Tendance Coatesy

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A Million Member Party. New Socialist. A Review.

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A Million Member Party. New Socialist. Review.

The churn of news stories about the Labour Party is hard to keep up with. From the exhilaration of the post General Election we have seen the drip feed of hostility to the Jeremy Corbyn and his team return. The sometimes over-the-top admiration of the Leader, that there are problems, above all in the Party’s strategy towards Brexit. Some of the left, bogged down in a war over Momentum, in which few outside limited circles take an interest, perhaps forget that not only is the Party above concerned with beating the Tories but also that some of the debates which took place during the last period, late 1970s to 1980s, that radical socialists had an influence may be returning.

New Socialist, whose name recalls Labour’s 1980s journal (ceased publication 1991), which tried to capture something of that radicalism in serious discussion, has just published on the Web contributions that connect with that past and the potential future. These open-minded and thoughtful articles indicate – it is hard not to guess from familiarity with what’s happening in the Labour Party – a widespread thirst for more than a ‘battle’ in local parties and Conference. They explore a revitalised, re-imagined democratic socialism that is in touch with ordinary people not faction fights. Taking from the best side of the New Left, adding up-to-date approaches – A Million Members is one of the most promising collections of grassroots thinking to appear this year.

Feminism and Labour.

Andrea Marie’s Prefigurative Social Relations takes us back straight away to some of some of the key books of that period, Hilary Wainwright’s Labour: a Tale of Two Parties (1987). She focuses on what is the best-known achievement of Wainwright, Sheila Rowbotham and Lynne Segal’s Beyond the Fragments (1980), introducing feminist concerns into the daily life of the left, and labour movement.  Marie talks of creating “democratic relationships, personal and political, here and now”. The book, it should be underlined, also put an emphasis on “democratic organisation” and control in the economy, not just in ownership but also in the “principles of and details” of production, as well as the state.

For Wainwright, reflecting the view of the Socialist Society we needed a “strong state in relation to powerful institutions and a supportive, decentralised state as regards popular associations and individuals.” The Two Parties ends by asking if Labour, instead of pursing such a course would, post-1987, and Neil Kinnock’s election, would become “Just an Electoral machine”, against what Wainwright referred to as a “party built up from below”, which could stand as a subtitle for the whole of A Million Member Party. (1)

The Editor Tom Gann observes that the legacy of the Kinnock years, not to mention Blair and Brown, means that for existing “Labour the winning of state power is prioritised” By contrast A Million Member Party discusses ideas of a networked party (Torr Robinson), the party as a social movement (Jan Baykara), labour in conversation with the public (oidptg) a census of popular needs (Casper Hughes) as part and parcel of making labour anew, . “the necessary preliminaries of raising and extending socialist consciousness and grass-roots organisation among working people in general.” In this context, some reflection on the successes and failures of social movements, such as the much publicised Occupy!  movement (see Thomas Frank. Yes, but what are you for?  would not be amiss. The experiences of European radical left movements, such as the recent French Nuit debout and the Spanish  Movimiento 15-M, entwined with mass left politics, are certainly even more relevant.

Remaking Labour.

 Bilsborough’s call to reconfigure Labour’s Parliamentary and local politics, that is by selecting new representatives, also raises issues, more sensitively than media fuelled rage over individuals, to deeper problems. As  Marie says, the everyday practices of the Party, the cultures and sedimented institutional practices equally need to be transformed. Many will, doubt that any political party can or should “prefigure” the co-operative social relationships, or Cotterrill, “associative democracy” (a term associated with the late Paul Hirst) that socialists would wish for society to adopt in the future. Politics involve clashes and that is not going to disappear, an indeed have not, as the recent history of ‘another way of organising’ in Podemos indicates . It is much easier to be convinced that neither bureaucratic manoeuvres, no shouty opposition, are not welcome practices. (2)

There are many other important interventions, including a section summed up in the title “desalienation” But economics, and in particular austerity, are the rub. The issues raised by Brexit, and the problem that those inside Labour, on both left and right, who support sovereigntism’, the idea that the UK can ‘go it alone’ in the world, no doubt to return to another 1980s idea, the Alternative Economic Strategy, are not raised. Mark Seddon and Soule put the problem of low pay on the table. This is important. But Tom Blackburn in “Corbynism from Below” made the point earlier on New Socialist: “continuing austerity” looms still larger. Labour’s priorities have to lie with challenging the cuts in budgets, the fiscal tap that is ever-tightening on local government, the cause of the freeze on benefits. These do not just have obvious effects of people’s lives. Austerity is a justification for expanding one of the most undemocratic aspects of the state – the hive off of public goods to private profiteers.

Economic and political power rests on money. Without replacing austerity we have no ground on which to advance the kind of generous democratic socialist politics and culture advocated by A Million Members. However many more card carrying Labour supporters can be recruited…….

*******

 

(1) Pages 256, 264 and the concluding chapter, No7. Labour: a Tale of Two Parties The Hogarth Press. 1987

(2) Associative Democracy is often thought of as an alternative to most forms of socialism as in Associative Democracy. New Forms of Economic and Social Governance. Paul Hirst. University of Massachusetts Press. 1994.

 

 

 

 

 

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4 Responses

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  1. Is Galloway part of this new Socialist movement?
    Galloway is the greatest enemy of Blair.

    Dean

    July 25, 2017 at 10:56 pm

  2. Dean

    July 25, 2017 at 11:03 pm

  3. To be part of a socialist movement, you have to be a socialist – which rules out both Blair and Galloway.

    Jim Denham

    July 26, 2017 at 1:24 am

  4. George Galloway Fails to Turn up to Election Count as he’s crushed in Manchester Gorton.

    Mr 5.7%

    https://tendancecoatesy.wordpress.com/2017/06/09/george-galloway-fails-to-turn-up-to-election-count-as-hes-crushed-in-manchester-gorton/

    Andrew Coates

    July 26, 2017 at 11:45 am


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