The election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party has transformed the face of politics in Britain. The question of socialism is no longer an abstract discussion. It is being posed concretely in discussions that are taking place up and down the country. What sort of programme should a Corbyn-led Labour Party adopt? What is the alternative to austerity? What is socialism? How we can fight for it today?
It was with these important questions in mind that the Marxist Tendency, supporters of the newspaper Socialist Appeal and the Marxist Student Federation, attended the founding meeting of the Labour Young Socialists on September 20th.
The crisis of capitalism
Crisis is inherent in capitalism. And, as with the present crisis, it is the workers and poor who are made to pay the price. It’s not a case of bad management. Capitalism can no longer take society forward but is demanding a rolling back of all the reforms conquered by the working class in the past.
On the basis of working class struggle, the NHS, free education, equal pay and other concessions were won. These conquests gave at least a semblance of a semi-civilised existence for workers in Britain. However, that was when capitalism was undergoing the most rapid expansion in its history. In order to buy social peace the bosses could afford to give away a few crumbs off the table.
But the conquest of reforms within capitalism is not only decided by the determination of the working class, it also depends on the ability of the ruling class to grant them. Many of the strategists of capital today consider the present crisis the worst in the history of capitalism, even deeper than in the 1930s. Therefore they require all the reforms of the past to be taken back, especially in the public sector, in order to maximise the profits derived from the exploitation of the working class.
It is for this reason that socialists must be revolutionaries. It is why the Labour Young Socialists must stand for the socialist transformation of society. That is why we proposed a number of amendments to the draft statement of principles presented to the meeting.
The Labour Young Socialists aims and principles stand for the replacement of capitalism with socialism. On this the Marxists wholeheartedly agree! But we must ask: what exactly do we mean by this? We think it can mean nothing less than a fundamental, revolutionary transformation.
The power of the rich comes from their ownership of the economy. Whilst the levers of the economy are in their hands they will run that economy for profit. Which will dictate whether we get jobs; how much we earn; whether we get into debt; whether we can afford to buy a house; and a million other things about how we lead our lives. The economic domination of the capitalists means their political domination.
Unless the power and domination of the capitalists is broken, they will continue to use it to as an obstacle to socialism. To break this power the working masses must take the economy out of their hands. This is why we argue for the expropriation, without compensation, of the wealth of the richest 1%. To argue for anything less is insufficient.
Democratisation of the economy
This raises the question of who does the expropriating, and who runs the economy if not the capitalists? For socialists it is the working class itself that can and must run society.
The LYS statement on this question says:
“We want to see democracy spread through society: we are for democratic control of industry and public services, exercised by those who work in them and those who rely upon them.”
“We want to see capitalism replaced with socialism: a society whose guiding principles is no longer profit, but solidarity; where common ownership and democracy guarantee a good life for all.”
But democratic control for whom? Common ownership for whom? Should the CEOs and share-holders be part of that democracy? Under capitalism they too work in industry and rely on public services. And shouldn’t industry be a public concern? The demand for democracy needs to be given a class qualification, as does the question of which class controls industry and services. Therefore we favour of a clearer formulation:
“Nationalise (or public ownership of) the commanding heights of the economy under democratic workers’ control”.
Socialists should argue for the biggest businesses that currently dominate national and international economies to be taken into democratic common ownership and administration by the working class, on the basis of need rather than profit. This would be a very good beginning and is a necessary condition for socialism.
The Marxist Tendency believes that clarity is paramount. For socialists, the question of the working class democratisation of the economy is a crucial part of ordinary people taking control away from the capitalists and governing their own lives.
Our history and traditions
Up until recently the Labour Party had a clause in its constitution that called for the “common ownership of the means of the production, distribution and exchange”. This was the well-known “Clause Four” which was inserted into the party’s constitution following the revolutionary wave that swept Europe following the Russian revolution of 1917 and the end of the First World War.
Clause 4 articulated the Party’s opposition to private property and commitment to a socialist economy “…and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service”. The best obtainable system in our opinion is democratic workers’ control and management.
