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Corbyn – Marxist Party still a necessity

Nick Rogers’ excellent article [1] in this issue describes the massive and unexpected impact that Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign for leader of the Labour Party has had.

From only getting onto the ballot paper with the nominations of some of his political opponents in the parliamentary Labour Party – the so-called ‘morons’ – his campaign has erupted into a mass movement inside and outside the Labour Party. He is now expected to win. No one predicted this.

However, we in the Independent Socialist Network have long argued that there is an enormous reservoir of support in society for socialist ideas. There are tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of older people who grew up with socialist ideas who have been disappointed by their absence from public discourse and practice over the last thirty years. At the other end of the generational spectrum there are tens of thousands of radicalised young people, horrified at the effects of Tory and Labour austerity politics and of capitalism. All of this latent support has been looking for a way to express itself.

It should be remembered that left-wing Labour MP John McDonnell failed to even get on the ballot paper for the leadership contest in 2007 and that in the 2010 leadership ballot Diane Abbott was eliminated in the first round with only 7.4%. So to be talking about the possibility of Corbyn winning in the first round on this occasion is a remarkable turnaround.

It can only be explained, in my opinion, by the combination of frustration at Labour’s defeat in the 2015 general election and the support for anti-austerity parties in the UK and abroad. There was already an influx of new members to the Labour Party following the election defeat and before the leadership ballot was announced. Many people, especially young people, wanted to do something to prevent a further Tory victory. Applications to join the party increased once Corbyn obtained enough nominations to get onto the ballot paper. This wouldn’t have happened if the Labour right had not extended the right to vote to ‘supporters’ in the new ‘primary’ voting set-up, a step that has backfired massively. The success of the SNP with its ostensible opposition to austerity clearly had a huge impact, despite the fact that the SNP is implementing austerity policy in local government. Many, no doubt, saw the opportunity of doing in England and Wales around Corbyn what the SNP had achieved in Scotland.

Corbyn’s support must be seen in the context of the SNP surge, support for Syriza in Greece, the rise of Podemos in Spain and discussions about socialism around the Bernie Sanders campaign in the USA. It is reflective of a growing global desire for an alternative after decades of being told that there isn’t one.

With the abandonment by the Labour Party of any serious working-class politics over the last thirty years and its enthusiastic adoption of neo-liberalism and austerity politics it should have been possible to build an openly and unashamedly socialist party of a substantial size. The objective obstacles in accomplishing this have been the monolithic dominance of the Labour Party in the labour movement and, consequently, in elections. Unlike France, Italy, Spain, Greece and other countries, Britain has no tradition of having two large workers’ parties, one social democratic, one Communist (Stalinist), making the idea of standing candidates against Labour seem outlandish and divisive. This has been reinforced by the British electoral system, with its ‘first past the post’, making it almost impossible for a small socialist party to make any headway.

These problems have been compounded by self-destructive traits within the British socialist left. The attempts to build a socialist party to the left of Labour have repeatedly stumbled, for a variety of reasons. These include the refusal of the biggest socialist organisations – the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party – to allow the development of anything that they couldn’t control; the reluctance of many Marxists to argue for their own ideas; the internecine hostilities prevalent in the Marxist left. Consequently, each successive attempt to build such a party has floundered and then failed. It is now quite possible, if not likely, that Left Unity and TUSC will follow suit.

Into the Labour Party or not

There are some who will remind us that they have always argued the impossibility of building anything of significance independent of the Labour Party. I don’t agree with that. The Labour Party has never been a socialist party and so cannot be reclaimed for socialism. Nor do I believe that the Labour Party can be won to socialism. That would mean a complete break with its entire history, which shows that it has always been an unsavoury mixture of liberalism and reformist socialism. This form of socialism was expressed either as something that would emerge out of gradual reforms to the present capitalist system leading to its transformation into its opposite (this version at least had the positive feature of aspiring to a different form of society), or stayed at the level of seeking reforms within capitalism and seeking to manage it in a ‘fairer’ way. Inevitably the former always collapsed into the latter. Over the last thirty years most Labour leaders didn’t mention socialism at all – none aspired to end capitalism. The Labour Party remains a workers’ party with a long history of advocating and implementing capitalist politics – a capitalist workers’ party.

