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A battle for the party’s very soul

OslandIn politics it is sometimes worth stepping back from the immediate hurly burly to take stock of the broader context. David Osland’s new pamphlet “How to select or Reselect your MP” invites us to do so, by his self-conscious decision to reboot a pamphlet that was first published in 1981.

While both the Corbyn and Smith camps are concentrating on the immediate task of maximizing their vote for the Labour leadership contest, and both camps planning their next move after the results on 24th, it is worth reflecting on how extraordinary life is in the contemporary Labour Party.

All party meetings, except those absolutely necessary for specific practical tasks with the permission of the regional director, are currently suspended. Senior Labour MPs are briefing about party members being a rabble, tens of thousands of members are being suspended or excluded on seemingly the flimsiest of pretexts, and various atrocity stories are being leaked to the press about alleged violence, spitting and abuse at party meetings, as well as reports of online insults and bullying.

What a carry on. However, this chaos in the party has been at least partially orchestrated. The scheduled parade of resignations by shadow cabinet members in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote demonstrated planning, organisation and premeditation. Rather dubious press reports of disturbances in Angela Eagle’s CLP, followed by similarly contested accounts of alleged tussles in Bristol West and Brighton provided a pretext for party organisation to be suspended, which – no doubt coincidentally – prevented AGM elections of CLP officer position in many constituencies, the first such elections since the membership was boosted by Corbyn’s supporters. For those who have studied history, this very much did resemble an attempted coup: through a campaign of destablisation, delegitimisation and disruption – a strategy of tension.

It is also worth looking at the wider political landscape, which before Corbyn was elected was already very challenging for Labour. The party has not won a general election for 11 years, between 1997 and 2010 we had lost 4 million votes. Scotland has been seemingly irrevocably lost, and elsewhere Labour is squeezed by UKIP and the Greens. Not only had the broad electoral coalition that the Labour Party had historically assembled unraveled alarmingly, but in terms of ideology and policy, the party appeared exhausted, lack lustre and shop soiled.

Whatever the personal merits of the various leadership contenders who have challenged Corbyn, whether last year’s Kendall, Cooper and Burnham, or this year’s Smith, they all offer different flavours of the same proposition: that professional politicians should run a transactional campaign that offers a hotch-potch of carefully calibrated policies each designed to appeal to various sectional interests.

The muddles this entails are perfectly illustrated by the hapless Owen Smith, who wants to be tough on immigration, but also reverse Brexit thus accepting the free movement of people. He wants to appeal to the socially tolerant metrolpolitan demographic, while simultaneously making a series of gaffes about being a “normal” bloke, who mocks “lunatics” and refers to women politicians like Theresa May, Nicola Sturgeon and Leanne Wood in terms that resemble outtakes from a Robin Askwith movie. Indeed his recent quip about 29 inches makes it sound like he is more inspired by Dirk Diggler than Nye Bevan.

In 1976, the Labour Party leadership contest included candidates from the centre-right with the genuine stature of Denis Healey, Jim Callaghan, Anthony Crosland and Roy Jenkins. Today we have a Bilko look-alike doing a David Brent tribute act.

What the self-described Labour moderates seem unwilling or unable to do is to examine the underlying causes of Labour’s decline. While it would certainly be possible to write a very long thesis on the subject, in a nutshell, there are far too many people who do not see the economy or society working for them and their family, or their community.

There are far too many people on zero hour contracts, in precarious employment, or on low pay. There are far too many young people who cannot get a good start in life, with either a secure job or affordable housing. There are far too many communities that feel left behind, where traditional sources of employment are in decline, and new jobs are precarious and low paid. There are far too many employers prepared to exploit migrant workers to depress the wages in entry level jobs.

These problems cannot be overcome by simply a more refined message from Labour: by having a leader who is more adept at eating bacon sandwiches, or a leader whose team manage to more effectively reserve them a train seat.

For hundreds of thousands of working people who endure petty bullying and inconsideration on a daily basis from managers, but who stick with low paid, low status, and often unpleasant work because they have no other way of paying their rent or mortgage, and no other way of putting food on their table and shoes on their childrens’ feet, the bleating of privileged MPs about Corbyn’s alleged failngs as a manager will butter no parsnips. In any event, Corbyn’s team have now bedded in, and while this or that thing could have been done better over the last 12 months, some slack needs to be given to a team that had to be assembled from scratch a year ago.

