Labour Transformed Draft Strategy Outline

What Do We Want?

  1. Our ultimate objectives are sketched out in our Foundational Principles. As Marx put it in The Communist Manifesto, we aspire to “the overthrow of all existing social conditions”. More specifically, our aims are:
  • The abolition of capitalism, a system based on exploitation, competitive accumulation, and an absence of real democracy, and its replacement by systems of collective, democratic ownership and control of the economy enabling the self-management of life and work by and for the working class itself.
  • The abolition of patriarchy, white supremacy, imperialism, and all other systems of oppression.

To Achieve These Aims

  1. We recognise the need to build a politically-conscious mass movement based on active class struggle. This movement must unite a broad coalition of the oppressed in solidarity with all struggles for liberation. Our movement must be capable of acting strategically and of working together effectively.
  2. We recognise that capitalism cannot be abolished within one country alone and that we need an international movement working towards the abolition of capitalism globally.
  3. We recognise that an effective movement capable of achieving these aims cannot simply emerge spontaneously. Building such a movement will require conscious and proactive activity, sober investigation and analysis, and coordinated strategy. In other words, it will require agency. And that agency must be collective.
  4. Therefore, we assert the need for a democratic member-led organisation dedicated explicitly to these tasks, as sketched out in our Organisational Principles.

The State & the Labour Party – In And Against

  1. The state is the defender of the interests of the dominant class. The state in a capitalist economy is fundamentally reliant on capitalist accumulation for its continuing legitimacy: as such it  facilitates the  maintenance of the class system, private property, wage labour and exploitation through ideological, repressive, administrative and legislative means.  
  2. Only the working class acting in and for itself can overthrow capitalism – socialist or revolutionary organisations (such as Labour Transformed) must bear this in mind and not substitute themselves for the wider class. We seek to support and facilitate the self-activity and self-organisation of the working class to further its own interests. This will involve a process of building counter-structures outside of the state and the logics of the market and promoting new forms of community provision, forms of living and production.
  3. Nevertheless, we do not believe that capitalism will be overcome through total disengagement from the state. In its current form, the state provides necessary services for the working class’s survival which, while essential, also reproduce the working class as labour power. We recognise the contradiction of being against the state, while simultaneously fighting to defend certain aspects of it.
  4. The state is a field of political and social contestation. As such we seek to be In And Against the State fighting on multiple terrains across its administrative apparatuses, within its political apparatuses, and within our communities and workplaces.  
  5. We recognise that under Britain’s political system, the Labour Party maintains an effective monopoly on electoral representation for the left, and therefore that the Labour Party will remain a key locus for working class politics and that socialists must continue to engage with and within it.
  6. We recognise that the Labour Party is not, and never has been, a socialist party, that it has long been integrated into the logics of capitalism, imperialism, and the British state, and that its institutions have often been actively hostile towards the socialist left and the interests of the working class as a whole.
  7. We believe that there is no purely electoral road to socialism – capitalism will not be dismantled by a capitalist state – and socialists should only engage with state institutions insofar as they can be used to further the wider class struggle across society.
  8. We recognise that the working class in Britain is undergoing a process of recomposition, and has been unable to cohere as a “class-for-itself”.  Similarly, we recognise that the socialist left in Britain has undergone a long process of fragmentation and currently adds up to less than the sum of its parts.
  9. We believe that Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party represented a unique opportunity, providing a possibility to unite the existing fractious sections of the left with hundreds of thousands of people newly inspired by socialist politics and generating a vibrant new ecology of left-wing projects, ideas and activity. But this loose coalition was never transformed into a coherent or durable political force.
  10. We believe that this new left must be cohered urgently before the coalition enabled by Corbyn’s leadership collapses and this opportunity is lost forever.

