Sunday, 27 September 2015

Shifting Position - On Rejoining the Labour Party

Two weeks ago, I decided to rejoin the Labour Party, I had left the Party in 2004 in growing disgust at the 'imperial' expansion by force of allegedly liberal values and the lack of progress in building a case with the public for a moderate and sensible democratic socialism in one country able to collaborate constructively with socialists, democratic socialists and liberals elsewhere in the world.

As recently as May of this year, I produced a fairly blunt analysis of why Labour had failed to win the 2015 General Election. This turned out to be one of my most widely circulated posts. Only last month I gave a similarly pessimistic view of politics under the two 'bourgeois' factions of one centrist liberal and increasingly culturally totalitarian 'National Party'. This latter piece had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the importance (to me) of transparency - I wanted readers to know where my biases and prejudices came from so that they could winnow them out when taking what they could from my work. Unusually, I am not trying to persuade anyone of anything. All I am trying to do is to get my readers to think for themselves and challenge their own assumptions as they challenge mine.

Last month, I hinted that I could rejoin the Labour Party but I was pessimistic: " ... the Labour Party is so appallingly decadent that the Tories now look relatively competent. How did that happen? ... The British Labour Party is little more than the defensive manouevre of conservative special interest groups terrified by the onward march of history. I may join it again if Corbyn wins even though his politics are not mine (though I know and respect the person)"  

Because of that pessimism, I declined to do what I considered to be dishonourable and send in my £3 to join a bandwagon, vote for Jezza and then claim to be one of the faithful. What I underestimated was not only the level of discontent within the Party (whose activists I had prematurely dismissed as variants of Orwell's cart horse in 1984) but the impressive personal performance of Corbyn and the radical shift of opinion within huge stretches of the trades union movement persuaded me that I was wrong to stand aside. The trades unions seemed to have finally got that being the servant of urban liberals was demeaning, that the union gift of power to the Blairites in the 1990s had achieved little and that trying to regain power through a quasi-Leftist intellectual Blairite like Miliband was not going to work.

I took time to decide whether to rejoin the Party but when the decision came, it seemed right even though much of the pessimism remains. It was helped by the estimable old Labour Right winger Tom Watson being elected as ballast (as Deputy Leader) and John Prescott's statesmanlike call for Party Members to respect the decision of the Members and rally round the new Leader. 

Meanwhile, the brutal negativity of the media, of the Blairite Right and of all but the most humanely civilised of Tories such as David Davis showed us that Corbyn would have an uphill struggle. His fundamentally decent principles may stand little chance against the crude sociopathy of the radical centre with its little trotters dug firmly in the pork barrel of late capitalism and its brute determination that its sty not be cleaned out. But I was wrong about Corbyn's victory as Leader (I thought up to the wire that Burnham would get it on second votes) and I could yet be wrong about him being Prime Minister. But perhaps it is time to drop my 'cold realism' and show a little faith in the democratic socialist dream.

