I made a speech on Saturday. Below is what it should have been – I can never keep to a script. But as I wrote it down I might as well share it
Comrades, these are exciting times.
We are starting to see the stuff of which revolutions are made.
The ruling class have serious problems.
Their preferred instrument of government, the Tory Party, has moved dramatically to the right and embraced a more aggressive nationalism – trying to distract backward sections of our class and survive the unpopularity of the austerity they are inflicting on us.
The Labour Party has been generally looked on by capitalists as a second eleven called in when the first team was dysfunctional. But the Labour Party is no longer in,as the capitalists might consider, ‘safe hands’.
A dramatic election campaign in which Labour on a reasonably radical programme, certainly more radical than any in the last 30 years, nearly doubled Labour’s electoral support.
The result of the election was better than many of us expected and an even bigger surprise to the right.
For decades tax rises, ANY INCOME TAX RISE, had been called a vote loser by the right wing of Labour and the press. If you challenged in the press or the Party you would face ridicule.
The same thing with other ideological twaddle. ‘Workers are aspirational’, they don’t want to think they need to live in a council house, they don’t want to feel dependent on a minimum wage’ ‘They want to dream about being millionaires’
We have had decades of this crap.
Corbyn was elected as leader in rejection of this but for whatever reason Corbyn’s anti-austerity policies didn’t get broadcasted.
When the election was announced Corbyn and McDonnell broke their comparative silence on a whole number of policy matters. The right wing of the NEC were outmanoeuvred and policies were adopted in the Manifesto that appealed directly to workers.
The £10/hr minimum wage, mass council house building, taxation on the rich and the corporations etc. And some degree of nationalisation and expansion of the public sector.
If policies like these had not been adopted there would likely have been an electoral disaster for Labour whoever the leader was – look at Hollande in France
The increased activity of the Party members was a factor but the greatest weapon Labour had in the election were its radical policies.
They are not socialism in any way – there are some worrying omissions and policies we still need to fight for – but it was indisputably the most radical Labour Manifesto in decades.
I witnessed myself the effect in Hungry For Justice actions in my constituency. The Bakers Union campaign for a £10/hr minimum wage and against zero hours contracts. Both of which were in Labour’s Manifesto.
Before this election young workers didn’t see themselves staying at whichever fast food outlet they were working in. It was the older workers perhaps in their 30s or 40s who were seriously worried that this was going to be the rest of their life. They were the ones then mainly getting organised.
But on our Hungry for Justice action during the election I found it was the 18-25 year old workers who were the most energised and interested when they heard that there could be a government that would raise their pay by 25% and more.
This is what is happening. These workers now feel themselves being heard. They are being encouraged to get organised. These are very exciting times.
Incoming waves of hope, adulation, chants even mass demonstrations, all feel great but without workers feeling strong enough to stand up to the bullying and everyday intimidation they take in their working lives, those waves can roll out as well as in.
Over time, they might go back again to accepting that life is shit and politics is a waste of time.
It is clear that the Tories won’t last long before they have to call another election. It may be 3 months, it may be 2 years but an election before 2022 is inevitable.
Those fast food workers and others attracted to some of Labour’s policies will probably wait, keeping hope that long. Some won’t. But speculation on mood is not what we should be doing. We should be organising them so they don’t feel dependent but gain confidence in themselves.
The prospects of a resounding Labour victory at the next election is undeniably there.
But as Marxists we have to analyse and look at the problems we will face. We have to learn the lessons of history.
We have to look at where are we weak? How will the class enemy fight back? How do we defend our movement?
Let me just list a few of the problems.
- In the Labour Party – The Parliamentary Labour Party – the NEC and parts of the Party apparatus
- In the power of capital and the banks
- With the state of the working class movement outside of the Labour Party
Our biggest and most immediate problem is in the Labour Party itself.
The legacy of Blairism. The right wing MPs during the election were quiet but as shown at the Progress conference last week-end – you may have seen the barracking of Paul Mason when he spoke there – they haven’t given up and intend to continue their campaign of disruption.
Even before the Blairites populated the PLP, even when MPs came from and had far stronger relationships with their working class communities, bourgeois parliaments have always been incredibly corrupting places.
Corbyn and his leadership team seriously missed a trick with not dealing with the unaccountable pro-austerity MPs. The policy of the Labour left throughout the last 40 years had been one of stopping the jobs for life privileges that Labour MPs often enjoy.
Momentum, important sections of the left and Corbyn all dropped the call for mandatory reselection.
They hoped that boundary changes would get rid of some of the Blairites. They thought others might be won over.
They feared – and it was a reasonable fear – that if they had a battle on mandatory selection, then there would have been a huge fight and a walk-out by the Blairites.
But that could have been counter-acted by a fighting organised left – what Momentum could have been, should have been and needs to be now.
