A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre. Yet in this quest to defend the fabled poltergeist, those who see themselves as righteous have failed. They have failed because upon realising that ghosts do not exist, they have turned to religion.
Not in old scripture, but in methodology. To preserve something they feel sacred, they ignore reality. They attack each other to ensure the purity of their creed. Karl Marx serves as an inspiration for many; but we live in 2016.
Political purism and lack of compromise has become all the left stand for. Notions such as solidarity, helping those less fortunate and overturning systems of control are redundant. All that remains is the sanctity of the dogma, and those who taint it be damned.
Fragmentation of the left
It’s hard to know when this began. The temptation is to point to Tony Blair or Neil Kinnock, but that doesn’t explain the situation. The right of the Labour Party are not what is destroying our movement. It’s the purism of the ‘new left’.
Not left wing policies or socialism, but the apparent resurgence of the ‘hard left’. Where or what the ‘new left’ is I can’t say. Yet I am certain of one thing: it’s more religious than political. Left wing ideas cannot compare to strict doctrine. Politics is not philosophy, it needs more. It needs ideology and policy.
Jeremy Corbyn has ideology and policy. He is a politician, different to most, but a politician. His history is standing up for what he believes in and voting accordingly. But that is the key aspect – it is what he believes in.
Corbyn has been coopted to represent an aspect of the ‘new left’. An unwillingness to compromise. Yet his actions come from a seat of power; he understands he has a responsibility. His supporters do not. They are not accountable for any position they hold, and so they find comfort in philosophy. Socialism has become the answer to every question, no matter the context.
Not one step back
If I ever receive my ballot, then Corbyn shall receive my vote. But I feel the need to distance myself from the herd. I no longer sport a Corbyn “Twibbon” and I wouldn’t identify as a “Corbynite”. I am a socialist and I share many views with Corbyn, but I am my own person. Corbyn is not the solution to every equation.
Disagreement with Corbyn doesn’t alter my support. He has many weaknesses, but I think he is a principled politician. He is not however a great “statesman”. The role of an MP is to participate in government. And he isn’t very good at that. He has spent his career protesting injustices, and I am glad he has. I do not say these things about him in the same tone as his detractors. He can wear them as badges of honour; but protest did not prevent Iraq.
I’m not advocating the management consultant style of the PLP, but good politicians compromise. If you read Tony Benn’s diary there are countless occasions on which he resolves it best to “vote with the whip”. Benn was more principled than you or I, but he was also a true parliamentarian. He voted against injustices that he could not tolerate, but there is no sense he belongs elsewhere. He will always be Labour.
Government requires compromise. The word may sound dirty, but if you were to step back from the battlements, you’d realise that it is necessary.
Philosophy vs ideology
Philosophy is beautiful because it doesn’t contend with imperfections of reality. It uses reasoning to demonstrate truth. You can’t defeat a philosophy with references to the world, it must be shown to be false. The problem is that philosophy behaves like religion in this regard, believers are not committed to action. Rather they are committed to ensuring belief survives. That it isn’t distorted. This isn’t a sin, but it admits no room for politics.
Pacifism is a noble ideal, but to decide there are no circumstances in which you can authorise force is callous. Iraq was illegal and immoral. NATO aren’t an organisation to praise ideologically, but they deal with reality. Morality and ethics are philosophical, but they must be applied. When Corbyn refuses to say he’d deploy troops to halt Russian aggression, I understand his position. Or at least hope I do.
His position does not come in the form of a dismissal. War is an abomination and should be avoided at all costs. Discussing how aggressive you’ll be towards Russia isn’t a platform for election. But if he’ll stand by and allow Vladimir Putin to annex territory, I disagree with him.
I’ve previously discussed the fight against imperialism and Corbyn’s role in it. I wrote in good faith and the understanding of two simple principles: the right to self-determination, and solidarity.
Ideology vs politics
Politics is about governing, it is not about management. I do not suggest you sell out your principles in order to form government, but you have to step back. You must accept that many disagree with your philosophy. So neither that nor your ideology will be enough. You must be political, which requires diplomacy.
Solidarity with Palestine is one of Corbyn’s big issues, but most don’t show solidarity. Instead they discuss Zionism. It’s not that this is unworthy of discussion, but it isn’t about Palestine. It isn’t about standing with an oppressed people and saying “Enough is enough”.
I’m not Jewish, so I don’t enter that debate. Zionism has its origins in Judaism, whether the political movement does is of no concern. I have no quarrel with the people of Israel, I have issues with the state. Yes, I have an ideological perspective on the situation (see: imperialism), but that is not a political position. We cannot help Palestinian’s by railing against Zionism. We could through politics.
