How not to course-correct
Socialist Resistance has finally shifted focus to Labour - but on a rotten basis, reckons Jim Grant
A foot in both camps - why?
There is hope for us all! Socialist Resistance, the rightist Trotskyist - ahem, I mean, ‘Marxist-feminist-ecosocialist’ - organisation, has finally worked out that “Corbynism is now (overwhelmingly) the main focus of political radicalisation in England and Wales today”.1
Such is the punchline of a new programmatic (well, programmatic-ish) text the comrades have published on the International Viewpoint website, the house organ of the Mandelite Fourth International, to which they belong. SR, of course, is always slow on the uptake, but this really takes the cake - for it has taken the comrades 18 months to notice a vast mass movement. It is as if the leader of some Petrograd micro-group had come out, in the middle of 1918, with the statement that the soviets were the ‘main focus of political radicalisation in Russia’. We have not, of course, had a workers’ revolution: but at this point, we would not put it past Alan Thornett and his dozy crew not to miss one entirely if it came, only to pop up a year later so as to dilute its energy and manage its expectations.
So what’s the skinny? The comrades put a lot of emphasis on numbers: Labour is now larger than the next four political parties combined: “such growing membership enhances Labour’s chances of becoming the largest party in the British parliament after the next general election and, hopefully, of forming a government through a progressive alliance with other parties”. Momentum has hit 20,000 members and, “whilst it is lacking in internal democracy, is a genuine grassroots movement that has been turning towards mass campaigning”.
Despite battles with Blairites, Corbyn has been strengthened by two events: his re-election as leader and his success at conference, “where he not only successfully defended the political line around which Corbynism originally emerged, but strengthened it considerably” (sic!). Thus, Resisting Socialism’s “two principal (and interrelated) conclusions”: firstly, as already quoted, Corbynism is the focus of radicalisation; and secondly (I think, for the presentation of the text makes it unclear what the second conclusion is supposed to be), “we have therefore taken the decision to move our political centre of gravity into the ‘Corbyn movement’ in order to fight more effectively for a Corbyn-led anti-austerity government at the next election”.
Exactly what moving one’s political centre of gravity means is not clear on the basis of this document - SR comrades have recently been focused on Left Unity, whose attempt to build a British equivalent of Syriza or Die Linke has foundered on the rocky shores of reality. However, while SR
will continue to work with Left Unity wherever we can, and some SR supporters will continue to be members of and be active within Left Unity, ... we think ... that the movement behind Corbyn, McDonnell and Abbott is the most effective way to build a radical anti-austerity party at the present time.
“Will continue to be members of”? Have these comrades been instructed as a result of a democratic vote? Are they just doing what they feel like? Who knows? But on the basis of SR’s history, we suspect that this is the result of a fudge.
Too soft to split
In a peculiar way, the problem with Socialist Resistance could be that it simply has not had a serious enough crisis for the last 30 years. At that time, the Socialist League (as it then was) split into three, leaving behind after a year or two of conniptions the Communist League (sympathetic to the American Socialist Workers Party), the neo-Stalinist Socialist Action, and the International Socialist Group, which in substance is today’s SR.
The 1990s were a slow decade, for them as for all of us, as the comrades attempted to come to terms with the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the triumphant march of a ruthless yet declining capitalism. In this period, the ISG - like its international affiliates in the Fourth International - committed itself to support for left regroupment, in “parties not programmatically delimited between reform and revolution”. Given this perspective, the next decade found things looking a little better, with the formation of the Scottish Socialist Party causing a great deal of excitement, especially when it started making inroads into Holyrood politics. The ISG also participated in the Socialist Alliance, which gathered together most of the major far-left organisations; in this capacity, its role was basically to act as bag-carriers for the SWP, and the ISG enthusiastically supported the winding-up of the SA in favour of Respect.
When Respect split, the ISG went with George Galloway’s faction rather than the SWP, and regrouped with a handful of others to form SR, even giving its monthly paper to Respect; but then split a year or two later, on the baffling basis that Galloway’s decision to stand in a Scottish election was a denial of Scottish self-determination.2 Most recently, its attention turned to Left Unity, without changing the substance of its politics: flitting from one regroupment to the next, and (increasingly) dragging each one of them to the right, before flaking off to the next one.
