A reply to Jim Jepps
January 14, 2011 11 Comments
Jim Jepps has made a very strong, and convincing reply to my last blog post (which can be found here). I have responded in turn to his reply. It goes as follows:
First of all I love the title – it made me smile reading it, before the inevitable heartbreak of being disagree with (I know, I know, should be used to it by now).
Secondly a quick clarification, I wasn’t referring to the ILP when I called to book a “small, inadequate left wing part[y] shout[ing] in the wind, by the sidelines”. I had specifically in my mind then the SWP, apologies for not making that clearer.
In helping the POUM the ILPs history, in this sense, is unquestionably noble. Despite having notable Stalinists inside it, the heroes were obviously the anti-Stalinist, anti-fascist volunteers who went to Spain, consulted with Andres Nin, and helped the Republican fight.
Back at home, under the rule of James Maxton, the ILP failed to concede to Bevan’s point about purity, and failed to maintain Hardie’s political principles of entering a broad church predicated on trade unionism, parliamentary road to socialism and working class struggle. Instead it gave in to the politics of factionalism, when the broad church needed a left-wing direction more than ever (doing a lousy job at governance, and losing MPs all over the show).
As per the received wisdom on the ILP, their first 25 years (or thereabouts) were so effective as to be almost magical, and their history home and abroad I can safely assert will influence my own politics no end, but I regard their democratically chosen decision to leave the Labour Party a bad move, not just for the Labour Party itself, but for them as well – the years after were their worst, before finally disappearing into the ethereal, and finally disbanding in the 1970s.
As you may have guessed my politics are different to the so-called Labour politics that you state – the way in which the deficit will be dealt with (which by the way, if you know what the official Labour response to is then you’re doing one better than our silent Milibrother I can tell you), war and ecological matters – but two things arise here:
- that’s not Labour politics, that’s PLP politics, and if we all submitted to that half the time then there’d hardly be a councillor left, and many of the MPs would be lost too. Part of the efforts of the left and the centre in the party is to loosen up party democracy – something also spoken about by not so Red Ed earlier in the year; one commenter on this article (where it is posted on TCF) had this to say: “I suggest that the massive disconnect between the party’s leaders (& ministers) and the rank & file is the fundamental weakness.” To which I replied, and it’s relevant here, “The disconnect is a massive weakness, and if the party democratised a bit – as per Ed Miliband’s promise – the party will change as it starts to reflect the rank and file, who in turn are better placed to reflect the real concerns of the governed.” The push for this is quite strong already within the party, but it could be stronger, and when the party starts to reflect the rank and file, and not just the Westminster politics of the day, it will be a site worthy of more left-wingers for sure. But it will take significantly more time if left wing activists find it more appropriate to have fewer disagreements with fewer people, than taking this fight to a place which, up and down the country, has significantly more political punch.
- Parties tend not have homogeneous politics anyway, which is politically realistic, but the Labour Party, with its rich history – as I have defended – is one of the finest examples of a political organisation with diversity of opinion. However I make no bones about wanting to drive to the fringes those right wingers who have lusted over privatisation and war; disagreements with the PLP (or more specifically the Blair-Brown era PLP) opinion is not enough, it can’t see it any other way that socialists of the country unite behind trying to win the argument against the Labour right wing entryists from within the largest democratic socialist party in the country. It disturbs me beyond belief how much the New Labour machine grew under the weight of a McCarthyite attack against the left, but it disturbs me even more that this remains a voluntary act by worthy leftwingers today.
With regards to your point that this is not a purity issue, this may be the case with you, in which case it is incumbent upon you to explain why voting green is more effective than voting a green Labourite (which I imagine they all are in some noble, try-hard way) on the whole I see the factionalism problem as precisely that. No doubt the Greens will have their own versions (I hear that there is still a small contingent of eco-fascists in there somewhere) of course – but I despair at having very similar politics to someone like yourself, but being in a party where your absence is far more severe.