Last year, Andy Burnham’s pitch was that he was like Ed Miliband but more professional. This year Owen Smith’s proposition is that he is like Corbyn, only more competent. Compare these facile 6th form debating stances to such landmarks from the right in the party from the past, such as the intellectually rigorous revisionist proposition from Crosland in his book “the Future of Socialism”, or the confident advocacy from the Labour right in the 1960s of a party that aggressively championed social equality, but was tolerant of the private sector in a mixed economy.

The right and centre-right of the party have offered no new policies, no vision or direction and no intellectual leadership for over a decade now. Instead they resemble a Cargo Cult who believe that the ghost of 1997 can be revived by behaving exactly as if nothing has changed in 20 years. While technique is important, Labour has tested to destruction and beyond the glacial processes of voter ID, contact rates and targeted messaging, whatever merit they have, and I am certainly not advocating abandoning the work, it is clearly not sufficient to win a general election.

The party faces an existential threat, not if Corbyn wins, but if he loses. We simply cannot go on in the old way, in a society that has deeply changed. The rising vote of UKIP, and the associated shock of the Brexit result, combined with the irresistible advance of the SNP, reveals a growing gulf between a disenchanted electorate, and a professionalized political elite, for whom there is a career path for the ambitious through university to becoming a special advisor, then being parked in a voluntary sector or think tank until a safe seat comes up. Time and again voters say that there is little difference between the parties, and the gulf widens between our MPs and our voters.

The Labour Party needs to change to survive, and the victory of Corbyn in last year’s leadership election was a judgement by not only the membership, but also the wider periphery attracted as registered or affiliated supporters not only that Corbyn does offer hope, but that the exhausted women and men of yesteryear, Burnham, Kendall and Cooper, offered no hope.

It is worth reminding ourselves when Owen Smith and his supporters use as their supposedly clinching argument the need to win, that winning is not given just because you want it more. Party’s who have been defeated need to regroup and reassess, as the Conservatives did between 1997 and 2010. What is more, successful parties use their period in opposition to wage a battle of ideas, and develop a new vision and proposition for the electorate. The party that Clem Attlee led to defeat in the 1935 general election was hardened and prepared by the time they swept to victory under the same leader in 1945, during which time they had substantially won the arguments with the electorate about their radical programme.

Turning back to the present day: many MPs, including those who despite subjectively centre-left politics, have learned their political skills and attitudes in an entirely different political paradigm, and are – perhaps understandably – disoriented by the new. But let us not overestimate the problem, the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs want the party to win a general election, and will be prepared to compromise for the sake of party unity.

There is more joy in Heaven for a sinner that repenteth. Therefore any overenthusiastic discussion of deselecting hard-working and essentially decent MPs would be highly counterproductive. The party is and should remain a broad church.

David Osland’s pamphlet does not advocate deselecting, it merely provides a summary of the relevant rules and processes for members of CLPs who may feel that it is the right thing to do. There are indeed a very small number of MPs who seem to put their own thirst for self-publicity before the interests of the party. Their CLPs may choose to have a contest in which the sitting MP would automatically be a candidate for the nomination, and thus would be given the opportunity to succeed in reaffirming their level of support with their local CLP. That’s is only fair.

“How to Select or Reselect your MP” by David Osland. £4 via Spokesman Books or order through any bookshop.


  1. Karl Stewart says:

    Excellent article and an important reminder of both the intellectual bankruptcy and shameless unscrupulousness of the Labour right.

    Oh what times and customs, one might say.

    1. Paul Dias says:

      “The right and centre-right of the party have offered no new policies”

      Sadly, neither have you, Andy.

      1. rod says:

        Heaven forbid that Andy should offer policies.

        Corbyn has declared that he believes in the “wisdom of ordinary people”. It is this widely shared belief that underlies the push to democratise the Labour Party, with a particular focus on policy development.

        Let’s have a Labour Party that, through democratic process, gives voice to the wisdom of ordinary people.

  2. Verity says:

    In my opinion a very good summary of the state of play. I am however more ambitious and disappointed that such a ‘hapless’ candidate can gain the level of support that he does seem to be getting (and I am assuming that he can command 30% of this electorate). This fact is an unfortunate state of the extent to which we have to go and a measure that we have not be able to ‘win’ the argument amongst many, many members and supporters. Rather than amusing ourselves about the ‘Bilko lookalike (which by the way is amazingly insightful), I would be more contented if we more regularly scored points against the ‘Chucka Umunnas’, the ‘Ed Balls” and the ‘Emma Reynolds’ the ‘Watsons’ and ‘Beckets’ and the ‘Jess Philips’ type who still wonder with authority though the Party organisations.

