The limits and opportunities of the Corbyn campaign

Corbyn deserves our support, but we must recognise the Labour Party for what it is and build an autonomous social movement, writes Duncan Thomas.

Jeremy Corbyn speaks at a People’s Assembly rally. Photo: wikipedia

Jeremy Corbyn is a fantastic politician, a committed man with sound principles. He has energised British society in a way that – outside Scotland – hasn’t been seen for a long, long time. His campaign has opened up spaces that seemed tightly closed, engaged people who had felt alienated for years and generally put the cat amongst the pigeons in a quite wonderful way. He has given us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to effect real change – but only if we know how to take it.

He needs and deserves all the support that we can give him. But we must do so as the Left and from the Left. Most importantly, we must remember and argue to others that political processes are driven by struggle; that the State is a complex institutional apparatus which must be subject to social pressure if it is to acquiesce to leftist demands; and that social mobilisation is a prerequisite to parliamentary success, if the latter is to be invested with any kind of radical potential. Corbyn’s entire campaign, despite its great importance, is secondary to this fundamental need for mobilisation in society.

As I have written elsewhere, although the green shoots of this mobilisation are certainly evident, we should not regard the Labour Party as a potential vehicle for such struggle. Corbyn has been isolated within it for decades; he still is now. Arguably, his campaign shows not that Labour can be “saved”, but on the contrary, reveals the overwhelming hostility of its upper echelons to left-wing or “progressive” politics. The huge contradiction between the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and its active social base is now in plain view; the latter should not be under any illusions as to the lengths the former will go to in order to crush this rebellion, given that they have made their desire to do so perfectly clear.

Make no mistake, if Corbyn becomes leader of Labour, never mind Prime Minister, he will be attacked: by his own party, by large capital, by the media, by the state bureaucracy and very possibly by the Secret Services and other shadowy institutions. We should remember how this array of forces conspired to bring down Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour government, attempted to do the same to Harold Wilson and, as chronicled in forensic detail by Seamus Milne, smeared Arthur Scargill with the same kind of tactics we are beginning to see deployed against Corbyn.

Indeed, the lesson of history is simple and sobering: when a threat is identified, the various factions of the British establishment set aside their internecine squabbles to destroy it. We must be prepared for that to happen with Corbyn and develop the capacity to react to it when it does.

That means seeing him less as a leader and more as an ally, albeit an extremely valuable one. It means working with Labour activists from the left of the Party, but at the same time being aware of the limits of that avenue and developing our own autonomous capacities to communicate, organise and articulate demands. Such an independent and self-reliant movement will be far more resilient and carry far greater potential – and, as such, will in fact be far more able to offer Corbyn meaningful and lasting support than if it remains tied too closely to the structure of the Labour Party itself.

To his great credit, Corbyn seems well aware of the importance of this. He often talks about how he wants to transform the Labour Party into the heart of a social movement – and while he is vague about how that movement would function, who would be in it and how radical its demands would be, it is not really his job to figure these things out. It’s our job and, if we can’t do it, his leadership bid will go nowhere, whether he wins or loses. Only by developing autonomy can we ensure that our collective ambitions are not too closely tied to Corbyn’s personal fate in the Westminster bureaucracy and corporate press.

The real potential of Corbyn’s campaign will be decided by us and, indeed, he is only in the running because of us. Recognising the limits of Labour, therefore, is not “defeatist”, but realistic and potentially empowering. It means trusting in our own agency, not that of a party or leader, no matter how much we respect and admire Corbyn.

If, like the Scottish Referendum, his campaign can provide a point of focus for wider engagement and mobilisation, then it may open up real possibilities. Sometimes, such a catalyst is necessary to trigger a momentum that takes on a life of its own. If we can take advantage of that, then Corbyn and his allies can be real assets in parliament. Whether or not such mobilisation can happen to a sufficient degree is difficult to say. We all have responsibilities and pressures; we often feel powerless and isolated. All these things are real barriers that can stop us from becoming politically active. However, there is no other way. Progress is gained through struggle, or not at all.

There is no magic formula, but all of us must contribute what we are able, where we think it will be most useful, in whatever way motivates us to act and best utilises our skills. We should not feel guilty if we do not have the time or confidence to be in the front rank of every rally and meeting. However, we should try to understand how we can participate in building the society we want to live in, make realistic commitments and carry them through. Corbyn’s campaign can be a reference point, around which that process can grow.

