by Robert Griffiths
A HISTORIC and decisive battle of ideas has begun in the Labour Party, in the labour and progressive movements and among the population as a whole.
It’s a battle in which everyone on the left must take part.
It didn’t start with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. But make no mistake, his victory demonstrates the potential for changing our society fundamentally and for the better.
Do we want our economy and our political system to be dominated for evermore by the interests of big business?
Do we want ourselves and future generations always to be divided between on one side those who have almost all the wealth and power, and on the other a large majority who have little or nothing?
Do we want to leave the solution to periodic mass unemployment, debilitating poverty, poor housing, environmental degradation, inequalities of race and gender, insecure and unsafe energy supplies and episodic wars to the biggest owners of capital, their giant corporations and the state machines which serve their interests?
Or should we planning to use human and natural resources in the interests of the people and the planet, developing sustainable technology in the interests of all, distributing wealth widely among those who create it and those who need it, putting real power in the hands of the mass of the people?
In short, should our future be capitalist or socialist?
Jeremy Corbyn is the first unambiguously socialist leader of the Labour Party since Keir Hardie in 1908. It could be argued that George Lansbury and Michael Foot were socialists of sorts, but they were little more than stop-gaps, with the latter unwilling to oppose British imperialism with any consistency.
Corbyn has a long record of speaking, voting and protesting in favour of economic planning, public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy, the redistribution of wealth, safe and renewable energy and the extension of democratic freedoms. He has consistently attacked all forms of exploitation and oppression, unaccountable state power and imperialist militarism and war.
But his triumph in the Labour leadership contest was not only a personal one, amply deserved, or one for his supporters.
It was a victory for popular protest and mass mobilisation — the very things we are constantly told are “out of date,” marginal or futile.
Many of the 251,000 people who elected Corbyn were first drawn into political activity through their opposition to austerity, privatisation, the bedroom tax and the Iraq war.
They comprise most of the 100,000 and more new Labour Party members and registered supporters who voted for the candidate closely associated with the People’s Assembly, CND and the Stop the War Coalition. They responded with enthusiasm to his rebellion against the Labour whips to vote against the vicious Tory Welfare Reform Bill.
The past four years have also witnessed an upsurge of trade union strikes and demonstrations to defend jobs, pensions and public services against government spending cuts. Many of those workers were among the 41,000 affiliated supporters who also voted for Corbyn.
Thus we have seen how extra-parliamentary campaigning and industrial action can combine with parliamentary and inner-party struggle to change the whole political situation.
This approach is central to the strategy outlined in the Communist Party’s programme, Britain’s Road to Socialism.
As a result, we now have a Labour leader who provokes unprecedented levels of fear and loathing in ruling-class circles.
That is partly because of the policies he advocates: an end to austerity, people’s quantitative easing, a national investment bank, higher taxes on the rich and big business, public ownership of the railways, Royal Mail and energy utilities, more council housing, rent controls, breaking up the media monopolies, the abolition of Trident and withdrawal from Nato.
But, crucially, Corbyn also believes that there must be a militant mass movement outside Parliament to back the fight for such policies inside. This, too, is the perspective set out in Britain’s Road to Socialism.
Now the fight is on to make Corbyn’s manifesto that of the Labour Party and its elected representatives across England, Scotland and Wales. But this cannot be done in isolation from two other strategic objectives.
First mass and militant campaigning has to be stepped up and sustained over the coming period, thereby creating the most favourable conditions in which to fight and win this battle of ideas. Second, the wider labour and progressive movements will have to be won to left and progressive policies if the Labour Party itself is to embrace socialism or even social democracy.
On both fronts, the Communist Party will play its full part as the Marxist party of the labour movement.
Communists helped initiate the Stop the War Coalition, the People’s Charter, the Charter for Women and the People’s Assembly. We play a leading role in rebuilding the National Assembly of Women and the anti-imperialist British Peace Assembly.
Communists also help sustain the Morning Star and the Marx Memorial Library and Workers’ School as invaluable resources for political debate and education.
Now all on the left must play a part in maintaining the momentum behind this week’s demonstrations against ruling-class and Tory policies.
The People’s Assembly should be assisted to expand its organisation and activities at local level, involving unions and trades councils as closely as possible.
In addition, we need more active solidarity from trade unionists, socialists and anti-austerity campaigners for disability activists resisting Tory attacks, and for housing tenants fighting eviction and privatisation.
Tory plans to renew Trident and divert up to £100 billion away from socially useful programmes should spark the biggest revival of CND and the peace movement since the anti-cruise missile struggle of the 1980s.
Unions in the arms industry have a critical role to play in this, building on the work of Alan Mackinnon and others to show how their members’ skills and associated technology can produce valuable non-military goods instead of nuclear weapons.
Nor should trade unionists be left alone to resist the new barrage of Tory anti-union legislation, which is designed not only to outlaw successful strike ballots, clamp down on picketing and cut funds to the Labour Party but to reduce the rights to assembly, demonstration and free speech of all protesters.
These and other battles over the next few years will raise all kinds of economic, environmental, social and political questions. The capitalist state and monopoly media will be waging ideological warfare every day, stooping to any depths necessary.
The left must rise to the challenge, not only within committee rooms and conference halls but out in the streets, shopping centres and workplaces among the masses of people.
But it will not be enough merely to counter the other side’s propaganda.
The left and the labour movement must develop its own platform of policies that can become the new “common sense” of working people and the general public.
Already large sections of the left-wing programme set out in Britain’s Road to Socialism are reflected in Corbyn’s manifesto as well as in the policies of many trade unions, the Charter for Women (now endorsed by 14 unions nationally) and the People’s Manifesto issued by the People’s Assembly before last May’s general election.
However, across the left and the labour and progressive movements there needs to be deeper understanding of the huge obstacle that EU membership presents to political advance.
Its fundamental treaties and institutions seek to impose monetarism and austerity, marketisation of public services, free movement of capital, labour “flexibility” and the super-exploitation of migrant workers on all EU member states. They outlaw people’s quantitative easing and demand that public enterprises be run as though in private capitalist ownership.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Pact (TTIP) being negotiated in secret between the EU and the US intends to enforce most of these policies across the two continents.
In Scotland it will be important to win people for a federal Britain, the redistribution of wealth and unity against monopoly capitalism instead of “‘independence” under the Bank of England, the Crown, the EU and Nato.
It is this combination of popular campaigning and mass politicisation that can consolidate this summer’s left turn.
Both will be strengthened by the growth of a bigger, more influential Communist Party. As experience indicates, whether in the mid 1930s or the early ’70s, when the Communist Party advances so too does the whole labour movement — including the left wing of the Labour Party.
Those Labour MPs whose first loyalty is to big business, the EU or US foreign policy, Nato and nuclear weapons will have to make way for others who put the labour movement first.
If we can mobilise enough people against ruling-class policies and inflict a fatal referendum defeat on Prime Minister Cameron with an anti-EU campaign from the left, the Tory minority regime will fall before 2020.
Then a militant, political mass movement based on the organised working class can help put a left government into office — and point Britain towards the road to socialism.
Robert Griffiths is general secretary of the Communist Party and a contributor to 21centurymanifesto