Karl Marx said he wasn’t a Marxist, but I am. At any rate, I try to be. When Marx insisted he wasn’t a Marxist, he was of course joking. What he meant to say was that if many of those who claim him as their inspiration are ‘Marxist’, then he wants to disassociate himself from them as forcefully as possible because they clearly didn’t understand what he was arguing. Marx and Engels were satisfied with calling themselves ‘scientific socialists’ – as distinct from the pre-Marxist utopian variety — and that’s a good enough label for all of us, surely. But Marxist is also, imho, equally as good.
It is less well known that Lenin denied being a Leninist, with Trotsky doing the same vis-a-vis ‘Trotskyism’. Part of the explanation for all them rejecting labels based on their names is they shared Isaac Newton’s modest affirmation that they were indebted to great men and women of the past upon whose shoulders they stood, seeing further than contemporaries as a consequence of this. Having sunk deep roots into the past masters of their respective sciences, they had infinitely greater prospects of adding value to what was already known.
Marxists — or scientific socialists – in Britain today should drop the labels ‘Leninist’ and ‘Trotskyist’, even if some of us have been happy to use them in the recent past. Why we should do that is something I can and will defend. But that will take more time than I have right now, and time is of the essence. I will explore all the pros and cons of dropping the terms ‘Leninist’ and ‘Trotskyist’ — but not today. Whether others drop these labels or not, Marxists are what we are. And it is as ‘Marxists’ that we need to join the Labour Party of Jeremy Corbyn.
I restrict myself for the moment to the English political landscape rather than the United Kingdom as a whole, insisting that Scotland is – for a variety of reasons — a more complex problem. England on the other hand is an open and shut case: if you are a Marxist and you live in England, then you need to at least apply to join Labour immediately. And if your application to join is not initially accepted, you need to be patient. Work with Jeremy Corbyn and with the party’s rank and file. You’ll need their help to get you past today’s ballot-rigging McCarthyite gatekeepers, to climb on board Corbyn’s political juggernaut as soon as possible. We all need each other. Sectarians of every variety working to keep us apart suck bigtime.
By definition, Marxists fight for the unity of all the exploited and oppressed against our exploiters and oppressers. It goes without saying that we don’t always agree on what happens to be the correct strategy and tactics at any given point in time. Nevertheless, we’re more than willing to accept majority decisions. We can patiently let history judge who was and who was not right. Marxists who join Labour today won’t get our own way on everything, losing a great many votes. So what? We will make our case, democratically, debating with respect. We’ll campaign for the official Labour candidate whoever he/she happens to be, so long as they are the choice of the party’s local members, rather than some unaccountable Blairite parachuted into a constituency against the wishes of the membership.
Who is scared of Marxist participation in Labour? Blairites probably. Let them make their case. I doubt they’ll convince many rank and file members. The PLP is worried. They feel it in their bones that their days are numbered. Glastonbury, last week’s Durham Miners Gala and more besides suggests that Blairite MPs can only hold onto their jobs by abandoning their war against Jeremy Corbyn, a war that’s been waged 24–7 on the BBC, SKY News, Channel4 News, ITV and C5. Can they accept what Labour members want? Or would they rather split because they are either unable, or unwilling, to do enough to secure the support of their CLPs?
Different individuals will opt for different solutions. The truth is that no matter how much Blairites detest Jeremy Corbyn, they‘re incapable of setting aside their own not inconsiderable differences. They disagree with each other to such an extent that building a coherent electoral organization outside the Labour Party is a non-starter. How do we know this? Just look at their incompetence since Corbyn got his name on the ballot paper first time round.
The three anti-Corbyn candidates who stood in 2015 expecting to maximise their chances by lending each other their second preference votes got absolutely nowhere. They bitterly undermined each other, thereby consolidating Jeremy Corbyn’s alternative vision, with Corbyn coming across as a defiantly unspinable straight talker who engaged his brain as well as having a moral compass to guide him.
One year later the anti-Corbyn PLP attempted to unite behind a single anti-Corbyn candidate, hoping this would solve the problems. No such luck. They only further divided themselves due to their ‘united’ candidate’s neverending screwups, one of which being his insane bid to defeat Corbyn by pretending he agreed with 90% of his politics, which everyone knew to be a lie. Misrepresenting himself as a Corbynite exposed the Blairite candidate as a hypocrite, simultaneously alienating the PLP who felt nauseated that they were expected to vote for — and call on others to vote for — an MP whose policies they rejected, and reject to this day. Everything Blairites have tried thus far has backfired. This disunity is deeply embedded within the PLP, and it’s not going away. And that matters — a lot.
For a variety of reasons, it would be pointless for Marxists to call for the purging of Blairites. Firstly, there is no need. They are out of touch with Labour’s members, those who they’d need to canvass for them on the ground in any general election. In any fair race, they’ll come last every time. Let them apply to become Labour candidates. They’ll lose, which is self evidentally why they fear reselection so much. When they lose, can we expect them to accept the official Labour Party candidate, or is it more likely they’d split to stand as an ‘independent’ or to stand as part of a new party? The latter, obviously. But that would go down badly with voters, so lots of lost deposits beckon.
Having said that, if individual Blairites want to make their peace with the members, we need to call their bluff. Let’s see what they’re made of. If they want to wipe the slate clean, give them a chance. Don’t back them all into a corner. Why help unite them when nothing else can do that?