I said in my August posting that Corbyn's politics were not mine - I am probably an edge more nationalist, more libertarian, more aware of market reality and more wary of some of the ideological Marxists in his advisory circle - so the question arises - why? Why rejoin now as a moderate democratic socialist when a lot of middle class intellectual non-Marxist democratic socialists are running for cover. There are five core reasons other than blind sentiment to my old tribe and a mad desire to make an absurd existentialist commitment to something decent:-
  1. The man matters. I knew him as my Constituency MP in Islington North in the 1990s and I was struck then by his fundamental integrity, decency and intelligence. I saw him at close quarters act on a sensitive human rights issue and discovered how much senior Conservatives respected him as the 'go to' man in this area. Everything he did during the weeks of election campaigning confirmed that integrity and also his courage, courage in standing up to stupid and biaised journalists and for what he believed.
  2. I don't like fools and bullies and much of the attack on him (not admittedly by the competing candidates who conducted themselves well throughout) was either intellectually stupid or sheer thuggery. The attacks made me look more deeply into what he was actually saying and not what he was reported as saying. I was impressed
  3. The attack dog mentality on his economics was worse than overdone, it was criminally ignorant. There is, in fact, more in common between serious financial market practitioners and Shadow Chancellor McDonnell than there is between either of these and the fools who have run our country into the ground. The pragmatism of Corbyn was ignored - there was no absurd rhetoric from him in the end but only a systematic commitment to the betterment of the mass of the British people which became even more clear in the notes of Ann Black, elected NEC constituency representative of the first NEC meeting held under his auspices as Leader,
  4. I persist in seeing the Party as it is currently structured as decadent. This is a direct function of the democratic centralism of Tony Blair and his refusal to have an intelligent debate about party engagement at the 1996 Party Conference. An internal revolution ensuring that a democratic socialist was in control of the democrat centralism created by Blair would show up its internal contradictions and force some form of democratic reform and mobilisation on the Party. The rival candidates to Corbyn were remarkably lack-lustre and the brutes of 1997-2010 had clearly failed to create their own succession for the sake of country and party - liberal egoism at its worst.
  5. Although he had to undertake something of a u-turn because of the demands of the party elite that he had inherited and of the system of forums and fixing at the top, Corbyn was prepared to open the door to important debate on key isues where the Party had previously closed off debate - the European Union, Trident, the Monarchical Constitution and the State, and socialist economics. I would disagree with important aspects of Corbyn's position, including his u-turns on some of them, but what he was doing was opening up ground for serious discussion and political education in a way unseen in three decades. This was not an excuse for disunity and internal party warfare but an opportunity for serious debate and discussion on the facts.
So, on all these grounds - the man, the frightened negativity of the failed old guard, the pragmatism underlying the policies of the man, the opportunity to transform the Party into an agent of national debate and mobilisation and the fact that new ideas were being permitted to be heard even if they may later be rejected - the re-joining of the Labour Party became a 'no-brainer'.

What next? The first thing to recognise is that, once a field general in the struggles of the 1990s, I am now no more than a foot soldier in a back water so it behoves me to watch and wait for at least six months while I understand how this party has changed since I was last a member in 2004. I also have businesses to run and a hinterland of my own - interests that have nothing to do with politics. 

This does not mean I won't be involved in politics but my instinct is to show solidarity and support for the New Leader and for the Party while it negotiates the vicious attacks of the dim and lazy low lives in the Press and from cynical and opportunist political opponents from inside and outside. If a successful coup is mounted against him by Blairites before he has had a chance to prove that he is the wrong person for the job, then my pessimism returns - I shall just bugger off to a private life again - but the long haul is the reconstruction of a democratic socialist Party capable of reaching a mass base and winning an election in 2020 without falling into the hands of loopy ideologues, becoming authoritarian on private life under the influence of post-Marxists or showing weakness when faced by serious challenges like mass economic migration or the blow-back from the petty wars of the previous Labour administrations. Be in no doubt, the Party is never anything other than a means to an end - a better Britain - and loyalty to any other end such as office for the sake of office is sheer simple-mindedness.

My one political commitment is to a 'leave' vote in the British European Referendum that must take place before the end of 2017. My opposition to the European Union has been consistent since the first Referendum of 1975. It is based on a a rational critique of the sheer danger of its aspirations to become a liberal super-state based on bureaucratic centralism, the suppression of national self-determination and, ultimately, on the economics of the free market at the expense of welfarism in a 'competitive world'. It is German-dominated (albeit with France as junior partner) and I find this a problem. 

The appalling management of the Ukraine crisis (which might have brought us to war), incompetence in the handling of the refugee crisis and the morally repugnant treatment of Greek democracy by neo-liberal ideologues are only elements of my wider outrage at the presumption of this system which is designed to ensure that democratic socialism is impossible from the Atlantic to the Urals and from the Mediterranean to the Arctic. Take a look at the TTIP and that should be enough to know that the destiny they have chosen for us is to be happy serfs and little more except that we will get to vote for our serfdom every few years or so. I expect to say more on these issues in due course. 

Meanwhile, this blog may change tone a little. The Frontiers series will continue (and will eventually be packaged in a separate blog as we have done with the Tantra and Basic British History series) and there will be occasional essays on culture as before but you may see more politics. Let us leave it there ...