Thoughts on the movement, or why we still don't even Corbyn - Joseph Kay and Ed Goddard

Registering to vote in the 2016 Labour leadership election raised £4,588,525.

It’s a lonely world these days for an anti-parliamentary socialist with all politics seeming to have taken a back seat to the current Labour Party shenanigans. While the deluge of establishment groupthink currently arrayed on Corbyn is as disgusting as it is cynical, we're still not pinning any hopes on him in the (now quite likely) event he comes out on top in the next leadership election.

Look, it could well happen that the left may, against all odds, take control of the Labour Party NEC and make the party more member-led. That’s something I would have given very long odds on a year or so ago (but then again, the same is true of Leicester City winning the Prem so maybe 2016 is the year for long odds!).

That said, if you think the Labour Right play dirty, wait til you see the CBI, the City of London and the IMF join in while the media dial up the smears to 11. As sneaky and disingenuous as individuals like Tristram Hunt, Angela Eagle and Owen Smith are, they’re all also largely inept and charmless, as their botched coup and embarrassing public appearances demonstrate. They’re like The Orphans in The Warriors, easily rolled over at the start but not nearly as fearsome as the other opponents on the journey back to Coney Island.

The same will not be true as we draw up to General Election time, and even less so if Corbyn were to win; the likelihood he'd be able to pass reforms that harmed the interests of big business, without massive pressure from a disruptive extra-parliamentary social movement, is very slim… all the slimmer for the fact it won’t be Tom Watson playing ‘Good Cop’ to Chuka Umunna’s ‘Bad Cop’; it will be the Murdochs and other ‘captains of industry’ hamstringing even mild social democratic reform through non-cooperation, sabotage and public smears.

Without such a movement, a Corbyn (or any other social democratic) government would not have a leg to stand on. Yet with such a social movement, the role of such a government becomes different: the role will be to mediate and to limit; to separate ‘responsible’ representatives from ‘unruly’ elements and give carrots to the first while doling out sticks to the latter.

Ultimately, extra-parliamentary forces largely determine parliamentary possibilities so even if you want parliamentary reform, it necessitates building grassroots power and a capacity to take disruptive action - strikes, occupations, demonstrations that block transport hubs etc - that such reform will become realisable. And, of course, when such extra-parliamentary forces are forcing reforms, parliamentarism ceases to appear as a ray of hope and becomes an obstacle.

It’s at this point that the usual response is “can’t we do both?”. “Can’t we build an autonomous grassroots working-class direct action movement AND fight to reform the Labour Party into a left-wing electable vote-winning machine?” And the answer to this is: theoretically, yes. But practically there are only 24 hours in a day, two-thirds of which are usually spent either sleeping or working. What has become clear with the recent coup (if it wasn’t already) is that reforming the Labour Party won’t be as easy as paying £3 to vote Corbyn as leader. It means getting involved in your Constituency Labour Party, pressuring your MP, possibly deselecting them, which, as Novara’s recent guide to deselection makes clear, could potentially involve “years of hard work in branches and constituencies across the country”. Which is fine; as the old cliché goes, ‘they wouldn’t call it a struggle if it was easy’. The point is whether the Labour Party is the best place to expend all that energy in struggle.

From our point of view, there can be no ‘UKIP of the left’; pro- and anti-systemic politics just don’t work in the same way like that. But it is worth thinking about how the extra-parliamentary left in Britain could use similar resources to what's currently being chucked into the Labour Party and, in that sense, it's oddly useful looking at the US extra-parliamentary right, with its vast media infrastructure of talk shows, blogs and ecology of organisations. Sure, they’re financed by millionaire/billionaire capitalists and we’re not (nor should we be). But working-class people collectively pay millions into unions, £4.6 million into the Labour Party in 48 hours and donate thousands of hours of voluntary labour into similar organisations. So the resources are there and it’s worth thinking about how an extra-parliamentary social movement could make use of them.

Money isn’t always a limiting factor but it often helps, certainly with media infrastructure, training, equipment and organising events.

