Home > General Politics, Labour Party News > If Jon Cruddas is the future of the Left, we’re f*cked

If Jon Cruddas is the future of the Left, we’re f*cked

CruddasListening to Jon Cruddas being interviewed on the IPPR’s series of podcasts, I am utterly appalled by large chunks of what he has to say. I’m also quite surprised. First of all, everyone should listen to this podcast because quotes from it may be put on placards should the real Labour Left decide to organize an angry mob and picket Cruddas’ house.

Early in the interview, Cruddas recycles what seems to be the fairly traditional Keynesian line but things begin to go awry when he sticks his neck out on the issue of New Labour. Apparently to begin with, ‘it has been much traduced’ but was a ‘sophisticated political movement’ that only lost its texture after the 2003 war.

The 1997 manifesto, Cruddas has nothing but praise for; it was ‘liberal’ and ‘radical’ and a brilliant document. It’s only ‘New Labour mark II’, from the outbreak of war onwards, that made Cruddas uncomfortable as time went on. What about measures such as the 2001 anti-terrorism act. Or New Labour’s behaviour during the FBU strike?

Our 1997 manifesto was radical? The same manifesto that promised not to increase income tax? The manifesto which saw a solution to juvenile crime in getting them up in front of the magistrate faster? The ‘integrated transport policy’ which saw deaths on the railways and the embarrassing bankruptcy of a major rail company?

I haven’t even begun to talk about what New Labour have done for internal Labour Party democracy. The sham of One Member One Vote. The driving off of an army of trade unionist supporters through disaffiliation. I fear I am bludgeoning home my point (when I would prefer to bludgeon Cruddas’ head) so I shall move on.

Cruddas moves on to attack the ‘Old Left’ (a question on which is served up as a softball by the interviewer). He hails the SPD and their grand coalition, and their response to the emergence of Die Linke. Die Linke and the far left generally, Cruddas describes as having “very reductive” and “economically reductive” views of class.

When I heard that, I had trouble not throwing my computer across the room. Is he fucking kidding me? Does he even live on the same political planet as the rest of us, who are labouring long and hard to undermine this rainbow coloured bullshit of people like Nicos Poulantzas who suggest that Late Capitalism has undermined ‘economically reductive’ class and that actually the material superstructure doesn’t matter anymore?

And he’s so glib about it. He passes over it like it doesn’t even merit debate. I have read, written and debated for years on this topic alone – class – and one hack politician suddenly declares that my interpretation is economically reductive. I’m going to beat the shitbag to death with a copy of Ellen Woods’ Retreat from Class.

From there Cruddas goes on to describe the Convention of the Left as an ’embryonic new party’, a development which he considers to be ‘dangerous’. ‘Where John McDonnell is going’ is nowhere, according to Susan Press, despite Cruddas’ bald assertions, designed to smear his political rival. That’s not even the point, though it shows up Cruddas’ argument as completely tendentious.

My point is this: why is working towards a new party a bad thing? Cruddas categorically fails to engage with the issue of internal democracy, or to lay out how he thinks all the issues of the Left will be resolved. Without that, he effectively has no argument with which to counter the contention that, if we cannot serve our ideals within Labour, we should leave.

I genuinely don’t believe these ideals are really what Cruddas is concerned with. Essentially Cruddas lives in the same world of triangulation as New Labour.

The ‘deliberative, pluralist, centre-left’ that Cruddas vaunts hasn’t appeared yet. Indeed I don’t actually know what that means, bearing in mind a large number of New Labourites would call themselves centre-left. Cruddas doesn’t even mention how he expects that, following a far left split that would deprive Labour of its most ardent supporters and activists, this ‘centre-left’ will go from being a pipe dream to controlling the organs of the Party.

It won’t. Not that Cruddas cares. I suspect Cruddas has in mind the old maxim, “socialism is what Labour does” – regardless of what Labour does, it is socialism. Similarly, for Cruddas, I imagine that ‘centre-left’ is what Cruddas does. This sort of rhetorical vacuity is exactly what we saw in the young Tony Blair – with his protestations of Christian socialism and so forth.

Cruddas evades the issue of a ‘new Third way’ masterfully; he claims that the state-market relationship has changed, undermining the credibility of people like Mandelson, but while talking about a ‘Social Democratic moment’ he has no answer when it is posed to him that actually the electorate is currently shifting to the right.

Instead of challenging the very idea that the electorate is moving to the right, he goes on to say that Labour must simply change its articulation of its goals to match people’s aspirations. This is the sort of disingenuous analysis we’ve been getting from New Labourites for years – and now it turns out Cruddas is a NuLab in sheep’s clothing.

On the abolition of Trident and defence spending, Cruddas hits the Left g-spot, but so what? This is exactly what Blair and Robin Cook were saying after 1994. Rolling back the database state is mentioned, tentatively, but again, none of this challenges the very underlying economic basis of exploitation, the undemocratic bastion of conservative strength: organised Capital.