To paraphrase a famous line, only if we each give according to our abilities will we all receive according to our needs. If our abilities extend only to casting a vote and attending a few hustings; if we are incapable of both supporting his leadership bid and moving beyond it; if our efforts peter out once “success” has been achieved with his election, then Corbyn will be a sitting duck and our hopes will go down with him.

Over the coming days, rs21 will be publishing short pieces from different social movements on how they relate to the Corbyn campaign and interpret its limits and opportunities.


  1. In practice, Mark, what has the Left Platform achieved by embedding itself in Syriza and still playing the compromise game after the leadership agreed to a worse deal than before the OXI vote? Frankly your head in the sand approach to reformism, especially the history of the Labour Party, is no help to workers and a strategy that will discredit the left outside Labour. This is evident in your glib remark that what’s at stake here is only, “a few quid”.
    Joining a trade union has the potential to improve conditions for workers – joining Labour, which has no such advantages, doesn’t. The height of passivity is when the left wastes it’s time trying to reform, what is in practice a neo-liberal party, rather than focusing it’s efforts on building an alternative. And any revolutionary joining a TU purely for the purposes of influencing a leadership campaign isn’t worth the cross on the ballot paper. That’s the definition of pure opportunism which is what you’re advocating in this case. It’s not the opinion of the right that we need to concern ourselves with it’s the opinion of workers who will view this tactic as dishonest and untrustworthy. We don’t want to adopt the anything goes principles of the Blairites, which Corbyn is campaigning against, and which I think you’ve been influenced by unfortunately. It’s little wonder after years of unprincipled tactics used by careerists in Labour that this kind of behaviour has influenced some on the left.

  2. That would be a killer blow if I advocated finding a Second International Party in every country so that revolutionaries could join and sit around twiddling our thumbs, irrespective of all other considerations. But since I don’t… Can’t you do better than this?
    I’m not so sure if it was possible to write off Pasok in 2001-3, they were a big force in the working class and unions, a big electoral force. If I ever had an opinion I can’t remember what it was…
    However, I am 100% certain revolutionaries were right to be in Syriza during the past few years. I’m 100% certain revolutionary groups should be *actively* helping Corbyn win now.
    What criteria do we use? The struggle decides. Let the logic of the class struggle be your guide and join the struggle where you can. You’ll strengthen our side, develop the fight as far as it will go, educate your cadre and influence many workers. The discussions about working class politics and strategy are taking place now in Corbyn meetings up and down the country. In September the discussions will continue in LP organisations and unions. You say you “fully endorse Corbyn,” but without actually helping him win (by voting, participating in his campaign). That doesn’t look good to workers active in the fight inside the LP.
    Honestly, for the sake of a few quid, why not sign 20 of your members up and see what happens in September? You might well be pleasantly surprised. If not – well, you can leave again. Don’t see that you’ll have broken any principle…

  3. Ray, the accusation against you is not ultra-leftism – it is passivity.
    This argument is familiar but unconvincing, “it would be highly opportunistic to drop our politics and sign up to Labour.” Indeed it would be “highly opportunistic” to drop your politics. But the point is *you don’t have to*. Did you drop your politics when you joined your trade union?
    Your problem with the left in Syriza is they were in Syriza in the first place. The reason you’re interested in them now is that they grew to be a significant force. The reason they became important is precisely because they were in the right place (inside Syriza where a serious, important political struggle was taking place). Of course being in the right place is not sufficient – being in the right place plus an adequate political line is what’s required. But being in the right place is a start!
    Your final point is: we can’t join the LP because the right will witchhunt us and that will hurt Corbyn. This is a really poor argument. You’re allowing the right to determine what struggles you can be a part of. The idea you can’t find a way to enter the LP without giving the right a weapon is rooted in the fact that you don’t want to make the turn, so can’t be bothered to find a way. Given the political will you could find a sensible tactic.

