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A response to “I didn’t leave the Labour Party, the Labour Party left me”

Jack Monroe changing partiesI write this, not as a response to Jack Monroe, who announced that she’d left the Labour Party to join the Greens this week, but as a response to the many hundreds of good, socialists activists who have left the Labour Party over the years. It’s not meant as a rebuke, but merely to ask some important questions about their reasoning and our strategy as socialists. Whilst it’s understandable that people who consider themselves socialists have constant battles with their conscience about leaving the Labour Party, we must be careful of the mantra:

I didn’t leave the Labour Party, the Labour Party left me”

In the social media age, where most people know little about each other or their histories, it sounds good. It’s a nice soundbite that will no doubt have lots of other Facebookers nodding at their screens. But what does it say about us as actors, as activists in the Party which we chose to join? Nothing says “look what they did to us” more than that statement. It’s a victim mentality – one which has been the comfort blanket for the (dis)organised left in the party for too long. We’ve gone along with the myth, created by Blair, Mandelson, Campbell and co, that the Labour Party is a brand which we have no control over, but to which we pay a monthly fee as an act of weak solidarity. So that’s our allotted role, as socialists – to complain from the margins and when it gets too tough, to bail out. That’s boxed off then.

Let’s think about this for a second, though. What a gift that is for the right-wing of the party and their enforcers in the party machine. It implies a spectator’s view of the Party. Coincidentally, that’s exactly the relationship that the Blairites want and expect the membership to have with the party. Get out, leaflet, cheer, hold up placards, wave flags in a uniform fashion, but don’t expect to play a democratic part in the party of Labour.

Now, we’re socialists. We have a deeper sense of what history tells us and what the Labour Party means, so why do so many of us simply accept what the party apparatchiks tell us? In every aspect of our lives, we challenge the powerful and organise, so why is the Labour Party an exception? Did we think they’d roll over and give us power? Or, just like in wider society, does our activism and understanding mean that, for every knockback, we have to organise better, make new alliances and work together to build our alternative?

So to those who have left, those who are leaving, or those who are thinking of leaving, we just need you to answer this question very truthfully. Have you done everything you can to join with other socialists in the party, to seek them out and to plan together, to get organised within CLPs and as a counterweight to all the Blairite rubbish that comes from on high? If you’ve done all that and still feel the same, fair enough. If, being honest, you haven’t, then come join us. Use Red Labour as a base and a starting point for the building of a party which we can all be proud of and where no one can legitimately say that it “left” them.

This is not so much about the Labour Party. I’m no tribalist – and I’ve been in and out of the Labour Party myself over nearly 30 years of activism. But I do think it’s about our relationship as activists to the parties we join. If we’re interested in achieving real power (which can change society at a practical level) at some point we will all need to mobilise, build and organise. If we stand still, and expect power to be given to us, just because we selected that party (or that brand) over the other, we will continue to end up in the same, frustrating place. If it’s too hard to challenge elites in the Labour Party, the chances are that it will be in any other party too – and it’s a certainty that it will be too hard to challenge the power of organised money and capitalist structures in wider society. So, although it’s easy enough to repeat the myths, we should also look at ourselves and learn the lessons from three decades of wasted chances for the left. If we want to change anything, we’re going to have to do a lot more than raise our banners and wait for the flocking masses. Don’t mourn, organise.

26 Comments

  1. Gary Heather says:

    If they are leaving Labour where are they going – not the dead end of TUSC I hope; or for that matter the Greens. Your point about the need to work and urganise with other socialist comrades is well made. But to do that there have to be compromises and some don’t get that – especially ultra leftists. The more socialists that leave Labour the more it will delight Progress.

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      This, (below,) was posted in response to a post from Micheal Meacher MP:

      “Unfortunately, those at the bottom already feel so very downtrodden and in such a hopeless position, that they fall for these cheap, (Tory,) tricks, hook line and sinker! ”

      This was my response:

      Speak for yourself, personally I’m angry as hell.

