The May 2021 election results across much of England, while unsurprising, have exposed the depth of the crisis for the Labour Party. Johnson’s Tories should have been losing seats hand over fist.
They are led by a narcissist, opportunist, and serial liar. They preside over a government mired in the sleaze of corrupt crony-capitalism. Their negligence, incompetence, and callousness have given Britain a ‘world-beating’ pandemic death toll. They really are content to ‘let the bodies pile high’.
Further, representing the super-rich, the financial speculators, and the self-satisfied middle classes, they have swung even more sharply to the right, bringing in a bill to march us towards a police state, while peddling a programme of crude flag-waving nationalism and brutal anti-migrant racism.
But instead of losing seats, the Tories have consolidated the right-wing mood of much of the English public created by the 2016 Brexit Referendum and the 2019 General Election, making gains across the country.
How has it come to this?
Starmer and the Labour Right have purged the Corbynista Left, wrapped themselves in the Union Jack, and fumbled on one issue after another, from Brexit to Covid to the Police Bill, to the point where they appear to represent nothing at all.
The response of leading Labour figures to their shambolic electoral performance was immediate and unequivocal: to blame Corbyn, waffle about ‘reconnecting’, and promise further moves to the right. Towards oblivion. Because who needs Starmer waving a Union Jack when you already have Johnson?
When the Left accommodates to the Right, it loses: it reinforces reactionary arguments, demoralises its own supporters, and alienates progressive people. The Tories have built a base among the most reactionary sections of society, supported by a mainstream media entirely committed to pandering to and enflaming people’s worst impulses.
What’s the alternative?
The Left has to focus on the progressive working class, the marginalised and the oppressed, unionised and precarious workers, migrants, the disenfranchised. Those with a radical consciousness that could become a revolutionary one.
There are millions of us, in multicultural cities and towns, in the public services, in the fiercely anti-racist, anti-climate change, increasingly activist new generation, among the wide sections of the population who oppose racism, authoritarianism, and English nationalism.
We have a mass base – among young people, feminists, minorities, and organised workers – among the kind of people who join Extinction Rebellion, Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and Kill the Bill protests.
The job of socialists is to rally the people who hate what the Tories stand for, support democracy, believe in multiculturalism, and want to save the planet. The job is to build a mass movement of resistance by refusing to make concessions to
authoritarianism, nationalism, racism, misogyny, disablism, all attacks on minorities.
The job is to organise progressive people into a fighting mass movement. We want to throw racist statues in the harbour, block roads against climate catastrophe, take strike action against fire-and-rehire bosses, and fill the streets with anger when people are murdered by cops.
The A*CR does not aim to be an alternative political party. Some of us are in the Labour Party, some in other parties, some in none. But we do aim to pursue an alternative kind of politics: principled, uncompromising, ecosocialist, democratic, and revolutionary.
Join us to Fight the Right, to Fight the Tories, to Fight the System. Join us to Fight for Red-Green Revolution.
I find the tone, and some of the substantial ideas, in this piece rather disturbing. You seek to build the left in ‘multicultural cities and towns’. Do you mean places with a substantial Black and Asian population? Or do you mean places where racism is fairly weak, with a ‘multicultural’ consciousness – which means the inner cities of the largest cities, about 10% of the English population? In either case, you seem to have written off towns and parts of cities where there are very few Black and Asian people, including around 50% of the English population. In most cases, the reason for the small number of black people in these areas is that there have been no jobs there for decades, and so the areas are poor. Think Doncaster, Kings Lynn…or Hartlepool! You seem to be uninterested in supporting socialists in these places.
More worrying is that you state that the (English?) working class is now divided into two fundamentally different groups, ‘reactionary’ and ‘progressive’. ‘The Tories have built a base among the most reactionary sections of society’. This makes no distinction between workers (90% of the population) and the hangers-on and agents of capital, i.e. the basic class distinction for Marxists. It portrays workers who voted Leave, or voted Tory, as simply, and intrinsically reactionary. They are contrasted, in the next sentence, with the ‘progressive working class’. Following the analysis of Socialist Resistance since the EU referendum, this makes no attempt to analyse why people voted Leave or Conservative. It assumes that this is simply due to deeply rooted, ineradicable racism. But this assumption has no connection to empirical evidence, for example the now large number of studies of the ideas of Leave voters. It is simplistic and crude. It refuses to think about how workers’ ideas have been shaped by 50 years of living in a neoliberal society: crushed materially and psychologically; alienated from politics and the state; no feasible progressive strategy in sight; no hope in the Labour Party. The text lacks any idea of political dynamics: workers are either reactionary or progressive, two reified, frozen categories. The question for revolutionary socialists should be: how can people who voted Leave (which incidentally includes 35% of BME voters) or voted Conservative be won to progressive, collectivist, socialist policies?
