There was much rejoicing on the Left when Jeremy Corbyn secured the support of 35 MPs needed to stand in the Labour Party Leadership Election this week. It certainly gave much confidence to the massive anti-austerity demo organised by the People’s Assembly in London yesterday (Saturday). Jeremy Corbyn is a principled socialist who shone in the televised hustings that followed shortly after his nomination. His rivals came over as completely hopeless. Liz Kendall would not be out of place at a Tory hustings while Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham appeared like rabbits caught in headlights and could only appeal to the ‘aspirations’ of Labour voters to better themselves and abandon their fellow workers. When it comes to socialism, they didn’t have a clue.
Given everything pitted against him (press, money, business, manipulated public opinion), the odds are still stacked against Corbyn. Should he, however, overcome these obstacles and be elected Labour Leader, he will still have to come to terms with the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP). Even if there were enough MPs who think as he does (there are not), he won’t be able to pick his own team. As Harold Wilson discovered , Labour Leaders from the Left have to compromise and make allies with those on the Right, however treacherous, like Roy Jenkins and Shirley Williams, they turn out to be. A Labour Party with Jeremy Corbyn as Leader with support from the affiliated trade unions would, however, be a more progressive entity than it has been in the past. So where does this leave the Communist Party? Should we be pressing for Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Leader?
There is a problem, but it is not of our making.
The Communist Party adheres to the principles Marx and Engels set out in the Communist Manifesto more than 160 years ago. In this they state that
- Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working class parties
- Communist Party has no interests separate and apart from workers as a whole
- Communists disdain to conceal their views and aim, which is to overthrow the existing social conditions, i.e. capitalism
For Harold Wilson, a week was a long time in politics, but we in the Communist Party have held true to these principles since we were formed in 1920. The first two principles above suggest that Party members who have been invited via their union, or directly by representatives of the Labour Party, to register as ‘Labour Party Supporters’ could do so, being able to accept the necessary declaration: ‘I support the aims and values of the Labour Party, and I am not a supporter of any organisation opposed to it’. The sticking point is, however, not at heart the fact that we stand a few candidates against Labour in general elections – we are always careful when we do this to ensure our involvement will not result in Labour losing to right wing parties – it is rather the third principle: Communists do not conceal their views and their membership of the Party. In this they stand in proud and sharp contrast to members of Trotskyist and other supposedly revolutionary socialist parties and groups who habitually conceal their membership, primarily to engage in so-called ‘entryism’. This is the reason why these parties don’t stand candidates. But it is a dishonest strategy and one that has undermined John McDonnell’s efforts to re-found the Labour Representation Committee. It damages the credibility of their members.
Another less profound objection to CP members infiltrating the LP and voting for Corbyn is that, if our entire membership we to do so, it’s still unlikely that we would affect the overall result in Corbyn’s favour. Yet, if Corbyn wins, vested interests will seek to over-turn the result on the grounds that the electorate was corrupted by entryism.
Many CP members will be disappointed by the guidance offered by our General Secretary, Rob Griffiths, this week that we should indeed not sign up to Labour and vote for Corbyn. Nevertheless, this was undoubtedly the correct call. If members wish to influence the ballot in Corbyn’s favour, they should do so legitimately by persuading friends, family, neighbours and workmates to sign up and vote for him. CP members can do this secure in the knowledge that Communists are respected as straight talkers and straight dealers who don’t hide their membership or conceal their views. We may be foregoing one vote, but we are then in a position to influence scores of others.