Cruddas’ complete capitulation is evident in answering questions on how to unite middle England and working class England, asked (I think) by Rupa Huq. Apparently precision bombing messages to small cohorts of voters is part of political life; his only argument is that the message we’re giving out should be different – ‘especially on immigration’.

This betrays both a practical naivety and a theoretical weakness which Cruddas tries to cover with his use of the word ‘semiotic’, a favourite of post-industrial political economist wannabes. New Labour had accepted the inevitable logic that, if your efforts are to be electoral, then you must try and bring on board campaigning machines like the Daily Mail.

With capital in control of the mass media, not to mention having access to the vast PR machine that can crank up ‘expert opinion’, opinion polls, astroturf groups (called such because they can be created overnight) and mock events to promote their issues, it’s no wonder New Labour tried to woo them – but this had repercussions for their policies.

Cruddas tries to explain away the New Labour project as the product merely of human agency; they made choices and held views with which he disagrees – and had Cruddas been in charge, the implication is, the ‘semiotic game’ would have been played differently, displacing the debate towards the Left rather than the Right.

For a student of political economy, the vulnerability of such a situation should be startlingly obvious. It completely ignores the effect of the structure of society upon what he refers to as a law of politics, which he says he is not trying to abolish. Cruddas essentially is a New Labourite – and I would say that if ever a Cruddasite government was established, it would remodel the early Tony Blair years easily.

If the Left is genuinely going to put its trust into this man and his accolytes then once again we’re simply going to be the Left Behind.

  1. December 19, 2008 at 10:57 pm

    While I totally disagree with the way you articulate this, there was actually a lot said in the interview which I believe either to betray disinformation or I generally disagree with.

    Also, a lot of what is said in it actually directly contradict things JC has said before…

  2. December 19, 2008 at 11:06 pm

    Pray tell, Tom, why do you disagree with the way in which I articulate this?

    Sure, I’m forceful, but nothing I’ve said is unreasonable as regards what Cruddas actually said during this interview.

    And if Cruddas is contradicting his own earlier views, without offering explanations as regards what has changed, isn’t that just Tony Blair to a tee?

    Whatever Cruddas has said earlier, having read some of his written works, everything in this interview sound consonant with different things he has said before, where has tried to sound radical without being radical. At least here he has completely dropped the ‘sound radical’ part.

    I think this is the true Jon Cruddas coming through.

  3. December 20, 2008 at 1:09 am

    I listened carefully to the webcast and was appalled at the misinformation and more the dismissive attitude Cruddas has to what he calls the “old left.” You’re right. He displays his real New Labour colours however much he is the more acceptable face of the ideological nightmare we have had to put up with since 1997.
    I do not, will not subscribe to talk of a new left party because it is political suicide and because we must stay in the Party and fight for what we believe in. That’s the majority view in the LRC and I hope will remain so. What utterly pisses me off is the determination of Compass to marginalise us when they could have worked with us .Still, not a great career move, is it? Jon Trickett spoke at last year’s LRC AGM about the many mistakes Brown had made. Where is he now? Er, PPS to Gordon Brown. Contemptible.

  4. December 20, 2008 at 1:22 am

    With respect, Susan, the political suicide of the Left in the Labour Party was arrived at some time ago, when the Party leadership began shutting down piecemeal the entire apparatus of Party democracy. This is our political afterlife, if you will.

    My opinion of Cruddas has completely tanked after this – but truthfully, the only legitimate goal of the LRC is one of two things. Either it reconquers the Labour Party – and I don’t see how that is possible – OR it builds a new political party.

    That Compass doesn’t offer an alternative to New Labour is the palpable truth rendered by the positions of its so-called leaders and so-called Parliamentary group.

    However, at the moment, although the LRC shows the greatest potential in defining a future for the Labour Left, that same LRC is just as much a dead end as Compass at the moment. Maybe it will take the extinction of the Socialist Campaign Group or the LRC parliamentary group to make you see that – but that is what will happen.

    And even if it isn’t, even if a Labour government returns to the days of Attlee etc, what then? That’s not socialism, and by investing it with such fervent belief (verging on the irrational) as you seem to have, we set ourselves up to re-run British welfare and economic history from 1945-1989.

  5. December 20, 2008 at 2:57 am

    I think the title of the post is a mistake. Much of what Cruddas says in the talk, he’s said before. It should be no surprise – he worked for Blair as a link-man to the union leaders.

    Cruddas is not a socialist, he’s a social democrat. His strategy is to try and build a consensus within Labour that the way to continue being New Labour is to adopt social democratic policies.

    If he thinks that a new left party is going to emerge from the CotL within the next few years he’s mistaken.

  6. December 20, 2008 at 5:47 am

    Speaking as a very ordinary, Labour party member doing what I can when I can do, reliant on my own sense of what’s right to do at the time irrespective of any party or intra-party line…..I feel a bit guilty about it but I simply can’t be bothered to listen to what Jon Cruddas has to say about what I should think if him and his bit of the Party.