In terms of action, it’s all about finding points of leverage:

  • Sisters Uncut have been doing fantastic work around domestic violence and housing. Their recent occupation of an empty council house in Hackney has highlighted cuts to both and created a base for organisation far more quickly than involvement in the Labour Party ever could.
  • Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth have been doing excellent work around housing and building their eviction phone tree. Similar could be said of the recent UCL rent strikers
  • IWW, Solfed and IWGB have all had some decent industrial organising, particularly Solfed amongst hospitality workers in Brighton and the IWGB amongst cleaners and couriers in London (the IWGB have also organised a London Courier Emergency Fund to help ‘self-employed’ couriers when they have accidents and can’t work)
  • There’s also a Black Lives Matter UK group in the works which promises to be very exciting

So what is to be done?

The fact is that outside of a lot of major cities, there isn’t a whole lot of extra-parliamentary direct action organising going on and often it’s the Labour Party/Momentum or nothing. And it’s also obviously a lot easier to get involved or support existing groups than start one from scratch. Given all that, a potential strategy to help isolated groups could look something like this:

1) Build alt-media and social networks; Novara are doing very well at this (despite becoming a bit too Labour-centric for our tastes) as are Media Diversified. The Occupied Times also produce a very high quality print publication. And, er, obviously us at

2) Utilise contacts built through alt-media networks to organise a loose tour of direct action groups around the country aiming not merely to hold meetings but to seed new direct action groups. Would require organisations to put up a few people willing to travel and talk within a given area, pool resources etc.

3) Focus shouldn’t be on building particular organisations but supporting people to organise in a locally appropriate model: if they want to form an IWW branch/Solfed local/Sisters Uncut chapter, then fine. If they want to organise a non-affiliated Solidarity Network or housing action group, also fine

The same concerted effort over years that would go into the Labour Party could instead be used to grow direct action groups in localities across the country.

Obviously, there aren’t 180,000 people itching to get involved in extra-parliamentary direct action; what’s being sketched out here is how a few million quid and thousands of activist hours could help develop a movement separate from the Labour Party, and lamenting all that’s gone into that party (and scepticism over Corbyn more generally) does not mean passively accepting Tory rule. It just means we prefer barking up the right (tall and difficult to climb) tree than the wrong (accessible, appealing) one.

For more tips on how to get involved/start different kinds of organisation, check out:

But more importantly, check out some of the great groups mentioned in this blog post!

This blog post is a padded out version of a thread on Joseph Kay's twitter.

Posted By

Jul 22 2016 21:18


Attached files


fingers malone
Aug 1 2016 08:06
S. Artesian wrote:
The article as I read it fails to make the critical points-- that the Labor Party is an institution of capital; that the task is not to build "extra-parliamentary networks" to "pressure," or "reform" the Labor; nor to build such networks simply to build them. There has to be some kind of strategy, no? So method for building a critical mass that has shared goals; the fundamental shared goal being the overthrow of capital.

Ok I know both of the writers and I know they do have an understanding of the role of the Labour Party in capitalism. I think they didn't write about that in this article because they had another point that they wanted to make and that wasn't the thing that they wanted to say. They wanted to point to other more useful activities that we could do if we had the 25 pound stakes people were prepared to put up to vote for Corbyn.

Ok do you want to talk about this strategy? We're not building networks 'simply to build them' no, what do you think about the networks then? What do you think about the strategies of HASL, Sisters Uncut, the cleaners unions, Solfed and the IWW and the solnets?

Aug 1 2016 08:31
Red Marriott wrote:
factvalue wrote:
As you said, the point is to win class struggles which threaten our lives, and failing to listen while picking fights over the aesthetics of expression is focusing on appearances rather than reality, and that's intolerably stupid if we want to get anywhere at all.

I disagree – the mode of expression is part of social relations, how we interact. And the egotism of some here they apparently see as justified cos in the argument THEY’RE RIGHT. But it’s easy to be right in the wrong way and so be very wrong. There are some who regularly ferment bad feeling and draw antagonism from others and it’s egotistical, competitive and boring and constantly derails discussions into the trading of personal insults – which turns discussion into competition. The people who are most regularly involved in that need to grow up and not think that being able to win an argument justifies being a boring egotistical arsehole.

