Activists Alison and Adam, who recently joined the Labour Party, put arguments for socialists joining Labour.
Alison, Waltham Forest
I joined Labour shortly after the Brexit vote. The outcome of the referendum was bad enough, especially all the racism it stirred up, but then it seemed that the only glimmer on the horizon, Corbyn’s left wing leadership of the Labour Party, was now under imminent threat by the right wing of the Labour Party: the people who have tailed the Tories for years and have got nowhere doing it. I panicked and joined Labour. Then I felt weird.
The following week I attended a local branch meeting. This is a branch made up of three wards. There are three such branches in my local constituency. There was an emergency motion in support of Corbyn so I went with my partner and child. I didn’t know what to expect but as we were walking through the local streets there were groups of people heading in the same direction. There was a queue to get into the hall. Not only was the meeting big, over 150 people, but it was electric. Mainly women spoke for Corbyn – from the heart, but also with politics all of us ‘revolutionaries’ would applaud: pro-migrant, anti-racist, anti-austerity.
I felt I was in the company of like-minded people – the best in a union branch came to mind, or in a local campaign – and they all live locally. There were people I recognised from seeing around the neighbourhood that I didn’t realise were political. One of our close neighbours was there to vote for Corbyn.
Since then, the guns have turned on us, the membership. It is distressing and galling but it looks as though Corbyn could still win. At the time of writing over 183,000 people had signed up as supporters, according to The Independent, and many will back Corbyn.
If he does win this it can offer us all a real milieu in which to interact. I don’t think standing on the side-lines cuts it, simply because you can’t actually stand with people in meetings and gain their respect and trust in the same way that you can if you are a member.
So if you can bear it and your local branch is inhabitable, I say join. It really isn’t a big step. It’s a tactical decision that many socialists have made over the past hundred years and is not incompatible with retaining revolutionary networks. This is also not about ‘entryism’ but about fighting in good faith with people you can agree with.
Those of us who spent years organising and doing politics with a hollowed out, neoliberal Labour Party as part of the landscape have had a massive shock over the last 18 months. Even the most cursory glance at the figures shows that something quite unexpected and hugely significant is taking place. 183,000 have signed up as registered Labour supporters in the space of 48 hours, at a cost of £25 a head. Thousands have rallied in support of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. The parliamentary Labour Party is despondent as all the indications are that their attempt to defenestrate Corbyn will fail. My contention is that these new challenges, and the opportunities that they present, mean that guarding the sacred flame of Marxism outside of the ranks of Labour Party members is no longer an option – its time to sign up folks.
For me, part of the reason is what I can only describe as the historic failure of what some call the ‘classical marxist tradition’ of Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg. That is not to say that we do not use all of the insights of these and other thinkers, but it is to say that the attempt, which has been going on for three generations, to follow the model of 1917 in developed capitalist coutries has failed, and and that failure cannot be denied any longer. We have seen 80 years of attempts by activists across the globe to recreate the model represented by the Bolsheviks in 1917 and to some extent exported successfully in the early years of the Comintern, but nowhere have these attempts led to a stable organisation with a greater than 4 figure membership. Enough of this comrades – we need to look elsewhere if we want to win the kind of numbers that are needed to fight capitalism. Fortunately, and in the most unexpected way, fresh big battalions are arriving on the battle field.
Among the 500,000 or so people now signed up as members, affiliated members or supporters of Labour it would appear that the majority want to back the kind of ideas Jeremy Corbyn represents. Inside of that, a harder organisation is emerging in the form of Momentum – a promising organisation, which is now rightly perceived as a threat by the bosses, and starting to receive the customary hatchet jobs in the media.
If Corbyn wins in the autumn, we have the very real possibility of turning Momentum into something that has not been seen in this country since the 1940: a mass, organised socialist current in society, with members in every corner of the land, every significant workplace, every housing estate and tower block. How that socialist current would organise, what it would do, how it would combat the many social ills we face would be a matter of huge debate, and I would argue that debate is best carried out from within Momentum and the Labour Party rather than from outside. This is literally a once in a lifetime opportunity to build real mass socialist politics, and those who have spent years organising as part of the independent Marxist Left have a wealth of knowledge and experience to offer.
The pitfalls and challenges are huge. The possibility of failure so very real. But the alternative, of maintaining one’s ideological purity in an organisation of a couple of hundred or even a couple of thousand is no longer, for me at least, an option. Whatever doubts I had vanished when I went to my first Momentum meeting – one which had been modestly built on social media – and found myself in a room with about 120 others, standing room only, and the mood one of incandescent rage at the Blairites back stabbing. The time is now comrades – join Momentum, join Labour and fight for a mass socialist movement.