The enthusiastic response to the Corbyn campaign will give added resolve to those who argue that Marxists should abandon their ‘ridiculous’ and ‘unachievable’ aim of creating a socialist party independent of the Labour Party. It may lead some Marxists to agree with them and sign up to become Labour Party members. We certainly need a thorough debate on the Marxist left about the tasks that face us. I do not agree, even at this time of widespread enthusiasm for Corbyn and his anti-austerity programme, that the role of Marxists is to build the Labour Party. I think that it remains and must remain the building of a socialist party. By that I mean a party that commits itself to the goal of socialism, breaking fundamentally with capitalism. It means a party based on the ideas of Marxism – not its Stalinist or euro-communist bastardisation but a genuinely democratic and open party in which debate, discussion and controversy about the unfolding events can flourish.

Those who are active Marxists in the Labour Party or who will now join it must have a clear political and collective task not only to defend Corbyn and his supporters against the attacks from the right but also to advocate a clear Marxist programme in contrast to Corbyn’s left social democratic platform, so that a large body of organised socialists emerges from this process. In this Marxists both inside the Labour Party and outside can and should collaborate. The emergence of mass support for an anti-austerity politics is something to be excited and enthused about. It must be defended, supported and encouraged. But the thousands who have rallied to Corbyn have done so because they want an effective alternative to austerity. Marxists have a duty to point out the inadequacies of ‘Corbynomics’ and of the rest of his programme. We must, therefore, engage sympathetically but critically with Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters.

It is clear from any reading of Jeremy Corbyn’s policy documents, his speeches and media interviews that he has a left-wing programme that will resonate with millions of ordinary working class people. My own view is that if Corbyn is elected leader then Labour will perform better in the local elections next year and possibly beyond, up to the 2020 general election. It is for this reason that the right-wing media and the right wing in the Labour Party are apoplectic with fear of the consequences. They are petrified of an electrified electorate voting for an end to austerity, an end to making “the poorest and most vulnerable” pay for the economic crisis, an end to British involvement in wars, cancelling Trident and to renationalise British Rail and the energy companies. All of this could lead people to want more of the same: and so Corbyn must be stopped.

But it is equally clear that Corbyn’s programme is inadequate. His programme owes a lot to the old Alternative Economic Strategy of the late 1970s and early 1980s, to Bennism and the old Tribune group. In fact, it isn’t perhaps even as radical as the AES. It isn’t as left-wing as the 1983 Labour Party manifesto, which was famously but wrongly denigrated by Labour MP Gerald Kaufman as being “the longest suicide note in history’. They argued, for example, for more extensive public ownership than is being advocated by Corbyn and a more radical progressive taxation system to make the richest 100,000 individuals “make a proper contribution to tax revenue,” along with “capital taxes to reduce the huge inequalities in inherited wealth”.

More relevant is perhaps to compare it with Greece. Syriza’s initial programme, called for a cancellation of the national debt, the nationalisation of the banks and a reversal of the privatisation programme. All of this ended in complete capitulation to the European Troika earlier this year when, despite the Greeks voting 60% to reject the imposed austerity, Syriza’s leader and Prime Minister Tsipras led his party to vote with the right-wing parties to accept it. Syriza is now embarking on a massive privatisation programme[i] [2]. This capitulation can be understood only if it is recognised that Tsipras and his supporters in the leadership of Syriza were exposed with no programme, and no resolve, to break fundamentally with capitalism. They relied on their negotiating skills rather than on the Greek working class. As the English proverb has it, “Fine words butter no parsnips”. Deeds count.

Is Corbyn ‘extreme’?

It is interesting to note that there is no critique of capitalism in any of Corbyn’s policy statements. There is criticism of austerity and of privatisation as being ‘ideologically driven” without recognising that these policies are driven by capitalism itself. The words ‘socialism’ and ‘socialist’ do not feature on his leadership campaign website[ii] [3].

There are plenty of mainstream economists who argue that Corbynomics are not ‘extreme’ but, like themselves, ‘mainstream’. And they are right. Corbyn himself writes, “Opposition to austerity is now mainstream economics, and even supported by the IMF.”[iii] [4]

Of course, there are differences within the international strategists of capital. The IMF has been critical of some of the austerity measures imposed by the European Troika on Greece. It has argued for some debt relief. But the fact that Corbyn can point to the IMF and mainstream capitalist economists for support shows how much his programme is one to manage capitalism, not to end it.

It is naïve in the extreme to believe that anything that the IMF does or advises is for any other reason than to protect the capitalist system it is designed to defend and manage. The IMF has had no difficulty in imposing horrendous austerity packages on different counties around the world in the interests of its imperialist patrons. If it criticised the harshness of the austerity imposed on Greece it was only because they realised the danger that its creditors would get nothing if the Troika pressed too hard and Greece was forced to default entirely. Better to ease up, get something, than press too far and get nothing at all. The IMF is no friend of the working class in Greece or anywhere else.