What We Must Learn

  1. We do not wish to repeat the mistakes of the past. No socialist project has yet achieved final victory. This suggests a need for humility and to learn equally from the mistakes and the achievements of every past socialist project or tendency.
  2. We recognise the importance of open and democratic organising, capable of respecting the autonomy of the movements.
  3. Yet we understand the limits of voluntaristic or uncoordinated activity, and maintain the necessity of organisation and of disciplined strategy.
  4. Particularly we recognise the danger of socialists beginning to reproduce the forms and methods against which they are struggling, internalising the logics of capital or of the state.
  5. Whenever and wherever we engage with state institutions, our attitude must be that we are In And Against the state. To the extent that supposedly independent institutions, such as the Labour Party itself, have been disciplined by or have internalised those logics, we must apply the same attitude.
  6. It is essential that the left moves beyond a culture where all significant decisions being made by unaccountable cliques centred in London, with the rest of the movement left in the dark, and instead that we ensure maximum internal transparency, communication and accountability across the movement – horizontally and vertically.
  7. We recognise the need to deploy our resources as effectively as possible. Activities which build up our long-term strategic capacity – such as research, analysis, and planning; building sustainable institutions; training and recruiting new activists; leveraging and repurposing existing organisations or communications infrastructures; building links and coordination between different projects – can be more urgent and more important than simply rushing directly into the front-lines of activism.

What We Need To Do

  1. We recognise the need to build a fully functional and coherent core of In And Against cadre as the starting point from which further organisation can be built and wider layers can be brought in.
  2. In the long term, we aspire to be a mass-membership organisation, yet we recognise the necessity for an incremental growth model. For a project like this to be sustainable, it needs to build and to maintain political, organisational and social cohesion internally. As such, our initial focus should be on cohering these existing networks into a well organised base from which to expand. 
  3. While the left remains in a weakened and fragmented state, we are not starting from scratch. There is a rich ecology of networks, organisations, resources and communications infrastructures – whether long-established or newly emerged – but so far we have failed to realise our collective potential.
  4. Britain’s established trade unions and their Labour Party may be a shadow of their former strength, but they remain the backbone of organised labour in this country. Some of these unions are exemplars of militant organising, but many remain passive or internally undemocratic with membership engagement low. Rank-and-file militancy and coordination must be revitalised across the movement. The unions must become a vehicle for class-struggle and for socialism, not merely for the management of class compromise.
  5. Equally, recent years have seen the emergence of a vibrant ecology of new unions and community groups, focused particularly on organising renters, migrants or precarious workers. While these have been a model for building class power across communities and in the workplace, they lack the coordination or resources to challenge capital at the national level. Our aim should be to link community and workers struggles across the country, and to bring together our unions, old and new.
  6. Whilst effective at mobilising hundreds of thousands of people for electoral campaigns, the potential of organisations like Momentum, has been largely wasted. So far, they have largely been monopolised exclusively to support bureaucratic maneuvering and irresponsibly short-termist electoral strategies, instead of being directed towards sustainable socialist base-building.
  7. There has also been a flowering of left alternative media, but limited resources and lack of integration into a wider strategic framework has prevented them from realising their full potential and enabled their cooption by the logics, variously, of the social industry, of the mainstream media, or of Labourism.
  8. In all these cases, we must move beyond personal connections and the model of ‘networked individuals’ towards working relationships of an institutional and accountable nature based on solidarity and reciprocity and coordinating formally towards a common strategy.
  9. We need to break out of a political culture where all the important decisions are made in obscurity by tiny cliques concentrated in London. This will mean building real networks across the country, with the requisite infrastructure and transparency to allow activists across the country to contribute to our political and strategic direction, and to democratise the ‘insider’ knowledge of political maneuverings in the party and union hierarchies.

Areas of Work

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the areas we will be working on in the long-term, but our initial meetings identified the following areas of work as useful starting points:

Community Organising
As demonstrated by the 2019 election, in many parts of the country, the left and the labour movement’s roots in working class communities have been massively eroded.  Community organising provides a route towards rebuilding those bonds, and the surge in enthusiasm for community organising across the Labour Party provides a real opportunity for making this happen and using it as an avenue for cohering the left of the party.  

The current crisis caused by COVID-19, while curtailing traditional community organising, has precipitated an explosion of mutual aid groups, which have been organising to help the vulnerable. With patient work and engagement from the left, these could lay the groundwork for mass community organising.

