labour transformed is organising a democratic left, not to soften the antagonism between the two extremes of capital and wage labour, but to supersede both.
Responding to a call to create a new organisation for the left, a series of working groups have been established over the last year, tasked with cohering around a set of shared politics, the result of which is our political basis document. Underpinning this process is an understanding that the left must be willing to think through, articulate and argue for the positions we hold in a public forum. This document is both “living” – in the sense that it is subject to evolution and change with the current moment and our understanding of it – and a way of making us accountable to our political positions.
The surprise election of Jeremy Corbyn in 2015 saw an influx of socialists into the Labour Party. In the interceding years, inside the Labour Party and in a related ecology of groups, a vibrant anti-capitalist counter culture emerged, which, in the final accounting, failed to cohere into an organised form. While ill-defined, this tendency placed an emphasis on participatory forms of democracy and decision-making, struggle ‘led from below,’ rank-and-file organisation, and the platforming of the voices and experiences of marginalised communities. Alongside more politically conscious actors, a generation of young people found in Corbynism an important element in their politicisation. Despite these promising developments, there was – and still is – a necessity to create a form through which these radical politics can cohere.
labour transformed is intended as an attempt to develop the radical strands within Corbynism and to provide an outward-facing and organised form that can strategically cohere activity within and outside of the party. In a context where this radical tendency remains atomised, there is a need for an agile cadre organisation that could help it to cohere within the party and beyond. labour transformed is a socialist and anti-capitalist organisation, premised on the principle of meaningful action. Transforming the Labour Party is just one part of a larger task of a socialist project. Hence, our name does not refer to our struggle within the Labour Party alone but is also a reference to the long-held task of socialists; to liberate humanity from the bondage of capitalist work and a society based on production for profit. Here we briefly summarise what that means.
In and Against
We believe that socialists must work in as well as against the state: in it so as to redirect the state’s resources towards building working-class power and autonomy. Many of the organs of the state we inherit are fulfilling necessary functions for the survival of the working class, but at the same time play a distinct role in reproducing, disciplining, and conditioning labour. The task for socialists is not solely to defend these institutions or expand their power under socialist control, but to work outside or against the state to support the development of counter-institutions that do not reproduce these disciplinary logics.
To even begin to address the massive imbalance of class power and its material consequences for the working class will require an enormous growth in collective working class political activity from present levels. While we must work within current cultural, legal, and labour market conditions (no matter how challenging) to start bringing about that revival, we must also work to transform dramatically the very conditions within which we organise. Many of the necessary changes can only be made at the level of the state: repealing laws that restrict working-class self-activity, meeting basic needs by improving public provision of essential goods and services, democratising the constitution, opening up the Westminster party system, and devolving power away from Whitehall.
The electoral system still used for Westminster elections effectively precludes any mass electoral party of the working class in Britain besides the Labour Party. Labour is not a shortcut to socialism, but under present conditions, there is no path to the political revival of the working class which does not go partly through Labour. Labour is the weak link in the British constitution, a heavily guarded but crucial access point through which we must work to democratise the British state and secure other ‘non-reformist reforms’.
A similar understanding of the balance of forces within the trade unions is necessary, viewing them as sites of struggle rather than monolithic entities. Idealised conceptions of the trade union movement must be rejected. Where a trade union organisation fails or actively obstructs the cause of socialism, we must have no hesitation in criticising and seeking to reform it. To achieve a transformative balance of power within the official trade union movement, it is vital that the transactional nature that recreates trade union establishments are strategically disrupted, effectively contested, undermined and organised against.
Our trade unionism positions capitalism and the bosses as the enemy, not merely forces to be negotiated with. Traditional ameliorative forms of bargaining – while necessary – are insufficient in reconfiguring the relationship between capital and labour. Where democratic structures are constitutionally enshrined, an unevenness or a lack of engagement undermines this potential. We need to organise across these institutional lines, building a network of coordinated socialists. This will mean engaging with existing organisations and networks within the unions while building new organisations where they are lacking.
Imperialism and Class
The issue on which the left fractures more than any other is imperialism. This is somewhat unsurprising considering its importance for Britain’s historic and ongoing global position, and the difficulty in articulating what anti-imperialist action might look like in the imperialist core. We recognise that the main sites of struggle in Britain (the Labour Party and the trade unions) are inextricably and materially linked to British imperialism. The absence of a widespread critique of empire within these sites of struggle contributes to broad public approval of the British Empire and the general failure by the British left to criticise the City of London’s role as the broker of global finance and the hub of contemporary British imperialism. Recognition of these contradictions and seeking their material resolution constitutes our approach to international solidarity, anti-racism, and anti-imperialism, even where these positions are considered unpopular with parts of the British electorate.
The success of racialised electoral campaigns across the globe is a sign that the right has effectively shaped a critique of neoliberalism around racism and misogyny without ever questioning the capitalist mode of production. If the left is to become an effective bloc in solidarity with and an organic part of the oppressed, we must reject any tendency that dovetails with racism, however latent its form. Racism has been critical to the development of capitalism and therefore race cannot be subsidiary to class. As such when we speak of the working class we do not mean some static formation. Instead, we recognise the ongoing processes of recomposition and politicisation through which the working class needs to constantly construct itself anew. Organising needs to bring together different fractions of the working class whose interests appear to be divided or even in conflict under the changing structural organisation of labour under capitalism. By understanding class in this way we reject the false dichotomy between class and liberation struggles. Far from being a static formation resulting from the relations of production within capitalism, the working class needs to construct its unity by building solidarity and organising to form coalitions among different fractions of those who are exploited and oppressed.
In and Against NOW – Building a Socialist Strategy
Whatever the undertaking of the Labour left might be, labour transformed contends that it should be collective, coherent and democratically determined. For that to be possible, we all need to be in the same organisation together. It is not enough to simply follow orders from unelected thought leaders in the media or the Parliamentary Labour Party, and yet this is what many comrades seem to be waiting for, in the absence of a platform on which more organic and dynamic leaders might be chosen. Momentum remains a worthy campaigning organisation, but remains too focused on internal party concerns.
For socialists, power can be built through mass institutions of the working class, governed democratically. It can’t be built through top-down parliamentarianism. We can’t rely on media personalities who – however worthy – inevitably have their socialist message diluted by bourgeois media institutions. The left’s route to power must thus be through the trade unions, through community and faith groups, through independent, socialist media, and through forcing our parliamentary representatives to actually, meaningfully represent us.
If the socialist left is to corral, cajole, harangue and, yes, hegemonise the Party, as well as the discourse, and the wider political economy, a coalition comprising each of these institutions needs to find a way of acting together in a coordinated way, and in pursuit of a common purpose. To that end, labour transformed will be hosting “In and Against NOW – building a socialist strategy” on Saturday 9th January 2021 for comrades to start giving this process coherence.