The real movement we need

The real movement we need

Some thoughts on building mass movements and organising, in relation to the Labour Party

Back in May when The Tories got in power, I made a quite simple point. It's one I've made numerous times before, and one that many other libertarian communist individuals and organisations have also repeatedly made - that the only way to fight the class enemy is to organise.

Phil wrote:
This is where our power as a class lies. Want an end to zero hour contracts? Build unions in the affected workplaces and defeat them with strikes and occupations. Want the Bedroom Tax gone? Resist every eviction with a ring of steel, refuse payment, show solidarity with the victims, and make the tax unworkable. Want to stop privatisation? We need strikes and occupations by the affected workers and to target the privateers with disruptive action that hurts their profits.

I could go on. But the point is that there’s no one way to do this, no single blueprint for success. It relies on working class people working together and believing in their own power to force change – without representatives or intermediaries. This is the very essence of direct action.

In his latest column for the Guardian, team mascot of the social democrat left Owen Jones has argued along surprisingly similar lines.

Owen Jones wrote:
Why not, for example, start opening food banks – but with a difference? Instead of acts of charity, what about trying to organise those who, in the fifth-biggest economy on Earth, have been left unable to feed themselves.

Britain has up to 11 million private renters, often being charged rip-off rents and deprived of basic housing security. Why shouldn’t Labour set up private tenants’ associations, again to help organise people? The party is talking about the rights of self-employed workers who value their independence, but not the insecurity of those with no pension and limited social security. Why not try to organise them, too?

After the London riots, a young community organiser in Tottenham told me about his strategy to engage with young people. Not with top-down meetings but football matches. Afterwards, he got the players to talk with community figures and politicians about their concerns and ambitions. Youth services are often the first to be slashed by Britain’s hammered local authorities, and leisure activities with a political edge could prove attractive. That’s surely the approach this changing Labour party must have: politics made fun, rather than stale and dreary.

Labour needs to win over older people and combat the threat of intergenerational conflict. Why not set up schemes where young party activists spend a couple of hours a week with older people who lack company? Why not establish community centres offering a diverse range of activities? Social enterprises could be set up.

The difference, of course, is that he's not advocating that the working class, or the left, or socialists engage in this kind of activity. He's specifically and exclusively arguing that this is done by - and for - The Labour Party. Why? "By becoming a social movement, Labour could make its already booming membership soar: 1 million members must surely be the party’s aim." It's all about capitalising on the Corbyn victory, for the benefit not of our class but of the party.

One answer to this, I'm sure, is that there's nothing stopping those outside the Labour Party from doing this kind of organising. And indeed there isn't - that's why it's already being done by the likes of the London and Edinburgh Coalitions Against Poverty, by the Solidarity Federation and the Anarchist Federation, and by many others around the country. Often on a small scale, unpublicised and unsung, but very much there.

Therein lies the issue. Imagine if influential people like Jones were calling on all those who consider themselves 'on the left' but outside of anarchism or other radical currents to get involved in tenant organising, workplace organising, community and claimant organising just because it needed doing. For the benefit of the working class and not for the leadership and electoral gain of a political party. Sure, it's early days in the reign of this Tory government, but we had five years of the coalition before them, and eleven years of New Labour before that, and attacks on claimants, communities, pay and the public sector all the way through. Not to mention the Major and Thatcher governments that preceded Blair. Where was such a call from the left wing commentariat then?

But that's the point. As Theodoros Karyotis wrote for Novara, "left-wing pragmatism is going to achieve everything right-wing arrogance could not – that is, to subdue a population which has been fighting against neoliberal barbarism for five years." He was talking about Syriza, of course. But Syriza aren't pioneers, they're only following the path previously travelled by Podemos, by old Labour and by social democratic parties the world over.

Already, we can see hints of this in Corbyn's Labour. Not only from 'People's Chancellor' John McDonnell when clings to the narrative of 'living within our means' and 'paying down the deficit' for dear life but from the union bureaucrats who binned the promises to scrap Trident on behalf of the party their leashes are tied to.

It shouldn't even need saying that the union bureaucracies and Labour play the exact same role in their respective spheres: to moderate and manage class conflict so that it ultimately poses no threat to capital. Unfortunately, in place of a serious analysis based on history, experience and material reality, many so-called socialists rely on a blind faith that borders on religious mania. Just this once, can't we give Corbs a chance?

There are too choices here. We can, as Owen Jones says, build a movement in order to divert people's hope, optimism and energy to the benefit of the Labour Party. Or we can build a real movement to win improvements for our class and take on the present conditions. These two movements aren't the same. They don't even overlap. They are actively at odds.

If you want to organise for the benefit of your class, Libcom has some useful guides on how here.

Posted By

Sep 30 2015 20:01


Attached files


Oct 2 2015 06:49

Did I log on to Socialist Worker?

Oct 2 2015 11:08

Not helpful to post such vague jibes at Phil's effort here to undermine the current wave of Corbyn mania around the left and it's media spokespersons. Phil could have been more critical of Owen's recomended activities at a more fundamental level than simply it's purpose at garnering support for the capitalist labour party and there are of course issues that might be taken up on the weaknesses of anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist strategies etc but the underlying ethos of his efforts are sound surely? And if not you should make the effort to outline your criticism for the benefit of other readers on the site.

Anti War
Oct 6 2015 16:24

It's not just Owen Jones who is advocating direct action. At the Labour conference the shadow chancellor, John Mcdonnell, said the party needed to become a 'resistance movement'.