  4. Mark, I’ve given two valid reasons, firstly, it would be highly opportunistic to drop our politics and sign up to Labour which we don’t believe is capable of offering even the most limited reforms. Syriza had a far more radical composition of reformists and look what happened in Greece. Secondly, it would be a damaging strategy to feed the anti-Corbyn machine when the establishment, including many leading Labour MP’s, have primed their attack dogs to discredit him by any means necessary. Labour entryism in this case would be as disastrous a strategy as the Left Platform failing to leave Syriza to form an anti-austerity coalition of the left after the leadership sold out Greek workers.
    Of course, Corbyn’s success is not guaranteed but the number of people voting in this leadership campaign has increased by 400,000 since the general election according to Newsnight. Perhaps some of those voters are Blairites desperately seeking to stop Corbyn but that begs the question where were they during the general election when Miliband’s austerity-lite campaign, which had the backing of the warmonger himself, was routed in the general election? Feeding the anti-Corbyn machine isn’t going to help Corbyn or workers for that matter.
    It’s not just a matter of opinion but the history of the Labour Party we have to contend with here.

  5. I would personally like to see Corbyn as the new leader of Labour, and I would like that Labour and the SNP could work collaboratively building a progressive left movement in this island.

    However, I have lived hear long enough to realise that the economic lobbies and political elites that really rule the United Kingdom will never allow that to happen.

    Project fear will be reactivated to sabotage Corbyn’s campaign (like they sabotaged our Yes campaign) and Middle England will panic and will keep voting ‘la casta’.

  6. Thanks all for commenting…I’ll probably stay out of it now as I’ve had my say as much as I think I can…just wanted to add that it is indeed a difficult issue and my article was written after much headscratching on my part – right or wrong, it’s the conclusion I came to. If it provokes some debate, I’m happy. As I said before, the main thing is that each of us seriously considers the best and most effective way to use our political time and energy, what proportion of that to devote directly to the Corbyn campaign and how much to invest in other more or less related projects. We should all try to understand as best we can the ways that parliamentary politics, direct action, support, autonomy, reform, radicalism and revolutionism all interact with and on occasion contradict and undermine each other. It’s certainly an interesting time and things have been shaken up – but we don’t yet know how they will fall, so the risks are as great as the opportunities. We all have to think how best to chart our path through it all and we will doubtless come to different answers; but we do have to *think*, we do have to take the reform/revolution, inside/outside debates seriously – this is not necessarily an “either/or” question, as someone presented it above, but it is a question of proportional devotion of finite energy and overall mindset.

    If you feel like getting involved in the Labour Party is the best thing to do, at least give some serious thought as to what the limits of that avenue *could* be, look into the (long) history of Labour as a *conservative* force and understand the size of the task you are facing to transform it. Equally, for people like me who prefer to operate on the outside, I entirely agree that it’s important to think how we can still participate meaningfully in Corbyn’s campaign while retaining our autonomy. I acknowledge the difficulty of finding exactly the “right” answer in this debate, but I have at least tried to give it some serious thought. Most important thing is that everyone does the same – whatever answer you come up with, you will probably have learned a lot about the alternative and will therefore be more capable of relating to it, cooperating with people on the other side of the “inside/outside” divide (I see no reason for this not to happen) and being cautious and critical, as well as committed and enthusiastic, whatever path you choose.

  7. There are a lot of things to say on this…but not time now. ONE element though that it is seldom mentioned is the comment from a LP MP who nominated Corbyn but is not voting for him: “Jeremy builds the LP brand.” Some of us think that brand has gone far beyond is sell-by date…and see no point in building it up. And BTW, there are lots of ways to do politics and meet workers without being in the LP. Work to shut down Yarls Wood ( set up by the last LP government)

  8. Ray. Maybe you’re right and Corbyn will win easily, without your help. However, it is by no means clear, right now, that it won’t be close. I’m still not convinced JC will win. How can you be so sure?
    But, actually, that’s not the main point. The main issue is the political strategy of the revolutionary left. So that’s why we debate Syria, Lybia etc where – for sure – our stance will have no immediate effect.
    The issue here is: the revolutionary left should take *all* partial labour movement struggles seriously, and be as fully involved as possible in *all* of them. You’ve offered no serious reason that you can’t maintain your group and join the LP. OK, you might have some people refused entry – but that would be evidence to any worker paying attention that your group *wanted* to help the struggle. Anyway, you could decide to send part of your group in… there are lots of possible variations …
    Entry would bring you into closer contact with – potentially – thousands of workers who normally would jut see you standing outside their meetings. In such charged situations – and in the Autumn, LP meetings will be highly charged and full of new people – one revolutionary can have a disproportionate effect. So maybe your intervention might turn out to be very important indeed…

  9. Mark, the picture you paint of sectarian, ultra-leftists refusing to endorse Corbyn is either, to be charitable, a display of ignorance about the difference between reformist and revolutionary strategies or part of a predictable phenomenon when workers start to fight back, that acs3344 identifies, where opportunistic reformists attempt to discredit revolutionaries by cynically representing them as enemies of reform. It’s unclear what your position is based on your posts.