Corbyn argues for “a strategic approach in which business, the state and the population work co-operatively to create wealth; and for that wealth to reach all sections of society and all regions and nations of our country”.[iv] [5] He states that “wealth creation is a collective process between workers, public investment and services and, yes, often innovative and creative individuals”.[v] [6] He goes on to say, “We all want the deficit closed on the current budget, but there was no need to try to do it within an artificial five years or even the extra five years George Osborne mapped out (in his Budget of 8 July 2015)… (I)f the deficit has been closed by 2020 and the economy is growing, then Labour should not run a current budget deficit – but we should borrow to invest in future prosperity”[vi] [7]. “Labour will close the budget deficit through building a strong growing economy that works for all.” This will be achieved through the creation of a National Investment Bank, clamping down on tax avoidance and evasion and ‘quantitative easing for the people instead for the banks.”[vii] [8]

Firstly, there is much that is positive in Corbyn’s programme[viii] [9]. Socialists support any and all policies that throw the burden of the crisis onto business rather than onto the working class. But Corbyn clearly anticipates the continuation of a role for capitalist business, working co-operatively with government and the workforce to produce wealth. This is simply a reversion to the social democratic ‘mixed economy’ of the post-war period, without acknowledging the changed economic circumstances now. More fundamentally, it fails to acknowledge that business exists solely to make a profit, which it does by exploiting its workforce. There can be no co-operation with the capitalist class by the working class in its own exploitation. The wealth produced by this exploitation is the property of the capitalist, not the worker who simply gets her wages in order to carry on being exploited the next week. Socialists should not be advocating any such collaboration or co-operation. Instead, we should be calling for an end to the exploitative capital-labour relationship entirely and the creation of genuine cooperation on the basis of democratic common ownership of society’s productive resources.

Corbyn’s reference to closing the deficit accepts that the deficit must be closed. But he criticises Osborne’s unnecessary haste in doing so. Corbyn does not commit to restoring the cuts made over the past twenty or thirty years by both Tory and Labour governments. He seems to accept that the national debt must be paid off. He looks to the private banking/financial sector to lend money to a future Labour government. Much of the deficit is interest payments to the banking sector for government loans, along with capital repayments. Why should the majority in society continue to accept this? Why should we all be paying to the capitalist financial institutions when they have been fleecing us for decades, in not centuries? They have had their time and their enjoyment – at our expense – for far too long. These institutions should be taken into public ownership, without compensation, and the national debt should be abolished – putting an end to the repayments once and for all.

Instead, Corbyn seems content to retain a (smallish) holding in the Royal Bank of Scotland and possibly in Lloyds. The rest of the banking system will remain unchanged, i.e. in private hands, ready to encourage and participate in the mass exploitation of the global working class in the interests of their small group of owners.

Corbyn’s reliance on ‘quantitative easing for the people’ is another mirage. Quantitative easing as practised by the capitalist banking system amounts to printing money to pump into the banking system in the hope that it will be borrowed by capitalists to invest in new production. Corbyn’s twist on this is to try prime the system through a state National Investment Bank, which would be similarly financed by the Bank of England buying government bonds (possibly also buying bonds from local authorities and similar institutions). Unlike QE as presently operated the investment would be directed to specific projects of benefit to the public. But private companies will still be required to fulfil the contracts and will only do so if they can be guaranteed a ‘reasonable’ profit. So the government’s NIB will be used to subsidise profit for the private sector. And at some stage the bonds will have to be repaid, with the burden falling on national and/or local taxpayers.

The US Federal Reserve, the UK Bank of England and other state central banks have resorted to quantitative easing to try to kick start their domestic and the global economies since the crash of 2008. It hasn’t worked. As Marxist economist Michael Roberts has repeatedly argued[ix] [10], quantitative easing may have stabilised the banking system but it has signally failed to reboot the economy.

It doesn’t matter how much money the banks have to lend to business investors if those investors don’t see any possibility of a profit sufficient enough to pay off the loan and have enough left for further investment and personal consumption.

Why should it be different if the government pumps money into projects itself? Businesses may take advantage of government paid contracts, but only if they can extract a good price out of which they can make a profit. And once the contract is finished, why should they continue to invest unless the possibility of a profitable project again appears.

The Corbyn strategy relies on the state rebooting the economy, rather than private capital. This, in itself, is a recognition of the historical bankruptcy of capitalism. If it cannot sustain production capitalism must be consigned to history and a new system established. Capitalism is now an impediment to the creation of wealth. Look at the 25% unemployment in Spain or Greece (50% of young people); at the billions globally who do not work or do not work regularly. Capitalism has squandered that productive capacity. It is lost forever.

