It’s not fun to weigh in today amid the sadness of watching a triumphant, smug parade of Tory scumbags mouthing off about how they intend to stick it to the poor this time — but we can’t sit still when the new class war is on its way.
The reasons why Labour lost are going to be picked over for weeks to come and in-fighting over which faction gets the leadership is already underway. Citing antipathy for Corbyn as the main cause, centrists will go for Kier Starmer, the only one of their mob to have had the sense to stick it out for the long haul. The party left meanwhile, blaming Brexit mania, will be pushing for a more suitably left inheritor like Rebecca Long Bailey.
But in focusing there they’ll once again miss the problem that people kept telling them about on the doorstep — a lack of trust in Labour to deliver. It doesn’t matter whether Starmer or Long-Bailey is in charge if that fundamental isn’t addressed.
If it were ever unclear, it has been brutally illustrated over the last month that the right’s most potent tool is its control over the media. The Conservatives have none of the much touted “ground game” of Labour activism but handily won the trust game — and it’s down to the familiarity people have with their key voices.
Every day millions of people read their columnists and the day’s front pages lead the conversational topics people hear on the radio. The journalistic consensus thus built on what should be considered “important” leeches into what people talk about in pubs and coffee shops up and down the country. Corbyn’s lifelong anti-racism gets turned on its head while Johnson’s lifelong bigotry is largely skimmed over.
While people will, if asked, say the media is untrustworthy, the fact is that daily pump of “authoritative” voices with “inside” knowledge, many pitching the absurd simultaneous notion that they are “anti-Establishment”, has immense impact. And the left has little to counter it. The “ground game” has been shown, starkly, to be a paper tiger.
It isn’t difficult to work out why this might be the case. Fundamentally who are you most likely to listen to, someone you’ve “known” for years (albeit via a column or through the TV) or some random shiny-faced type who only bothers showing up on your doorstep at election time?
The fundamental problem left Labour has is it keeps trying to win a marathon by sprinting. The Tories have spent four years using already potent attack tools, trusted by its base, to poison the mood against Labour’s leadership and tactics. Labour’s spent four years making grand promises while largely carrying on the same old course in its heartlands and barely touching people’s lives anywhere else.
What people in Manchester saw in the last few years for example was the usual party in local government doing the usual things. Mayor Andy Burnham making noises about “ending rough sleeping” while the city went through a cycle of untrammelled housing speculation and the poor got poorer. Up and down the country Labour strongholds have been in more or less ineptly-handled decline. A distant Labour Party enacting austerity and neoliberalism, albeit with pious grumbling.
If Labour were collectively wiser they might have spent the 2015-19 period doing the thing that every community activist has been banging on about for decades — rebuilding the organs of independent working class struggle. Organically growing a sense of possibility rather than trying to astroturf one on dead ground. There were pockets of effort in that direction, McDonnell and Corbyn joined the odd picket line, but the real “ground game” of consistent, community-based, non-Parliamentary organising and solidarity remained as absent as ever.
What made socialism, trade unionism — and as a result the Labour Party — powerful in the first place wasn’t promises. It was results. It was seeing the same people preaching socialism at the front line of making people’s lives better in the here and now. We started losing that in the 1970s, it was mostly gone by the 2000s, and the New New Left has done little to change the trend. For 40 years it’s been all about Responsible Management Of The Public Purse — management which working people have long since learned is not for their benefit.
That’s why the more manifestos Labour brought out, the more spending promises they made, the more able the Tories were to simply shrug and say “pie in the sky.” It’s why percentage turnout for “the most important vote in a generation” actually fell amid all the hyperbole. It’s why the recurring doorstep theme is “they’re all clowns and liars anyway.”
What this election has shown is there are no shortcuts to a rejuvenated socialist power base. Shouting at people online and trudging round unfamiliar streets with a leaflet and a rosette for a couple of weeks every few years cannot overturn generations of neoliberal power and influence. People listen to those they feel should be trusted and respected — and in many communities today’s left is neither one.
This is not an “aha, now anarchism” article. A lot of anarchists voted this year and a large number actively canvassed for the party, spurred as much by disappointment in our tendency’s own grassroots failings as by fear of seeing a rabid Johnson-Mogg-Cummings trifecta in power.
This is an article about the next five years in which Labour will have next to no say while the Tories do their worst. The battle over social democracy is done, there is only extra-Parliamentary action left to take. The direct class war to bring down Boris and his cohort is just starting — so we need to sharpen our best and only weapons.
The following quick list is anarcho-oriented and there’s lots more out there, but if you’re feeling a bit lost on where to begin, check out the below:
Libcom – Toolbox for organsing
Libcom – Primer on unions
Radical Routes – How to set up a Social Centre (Direct Download)
Radical Routes – How to set up a Worker’s Co-op (Direct Download)
Earth First! – Direct action manuals
Reclaim The Power – Guide to organising an action
London Coalition Against Poverty – Resources list
Industrial Workers of the World
ACORN Tenants Union – Article on ACORN in Freedom
Recipes for Disaster
Housing an anarchist approach