    Does that make me intellectually lazy, or am I right to ration my listening/reading energies to a) exploring ideas which I actually think will benefit humankind in the long run b) helping me do what I can do when I can do it?

    If the Labour party feels like a place I usefully function in 10 years’ time, that’s where I’ll be. If there’s another place I feel where I can more usefully function, that’s where I’ll be. I have no particular sentiment for the Labour party as ‘my home’; it’s just where I’ve put my hat.

    Yes, I still feel a bit guilty in a sort of ‘duty for knowledge beyond reason’ Kafka kind of way.

  7. December 20, 2008 at 9:47 am

    Charlie, even from the point of view of a social democrat, I’m surprised at Cruddas. Social democrats are people like Kier Hardie, George Lansbury or Clement Attlee. Nothing of what Cruddas said shows any inclination towards the policies of such men – quite the opposite. Therefore I feel my title is justified.

    Moreover, if people put their faith in Cruddas (and I’m tempted to expand that to Compass) then I really do think we’ll re-run New Labour. After that, the Labour Party will simply expire.

    Paul, I’m with you. Political parties are vehicles – and if we have an unreasonable attachment to them, well it’s not different from being patriotic. It’s a blind sentiment that detracts from our politics. I think my whole reason for writing is that, unlike you and I, there are too many who will give Cruddas the time of day.

  8. December 20, 2008 at 10:46 am

    With respect, David, I have been in the Labour Party for 32 years and I’m not irrational at all in wanting to stay there. Because I have seen Miltant, the SSP, Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party, the Socialist Alliance, and now RESPECT all implode because they went for the new worker’s party route. It’s madness to even consider it.
    Let me put it this way. I am an elected Labour councillor, I’m putting my name forward for a Parliamentary constituency in West Yorkshire. Chances are I won’t get it but as long as there are people like me in the Party then the game’s not up. And there are many more than ever get their names in the Guardian
    I hope the LRC is not a dead end because I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to set up regional groups, engage with non-Labour-Party members, raise our profile in the media etc etc etc. There is a lot of enthusiasm out there vis a vi the John4Leader camnpaign which yes I know led us to a disappointing impasse…. however I often get accused of being negative but I don’t think my view of the Labour Party is as negative as yours – maybe because I’ve seen it in better days and because I do know many excelent sociakists within it. Can we reclaim it? At the moment, probably not. But that doesn’t mean we leave – when I say “political suicide” I mean specifically the end of Parliamentary representation for socialists in the foreseeable future. Because, like it or not, people like John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn stand a far better chance of staying in Parliament as Labour MPs than if they throw a hissy fit and leave.
    Pragmatism aside, it IS the case that the Labour Party has done much to improve people’s lives in the last 60 years. Ask anyone who grew up in the 1930’s. The problem we have now of course is the difficulty of getting a new generation interested – why would they be when Labour in Govt is now dominated by bag-carriers and careerists. The only way forward I think is to carry on building networks, campaigning on issues, working in trade unions and standing firm. And my imminent task is to do as much as I can to build the LRC beyond London and as a positive force for socialist values within the Labour Party. At many places I go to, people are astonished there are any of us left…… the problem is that organisations like Compass have a similar veneer but most , like Cruddas, are snakes in the grass

  9. Duncan
    December 20, 2008 at 11:54 am

    I completely agree with the criticisms of Cruddas, though I’m not surprised by his remarks. Cruddas is a social democrat in the tradition of Shirley Williams and David Owen rather than Keir Hardie or George Lansbury (both of whom were socialists who saw social democracy as a means to an end, rather than social democrats who saw social democracy as an end in itself). Cruddas has maintained a relationships with the trade unions which gives him a labourist veneer absent from the Gang of Four – but could you really point to anything Compass and the SDP would disagree about (apart from continued Labour Party membership)?

    But I’m a party optimist. And I want the party to remain a broad church. Yes, I want a left ascendency, but I don’t want a small leftist rump sect called the Labour Party while some big centre party is in government!

    I think the idea that an equivalent to the 45 government would be unwelcome is a bit daft – the alternative is not an even-more socialist government, it is a Tory government and a really pure, small opposition in which we feel very comfortable, smug and powerless. Of course we can do things differently and better from how they’ve been done in the past, but a Labour Party without the odd Alan Johnson or Hazel Blears would not necessarily be a better place! (Have I said too much). We just need a period of time when they are as marginalised as we’ve been for the last 20 years or so…

    A Labour Party without Cruddas WOULD be a better place. The quicker that waste of space nicks off the better.

  10. December 20, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    It’s a strange type who can say that an Alan Johnson or a Hazel Blears would be more welcome in Labour than a Jon Cruddas, despite this most recent nonsense from him.

    Central to the revolutionary idea of a transitional party is an alliance between broad swathes of different ideologies, but there’s a clear delineation to be made.

    That delineation is between those who are for the overthrow of capitalism (by whatever means) and those who aren’t. Cruddas, Blears and Johnson are defenders of capitalism.