    The SWP, TUSC, The Socialist Party, RS21 and other left organisations and groups outside Labour have fully endorsed Corbyn’s campaign but, as you suggests, it’s also possible to walk and chew gum at the same time so revolutionary socialists highlighting the contradictions of reformism is part of that analysis too. Revolutionaries signing up to vote in the Labour leadership election campaign would be a highly opportunistic and extremely counter-productive strategy as the witch hunt against new members by the Blairites makes abundantly clear. Rather than give the right more ammunition to attack Corbyn, the responsible approach is for members of orgs and groups outside Labour to offer critical support as members of their own organisations.

    Having said that, as TU members affiliated to Labour, we also have the right to vote but prudence suggests, in light of the Blairite Anti-Corbyn discrediting machine, that it’s not worth giving them more ammunition. Harman etc. are already looking for ways to invalidate the vote and that unabashed opportunist, John Mann, on Newsnight this evening is arguing that the campaign be reconfigured around one anti-Corbyn (Blairite) candidate to increase their chances of stopping Corbyn. Those eligible to vote in the leadership contest has increased to over 600,000 from a post general election membership of 200,000. So it’s either naive or disingenuous to play the sectarian, ultra-left card when Corbyn’s success is not dependent on a handful of revolutionaries signing up to vote.

  10. Part of the problem here – and it must be obvious to everyone who reads this discussion – is you’re setting up a strange set of alternatives. Your say: *either* we’re involved in revolutionary politics, *or* in the LP; if we’re involved in the LP that’s better than nothing, but other things are more important etc etc.
    Frankly I manage all sorts of things: reading books, speaking at meetings, being a union rep, being a member of a dozen campaigns. Being a Trotskyist. And, yes, joining the LP last month.
    And we are offered, “society has primacy over parliamentary politics.” What on earth does this mean? Honestly. Let’s go with it, however, and agree that “society” has primacy over “parliament”. The point is, why can’t we do both, “society” and “parliament”.
    Walk and chew gum at the same time. Let’s do both.
    Here’s a lightweight version: Join the LP for a bit, help Corbyn fight the right. If it doesn’t work out, leave. Why not give that a go?
    Am I suggesting you have to disband – err, no.
    Why not make a turn? Be a part of the movement in the LP, if it runs up against a wall, leave. Go on, give it a go.

  11. ^^^ not trying to be defensive, just clear in my argument. I just think that we have to all give serious consideration to the best way to participate and relate to what’s happening. Your answer to that may be different to mine, and that’s fine. All I can do is give my view and raise the dangers I fear *may* lay ahead if we put all our eggs in one basket with the Labour Party. However, I see absolutely no reason why we cannot work together very productively, whether or not each of us decides the most productive way to participate is inside or outside of the formal structures of the Labour Party. I do though think that it is important to think seriously about the limits that may be inherent in the latter – equally, it is important for everyone to be very aware of the danger of sectarianism, but still try to think through these issues properly and argue a case one way or another.

  12. A brief (and friendly) comment to rs21 ( thought I guess it is to duncan thomas): in my opinion, your comment is written in a far too defensive manner. Already I am seeing menacing comments in some FB groups/pages that suggest one is being ‘sectarian’ and ‘ultra-leftist’ is you don’t agree 100% with the ‘support /join the LP and support Corbyn’ line coming out of so many left groups and from the ‘big thinkers’ on the UK left. I do not.

  13. There is no problem per se in joining the LP or being active within it and I am not saying “don’t vote for Corbyn, it’s useless”. Not at all. however, I believe that, if we look at the history of the LP and the balance of power within it, that there are serious limits to that avenue. This does not mean that we “don’t get involved”. It does mean, however, that we should develop *our own* capacities to organise around the Corbyn campaign. This stems from a basic belief that society has primacy over parliamentary politics and that a better and ultimately more productive use of our energy to participate in autonomous groups and movements – *which can nonetheless coalesce in support of Corbyn*.