Why compensate the leeches?

Instead of proposing a National Investment Bank and partial public ownership of one or two banks, why not propose to take the whole of the banking and finance system, including pensions and insurance, into democratic public ownership, with no compensation? Likewise, the construction and supply sector. Why pay money to private companies to do what could be done in the public interest by the public, if everything was publicly owned and run. Cut out the private sector altogether.

There is a similar reticence in respect of transport and energy. Corbyn rightly calls for the renationalisation of the rail network. But he would look to compensate those who would be ‘bought out’. Similarly with the Big Six energy companies. But why compensate any of these individuals or institutions who have benefitted in unimaginable terms from their ownership of these privatised entities? They have been more than adequately compensated and these institutions, along with the rest of big business should be taken into democratic public ownership. Public ownership would have to be genuinely democratic, run in the interests of all, rather than bureaucratically run in the interests of the private sector, as in the past.

The Private Finance Initiative (PFI) is a massive drain on the NHS. NHS trusts are collapsing under the burden of debt. Corbyn rightly wants to end this situation but his solution is to buy them out “which might cost a fortune but that might save money in the end”[x] [11]. His proposal is to create a fund to pay off the PFI debt. How will this be achieved? This only passes the debt from one part of the government books (the NHS) to another. Where is the money to pay off this enormous debt going to come from? Ultimately from you and me, as taxpayers. As with Rail and Energy and the National Debt, the PFI debt should simply be expunged. The NHS leeches have sucked enough life blood out of our healthcare system. They should get no more. Only in this way can society be relieved of the massive burden of debt, allowing the resources of the economy be utilised for what we need, not to finance debt that goes to a tiny handful of individuals.

We need a system that utilises all the productive forces on the planet to produce the wealth that we need to raise living standards across the world and to enjoy life. Only the democratic common ownership of all the productive forces would enable them to be organised and planned for need. It would allow new technology and innovation to be used to liberate humanity from endless hours of (mostly meaningless) labour, by sharing out necessary work among everyone, cutting the working week dramatically.

Instead, Corbyn envisages not an economy freed from capitalist private ownership but one in which (capitalist) business and finance continue to play the decisive role.

The inevitable consequence of this refusal to break with capitalism will be that the government will be forced, notwithstanding its best intentions, by the capitalist system to make that system work better, i.e. to make more profit for the capitalist class. Take a look once more at Tsipras and Syriza. I am sure they didn’t want to be implementing austerity. But that is what they are doing.

We will end up back where we started. To enable the capitalists to make a profit more easily governments have to create the conditions to encourage investment. That means outsourcing, privatising, de-regulating, implementing cuts – in short, austerity or just plain capitalism. It will mean allowing greater exploitation of labour by lengthening the working day, and by allowing cuts to wages, pensions and other beneficial working conditions. It means weakening the labour movement by denying rights to workers and unions.

All of this, of course, is the complete opposite of everything that Jeremy Corbyn stands for now and has advocated as an MP for over thirty years. But a refusal or reluctance to confront and break with capitalism has an awful logic. This is the lesson of every social democratic party in the world throughout history. This is the lesson of the most advanced social democratic countries in Scandinavia. This is the recent lesson of Greece. Unless you stand firm for a complete break and a change to a new society based on need not profit, you end up implementing policies you previously opposed.

Still need for a socialist party

So, we must support Corbyn in so far as he espouses an anti-austerity programme, and support every policy that protects the working class and puts the burden for the crisis on the capitalist class. But we must ensure that there is a thorough discussion about the programme our class needs to end austerity. Ending austerity, I argue, means ending the system that demands it. It means advocating socialism and breaking decisively with capitalism to achieve it.

We need a party to do this. We still need a mass socialist party, based on the ideas and principles of Marxism. This should be the aim of all socialists – to break with capitalism and to establish a new society based on common ownership and the utmost democracy – including complete economic democracy. This must be the goal of Marxists and socialists inside the Labour Party as much as it is for those outside. We must find a way of working together to discuss the programme required for change and the practical tasks to build support for that programme.

For these reasons, whilst agreeing overwhelmingly with Nick Rogers’ article I disagree with him on two of his conclusions.

Firstly, Nick argues, “Marxists should encourage all those who have signed up as affiliated or registered supporters to join the Labour Party but with the intention of organising collectively to support both a Corbyn leadership and the transformation of the Labour Party.” Secondly, Nick argues that if Corbyn wins, “(t)hat must mean a moratorium, other than in exceptional circumstances, on fighting elections against Labour.”

