The Educator is a monthly political education newsletter for Momentum members, covering topics from Labour history to political theory. Momentum emailed the Dec. issue to its supporter base, in it, the academic Jeremy Gilbert makes a compelling case for the left to stay inside the Labour Party. The blog article is a mirror; the momentum original is posted here. In my blog I italicised certain phrases/sentences which I reproduce here. This version is severely cut, to read Jeremy Gilbert’s full essay, go to one of the links above.
Don’t Think Like a Liberal
… If you think that the primary reason for being, or not being a member of the Labour Party is because you either support its current programme, or identify with its current leaders, then you are not thinking like a socialist. Instead, you are thinking like a liberal: working with a conception of politics which is basically the same as that of the elite professionals who staff our more progressive newspapers, the office of the Leader of the Opposition, and the PR departments of some of our more enlightened corporations. At the same time, you are making a fundamental philosophical mistake. You are thinking of the Labour Party like a football team that you support, but might stop supporting. But in an electoral system like ours, the Labour Party isn’t the team; it’s the very pitch upon which the game is played. To leave the party is not to make an effective point of principle: it is merely to concede the entire match to the opposition.
Don’t Give Your Enemies What They Want
Let me spell this out. Keir Starmer wants you to leave the Labour Party. He wants me to leave the Labour Party. If we leave the Labour Party, then we are giving him what he wants. …
Please don’t be in any doubt that left-wing members leaving the party is precisely what they want. That’s why they’ve sought to suspend and exclude so many of us through the extraordinary over-use of groundless charges and investigations.
Solidarity or Moralism?
Leaving the party might make an individual feel better, but it will make both them and the movement collectively weaker. Pursuing an individual sense of self-worth over any meaningful strategy to build collective power is exactly what bourgeois, liberal ideology trains us to do throughout our lives: through competitive schooling, a highly fragmented and competitive labour market, and the perpetually seductive machinery of consumer culture. It’s unsurprising, then, that it comes so naturally to most of us to think about our own sense of individual self-worth more clearly than we think about our place in a collective movement. But this is a mental habit that we simply have to unlearn if we want to be effective contributors to a collective political movement for socialism.
What Kind of Thing is the Labour Party?
… In an electoral system like ours, mass parties such as the Labour Party are not, and cannot be, ideologically coherent organisations, whose constituent members and organisations are all committed to a unified set of aims and principles. The only way a party can hope to form a government under our system is by winning a plurality of votes in a majority of constituencies, which inevitably … will result in internal conflicts, and a situation in which different political tendencies will have to fight it out for supremacy within parties, as well as political contestation taking place between parties.
… One thing for sure is that leaving the party is not going to stop it looking, feeling and behaving like an organisation that has been dominated by its right wing since the 1980s. The only thing that is likely to change that is enough left-wingers remaining inside the Party to do something about it. And five years was never going to be long enough for that.
Living on the Frontline
A key feature of our political situation today is this. Unlike in many other countries, the key fault line between political progressives and their opponents in Britain cannot be simply mapped onto the difference between different political parties: rather this fault line runs through a number of parties, most importantly Labour. There are members of the Green Party, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, and even the Liberal Democrats who share the general aspiration of most Labour members for a society in which the very rich are less powerful than they are now, and the rest of us are collectively that much stronger. … As such, the frontline of the struggle between progressives (including socialists) and their opponents cannot be conveniently found at the boundary separating one party from another: rather, it runs though these parties, and especially through the Labour Party. Those who are not willing to carry on that fight within Labour (or one of the other parties that I’ve mentioned), are simply absenting themselves from the frontline of political struggle altogether.
There was a prevalent view within our movement that simply electing Jeremy as party leader, and then as Prime Minister, would prove to be a simple and straightforward route to radical social change, … many of us thought it was never going to be that easy. We knew that we’d have to fight for Jeremy’s programme inside the party, and that even if — by some miracle — he became Prime Minister, than we’d find ourselves in an all-out war with a range of institutions … Unfortunately, I think a large number of people were always hoping that changing that face might be all we had to do.
It is understandable that so many people were enthused by their direct identification with Jeremy Corbyn as an individual. … But, at the end of the day, socialists should not base their politics on identification with individuals: that’s for liberals and followers of demagogues. Socialism is a collective project requiring a degree of collective discipline — including the discipline of enduring defeats without simply giving up the fight.
The Labour Party Isn’t a Person
… To leave the Party on the basis of the actions of the current leadership is, I believe, insulting to Labour members, including our best MPs, who continue to struggle every day to advocate for and support different positions to those advocated by Evans and Starmer. What kind of solidarity are we showing with Zarah Sultana, John Trickett, Nadia Whittome or Clive Lewis if we simply abandon them to their fate? What kind of revenge do we imagine we are actually wreaking on our enemies by simply leaving them stronger than ever, and more able to marginalise those voices?
Gilbert concludes his article with two sections called, “Stay and Sulk” and “Why be a member of the Labour Party at all?”. To me these repeat the arguments that precede them with the addition of the suggestion that one can rescale one’s committent to the Labour Party.
This is an edited precis , the momentum original is posted here., the featured image comes from Momentum’s web site. The momentum version is also distributed with an appeal to join or donate which you can do on their home page.
Originally published at https://davelevy.info on December 16, 2021.