new developments on both sides), this whole thing is doomed.

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