    I should stress that this is in no way a criticism of Corbyn. I think he’s great. But many, many people have tried to radicalise the Labour Party over the last hundred years or so, often from a far greater position of strength than Corbyn. They have all failed. Labour is simply not a radical institution – it never has been and I don’t think it ever will be. The times that it *has* been relatively more radical is when it has been pressurised from *outside*.

    This is my personal opinion and I think that anyone seriously interested in radical change should be *very* wary of the Labour Party and would be extremely naive to think that it can be seriously transformed from within. I might be wrong, but my reading of history leads me to this conclusion. You can dispute it if you like, but there you are.

    However, the most important thing is that people are *active*. For you, that might be within the Labour Party. Fine, it’s better than nothing. But you must be active – I mean really active, far beyond just voting or attending a couple of meetings. That’s true whether you chose to participate as part of the LP, or support Corbyn from outside (this doesn’t mean don’t vote – that only takes a few minutes and you can do that however you wish to continue further down the line). But you must be active. Because the moment this *social momentum* lulls, Corbyn is dead. I think we can all agree on that. Whatever happens in electoral/parliamentary politics is very much secondary to the growth of the social movement and, in my opinion, that movement should not tie itself too closely to the Labour Party.

    You may disagree about that and that’s fine. Like I say, the most important thing is for you to be truly active. But I’d say that if you are interested in a group with the name “revolutionary socialism”, you should read about the history of Labour and consider its institutional structure and reflect upon the fact that it has ALWAYS been hostile to ANY form of revolutionary politics or even mobilisation beyond its direct control. If we simply rely on them, with or without Corbyn, we will be very disappointed.

    So my answer would be this: yes, vote for Corbyn; yes, go to meetings around his campaign. You should, because he’s great. But alongside this support, we must develop *our own* agency and organisation. Join a local group opposing housing evictions and social cleansing. Support workers on strike. Go to the march against the Tory conference. Join “Save the NHS” or CND. Whatever. None of this is incompatible with supporting Corbyn. The positive stuff going on in Scotland is so exciting exactly because it’s not tied to the SNP – it’s people using their own initiative to develop their own capacities, and it’s much stronger for that. That’s what’s pushing the SNP to the left (albeit much more moderately than people would have you believe). That’s what will push Labour to the left.

    All this is just my opinion though. I don’t deny it’s a difficult issue. I don’t deny finding the correct balance between
    support and autonomy is tricky. But I still think we have to find it.

  14. I must admit I’m baffled. So you want Corbyn to win. You think he’s good. You think (rightly) the battle in the LP is important. But you seem to have a problem actually advocating people help him win (joining the LP and voting). What’s the problem? The overwhelming danger is what?
    On the other hand the overwhelming danger of not getting involved is appearing to everyone else as a sectarian irrelevance, is it not? And not just *appearing* as a sectarian – abstaining from an important part of the struggle, the voting – but actually *being* a sectarian.

  15. Thanks for the clarification duncanthomas. What are the risks of joining Labour and voting for Corbyn in your view? You write that support entails “much more than that,” but it seems to me that joining Labour and voting Corbyn is the bare (rather obligatory) minimum if the word “support” in this context is to have any real, concrete meaning. Everyone following their conscience and doing “whatever” sounds a lot like the “diversity of tactics” non-answer certain anarchists would fall back on when comrades subjected counterproductive tactics to political criticism and scrutiny. I’m pressing this point because “supporting” Corbyn but not joining the Labour Party and not casting a vote for him pretty much guarantees you’ll be outsiders looking in on an inner-Labour Party struggle rather than leaders and organizers of that struggle. If your goal is to form a viable left-of-Labour Party (I guess you would call it a ‘radical’ party), it would be a lot more advantageous from that standpoint to be the leaders and organizers of the current inner-Labour Party struggle sparked by Corbyn’s candidacy rather than commenting positively from the sidelines of the fight since leading a left split from Labour from within its ranks is much easier than trying to engineer one from without.

  16. Thanks all for comments…I will try to deal with them briefly.

    1) Graham Campbell
    Thanks for your thoughts – just to make sure, you realise that I’m also the author of the Fair Observer article, right?
    My comments on being sceptical that Corbyn can transform Labour. He can’t, I’m quite sure. *Unless* – as I think I make clear – he has strong social support from both inside and outside the Party. Now, I’m not really against people organising within Labour per se, if they think that’s a good avenue and they’re already involved, but if we’re radical left, then we should look at the history of the Labour Party and see that it has pretty much always been a conservative force, not a radical one. However we specifically analyse the state, I think we’re both in agreement on the primacy of social movements and the need for them to develop autonomous structures of communication, organisation and so on.

