Labour supporters aren’t Trotskyists, they are just misguided

The difference between now and the 1980s is that the very few Trotskyists around today have as their allies a much larger wedge of fed-up decent people who think Corbyn is the sort of principled man who will not let them down

Sean O'Grady@_seanogrady
Sunday 14 August 2016 15:50
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Jeremy Corbyn addresses a crowd in Milton Keynes on Saturday. His deputy Tom Watson has claimed that Trotskyists have been manipulating young Labour Party members
Jeremy Corbyn addresses a crowd in Milton Keynes on Saturday. His deputy Tom Watson has claimed that Trotskyists have been manipulating young Labour Party members

Sometimes, like a couple locked in a loveless marriage, which they are, Labour's leader and deputy leader are so used to bickering they cannot see when they have some common ground between them.

Jeremy Corbyn is surely right to say that there cannot really be 300,000 dedicated Trotskyists in Britain (there probably weren't in Russia in 1917), and that all the new members of the Labour Party cannot have turned up from the revolutionary left.

Here we find Corbyn talking perfect common sense, and it's important to acknowledge it. Although I'd no doubt be regarded by some as a prime example of the usual mainstream media Blairite scum, I am perfectly happy to recognise that Corbyn and John McDonnell have had their parliamentary and electoral successes. I mean, they'll still lose to the Tories in 2020, but there are two sides to every story.

Anyway, what Tom Watson was suggesting, as he has since reiterated, is not that all these new members and supporters are signed up to the tenets of The Fourth International. What Watson is actually saying is, though, as plausible and sensible as the Corbyn view – that some of the newer members are indeed members of, or sympathisers with, the likes of the Socialist Party, the Socialist Workers Party and various other sects.

Jeremy Corbyn gets the crowd pumped in Sunderland

As with the Militant Tendency in the 1980s and its activities in local Labour parties and trade union branches, this smaller group see themselves as forming cadres, leading the proletariat towards a new socialist society. They often try to hijack political groups, campaigns, strikes and protests for their own ends. There'll be a few of those troublemakers knocking around, as there has often been in the past.

This is the traditional idea of entryism – to gain influence in moribund organisations, getting elected to committees and taking control of key positions. Because you cannot possibly win an election as an open Trot, you try to do so via parasitised larger vehicles such as Stop The War, Respect, or the Labour Party. The sight, wearily familiar to some of us with longer memories, of the usual finger jabbing Trot urging on some apathetic bunch of disgruntled workers to a new stage of class consciousness and mobilisation may be returning. These tin-pot Lenins can easily be identified by their rants, disrupting the District Line of the London Underground on their way to delivering peace, bread and land. Even some Trots think the stereotypical antics of their comrades comical.

The difference between now and the 1980s is that the very few Trotskyists around today have as their allies a much larger wedge of vaguely green, vaguely radical, usually cranky, fed-up sort-of-socialists who have joined the Labour Party, or rejoined it, since the last general election.

This was not in the script. One Member One Vote was invented by the Blairite Scum, and its predecessors, the Kinnockite and John Smithite Scums, to take power away from Labour and the unions' rickety structures, and away from awkward activists, in favour of the more "normal" and moderate individual membership. They were supposed to be closer to the electorate than some head-banging shop stewards, and so they usually were. They were Blairites once.

But now? Well now a whole load of people have joined who do, indeed, simply want someone to stick up for the NHS, for workers' rights and against wasting money on nuclear weapons. We could call them head bangers, but they aren't really. They are mostly decent and honourable people who think Corbyn is the sort of principled man who will not let them down. They don't like the way he got patronised by Cameron and his own Labour backbenchers. They are appalled by the aftermath of the Iraq War. They think Blair and Gordon Brown let them down. You don't have to be an extremist to agree with most or even all of that. The Trots, to use the loose term, will use and manipulate them as best they can, but they don't really need much manipulation, at least on that stuff. Labour is headed for a disastrous loss at the next election because most of its members are misguided, though I agree the Trots are making plenty of mischief.

Where I think the new Labour members might find the Trots less savoury is over their enthusiasm for democratic centralism and a one party state, and disdain for traditional parliamentary democracy. There is a reason why the SWP has never published an election manifesto.

Trot-dominated or not, Labour is taking itself further away from the electorate and government, and towards permanent revolutionary opposition. It is going back to being a pressure group, putting principle ahead of power – because it likes things that way. As we found in the 1980s and 1990s very few marches and strikes achieve much – the poll tax aside, I can't think of any direct action that stopped Margaret Thatcher and John Major rolling back the state and breaking the unions over an 18-year romp.

For the Corbyn Labour Party, the model is to do what it did in 1945 and in 1983: put a proper socialist programme to the nation and ask the voters to support it. If they like it, as in Clement Attlee's day, great. If they don't, as in Michael Foot's day, then equally great, because you don't have to do Blairite Tory-lite policies and run capitalism on behalf of the Establishment and against the interests of the working class. That way, you see, there can be no betrayals, and socialism can never ever lose. From that perspective Corbyn is quite appealing.

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