Confessions of a socialist conflicted over Corbyn

17 Aug 2015

 

Let’s be frank about it, the Labour leadership election has been a bit of a mess. This is hardly a novel observation, but at least it is something the whole party can agree on.

 

Now for what we don’t agree on: Jeremy Corbyn. It is no secret that I quite like the bloke. In June I wrote this slightly hysterical article arguing that Corbyn should be entered onto the leadership ballot to represent the legitimate left of the party and, most importantly, me. Thing is, despite making assertions to the contrary at the time, I never thought the guy could win and, in truth, I was quite happy for Corbyn to lose, democratically, so long as the case was made for a radical alternative.

 

I’m now in quite a position of conflict. I’ve been a member of the Labour Party for around three years, and I don’t want the party to split. Unlike David Ward, general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, I quite like my Blairite friends, and don’t regard centrists in the party as a virus. If caring about things like poverty, social mobility, and economic growth counts as a disease, then we are all implicated. But it is also difficult not to react against the party’s ideological centre, when the main response of it’s senior figures to the Corbyn threat has been to dismiss his supporters as whimsical, naive, and in need of a heart transplant.

 

An even more frustrating accusation is that Corbyn supporters are not legitimate Labour Party members, but are instead hard-left Troskyist infiltrators who presumably want to destroy the Party and restart the 4th International. It is a claim that doesn’t hold water. The two biggest hard-left organizations in the country don’t want Labour to move left. The Socialist Party of England and Wales' (SPEW’s) whole existence is based on the theory that an ideologically bankrupt Labour Party needs to be replaced from the ground-up. The other major hard-left party, the Socialist Workers Party, regards electoral politics as a bourgeois scam. Indeed, the only hard-left party advocating entryism is the Communist Party of Great Britain, which by its own admission is 'not a large organisation, and target our propaganda more or less exclusively at other 'hard leftists', who in turn seldom take our advice.'

 

Thus, even by the far left’s own criteria, entryism to elect Corbyn is a counter-productive strategy. However, claims of leftist infiltration are not malignant because they are false. They are malignant because they marginalise legitimate members of the party. They feed the strong feeling that the parliamentary party would rather demonize and dismiss socialists than engage with their arguments. All this puts people like me in a difficult position. We want to fight austerity, we want to win the election and we don’t want the party to split. But voting against your own ideas in the name of unity is big thing to ask when the main source of fracture seems to be the refusal of centrists to engage with your arguments and their refusal to accept the potential results of a democratic election.

 

So, will I vote for Corbyn? Probably, yes. He represents me, has been willing to engage with other parts of the party in a constructive, mature fashion, and possesses a compelling vision for the future of the country. Most importantly, the other candidates have only given me reasons not to vote for them. The rhetoric of the three centrist candidates is cloaked in the notion that Labour can only exist in a post-Thatcher consensus as a nicer version of the Conservatives. Call me ideological, but accepting ideas which have driven inequality, undergirded the world’s biggest financial crisis, and condemned parts of the country to stagnation, is something I will never do.

 

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