Victories of the Left are all too rare, and the desire to wallow in one is tempting. Corbyn’s victory in the Labour leadership elections demonstrated the continued appeal and relevance of socialist values. What it does not represent is that Labour Party as an institution has been transformed into a socialist party. Corbyn’s election is just the start, and one thing is certain: if Corbyn fails, the Labour left will be expunged. In other words this is Labour’s last throw.
The scale of the task that Corbyn and his supporter have set themselves is daunting. The Labour Party structures need to be overhauled and made more democratic. Its policies are still those of watered down New Labour, and the vast majority of its elected represents, whether MPs or councillors, are to the right. Not only does he have to convince Labour Party conference of his policies, he has to get Labour MPs to vote for them in parliament – a task made more difficult given his own tendency to vote against the line of previous leaders. Then there is the thorny problem of replacing right-wing labour MPs and right-wing Labour councillors who are currently eagerly implementing Tory cuts – a task likely to led to civil war in the Labour Party.
Such a transformation will take time. Time we don’t have. For in the meantime the Tory onslaught continues; the cuts in welfare and services deepen; the growth in inequality increases; the housing crisis worsens ; the Tories now propose suppression of trades unions.
I fear that the energies and hopes of the whole influx of new and old activitists that have joined or rejoined the Labour Party will be spent over the next four years struggling to transform the party such that their involvement in wider struggles to resist the Tory onslaught will be minimal. There are signs of this already. In the week when our central focus should have been to build a broad alliance against the Tory anti-trade union Bill, Corbyn’s victory dominated the Left’s thoughts.
Moreover, victory in Labour’s civil war that victory cannot be guaranteed. The record of Labour’s right is ruthless. Corbyn’s leadership has the danger of being a re-run of Michael Foot’s leadership when he was ground down by ‘gaffes’ and the party machine. It is often forgot that in the 1983 General Election, right-wing party spokesmen (sic) and members of the shadow cabinet spoke out against party policy during the election campaign, most notably Denis Healey’s attack on unilateral nuclear disarmament. The right would rather see the party destroyed than in the control of the left, and the Labour left seems to have learnt nothing from this past defeat.
There are two great ironies about Corbyn’s victory: The first is that it shows that the Left does not need the Labour party; the second is that illustrates the Left’s continued obsession with it.
The movement that leads to Corbyn winning a thumping near-on 60% majority was initiated not in the Labour Party or indeed in the ‘organised left’ but within the realms of the social media. As many commentators have observed, it can be seen as part of the wave sweeping Europe that rejected the politics of neo-liberalism of all mainstream parties and sort to rejuvenate the left. It was, if you like, Britain’s Podemos moment. Before this movement had gathered pace, all that was expected both within and outside the Labour Party was that Corbyn might exceed Diana Abbot’s vote in the 2010 leadership election where she go 7.42% of the vote. Almost certainly, without the external whirlwind Labour Party members would not have felt confident in voting for Corbyn, but probably would have gone for a comprise candidate such as Andy Burnham. This force that had managed to mobilise a quarter a million people could have seen the foundation of a mass party of the Left. Unlike Greece or Spain, instead of building something new it alighted on the hollowed shell of the Labour Party.
This should be seen as a challenge to the organised left outside the Labour Party, rather than a excuse to capitulated and join it. The Left must not put all its eggs in one basket. To throw all the Left’s forces into transforming the Labour Party would be folly. There needs to be a non-sectarian party of the left to hold the line, fight the Tories and a place for the Labour left to go when they are defeated. Left Unity is that bulwark.
I am proud of what has been built in Left Unity. Despite the predictions from our critics the party structure has strengthened. In two years we have moved from zero to over 60 functioning branches. many involved in the local campaigns growing roots in the local communities. Uniquely we have functioning women’s, youth, disabled and LGBT caucuses and regular National and Executive Committees. Left Unity is one of the few socialist organisations that is neither dominated by a sect or an ego. Left Unity has played a supportive role in developing the housing movement and has been solid in resisting the racism around issues of immigration that has even effected parts of the Left. Left Unity’s legacy and potential is worth defending.