      Once again that all too familiar prejudice, that being on a low income or being on benefits equates with a lack of education and critical faculty and that the only reason that we wont be voting for Miliband’s sleazy, light fingered, post socialist, Tory party, (the Tories in drag as it were,) is that we’re all much too stupid to realize we’re being conned ?

      I’d actuality argue that quite the opposite is in fact the case; many people that I know are looking to Milliband and at his sticky fingered mates and seeing them for exactly what they are, just another bunch of right wing Tory spivs all but completely indistinguishable in practice from Cameron’s equally repellent and dishonest bunch in every single important respect, (bar a few relatively trivial cosmetic flourishes.)

      For example; everyone living here in the UK should always have a guarantee of having somewhere to live and enough to live on with a modicum of dignity, but particularly those people who have the misfortune to be physically or mentally disabled and/or unable to work

      But even IDS is right, in so much as someone in work should almost always be better off financially than someone claiming benefits, (and I fully understand the resentment of many working people who see benefits as lifestyle choice or as an overgenerous free ride, but the real problem isn’t the unemployed; it’s unemployment,) but that is really a problem, arising as much out out low wages and insecure employment and the current depression, (walking through Oldham, I can see little if any sign of a financial recovery taking place,) as out of the supposed deficiencies of our benefit system.

      But then the UK is a wealthy country that currently gives away about £14 billion in foreign aid, (through various dodgy scams being administered first and foremost for their own benefit by all the usual suspects; Miliband and Cameron’s friends, family, colleagues and various other hangers on and commercial partners,) whilst the poorest and most vulnerable people here in the UK are now regularly being robbed of even their most basic and fundamental rights; to shelter and subsistence, (and now to health care,) and are regularly being sent off to bloody food banks or out to beg or steal or worse; almost without comment from Labor’s own millionaire elite.

      This is not socialism, this is not social justice this not even, “fair,” yet the same people who want to form the next British government are all completely indifferent to it, are even implicitly supportive of it.

      Personally since the next election is pretty much a busted flush anyway, which ever bunch of right wing tossers actually wins it, (and I refuse to endorse the current Labor party simply because the other lot will be even worse still, when personally I can’t see a mote of difference between them,) perhaps the only remotely positive outcome left might be the complete collapse of the Labor vote, (which is happening already,) forcing them to dump all this middle class right wing progressive neoliberal claptrap and to regroup under a genuinely socialist, (even a Marxist,) umbrella as has now happened in Greece.

      1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

        “This, (above,) was posted in response to a post from Micheal Meacher MP,” needs a correction; the quote to which I have responded below was posted by another commentator in response to Mr Meacher’s comment and was not part of Mr Meachers comment itself.

        Sorry.

  2. David Pavett says:

    The basis of Ben Sellars’ argument is that socialists who give up on the Labour Party are people who “… stand still, and expect power to be given to us …”. This shows scant understanding of the many ex-members who worked hard for the Labour Party only to find their efforts thwarted by its undemocratic structures and practices and to find its leaders advancing policies that are the direct opposite of the things they believe in.

    The assertion that “If it’s too hard to challenge elites in the Labour Party, the chances are that it will be in any other party too.” seems to be based on the view that Labour Party democracy is as good as it gets. If that were true then it might be a reason not just for giving up on the Labour Party but for giving up on democratic political activity altogether.

    1. Robert says:

      The labour party the party of either hard working peoples, or as Reeves like to say people in work, labour is not the party of welfare or benefits.

      So pensioners sick disabled unemployed people who do not work like carers, and of course all those on the Min wage who need welfare to live.

      I think labour is so far gone now it’s dead,

    1. John.P reid says:

      All us socially conservative socialist democrats have got to stick together David

      The pint I’d that Ms Minroe recently celebrated her 27th birthday, so in her life time since March 1988′
      Labour has been a multilateralist nuclear deterrent party, in 1988 Labour accepted the tories temporary measure Anti terror law, in 1988 Labour accepted not to reverse the Tory Union laws scrapping flying pickets and the closed shop,Ken livingstone lost his seat on the NEC which he wouldn’t get back for 9 years, Ms Minroe joined labour 7 years ago,it’s hardly been a different party in the last 7 years,

      1. She maintains that she joined the Labour Party when she was 16. That was in 2004, in the middle of the second Blair term, the zenith of Blairism both domestically and internationally. What, in particular, caused her to sign up? The Iraq War? What?