‘The Left has to focus on the progressive working class’. If that means day to day organisation of struggle, then yes, obviously. But a strong implication here is that the Left no longer needs to think about, or politically address, the ‘reactionary working class’. On the contrary: the key task of revolutionary socialists is to develop a programme which fights for the interests of the whole working class, wins the great majority of the class to socialism, and on this basis overthrows capitalism. This includes the 80% of the English population who do not live in a big city, the majority of whom voted Leave. As the Communist Manifesto says: ‘The communists have no interests different from the interests of the whole working class’.
It is good that ACR wants to recruit woke young people living in inner areas of big cities. But the organisation’s political ‘focus’ needs to be on the working class as a whole.
There is virtually nothing in Jamie’s comment with which I disagree. I think the problem is that our Open Letter can perhaps be read as implying that we are writing off ‘the reactionary working class’ because we have turned it into a ‘reified, frozen category’ that leaves it beyond redemption. The value of Jamie’s comment – for me – is drawing attention to that possible reading and highlighting the need for clarification.
Socialists aim to win a majority of the working class to the politics of class struggle and socialist transformation. We are all in agreement about this. That includes, of course, the section of the working class that supports Brexit and votes Tory; that section which is at present ‘reactionary’ in that it gives political backing to the party of the rich and big business. Our aim is to win as many of these people as possible to ‘progressive’ politics, by which we mean the politics of self-organisation, self-activity, and, ultimately, self-emancipation. The question is how. Two main answers are being offered.
One involves accommodating to the nationalism and racism of Tory Brexit. There is no other way to describe it. Of course, Starmer’s Union Jacks are too naff and contemptible to merit comment. But there are serious socialists talking about ‘listening to people’s concerns’ and meaning by that listening to the nationalism and racism and making concessions to it. One obvious example is keeping quiet about immigration controls, attacks on migrants, etc. The only possible result of this will be to reinforce nationalism, racism, and working-class Toryism.
The other answer is to build class-based resistance from below. But to do this, you have to base yourself in the progressive section of the class; more precisely, in the fighting vanguard of the class. Black Lives Matter is an obvious example. Only a minority actually went onto the streets. But that minority (a large one) was backed by millions of others who agreed and were inspired, even if they stayed home. One consequence was the defeat of Trump. I want to underline this point: I am almost 100% certain that Trump would still be in the White House but for Black Lives Matter.
Now this is how progressive politics really works. It’s like a system of interconnected cogs. The smallest cog is the activists organising protest and resistance. The middle cog is the militant minority that goes onto the streets, joins a strike, refuses the rent, besieges a police station, or whatever. The big cog is the working class as a whole.
But now my metaphor breaks down, because Jamie is absolutely right to say that social groups are not ‘reified, frozen categories’ (cogs of fixed size), but that consciousness changes through struggle. The point here is that we win people by fighting back, by challenging capital and the state, and by challenging the reactionary ideas they peddle in practice.
And yes, we can and should do this everywhere, not just in ‘multicultural cities and towns’. I’ll finish with an example from the late 1930s. The British Union of Fascists (BUF) was growing on some working-class estates in East London. But when rent strikes kicked off, some BUF members joined in. The rent strikes were organised by socialists. They were opposed by the fascists. The result was that many BUF members tore up their party cards. Some even joined the Communist Party.
These working-class people were not won from fascism by waving Union Jacks or agreeing that the Jews were a problem. They were won by the experience of class struggle.
That is the essence of our argument: no concession of any kind to reactionary politics; no support for Brexit, nationalism, and racism; we win working people to class struggle and socialism by holding up the banner of internationalism, anti-racism, and solidarity with the oppressed.