Except that the mode of expression can be offensive in many other than the most obvious ways, often related to people reading from internal scripts perfected after years of getting nowhere and watching resistance deteriorate and get pushed as far back as the moribund state we see around us, and if people are ever going to begin the task of putting their heads against this huge cliff face and start pushing it back inch by inch, we need to hear what's going on in all of them, or, the inability to tolerate dissident voices due to the personal aesthetics of expression may well be part of social relations but to allow it to lead to the inability to listen to what's actually being said, or to begin labeling people based precisely on not being able to win arguments against their positions fairly and squarely so that everyone might learn from the experience or at least stop to think for a moment, is deeply unethical.

Aug 1 2016 09:39
fingers malone wrote:
I really wish that on this website we had discussions that helped us win the class struggles that are so essential to our survival as human beings.

If there are particular discussions you think would help with that, please feel free to start them, then admins can try to help keep them on topic. The problem is, even if that were possible I'm not sure any of us know what these discussions would be, or that any of us have any answers, at least beyond knowing what we should not be doing.

fingers malone
Aug 1 2016 09:57

Reply to Steven-I've been trying to have that discussion all the way through this discussion on this blog post, building on the ideas laid out in the original blog post, but ok I'll restate.

why it's not easy to get ppl involved in grassroots direct action when you do have a group going

why our grassroots direct action things are very difficult to carry out and to win

how to make them more successful

why are grassroots direct action groups in just a few bits of the country? Not just talking about small towns, most boroughs in London don't have a solnet, the cleaners unions are not operating anywhere outside London.

Why do people rush to get involved in the Corbyn campaign, when it's really difficult to get anyone involved with direct action grassroots groups?

Aug 1 2016 10:28

Fingers Malone Aug 1 10:57
‘Why do people rush to get involved in the Corbyn campaign, when it's really difficult to get anyone involved with direct action grassroots groups?’

I suspect coughing up twenty-five pounds to back Corbyn is similar to any punter in a betting shop. Direct action is closer to being asked to mount the steeplechaser and actually ride the course. In other words, a matter of alienation and lack of confidence. I don’t see any quick fix.

Aug 1 2016 11:00
fingers malone wrote:
Reply to Steven-I've been trying to have that discussion all the way through this discussion on this blog post, building on the ideas laid out in the original blog post, but ok I'll restate.

my point was that I think this sort of discussion is going to be difficult to have a lower post largely about the Labour Party, as the discussion is always going to be pulled in the direction of discussing the nature of the Labour Party as part of the capitalist state, so I thought that productive discussion around the other issues you wanted to talk about would be more likely in a fresh and more specific thread.
So I have split these questions into a new topic here and will have a go at contributing there in a second.

Why do people rush to get involved in the Corbyn campaign, when it's really difficult to get anyone involved with direct action grassroots groups?

I think that people have made some helpful comments on this already. Basically I think there are few main reasons: firstly it's what we have been conditioned into our whole lives. Politics is not what we do ourselves, it is who we choose to represent us. Secondly it's easy. You don't have to organise, sacrifice, expend effort, you just have to pay a few pounds, maybe go to a meeting and St Jeremy will sort it all. Thirdly it seems pragmatic and realistic. Labour has been in government recently, so you think they could again.

Comments on the other questions in the new thread:

Aug 1 2016 14:32

Well drawn back to this I'm afraid. Frankly I was probably as frustrated with this discussion as SA given that I got NO response to what I tried (perhaps inadequately) to raise in my first post as a problem with the OP which related not just to the role of the Labour Party but more fundamentally to what I perceived as different understandings of the nature and function of 'reforms' in capitalist society amongst as many anarchists as others on the 'Left'. Steven has perhaps indirectly on the other related thread started to get at what I was on about in his use of phrases such as '' the goal achievable...'' and ''...a particular campaign may be unwinnable at a particular time...'' but in talking about direct action campaigns without distinguishing between the everyday class struggle for such as wage/benefit increases or improved working conditions and legislative reforms just confuses the issue. Pro-revolutionaries have a completely different take on the issue of reforms to LP reformists of the left or liberal persuasion. We may share support for some particular reforms but have a different assessment of what is possible within capitalism and more particularly within a capitalism going through a severe economic and social crisis as now, and this irrespective of the level of direct action taken in support of legislative reforms. I think it was this difference which the OP failed to make clear in a doubtless honest but still confused attempt to draw so called 'Corbynistas' towards a different more class struggle approach.

