We invited submissions on what a Labour Party with a million members could be and do and are concluding the series with this piece. Yesterday we published Part One and Part Two, and we published Part Three and Part Four earlier today.
A Mass Member Party and Migrant Members
by Mau B
What is the role for migrants in a party which despite everything remains electorally oriented? We have to remember that voting rights for migrants are effectively curtailed in the UK; we cannot vote for MPs or referenda. To those who are not UK citizens having a say through the usual channels of representative democracy is limited to just councillors and local government. Paradoxically, though these are the positions most proximate to us they remain the most unaccountable and poorly-scrutinised by party and media alike, not to say precisely the purveyors of the policies that are often most harmful for immigrants as evidenced by the responsibility of local councils across the country for displacement and poor treatment of migrants. For these reasons I find it difficult to be enthused about integral parts of Labour party life such as #labourdoorstep and activities that revolve around elections. If the generalisation is warranted, I believe that the centrality of such activities dissuades migrants from taking part in the party at large. Other factors may be at play though, such as the lack of translations of Labour party materials into different languages and the absence of an organised migrant base in the party new members can identify and link up with.
I believe that the solutions to this cannot simply reside in 'expanding' the franchise to include migrants in the democratic institutions of the UK—though this must remain crucial. It must reflect on the lived experience of having citizenships and rights that range from partial (as is the case with EU citizens) to non-existent, and must be a minoritarian politics without falling into irrelevance—a politics that can count on the majority of Labour party members—who are UK citizens—to amplify its voice and platform when it matters. Creating a Labour party grouping for those with non-UK citizen status (Labour Migrants or similar) could be useful for a start. Momentum seems to be stronger on this, with groupings for Latin Americans for instance, but developing the potential of this has been largely subservient to the organisation’s electoral focus. Nevertheless, there are possibilities to develop here that could also be applied within Labour.
Any organisation of migrants within Labour must partake in a transnational culture of solidarity, but the modality of this is an open question. It would be a loss—and a return to some of the least useful practices of the British left—for it to devolve to an organisation which spends time and institutional resources on establishing a line on international affairs i.e. its activism reducible to passing motions in 'solidarity with' or 'condemning that'. It should in particular refuse to have its members engage with each other along national lines, with mechanisms to ensure minorities within migrant groupings are well-represented and heard. It should be a renewed migrant class interest that prevails: the representation and furtherance of those denied full rights through not having UK citizenship, which makes us more exploitable and divided. I find some student activism—particularly from the NUS International Student Conference, which in past actions has been able to organise a bloc of immigrants with varying citizenship statuses around shared demands and struggles—to be informative as to what this organisation could look like.
We should remember that there exists a social majority in the UK against immigration and that leftist electoral politics that seek a social majority are likely to be compromised re: migration, as evidenced by Tom Gann's analysis of the Labour manifesto in these pages. I'd very much like the experiences of Labour migrant members on the doorstep or the phones to be consulted and shared. Do our accents seem to overshadow the contents we speak of when canvassing? Is this figure of rejection is as mythical as the racist middle England swing voter Labour needs to 'win over' for a majority? I believe the question of what we need to do vis-a-vis the anti-immigrant electoral bloc is extremely important, and entails a set of practical and ethical expectations from the UK citizen members of Labour that shouldn't be compromised.
A Democratic Party to transfrom Britain
Nobody saw this coming is the commentariat’s current cri du couer. That no body saw this coming speaks not only to the cosseted cosiness of the media class, but also to their growing irrelevance.
Those who did see it coming, those who felt the visceral desire for a politics of dignity and decency, are more likely to be those involved in bringing it about than those attacking it through column pieces and co-ordinated coups. The body politic of the political and media classes is - with some exceptions - so hegemonic and homogenous that the bodies who did see it coming were always already excluded. And thus: nobody saw this coming.
The possibilities inherent in a million member Labour party are therefore huge. We know that people increasingly distrust the media in the UK; we also know that they are far more willing to trust their friends and family members.
A million members talking to a handful of friends, colleagues, and family members would be transformative in making the case for the progressive alternative we propose. Both those who have never voted before and those who have never voted Labour would be far more open to dialogue with the people they trust in their communities and families. This election demonstrated that people are more likely to trust their daughter or son than The Sun when choosing who to vote for. Harnessing this energy and scaling-up these conversations is therefore vital.
Yet a million members canvassing, conversing, and campaigning makes even more pressing the importance of ditching and democratising the autocratic bureaucracy of the Labour party. Mandatory reselection ought to be back on the agenda in a serious way. It is not an issue of purges or punishment, but simply making the MPs we campaign for both responsive to and representative of the changing demographic of the party.
The broad church analogy is outdated. Not because, as many commentators have suggested for years, we are cultish Corbynistas following the word of our divine leader. Rather, because any church is by definition an irrevocably hierarchical organisation, where the anointed, appointed figurehead talks down to us in the pews. The church can be as broad as you like, but if this dynamic remains, the energy and enthusiasm of the members will amount to little. Our achievements came outside of - and often despite - this broad church.