In respect of the first point, I have already expressed my doubts about the possibility of transforming the Labour Party. I believe that Marxists should support Corbyn against the right but that does not mean joining the Labour Party. A battle royal inside the Labour Party can be supported by political arguments from the outside. Nick is mistaken to suggest that this is to remain ‘aloof’. The main task is to build a Marxist party – bringing together as many serious Marxists who are prepared to put aside their sectish loyalties in favour of a united, democratic socialist party. Marxists should be appealing to those looking to Corbyn to engage in a political discussion and debate about the merits or otherwise of his programme and the possibility of the Labour Party being a vehicle for socialist change, rather than encouraging them to sign up to Labour. Articles, pamphlets, meetings, conferences can all assist in the process of political and organisational clarification.

Secondly, there is no doubt in my mind that a Corbyn victory will make things much more difficult for Marxists outside the Labour Party who want to stand in elections. How Marxists react to a Corbyn victory in terms of next May’s local government elections and beyond is a tactical question that requires a lot of discussion. But Nick’s conclusion is too sweeping. It could imply that Marxists should never challenge Labour if Labour has a left-wing socialist candidate. What would that mean if a viable socialist party with a good candidate and record wanted to stand? There is a world of difference ultimately between the programme of social democracy (managing capitalism) and socialism (breaking with capitalism). Marxists cannot give up the right to contest elections where they think it appropriate.

There remains an important omission or silence in Jeremy Corbyn’s policy statements. Whilst expressing his opposition to cuts, he says nothing about a strategy for local government where Labour is in charge. Should Labour councils implement government cuts, with all the misery that will ensure, or should they defy central government and refuse to do so? This is an important issue for next May’s local government elections. A clear No Cuts electoral option is needed. Whilst a Corbyn victory in the leadership election will make any electoral intervention by TUSC harder in May 2016 and will probably obtain even fewer votes than in 2015 it remains an important tactical issue which will have to be discussed seriously. But the tactic cannot simply be repudiated at this stage.

I agree with Nick that a Corbyn victory “would be potentially transformative for British politics”. It would put anti-austerity politics at the centre of the national political debate. It would encourage the idea of change. It would create a huge space for Marxist ideas to find an echo. It would also place a question mark over other political formations, from the SNP to the Liberal Democrats, from the Greens to TUSC and Left Unity.

Left Unity was set up to provide an alternative to Labour, but did so on the basis of an eclectic reformist programme laced with some pseudo-Marxist phraseology. Even those who head it don’t seem to know what it is exactly. Many members left in the Green surge. Others have left to join Corbyn’s campaign. This process reinforces the argument that any small party that wants to exist to the left of Labour has to clearly define itself as a socialist party. Otherwise the inevitable consequence will be that a shift to the left in the Labour Party completely undermines the necessity for that party. What remains the point of Left Unity if Corbyn is championing its programme in the Labour Party, with its trade union affiliations and multi-million electorate? A serious existential debate is required in Left Unity.

A related problem exists for TUSC. Under the direction of the Socialist Party the TUSC project was predicated on its federal structure and the perspective (never very realistic) that other trade unions would (at some unspecified stage) break with Labour and join the RMT on the TUSC steering committee. There was no evidence to back up this perspective but it was a useful argument for the SP to utilise against those who wanted TUSC to develop into a membership-based socialist party, rather than remaining simply an electoral coalition. In fact, the developments around Corbyn have meant that the direction in the trade unions is in the opposite direction. It is quite possible that the RMT will break with TUSC and rejoin Labour if Corbyn wins. The FBU may also end up re-affiliating to Labour.

What is still required is for the SP and the SWP (the other big organisation in TUSC), along with the ISN to open up discussions with others about the creation of a small but significant Marxist party. This is what we need. Such a party would have to engage in debate and discussion with Corbyn supporters. But that can be done equally well from outside the Labour Party as from within.

The support for Corbyn’s candidacy reflects a growing frustration at the lack of any serious anti-austerity movement in Britain at the present time. We have to find a way of building support for a socialist programme and new socialist party out of this unexpected but tremendously encouraging development.




[i] [12] http://www.euractiv.com/sections/euro-finance/ahead-election-syriza-poses-guarantor-bailout-deal-317107 [13]

[ii] [13] http://www.jeremyforlabour.com [13]

[iii] [12] The Times, 28 August 2015. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/columnists/article4540370.ece [14]

[iv] [12], ibid

[v] [12] Jeremy Corbyn, The Economy in 2020, page 2. https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/jeremyforlabour/pages/70/attachments/original/1437556345/TheEconomyIn2020_JeremyCorbyn-220715.pdf?1437556345 [15]

[vi] [12] Ibid, page 4.