I am no expert in Palestinian/Israeli relations, but I know enough to form opinions. They are subject to change. Not because I am weak, but because my ultimate aim is not about Israel. It’s about Palestine. It’s about our comrades dying and their land being occupied. I want Palestinian statehood recognised and our brothers and sisters protected.
Feel free to stand outside the Israeli embassy chanting. I have on several occasions and will again if the situation calls for it; but it has changed nothing.
Delivering real change
My political position is clear: Israel must exist within its 1967 borders (as a first step). Is this pure or fair? No, it isn’t, but there comes a point at which we must address reality. The settlements in Palestinian land cannot be justified. If we can achieve our goals through sanctions, UN resolutions or dialogue then we should. Not because it is just, but because it means something. It would change lives. Pacifism be damned, I want my comrades safe and free.
We make no attempt to have reparations to former colonies a manifesto pledge. We do not ask that Labour acknowledges the debt Britain owes “The Commonwealth”. It is still our moral responsibility. Given the purity of your ideals and your unwillingness to compromise, where are the demands for justice in Africa or Asia? Do you find the time to consider the returning of land to those indigenous to the Americas?
If you do, then credit to you – but don’t pretend it is discussed to the extent Zionism is. Do not tell me that you have solidarity with anyone, when you are in attack mode.
Perfect is the enemy of good
It was not a Labour government that delivered gay marriage. Rather an issue which had cross party agreement and disagreement. There is no consequence to LGBT activists whether David Cameron voted for or against. It matters that the motion was passed.
Yet by voting for it Labour compromise their philosophical and ideological values. The purity of doctrine and soul you desire should compel a democratic socialist to reject it. Not on the basis that LGBT rights are unimportant, but because marriage is religious; and religion the opium of the people.
For purity every Labour MP should vote against. A good socialist will never endorse legislation that enshrines religious institutions in law. Labour should have voted against, with the aim of extending civil partnerships to heterosexual couples and abolition of all law regarding marriage.
The funding with which Conservatives campaign is tainted. It is from big business and their methods are exploitative. We must prevent any and all legislation they bring forwards, because it cannot be ethical. The result is irrelevant, our righteous indignation will serve as comfort to those we fail.
If we are to remain true to a philosophy we must ignore the world. We must ignore the suffering and requests of the oppressed. Solidarity must be forsaken to ensure integrity. If we dilute our purity even slightly, we become neoliberal, Blairites.
The narrow church
Clause IV commits the Labour Party to democratic socialism, but this change drives the party away from relevance. As an ideology democratic socialism must relate to the world, but ideology alone cannot form government. The changes made by Blair seem to commit the party to something, but they do not. They remove an explicit commitment to nationalisation of public services.
It allows Labour to stand on pro-austerity platforms, enter illegal wars and abandon principle, for the sake of power. You merely need to invoke the spirit of socialism or democracy. What could be more democratic than altering your own views to better represent your country? Which socialist could forsake power to the Conservatives if there was any way to prevent it?
“And thus I clothe my naked villainy, with odd old ends stolen forth of holy writ, And seem a saint when most I play the devil”
The rhetoric of the ‘new left’ is no different from any other extremism. It’s hypocritical. Democratic socialism is the battleground for both sides. The civil war is not one for the soul of the Labour Party, it is for the right to define socialism. It is for the right to expel the impure and expose the false prophets, but not about Labour’s impact on legislation. Philosophical socialism can serve any purpose you wish, it only needs an argument from a textbook.
Corbyn has not spent his life as a scholar. His merits don’t reside in an ability to recite communist doctrine. He has spent his life as a protestor, in solidarity with the oppressed. His career is dedication to reversing injustices, and representing socialist values in Westminster. We can be proud that he is the leader of the Labour Party.
Yet there are those who wish to steal the leader of our party, much as some do the doctrine. Rather than attempt to be the social movement Corbyn advocates, they would rather smear Owen Smith. The fact Corbyn doesn’t, nor need anyone to, is irrelevant.
I have no will to be a ‘better’ socialist than anyone else. I strive for a Labour government which pursues socialist policy. It will never be able to destroy capitalism, it will not result in a utopia and it will not be easy. It needs us to unite against our real enemy, a disease that has infected Britain for decades: Thatcherism.
If you believe in socialism, in our collective power, in Corbyn: engage with real issues in their context. Stand with your comrades in their fight whether they acknowledge your ideals and values or not. Join a picket line or protest, not because it affects you directly, because it affects us all.
Socialism cannot be about one person. It is about us all. If we are to deliver the country from the grips of the market we must embody the original Clause IV.
“To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”
Socialists do not do this for ourselves. We do it for every worker, whether they vote UKIP or Conservative. This isn’t about Corbyn, it’s about humanity. If we lose sight of reality, we are insignificant. Not only electorally, but ideologically.
Corbyn will not destroy Labour or socialism, but this cult of purity might.