If we are to ensure that the working class does not continue to pay for the crisis of Covid and economic recession, 2021 will need to be a year of struggle like no other in recent memory. Over 100,000 lives have already been stolen from us via the government’s disastrous approach to the pandemic, and as has been made abundantly clear, international health crisis or not, the Tories have no qualms about continuing their attacks on the working class.
Corbyn and the Labour Party
Many working class people hoped that Jeremy Corbyn’s five years at the helm of the Labour Party might have enabled rank-and-file members to democratise the party, and that it could have played a positive role in the fight against austerity. But opportunities were not taken by Corbyn, and those around him, such as introducing mandatory reselection meaning that Blairite, pro-capitalist elements still dominate many of the elected positions within Labour to this day.
Keir Starmer has enabled the establishment to reassert its power over Labour’s leadership bodies. During the past year thousands of socialist activists have already drifted away from the Labour Party’s ranks.
Many Corbyn supporters have looked to his launch of the Project for Peace and Justice with some hope – hope marred by their knowledge that during these critical months, the Tories have faced no effective political opposition in Parliament.
Announced in early October by Corbyn and the former General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Christine Blower, the Project for Peace and Justice was formally launched on January 17. The Project states that it aims to weave together the ongoing activism undertaken by trade unionists and grassroots campaigners, taking the form of a loose networking initiative. The organisers state it in no way aims to replace the Labour Party or other parties or organisations, but attempts to bring campaigns together.
Corbyn outlined the four initial strands for his Project as climate justice and the fight for a Green New Deal, organising solidarity to promote economic security, supporting media reform initiatives, and advocating for international justice, against national oppression and wars. People can get involved via the Project’s web site which points out how “in the coming months” they “will hold a roundtable event with partner organisations” to plan future work.
The founding rally for the Project for Peace and Justice provided a series of uplifting speeches, and will no doubt help revive the spirit of wanting a better world for many Corbynistas. Within the speeches delivered by high-profile figures such as Len McCluskey of Unite, Zarah Sultana MP, ex-Syriza leading figure Yanis Varoufakis, and Noam Chomsky (as well as Corbyn himself), there were scattered mentions of socialism and class struggle, with more talk of building solidarity between existing groups and campaigns than anything else. The rally tapped into the internationalism of workers and young people, which we have seen on display in international movements such as the youth climate strikes. UK Climate Strike Network activist Scarlett Westbrook correctly pointed to the change we need around the world to tackle the climate emergency, and put the blame on the capitalist system that is driving it.
Yet at the end of day the Project seemed to have rather limited goals. Despite correctly talking about notions of solidarity, as well as the need for anti-austerity policies, a loosely-knit network, organised around a very vague set of basic, abstract left-wing principles will not be sufficient to resist the Tories, employers, landlords, and their system which is set to make working-class people pay a very heavy price indeed for the pandemic. For that task is needed a much clearer set of ideas and a much stronger form of organisation.
A network, or a party of class struggle needed?
Many commenters on the live-streamed launch event raised the need for a new party to fight back against the Tory government, showing the appetite that exists for such an initiative among activists. A new party of struggle would immediately attract tens of thousands of workers and young people desperate for system change if initiated by figures such as Corbyn who are still in a strong position to launch such a party. The question of the kind of party we need to concretely challenge the Tories was missing from the discussion. We think this is a weakness. Instead of describing the Project as “apolitical” (as one introductory speaker did), such questions should be posed and debated openly.
We argue for an open and democratic party where workers and young people can organise, and where campaigns can come for solidarity, discussion, and ideas, and which is based much more on struggles in communities and workplaces than focussed on elections. Such a party would need to start with a clear basic socialist programme in favour of widespread public ownership, a Green New Deal, a real living minimum wage, an end to all oppression and discrimination, and other such policies. From there could be discussed how best to organise and win these things, which we believe is possible only on the basis of ending capitalism through the revolutionary transformation of society and creating a democratic socialist plan of production, services, etc.
To get peace and justice, we need to get organised for a socialist alternative
In launching the Project there was much reference to the need for ‘peace and justice’ as well as the gross inequality experienced by so many people – but much less about the alternative, and the sort of bold socialist policies that would be needed to challenge the capitalist system – the root cause of the problem.
For example, some speakers talked about the role of the big banks in maintaining the capitalist system – however there was no clear programme put forward to tackle the issue. Socialist Alternative believes that the banking and financial institutions should be brought into public ownership as part of a socialist plan of production – in order for the vast resources in society to be used for human need, not private profit.
Similar problems were present in many of the discussions about the media. Corbyn’s own proposal – for a cross-bench parliamentary inquiry into media bias – falls short in many ways. The problem with the media is not simply that it is biased – it’s that it is run by and large by the capitalist class, in order to spread propaganda to strengthen its rule over society! Rather than trusting the parties of capitalism and parliamentary voices of big business with these tasks, having an actual orientation to struggle on the ground and a clear plan about how that can be built would significantly weaken and undermine the power of the media.
Corbyn, while pinning the blame for the onslaught of Blairism on a hostile press, precisely failed to have this combative approach to kicking out the Blairites. Had he boldly taken the capitalist media on and resisted their false narratives about antisemitism among many other issues, this would have appealed to the rightful distrust and skepticism that many working class people feel towards narratives peddled by the likes of Rupert Murdoch and the BBC. Many of those lessons must be learned for today.
Nevertheless, many on the left will welcome the launch of Corbyn’s Project, with many keen to get directly involved in helping to coordinate local and national ‘roundtable events’, seeing this Project as a good opportunity to foster bonds of solidarity with all other campaigners aiming to fight back against the Tories. However, the Project would need to develop in a direction which allows full engagement and discussion on the political alternative needed, in a way in which a political party for workers and young people could. Ideas are important but it’s also vital to be actively involved in struggle, which is not the aim of this project. Similar organisations have been launched before, such as the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, which to his credit Jeremy Corbyn always supported. The question now is not how to repeat that, but how to go further than that.
Join the fight for socialism!
The enthusiasm for the launch of Peace and Justice shows the potential for anti-austerity ideas – it also underlines again the need for a far reaching and bold socialist programme and a revolutionary socialist organisation to fight for it. If you agree with us, we urge you to join Socialist Alternative.