A million members limited by a moribund Labour party bureaucracy that defunds marginals and accepts MPs who rejoice in slandering Corbyn - and by extension, those who support him - changes little. Corbynism offers a genuinely democratic socialism. Democratising the party is the prerequisite to democratising the country; if the power of the party is devolved to a million members who feel enthused and empowered, their energy will return this transformed party to power. If, in becoming a million member party, we transition to a genuine democratic movement, then - and only then - do we have the power to fundamentally change this country.
A Networked Party against Capitalist Hierarchy
After a long hegemony, global neoliberalism has been challenged by the formation of spontaneous social movements from below. Corbyn, Syriza, Podemos and Sanders have ridden a unique wave of energy. The emergence of this new politics can be best explained through the concept of network against hierarchy. Paul Mason has rightly detected the post-capitalist potential of the internet, but the social form of the network it creates has already developed a political character under our very noses. Labour’s domination of the internet-immersed youth is no small sign of this. The neoliberal order meanwhile seeks to maintain its hegemony through a vertically-integrated capitalist hierarchy opposing radical change.
To grow our membership further, win power and fundamentally restructure society, we must make Labour the political expression of the network. The possibilities for an intrinsically democratic, mass political party remade in this way are revolutionary.
First we must go digital. The national party should support endeavours to produce free software that can be utilized by CLPs to digitize themselves, using freeware to politicize cyberspace. National co-ordinators can aid in the adoption of easy-to-use technology locally. Better software and political “apps” will naturally spread through the viral network, creating an immediate connection between the digital structure and local needs.
Through entering cyberspace CLPs can do away with occasional and tedious meetings. Open up the online space for extra-party individuals and organisations to take part in forums, bringing attention to specific local complaints. Maintain a permanent online agenda to track progress with specific complaints and wider campaigns. Use e-democracy to hold case-by-case votes to ratify action – with such decisions binding for Councillors, MPs etc. There is still a place for more regular physical meetings (in keeping with the permanent agenda), for which a primary use could be engaging with MPs and councillors whose attendance should be compulsory. These meetings can symbolically reify the cyber-politics for communities, whilst easing engagement for less tech-savvy elders.
Further up the chain CLPs can broaden their networks into regional associations, with wider scope for decisions. At the very top the party conference must become a virtual, year-round process where everyone is a delegate; it would allow all members to vote on national decisions and party policy. With momentum starting at the CLP level, individual proposals could reach the heights of decision-making with relative ease, whilst specific local cases could come to leadership attention. National campaigns would be locally powered, and local campaigns nationally supported. The purpose of the physical conference would be to ratify the biggest of long-term decisions.
An engaged membership will be required for this, but build it and they will come. Let Momentum be the vanguard; already it has utilised software-based viral campaigning. Momentum can expand Labour’s reach by directly entering communities, and act as an experimentation ground for radical network-politics. The struggle of network against hierarchy may be the historic battle of our times, and by utilizing the network we can tip the balance towards the masses, giving us the power to resist global capitalism.
A Mass Party as Social Movement
by Jan Baykara
I joined the Labour Party only weeks ago, imagining it as as the party that put its principles and policies into action. I wanted to build the local community along the lines of the 2017 manifesto. I though it was a great start, and what better way than join hundreds of others who thought the same. But I was struck by the utter lack of information on how I could contribute.
As a Socialist, I am excited by the recent labelling of the party as a social movement. After all, the issues which stand at odds with our shared vision of society cannot only come about through elections and the actions of a few representatives, but must also be grappled with in the realms of the everyday, by everyday members. However as a political science student, I am concerned that currently the party operates far away from what the description of 'social movement' entails: a deeply-engaged, tightly-knit community working together to affect change. Yet we can become one.
Local party numbers are increasing dramatically, incorporating young and old and an abundance of skills, ideas and enthusiasm. Branches should establish community working groups through which we can mobilise our many members into committed community activists, so we can start rolling back the vices of free market capitalism in our own neighbourhoods—unjustified homelessness; damaging privatisation; existential environmental ruin; isolating community disengagement.
More than that, we must use our local communal voices to combat the rich few who control much of the national media, and who comment from a position far away from everyday people both geographically and socially. With the decline of local newspapers, branches must become a critical, emancipatory public voice in print and online. We increasingly have the capacity to tell the stories of our communities in creative and engaging ways, and we should use the media to build empathy and awareness of shared issues that neighbours, side-by-side and street-by-street, might otherwise miss.
In short, the Labour Party’s local branches should be sponsors and sites of alliance for trade unions, community volunteers and campaigns, local news and culture, and mass political education.
The Labour Party should come to be seen as the party that empowers people and communities, in all the ways that capitalism oppositely isolates and disempowers them.
The Labour Party, focused on the everyday life of the many, can thus grow the national spirit of solidarity. This is how we fight the pervasive right-wing narrative of selfish individualism, destructive competition and blind market worship, postcode by postcode. This is how, come election-time, we win the seats we need to affect more structural change in the favour of social and economic justice.
As Jeremy Corbyn has shown us, public opinion is won by standing by your principles. We, each and every Labour Party member, must practice our ideas in every day life as much as we preach them.
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