By pretty much anyone’s standards, the Corbyn leadership bid is a weird phenomenon. Here we have a man who, by all accounts, is a very nice and principled fellow, trying to become the leader of an organisation so totally venal and amoral that, when asked a question as simple as “do you support or oppose the idea of taking away £30 a week from disabled people?”, most of its elected representatives responded with something along the lines of “oh, I dunno really, that’s a bit of a tricky one.”
Seeing a self-professed socialist making a bid to become leader of the modern Labour Party in 2015 is a bit like if Mary Poppins came to life and announced that she was going to try to take over the Mafia. Sure, on some level you’d have to wish her well because she seems nice enough, but it’d be very hard to imagine her succeeding, and even harder to imagine what on earth she’d be able to do with her new position once she’d got it.
So it’s no wonder that many people on the left, particularly those who’ve historically been in favour of working outside the Labour Party, have been a bit confused about how to respond. I thought I’d seen this confusion in its purest form with Ian Allinson’s recommendation that we should sign people up as affiliate supporters in order to then tell them to leave, but another article has now offered a stance which might be even more confusing. In a new article by Richard Seymour, he makes some perfectly valid observations about the pointlessness of signing up to Labour if you’re not willing to commit to it, states that he won’t be paying his £3 to vote – and then concludes that what he’s said “doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility to support Corbyn’s bid…, in whatever ways we can.”
Just to repeat: this is someone who thinks he has a responsibility to support Corbyn, “in whatever ways we can”… except for by voting for him. If anyone actually tried to apply this approach in practice, it’d make for some pretty odd conversations:
“Hey, could I have a minute of your time? I’ve come round to encourage you to vote for Corbyn.”
“Hang on, aren’t you that lefty who’s always banging on about how bad the Labour Party is? Huh, never thought I’d see the day you voted in a Labour leadership contest.”
“Oh, no, I’m not going to do it myself. I have a responsibility to support him, in whatever ways I can, but I won’t be voting for him. But I’m here to tell you that you should.”
Like Seymour, I can’t see much point in signing up to an organisation you’re not willing to commit to. Unlike him, I don’t think I have any responsibility to support someone’s quest to become an anti-austerity, social democratic leader of a firmly pro-austerity neoliberal party. My perspective now, just like it was a few months ago before all the Corbyn hype blew up, and just like it’ll be in a few months’ time when it’s all died down, is still based around what was once described as the “tendency of working class struggles to go outside and against the government and politics, and to create new forms of organization that do not put our faith in anything other than our own ability”. It may not be an especially popular stance, especially not at the current moment. But it’s coherent, it makes sense, and it helps me to avoid coming out with claptrap like proclaiming that I have a responsibility to support a candidate who I have no intention of voting for.
As someone once wrote long ago, “Because the traditional parties cannot be ‘reformed’, ‘captured’, or converted into instruments of working class emancipation – and because we are reluctant-to indulge in double-talk and doublethink – IT FOLLOWS that we do not indulge in such activities as ‘critically supporting’ the Labour Party at election time, calling for ‘Labour to Power’ between elections, and generally participating in sowing illusions, the better at a later date to ‘take people through the experience’ of seeing through them. The Labour and Communist parties may be marginally superior to the Conservative Party in driving private capitalism along the road to state capitalism… But we are not called upon to make any choice of this kind: it is not the role of revolutionaries to be the midwives of new forms of exploitation. IT FOLLOWS that we would rather fight for what we want (even if we don’t immediately get it) than fight for what we don’t want and get it.”