  • If community struggles – such as those against landlords or gentrification – are to build class conscious militancy, they must become linked to the wider movement and to other social struggles, requiring the active engagement of the socialist left within those struggles. Community organising must not be something the movement engages in just to be seen to be doing something, but must become one of the bases from which a new era of class struggle is launched.
  • We must also act as a link to historical and international projects, sharing and generalising those ideas, lessons, techniques, etc with the nascent mutual aid networks in this country, as well as helping these projects to connect with one another and share their experiences and best practices.
  • Many community organising initiatives already exist, including Labour’s Community Organising Unit, ACORN and the Ella Baker School of Organising and we will need to engage with and support them, identifying where and how our efforts could be most effective, as well as identifying strategic gaps in that ecology and trying to fill them.
  • We will make the case for community organising – across media, and within the unions and the Party – and we will work to direct the resources of the left’s institutions towards the communities, and help to direct Labour activists into extra parliamentary work.
  • We must ensure that community organising does not simply become a tool subordinated to narrow electoral interests, and to ensure that the goal is to build class power. In many cases, this may put community organisers in conflict with officials from our own party, and we will have to navigate these contradictions carefully, using them as an axis for reforming the party rectifying Labour’s often appalling record in local government.

Trade Unions
We must recognise that the era of the mass worker and its associated forms of production which allowed unions to reach the height of their power is over. Nevertheless, unions remain a key site for the political recomposition of the working class. The new base unions as well as certain sections of the established unions have shown that militant unionism can still provide gains for the working class, but these strategies are yet to generalise across the entire movement.

  • We need to build a comprehensive understanding of British trade unionism, the internal politics of the different unions, the relationships between the different unions, the strategic & tactical approaches of different parts of the labour movement, and the challenges faced by the unions.
  • The revitalisation of the union movement will not come simply through the election of ‘left’ leaderships; it must be led by reinvigorated rank-and-file struggle.
  • Effective socialist coordination must be rebuilt, whether internally within unions; between different unions; between unions and other political and community organisations, or otherwise. This will mean engaging with existing organisations & networks within the unions, as well as building new organisation where it is lacking.
  • Union resources should be directed into strategically important projects necessary to the wider movement (potentially covering community organising, left media, digital projects, etc).
  • We must not allow unions to return to their role as partners in the management of class compromise, nor to triangulate on issues such as migration.
  • Much of the historic strength of unions in working class communities was based on a ‘union way of life’. We must begin to imagine and implement a union way of life for the 21st century, which can provide a collective social life to today’s working class, rebuilding the movement’s historic areas of strength as well as expanding into new sectors.

Labour Party
The Labour Party is, and will remain, a key site of political struggle, has enormous potential value as a platform and as a forum, and is the natural site where hundreds of thousands of people come to engage with left politics. But it can also be a quagmire – it is easy to become trapped in ceaseless and fruitless bureaucratic struggles, or to internalise the conservative & electoralist pressures bearing down on the party. Our engagement with the party’s structures must be careful and strategic.

  • We need to develop a better understanding of the Labour Party. This includes work on the theoretical level and the big questions around its relation to the state and to the left, but it also means collectivising information, analysis, even gossip of what is actually going on inside the Labour Party, how the different factions are organised, where the party is headed, what is happening behind the scenes, etc and building towards a shared understanding of how the party works and how we fit into it.
  • We should work to win the often fractious Labour left over to a more principled and coherent socialist politics, to combat the tendencies towards opportunism, triangulation or vulgar electoralism, and to push Labour activists towards workplace & community organising.
  • Where appropriate, we should support campaigns towards winning party positions & policy for the left, but we must pick our battles. There is no point making these internal party struggles an end-in-itself – we should only pour our resources into these campaigns after careful thought about e.g. whether the campaign is winnable, what we could usefully do with the victory, whether we can use the campaign itself to help build our movement, and whether or not there are better uses of our time and resources.
  • Labour left organisations like Momentum need to be transformed into effective and democratic forums for the broad left, and we must make the case within them for a class-struggle politics.