    If you actually consider some of the mid-20th Century Tory Prime Ministers, I suspect they could find a lot to agree with about the the ‘unacceptable face of capitalism’ – but the bottom line is, they are capitalists.

    Marginalizing them within the Party won’t change that. In fact, I suspect that by marginalizing them, we’d simply invite another SDP-type rump to go join the Lib-Dems (which, truthfully, is where most of these people belong – they are Liberals, not socialists).

    That isn’t something we should cower away from. Only a part of Labour’s strength is vested in the electoral process. A broad church of socialists (evo, revo, whatever) has the capacity to build a movement that could compel ‘reform’ through parliament and then move to supplant parliament by more democratic institutions.

    Governmental change isn’t the whole story either, and the one thing parliament is powerless to do is appropriate the means of production. Sure, the odd nationalisation can be accomplished, but as the 1945-1970 period has shown, that’s a stop-gap measure that it is more necessary to achieve from bottom up than top down.

    All of this stems from a variety of fears and differing philosophies, but at the root of it, we should remember that our supposed subtleties and nuances in debating what strands of Right-Labourism we’re more at home with will be trodden under foot the moment a Blears (who was originally a Tribunite!) or a Johnson get power.

    Cruddas should probably be added to that too.

  11. Duncan
    December 20, 2008 at 1:22 pm

    I’ve been called worse things than ‘a strange type’.

    I could hardly have spent years complaining about the shabby undemocratic treatment that the right has levelled out to the left over the years if I were secretly harbouring a desire for the tables to be turned and for me to be able to start expelling capitalists all over the place!

    I was claiming any virtues for Johnson or Blears (though a certain ‘does what it says on the tin’ nature to them does make them marginally more palatable than the SDP or Compass or whatever they like to call themselves these days.

  12. Duncan
    December 20, 2008 at 1:22 pm

    I was NOT claiming any virtues, is what I meant to type!

  13. December 20, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    I can confirm as a former member of Salford CLP that Blears did indeed market herself as soft left /Tribunite in 1992. But even then that was the Kinnockite version rather than the Bennite model of a few years earlier.
    I tend to agree with Duncan. I have no time for either Blears nor Johnson but what you see is basically what you get. They are old-style right-wing Labour loyalists. I would hazard a guess that in the event of the Party turning left they would stay and probably still be loyal ( as Hattersley did with Michael Foot while his mates buggered off to the SDP) It’s going to take a fair old time to overthrow Parliament ( long after I’m dead and gone) and, as an unreconstructed Bennite I’m not particularly bothered about that. What we do desperately need is more young people in the Labour Party . a new generation of left activists, and less charlatans like Cruddas. However, you could say on this one that he has been hoist by his own petard

  14. December 20, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    Yes I was there (as the female/BME person?) along with thew IPPR’s Guy Lodge and Rick Muir. Cruddas is difficult to place politically. Quite pro-government – backed up by a voting record for the war, 42 days etc.

    Yet lots of polysyllabic prose and academic style musing “on the one hand… then on the other” type stuff- all delivered in blokey estuary English accent.

    To his credit he did say that Trident renewal was unneccessary and that his dad who worked on nukes thought so.

  15. December 20, 2008 at 2:35 pm

    Nice of you to stop by Rupa – I just had a glance at your blog’s front page and realised I hadn’t written anything about the New Green aspect to Cruddas’ arguments. Might write that one up next.

  16. December 20, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    PS Any chance of being added to your blogroll (for a reciprocal of course)

  17. December 20, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    An interesting discussion above. It occurs to me on reflection that, while I may be a very ordinary member of the Labour party, my current experience is very different from, say Susan’s, because despite being in my mid-40s I only joined 8 or 9 years ago, and that doesn’t give me an emotional attachment to the party like she clearly has.

    In many ways I’m glad of that now; while I can see that the long tradition of sticking it out with the party through thick and (mostly) thin provides the kind of unremitting solidarity that’s needed if people like Sue are going to have the energy to put into an organisation like the LRC, determined to focus its efforts on rebuilding the party from within, it can also create obstacles to working ‘beyond’ where the party is able to go.

    One of my favourite reads recently was Henry Drucker 1979 Ethos and Doctrine in the Labour Party, written by an American arrived in the UK in the early 70s and then a member of the party – so with a length of ‘history’ in the paprty not dissimilar to mine. What really struck him was that ‘ethos’ far outweighed ‘doctrine’ in many local parties, and that unswerving loyalty to the party rather than the cause was a key feature of that ethos, much more so than coherence of policy. He saw that in a positive light, but I can’t help thinking there are two sides to it.

    I think Dave’s right when he says (in another post) that the left (as reflected in the NewMedia efforts getting underway) is missing a generation of 30 somethings. What we’ve got now is a set of 20-somethings ‘untainted’ by the emotional need for loyalty to Labour because much of what they have seen has disappointed, and an older guard which was part of the last great left vs right battle of the party (late 70s/early 80s). I dare say many of those Labour entrants of thelate70s/early 80s were, when they joined back then to use Labour as a vehicle to advance what they believed in, would have been quite willing to ship on out elsewhere in the early days of a better offer had come along, and so should really except the same ‘lack-of-intrinsic-loyalty that they may see the new generation of the Left displaying.