[vii] [12] Ibid, page 4.

[viii] [12] http://www.jeremyforlabour.com/standing_to_deliver [16]

[ix] [12] The Next Recession blog. https://thenextrecession.wordpress.com [17]

[x] [12] FT podcast. Interview with Jim Pickard, 24 August 2015. Jeremy Corbyn on banks, Nato and the rise of the left [18]. 2015http://podcast.ft.com/index.php?sid=29&pid=2924

15 Comments (Open | Close)

15 Comments To "Corbyn – Marxist Party still a necessity"

#1 Comment By John Keeley On September 3, 2015 @ 9:18 am

An interesting read. How do we achieve the replacement of capitalism with socialism? Do we require a mass workers party based upon Marxism to win a majority in parliament? And/or to have majority support outside parliament is some form of English ‘Soviets’? Do Marxists guide the movement to a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ where the movement is the ‘workers’ state’? Or does the Marxist party have to be the dominant power, so that even if there are other political parties, it is the Marxist party that is the ultimate expression of the ‘workers’ state’?
A don’t claim to know the answer, for Britain, for Europe, for the world in the early 21st century. Lenin & the experience of Russia 100 years ago is clearly of value, but shouldn’t be regarded as a blueprint.
I can see the argument that the class struggle will be a battle royal & that for the working class to defeat the capitalists may mean compromising on democracy. That a central committee, in the heat of revolution, makes decisions & members act, without there being time for the fullest debate. But the history & experience of so many who have got themselves involved with Marxist organisations (perhaps we could say Leninist), is one of an elite, a clique a at the top making all the decisions, having all the power, directing the members who subs & paper sales they live off. Very far from the way we say we intend to run a socialist society, which is supposed to be based upon direct democracy, i.e. equality in decision-making.
What we need is Marxists to embrace more fully a form of organisation that is much closer to how we intend to run society. An organisation that is less hierarchical & more participative. Some will be more influential that others, but to allow members to have the final say. They will make mistakes, but central committees are not infallible either.
If Corbyn can get the Labour Party to change its rules to allow a ‘Marxist Party’ to affiliate this would seem to be the way to go. Any prospect of this?

#2 Comment By Nick Wrack On September 8, 2015 @ 12:16 pm

Hi John,

Thanks for your comments and questions. To begin to answer your first point, I believe that we will only achieve a ‘revolution’, i.e. a break with capitalism, when we have won a majority in society (that must mean a majority within the majority class, the working class) to the idea that it must act in its own interests to make that break, ending exploitation. That means building a mass socialist party that is capable of persuading and influencing millions and millions of people and of setting socialism as the goal to be attained. I don’t see how a break with the current exploitative system can come about except through a process which involves a genuine socialist party winning a majority in elections. What happens in that eventuality gives rise to all sorts of possibilities, including constitutional manoeuvres and even the use of force to prevent the implementation of socialist change. The implementation of that change will be carried through by the working class outside of parliament, but if it isn’t capable of wining elections I doubt that it would have the support for the extra-parliamentary action required to carry through the break with the present system. In any event, while sharing criticisms about the present form of ‘democracy’, socialists cannot argue for a revolution that is carried out without the support of the majority in society. That would be undemocratic. The stronger the support for socialist ideas in society, the more ineffective any attempt at force by the ruling class will be. I don’t have a prescription as to how that extra-parliamentary movement will express itself, except that it must be democratic.

#3 Comment By John Keeley On September 9, 2015 @ 7:52 pm

Thanks for responding.
Although I’m all for building a genuine socialist party & hopefully winning majority support for it, I’m not convinced that this is how things will pan out.
Egypt is perhaps a good example of how revolution can come almost out of nowhere, very quickly. If there had been a sizeable socialist party, or coalition of socialist parties, then things could have moved forward in a much more successful direction. I think this could have happened without the socialist party/parties commanding a majority in the build up to the revolution, even during the revolution, but being best placed to offer a way forward. In Egypt it was only the Muslim brotherhood who were sufficiently organised to take power, but soon lost their support, in part because they didn’t break with capitalism.
In the UK it’s hard to see a mass socialist party outside of the Labour Party breaking through any time soon. Left Unity has been a bit of a joke & TUSC is never going to reach beyond the unions. It seems that both Stop the War & the People’s Assembly have been the most successful at mobilising people & in part providing a base of support for Corbyn’s attempt to move Labour away from neo-liberalism (towards a more social democratic message than an outright socialist one, at least for now). John Rees was instrumental in both & has shown that working constructively with those on the left who are not revolutionaries delivers results.
So if Corbyn is elected Labour leader, building a mass socialist party outside Labour is not going to get anywhere. That’s not to say a Corbyn lead split will never happen, but I think it means working with those in Labour to get it to be as socialist as possible, whilst also working with a wider anti-austerity grouping in the People’s Assembly & at the same time trying to bring genuine revolutionaries together. Just how you bring revolutionaries together & which you want to leave behind is the age old question. That may be better attempted on a European or worldwide basis; another International.
So shouldn’t the ISN restrict membership to Marxist revolutionaries & from this position of organisational independence work with other socialists/activists in things like the People’s Assemblies?