    When the elections are over we need to turn the minds of so many, many more members and supporters with more convincing policy details, strategy and plans. Other than raising our own game in almost all spheres, I have no real special vision or guidance to offer on how we can do this.

  3. John Penney says:

    A mainly good , insightful , article. Only in the concluding paragraphs does the , quite understandable, wishful thinking, intrude on the hard analysis.

    There no doubt are a significant portion of the 170 Coup participators who could be persuaded or cajoled or intimidated (eg, by the even only implicit the threat of deselection) to scuttle back with differing degrees of resentment to serve, for a while, in a Jeremy Corbyn-led PLP.

    But it is not just the toxic legacy of its New Labour neoliberal ideology that most Labour MP’s have imbibed over the last 30 years that has poisoned so many political souls. Intertwined and intimately connected is the now deeply embedded expectation by, possibly most, Labour MP’s that their “Parliamentary career” is just the opening “favour providing ” phase of a much longer career, in which favours supplied to Big Business will be repaid with very well remunerated sinecure jobs. This is a personal level corruption of Labour politicians which it will be difficult to reverse – certainly with the same old personnel.

    Lastly, there is a significant hard core of the labour neoliberal Right so ideologically and personally/financially beholden to Big Business, that they will never accept Labour becoming a Party of an even mildly reformist anti austerity/ tax avoidance banishing, Left . They will systematically continue to sabotage and disrupt our Party until the day they are deselected and chucked out.

  4. Susan O'Neill says:

    “But let us not overestimate the problem, the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs want the party to win a general election, and will be prepared to compromise for the sake of party unity.”
    Is there any evidence to support this obscure statement. If so, where can it be found and with whom?
    Quote from John Penney above which much better describes a greater majority ass perceived by the membership:
    “Lastly, there is a significant hard core of the labour neoliberal Right so ideologically and personally/financially beholden to Big Business, that they will never accept Labour becoming a Party of an even mildly reformist anti austerity/ tax avoidance banishing, Left . They will systematically continue to sabotage and disrupt our Party until the day they are deselected and chucked out.”
    With regard to this message by Andy Newman expressed thus:
    “and a professionalized political elite, for whom there is a career path for the ambitious through university to becoming a special advisor, then being parked in a voluntary sector or think tank until a safe seat comes up. Time and again voters say that there is little difference between the parties, and the gulf widens between our MPs and our voters.”
    Does anyone truly believe that the far right of the Labour Party, who organised the coup, could ever find their way back and actively choose to cooperate? Perhaps for a short time in order to keep their much coveted positions, they would play along, but beyond that initial period of securing their feet under the table, they would revert to their real agenda which would be to work against the leader for their own ends in defiance of member wishes. A leopard does not change it’s spots and to beleive otherwise is rather naive and truly wishful thinking.

  5. Sean says:

    The author makes a strong argument against the candidacy of Smith, I doubt there are many on the centre left who would support him now either. However it totally fails to mention the intellectual vacuousness of the current leadership team. When Corbyn was elected, I’ll admit I wasn’t a supporter, but I was keen to see an intellectual revival of the left and I thought his election could provide the catalyst. His ideas were a little rough but could be worked on by the policy team to produce a strong alternative vision for Britain. Instead we have seen half a policy here, followed by another there, then a few days later a reversal of that. It’s to be expected that the parties position would change a few times but right now there is no coherent policy direction at all. Richard Murphy, from whom Corbyn essentially extracted his early economic policies, has said exactly the same about the leadership team. McDonnell’s National economic council, the members of whom do read like a left-wing economist’s dream team, have criticised the leader as well. These aren’t ‘privileged MPs’ hoping to jump to the private sector, they are genuine believers in the social democratic cause and they are frustrated to see a lack of interest in concrete change by the leadership. McDonnell’s main contribution to the economic debate has been a donation of Mao’s little red book to Osbourne’s library. I can only hope that in the aftermath of the challenge either Corbyn ups his game or some other group emerges intellectually revived through the experience.

    As regards the remaining MPs, a good number of these people were, at least prior to the challenge, in the group supportive of Corbyn including for instance Lisa Nandy or Lillian Greenwood. Should they be subject to reselection? There are undeniably a group of MPs who will never and never have supported the leader, though I doubt they number more than 20. Roughly the same number that Corbyn and Co represented during the Blair years, voting regularly with the Conservatives against the Labour leadership. Dissent is not uncommon in the Labour party because we do not believe in democratic centralism, that would be the SWP. From a purely tactical perspective, every MP removed means essentially a fresh race with all incumbency advantages removed. That would inevitably mean losses in close seats.