    Having said all that, I think a realisation that we can work together on specific projects (e.g LeftNewMedia), while retaining a different ethos/doctrine balance as we feel fit, is a good step forward bolstered by posts like this of Dave; I remember a Susan/Dave dialogue from a few months ago (before COL) which didn’t have the same ‘ambience’ – if you can have that on a blog.

  18. Duncan
    December 20, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    I’m a 30-something! And there are quite a few of us really!

  19. December 20, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    Rupa, could’ve sworn I had added your blog – I read it regularly! Ah well. Added now – sorry for the oversight.

    Duncan, I would disagree – and Susan and Paul both bear me out on this. The Labour Left has undoubtedly skipped a generation; even at normal branch meetings, the people there are mostly forty or above – indeed many of them are fifty or above.

    As I was saying to Susan on Monday night last, my CLP is still in hoc to ex-councillors who got wiped out in the last round of local elections – and the only two councillors remaining are at least in their fifties. There are a score of schools in this CLP but we have no one below about twenty and we don’t retain young members long enough to gain any members in their thirties.

    That’s a major problem, because it separates knowledge of the key aspects of local government (which is one of the reasons I love Paul’s blog) and ideology, which is the key to putting that knowledge to practical use in a manner which can build a wider movement. Indeed, as Paul says, many of the older generation have this different ethos/doctrine balance.

    I personally wouldn’t insist on using the word doctrine, I prefer the word ideology, but there you go.

  20. Duncan
    December 20, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    Are you disagreeing that I’m in my thirties, or that there are others?

  21. Duncan
    December 20, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    Less flippantly…

    I think the Socialist Youth Network is indicative of some encouraging developments on the left amongst the young. I suppose it’s fair to say that those of my ‘vintage’ are not as commonly councillors, etc. as some older people (not exclusively the case, but broadly the case) – why? Well the average age of councillors, left, right and centre is not young. I think we should work on that, and from the left, but let’s not imagine that it’s a peculiarly left problem. I suppose, my lot didn’t have a campaign like the Benn deputy leadership of the John4Leader one to galvanise us at the appropriate age – clause iv wasn’t quite the same… But I suspect if we did some sort of straw poll of labour left activists born in the 70s, we wouldn’t be much more under-represented than other age groups (although, undoubtedly, activists of all sorts are more likely to be older – a problem for which there are a variety of potential explanations).

  22. December 20, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    Yes,’doctrine’ sounds strange – just using it because Drucker uses it, though in fact he uses ‘ideology’ to mean a combination of ethos and doctrine, which I don’t think works. Still a good book though because he got close to the action.

  23. December 20, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    As I’m coming down with flu I will be brief…..I think the above discussion shows it’s possible to have friendly debate without resorting to name-calling which can often be case on right-wing blogs. And that’s great.
    My emotional attachment to the Labour Party. is coloured by years of life experience but also what has happened to groups like Militant who vainly struggle on with the Campaign For A New Workers Party having got it wrong and made the mistake of leaving Labour.
    In their heyday, they had about 10,000 members, several MPs and control in places like Liverpool. An influence, it must be said, far greater than the LRC – where is the SP today? Nowhere…..
    My emotional attachment, as you put it, is to socialism. And I just don’t see that the left walking away from the Party ( which is what many people would be delighted at) offers any kind of coherent strategy. Ask George Galloway……who will unbdoubtedly lose at the next election. What will Respect do then without its only MP…..

  24. December 20, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    I don’t think the failure of the Open Turn are necessarily related to simply leaving Labour any more than that was the failure of the ILP. However, you are of course correct – radical socialists are more likely to get elected to Parliament under a Labour banner. And while that is the case, and while we have some radical socialists to work for, I’m in favour of entryism.

    Yet we should also be labouring towards the creation of opportunities outside the Party – something the LRC has taken the lead on like never before witnessed in Labour. They’ve allowed groups like the Communist Party to get on board and this is a positive development. I’m in favour of the Convention of the Left uniting even more groups – including the socialist party and socialist workers’ party.

    Once our activists are working together, once people are familiar with our efforts (and let’s face it, they aren’t yet), then it may be time to strike out on our own, recognizing that there are many people who want nothing to do with Labour because of the perfidity of our leadership, and also recognizing that there’s no point in engaging with the professional hacks and policy wonks that run the show these days.

    I’m not saying it’s time to jump ship; I’m saying we should keep an open mind. I think that’s why our discussions are so amicable, Susan – get well soon.

