On our duty as members of the Labour party in the era of the present crisis


This piece was originally posted on medium by the left-leaning journalist Gawain Sprout (The Guardian, The Telegraph, Blood and Soil); following a twitterstorm, it has been deleted. Having screengrabbed it in order to mock certain central passages on twitter, I here reproduce it in its entirety.

We are all of us, reading this, members of the Labour party. The Labour party cannot be escaped: it is everywhere, an as it were sacred duty that forces itself upon us at all times, in each and every one of our actions. I don’t just mean everyone ‘on the left’ here, or even everyone in Britain. I mean every single member of humanity. If you are a human being at all, it is necessary to posit that you are a member of the Labour party. Thus Labour’s fate, is our fate – it is something that, as a species, we all share.

Why does the Labour party exist? Well, technically, the Labour party was founded in 1900 out of the Trade Union movement – this is what you will read in party histories. But this is not the real reason why the Labour party exists. The Labour party in fact exists to save creation from itself, to redeem the whole created, material world. What existed before the Labour party – and, what exists outside of the Labour party today – tends by itself inevitably to one thing: Tory-ness. Creation is destructive, selfish; it is posh, and elitist. Every objective tendency in creation seeks to brutalise immigrants, to lock up the homeless; the natural order of things wants a less favourable deal for working families; a better one for bankers. Creation wants to privatise schools, and healthcare; it wants to sell off every single one of the state’s assets. Creation hates women, and queers, and all members of ethnic and religious minorities. Creation wants to pursue short-sighted energy policies that will surely, in the long-term, spell environmental disaster; creation is enthusiastic about leaving the EU. Creation is war, it is death, it is plague – and it is constantly coming up with new evils to inflict upon itself.

It is into this rotten, Toryish creation that the Labour party must step: the Labour party must reach into this Tory world and alter its causality, it must strive to bring about the better, when every fibre of existence outside of Labour conspires only for the worst. With its policies, the Labour party must push back against Tory inevitability – at a minimum, Labour must make itself a dam, shoring up existence against the worst that Toryism can do; for preference, it must seek to win from the world the sort of real gains represented by things like the creation of the NHS – the sort of gains that somehow manage to make the world, in a lasting and long-term way, both quantitatively and qualitatively less Tory.

Hence, the Labour party is not a ‘political party’ in any usual sense of the word. What it does cannot be considered, strictly speaking, political – membership of the Labour party is not a political decision, it does not express a political choice or orientation: it is far too fundamental for that. To be an ethical agent as such, to act in the world in a way that attempts to bring about what is good for oneself and for others at all, is – always already – to act as a member of the Labour party.

This is why the fate of the Labour party matters.

This is why what happens to the UK Labour party is literally the most important thing in the world.

The Labour party, one hardly needs to point out, is presently in crisis. There are, perhaps, a great many complicated reasons for this crisis, or at least for the exact way in which it has manifested itself. But in truth, the conflict in the Labour party can really be boiled down to one thing: strategy. Given that we have inherited, as members of the Labour party, a sacred duty to redeem creation, how do we then bring this redemption about? That is the issue that currently threatens to cleave the Labour party in two.

Historically, the members of the Labour party (that is: the human race as such), have always answered this question with one voice, thusly: one redeems creation, by convincing it to vote for you. In order to act transformatively on a bad, Toryish creation, one must present to it a Labour party programme that it is willing to endorse at the ballot box. Only through compromising with evil, can one win the sort of power over it necessary to enact real change.

Of course, achieving this sort of compromise is very difficult – it requires some real, powerful magic to discern what the inscrutable, inhuman, Toryish order of things desires; it takes genuine cunning to work out how best to present a Labour inflection of this desire. That is why, historically, only very few individuals have ever really managed the trick – Ramsay MacDonald, Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson, Tony Blair… and the majority of these individuals ended up being consumed by the very Toryism that they had, once, dedicated their lives to holding back.This can quite easily be seen with the figure that Blair cuts today: a hated, despised thing, his brain frazzled by the power of the magic he was once able to so readily conjure, overloaded by the affinity it was his duty to establish towards the bad order of things. Blair appears on the news wide-eyed, frantic, gibbering about why he has no regrets about plunging the Middle East into Apocalyptic tumult; half-mumbling bizarre rants about why Labour need to make it clear that, if elected, they would unleash the Zohar Virus upon an unwitting mankind.

It is, in part, thanks to the example of figures like Blair that Labour members have become convinced that getting reality to vote Labour is not – or at the very least, is not by itself – sufficient to redeem it from itself. Labour has historically attempted to establish a dialogue with reality, confident that once it does so, its tendency will win. The example of Blair, however, shows the dialogue seeming to go the wrong way: it turns Labour Tory, not creation Labour.

Hence, the alternative strategy that is today manifested within the Labour party, within the human species, in the form of Jeremy Corbyn. Perhaps, the consensus amongst Labour party increasingly goes, the way to win genuinely transformative power over creation is not to attempt to meet it halfway at all. Perhaps, so the Corbyn story goes, one ought to attempt to win power by simply stating, to reality, what you think it should be like, with no attempt at all to appeal to it beyond that. And maybe, then, reality will, somehow, simply accept your programme: it will see that it represents a better vision of what it ought to be, than its present Toryness, and it will transform itself accordingly.

