A few further thoughts on what I’d see as the problems with the Corbyn campaign: at some point, it becomes necessary for any campaign to confront the question of whether it’s likely, or even possible, to win, and what it would mean to do so. One of the reasons I’m very supportive of Boycott Workfare, for example, is that they have a proven track record of pressuring employers to pull out of workfare schemes, and it seems not beyond the bounds of possibility that they might manage to do so on a large enough scale as to make the workfare project as a whole unworkable, as the DWP themselves have admitted. Similarly, organising over deposit and wage theft has led to a number of clear-cut victories over the last few years.
In contrast, with the Corbyn campaign, many of those involved are openly willing to admit that they have no expectation of victory. This in itself isn’t a completely damning objection, as long as the campaign itself is seen as a step in a broader project. And indeed, some of those involved do seem to believe that, within the foreseeable future, we might see the Labour Party become “an ally in the Marxist struggle for international socialism”. If those involved think that’s a viable project, then fine, that’s their perspective and they’re free to think that, just as the rest of us are free to think that it sounds like utter nonsense.
But it’s also clear that many of those currently cheering for Corbyn don’t think that a meaningful transformation of the Labour Party is a possibility, or at least not a plausible enough one to be worth betting on. So it is that we’re faced with people who are ostensibly committed to long-term projects of building independent organisations outside of, and ultimately hoping to compete with, the Labour Party, at the same time trying to champion a project that can only be justified in terms of trying to change that same party, and one that will involve actively signing people up to that party.
This quickly leads to utter nonsense, like the idea of first “Campaigning for Labour supporters in unions to register as affiliated supporters to vote for Corbyn” in order to then “argue for as large a section of the campaign and the unions to break with Labour”. Look at that again. The author is literally suggesting trying to get non-members of Labour to sign up as affiliates, only in order to turn around and tell them to leave in a few months’ time. Similarly, Andrew Burgin of Left Unity notes that “No significant party of the left has yet been built: my own organisation Left Unity which aspires to be that party… would struggle to make headway” while Labour remains “hegemonic”, and then advocates “there should be a wide campaign throughout the whole labour movement to encourage people to” register as supporters of the Labour Party. Again, this is someone who’s part of a project outside of the Labour Party, trying to build an alternative to the Labour Party, saying that loyalty to Labour makes it hard to build the project he’s involved in, and then proposing the idea of signing more people up to Labour.
For those committed to Left Unity, RS21, or other left-of-Labour projects who’re also backing the Corbyn campaign, the question needs to be asked: do you think the kind of politics Corbyn represents have a meaningful future within that party? And further questions follow on from that: if the answer’s yes, and they see those politics as something worth fighting for, then why aren’t they committing to joining the likes of the LRC for the long haul? And if, as I suspect, the answer’s no, then how can you possibly want to campaign on the basis of “vote for this guy – he won’t win, and the politics he represents don’t have any future, but why not sign up as a supporter of this doomed pro-austerity party so you can vote for his hopeless candidacy anyway?” If there wasn’t a future for socialism within the Labour Party a month or two ago, there isn’t one today. And I don’t see how pretending it exists for a few months, then forgetting about it and carrying on as before, will do anything to help anybody.