  25. December 21, 2008 at 7:38 am

    My defence of Cruddas-the-politician as an important figure for socialists w/in and w/out of the Labour party:

    At the next general election, the most optimistic outlook for Labour is a minority govt, either alone or in coalition with the nationalist and green parties…

    This could mean a reduction in the number of Blairites and a rebalancing of the PLP between the various ideological factions. In which case, ties between Compass and Campaign Group/LRC MPs and activists are vital if the party’s policy agenda is to be refocused on ordinary people.

  26. December 21, 2008 at 10:53 am

    Second guessing the electorate is a futile task – and the best Labour can hope for is a small majority in any case, I think. All the crystal ball gazing to see which small parties would do business is so much hot air.

    Whatever the case, any election which hurts Labour hurts the socialist parts of it. We’ve seen complete overturns in some of the safest Labour seats in the country – granted at bye-elections but those defeats could be replicated in 2010.

    Certainly the Campaign Group and LRC are both already losing members who are either stepping down or who have been de-selected. So, our piffling twenty MPs against another hundred or so New Labourite / Compassite / other assorted mediocrities? We’re still nowhere.

    I think the LRC should make an effort to engage with Compass activists – but as Cruddas and Trickett have both shown, their MPs are only left wing on a few surface issues. That’s not enough to stand beside them for. We might vote with them – but they are unprincipled loons who will do what half the Labour Party did in the early 90’s:

    Act like part of a Left group and then shift.

  27. Duncan
    December 21, 2008 at 10:59 am

    I’m afraid I have both an emotional and an intellectual attachment to the Labour Party.

    Were I ever to leave the Labour Party I would consider it a surrender of the most humiliating kind – as such I sincerely doubt it will ever happen. I am a socialist and a labourist, very happy to see myself in a long Labour tradition dating back to its earliest days, through the Socialist League and the Bevanites and Bennites to the modern LRC. I certainly don’t consider myself an ‘entryist’ and – as the Party has always had socialists in it, and indeed always had Marxists in it (Nye Bevan was a far more doctrinaire Marxist than anyone in AWL) I find the whole concept of entryism to be misleading and flawed.

  28. December 21, 2008 at 11:13 am

    The concept of entryism is hardly flawed: the Social Democratic Federation was an entryist organization. It believed its interests (that is, the ideals it supported) would be best served within a Labour Party.

    That’s a question everyone has to ask themselves; whether or not their ideals are best served in Labour. The moment you answer no to that question but are still a member of Labour, then you’ve fallen victim to this sentimentalist rubbish.

    Our tradition, of Left-wing emancipatory politics goes back to the English Revolution – it far predates the existence of the Labour Party. There is no reason under the sun why it shouldn’t survive said Labour Party if that Party has served its purpose and we need something new.

    I think we do need something new, to take us forward, but I also think we’re not done with Labour YET. That is why I would classify myself as an entryist.

  29. Duncan
    December 21, 2008 at 5:33 pm

    Describing the SDF’s position as entryist simply illustrates the pointlessness of the concept. Their position was only entryist if the ILP, the Fabians, the unions, etc were all entryist as well (unless only organisations constitutionally commited to Marxism can engage in entryism).

    Either entryism implies something clandestine or it is just an absurd (dare one suggest absurdist?) word for ‘joining’. If the former, then for left-wingers to talk of entryism is to engage in our own marginalisation and victimisation; if the latter it doesn’t require a word of its own.

  30. December 21, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    It’s not a difficult concept to define.

    The SDF joined Labour and remained a political faction: it split with Hyndman, who joined the British Socialist Party, choosing to remain within Labour (continuing until the dissolution of the SDF in 1939).

    The ILP joined Labour and again, they maintained their internal political structures, eventually voting to depart Labour before they haemorrhaged members back into the Labour Party and dissolved.

    Similar things happened with the Socialist Review Group (entryist predecessors to the SWP) and the Militant Tendency. The same would have happened with the Communist Party had Labour conference allowed it to affiliate.

    At the outset Labour was an alliance between different groups. It still is, of course, but the rhetoric of the Labour leadership has forever portrayed those of us who remain part of an organised faction as ‘entryists’.

    The obverse to this is a ‘loyalty’ to the leadership felt by large parts of the membership – what Paul discusses as ethos over doctrine. This in turn lends validity to the leadership critique of entryists.

    It makes those of us who cling to ideal and faction over Party appear as outsiders. It ignores that the leadership often formed their own faction – consider Progress for example. But the key issue is whether or not we stress the ideas over the practice of the Party and draw a line at which point we would leave the Party in favour of the ideal.

    I fear that the attitude of LRC leaders mark it as non-entryist, i.e. I don’t foresee any of them agreeing to leave Labour for any reason whatsoever. However I think that a lot of the membership, particularly the newly radicalised layers from the current struggles, are less sentimentally attached to Labour.

    Therefore I do foresee the LRC being able to self-define as entryist, and, in the end, leaving Labour for a coalition that might return a handful of MPs and take with it several trade unions. Barring the conquest of the main Labour organs for the LRC of course.

