What a big rally in Croydon tells you about the Corbyn campaign

August 14, 2015 at 7:30 am (AWL, Cross-post, democracy, elections, labour party, posted by JD, reformism)

The following report, by Sasha Ismail, also appears on the Workers Liberty website. We think it gives a good, if brief, overview of both the strengths and weaknesses of the Corbyn’s politics. It does not, however, deal with the issues on which most Shiraz contributors would have our sharpest difference with Corbyn: international affairs.


Above: overspill meeting at Ruskin House, Croydon

I was slightly late for the meeting Croydon Trades Council held for the Jeremy Corbyn campaign on 4 August (“privatised trains”, joked Corbyn, who was even later than me). By the time I got there, the hall at the back of Ruskin House was full, as was the garden next to it, with more people inside the main building – perhaps just short of five hundred in all.

There was, genuinely, a real mix of people there – young and old, black and white, men and women, established labour movement activists and people pulled into political life by the Corbyn campaign. The hall was full of local trade union banners.

Croydon Trades Council collected details, advertised upcoming events and had a good profile. GMB organiser Nadine Houghton gave a very good speech on its behalf about fighting the government’s Trade Union Bill and defending the right to strike. I guess most Corbyn meetings, except perhaps the central London ones, are organised by and will help boost similar local labour movement organisations or networks. That’s one of the most positive elements of the campaign.

It was very easy to sell literature and have conversations (though I noticed there weren’t many organised socialist groups there). Interestingly lots of the people I approached, at random, were pretty new to political activity.

So far, so good – excellent in fact. It was great, inspiring to be at such a big, lively meeting. What about the content? What did Corbyn say?

He said lots of good things – about housing, about wages, about benefits, about public ownership of the banks. He called for an end to austerity, an end to pandering to the Tories, a start to fighting the cuts and fighting for the rich to pay. Even for someone who wants something more radical, as I do, it was good hearing all this from a politician with a decent chance of leading the labour movement.

The best bit of the speech, in a way, was Corbyn’s call to replace technocratic Blairite dictat with democratic labour movement discussion. He argued for an end to “secluded policy forums in leafy hotels” and for a “grittier process of discussion and decision-making in community centres and union buildings across the country”. He said that the policies he’s advocating are “not finished” and that the campaign wants ideas and argument.

In that spirit: there were some things on which I thought he was a little woolly. On lots of issues he cited detailed proposals; but on immigration he limited himself to condemning Tory and Blairite “rhetoric” and arguing for a “humanitarian approach”. From the press and reports, I’d guess that is his general pitch. More specific policies – about detention and deportation, about access to services, about immigration controls more generally – are necessary.

The other thing to say is that while Corbyn’s speech had “socialist values”, to use his phrase, it was not particularly socialist. It didn’t make an explicit case for class politics, or do more than hint about the possibility of replacing capitalism with a new society. I asked a friend what she thought about that: at first she was surprised I didn’t think the speech was socialist, but when I explained she said “Well, it’s a step”.

And for sure it is. The Corbyn campaign has potential to break the blockade – not just of socialism, but of anything approaching a labour movement political voice – which Blairism has maintained for twenty years. The excellent meeting put on by Croydon Trades Councils shows that, as do similar meetings up and down the country.

If Corbyn wins, big possibilities will open up. To maximise the impact and opportunities, socialists need to argue within this movement for clearer, more consistent, more explicit socialist ideas.

24 Comments

  1. Steven Johnston said,

    Correct in that he is not a socialist, more a statist. What he is saying is nothing the labour party hasn’t said before. Indeed, he sounds like Tony Benn, circa 1964-70.

    The latest piece of nonsense I’ve heard from Corbyn supporters is that he will create a ministry of labour, which will end unemployment. Sorry, if only it was that easy! Next they’ll be telling us you can spend your way out of a depression…
    As for calling for an end of austerity, did he say anything about what has being going on in Greece? They want an end to it but you can’t just wish it away.

  2. Paul Canning (@pauloCanning) said,

    Do these people not want to hear about foreign policy? Is it considered a ‘distraction’? ‘Unimportant’?

