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It was Ed Miliband’s father who said ‘Of political parties claiming socialism to be their aim, the Labour Party has always been one of the most dogmatic – not about socialism, but about the parliamentary system.’ Labour’s deep faith in Westminster politics, and its dismissal of extra-parliamentary organising, was apparent throughout the leadership contest. The Labour right thought that ‘one person one vote’ would deliver them a decisive win. They dismissed the anger, the organisation, the politicisation of those at the grassroots, of those struggling in communities. MPs proved themselves distanced even from their own party’s membership, among which half voted for Corbyn.
The inspirational result represents a unique opportunity, one that we must seize with many hands. But this does not mean putting all our organisational capacity into Labour. Ralph Miliband recognised the importance of socialists inside and outside the party collaborating to build a plural, not purely electoral, politics. He decided to do this from outside the party, but closely collaborated with many inside – through the Chesterfield Socialist Conferences for instance, from which we may now be able to learn. Inside or outside was not the question; how to build an effective movement was. Corbyn stands in this tradition, and he can find allies at the grassroots also looking to revive it.
Corbyn’s success is just one reason to be hopeful. The emergence of a new wave of groups organising in creative and radical ways to tackle cuts is another. Organisations such as Sisters Uncut, a group of women working to stop cuts to domestic violence services, and the radical new black organising group Black Dissidents are led by people often excluded from the white middle-class face of activism.
For those embedded in the daily struggle of defending disability rights, housing or education, Corbyn’s success could be as much a threat as opportunity. Energy can easily be sucked into the vortex of the Labour Party, only to later dissipate in frustration and compromise. Structures are needed that straddle and blur the party boundary line.
A new network of local organising groups made up of community members and trade union activists, as well as sympathetic Labour members and supporters, is one option. Such a network could strengthen local campaigns and also serve as a counter to Labour’s magnetic pull towards Westminster, connecting to people’s lived realities. It could provide a mechanism for communities across Britain to contribute to policy-making in a meaningful way. It would be crucial to ensure participation reflected the community it was based in. Mixing up where meetings happen, be it schools, mosques or social centres, would be one way of ensuring this.
At Red Pepper we’re asking people to join us in creating a democratic and diverse network of activists on those lines. If you’re interested sign up at redpepper.org.uk/corbynnetwork.
Right now I can’t help but be excited; there are possibilities that were unimaginable just a few months ago. What will we build from this moment? That all depends on who jumps in and starts the construction.