Thursday, 29 September 2016

The War Goes On: With Corbyn’s Re-Election, The Class Struggle In Labour Will Intensify.

The Unintended Consequence: It was to forever silence the intra-party remnants of working-class power that the Blairite Right brought in the “one-person-one-vote” rule. Not even in their worst nightmares did they apprehend that their cynical gesture towards ‘democratisation’ would produce a Jeremy Corbyn. 
 
JEREMY CORBYN’S RE-ELECTION should signal an outbreak of peace and unity in the British Labour Party. Especially given his support among Labour members has gone up, not down, since he was first elected in September 2015. Not a chance. His enemies in Labour’s parliamentary caucus simply will not relent. The war of attrition will go on until Corbyn is no longer leader. Why?
 
The answer is as bleak in its essence as it is in its implications. From its very inception, more than a century ago, the British Labour Party has been the product of two powerful political impulses: working-class unionism and middle-class reformism. Though they were not perceived to be so at the time the party was formed, these two impulses would, ultimately, prove contradictory.
 
No matter how modest the ambitions of Britain’s moderate trade union leaders, the pursuit of “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work” was always destined to run into the brute realities of capitalism’s zero-sum equations. And when that day came, as it did in the 1970s, the middle-class reformers of the Fabian Society were never going to align themselves with Labour’s working-class voters.
 
There was a reason for this reformist disdain. They simply did not believe that working-class people were capable of managing themselves. Working people, in the reformers’ opinion, lacked the experience, the education and, yes, the ‘breeding’ necessary for self-government. That being the case, Labour’s ultimate objective must be to erect a state-funded and administered system of social organisation and control, that would allow highly trained middle-class professionals will ‘look after’ and ‘improve’ the ‘labouring masses’.
 
Policies promising the public administration of health, education and housing services, and the public ownership of key industries, may have sounded like socialism, but in one vital respect they were deficient. The administrators and managers of this Brave New World would not be drawn from the ‘labouring classes’ in whose name they were being created, but from a middle class which saw itself as the meritocratic inheritors of Britain’s louche and incompetent aristocracy.
 
This dystopic game of bait-and-switch provides the theme for some of British literature’s most famous political fables. From “The Time Machine” and “Things To Come” by H. G. Wells’ (himself a hard-line eugenicist and prominent Fabian) to George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and “1984”. In British social-democracy, no less than on Animal Farm: “All animals are equal – but some are more equal than others.”
 
What the Fabian Society reformers were never game enough to ask themselves was: “What happens when publicly administered health, education and housing services raise up a generation of workers who are no longer content to let middle-class bureaucrats control their lives?”
 
When “The Who’s” famous invitation to “meet the new boss – same as the old boss” is rejected. When thousands of young shop-stewards finally work out what their corpulent union bosses have always been too frightened to admit: that “a fair day’s pay” is beyond the remit of even the most thoroughly reformed capitalist society. What happens then?
 
What happens then – as every member of both the British and New Zealand Labour Party who lived through it will confirm – is that class struggle begins to manifest itself not only in the workplace and on the picket line, but also in the ranks of the political party of the working-class. And when that party has allowed itself to become “professionalised”, especially at the parliamentary level, then the outcome of that class struggle is a forgone conclusion.
 
But history is not a clockwork mechanism, or, if it is, then there’s a ghost in the machine. Tony Blair may have filled the upper echelons of his government and party with a plethora of “pretty straight guys”, but within the shell of the professionalised Labour Party there still existed the perennially disruptive trade unions and constituency party organisations. It was to forever silence these working-class voices that Blair’s successors brought in the “one-person-one-vote” rule. Not even in their worst nightmares did they apprehend that their cynical gesture towards ‘democratisation’ would produce a Jeremy Corbyn.
 
So now they find themselves caught between a leader dedicated to creating precisely the sort of emancipatory labour movement that Blair and his professionalised predecessors worked so hard to destroy in the 1970s and 80s; and a fast-growing movement of citizens determined to seize control of their own future. Already the largest socialist organisation in Europe, the 600,000-strong British Labour Party threatens to become something much more dangerous than the ruling class’s second eleven. Corbyn is determined to turn Labour into a people’s movement for radical change. A project so impossibly horrific that it has united the entire British Establishment against him.
 