    You say:
    “The British state will be profoundly undermined by a Corbyn victory and it will usher in a period of growing mass resistance that we have not yet seen materialise since the 2008 crisis. The far left must be ready for this upsurge – and we must take the temperature of this movement by actually being in the room with our thermometers – alongside Labour supporters wherever we can be.”
    Now, I’m not sure how “profound” the damage to the British State would actually be or how great the mass resistance would actually be. Those things are entirely contingent on our ability to organise. That’s really all I’m saying. If Corbyn is elected and over the next five years people see that as being their job done and an autonomous movement *doesn’t* develop, then the damage to the British State and strength of resistance will be minimal. The second part of your statement, I entirely agree with, and I’d say that the first part depends on it being done in a constructive way.

    I’d also say you overestimate the power of social media and underestimate the structures of control exercised over the LP by its elite. I don’t see any potential of it being radicalised *other than* if massive social pressure is applied to it. Your analogy with Scotland is correct and something I touch on in the article. As a Scot myself, I’d say that I couldn’t care less about independence in-and-of-itself, but it was a great catalyst for more radical movements to grow; equally, I don’t trust the SNP one bit, but as long as they are aware that their support is driven by social forces to their left, they can perform *some* useful functions – but we should never, ever rely on them or subordinate our priorities to theirs.

    2) acs3344

    Thanks, will watch. But from the titles of the two sides, I’d say we need to find a way to constructively participate, while remaining autonomous and critical. A difficult balance, but we can’t just dismiss the whole thing, as people are excited about it in quite an unusual way. We can’t be left behind and we should see certain sections of Labour as allies (including Corbyn) but, as I say, not rely on the LP for anything and try to make people aware of its limits.

    3) PW

    “What does ‘support’ entail? Joining the Labour Party as members and casting your votes when the time comes, yes?”

    As I say, that’s up to each individual and everyone should make that choice with full awareness of the potential benefits and risks. But support entails much more than that – whether or not you sign up to vote for Corbyn, if you don’t participate in real mobilisation and develop your links and ability to organise, it won’t help him or us in the long run. What should you actually do? Whatever – anything is better than nothing. It could be joining rs21. Or Save the NHS. Or a disabled activists group. Or CND. Or supporting striking workers. Or whatever. All these groups will see Corbyn’s campaign as an opportunity to mobilise and develop and if *that* movement is strong, resilient and autonomous, it will help to take advantage of the opportunity Corbyn offers far more than a bunch of people just signing up to vote for him and only mobilising within the structures of the Labour Party. That’s just my opinion because I think, historically and at present, the LP is too compromised to be a really radical force – it can, however, within certain limits be a useful ally with Corbyn as leader and it’s certainly far better for us if he does become leader.

    The Labour Party is choosing a new leader; the ballots go out this week. In case you missed it, MP Jeremy Corbyn is in the lead to win.
    What should be the response of progressives and socialists?
    “If Corbyn wins, it will change the dynamics of our movement…we shouldn’t give up the Labour Party without a fight.”
    “A colossal distraction…changing the Labour Party is like trying to get a rugby club to play cricket.”
    A debate from wellredfilms (

  18. I share a lot of Duncan’s analysis of what the role of the far left should be as an ally of the Labour Left – although I think he is wrong to say “it is highly naive to believe that Corbyn’s leadership could revive the party into a genuinely progressive political force. – See more at:” when there is clear evidence to the contrary that Corbyn’s base of young people and trade unionists alongside social movement activists and CLP members has alreadfy changed facts on the ground and changed even how mainstream media reports the political issues he is raising. This could indeed lead to a revivial of faith in the Labour oarty as a vehicle fo social change much as we might think that is illusionary. The fact that media is even reporting left reformist ideas at all is a break from the recent past and makes the left reformist reclaim project immediately more viable than it has been for 25 years.