#4 Comment By Jim Moody On September 3, 2015 @ 2:33 pm

An article of worth, dealing with a key issue of the moment: the relationship of Marxist ideas and organisation to the changes in the Labour Party with Corbyn’s rise. As a Marxist in the Labour Party there is a great deal to agree with in this article, but still the either/or debate about involvement within the Labour Party seems to come to the fore as it has for decades in Marxist circles and ‘parties’ (none have been parties in the true sense that Marxists should use; they are but sects in the defining sense of seeing the sect itself – whether as small as the Sparts or as large as the SP or SWP – as of primary importance). Even in CLPs that are considered left there is a profound struggle to be had to develop a Marxist understanding. But the election of Corbyn as LP leader has prepared the ground for socialists to discuss what socialism means in a way that has no recent precedent. Marxists should definitely be part of that discussion, whether or not they are inside the Labour Party; ’twere better they were inside though, if they can, for weight of numbers shall be significant in carrying through changes easing the discussion as time goes by. John Keeley raises an important question at the very end: could a Marxist party be permitted to affiliate to the Labour Party? Why not? It had a Marxist affiliate before: the British Socialist Party, later one of the founding elements of the Communist Party of Great Britain, though making the fundamental error IMO of failing to maintaining the affiliation during the transformation. A strong Marxist element already within the Labour Party would be in a markedly better position to establish such an affiliate by consolidating itself organisationally in a natural development.

#5 Comment By Nick Wrack On September 8, 2015 @ 12:21 pm

Hi Jim, thanks for your comments. My own view is that a separate Marxist party has to be built independently of the Labour Party. But it would have to relate to, engage with, and debate with the members of the Labour Party, including fighting alongside the Labour Party is so far as it opposed attacks on the working class and opposing it when it supported or implemented them. Marxists have operated in the LP for decades – the key issue is to what purpose. Marxists in the LP, in my opinion, must have a clear view of winning support from the largest number of LP and trade union members to the idea of fundamental change, rather than managing capitalism. That means winning them to the idea of winning them to a mass socialist party, which will have to replace the LP as the dominant party within the working class.

#6 Comment By Doug On September 4, 2015 @ 10:24 am


The fact that hundreds of thousands of people have clearly been galvanised by Corbyn’s campaign is an indictment of the behaviour of the SP and SWP re TUSC. There is obviously a big audience for left ideas around the country. Agreed, the electoral terrain for TUSC has been difficult, with Labour and, to some extent, the Greens, as rivals. But TUSC started in 2010 and has had five years to slowly build from the ground upwards. It has squandered the opportunity to do so because the SP and SWP have cynically seen it as merely a party-building exercise. The unwillingness to build local TUSC groups on a permanent basis, working hard by campaigning regularly in working class areas of towns and cities is clear evidence of that. Party paper selling, stalls and popping up under the TUSC banner when elections come round has got its just desserts in most places. In other places, slow, patient activity reaps electoral rewards and a real presence. The SP and SWP have put their own organisation’s interests above the long term interests of the working class. If/when Corbyn wins, TUSC is fucked because the figleaf of RMT involvement will be gone. Where do we go from here?!

#7 Comment By Nick Wrack On September 8, 2015 @ 12:24 pm

I agree with the thrust of you comment, Doug. Where do we go from here? We keep arguing for genuinely socialist policies and a genuinely democratic organisation with which to promote them. It’s simple to express, harder to put into practice.