the button
Aug 1 2016 14:53

Yeah, I kind of get where you're coming from, and I kind of agree, but I suppose the alternative is that all blog posts and articles on the site are just composed of the single word "COMMUNISM." That way, no-one gets to accuse you of lack of political clarity.

Aug 1 2016 15:23

I don't understand. What was the point of that crude, unhelpful, unproductive and reductive point scoring at this moment, given what Red Marriott wrote above about 'some who regularly ferment bad feeling and draw antagonism from others' and the fact that 'it’s egotistical, competitive and boring and constantly derails discussions into the trading of personal insults – which turns discussion into competition'?

Aug 1 2016 15:40

Factvalue, in this thread basically everyone but for a few exceptions have been talking according to an internal script. Indeed, the OP is trying to stay off it, but gets attacked for straying too far. Artesian's critique/vitriol is comfortably within the mainstream thought of libcom. It's not the substance of SA's posts most folks take issue with, but the tone and unwillingness to accept that the OP is trying to serve a purpose.

Now, the much more interesting discussion is the one fingers raise.

Red Marriott
Aug 1 2016 15:47
factvalue wrote:
to begin labeling people based precisely on not being able to win arguments against their positions fairly and squarely

S. Artesian
Aug 1 2016 16:11

One more time, Khawaga-- Calling the OP "weak" is "vitriol"? Taking exception to jesuit's presumption that people are "directionless" and need guiding to find "meaning" -- is an unacceptable "tone"?

As I pointed out, and reiterate, I think the OP is trying to serve a purpose, but it defines that purpose vaguely, and serves that vague purpose poorly. I take exception to the vagueness and the confusion the OP introduces in the attempt to serve its purpose

Apparently that's outside the norms of etiquette here, as it produces responses declaring "lack of good faith;" failure to understand "obvious tongue in cheek;" lack of proper appreciation for thousands of articles written by administrators--- ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

I was perfectly happy after concluding the exchange with Fingers to sit back and read others' posts and try to figure out what they thought was important in the UK. I reentered the discussion because of jesuit's so-called tongue in cheek declaration about libcom pedigrees; and his argument that "practice" always trumped theory, when in fact it's not so clear in the OP why a particular practice is advocated, coupled with his "light in the darkness" theorizing-- which got us to good faith and the rest of that rot.

In response to Fingers-- I don't know how any of those networks function in the UK. Nor do I know what these networks intend to do when Labour begins its next campaign; nor what they intend to do when the next recession hits, and the ruling class, as a class, undertakes yet another attack on living standards of workers, students, young people as an opposing class, which is why I was more than content to listen to what others had to say.

And again, the key to me is: People are attracted to Corbyn because they think he can change the institutions of power, which are the relations of accumulation. It's not "theorizing" to articulate that you can't change those institutions separate and apart from confronting those relations, and building organizations that in fact can replace those relations in their totality. So how do we do that?

If the networks you enumerated aim towards that, then.... outstanding. However, the OP does not indicate that such an aim is inherent, or necessary to the so-called "strategy."

Aug 1 2016 16:13

As I wrote Artesian, we all clearly understand what you mean so no need to state it again. It is tedious and so are all the replies to you. You're all caught up in the ecstasy of communication; just adding more and more noise to the rest of it.

Really, there are many pointless discussions on libcom that are pointless. This one really takes the cake.