  6. Bazza says:

    As a left wing democratic socialist I will be fighting for left wing democratic socialists policies and supporting left wing democratic socialists at all levels.

  7. John P Reid says:

    Knocking someone off their high heels is a metaphor,saying so,wine talks too much, and Ned’s a gob support,isn’t directed towards their sex, as for the Attlee comparison, we had the 2nd world war, the working class weren’t prepared to tolerate the Tory establishment, after they made a sacrifice in the war, there’s no comparison with that today.

  8. What a lamentable review.

    I appreciate it is common, but also both narcissistic and deceptive, to use 90% of a ‘review’ (see LRB, Spectator, etc.) to simply give the reviewer’s own take on the subject of the book being reviewed. Yet such articles do make at least a passing reference to the worth (or not) of the new publication, rather than just the single sentence that is in this ‘review.’

    Is the pamphlet accurate and comprehensive in its detailing of the rules? Does it suggest a strategy to start and win reselections? Does it make the case for considering reselecting (not a hard sell – even councillors need to undergo this before fighting the next election).

    I ask all this because I thought the appearance by the pamphlet author, David Osland, on the BBC, just further demonstrated his very ambiguous views on this matter with many concessions being made by him to Chuka Umunna.

    I have seen Osland write that people may want to deselect their MP because of their dubious personality, or personal circumstances, whilst stating his opposition to deselecting on ideological grounds. I can’t think of a better reason to deselect someone than simply because they are a Tory (Labour faction) MP.

    So I may have to fork out £4 to look at the pamphlet myself and then, possibly even write something for the web on how to deselect, if what is written falls as short as the politics of the author.

    For there is nothing more pressing for Corbyn supporters than to dispense with the Right before the Right regroup and permanently dispense with you.

  9. Barry Hearth says:

    To de-select or re-select, I think you’d only do this if the party as a whole or a CLP, were so divorced from their MP that it became inevitable.
    Are we there with any MP? Possibly, it does seem to me that some of the Labour MP’s, Our MP’s, are not presently working in the best interests of the party. Isn’t that a justification for QUESTIONING the validity of any MP?
    The bottom line here is quite simple, if one person behaves in a manner that is not compatible with the ethos of the party, then surely members have a RIGHT to examine that.
    Forget the distraction of 9 million people voted for the MP’s, they wouldn’t be there without the party, think instead of the present purge taking place. If it’s OK to purge on the apparent scale that is currently being practised then surely the very same can be applied to MP’s.
    Or are they not democratic?

  10. David Pavett says:

    Isn’t it a bit strange to say

    What the self-described Labour moderates seem unwilling or unable to do is to examine the underlying causes of Labour’s decline. … in a nutshell, there are far too many people who do not see the economy or society working for them and their family, or their community.

    There are far too many people on zero hour contracts, in precarious employment, or on low pay. There are far too many young people who cannot get a good start in life, with either a secure job or affordable housing. There are far too many communities that feel left behind, where traditional sources of employment are in decline, and new jobs are precarious and low paid. There are far too many employers prepared to exploit migrant workers to depress the wages in entry level jobs.

    Saying these things is now common ground in the Labour Party (one of the results of electing Corbyn as leader).

    Owen Smith says all of these things and more. For example he advocates a wealth tax. So let’s criticise him for his inconsistency, for his lack of detail, for saying whatever he thinks will get him elected. Let’s even point out the good reasons for questioning the motives of many of his backers. But what we cannot reasonably do is say that he is unable to say that he is unable to state the problems listed by Andy Newman. He does exactly that.

  11. Danny Nicol says:

    Two issues need unpacking.

    First, there is the question of mandatory reselection in principle. In my view mandatory reselection beats the trigger mechanism hands down in democratic terms. So long as there is a modest measure of support for a candidate other than the sitting MP, then members should be entitled to benefit from a democratic choice between the incumbent and the challenger(s). In this regard one could draw an analogy between parliamentary selections and the current leadership contest. Members presently have a choice between two different candidates who hold different political positions and that is surely a good thing. By contrast, had the coup succeeded, members would have merely been presented with the coronation of a leader selected by the parliamentary elite. The coup was portrayed as an attack on Jeremy Corbyn, but more importantly it was an attack on party members and on OUR democratic right to choose and sack party leaders.

    The second issue concerns the Left’s stance on reselections. At the end of his piece, Andy Newman issues a strange defence of the bulk of Labour MPs and seems to want them to be reselected. They are hard working and decent, they want to win the general election and we should be anxious that Labour remain a broad church.

