An open letter to Jeremy Corbyn
How a united front can remove the Tories
Your stunning landslide victory in the election for leader of the Labour Party reflects the power of a seismic social movement for democratic change which already reverberates far beyond Westminster.
Congratulations to all those who made it possible. An astonishing 16,000 helpers organised your leadership campaign. Tens of thousands of people came out of nowhere to produce a veritable political earthquake. You inspired young people like no other recent movement has done.
Your triumph shattered the Tory and New Labour dogma that austerity could not be challenged. It also proved clearly that the power of the right-wing media is relative and no match for a self-propelled movement.
Importantly, your convincing defeat of Burnham, Cooper and Kendall showed that elite control of political parties is nearing its end because people have had enough of this kind of “politics”. Mealy-mouthed, empty phrase-mongering was rejected in favour of straight talking.
Whether it is acknowledged or not, your elevation to leader marks the end of Labour as we have known it for more than 100 years and the beginning of another altogether more political, democratic process which has to find new routes to power.
Even the Tories are concerned, because the traditional role of “Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition”, as it is officially known, is now threatened by your desire for a broader, more democratic, different politics. If the focus is no longer in Parliament, people like Michael Gove reason, then it will find an outlet on the streets. Let’s hope he’s right!
You can be sure that the majority of your supporters voted against what your party – and the political establishment which it is part of – has come to represent. This is shown in the overwhelming backing you got from the 100,000 people who specially registered to vote in the election.
The Parliamentary Labour Party now finds itself at total odds with every section that took part in the leadership election. This conundrum cannot be solved by political balancing acts or appeals to unity which could compel you to abandon key policies. Deputy leader Tom Watson has already indicated that he will oppose you on Trident and Nato, which is a sign of things to come.
The momentum that registered voters generated spilled over into the sections representing local members and affiliates in the trade unions and enabled you to trounce the other three candidates. So, ultimately, your tremendous victory is an expression of a growing movement that is hostile to the old set-up.
We have witnessed this phenomenon elsewhere in the United Kingdom. In Scotland, the independence referendum campaign energised a whole nation in a collective discussion about austerity, democracy and self-determination.
Support for yourself within and around Labour Party is part of a global revulsion against the system itself which has taken different forms – from Podemos in Spain, to Syriza in Greece to the challenge of Bernie Sanders in the US, where he is threatening Hillary Clinton’s bid for the Democratic Party nomination.
In England, the right-wing populist Ukip finished second to Labour in many working-class areas while the anti-establishment Green Party also amassed votes. These are all indications of the break-up and the break-down of the Westminster-based capitalist state, on which more later.
As a consequence, your victory raises questions and challenges that cannot be answered within the shadow cabinet or even within the structures of Labour itself. In fact, with the overwhelming majority of the PLP opposed to your views and policies, your only chance of success is through a mobilisation of your supporters and the wider community in actions beyond Westminster.
Many people voted for you in the hope that it would bring about instant change. Obviously that’s not possible, but equally we cannot possibly wait for five years and pin our hopes on you winning the 2020 general election before setting out to remove the most reactionary of Tory governments.
You could and should argue that the Tories have no constitutional mandate for their aggressive attack on the trade unions, the welfare state, education, the NHS and human rights. They received the support of fewer than 25% of registered electors and the fact they won a majority is an indictment of a discredited voting system.
Trade unions will be absolutely justified if they refuse to obey proposed laws which if applied to general elections, would have seen the Tories’ “victory” ruled out as unlawful. Even libertarian Tories like David Davies have damned aspects of the anti-union legislation as totalitarian.
You should encourage the trade unions who supported your campaign to reject the laws in advance and to challenge the government with more than just marches and lobbies of parliament. The only way to defeat the Tories on this and other issues is through mass and sustained industrial and civil disobedience actions with the backing of your leadership.
The vote takes Britain into an unknown political territory. There are no precedents for such a dramatic political upheaval in recent history. Your commitment to engage the wider party membership and beyond in policy discussion is commendable. There are several important questions which you might want to consider as part of your policy and strategy consultation.
First and foremost is the nature of our extremely limited democracy that functions within a piecemeal constitutional framework that reinforces a class-driven social system, aka capitalism.
At the heart of the constitutional settlement is the power of the state as a whole, of which Parliament is a small and increasingly insignificant part. The state is the ultimate guarantor of the profit system which has produced the gross inequalities you rightly point to.
Today’s democracy is hollowed out because the state has itself subordinated itself to the requirements of the corporations, investment banks and financial markets in the UK, Europe and beyond. So it’s a corporatocracy rather than a democracy that we live under.
You would do everyone a great service by opening a debate on these questions.
To solve inequality means challenging corporate capitalist power. That's a democratic question, as it's impossible within the existing constitutional status quo. Your support for a people-led convention on the constitution would be important.
The lessons from the bitter experiences made by the Syriza government are pertinent. Elected to end austerity, Syriza was blocked not just by the Troika but by the Greek state in the shape of the central bank. The British state and the EU would do the same to you were you elected on a socialist platform. You will be blocked at every turn if you continue to reject Trident and Nato or try to make peace your priority instead of the futile war on terror.
So why not investigate the constitutional and state system with a view to bringing democracy into the 21st century and transferring power to the people in a direct way? At the same time, you should find a way of supporting Scotland’s right to self-determination. Labour’s establishment-based hostility to independence was the key reason for its wipe-out in Scotland at the recent general election.
Mention of the EU brings us to the forthcoming referendum on membership that the Tories are planning. You cannot afford to be on the same side as David Cameron here and ought to consult on ways of building a democratic Europe to replace the corporate EU.
Also looming is a new financial crisis which will make the issue of the deficit look small beer indeed. Global debt has soared since the crash and the Bank for International Settlements says policymakers are struggling to control events. The smallest rise in interest rates could trigger another meltdown, the BIS warns.
You and your shadow chancellor John McDonnell will need to be prepared for these events and to attribute blame where it lies – not just at the feet of the bankers but to a capitalist economic and financial system that is out of control. A consultation on socialist policies to meet the coming crisis will be important for your leadership.
Your victory shows what is possible, given an uncompromising political stand. The ground you stand on is fertile and the new movement should be encouraged to develop its own momentum and independence and not be constrained by existing political processes or structures.
You were the first to say that you did not make this momentous change on your own. Equally, you cannot continue to lead on your own. The media onslaught that tried to prevent your election was only the beginning. All the forces of the state will be thrown at you because you are upsetting the political applecart. By standing firm, you will get the support you need and through a united front with those outside the Labour Party, we can defeat those who want to keep this grotesquely unequal system in place.
A World to Win editors
14 September 2015
Photos: Peter Arkell