Of course, as all clever London-based journalists like me are able to work out, the problem with this strategy is that it will simply never work. Though the Canary-reading dullards who increasingly seem to comprise a clear majority of the human population are unable to see this, the Corbyn strategy is really just nothing more than wishful thinking: reality is utterly evil, destructive, and racist – so we have absolutely no reason to think that it could ever want to be better than it already is. Corbynism is simply, wilfully, deaf to this fact. Hence, Corbynism will ultimately leave reality to its own devices – through it, Labour members will become beautiful souls, spinning frictionless from the evils of how reality is.

But if Corbynism were the only problem here, then really the crisis would be very simple to solve. All we would need to do is oust the heresy of Corbynism from the party, or perhaps just wait for it to fail – then we could revive the old strategy, and set about attempting to get reality to vote for us again. But Labour’s issues run deeper than that. Because, accompanying the loss of faith in the party’s old methods, has also come the loss of the ability to reproduce them.

Of course, there are still plenty of Labour members – especially, prominent ones, the sort of Labour members who have taken the sacred rites and been inducted as MPs – who continue to strive to apply the old methods to creation. But at some point, subsequent to the retirement of Blair, the knowledge of how to do so was lost. Who knows how this happened, or why: but the problem is clear. The compromise strategy requires some sort of ability to listen to the inhuman, Tory order of things – it requires some sort of insight into what reality desires. Only then can one pitch one’s electoral programme accordingly. This is just what the current ‘moderate’ wing of the Labour party seem unable to do. The old lore that allowed Blair to so effectively resonate with the desires of the electorate is gone – reality has, for his successors, fallen dumb.

In the last general election, the signs were already there, for instance in the form of big rocks: the dogwhistle racism of the ‘Edstone’ was a clumsy gesture convincing to no-one. And, since Miliband’s defeat, things have only really gotten worse: interim leader Harriet Harman’s hard line against the right of welfare recipients to continue to eat; Corbyn challenger Owen Smith’s desperate attempt to establish his working class credentials by denying the existence of cappuccino. The Labour moderates are, as it were, rehearsing the old formulas, the old spells that were once, in very different conditions, successful – but they lack the vitality to really cast them. Whatever magic persists in their words is destined to explode in their face.

And so, the Labour party has been torn apart by a debate concerning two strategies: one of which can never work in theory, and the other of which will never – at least by these people – be made workable in practice. It is imperative, of course, that the crisis is resolved – because, until this happens, Toryism will be left unmolested to its worst excesses; there will be no possibility of anyone achieving what is good or right for this world.

Now, the simplest way for this impasse to be resolved would be by one of the two strategies being shown to have a chance of success – thus, that the theory stating that the Corbyn strategy can’t work is in fact flawed; that the empirical evidence does not in fact suggest the moderates are bound for failure. This is, of course, desperately unlikely – hence, I think, the interminable nature of the crisis.

There could also be some third strategy that emerges, one which is indeed genuinely workable – both sides of the argument could then, quite happily, adopt this strategy. But this prospect is utopian – we can dream it as a formula with which to solve the impasse, but if such a strategy did in fact exist, I mean even as a mere logical possibility, then it would probably already be available to us.

Luckily there is, I think, an additional way in which we might solve the crisis. Call this the thinkpiece alternative. It is my alternative, and this is really where journalists become so imperative, because what this alternative consists in is: we all write, read, consume, and share, endless navel-gazing blog posts about the future of the Labour party. We all attempt to form some really hard-hitting, powerful questions for one or the other side to think about; we all strive to get to the heart of why Corbynism is wrong, or why anyone opposing him is really just a Tory, and we share these thoughts and interventions on the blogging platform, medium. Whilst no one of these pieces will, in truth, be able to do this as effectively and as graciously as possible; whilst each individual writer will, in some sense, prove themselves intellectually unrigorous and dishonest; whilst the sole immediate effects of almost every single one of these pieces will just be for everyone to get more and more mad at each other, for the debate to become more and more toxic and internal and polarised, over time, the process will complete – and, through it, we will haved obtained every single possible perspective on what the Labour party is, and why it is like that. And then, having read and shared all of these pieces, each and every single one of us, we will all have been able to form a truly holistic understanding of the Labour party, and its crisis. Then, and only then, with this understanding of Labour having been obtained, will the stage be set for its resurrection – thus, for the real possibility, once again, of this Tory creation’s redemption.

[My readers will, I think, be interested in what I have to say about this piece. It is my view that it is confused from the start. For Sprout, the present Labour crisis is of such pressing importance because he is – like most of his ilk – professedly unable to separate the possibility of ethical action as such from membership of the Labour party. But it is far from clear that this is indeed the case, I mean that it is really true for human beings. If one could find some way to act rightly, towards the good, against the wrong, outside of the context of the Labour party, then one could perhaps ignore this interminable debate about the party’s future entirely. Of course, that does not mean that it is not incredibly difficult to see this possibility – I’m a little hazy on what it might mean myself. But perhaps, in truth, the Corbyn movement represents its first shoots. Sprout considers Corbynism wishful thinking because he sees it, as he does everything, wholly confined to the context of the Labour party. But perhaps this is a mistake. Perhaps the instinct behind Corbynism is somehow extra-Labourian, perhaps it does not need the Labour party and its logic to be successful. – TW]

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