Race, Migration and Empire
This has always been one of the fundamental weak-points of the British left, where we face tremendous pressure to triangulate in different directions and to become divided upon ourselves. We need to show some leadership in overcoming these weaknesses.

  • We must oppose any backsliding or triangulation on issues around race and migration – whether in the Labour Party, the unions, Momentum or otherwise. This will involve helping to coordinate a broader response from the internationalist left, across campaigns, propaganda, demonstrations, internal democratic contests and more.
  • We will work to support and to help coordinate activism across the left on migrant rights and anti-racism, identifying productive points of intervention and ensuring that this remains a priority issue for the movement.
  • We need to overcome the left’s divisions and weaknesses over questions of empire and foreign policy. These divisions are often rooted in shallow analysis, poor engagement or understanding, and lazy sectarian conflict and we will need to lead the way in developing a shared understanding and a shared language on the nature of imperialism in the 21st century, and to build a more productive dialogue across the British left about our strategic posture on these issues.

Media & Counterpropaganda
While the mainstream media remains hostile towards the left, the window opened by Corbyn has seen the proliferation of an ecology of left-wing podcasts, journals and other publications. Yet this media infrastructure is still far from sufficient to the needs of the movement. Areas of work are likely to include:

  • Coordinating our own media and intellectual production, including articles in existing publications, statements on our website, podcasts or appearances on other left podcasts, press releases about our activity, etc and supporting our members in producing their own work and getting published in appropriate outlets.
  • Building our own in-house journal for the purpose of publishing long-form strategic and intellectual positions and developing our work collectively.
  • Identifying gaps in existing left media infrastructure and working out how these gaps can be filled. This will involve working with existing groups such as the Media Reform Coalition on building left media infrastructures and funding strategies.
  • Finding ways to lead and coordinate left media in a more effective way, turning the left media ecology into a coherent and comprehensive infrastructure capable of fully supporting the strategic requirements of the wider movement.

Political Education
Political education is a critical component in building an effective socialist movement. It’s a very broad category, extending far beyond traditional didactic forms of education, and covers all the means by which we can collectively share, develop, interrogate and reproduce our political ideas. There are a number of different ways this can be helpfully broken down, and one such way is in terms of audience:

  1. Public-Facing & Movement-Facing Political Education
    There are a number of different projects and organisations already well placed to start delivering this kind of work – from larger institutions like the unions, to newer initiatives like The World Transformed and its growing national network – and there is little sense needlessly replicating existing work.

    Instead, we should be engaging with and supporting those initiatives and trying to ensure that groups like the regional Transformed events are active across the country, and we should be using these kinds of events as a space to engage with the wider movement.

    We should also be working to push those projects towards a more coherent and strategically-oriented socialist politics and to ensure that this work is properly prioritised and properly resourced by other left institutions.
  2. Internal Political Education
    Political education is the means by which we develop, cohere, and reproduce our own politics, and as such it is essential for the health and growth of our organisation. If we want to grow rapidly, we will need to prioritise collective political education internally, or else we will risk collapsing into incoherence and internal factionalism – this is the only means towards resolving our own contradictions or bringing people onboard with our project.

    This will mean developing courses, discussion groups, reading lists and more (as well as compiling existing resources) covering a range of topics. Particular key areas include:
  • Our own organisational model and principles, particularly the lessons we’ve tried to excavate from both the Leninist tradition and the New Left, and the ways of fostering and sustaining a healthy democratic internal culture.
  • Practical organising skills that will be necessary for building an effective organisation – from chairing meetings or engaging new activists, to preparing agendas or typing up minutes.
  • Work on how to think critically and effectively as a Marxist – covering dialectical and materialist analysis, logic and critical thinking, media literacy, epistemology, heuristics and cognitive bias, and more.
  • Courses that flesh out and explain the political positions outlined in our foundational principles, from our analysis of capitalism, our understanding of socialism or of class struggle, the importance of liberation politics, our relation to the Labour Party, our attitude towards the state, etc.