The Labour Party is now firmly under the control of “socialist” leadership, and after numerous parliamentary coup attempts, Jeremy Corbyn’s position seems unshakable. John McDonnell has launched a manifesto of the most radical economic reforms the Party has witnessed in nearly half a century. It seems that the criminality of austerity will stand trial as the despair laden age of neo-liberalism may be coming to an end. However, to uphold the project of the Labour Party as having some form of political messianic power is to murder emancipatory politics.
It is important, in the case of a victorious Labour Party at the next General Election, to recognise the limits to such a project and offer useful critique from the left. Anything more than critical support for the Party may be detrimental to anti-capitalist emancipatory politics; the task of which is to critique the current state of things and offer liberating alternatives.
To begin with, the 2017 manifesto pledged that “Labour will recruit 10,000 more police officers to work on community beats, equivalent to at least one more for every neighbourhood in the country.”. It would be a mistake to recognise this pledge as socialist policy. Historically, the UK police force was not created to control rates of violent crime but was established to discipline the urban poor, to maintain order in a new exploitative industrial economy and justify the ideology that supported it.
The militia that became the basis of the London Metropolitan Police was funded by wealthy merchants to protect their property, whilst similar forces were formed in agricultural colonies to suppress slave revolts. Today, as in the past, the Police forces are an instrument of state power to protect the status-quo. The racism that is institutionalised within the police force (see Macpherson Report, 1999), complimented by their primary objective to serve and protect the interests of capital, can only cause harm to people of colour and the poorest, most vulnerable in society.
We, as civil society, should be developing institutions of our own that offer alternatives from the broken institutions of state power. True emancipatory pledges would be the support the development of systems of localised justice based on community accountability and restorative methods. The Labour Party remains wedded to the state, which will continue to act as the organs of power in the interests of capital.
You don’t have to trudge much further into the manifesto to find another shameful pledge; “Labour will recruit 500 more border guards to add to our safeguards and controls.”. Borders are the constructed divisions carved into the dirt by means of force. They are not “safeguards”. They were designed to ensure the geographical dispersal of social power between the ruling elites of Europe, and then exported through colonialism.
Forged through violence, and justifying themselves through nationalist ideology, they justify the social construction of the “other” against which the followers of the nation are poised to defence. Such heroic defenders of the nation defend from prospects of collective intellectual flourishing and the creative cultivation that accompany freedom of movement and association. “We” have more in common with, and much to learn from, fellow migrant workers and students than with many of the careerist politicians of the Party. The task for civil society is to challenge the sovereignty of the nation-state through its archaic territorial boundaries in which bureaucratic authority rests its head.
Finally, regarding their economic pledges, the social democratic project aims to rejuvenate a Keynesian economic system for the 21st Century. The “government in waiting” puts public spending back at the top of its list of priorities, which will result in, as history apparently informs us, a healthy economy based on the illusion of a ‘happy medium’ between the interests of labour and capital. The promises of this ‘happy medium’ have gained an extraordinary wave of popular support after nearly a decade of accelerating austerity policies that prioritise the interests of capital über alles.
The Parliamentary Labour Party’s neo-Keynesian project aims to increase income and corporation tax, minimum wage and introduce rent controls and nationalisation. The overall goal of these policies is to increase aggregate demand for commodity consumption. The increase in purchasing power of the poorest is a much more desirable future than the precariousness of the present, but is certainly no utopia. The existence of a welfare state is perfectly compatible with a repressive state.
The crowds of cheer for Corbyn’s Labour have begun to drown out the debates surrounding the violent nature of the state and party shares an intimacy with the state that can only be dangerous to ignore. The Labour Party, in taking over the organs of power that is the state, becomes intertwined with the interests of capital. Social democratic regulated capitalism maintains the same enforced social relations as are those supported by neo-liberal capitalism. Capitalism, under Labour, will certainly have a smiling face as it extracts and appropriates profit from every element of our everyday lives.
That is not to say, however, that we shun the idea of electing a social democratic government. In an era where there is a deeply disturbing number of deaths resulting from a relentless attack on welfare, it would take a ludicrous level of privilege to abstain from such an election. But the task is for us to remain critical and offer emancipatory alternatives, rather than shelving revolutionary demands.
Whilst unflagging support for the Party may drown out some radical debate, it cannot be denied that Labour has dragged mainstream political debate to the left. This shift provides space for critical, radical debate which must be seized upon. Vote for the Party, even campaign for them, but remain vigilant; for as long as the Party remains wedded to state power they will be complicit in violent reaction against mass democratic power, internationalism and anti-capitalism.
Photo Credit: The photo taken is the Labour Party’s official logo, which has been edited by Sean Benstead.