#8 Comment By Peteb On September 4, 2015 @ 7:27 pm

Good debate here. Being on the fringes, ex this ex that (group wise) I was surprised by the near unanimous opposition to all labour parties. Even to any involvement in lp. That debate should be over now? If marxists place themselves in the centre of political struggle and mass movement then clearly corbyns struggle in the labour party is central today. I feel that we have turned a full circle. Many mmarxists in the eighties bemoaned the mistake of not having a lp presence and having missed out on the bennite surge in the early eighties. The most rightward leaning group, the militant, became a large (ish) group, through the lp. Now the spew are hold outs from relating to the Corbyn phenomina. My own little piece of history was within a tendancy that recognised the centrality of the lp s grip on the british working class and the neccessity of putting an openly revolutionary line to the class. We called this a combination tactic that involved a fraction of the group doing lp work, as a fraction did anti racist work, a tgwu fraction, youth fraction etc. left unity is not a disciplined group, but is ckearky

#9 Comment By Nick Wrack On September 8, 2015 @ 12:25 pm

Hi Pete B, Thanks for your comments. We in the ISN are proud to have genuine, open debates on policy, tactics and strategy. Everything is up for discussion. Glad to have your contribution.

#10 Comment By Bob Walker On September 9, 2015 @ 1:01 pm

Hi Nick, When you say that.Tsipras and his supporters in the leadership of Syriza.Were exposed with no programme and no resolve to break fundamentally with Capitalism. They relied on their negotiating skill,rather than on the Greek working class.
I would argue that. The reason for Tsipras capitulation,was. He was fighting with one arm tied behind his back. The Greek people didn,t want to leave the E.U.Therefor they had to accept austerity. Getting back to J.C.and the Labour Party. I totally agree with you that we should build a mass Socialist Party whether he wins the leadership or not

#11 Comment By Nick Rogers On September 9, 2015 @ 7:23 pm

I welcome Nick’s response to my article. He extends the discussion and makes many valuable points. The rise and possible election of Jeremy Corbyn is a remarkable and potentially transformative event. It certainly raises the question of how socialists (especially those inspired by the ideas of Marxism) should relate to the Labour Party. And that raises the question of what the Labour Party is. These are the questions that most of the comments above come back to.

For me, at a very basic level, the Labour Party is the political expression of the British trade union movement. That is the source of its very many weaknesses – the trade unions as reformist organisations have blocked the Labour Party from developing in a socialist direction and through most of its history have been keen to bash the left. During recent history the trajectory of the Labour Party has reflected the defeats and demoralisation of the Labour movement. But the involvement of the trade unions is also the reason why socialists have to engage with the Labour Party. Even if it is just at the level of calling at trade union conferences for affiliated trade union representatives and delegates to actually reflect the policies of their union when operating in the Labour Party.

Now that tens of thousands have chosen the Labour Party as a vehicle for radical anti-austerity politics, we can hardly stand aside. The Labour Party is where the key struggle of our generation looks about to play out. Whatever the prospects of Jeremy Corbyn’s survival as leader of the Labour Party, we cannot absent ourselves from that struggle. The formation of a Marxist party cannot be divorced from the real struggles of the working class.

On the question of the relationship between a Marxist party and the Labour Party and whether the Labour Party can be won for socialism, the answer is a simple one. If we think we can win the trade unions for socialism – and if we can’t do that how do we expect to win the majority of the population to the idea of socialist transformation – then winning the Labour Party for socialism would be a doddle. How the relationship between Marxists and the Labour Party would then be expressed depends on the circumstances, but Jim Moody’s suggestion that a Marxist party affiliate, as Lenin advised the early CPGB to do, seems a reasonable proposition.

We should engage with the Labour Party with the objective of transforming it from a “bourgeois workers’ party” to a genuine united front of the working class.

I heard a talk by Graham Bash (of Labour Briefing) ten years ago on the Labour Party as a united front that made an impression. At the time I was far from convinced – Blair seemed on the verge of killing the Labour Party as a vehicle for working class politics – but what Graham had to say makes a lot of sense in current circumstances. Here’s the written version: [19].

#12 Comment By Doug On September 17, 2015 @ 3:33 pm

A big problem for Corbyn is that he is going to be under intense pressure to backslide and compromise, particularly because of the treachery of many in the PLP and an overwhelming media onslaught of lies, half truths and disinformation. He’s well aware of this, of course. That’s why during his campaign he kept pointing out that he needs an active mass movement to back him up. I wonder how many people actually grasp that this means them and what that activity ought to involve! I should imagine he means working hard on a regular basis, supporting and initiating campaigns, encouraging fightbacks, providing practical help and producing material to reach millions of people in their homes (between elections!). I wouldn’t be overly optimistic if I was him. Turning up to one of his public meetings and voting for him may have been the limit of many peoples activity. For others, the old Lefty habits of considering activity to solely consist of going to one-off events like demos, having a stall on a Saturday or the occasional letter to the local paper, are going to be hard to overcome. Not to mention the efforts of many LP right wingers to prevent and undermine attempts to actual transform the LP in this way.

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