We’ve been sent this piece by a fellow Labour Party activist in the North East. She didn’t want to be identified, which is pretty much a sad indictment of where we’re at in the party at this point:
“When Jeremy won the leadership election last year, Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) up and down the country were filled with new or returning members. Members identified as:
- Never been involved in politics before, ever;
- Coming back into the LP, having left in the 1990s, by choice or via a purge of sorts;
- Coming back into political activity, having been an inactive member for many, many years;
- Coming back into political activity, having been involved but unconvinced for many a long, long year.
We all arrived with a wide range of experiences and memories of the Labour Party and were in different places on a continuum of expectations and enthusiasm.
Some of us came to the movement, invigorated by Corbyn’s socialism, coupled with his insistence on an inclusive ‘big tent’ philosophy. This was naively interpreted by some as a new politics, where the right of the Labour Party, accepting the legitimate mandate, would knuckle down and get behind the Party.
Others came with tempered hope, tempered with the experience of years in a political wilderness, brought about by experience of 1980s-late 1990s, where they witnessed purges and democracy overruled by an NEC, who imposed their selections on local CLPs and the growth of ‘the PM makes all the decisions now’.
Others were somewhere on the continuum between the extremes of enthusiastic newbies and cynically hopeful, more experienced members.
Ironically, this continuum caused friction amongst this new Corbyn Left. Some were all for including the Blairites in this new change of direction, believing that they would happily come along for the ride.
The returners? They remembered some of those same Blairites, in the CLPs, standing by, allowing purges and attacks on the Left 20-25 years ago and didn’t want to wait for the same to happen again. They were impatient to get on with the job. They were impatient to ensure that they protected this emerging movement from those who wished it harm. Those Lefties, who were immediately ‘on the defensive’, were regarded with some disdain by the optimistic new arrivals to the Labour Movement.
Now we know. Now we all understand that the mandate was under threat from the first moment. The right of the Party, who retained control of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), the National Executive Committee (NEC) and the majority of the execs in the CLPs, were not about to respect any mandate from the members.
This top down change, brought about by a grass roots movement, had had little impact on the structures within the Party. Many CLPs were filled with officers who were loyal to Blairism. The NEC was a reflection, with some exceptions, of neoliberal ideology; the PLP was (and still is) dominated by Progress, a very well-funded organisation devoted to reviving New Labour.
Those behind these structures had no interest in socialism and as we have seen have actively tried to damage socialism within the Labour Party. However, at the time of Jeremy’s election, talk of potential coups and purges within the Left in CLPs, were ‘poo pooed’ by the new or inexperienced members, who had no, or little, experience of this having happened. The dangers predicted by more experienced comrades were thought to be over reactions and quite frankly, ridiculous. This information gap between different groups of Corbyn supporters led to many cautious new members, distancing themselves from others on the Left and aligning themselves to the existing structures, as a show of solidarity against those extreme Left types, who would suggest that right wing LP members could be involved in such awful things.
Similarly, more experienced members became quickly frustrated with the less experienced, for not knowing what they didn’t know. Tempers often frayed as those, who’d experienced the worse under New Labour, could see the imminent dangers and couldn’t see why everyone else couldn’t see the same.
Truth is, everyone had to experience this to believe it. There is no way someone arriving enthusiastically into the Labour Party at that moment in time could have understood that any of these attacks were possible. There is no way that anyone arriving as Corbyn supporters, who felt connected to this change in politics could have understood implicitly, for instance, the inter-relatedness of interests of neo liberals in the LP and the millionaires, who own the media: how could they? The media don’t advertise this. No, we had to experience this: the name calling, the demonisation, the ridiculing, the lies, the fabricated evidence against comrades, the airbrushing out of the truth and the contempt of the PLP for the members of the Party and socialism. This had to be experienced to be understood.
Ironically, once experienced, the actions of the right wing, in the LP and elsewhere, have fast tracked politicisation amongst the Left.
And so here we are, a year on. What can the Corbyn supporting membership do now?
Firstly, we need to ‘get over’ any differences that created a wedge between us at the beginning of this journey. We need to recognise our different starting points for what they were – different points on a journey.
Next, we need to understand the importance of changing the structures in the Party. This needs to be a democratic restructuring, through our involvement, initially in CLPs and branches. Corbyn needs this political change in the movement to be bottom up, not just top down, if we truly want to transform the LP and eventually society.
AGMs will be beginning to take place post LP Conference. Corbyn supporters need, as an imperative, to take a lead in the execs and general committees in their CLPs and branches. They need to establish socialism as the default position locally. They need to get over the discomfort they feel at challenging existing officers: this is a democracy and it’s politically healthy to have more than one person standing for a position, (incidentally, have any of those officers, who are anti Corbyn, complained about the lack of democracy and the attacks on the Left? Usually, no. At best, they’ve sat quietly, waiting to get “their party back”).
If you’re really a serious Corbynite – then, get cracking comrades! Get organised!”
First featured on The World Turned Upside Down blog