        The adolescent faux-prole act would not have survived attendance at one meeting full of schoolteachers, or full of actual proles, or full of both. That is to say, it would not have survived attendance at any Labour Party meeting, at any level. Therefore, we may only assume that Jack Monroe has never attended any Labour Party meeting, at any level.

        That the Green Party is attractive to the likes of her, says all that needs to be said about the Green Party.

        1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

          I have agree with you completely and for me, as for most of the people that I know, UKIP, (or even; and god help us all, the BNP,) will be the main party of choice for the protest vote round here, but certainly not the Greens.

  3. Jim Moores says:

    Very good, short, piece which sets down, better than I can myself, the view I have been espousing to anyone who will listen on social media. We must fight “Progress” and the Blairites and return the Party to its founding principles. As we have seen from the Tories use of “Austerity” to dismantle the welfare state those founding principles are even more relevant now than they were a hundred years ago.

    1. Robert says:

      With 22 labour MP’s who are deemed to be to the left and each week or month or year you have Progress being allowed to select MP’s and Unions cannot counter this, that was the deal labour did over Falkirk.

      IN Wales Progress is putting forward three new progress MP’s we all know the others will not be selected , so three more Progress people will join labour, how does one defeat that surely not at constituencies.

    2. David Pavett says:

      I am no labour movement historian but when I hear people talk about the need to “return the Party to its founding principles” I have little idea what is meant.

      As far as I know the birth of the Labour Party is traced back to the meeting of the Labour Representation Committee in 1900. The agreed platform of the LRC involved a commitment to further the interests of working people. However, that is a pretty vague formulation which could mean just about anything and the platform of the LRC included no socialist objectives. The overriding objective was to increase parliamentary representation. Just what that representation was for was not so clear. Later on (in 1918) Labour adopted the famous Clause IV but its leaders were never committed to it and it was eventually removed in 1995. As Ralph Miliband put it in his book Parliamentary Socialism (1961).

      Of political parties claiming socialism to be their aim, the Labour Party has always been one of the most dogmatic – not about socialism but about the parliamentary system. Empirical and flexible about all else, its leaders have always made devotion to that system their fixed point of reference and the conditioning factor of their political behaviour.

      As early as 1903 secret deals were being made by Labour leaders with the Liberals and by 1908 we find Ben Tillett, a leader of the 1889 dock strike, denouncing the parliamentary leaders as “sheer hypocrites” who “for ten and five guineas a time will lie with the best” and who repaid “with gross betrayal the class that willingly supports them”.

      Ramsey MacDonald, who led the Party in its early years, was of the view that there was no “profound gulf” between Liberalism and Socialism. Socialism for him marked the “growth of society, not the uprising of a class”, and it was naturally to be furthered by the close collaboration of all men of good will on the basis of “conceptions of right and wrong common to all classes”. (From Parliamentary Socialism)

      Sounds like Blue Labour to me!

      Was there ever a golden age of clear leadership based on socialist founding principles?. Or is this rather a product of wishful thinking about the past?

      1. Robert says:

        True wishful, thinking .

  4. Sue Robertson says:

    I spent some of the best years of my life trying to do that. There is no democracy in the party it all went under new labour. I joined a truly bottom up party the Geeens

  5. David Ellis says:

    The Labour Party was established for the sole purpose of delivering a small percentage of the super profits of imperialism to the labour aristocracy to create an opportunist class collaborationist layer and cement the rule of a self-serving bureaucracy over the labour movement. The objective conditions for it have disappeared quite some time ago. Consciousness in Scotland has caught up with that fact and Labour is Pasoked. It is happening in England and Wales too. The priveleged layers who believe Empire owes them a living are heading for UKIP the radical elements are looking for alternatives only to be presented with the ridiculous opportunist centrists and sectarians of TUSC and Left Unity or the even more ridiculous re-badged Lib Dems knows as the Greens.