    • Steven Johnston said,

      Given that he is powerless to house the homeless, find jobs for the unemployed etc in his own constituency, what hope has he got of solving these problems across the nation?

      • dagmar said,

        As far as I am aware, Members of Parliament in Britain do not run a duplicate national government and infrastructure for their constituencies. Have you got confused with the film “Passport to Pimlico” somehow? (And the “Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire” wasn’t real, also). Please do correct me if I’m wrong.

  3. Steven Johnston said,

    You mean it’s all Cameron’s fault!

  4. Glasgow Working Class said,

    Corbyn wants out of NATO and wants to retrain the staff at the nuclear base to work for peaceful means. Meanwhile the arms race goes on so Jeremy will defend the nation by saying we are nice and gonnae no dae that. What a fool. Looks like Labour are being well and truly infiltrated again!

    • Joe Baxter said,

      Too right – he’s only been in the Labour Party for more than 40 years and a Labour MP since 1983 – now that’s what I call infiltration. On the ball as usual. Interesting definition of infiltrators – anyone who joins the Labour Party who doesn’t agree with you.

      • Glasgow Working Class said,

        If it were that simple. The infiltrators are Trots and various commies who do not agree with each other but want to bring down the Labour Party into their gutter.

  5. Steven Johnston said,

    The big question is…why do WL want Corbyn to win, surely their candidates, if they field any, would be standing against the labour party?

    • Jim Denham said,

      You just don’t geddit, do you Steven? Try reading Lenin’s ‘Left Wing Communism’.

      • Steven Johnston said,

        Thanks Jim, but I’ll stick with the manifesto, a far better book.

    • Glasgow Working Class said,

      Steven the lefties are unelectable and know it. Their only opportunity is to infiltrate Labour and hope they can gain power. They will lose but will keep trying and the Tories will keep funding the lefties.

    • John R said,

      The only time I know of the AWL standing a candidate under their own name was in 2010 against Harriet Harmen in Camberwell and Peckham.

      The AWL vote was 75.

  6. Political tourist said,

    Some Glasgow bigot thinks the Left are infiltrating the Labour Party on a site that pushes the AWL.
    This is up there with the Beano and the Dandy.

  7. John Welsh said,

    The article doesn’t say how a Corbyn Labour Party would win a majority. Without that, all talk of socialism is just that, talk.

    • Steven Johnston said,

      But what Corbyn is proposing is not socialism, just Keynesianism economics and working within the capitalist system.

    • John R said,

      The priority of the left groups, imho, is not the election of a Labour Govt, even a left one.

      Rather it is to increase the confidence of the organised working class that they are able to take the lead to reorganise society for the benefit of the majority. This, though, needs a mass revolutionary party to take state power from their perspective.

      As such, the Corbyn campaign (as indicated above) provides the opportunity to cut through the anti-austerity consensus and pose, to a mass audience, a socialist alternative.

      Personally, I prefer a more Fabian tortoise view where we would have an imperfect Labour Govt allowing space for trade unions etc to operate and reformist policies to improve people’s lives. Unfortunately, the so called “moderates” are so useless and incapable of proposing any positive alternative to the Tories that it’s no
      surprise Corbyn is doing so well.

      In a nutshell, none of the present candidates seem able to show they can actually beat the Tories in 2010. And that should be the main thing that matters.

  8. Steven Johnston said,

    http://www.politics.co.uk/blogs/2015/07/16/belief-in-homeopathy-is-a-moral-test

    Oh dear…does that mean he’ll raise taxes to waste it on this?

  9. Joe Baxter said,

    Glasgow Working Class writes – “The infiltrators are Trots and various commies who do not agree with each other but want to bring down the Labour Party into their gutter”. Something like 400,000 new members and they’re all Trots and commies – if only!

    • Glasgow Working Class said,

      Strange how 400,000 have turned up for £3 each. Where were they when needed.

      • Political tourist said,

        Voting SNP

  10. Glasgow Working Class said,

    Labour could have gone down the food banks and offered a bowl of soup per vote.

  11. Political tourist said,

    PaddyPower the bookie has paid out on a Corbyn victory.

    • Steven Johnston said,

      And?

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