The underlying commonality here is an utterly light-minded approach to politics, which has the effect that none of these setbacks register as any kind of spur to rethinking, despite identical failures that repeat as regularly as parade-ground drills. Easy come, easy go. And perhaps the greatest illustration of this unseriousness comes in the document under present discussion, where the authors assure us that “This is not a break with the idea, which we have long defended, of building radical left parties to the left of social democracy across Europe; rather it is the continuation of such a policy by a different route.”
Prima facie this is just a barefaced lie. The Labour Party is social democracy in this country, comrades. There is no talk of the old-fashioned tactic of going into an organisation to split away its best elements; only of working as hard as possible for a Corbyn government. So where does the ‘radical party to the left of social democracy’ come in? No explanation is offered, so we suggest our own: the formulation can be taken to mean, Peter Taaffe-style, that Corbyn’s supporters constitute themselves a party to the left of their own party; or alternatively, that the building of separate broad parties will continue as a side-line. That way, the few sad individuals still stubbornly wedded to Left Unity may be conceded the right to ride their hobby-horse without anything so vulgar as a political struggle over the correct orientation of the organisation - as alien an idea to Resisting Socialism as humility is to Donald Trump.
Wrong, wrong, wrong
We may nevertheless concede that, on balance, SR has adjusted to reality. So what does it intend to do about it?
Unfortunately, its analysis of the situation remains dire. We may begin with some details we skipped over above: the authors of this document are under the bizarre impression that this year’s Labour conference represented some kind of great stride to the left, when to all reasonable observers it consisted of the leadership conceding ground, burying hatchets and generally trying to appear moderate and electable. SR’s evidence for this is essentially that Jeremy Corbyn took the opportunity to say a few words in defence of immigrants.
Given their irrealism on that point, it is hardly surprising to find that the comrades are bullish about “Labour’s chances of becoming the largest party in the British parliament after the next general election and, hopefully, of forming a government through a progressive alliance with other parties”. We will assume that the opinion polls speak for themselves as to the likelihood of such an outcome, however, and instead focus on the latter part of that sentence. An alliance with whom, exactly? For such an alliance to be at all numerically significant, we suppose that it must include the Scottish National Party; thus, also, we read that “team Corbyn” (barf) has “serious unresolved problems” as regards “its attitude to Scottish independence, to the electoral system and to electoral alliances” (our emphasis).
No complaints as regards the electoral system, although we cannot remember SR comrades taking an interest in such matters before. As for the rest of it - absolutely disastrously wrong.
The heart of the problem is this: what is the significance of Corbyn’s election? For us in Labour Party Marxists, it lies not very much at all in the particular programme of Jeremy Corbyn, which - like all left Labourism - is crippled by nationalist assumptions and constitutional loyalism, but in the fact that a historic party of the working class has become, very rapidly, a live and urgent site of struggle for communist politics, as opposed to the very nearly hypothetical one it was under Blair, Brown and Miliband.
As for SR, we cannot but note that, first of all, the comrades speak more easily of Corbynism and ‘team Corbyn’ than of the Labour Party as a historic formation; and, second of all, that the word ‘class’ does not even appear in the whole document, nor any reference to any particular class under any other name. SR, in other words, is interested in the Corbyn movement not on the basis of any Marxist analysis, or even on the basis of any historical understanding at all, but merely on a vague sense of progressive sentiment. Its excitement over the Corbyn movement owes a depressingly great deal to the dewy-eyed youth flooding in, apparently, from “recent radicalisation such as the Occupy movement, UK Uncut, the Greens and from the direct action environmental movement”.3
In this sense alone, the new Socialist Resistance orientation is a continuation of the old policy “by a different route”; for now, as always, it merely does what feels good. Such philistinism, like the proverbial stopped clock, has at least set SR in the right direction this time. Yet the wider stupidity of its outlook remains stubbornly in place.
2. See Peter Manson, ‘Clutching at straws’ Weekly Worker November 11 2010. Since then, the comrades have attempted to rewrite history and claim that the split issue was Galloway’s ‘cult of personality’. Not everyone has such a short memory, comrades ...
3. A footnote on a footnote - for the short of memory, the authors remind us who UK Uncut actually were: “part of the anti-globalisation movement in Britain, focused on direct action against austerity”. Except, er, they postdate the anti-globalisation movement by more than a decade. An easy mistake to make - after all, these ephemeral protest movements do rather blend into one after a while ...