    Like others, I do not share this charitable assessment. There is nothing decent about the fact that the vast majority of these MPs tried to thieve from party members their right to decide who is party leader. A great many of them do not want a Corbyn government. Their priority is to back big business and to defend capitalism.

    I have a Labour MP (Clive Efford, Eltham) who is pleasant, undoubtedly hardworking and does not slavishly follow the Blairite line (e.g. Iraq); nonetheless he generally takes right-wing stances on party matters and he was a coup enthusiast. I would certainly vote for a candidate of the Left in preference to him. I hope I have the democratic opportunity to do so. The idea that we on the Left should vote for people with whom we profoundly disagree is nothing short of bizarre.

    1. Barry Hearth says:

      How can anyone be charitable about Labour MP’s who plotted and schemed to oust Jeremy Corbyn, failing with each and every tactic. They did this despite the country being thrown into complete chaos by the BREXIT vote, where the government have no idea what to do next. There was a perfect chance for OUR MP’s to hammer their incompetence, but they chose not to.
      Yesterday as an example JC raised the issue of new build council housing, 5 sold for every new 1 built. “Wrong” Said May, “it;s running at 1 for 1”. Where were our MP’s? Silent. The actual figures are 41,000 sold since 2013 and 5,100 built over the same period. But of course they are not interested ordinary people.

    2. Peter Rowlands says:

      Danny Nicol appears to want all the Labour MPs who voted no confidence in Corbyn to be deselected, and to introduce mandatory reselection for this purpose. If this process got under way there would bea huge and very acrimonious split, with Labour losing all chance of winning in 2020. The only way forward is what effectively Andy Newman advocates, some form of compromise,although this should not rule out getting rid of those MPs who continue to undermine the leadership.

  12. Bazza says:

    I want to work with others to radically transform UK society and working with international partners societies internationally too.
    So why do we need a broad church with people who would hamper, dilute and possibly perhaps even work to help to prevent this.
    I don’t talk in negatives of de-selection I talk in the positives of supporting left wing democratic socialist policies and selecting left wing democratic socialist candidates at all levels.
    The timid and perhaps less well read will do what they feel they have to do and democratically so will I.
    I recommend left wing democratic socialists support left wing democratic socialists.
    We only have one life and should follow our dreams!
    I bet those early campaigners for the NHS were criticised as dreamers and I know they probably had to fight tooth and nail for it and probably also against some in Labour!

  13. sean connor says:

    I can vouch for the purges that are taking place. I have been a regular poster on Labour List for 5 years. I have now been blacklisted on the site for telling a racist, that they were a racist. I am not the only member who has been purged, but then I am a Labour supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, so I expect nothing else from the Labour reactionaries..

    1. john Reid says:

      got a link?

  14. Bazza says:

    JC good on BBC Question Time tonight and Smith useless and negative, constantly talking down Labour’s chances!
    Reflecting on some questions – one on monarchy – I think it is not a priority but perhaps in the next 20 years there may be a referendum on this?
    And here’s a thought – why not get tax office to write to every tax payer & to tick box if you want to pay a percentage of your tax towards them or tick a box to opt out – why not give people a choice?
    Question on so-called IS – I would argue for Blair & Bush to face trial at The Hague – sends a message to the people of the p Middle East that we wish to treat the people there as equals plus kick Western TNCs out of their lands and stop taking their oil etc. and & then the likes of so -called IS could perhaps wither into the dust?
    On Jewish low support for Labour perhaps we should say even if the Jewish community gave us 0% support if the Far Right ever rose and tried to come for them Labour and Trade Unions would stand shoulder to shoulder 100% with the Jewish commnity as we would with Muslims, Hindus, LGBT, Disabled etc.
    To the working class UKIP man -don’t or didn’t you have to sell your labour to live? And perhaps diverse working people have much in common – we all have to sell our labour to survive and perhaps Labour as socialists we need to unite diverse working people in the UK and work along with our partners internationally!
    But there should be as JC said no second referendum- you can’t slap 17.4m people in the face and this is why people give up on voting etc.
    On migration-I always believe socialism is about good management and planning which we seem to have forgotten- we are not free market Neo-Liberals and open border liberals – we could as well giving the right for all current EC migrants in the UK to remain (and negotiating for our migrants in the EC to remain) plus offering an asylum amnesty and refuge to refugees consider a triple lock on migration: (a) 10% of the working population? (b) migration adjustment funds for councils (c) try to trade unionise migrant workers (and refugees?).
    Perhaps we also need to start thinking about the free movement of capital, should we (and all countries) control the capital they want?
    Just food for thought.

