“WINNING the future,” as the new pamphlet published by the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs is called, is a timely call on the left to think strategically — and to think big.
“Talk of historic moments is often exaggerated — but we really are at one now,” the campaign group’s secretary Richard Burgon writes in the introduction.
Many on the left felt we were living through “historic” times when Jeremy Corbyn’s 2015 Labour leadership campaign swelled the party by hundreds of thousands in the biggest revival of popular participation in politics for decades, or two years later when Labour attracted millions of extra votes on a socialist manifesto.
Since the very different election experience of 2019, the Labour right have lost no opportunity to bury that history so that Labour’s radical revival is reduced to a bout of madness before control was re-established by the “adults in the room,” to borrow a phrase from former Greek finance minister Yannis Varoufakis.
The irony of the title of Varoufakis’s memoir on Greek bailout negotiations with the EU, taken from a patronising dismissal of the Greek left by International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde, was of course that the “adults” were those enforcing the pretence that an insane system was rational, the children those who, like the child in the fable, had the honesty to declare that the emperor had no clothes.
The Corbyn movement helped to shatter the myth that there is no alternative to the way things are: it drew out the injustice and unsustainable waste of human and natural resources that characterise capitalism and demonstrated that there is a huge appetite for change.
Winning the Future’s subheading is Socialist Responses to the Coronavirus Crisis, and if the war on terror, the expenses scandal or the bankers’ crash exposed the violence, duplicity and greed that drive our political system, this pandemic has laid bare its utter inability to protect lives, livelihoods and communities.
The left cannot afford to sit this out. Real gains were made over the last five years in the battle of ideas: public ownership, planned economic development, a “green new deal” became mass demands.
Now initiatives like the Alliance for Full Employment, championed by Labour local authorities and the Labour government in Wales, revive a long dormant demand that fiscal policy should be linked to specific social outcomes — ironically since the alliance’s founder Gordon Brown gave independence to the Bank of England as chancellor, helping to divorce the two.
And the ever-growing backlash against the government’s refusal to fund meals for the poorest children over half term shows that the market morality of the Tories no longer commands public assent.
The mood of revolt can be turned into lasting social progress, but not by a “wait-and-see” attitude that postpones proposing alternative policies to an election in four years’ time.
“Campaigns do not begin and end at election times,” as Labour MP Beth Winter observes in Winning the Future.
There are dozens of ideas and approaches contained in Winning the Future’s collection of articles by Labour left MPs. Whether we agree with all of them is less important than that we regain the confidence to push, across the trade union movement, through local government and in every public arena, for socialist solutions to a capitalist crisis.
We can already see, in the mushrooming conspiracy theories around coronavirus, in the rise of the far right internationally, in the very person of the US president, what happens when collapsing faith in the status quo is not met by a strong socialist movement able to turn discontent into revolutionary action.
Britain does not currently have a strong socialist movement, but engagement with socialist ideas is far wider than before Corbynism. If we can learn from the victories and defeats inflicted on an army of activists since 2015, rather than turning away from politics in disgust, we can begin to build one.
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