Only two things can stop Corbyn now. Either, his parliamentary caucus enemies will contrive some way to fundamentally constrain his power (by forcing him to accept an elected shadow cabinet, perhaps?) Or, the hidden hand of the “deep” British state will arrange for his removal “by other means”.
 
For the newly re-elected leader and his party the moment of maximum peril draws near. We must hope that the ghost in the machine continues to nudge history in Labour’s – and Jeremy Corbyn’s – direction.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 26 September 2016.

25 comments:

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Ah, but Corbyn is "unelectable". I remember when they said that about Helen Clark. How did that work out?

greywarbler said...

The latest complaint against Corbyn is that he is bringing the memory of past Greats like Tony Blair into disrepute! Cor, Corbyn has opened a window letting in fresh air to the cigar-smoke-filled room with accompanying whisky fumes - and the chorus goes up - the light, the light, too bright, pull the curtains. The Right can't cope with the harsh glare of reality.

Alan said...

Well written Chris.

Rule One.The first use to which power is put is to the protection of the power-holder.

Power equals privilege, and the latter is deeply entrenched at all levels in Britain. Corbyn is either astonishingly courageous or foolish, in riding around on a bicycle or using public transport. One could never accuse him of being a hypocrite; of not practicing his beliefs. The threat he represents to the powerful in exact return measure will be the threat he poses to himself.

He is one of those extraordinary rare individuals who appears to defy the rule above.

Alan Rhodes

Richard Swan said...

Well he may also be stopped by these funny things called elections. If the party's already terrible performance in the last election actually gets worse, then Corbyn's socialist revolution will come to a grinding half.

Unless you are thinking the Labour Party will continue with the revolution even if no one votes for them

Kiwiwit said...

I am not sure whether you intended to, but you make more than a passing nod the common roots of fascism and modern democratic socialism. The inherent conflict between the utopian urge and democracy is, of course, one that has been tested many times and the results are always the same.

Nick J said...

I'm somewhat reminded of the purges in 1930s Soviet Union where the "bourgeois " old party members were eliminated as "counter revolutionary ". It is a no win scenario for the status quo. If they eliminate Corbyn they declare open class war, but they also show that the organs of state are irredeemable from within. Huge parallels with NZ Labour. Great column.

Polly said...

The British general election will have a elephant in the room, Muslim immigration, legal or illegal.
Theresa May's is already giving indications of curb or curtailment.
Jeremy Corbyn will embrace these migrants and that will lead to his defeat by the Tories and his subsequent defeat of LP leadership.
Christian peoples throughout the worlds democracies are crying foul against their compliant politicians to this immigrant influx.
Enough is enough is the growing chant.

Jens Meder said...

Would not the "fair day's pay for a fair day's work" be best resolved eventually through workers becoming (at an adequate level) direct participants in capitalism ?

Dennis Frank said...

I'm using the supply & demand frame on this one: if enough voters feel that neoliberalism has failed, the tories fail to offer anything different, and Labour campaigns with a well-designed plan for a genuine alternative, then the left will indeed supply what the majority demand and he'll ascend to prime minister.

So time to recycle the iconic laconic if (Phillip II of Macedon sent an envoy to Sparta threatening: "If I win this war, you will be slaves forever." - The Spartan's replied: "If.")

greywarbler said...

Jens Meder and Polly seem to be applying the broken record approach to discussion and argument.

Meder is always on about the advantages of politicians appealing to the Centre and Labour taking part in capitalism. What about Mondragon co-operative in Spain for instance.

MONDRAGON Corporation world leader in the co-operative movement, is the largest business group in the Basque Country and the tenth largest in Spain http://www.mondragon-corporation.com/eng/about-us/presence-worldwide/
and, a different take:
http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/04/30/the-case-of-mondragon/

Is this able to be replicated elsewhere? Your concepts are worth exploring but is there anything else in Santa's bag? (Could we discuss and develop some other goodies before Christmas if you Chris have time to look at different directions that Labour especially Brit Labour might try. If not already covered in an earlier post.)