  15. Actually, I’ll save that £4 (see my comment above).

    The pamphlet sounds a lot worse than even the poor offering that I imagined – see the review (a proper review, unlike here) at

  16. Barry Hearth says:


    Someone should tell Republic.

  17. John says:

    The only way to do it fairly is to have a secret ballot at the CLPs before each election with at least one candidate standing.

  18. Bazza says:

    There is something troubling my mind intellectually about some people being barred from voting or even kicked out because they once stood against Labour or were once in a little Left Group.
    Aren’t people able to change their minds and move on?
    After all as Owen Smith once said he was once in CND but has since changed his mind.
    But I am aware for left wing democratic socialists and for a radical transformation of society in a left direction in the UK (and working with international partners) of the world there are 2 battles to be won.
    The first and main is against the top down Right Wing in Labour and the second is against the small number of top down bourgeois socialists on the Left.
    Win both and we can transform democratically and peacefully the World!

  19. John Penney says:

    Fine , idealistic, sentiments, Bazza. But there is absolutely no historical evidence for your assertion that we can “peacefully transform the world”. In fact ALL the evidence, without exception, is that beyond a very limited reforming point (which is MUCH more limited in the era of neoliberalism today than in the immediate post war era) the 1% and their hangers on will drown the rest of us in blood before handing over their power and wealth to any degree.

    Just think how the Troika broke the will of the Syriza government in Greece after just a few months of ruthless economic sabotage so recently, or the even more recent “constitutional coup” against a Left President in Brazil, or the decade long Business Class/US led sabotage of the Venezuelan economy , building for a coup today.

    There is no excuse for well meaning naivete in Left politics, Bazza. Economic and political sabotage at the very least ALWAYS awaits an even mildly reforming , redistributive, Left government – and beyond mild reform the options of military coups and fascism are always kept in reserve by the ruling classes. Behind its superficial mannered politeness our British ruling class is historically one of the most ruthless in the world. if you doubt that just look at its blood-soaked record in our colonial empire – including the immediate post war era, in which, for that class, Clement Attlee’s government smashed the Left in Greece with the direct aid of Greece’s former Nazi collaborator fascist forces, and helped French colonialism (temporarily) recapture its colonies in North Africa and Vietnam.

    1. David Pavett says:

      John, you say to Bazza that “There is no excuse for well-meaning naivete in Left politics”. This is true but the issue is what constitutes that naivety. Thinking differently to received left-wing nostrums is not a criterion. It is equally true to say “There is no excuse for not being prepared to think of different solutions in different conditions”.

      Your examples really don’t bear out your points. Syriza was/is a rag-bag of different left groups with very different analyses. It had not thought through policies to deal with the (predictable) obstacles that it encountered. It foundered on them.

      The constitutional coup in Brazil would not have been possible if the Workers’ Party had not substantially lost the support of the workers.

      These cases illustrate yet again that it is not enough to rouse millions in opposition to reactionary policies. The process has to involve understanding of the issue, the alternative policies and the obstacles to be overcome. Without that opposition fades away as blow after blow against attempts at fundamental change are received. Having crowd-pleasing, anti-establishment rhetoric is just not enough. How many cases of failure both at home and abroad do we need to understand this?

      Just look at the extreme weakness of the policy offer of the Corbyn team. Even if he wins, which I hope he does, the whole thing will eventually go down in flames if it cannot bases itself on clear analyses of our problems and on the solutions derived from that. It would be delusional to imagine that we are anywhere near achieving that.

      So, I agree with Bazza. With sufficient general understanding of the problems and the solutions required a peaceful, if bumpy, transition is possible. But before we get to far into that discussion it is worth noting that in the case of Greece and Brazil let governments have either been brought down or thwarted without the use of violence. The left has to understand the importance of combating received wisdom on social and economic matters. So far its package of analyses and policies for doing so is noticeable mainly by its absence. To echo your comment there is no excuse for not understanding this decisive point.

      1. John Penney says:

        Given your total vagueness on what for you constitutes “transition” , David, I don’t know if we are in disagreement or not !

        If by “transition” you mean a Left Government in the UK, achieving significant, but modest, gains , (WITH a well worked out mildly Left Reformist National Regeneration/restructuring Plan, AND a highly politicised mass supporter base , plus mass trades union support, plus achieving significant inroads into gaining the support of sections of the smaller business class and middle classes), then , yep, that could be possible.