    Duncan is however right to say “we have to find a way to participate in progressive politics outside of the formal structures of the Labour Party”. – See more at: – In practice this has got to mean building a social movement against austerity – something we have all been trying to do since 2008 but failed to achieve – only this time with the Labour Party’s mass bass mobilised and energised by the Corbyn factor. But to actually mobilise the people we all say we want to mobilise we can only do so by intersecting with this movement, But short of joining Labour we can do so by trying to mobilise affiliated supporters and trade union political fund levy payers as an auxilliary social movement to the official Labour membership. This somewhat similar to the cross over between the Yes movement and the SNP’s new mass membership. Frankly Corbyn and the Labour left do not really need us to build a serious mass social movement. Our relevance will the ideas and strategies to win that we can contribute. Corbyn’s movement (an English Syriza) already has the added bonus of sufficent mass electoral support with the potential to combine parliamentary and extra-parliament action to actually inflict defeats on the neo-liberal status quo. The evidence of this emerging mass anti-austerity movement is already happening in plain sight. We can see it in the videos of Corbyn events from Liverpool to Brighton where he has not only spoken to but more importantly listened to the activists and how they see the way forward. So many are new joiners or re-joiners and many others are like myself affiliated union levy payers or supporters.

    I think Duncan also overstates both the power of the Labour right (a small minority of the ruling class supports them as was shown with the desertions of capitalist donors under Miliband) and that of the unelected or secret state (which in the social media Wikileaks age is much less able to conduct its corrupt business in secret). We are also in danger of underestimating the power of social media for workers and youth especially to counteract the neo-liberal propaganda and allow folks to independently assess the crap the bourgeoisie hands out. After all 45% voted Yes in Scotland despite all the newspapers (bar one Sunday sheet) and the BBC supporting the Union. This was largely down to Yes activists winning the social media war. We see a similar dynamic developing in the Corbyn campaign so that the negative attacks are bouncing off. The same phenomena we have seen since Seattle – that of people mobilising and organising across the web culiminating in the Arab revolts and Occupy movements. These events and methods have profoundly influenced the current generation of trade union, student and social movement activists – and is reflected in the intake into the Labour party too.

    Corbyn as you rightly say is fully aware that he will meet the resistance of the state (secret or otherwise) but his goal to achieve transformational left reforms of the state into an interventionist job-creating Keynesian paradise has traction now.

    I am a bit more skeptical about the Poulantzian analysis of the state Duncan prefaced this article with. This is not really the place to go into this in too much detail but safe to say that the power of the state (those institutions that will resist any left wing determined change as opposed to the raw ‘bodies of armed men’) is far better analysed in V.I. Lenin’s State and Revolution which expains neatly and clearly why the capitalist state must ultimately be smashed and replaced by a different form of majority class rule. We should not ignore the real Leninist and Bolshevik tradition – which is not ‘coup plotting’ in the way Poulantzas talks about Bolsheviks ‘capturing’ the capitalist state but in fact is profoundly democratic. We are the far left and we have a lot to say to Labour supporters who want to achieve reforms like Council housing, reversing privatisation, stopping the cuts and reversing austerity, collecting corporate tax and raising taxes for the rich; stopping foreign wars; cancelling nukes etc. Poulantzas is in fact re-inventing Lenin’s own wheel which his analysis was developed in the very different context of a working class minority in society practising a higher form of democracy than the peasant numerical majority expressed in the nominally democratic Constituent Assembly.

    This was where the ‘dual power’ analysis of mobilsiing working class counter-hegemony from below with its own institutions (the Soviets) came from. Poulantzas alludes to this dualism without fully acknowledging its source as Lenin’s analysis of the fracturing of the state forms under the impact of class struggle in a revolutionary situation in State and Revolution. The state’s formal ‘constituent’ or ‘representative democracy’ was pitted against the working class’s democracy from below in their highest form as soviets but these started in their basic forms as social movements in neighbourhoods and on picket lines. I also think it is incorrect to talk about the relative autonomy of the state being ‘a social relation’ rather than its being a superstructure which represents a nexus of constantly changing varying type of social relations (i.e. between labour/capital, gender,race, sexuality etc).

    It is true that an aspiring Corbyn Labour government would face hostitlity against any attempt to reform the state or curtail its worst abuses of power but certain sections of that state (especially after devolution and the expenses and rape scandals) are much weakened politically. (isn’t it something that we can have a rational discussion about a Corbyn government – something that would have been impossible 12 weeks ago!) The British state will be profoundly undermined by a Corbyn victory and it will usher in a period of growing mass resistance that we have not yet seen materialise since the 2008 crisis. The far left must be ready for this upsurge – and we must take the temperature of this movement by actually being in the room with our thermometers – alongside Labour supporters wherever we can be.


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