And Polly's regular comments leave a bad taste with a bitter overtone about race and immigrants as if complaining enough will solve the problems that irresponsible policies such as unrestrained inhumane treatment all the way to scorched earth warfare leads to. What about thinking of causes Polly. This from your comment is contentious and
as a Christian I don't like it, so don't start your own crusade.
Christian peoples throughout the worlds democracies are crying foul against their compliant politicians to this immigrant influx.

David Stone said...

Hi Chris
I think western economies , and hence the present class struggle is much more complex than it was in the time of labour party's beginnings. The struggle for a share of the pie is less between employer and employee than between the productive economy and financialisation. The people making undue gain without commensurate contribution are no longer direct employers, who are mostly struggling along with their employees. Probably more so in the U K than here at the moment.
I expect that Corbyn's support is much wider and more diverse than traditional woking class labour, and is made up of people like many who contribute to this page, who think that the economy could and should be run more fairly irrespective of how that might impact on their own personal situation. Corbyn's appeal is to a large extent his honest decency and people's belief that he will do his utmost to improve the lot of the majority , but if he gets the chance to really change things he's going to need some exceptional economic advisers behind him . And yes he may need a heavily armoured push bike.
Cheers David J S

Nick J said...

Dennis and everybody else. Read http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.co.nz The last two paragraphs of this week's article summarize the death of our liberal politics and the emergence of post liberalism. Corbyn Sanders and Trump herald the popular rejection of the status quo.

Nick J said...

GS I agree with the comment re scratched record from Jens. The recurrent contention is that we can all be capitalists. So if everybody in an enterprise is a partner / shareholder there is no ability to drive down the cost of labour because even if you do that the workers (aka partners / shareholders) will get the balance out of the profit. Everyone gets the same. That sounds like a socialist model to me. Of course real capitalists would never agree to such a beast as it means that they would not get to capture what Marx described as "surplus value". Sorry Jens, equality under capitalism....no.

Your comment re Polly and immigrants is well explained by the Archdruidreport this week. Basically the people who consist the "centre" like to shout "racism" etc and take a higher "ethical /moral" stance when immigration etc is mentioned. The "centre" actually benefit materially from the offshoring of jobs, the pressure on housing (that pushes up prices) etc. When a Polly points out that immigration actually represents a cost and disadvantage to those on the periphery (i.e non centre, unemployed, low waged) every centrist screams foul.

Dennis Frank said...

Yes, Nick, catches the zeitgeist. Wayne Mapp ought to read it. I didn't join in to disagree with him, since I've seen the global stats on the extent to which neoliberalism is successfully pulling third-worlders out of poverty (whereas socialism didn't achieve much of that) but it does seem as if neoliberalism is dead in most western countries. Not yet here due to the NatLab collusion on excessive immigration maintaining enough of a growth rate to preserve the illusion of progress.

I've read Greer before a few times, he's consistently good but we need folk who can go beyond analysis and actually do synthesis. I get the impression that Marxists applied Hegel's dialectic in social analysis & theory but somehow never got creative with it. Seemed obvious to me that it ought to happen in one's own mind as much as in group process. But perhaps the ability to synthesise cannot be acquired and paradigm-shifting social progress in that case will only ever be generated by folks who have the innate ability.

Polly. said...

Greywarbler, what I said was my opinion based upon the many interviews I have watched with people who spoke of their major concerns with people who are populating their countries from the Middle East and Pakistan.
I also have family in England
The drums are also beating here, go to an Winston Peters political meeting the next time one comes around your way.
I am also a Christian and whether you like it or not, immigration but particularly immigration from Muslim countries will be the major issue of the forthcoming British general election.
Brexit was phase 1.
The cause(s) is the unprovoked war attack on Iraq by the Americans with their allies and the subsequent spreading of that war to other countries.
I am sorry about the bitter taste in your mouth but the author of this blog raised the importance of Jeremy Corbyn's/ Labour party attempt to get government benches.
I gave my opinion that Jeremy's Corbyn's approach to immigration will cost him the election, I stand by that opinion.

Jens Meder said...

Is not the Mondragon Corporation - similar to a kibbutz style collective farm - a straightforward example of direct worker (participation in) capitalism ?

And being just an active or passive shareholder of any enterprise or property ?

And what about the social unity through all citizens becoming individual owners of shares of the national wealth, with responsibilities to maintain it, and the freedom to consume it in retirement after the age of 65 ?