        But as Harold Wilson discovered in his 1964 mildly reforming government, and Mitterrand in 1984, – not without major “blowback” from the money markets , etc.

        But a transition to an even “transitional
        mixed economy” enroute to socialism, without the capitalist class throwing EVERYTHING, from major economic sabotage, to military coups, to “strategy of tension” fascist gangs, into the fray ? Not a chance in hell. Even Harold Wilson provoked peripheral maverick sections of the Ruling Class and Army officers into coup plotting in the mid 1970’s (with Lord Mountbatten as proposed puppet leader !)

        I am not suggesting for a moment that significant economic and political “space” does not exist in the 5th largest economy in the world for a Left Keynsian reformist government. I wouldn’t waste my time supporting Corbyn if not. I am simply trying to point out that there is a total lack of historical evidence that there is any peaceful route beyond this mildly reformed “much better situation for the mass of people than exists today” to anything that could be described as “socialism” or a society in “transition to socialism”.

    2. C MacMackin says:

      I think (or at least hope) that one of the issues here might be the definition of “peacefully”. I think it would be naive to believe that simply voting a Left government into power, even with a well thought out program (which Corbyn most certainly does not have), and then going home would be enough to change the world. While David is right to point out the weaknesses of Syriza and the Workers Party (and, in the case of Venezuela, a lot of their economic problems stem from a failure to diversify beyond oil, corruption, and a very poorly thought out macroeconomic policy) we still have reason to believe there will be considerable difficulties for a radical government. We could point to Chile, where Allende retained his support despite the economic war but still became the victim of a coup, or Australia where there are suggestions that the CIA was involved in a constitutional coup against a government intent on closing US military bases in the 1970s. Or, for that matter, there was the Zinoviev letter in this country.

      At the very least, pressure and organisation would still be needed from below in order to ensure that they are able to fulfill their radical program. In some countries mass mobilisation might be needed in order to fend off attempted coups (as happened in Venezuela). In other countries, steps would likely be needed to fend off sabotage from the deep state; there might be no need to send someone the way of Salvador Allende when you could just send them the way of Harry Perkins. Relations probably would become frosty with other countries (especially if you nationalise any of their industries) and trade sanctions could result. The question is whether you would still consider this to be a peaceful transition. It certainly wouldn’t be a civil war or an insurrection, but nor would it be the smooth functioning of a liberal democracy.

      That said, I don’t really see how this has any particular bearing on our immediate task, which is the development of substantial left policy, hopefully with backup plans indicating what to do in the case of economic sabotage.

      1. John Penney says:

        I was just responding to Bazza’s boundless optimism, but I think it does have significant bearing , C. MacMackin. Because the issue is actually central to “where we on the Left in the Labour Party realistically think we can get to via a “Corbynist+” possible future political movement and possible government.

        I say “Corbynist+” because, I think as we all agree , without a very well worked up “policy and strategy bundle” – wrapped in a sellable (to masses of the electorate – across significant blocs of classes) Comprehensive National Plan – the answer is we will get NOWHERE.

        But let’s assume not all of us on the Left are incapable of political /social/economic /strategy development (it aint rocket science let’s be honest), and in the next ,equally febrile, phase of mass Corbynism, a sellable strategy bundle is developed. Then a Left government, in a very real looming situation of yet another financial meltdown in a few years, amidst global stagnation, is a possibility.

        So we really do have to decide how far we want to push the capitalist class whilst we hone the Left policy offer. So the medium/long term results of a successful Left electoral victory is still part of the overall policy development task.

        1. C MacMackin says:

          I chose my words poorly when I said it had no immediate bearing. What I was more getting at was that right now we need to come up with a decent left-Keynesian set of policies; an agenda for how to democratise the state (although we’ll probably need to figure out how to democratise the party first); and plans for how to combat capital flight, investment strikes, and other forms of resistance. While I hadn’t thought much about it before, I can agree that we will need to decide how far we should try to push things. It’s just that, right now, I think that is so far from most people’s minds that we’d be hard-pressed to even start the discussion. I don’t know how we address that problem.

      2. David Pavett says:

        John, My comments on “transition” were a response to your exchange with Bazza in which you rejected his idea of a peacefully managed radical socialist transformation of society. You claimed that the the 1% and their hangers on would attempt to drown us all in blood rather that let that happen. So I don’t know why you see “total vagueness” in my use of the term in the same conversation.

