The results of the British general election have caused a substantial upset in the bourgeois and liberal media. Journalists and pundits by the dozen have been compelled to issue grovelling apologies for their rank dismissal of Jeremy Corbyn as a leader and his policies as reflected in Labour’s manifesto. They have been joined by many of the parliamentary Labour Party who – now returned to the Commons with enhanced majorities – owe their livelihoods and careers to a man who, for months and years, they have excoriated.
In many cases these new confessions of faith are designed to serve a double purpose. To deflect the anger of those hundreds of thousands of Labour Party members – joined in the last few days by near another 200,000 – and to give them enough wriggle room to subvert the party programme and, in particular, to dilute Corbyn’s commitment to respect the referendum result on leaving the EU.
To this sorry crowd of penitents we must shortly expect the author/s of a recent piece in the otherwise quite illuminating website In defence of Communism. It is worth reading their offering in full but for the purposes of polemic I will précis it.
Labour and Tory are two versions of bourgeois management. The Labour Party of Corbyn is a thoroughly bourgeois party serving the the capitalist system, fully committed to promoting capitalist profit. With either with Labour or Tories the bourgeoisie will manage to safeguard its interests in the Brexit process.
Corbyn’s leadership is no exception to social democracy which disguises herself behind radical rhetoric and empty promises.
Corbyn, like Tsipras is nothing but a political representative of social democracy. Britons can draw valuable lessons from the Greek experience.
Finally, “The communists, the marxists-leninists in Britain must not entrap themselves in the thought that says “let’s support Corbyn in order to oust the Tories from the government”. The major problem is not the manager of the system, but the system itself. Neither May nor Corbyn – or any other bourgeois political leader – can offer actual solutions to the problems of the working class, because these problems are rooted in the capitalist way of production.”
Advice is always welcome and the experience of Greece at the mercy of the EU has been a salutary lesson for many British workers and undoubtedly played a part in sharpening the debate around Brexit. But it has to be said in the most comradely manner possible that this article is not so much a defence of communism as a defence of dogmatism. It is also an exercise in ignorant posturing that takes no account of British working class history, Lenin’s creative thinking on Britain or contemporary reality.
Let us take as a starting point Lenin’s incontestable proposition: “The Labour Party is a thoroughly bourgeois party, because, although made up of workers, it is led by reactionaries, and the worst kind of reactionaries at that, who act quite in the spirit of the bourgeoisie. It is an organisation of the bourgeoisie, which exists to systematically dupe the workers with the aid of the British Noskes and Scheidemanns.”
Collected Works, Vol. 31, pp. 213–63.
Lenin, of course then went on to propose that British communists struggle for the closest possible organisational and political unity with this body which, unlike most social democratic formations is actually a federal body with trade unions, cooperatives and political groups of various kinds organisationally affiliated with voting rights.
The key passage in Lenin’s text is as emphasised above by me: “it is led by reactionaries.”
The problem for our dogmatic comrades is that unless you negate Corbyn’s decades long consistent opposition to imperial war and capitalist exploitation, his serial opposition to every manifestation of class collaboration, his exemplary leadership of the anti war movement and his challenge to the Labour right (and their uncompromising resistance to his efforts) then one can hardly claim it is led by reactionaries.
Of course, there is a fierce inner party battle, presently muted because of Corbyn’s popularity, the appeal of the party’s election manifesto and the great increase in electoral support. The point is that there has never been a moment when the grip of the classically right-wing social democratic tendency has been more marginalised among the party and the people.
One wonders what might have been the tactics consistent with the line proposed by In defence of communism. Attack Jeremy Corbyn for his anticipated betrayal of his own manifesto at precisely the point when the right in his own party, the bourgeois media and the class enemy were intensifying their attempts to isolate him?
The truth is that we are presented with an unprecedented situation in which a crisis of bourgeois rule coincides with a situation in which the political credibility of right wing social democracy in its contemporary neo-liberal form, ‘New Labour’ of the Tony Blair tendency is throughly discredited and millions of working people see in the challenge to this discredited politics an opportunity to become an ‘historical subject’.
As Lenin said: “It is essential to grasp the incontestable truth that a Marxist must take cognisance of real life, of the true facts of reality, and not cling to a theory of yesterday, which, like all theories, at best only outlines the main and the general, only comes near to embracing life in all its complexity.”
Letters on Tactics (April 1917); Collected Works, Vol. 24.
British communists work in difficult circumstances, not physically dangerous at present, but with complex ideological challenges that arise in a country that is the second most powerful of the classically imperial powers. Our project in the short term is to find ways in which the working class can once again enter the political arena in its own interest. To find ways in which the forces thrown up by the developing crisis of our capitalist formation, with its distinctive features, can begin to challenge bourgeois hegemony, win sectional and class struggles, strengthen basic class organisation and begin to see the potential for a new way of living.
That we do this not for temporary advance within capitalism or for piecemeal reform, valuable as these may be, but in order to marshal the forces that can end the dictatorship of capital as is evident from the many decades in which we have struggled, with varying success, again the twin dangers of revisionism and dogmatism.
That our broader struggles have an electoral content is a basic lesson we have learnt from Lenin and the more studious of our critics might find Lenin’s arguments in Left Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder instructive..
As he said: “. . . the whole of political life is an endless chain consisting of an infinite number of links. The whole art of politics lies in finding and gripping as strong as we can the link that is least likely to be torn out of our hands, the one that is most important at the given moment, the one that guarantees the possessor of a link the possession of the whole chain.”
What Is To Be Done? (1902)
Of course, there is no guarantee that this present level of class contradiction may not be resolved in confusion and defeat, or compromise and retreat. But there is everything to fight for and this we will do rather than stand on sidelines.
This present stage of struggle is characterised by an unprecedented mobilisation of new forces, especially youth, by signs of the reentry of organised working class contingents into direct confrontation with employers and the state, by a great stirring of ideas that negate conventional notions of bourgeois conformity. It cannot be otherwise when workers and important sections of the middle strata experience worsening living standards, a housing, health and education crisis and worsening prospects for each new generation.
It cannot be otherwise when millions have been drawn in mass action against imperialist war and austerity.
All these factors demand of revolutionaries the utmost efforts to develop intimate connections with these forces. We continuously strive to exercise the greatest influence on events, aided by our daily newspaper, the Morning Star, for which Jeremy Corbyn has been a regular contributors from before he became chair of the Stop the War movement.
We know we do not possess a monopoly of wisdom but we do know our own working class.
We strife to apply marxism leninism to the concrete conditions in which we find ourselves and, as Lenin enjoined us, to avoid: “Rectilinearity and one-sidedness, woodenness and petrification, subjectivism and subjective blindness — voilà the epistemological roots of idealism.
Collected Works, Vol. 38, pp. 357–61