Alastair Osborne condemns the pretence that only one faction in the Labour Party are true socialists, and argues that Labour has always been, and continues to be, a broad coalition.
I recently read an article in the Jacobin telling me that Keir Starmer has sacked ‘the highest ranking socialist in the Shadow Cabinet’. Here was me thinking that would be Keir Starmer. I get equally mad when a message pops into my inbox from the Campaign for Socialism, or some other faction, telling me to back the ‘socialist candidates’ for this or that internal election.
The unity of the Labour Party is broad and deep, stretching back over a hundred years. We have always had vigorous political debate and disagreement. We have had dust ups over strategy and direction, but we have always come through it. There are those who actually think the slogan ‘for the many not the few’ belonged to the recent brief period of Corbyn leadership. In fact it is a rallying cry for Labour going all the way back to Shelley’s Masque of Anarchy written after the Peterloo massacre of 1819:
“Rise like Lions after slumber, in unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew, which in sleep had fallen on you –
Ye are many – they are few.”
The words were adapted by Labour into the 1995 introduction to the constitution (though this is usually remembered as the rewriting of Clause IV):
“The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.”
When Keir Hardie led the Labour Party, its main emphasis was ensuring working class representation in Parliament. The constitution of 1918 contained the historic Clause IV (part 4):
“To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”
That declaration formed the basis of Attlee’s commitment to public ownership which was massively endorsed following the end of the Second World War and his election victory of 1945.
Following defeat in 1959, Gaitskell attempted to rewrite Clause IV but was defeated by the left who then rubbed his nose in it by putting the clause on every Labour membership card. It wasn’t rewritten until that 1995 version.
Keir Hardie and Ramsay MacDonald; Clement Attlee and Herbert Morrison; Hugh Gaitskell and Harold Wilson; Denis Healey and Tony Benn; Tony Blair and Gordon Brown; Ed Miliband and David Miliband; Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer – all democratic socialists. Love them or loathe them (you can do a quick score in your head), they were or are all Labour.
We must try to accept all our leaders, representatives and members as fellow democratic socialists unless they choose to put themselves beyond the confines of the Party (which we hope they never do). However, if we keep talking about ‘the socialists in the shadow cabinet’ we are never likely to get socialists where it really matters – in government.