  31. Duncan
    December 21, 2008 at 6:32 pm

    Again (sorry if this is getting boring for everybody else!) you explain a history in which the party leadership tried to transcend our party’s federal structure and accuse parts of that federation as ‘entryist’; self-definition as entryist is very different. My personal feeling is that it is self-defeating.

    Anyway – as for the LRC; it would be ridiculous for us ever to ‘self-define as entryist’; doing so would be self-defining as ‘other’ which is contrary to the whole founding purpose of the LRC which is, far from defining as NOT the Labour Party, to define as THE Labour Party (or the ‘real’ Labour Party). Not only would the consciousness shift required for us to move from thinking of the party as ours and the leadership as the anti-Labour outsiders towards turning the tables be massive, it would – I certainly believe – be most unwelcome.

    I hope you’re wrong about the ‘newly radicalised layers’ because the consciousness-shift you are championing is essentially a surrender – and a surrender with a quick v-sign is still a surrender.

  32. December 21, 2008 at 7:47 pm

    As self-defeating as you find it, it is fact – and even a brief review of Militant documents from the 1980s discusses entryism as a tactic, both in reference to how Militant perceived itself and to how it recorded others’ perceptions, including the leadership of the Labour Party.

    The LRC is NOT the ‘real’ Labour Party. There is no empirically verifiable ‘real’ Labour Party. The groups within Labour fight in the context of Labour and in that context, claiming to represent ‘true’ Labour is of course an advantage, and can be persuasive to those who look to such a thing for guidance. Tradition, in our movement, has always been important.

    However, there have at all times been groups within Labour, there have at all times been efforts by the leadership to suppress certain groups or by the unions and leadership to close off Party democracy and so on and so forth. Similarly, there have always been counter-hegemonic struggles from the grassroots to grasp for the levers of power.

    That is the ‘real’ Labour Party, and the LRC represents merely one part of that picture. Thus, the Party is not ‘ours’ and has not been ‘ours’ for quite some time – as evidenced by the witch hunts of the 1980s or the parachuting of those regarded as ideologically safe people into parliamentary seats.

    The attempt to convince people that it IS ‘our’ party is self-contradictory to what we’re trying to achieve: we’re trying to wrest control of it from those people who currently control it. It is currently ‘theirs’, it pursues ‘their’ policies and it recruits ever more of ‘their’ type of hack, policy wonk and consultant.

    Calling this admission a surrender is simply jingoistic nonsense. It is fact. We don’t control the Party – and with every passing year, the chances of us doing so seem ever more remote. Without some event far outside our own control, I don’t foresee us controlling the Party ever again. If you do, I open the floor to you to tell me how.

    Thus, our remaining task is an orderly withdrawal. As Lenin once said, the dedicated revolutionary must know how to retreat as how to advance, for no movement always advances. They all suffer setbacks. We’ve still not come to terms with our setback – but in any case, we still fight to defend what we have (a few parliamentarians and some union support) whilst trying to establish new formations which will carry the Left forward.

    Whether or not those formations are inside the Labour Party shouldn’t be a matter of orthodoxy or doctrine, they should be up for open debate. There are no shibboleths which we shouldn’t question.

  33. Duncan
    December 22, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    “It is fact”. Well that’s cleared that up then! Dave, I don’t deny that people have discussed entryism as a tactic, that doesn’t in itself make it a useful concept. And it certainly doesn’t stop it from being self-defeating – it doesn’t exactly help matters if some of us are fighting away saying ‘don’t expel x, y, z’ because their organisation is – organisationally and constitutionally – no different from the Fabians or Progress (and less of a ‘party within a party’ than the Co-op) if people in those organisations are saying ‘I’m an entryist’, etc. It’s false consciousness anyway – they just think they’re entryists! (Apart from anything else, if you accept my point of view you can reasonably complain about the ‘witch-hunts of the 1980s’; taking your perspective, the expulsion of those who are simply taking temporary organisational advantage of a larger organisation might not be so easy to condemn – after all I’m sure Militant would have expelled any groupt that had decided to take temporary advantage of their community position, etc.)

    Of course the question of posession of the party is entirely one of ‘narrative’ and ‘representation’ and all those horrid things that if we were to examine for more than two posts we might as well join Compass and abandon serious politics altogether. So let’s address it very briefly: the party is not ‘theirs’; it does not belong to the leadership – that alone is a shibboleth we shouldn’t question. Of course to suggest that it was once ‘ours’ and the party has – at some time in the past – been the party that the left want to see tomorrow is both inaccurate and self-defeating. But the narrative that the ‘real’ Labour Party is one that is considerably better than ‘New Labour’ and is one that can play a historically progressive role with socialists at its heart has been the LRC’s narrative and has been quite a successful one. The rival narrative that various people tried to put forward for Blair – that he was the real inheritor of a radical tradition through T.H.Green, R.H. Tawney and Tony Crosland, etc. – has been a flop by comparison. Abandoning our successes is never a good move.

