Only minutes after the announcement that Jeremy Corby had overwhelmingly won the leadership contest within the British Labour Party, the divisions within it were quickly exposed. The first snub by a Labour MP to the winner took place almost immediately the results were made public. Mr Corbyn almost as quickly made a speech appealing for unity within the party which, as many before, him he characterised as a ‘broad church’. This term is a useful one for the inclusion of ‘church’ hints at the level of ‘belief’ which is necessary in order to have ‘faith’ in the bourgeois political cathedral of self-deception (Parliament) of which the Labour Party is an integral part. In turn the word ‘broad’ adequately describes the range of bourgeois views contained within the Parliamentary section of the Labour Party – if not the ordinary membership. So it wasn’t too surprising that other shadow cabinet resignations predictably followed. Does this rapid exit by the right-wing mean a space will open up for the left? Not necessarily, but even if it ultimately could we need to be clear on what kind of left.
So before going further, the following general points should be remembered. The parliamentary section of the Labour Party has always had three main tendencies with regard to active participation in and support for the capitalist mode of production. Historically within the Labour Party there have always been left-wing, right-wing and centre groupings competing for policy and organisational domination. This spectrum has served to confuse the fact that these tendencies have all been bourgeois in outlook and dedicated to maintaining the capitalist mode of production, albeit with differing tactical modifications. The spectrum in essence is no different today. In modern times the Blairites have represented the right wing bourgeois elements, who for all economic and social purposes are practically indistinguishable from many in the Conservative and Liberal parties. The left-wing bourgeois elements inside the Labour Party are now represented by Jeremy Corbyn, whilst the modern centre ground of bourgeois thinking is probably best represented by Andy Burnham and his supporters.
Not one of these tendencies within the Labour Party has even bothered to critique the capitalist mode of production, let alone seriously considered the full implications of the destructive domination of finance-capital; a domination which led to the 2008 financial crisis. Whilst, condemning the politics of ‘austerity’ (just one of the symptoms of the current crisis) the parliamentary left of the Labour Party have shown no understanding of the economic and financial origins of this bourgeois policy imposition. The promise of ending austerity is therefore a hollow one and like the one promised by Syrza leadership in Greece earlier this year, it will amount to very little – or possibly nothing at all! The same fate lies in wait for Mr Corbyn’s well-meaning words about more equality, more democracy and no poverty during his acceptance speech. There has not been one example of these abstract rhetorical principles being implemented beyond a privileged minority in the whole history of the capitalist mode of production.
In an interview during the period of the leadership contest in the Labour Party, one member declared that a rejuvenated Labour Party was necessary because it was ‘the last defence of the working class’. It is interesting that in this member’s mind, the real position of the Labour Party in relationship to the capitalist mode of production is reversed. It only appears to be this if it is assumed that there is no other possible mode of production. In actual fact the reverse is historically accurate. The Labour Party is the last defence of the capitalist class and it’s mode of production. Indeed, this expected role for Labour is hinted at positively by establishment approval for Blairism and negatively by the histrionic outpourings by Conservative and right-wing Labourites, who worry that a Corbyn leadership threatens the safety and security of 21st century British and European capitalism. This follows similar bourgeois establishment concerns over the demise of Labour in Scotland and the threat posed by the Scottish Nationalist Party to dissolve the union with England and declare independence. However none of these or other proposed or supposed micro changes by Labour threaten the system of capitalism for the following reasons.
The British Labour Party is seen by practically everyone within it as a ‘loyal’ opposition and the loyalty is universally understood to be to the bourgeois constitutional system and the capitalist mode of production. The almost ubiquitous furore over the lack of singing of the national anthem by Mr Corbyn further illustrates the core concerns of middle England. God save the Queen, for this middle-ground being synonymous with servile deference to the royalist minded wing of the bourgeois/capitalist establishment. Not even a republican minded petite bourgeois politician is supposed to stay true to his or her anti-royalist principles. It remains to be seen how quickly many more ‘positions’ (including the kneeling position in front of the queen) that Mr Corbyn has previously frowned upon will be abandoned. For he will be under sustained pressure from those establishment figures around him who disapprove of even rhetorical criticism of neo-liberal capitalism or its bourgeois affectations. A recent article in People and Nature on the Corbyn election sums up (correctly in my view) the role of the Labour Party as a bourgeois social democratic safety valve for political protest. The author suggested;
“One way to see the defeat of Labour in Scotland and Corbyn’s election a leader, is as a chapter in the crisis of social democracy as a method of ruling and controlling the working class, a means of locking it into, and tying it to, the political system that administers and protects capitalism.“ (People and Nature https://peopleandnature.wordpress.com/2015/09/13/jeremy-corbyn-delivers-a-blow-to-blair-ism-and-now-what/)
Once this role of the Labour Party (as part of a bourgeois social democratic trend) is understood then it becomes clear why so much mainstream attention is being focused upon bringing Mr Corbyn, the imagined rebel, to heel. Hence the extreme establishment tetchiness at even his rhetorical departure from the current neo-liberal consensus and also why he is being censured by much of the media. However, as noted, the right wing and centre-ground representatives of capital within the Labour Party need have no fear, because Mr Corbyn has indicated by numerous statements and appointments, that he wishes to include as many other grades of pro-capitalist opinion and policy as possible. Only the unwillingness of some right wing Blairites has prevented their inclusion in the shadow cabinet. This said, the divisions within the Labour Party, will not be papered over by potentially lucrative appointments or by appeals to party unity. This is because, as with political parties in general, it remains a party divided by personal ambition, greed and factional loyalty on how to manage capitalism and to individually prosper whilst doing so.