Would that not be a vision superior to free market liberalism, and state monopoly capitalism ?

Michael Wynd said...

Chris,

Looking at it from the right, I cannot see how Corbyn will appeal to the centre and get enough votes to gain a majority. Given that Scotland is now SNP-land but are now learning a bitter economic lesson about counting on future high oil revenues, where exactly are his votes to come from to gain a majority in a FPP sytem?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"I've seen the global stats on the extent to which neoliberalism is successfully pulling third-worlders out of poverty (whereas socialism didn't achieve much of that)"

We don't actually know if it's neoliberalism that's supposedly pulling people out of poverty or if other factors are involved. And there are large areas of the world that aren't being pulled out of poverty by neoliberalism, including most of Africa. And in fact, socialism had a decent record of providing education and medical care to people – all people – which should be counted as part of pulling people out of poverty at least.

David Stone said...

Polly ... I think you are probably right in your last point. Whatever one's personal attitude to wholesale immigration a guess as to the attitude of a large slice of Corbyn's otherwise likely supporters is predictable.
Cheers David J S

jh said...

Blogger Guerilla Surgeon said...

Ah, but Corbyn is "unelectable". I remember when they said that about Helen Clark. How did that work out?
.....
Corbyn has ruled out cutting immigration. Of course when he explains the people will understand and it will all be alright.

jh said...

I see David Farrar is praising Chinese as property investors which (it appears is due to hard work and frugal behaviour). This (apparently) is a selling point for Chinese immigration. A week ago at Milford Sound I was asked by a Chinese driver if i would move my bus (I was on an earlier boat and waiting for my group to come back). I was in the #2 bay and although he had other parks he wanted mine because: "not much time for shopping" (= earn kick-back in Chinese shop).

Nick J said...

Simple Mike. Think FPP. In UK you need around 40% or less of the popular vote. If 52% showed their disaffection by voting Brexit it sounds quite possible.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Jh - All I was saying was that it is probably not good practice to predict if someone is electable or not, particularly a long time before the next election. I can off hand think of a number of serving politicians who have been characterised as unelectable in the past, who have been safely elected. As usual you managed to turn the subject round to immigration, but in the time between now and the next election, he may change his mind, or be bound by the party – any number of things which might mean that his policy on immigration will change – or become irrelevant.

Nick J said...

Dennis, I'd suggest Greer does a lot of "synthesis", it is just that his gets rejected in the main because it is not techno narcissistic and may appear retrograde. In fact he tends toward the tested and obvious.

Awaiting synthesis from the status quo would be very much like waiting for the condemned man to hang himself.

Personally I don't see a future that will allow or evoke group think synthesis on a large scale. That's another topic.

Charles E said...

Interesting changes going on but I doubt the death of left, right & centre is one of them. But more tactical voting is. Witness, already & in due course, centre left & right getting together in Europe to defeat the hard right. I think that could happen to Corbyn too. And in the US with significant Republicans likely to vote for Clinton. I have met some of them. Or that will not vote.

So Chris on the one hand you think a hard left old workers' man like Corbyn may be electable without a move to the centre, or at least solid policies for the centre, yet here in NZ you have the opposite view. Or have I misread this and the next post?

I don't think we are that different here, as voters. But then again the immigration factor is very different and we are a youngish immigrant country, so more tolerant of it. Although large numbers of Muslims would test that sorely. I think Polly is, somewhat sadly, right. Corbyn may only begin to look electable if he opposes immigration, and perhaps without directly saying so, Muslim immigration in particular. That seems most unlikely as he, so typically of the hard left, fawns before Muslims, especially the Islamist lot since they like him, share an implacable hatred of the US & Israel. Someone like Minto is his equivalent here. I cannot imagine him leading Labour to victory in NZ in a million years. Anyway he has retired to deserved obscurity as next Sunday's utterly failed CHCH mayoral candidate against sensible centre-left incumbent Lianne, who I will vote for, for a second time, and I'm a Tory. Which is evidence of how essential, and strong the centre is. In Britain too, although their next election is years off. I predict now Corbyn will be so heavily defeated by centrist May he'll never be heard of again. Unless he changes his spots.