Nothing could be more disastrous for an incoming radical Labour government than to risk Labour MPs voting down its radical policies. That is currently possible
And then there is the unrepresentative power of the right of the Party over the NEC – the repressive and factional Legal Department.
The level of democratic debate and organisation in the Party is still ridiculously low.
Good socialists who have often worked their whole lives for the labour movement continue to be expelled often for no other reason than they are good networked left wing activists.
We need to democratically reform the Party and fight for free speech and the right of socialists to organise. But we have to find a quicker way of doing that than the snail’s pace that it is currently being conducted.
We need to get a fighting left organised urgently in the Labour Party. Build Momentum groups where we can, organise campaigns and important discussions through the Clarion magazine.
As s a radical Labour Party approaches government we need to make Labour activists aware of the power of capital, the banks and the media under their control
Any progressive reform will be fought by the capitalist class with every weapon they have. The mind-boggling affluence they enjoy is built on the defeat and the poverty of our class.
They not only will use their influence over parliamentarians, they also and more importantly will use the state bureaucracy, the international banks even the military against us. All of these are tied to the capitalist class by a thousand threads.
We don’t simply tritely spout ‘one solution revolution’ as an answer to that problem. We don’t say parliament is a waste of time. What we do do – and we need to do it fast – is build up an extra-parliamentary workers movement alongside the parliamentary one.
We must prepare to confront the sabotage, subterfuge and threats that the banks, big business and the state might use against us.
If we don’t do that comrades, we could face either a capitalist engineered chaos and a paralysed Labour government or at the very worst a repetition of Greece in 1967 or Chile in 1973 where there were military coups and a slaughter of workers.
We know that there were senior officers of the British military who talked about a coup when Labour came into government in 1974. Jack Jones, General Secretary of the biggest trade union of the time, the T&GWU, claimed to have caused him to accept the demoralizing Social Contract compromise of that time.
That compromise led to Thatcherism. A far more radical future Labour government that is similarly compromised could lead to even worse.
Which brings me to my final point – the state of our movement and how we renovate it
Our class has suffered enormously over the last few years.
The state of our trade union movement is not good. Union membership has not increased. Too few workers feel confident to fight back.
Unions are bedrock organisations of our movement. They link to millions of workers. They could organise millions in direct struggle against the capitalists.
They could grab hold of the lapels of the Blairites who wanted to organizationally remove them from politics and say ‘take your hands off our Party’.
Have they done that? No.
Right wingers run too many of our unions. The Corbyn effect has not moved them aside.
Over the last two years, union delegations in Labour’s structures have not changed much. Some small but better unions are affiliating such as the FBU, probably also RMT and PCS but movement is painfully slow partly due to the sectarian influence of groups like the SP and SWP
Another weakness in our movement, both Party and unions, is that has done little to promote the international and European nature of our movement, politically or practically. That was a major reason for the Brexit result.
We are one class: our lives, our liberties, our rights of movement in whatever country should not be pitted against each other.
Whatever happens in the Brexit negotiations: Labour has to strengthen its links with anti-austerity, anti-racist workers movements across Europe. We politically and practically have to fight for internationalist solutions to our problems. Opposing curbs on free movement and supporting cross European struggles against austerity and capitalism.
We also have to recognise that our workers movement are not just trade unions
The appalling massacre of Grenfell Tower and the moving response to it by the community there show a crucially important part of our movement.
Workers when faced with monstrous injustices such as we have seen at Grenfell can often explode in a furious but unfocussed revolt. The history of our class is peppered with such explosions of anger through riots and street battles.
And the people of Grenfell would have had my complete sympathy if they had done that. But they didn’t. They did something far better.
The community there have had a wonderful history of fighting and campaigning, they have organised, they are demanding answers. They are exposing the criminals, the casual and murderous indifference to the risks to human live
I don’t think we can say that the moving campaign that the Grenfell residents have and are conducting is a consequence of the growth of anti-austerity and anti-capitalism in the Labour movement. More likely they are parallel phenomenon.
But we need the spirit of the defiance of the Grenfell protestors to inspire our struggle. To organise the anger and transform it into ending this madness.
- To demand accountability.
- To drive out the corrupt, the malign and the morally criminal bureaucrats and capitalists.
Ours should not be a parliamentary struggle alone. It is a class struggle. Whilst it may be possible to establish the leadership of a workers government in the imperfect democracy of parliament. Its lifeblood will be found in the streets of our working class communities – in a mass movement.
From there we will have to apply pressure and counteract both the machinations of the right including parts of our own Parliamentary Party
We have to build a social movement – a working class movement – that fights for victory.
A movement that talks practically and democratically about how it will build a socialist society.
Exciting times are ahead
We have everything to fight for