Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2578

Labour won’t win change by acting ‘respectable’

This article is over 6 years, 6 months old
As the prospect of government nears, the pressure is on Labour to distance itself from the movement, writes Sadie Robinson
Issue 2578
Jeremy Corbyn visited National Gallery strikers in 2015 - since then he has come under pressure not to join pciket lines and protests
Jeremy Corbyn visited National Gallery strikers in 2015 – since then he has come under pressure not to join pciket lines and protests (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Supporters of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn are anxious to protect the party’s image.

Labour did well in the election because Corbyn put forward a socialist message. But now some in Labour think the way to guarantee victory is to tone that down and show that Labour is “responsible”.

So shadow chancellor John McDonnell recently told a meeting at The World Transformed festival that Labour would seek to win the bosses over to backing it.

Guardian columnist Paul Mason thinks Labour must avoid antagonising the rich too much by abandoning some of the party’s plans. This recognises that the rich would likely organise to undermine a Corbyn-led government.

But instead of challenging that power, Mason and his like want to submit to it.

This means refusing to promise public sector workers an above-inflation pay rise and walking away from abolishing Trident.

It means not supporting policies that the right deem “irresponsible” or sharing platforms with people the right claim are “extreme”.

Why do Labour leaders, who have won support promoting a radical programme, feel they have to do this?

Partly they think they have to look “serious” to get elected and be more mainstream. But it’s also because Labour’s goal is to get into office and manage capitalism.

So Labour may tax the rich more than a Tory government, or put more money into services.

Yet it will not seriously challenge the position of the wealthiest. And if you aren’t going to challenge the position of the rich, then you have to work with them and end up submitting to their agenda.

In Greece the left wing Syriza party was elected in January 2015 promising to end austerity. A mass movement of working class people could have resisted the European Union (EU) and bankers’ attempts to crush it.


But instead of building up that force, Syriza as a reformist party focused on keeping itself in office.

And that pressure had begun before it got into office. When the possibility of being elected first appeared in 2012, Syriza’s leadership sought to distance itself from the movement.

So it argued against a teachers’ walkout and other strikes to look “responsible” to the bosses.

There are similar pressures on Labour’s leadership now.

As the possibility of office nears, Labour leaders also begin to think about what their government would deliver—and scale back their promises.

Corbyn, McDonnell, Diane Abbott and others have stood up to pressure from the right.

But this isn’t about personalities. It’s about the structure of the system we live in and how Labour aims to work within that.

So during the general election campaign Corbyn explained that when Britain leaves the EU “free movement will end”.

He spoke as though he, as the potential next prime minister, would be in no position to do anything about this. So Labour has already backed down from that fight.

Corbyn is right that the system is “rigged” in favour of the bosses.

He wants to shift the balance in favour of ordinary people. But as a reformist, he does not want to tear down that rigged system.

That’s why Labour tries to prove to the bosses that it is responsible—and ends up being responsible for propping up their system.

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