Since Jeremy Corbyn took leadership of the Labour Party in 2015, he and his party have been the North Star for many on the Left. This reorientation has raised old questions about the Left's relationship to the Labour Party. At the Oxford Radical Forum in March the description for a panel on “Corbyn, Labour and the Radical Left” put forward a number of symptomatic propositions. It registered the fact that “several socialist tendencies which had previously campaigned against the party now committed to supporting it under Corbyn’s leadership” and that Corbyn’s election to leader “was largely viewed as a moment of triumph for the far left.” But what is the Left? And what would mean for it to triumph?
For more than 30 years the radical academic Ralph Miliband wrestled with the question of how the Left should confront the problem of the Labour Party. In the 1960s, he insisted that the Left should work within the party to win it over to the cause of socialism. In the 1970s, he accepted that it was futile to attempt to transform Labour and argued that the Left should organize an independent socialist party. In the 1980s, he collaborated with left-wing initiatives inside and outside the Labour Party. In his final, posthumously-published, response to the emergence of New Labour in the 1990s he signaled the Left’s abandonment of any hope of an existence independent of Labour.
On March 23, 2017, the Platypus Affiliated Society organized a panel discussion, “What is Socialism? International Social Democracy,” at the London School of Economics. Moderated by Nunzia Faes of Platypus, the event brought together the following speakers: Jack Conrad of the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Weekly Worker; Adam Buick of the Socialist Party of Great Britain; and Robin Halpin, translator of works by the Exit! group. What follows is an edited transcript of their discussion.
This essay attempts to place these results within an historical context and suggest how New Labour’s vapidity and the Financial Crisis facilitated this upset. As a recalcitrant Corbynista, I will offer my thoughts on how he can energize his leadership. In particular, I believe it is essential for him to move beyond the anti-austerity that catapulted him into the leadership, to form a more comprehensive programme for economic reform, one that we should articulate using aggressively populist rhetoric.