These divisions may or may not be on public display during the coming Labour Party Conference, but they will certainly be there. Meanwhile there is another role that the middle class supporters of social democracy have played which needs to be seriously considered by those opposed to capitalism. During previous crises of the capitalist mode of production politicians from this group has actually assisted capitalism’s survival. When the bourgeois system has been in its weakest and most crisis-riddled stages they have assisted in splitting the opposition to the system and undoubtedly many will play this role again. It is a political role that involves creating illusions, raising expectations, draining energies, dashing hopes, causing despondency and introducing authoritarian measures to combat any revolutionary developments.
In any serious crisis new activists enter the political arena and many are channelled into support for left sounding bourgeois politicians. Their expectations are raised (along with a large section of the public,) their energies are exploited and drained, before sooner or later their hopes are finally dashed by the compromises and half-hearted efforts of the social democratic politicians. This in turn creates despondency among the new activists (and public) eventually leading to inactivity and cynicism among some and more radical ideas and practices by others. It is at this stage that the true bourgeois nature of the bourgeois socialist posers is revealed. In the name of social stability and order (and supported by openly right wing politicians) a section of them invariably introduce authoritarian measures to quell any grassroots solutions which threaten the bourgeois political order and the capitalist mode of production.
In the past this pattern has revealed itself, most clearly and demonstrably in pre-Hitlerite Germany (see ‘Nazi’s: a Double warning from History) and most recently in Greece where a number of these stages have already been reached. In the case of Britain the first stages of this process have already been reached. Already expectations are rising among some of the left, as a recent statement by Left Unity makes clear.
“This a victory for the movement as a whole. It is a victory for all those opposing the welfare cuts, for all those campaigning against war and racism, for all those fighting to defend our NEW and a host of other issues. “ (Left Unity statement. September 12 as published in ‘Links’)
In the previous campaigning activity in support of Mr Corbyn’s election, expectations were already considerably raised and as this Left Unity extract illustrates, his success in becoming leader has raised them even further. This election of a dedicated reformist bourgeois politician as leader of a parliamentary group – who by and large are much less dedicated than him – is hailed as ‘a victory for the movement as a whole’! What a crass piece of wishful thinking that assertion amounts to! Of course just who the movement as a whole is, is not stated. However, if it is meant to include all those who are just opposing welfare cuts, war and racism (ie those sincerely wishing to reform the capitalist mode of production in a positive direction) I doubt whether even a majority would agree that this election represents a real victory for them. If it is meant to include those of us who are opposed to the capitalist mode of production, and wish to seriously go beyond it, then this Left Unity assessment of the value of Mr Corbyn’s election is laughable.
But such wishful thinking can serve a purpose that is perhaps not intended. If the effective role of the social democratic middle classes in government is to create illusions, raise expectations, drain energies and dash hopes, (whether intended or not) then certain things follow. Given the historically warranted disillusionment in politics, these ‘official’ political elements will need allies who will at least sustain and perhaps amplify the early stages. Some people outside the parliamentary fold will be needed to also create illusions, further raise expectations and energise – as many activists as possible – all to support those promising things through parliament. This support at the minimum will require electioneering, canvassing, leafletting, attending public and party meetings all of which will drain energies and almost certainly will result in dashed hopes and cause future despondency. Anti-capitalist activists would be advised to make themselves aware of this possibility and treat critically those outside of the parliamentary fold who choose to amplify the messages emanating from the social democratic supporters of the capitalist mode of production. And that is not the only reason to be critically aware of this possibility.
Encouraging activists to become the dogs bodies of the reformists will almost certainly also have the effect of diverting them away from alternative activities. That is to say away from activities that will be crucial in order to strengthen grass roots organisations. This along with supporting the understanding of ordinary working people and local communities to develop critically is I suggest, a vital part of the work of activists. If successful this reformist political tactic of diverting activism away from grass roots self organisation of working people and their communities will leave these communities more vulnerable to the eventual introduction of authoritarian measures. As mentioned previously when the crisis deepens, authoritarian measures by politicians and state officials, will become necessary in order to prevent non-parliamentary solutions by ordinary citizens becoming a permanent feature of social and economic life.
Roy Ratcliffe (September 2015)