Aug 1 2016 16:25

Sorry RM, I'd like to say you got me there but honestly that was really just a tiny wee bit shit. Is this your way of winning an argument on libcom? I don't know what 'winning arguments' means to you, arguments over issues that people find important - at least enough to spend their time posting about - but for me it doesn't involve e.g. lobbing smears and then flouncing off (or even posting second rate cartoons) when logic or evidence hasn't quite been going your way. By 'Winning arguments' I mean putting across more cogent and coherent points of view than others when there are distinct or opposing positions on important issues (libcom is sometimes about actually debating issues and exchanging views). Sometimes people get a little upset when that happens, when others' positions are too far from their own, or even when they perceive that they are, enough to apply all manner of appalling epithets and labels which are difficult to get rid of, all which is deeply unethical. Now I'm going to back off from this, partially because it's boring the hole off me, and allow fingers' much more important issues to get an airing.

Aug 1 2016 16:49
factvalue wrote:
(or even posting second rate cartoons)

you have undermined your own point here: that cartoon is clearly amazing

Aug 1 2016 16:54

Your're right, I retract the part about the second rate cartoon. That still leaves the smears, flouncers and hypocrisy though.

Red Marriott
Aug 1 2016 18:00

If you can't see the relevance of that cartoon to some of the regular behaviour on here, and can't see that part of it is the egotistical need to 'win the argument' more than discuss and debate for mutual benefit, then; 1) your failure to see that is, imo, part of the problem & (2) behaving like that is likely to make people feel you don't merit the respect to be treated in as comradely a way as less competitive participants.

Aug 1 2016 18:13

You're absolutely right, don't hurt me I give up! I should have shown your cartoon more respect. I retract my previous post about it being second rate, it was just that it was a bit, you know, weak. Can we move on now?

Aug 1 2016 18:17

Careful FV, that was actually funny.

Red Marriott
Aug 1 2016 18:31
Can we move on now?

Only time will tell. The evidence so far seems against it.

Aug 1 2016 18:39

Sorry comrade, as I read your post I was just wondering 1. why I have a piece of cheese in my pocket 2. what it feels like to be a sugar molecule. But yes of course, time, great healer and all that.

Aug 1 2016 18:53

Factvalue, I've yet to understand your stakes in this discussion. You're saying Artesian is putting forth a dissenting opinion and therefore he's attacked? If that's the case, you are wrong. What Artesian is arguing is orthodoxy on libcom. Really, the main thing ppl are taking issue with is his grumpy old man tone (which I personally find rather amusing more than annoying). And what ppl have been having a discussion about is that tone because on the substantive issues they basically agree. Perhaps there's a difference of opinion on how to approach and convince non-anarchos but that's about it.

Aug 1 2016 18:58

K - I'll PM you later about it if you don't mind, I'd really rather fingers' far more important agenda for discussion got some attention at this point.

Aug 1 2016 19:07

Cool. And yes, this thread should get back on track.

Noah Fence
Aug 1 2016 19:39

That ain't no grumpy old man tone. It's straightforward, dry and honest. WTF is the problem with that. Equally true with our resident clever clogs and cheesy pocketed benefactor Factvalue. I mean, what are gonna do, take a vote on what style of posting is acceptable? Well I like both their styles of posting and I'm not the only one. We need to hang a bit looser round here sometimes.

fingers malone
Aug 1 2016 20:49

I appreciate that some people have responded to me in a friendly and sincere way on this thread but I wish everyone was a bit nicer to everyone else sometimes.

Noah Fence
Aug 1 2016 21:05

Fingers - I agree that it's nice to be nice but we don't know how strongly people feel about the topic at hand, how they are feeling in general, how well they are expressing their feelings towards others or how well we're enterpreting them. We also don't know what's going on in their lives. I'm an asshole more often than I'd like to be but often I'm just having fun to make a point which for whatever reason gets missed leaving me floating in a sea of disapproval or at least being ignored. At least I think that's what's happening? See what I mean?
I'm personally trying to cut people who's approach irritates me some slack. At the end of the day though it's just the Internet, right?

S. Artesian
Aug 1 2016 23:44
Khawaga wrote:
Cool. And yes, this thread should get back on track.

OK, so what's the track?

Aug 2 2016 00:23

It's over here.

Aug 2 2016 00:51

That's the one.