The clause was removed by Tony Blair in 1995. It was a reactionary attempt to shift Labour to the right. It was an attempt to further decrease the potential for the party to fight for radical ideas. This was a symbolic turning point for many Labour members and supporters which still has resonance today.
Socialists should argue for Clause 4 to be reinstated and expanded. Labour needs to make clear its commitment to socialism, its history as the political expression of the working class, and its traditions. We should build upon the positive traditions of the past. Especially now, given the immense popularity of Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign, based on socialist ideas!
By embracing Clause Four, and the history that goes with it, Labour can re-tie the link with the past and use that to fight for socialism today.
Class unity and class politics
To achieve all this, socialists fight for maximum unity within the working class which means overcoming national, racial, gender and all other divides in the interests of fighting for socialism, a social system in which these divides have no place at all. This is an extremely important question in relation to the recent developments in Scotland.
Unfortunately, the Labour party has alienated the working class in Scotland to the point where they have recently left in their droves. Many Scottish workers said ‘it’s not I who have left the Labour Party, but the Labour Party who left me’.
The anti-establishment anger of Scottish workers found its expression in the movement for independence and the social-democratic rhetoric of the SNP. This anger is the same anti-establishment anger that has resulted in support for Corbyn.
Workers everywhere are fighting the same system – capitalism. No matter in which arena the fight is taking place, our job is to argue for revolutionary ideas and expose those of our leaders who are not capable of fighting for them.
With the election of Corbyn, many workers in Scotland may now see a genuine fight on for the heart and soul of Labour, and return on that basis. However, many more will need convincing.
If Corbyn wants to win back to Labour the tens of thousands who have gone over the SNP in the past year, he will need to convince them. It means he needs to stand up for workers north and south of the border with a socialist programme. More than that, if Corbyn wishes to cut across SNP support on a class basis, he must also offer full economic and democratic powers to the Scottish workers. He must offer home rule, or “devo max” for Scotland.
Class unity also applies to how we organise ourselves as Labour Young Socialists. If our aim is to fight for socialism, we must allow ourselves to elect the best socialists from amongst our ranks to lead us in this fight, regardless of race, gender or nationality.
Limitations on internal democracy, including methods like positive discrimination, gender or racial quotas etc., must be opposed tooth and nail. It is crucial that, in a socialist organisation, we are given the freedom to vote for our leaders on the basis of their political ideas, not on the basis of their gender, race or nationality.
The fight for socialism is the fight for a genuinely democratic and equal society. Reserving leadership positions for certain people simply replicates the discrimination that exists in capitalist society, albeit in a different form and against different people, within the structures of the Labour Young Socialists.
The campaigns for leadership of the Labour party run by Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper demonstrate that basing ourselves on identity politics instead of class politics allows right-wing views to masquerade as progressive.
The furore over the lack of women at the top of Corbyn’s cabinet whipped up by the capitalist media is an example of how positive discrimination is, in reality, the left-wing of bourgeois ideology rather than a coherent part of socialist ideas.
We must encourage workers and youth from all manner of backgrounds to be the best, most confident and articulate fighters for socialism. We must do this by developing a healthy, democratic and open culture of political discussion and debate within our organisation. We will not achieve this by mechanical sleight of hand in the voting process, which is a superficial way of covering up a far deeper running challenge: the challenge to overcome, as best we can, the scars and divisions foisted upon us by capitalist society.
For socialists, our leaders must be elected on the basis that they are the most committed revolutionaries capable of fighting for socialism, and not on anything else.
Join the fight for socialism
These are the ideas which the Marxist Tendency argue for at every opportunity. We invite all young workers, school, college and university students – join the Marxist Tendency. We believe that ideas and programme are not secondary questions, but the DNA with which any organisation is built. If you agree with our ideas, join us, and help the Marxist Tendency build the Labour Young Socialists!
by Emily Cosentino and Joe Attard, LYS steering committee