    Do I ‘foresee us controlling the party’ in future? Depends what you mean by ‘us’. If you mean a small-ish section of the party on the hard left, then no I don’t – nor is it my ambition. If you mean the party’s grassroots and the radical and socialist elements of organised labour then yes I do foresee that, and that might well involve a proper socialist leader or proper socialist involvement in the leadership team.

    Why? Well I’m quite an optimistic socialist. For a start off: I didn’t 100% rule out the possibility that John McDonnell might have won the leadership election last year. I didn’t think it likely. I wasn’t working on the basis that we would, but I certainly didn’t think it impossible. If I didn’t think it impossible then, I sure as hell don’t think it’s impossible now, or the next time. I wouldn’t bother if I thought it were impossible. I’ve been in this party longer than you. I’ve spent most of my life examining the history of the party and the movement in great detail: it would be an irrational conclusion to reach that the possibility of a left renaissance in the party is now impossible. It is far more likely today than it was ten years ago; as a battle of hegemony and counter-hegemony, the cultural and ideological battle is weighted far more in our favour now than for most of my time as a party member. I’ve mentioned this before, but in 1994 I campaigned for a Livingstone candidacy in the leadership election. I was ‘told off’ by the AWL for risking splitting the left vote for John Prescott. The idea that the left would have such paucity of ambition today is ridiculous. The left is infinitely stronger now than it was then: we’ve mostly Blair to thank for that! The idea that Cruddas could be the future of the left is effectively the same as that AWL call for Prescott in ’94. Only slightly less well-founded (Prescott had been at least vaguely centre-left at some point in his career).

    In ’94 there were far fewer Labour MPs needed to get someone of the left on the ballot paper – we couldn’t get close, and there was no real agreement over candidates. For years we’d been down to one or two left-wingers on the constituency section of the NEC (usually Tony Benn and / or Dennis Skinner). The change to non-MPs in that section had clearly been partly intended to get rid of even that small amount of left representation as there was fear that Benn, Skinner and Livingstone got ‘celebrity votes’. But the centre-left grassroots alliance approach – for all its many faults – has been hugely successful in limiting the power of the leadership in the party’s mechanisms. This further illustrates the comparative strength of sceptical, independent-minded and often left-travelling thought in the CLPs. The unions regularly elected left-wing general secretaries (it is just unfortunate that those general secretaries regularly end up being gutless, backboneless little toadies once they’re elected). And records from things like the NPF show that the active membership share many, many of the same concerns as the LRC, etc. We should be enormously optimistic. We need to organise like mad. The work people like Susan are doing, organising local groups is great (and any talk of ‘entryism’ or ‘orderly withdrawal’ can only make their work more difficult or impossible). We also need to get left-wingers selected for parliamentary seats, etc. So our current urgent task is tactical advance: organise, agitate (good God, I sound like a “trot”!)

    There’s nothing jingoistic about it. Talking of ‘orderly withdrawal’ is absurd. We are at our strongest for more than twenty years!

  34. December 22, 2008 at 6:41 pm

    I think we will have to agree to disagree on this one. I agree utterly with Duncan and I don’t see many “layers” in the LRC advocating leaving the Labour Party. Nor should they.At the risk of repeating myself, what happened to Militant when they made an “orderly withdrawal” with their two MPs…..they ended up a spent force, with NO MPs , and increasingly irrelevant. That’s exactly what would happen to the LRC if we upped sticks.It’s as simple as that, frankly. Had the Militant tendency stayed in the Labour Party, things would be very different now. And, no, most of them were not kicked out. They left voluntarily.

  35. December 24, 2008 at 9:23 am

    It’s true what Susan says about Militant. Perhaps if there was a different electoral system a socialist party could survive, but under FPTP there’s no way there could be a significant party to the left of Labour.

  36. December 24, 2008 at 11:35 am

    Oh good grief…

  37. December 24, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    Sorry, David, but it’s true.However much you may wish it otherwise…..the truth is if the left leaves Labour , then itreally is (to use your terminology) f****d. Happy Christmas!

  38. December 24, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    We shall see, one way or another. In any case, I have another several posts coming on these topics so stay tuned – and happy christmas to you too!

  39. January 15, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    “Social democrats are people like Kier Hardie”

    Considering that he spent much of his political life fighting the SDF from the right, and is way left of the SDP/socialist international influenced definition of Social Democracy, I’m not sure he really fits in that bracket.

    For ‘social democrat’ I’m tempted to describe either anti-labourist centre-left people (like the SDP, sort of, but also like a lot of SD parties around the world), official social democrats, or people like Crosland (and by extension the Hattersleys of this world, and thereby most of Compass).

    The reason many Marx-influenced people describe the likes of history is based on two parts; the excuse (the ancient and far from relevant history of the Marxist social democrat parties), and the motive (the exclusivisation of the contested term ‘democratic socialist’).

  40. January 15, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    That last paragraph doesn’t even make grammatical sense, Tom.

    As for the rest, what’s your point? Incidentally, I’m just back from an internet free break; a reply to your website post shall be forthcoming – probably tomorrow.

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