    1. James Martin says:

      Actually David if you bother to learn any history you would know that the Labour Party was established by key unions to overturn crippling legal judgements against the unions that prevented strike action and risked the existence of the unions themselves (Taff Vale case etc.). It was not initially socialist (although adopted a socialist constitution in 1918), but then that was part of its unique structure when compared to European socialist parties who in most cases formed dependant unions (in competition with the Church formed unions and anarchist ones). While the union link remains then the Party cannot be written off quite so easily.

      1. Robert says:

        While they remain is that not the problem though, if labour wins the next election I suspect we will see state funding of political parties being brought in so ending the need for Unions, lets be honest in the past Union have asked for this.

      2. John.P reid says:

        Labour should be ashamed we gave prison wardens a no atrike agree,net,as for over upturning illegal laws, it was our lack of respect for during the miners strike, that saw us lose,and yet Len Mklusky has said he doesn’t think the union laws we have now are just,and unions can break them

        1. James Martin says:

          John, the miners lost because they faced a government that had pre-planned the battle and because of a lack of wider solidarity (including from Kinnock of course). The national ballot had already been held and the strike followed NUM national conference policy on pit closures. In any case, you also need to factor in the federalist nature of the union with the regions being self-governing. The handful of heroic striking miners in Notts were actually called scabs by their working colleagues, and that would not have altered with another ballot.

          As to your other points, you make the assumption that the law is fair and unbalanced. Anyone who regularly gets involved in Employment Tribunals will tell you otherwise, but also the fact is we have the most restrictive ANTI-trade union laws in Europe, some of which breach ILO conventions. Sometimes it is necessary to break a bad law to get a better one – or do you also condemn the Suffragettes?

          1. John.P reid says:

            Late in the reply, I don’t assume the law is just, many laws are unjust, some giving to much support to those facing tribune tale, my point is we can’t pick, n choose which ones we break.

  6. Rod says:

    Jack Monroe: “It’s easier being Green if, as I do, you believe in a national health service, public transport, sustainable energy and fair pay for fair work.”

    Well said, Jack Monroe.

    Why on earth does anyone with a social conscience stick with the pro-TTIP, pro-austerity, pro-military intervention Labour Party?

    The first step may be the hardest but once you leave your comfort zone you’ll find there’s an enjoyable and meaningful political life waiting for you.

    1. Robert says:

      The first step may be the hardest but once you leave your comfort zone you’ll find there’s an enjoyable and meaningful political life waiting for you.

      Where in UKIP I do not think so, so where is that life I cannot find it.

      1. Rod says:

        Try 38 Degrees, National Health Action Party and/or any anti-austerity organisation/party, such as the Green Party.

        That should be enough for starters.

        Also, you may find religious groups, particularly those active within the peace movement, to your liking: Quakers and Buddhists.

  7. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

    “This, (below,) was posted in response to a post from Micheal Meacher MP,” needs a correction; the quote to which I have responded below was posted by another commentator in response to Mr Meacher’s comment and was not part of Mr Meachers comment itself.

    Sorry.

  8. Henry Engler says:

    The Labour Party is a pro-capitalism, pro-austerity, political organisation. (Rachel Reeves’ anti-working class comments, which reveal the true face of the party, should therefore come as no surprise).

    So to liken those within it as “socialist” is misleading. While I’m sure there are many members within the party that identify themselves as socialist, the fact remains that the party itself is as, at best, centre left, and and worst to the right on issues such as austerity and, increasingly, immigration.

    Mr. Sellers may well take the view that those within the Labour Party can somehow turn it into a party of the working class, but history shows that that has never been the case.

    Robert Clough’s excellently researched book: ‘Labour: A Party Fit For Imperialism’ sets out clearly and comprehensively why the party has always been first and foremost a party of the establishment.

    Keir Hardie would turn in his grave to see it now.

  9. John.P reid says:

    And Jack monroe when she was in the Labour Party, saying David Cameron was cashing in on his dead son, causing us votes, if only she’d left before she said it

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