“The women’s strike made us protagonists in history.” On a heatwave evening on a busy street...
*Image Disclaimer: some members of Plan C made these stickers, and some other members of Plan C are dead against them (see forthcoming article): complex times?
The following article is one in a continuing series on Corbynism and the Labour Party. It was written by Plan C member Tabitha Bast and offers her take on the ongoing discussion.
Along with many groups on The Left our members in Plan C are in conversation about the purpose, point and politics of engagement with the Labour Party. Here’s my ninepence worth, from the far reaches of power up in the North.
1. In the worst traditions of the autonomous Left, the heated discussions around IF we engage with the Labour Party are happening well after the event, tagging along like an angry suitor shouting “And another thing…!” Let’s realise our power for a moment ,we – the autonomous Left and those traditionally suspicious or hostile to party politics like youth (72% turnout) – were major actors in making sure the election results went from a predicted Tory landslide to coming up smiling Friday morning. Across all counties it was those of us outside of and critical of the traditions of the parliamentary processes who recognised the moment and the opportunity of actual social change and went out door knocking, leafletting, producing our own propaganda and stickering it, shitposting, and talking to our neighbours. And we continue to do so now, making media, pushing policy and talking on panels at The World Transformed. We aren’t so much cheerleaders as players on the field.
2.Not the Old In/Out. “Burn Neoliberalism, Not People” was the militant slogan of the far far left when the Grenfell tragedy occurred…except it was also the tweet of a Labour MP. And the call to occupy the homes of millionaires came not JUST from us but from the Leader of the Labour Party. As a previous article explains https://www.weareplanc.org/blog/initial-thoughts-re-the-world-transformed-the-labour-party-and-the-libertarian-left/, some of the main players in Corbyns LP historically come from the traditions we do – and what we say and what they say are increasingly the same. As John McDonnell told New Statesman Labour is now “a new politics which is based on returning the Labour party to its roots. And the roots of the Labour party was as a social movement, representing the vast majority of working people in this country,” It’s ‘our people’, and ‘our politics’ pushing through this essential shift, it’s the organisation of people with our ideas who are destroying the old Labour Party to create something new. This isn’t just Plan B it’s a whole new formation and ‘the Left’ isn’t just us and our mates anymore. This is a conversation between different, interlinked forces, rather than us all in our familiar positions spouting our familiar lines. This Labour is not just a call to a softer capitalism, there are many radical players in and out of the Labour Party pushing forward this new direction. And we’re not always the most rad. The ideas and actions of Unions and Labour Party around adult social care – for example – will hopefully broaden Plan C’s ‘politics of care’ beyond the narrow age-specific interests of creches and early childcare to a wider and more diverse politics… and practice. Because compared to changing the nappies of our mothers, changing our babies is a walk in the park. Corbyn’s unabashed call for direct action on Grenfell, for social movements to take action, to be angrier and more mobilised than we are, is just one time the Labour Party has made abundantly clear that we need to up the ante not tow the line, that we can only win a world transformed – our collective, shared ideas – with the organisation of social movements in, against and beyond the Labour Party.
3.We’re not in Kansas anymore. On 30th September 2017 The Times runs a headline “Capitalism Works”, and Radio 4 presenters announced a news item with “Theresa May today gave a spirited defence of capitalism” as if she were the runner up in a school debating society. It was only 2009 when our (now deceased) comrade Mark Fisher wrote his book “Capitalist Realism” outlining how the common widespread belief was there was no alternative. And now we reach this moment. While we’ve been discussing, mobilising, organising we’ve actually also been winning some essential ground. Our ideas aren’t even that unrealistic any more, which understandably inspires a bit of an identity crisis for an autonomous Left that secretly feels most comfortable being the vanguard-rejecting vanguard.
4.We are transferring power. I sympathise with the theoretical positioning against an increased relationship with the Labour Party, the way I sympathise with the lesbian separatism theory of the 1970s: there’s a bit of history there, what with the violence, oppression, cooption, control – but separatism shrinks us not grows us. Lesbian separatism and Left separatism teach us this – we can’t escape the tensions of power and hierarchy no matter how feminist or communist we claim a space to be. Instead we can be conscious of and open to at the same time. To nick a popular slogan: we have to be for the many not the few. The very ordinariness of the movement around AND IN the Labour Party is the slow reckoning of organising bringing power to the majority. from the cultishly succesful June 8 Shitposting Club , to the feel good story of Jared O’Mara – disability campaigner and cerebal palsy sufferer – who had to rush out to buy a new suit after taking Nick Clegg’s seat unexpectedly, to the victory parties with chips and gravy in pub back rooms after, to our own Novara Media’s onstage moments with The Boy himself, there is a blurring of worlds between ‘our’ Left and the established Left… we are becoming the mainstream.
5.Local Labour Party meetings are – allegedly – boring.
6.We’re at Hope, not Anger: Though we will always be angry. The numbers for the Tory Party demonstrations in Manchester were small. The numbers at The World Transformed were large. Is this a demonstration of counter-power? We’ve been rightly critical of A-B marches for some time now, no matter how many obligatory flares there are between the start and the finish. Taking the streets must always have a central role within our activities but the poignant battle is directed at the cognitive, right now, we are in the realm of ideas and building realities (see point 3) as part of a diverse, collective process NOT just led by the Labour Manifesto but shaped as history always is, by tides of thought and change by ordinary people. We have to realise our power on the streets – of course – at various points, but not occupying this space currently does not imply we’re too timid but only that we’re elsewhere.
7.Corbyn’s not the Messiah…from the naysayers on the Left to the hacks of the Right, it feels like a whole swathe of people are missing the joke. The personality cult built up around Corbyn is precisely BECAUSE he isn’t a charismatic leader. Many, many a time we’ve seen strong personalities swing people’s thoughts and actions, then the collapse of the momentum when that personality is removed/crushed/killed/ousted. Like the most British of Coups, he’s become a figurehead because he’s a little bit shit. The cult of Corbyn has come about regardless of him not because of him. The likes of ‘Council Estate Socialist’ Angela Rayner or sweary Emily Thornberry could easily slide into place as the next Leader. This man and this moment are incomparable therefore to other leaders and situations that have gone before. It’s that moment in the Life of Brian when the roaring mob are shouting “Release Roderick” and then switch to “Release Brian” merely for the lolz. We are the mob and he’s not the messiah. Corbyn’s beigeness, his notable medicority, make the rise of these movements way less predictable than if he was the compelling alpha figure he’s bewilderingly painted to be.
8.We don’t need a shotgun wedding. The fluidity of ins and outs with ideas and actions (point 2) is replicated with many people’s fluidity of ins and outs with commitment. We do not have to be completely enamoured with the Labour Party. Nor do we have to be against it. The point of time we are in is one of movement. A Labour Party win that takes them out of opposition and into power will of course again transform our relationship with the Party, though I strongly suspect won’t terminate it. Our parties, our organisations and our networks are riddled with contradictions and limitations and possibilities and potentials. To read the Labour Party of our time as a solid mass, fixed in purpose and matter, to be only acted within or acted against is to stubbornly adhere to a time that has gone before, rather than this time that is here.
9.Wish i’d gone to The World Transformed. Even my Mum was there.