'And that means absolute solidarity. The view now is straightforward and I tell you this: If there is industrial action taking place then we should automatically now, automatically come alongside our brothers and sisters in the trade unions and support them. ... My role, whether it is in parliament, or on the picket line, is to support workers in struggle. ... That is what the role of Labour MPs is going to be in the future.'

On the other hand, McDonnell also says he wants to 'put people back to work’ and that ‘we are going to have to live within our means and we always will do'. Naturally, he also promises that there will be no cuts to ‘the number of police.’

This all sounds uncannily like Margaret Thatcher who famously summarised her policies as: ‘an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, live within your means … [and] support the police

Considering the economic and political upheavals that are likely over next decade, it is difficult to predict exactly what a Corbyn-led Labour government might do. But being in government and running British capitalism is very different from making a speech to a Labour Party fringe meeting five years before forming a government.

Syriza's imposion of austerity in Greece still provides the most likely scenario.

For more ranting against Corbyn see:
'Arguments against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party'

Oct 9 2015 12:31

First of all it's two not too ("There are too choices here"), sorry it annoyed me. Secondly trying to splinter the left ("These two movements aren't the same. They don't even overlap. They are actively at odds."), something that has plagued the left since the beginning only works to perpetuate Tory hegemony.Get off your puritanical, elitist high horse and try working within the frame works we have open to us. Yes, Corbyn and Labour are far from the ideal answer, but at least they are steps in the right direction giving people a taste for more and voicing to an audience far greater than can be found in more radical elements of the left. Let labour flourish and you build the appetite for further advances. Also your argument reeks of cynicism ("For the benefit of the working class and not for the leadership and electoral gain of a political party")seeming as the Momentum movement has openly announced it would be seeking for individuals not part of the party to be involved. You seem to say, unite, but only under our banner ("Or we can build a real movement to win improvements for our class and take on the present conditions"); yes do this, but it doesn't have to exclusive. Continue these efforts AND work with those with a greater audience than we do so that when they accept those views they can see the foundation already in placed and hopefully by taking smaller steps people will be more enticed to follow, rather than expecting to risk a huge plunge into the unknown. Create visibility and audibility in existing frame works and then we can hope for a greater push in the future. How about listening to people and mobilizing with them rather than demonizing their efforts as perpetuating the same system with an either you are with us or against us mentality. What your argument does is in fact perpetuate the same system and reek of elitism. Either help people or risk what you accuse Mr Corbyn of, seeking mobilization for personal gains.

Chilli Sauce
Oct 9 2015 12:41

Boriis, if you want people to listen to you, I'd suggest opening your post with something other than a bit of internet pedantry.

I also really don't think you particularly engaged with Phil's argument. There's a lot of assumptions in your post, strawman's about what he meant, as opposed to looking at what he actually said.

Oct 9 2015 13:19

Fair play, i did say sorry in the original post for bringing up the internet pedantry. Please reference where I have not engaged in the argument, seeming as I have quoted passages I am discussing confused where that comes from. Just interested.

Chilli Sauce
Oct 9 2015 16:07

This is what caught my eye:

"You seem to say unite, but only under our banner."

I don't think he suggests uniting under any banner other than shared class interests. What he does do is point out that, at best, Labour mediates and funnels our interests into their electoral goals and, at worst, actively has a different set of class interests once they attain power.

Oct 9 2015 18:24

There's a new article on the Viewpoint blog which builds on the Owen Jones-position: Beyond parliamentarism: historical bases and prospects for Corbynism.

Shannon Ikebe wrote:
There is no possibility of Corbynism’s survival without the Labour Party becoming a social movement, as Corbyn himself made it clear.

What does a social movement party look like? [...] It means not only that elections and parliaments cease to be the sole focus of party activities and that party activists become involved in other social movements, but that it articulates a comprehensive worldview, based on institutions that become the focal points of social life for masses of members and activists.

Worth reading for libertarian communists, but don't expect much of a critique of social democracy. This is about going 'beyond parliamentarism' to co-opt social movement organising, and support parliamentarism.

Oct 10 2015 11:34

doug's concluding comment is so true.....The Shannon blog is perhaps only useful in detailing the weakness and fragility of the supposed leftward shift of the Labour Party under Corbyn operating as he does in that blog at a superficial ideological level with no real understanding of the material changes in global capitalism and class composition that have removed the underlying rational and support for traditional Social Democracy, now relegated to the pages of history with only it's pale reflection in today's political scene. Electric shocks may temporarily revive the corpse of Social Democracy but it cannot survive on wishful thinking and the advice of aspiring consultant political strategists such as Shannon.

Noah Fence
Sep 26 2016 12:42

Things are looking up comrades. In his speech to the Labour Party Conference John McDonell emphatically announced that 'socialism is the way forward'. Now, I would be suspicious of this statement but if you look at Facebook you will find countless people informing us that Jezza and co are steeped in honesty and integrity. I'm not one to argue with the majority so of course I'll take them at their word.
Obviously we're not state socialists but it's a start, right? So it looks like capitalism in the UK is in for a rough ride. Er, or not. As countless thousands of Labour supporters go mad with joy I'm reminded of a local band that I knew a number of years ago. They were truly awful but their name seems rather poignant here - 50,000 Lemmings Can't Be Wrong. It seems that they can but that won't stop them leaping off a cliff.