        I don’t agree with your view not because I don’t think that those the holders of massive wealth will not do whatever they can to hang on to it, but because I think that it is wrong to assume that their ability to respond how they wish is an absolute given. Limiting that ability should itself be an objective of a genuinely popular struggle for fundamental change. I can’t say that such efforts will always be successful but equally your prediction that they must necessarily fail seems to me to be based on a simplistic assessment not based on a consideration of what is possible in modern condions.

        1. John Penney says:

          David and C.MacMackin, On this issue (which I fully agree is an issue for further down the line ) there is a brilliant reprint of an article written shortly after the 1974 Chilean Military Coup in this weeks online Jacobin Magazine , which analyses precisely these issues in considable depth.

          And the author of this excellent analysis of the limits of the reformist road ? None other than that great Marxist scholar, Ralph Miliband ! That he sired the two ghastly brothers, particularly David, is yet another irony of history to be savoured.

        2. John Penney says:

          Your clarification on what you mean by “transition” surprises me, David. You really DO seem to believe that there is potentially a “peaceful road to socialism” !

          If you are seriously suggesting there is a “peaceful road to full cream socialism” , David, rather than just a potential peaceful road to a mildly Left Keynsian reformed Welfare State , mixed capitalist economy ,with considerable government direction and planning, then I think the entire history of capitalism , everywhere, will back me up in demonstrating that you are utterly mistaken.

          Not that that is of immediate relevance, because “Corbynism” is very much just the promise of a mildly reformed capitalist economy with a re-booted Welfare State, on the classical “Scandinavian model” (though not still present in Scandinavia today of course) .

          The problem with the classic seriously transformationally radical Left reformist stance is that , across all bourgeois democracies, a set of policies are adopted (Chile under Allende’s Popular Unity government is a classic example ) which do seriously attack the core power and wealth of the capitalist class and their global partners – but the utterly ahistorical belief that “our particular ruling class is uniquely constitutional and non-violent” means that no essential steps are taken to counter the inevitable reaction this provokes.

          And by “necessary steps” I do mean that beyond a certain , context -specific, level of attacks on the privileges and wealth of any ruling class, a Left government (like Allende’s in 73/74) does either have to mobilise the mass of the working class and sections of the armed forces, to push back against ever mounting economic sabotage, and the mobilisation of the inevitable fascist gangs, and plots amongst the generals or colonels, or that government and its supporters will be destroyed. Hence all that the radical Left reformist unintentionally does is lead the working class into the social abattoir.

          Anyone who thinks there is peaceful road to socialism, or even a significantly “transitional ” stage of society enroute to socialism, simply hasn’t been reading enough history in my view.

        3. C MacMackin says:

          There is actually a case of a radically reforming government which managed to see off a military coup which we can look at. This, of course, was in Venezuela in the early 2000s. The military and elites did try to take over, but mass mobilization was able to turn it around, with minimal loss of life. I’m not aware of any similar case elsewhere. This was quite extraordinary, really, and does present an example of the Left being able to constrain the elite’s ability to respond how they wish. It was not what I’d call peaceful, but nor did it take a bloody revolution. Since then Venezuela did make some more transitional moves against capital, although the process has largely stalled in recent years (especially since Maduro took over, who seems to have no original ideas of his own) due to corruption and incompetence in the face of continued resistance. One can imagine that, in a society where the Left were even stronger in the street and/or constitutional norms were more established, this might have been enough to prevent even the attempted coup. (I don’t mean to say that I think the bourgeoisie in Britain are particularly “constitutional and non-violent”, but constitutional norms still have a lot more weight here than in Venezuela and that would help some.)

          Is it possible to transition towards socialism without economic attacks? I really can’t imagine how, no. Is it possible without attempted constitutional coups? Probably not. Is it possible without attempted military coups? I don’t know–none of us do. It is true that we haven’t seen it happen yet, but that isn’t actually proof that it’s impossible. It is something which any Left government would seriously have to guard against, taking steps wherever possible to prevent. We would have to ensure that the Left is strong enough to be able to take to the streets and see off an attempted coup as happened in Venezuela. Strategically, I don’t think the argument between David and John has that many implications–both would agree that we must be wary of such machinations, take whatever steps possible to prevent them, and have plans for how to fend off attacks which can’t be prevented. The main difference seems to lie in the fact that David holds out more hope we won’t need to rely on the last of these.

  20. David Jameson says:

    I think that the left have no need to allow themselves to be drawn into wars fought against individuals on battlefields of the establishment`s choice. Reselection can be included in a package of wider democratic reform that applies to everybody from the leader down and sold as such. Policies have to appeal broadly and be workable now and not in some utopian future. SNP and UKIP ers need to be won over.

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