Winner of the New Statesman SPERI Prize in Political Economy 2016

Thursday 11 August 2016

Entryism and Corbyn supporters

Owen Jones writes “Corbyn’s opponents .. are, by turns, bewildered, infuriated, aghast, miserable about the rise of Corbynism. But they should take ownership of it, because it is their creation.” I have argued the same in the past, but I would go further. If this crisis within Labour does prove as destructive as I fear it will be, it will be a result of the behaviour of many of Corbyn’s opponents. It is their actions and words which make compromise between the membership and the PLP so elusive.

As I argued in my post on the future of the Labour party (the gist is in the title: Mutually Assured Destruction) those who tried to undermine Corbyn’s leadership from the start in a very public way (I called them the anti-Corbynistas) became in the eyes of most Corbyn supporters their opposition. As a result, they see the vote of no confidence as just an extension of this anti-Corbynista activity, and therefore believe they must defend their original choice at all costs.

While this characterisation of all of the PLP is wide of the mark, the way the anti-Corbynistas characterise Corbyn supporters is far more bizarre. Their model is Trotsky style entryism. This was very real in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s, and my one and only experience of standing for election when I was a student involved defeating them. They were always small in number. [1] Their modus operandi was taking over other organisations through a mixture of subterfuge, strategy and persistence, targeting in particular groups where more traditional support had become moribund.

What has actually happened over the last few year to the Labour party in the UK is very different. Labour’s increased membership is similar to the support for Sanders in the US and the rise of the ‘new left’ in other European countries. Of course those who were previously in far left fringe groups will be getting involved, but in this case they are a tiny minority in an organisation that has become rejuvenated as a result of Corbyn (as his opponent in the forthcoming elections, Owen Smith, has acknowledged). If you really want to know who these new Labour party members are, read this post from the Very Public Sociologist, or this article by Ellie Mae O'Hagan or this from Helen Lewis. These accounts chime with my own experience. Militant entryists they are not. Of course this wave of new support contains a fringe of entryists as well as a fringe of intolerant twitter trolls, but to characterise the whole by this fringe is to wilfully misunderstand it.

As Ellie Mae O'Hagan describes, Corbyn supporters are also a group with few representatives in the media (and I’m talking Guardian not Mail), which allows too many in the Westminster-centric media to dismiss them as Socialist Worker fodder. Of course for those journalists in the right wing press who are not sympathetic to Labour, entryism is an attractive story to tell. For those on the right of the party who know this membership will never support their side, the myth of entryism provides a convenient excuse to pursue measures to exclude them. But if you are neither of those and want to influence this new membership, the last thing you do is go on about entryism. Which is the trap Tom Watson fell into earlier this week. [2]

Just as the anti-Corbynistas are happy to falsely characterise Labour party members who support Corbyn as either entryists or being under their sway, so they also claim that Corbyn and McDonnell never intended to try and work with the PLP. Instead it was always an entryist plot. I am called naive when I have suggested otherwise in the past. What I have actually said is that cooperation with the PLP was the only path that offered the new leadership any chance of success, which is what my MAD post is all about. But of course the anti-Corbynista claim about the leaderships real motives is unprovable: the leadership trying to work with the PLP (as it did) can be put down to pretence, and when the leadership failed it could be put down to deliberate intention rather than lack of ability.

The group whose motives are really suspect are the anti-Corbynistas. With Corbyn’s election in 2015 they saw their ability to influence the party slipping away, and have subsequently done everything they can to ensure it disappeared out of sight. They have publicly undermined the leadership, giving Corbyn supporters a clear excuse to ignore the polls. They have attempted to exclude Corbyn from this new election, allowing Corbyn’s supporters to say that by voting for Corbyn they are standing up for democracy. They have called Corbyn supporters entryists when most are clearly not. If they really wanted to win hearts and minds they have been utterly useless, and as a byproduct have probably destroyed hopes of any kind of compromise. (I have lost count of the number of times I have been told by Corbyn supporters that Owen Smith is bound to come under the sway of the anti-Corbynistas.) It is not clear to me yet whether this behaviour is just incompetence, or whether it is they who really have an undeclared objective, which is to split the left.

[1] Colin Talbot argues that because these organisations had high churn, there are a lot of ‘ex-Trots’ out there. “It is this mass of vaguely ‘socialist’ middle-aged ex-Trots – and there are an awful lot more of them than they or anyone else probably realized until recently – that might explain a lot of the ‘Corbyn’ phenomena. Disillusioned with Blair (mainly over one single issue – Iraq), despondent of Labour ever winning again anyway, they have turned to Corbyn as the political equivalent of going out and buying a Harley.”

But maybe these ‘ex-Trots’ are ‘ex’ because they went off the concept of entryism - like the author himself. Being disillusioned by Iraq and despondent at Labour losing in 2015 are virtues. The implication that by supporting Corbyn they somehow have not grown out of their youthful behaviour is nothing more than an opinion.

[2] He said “There are Trots that have come back to the party, and they certainly don’t have the best interests of the Labour party at heart. They see the Labour party as a vehicle for revolutionary socialism, and they’re not remotely interested in winning elections, and that’s a problem. But I don’t think the vast majority of people that have joined the Labour party and have been mobilised by the people that are in Momentum are all Trots and Bolsheviks.” My italics, suggesting his analysis is similar to mine. But then he went on about “old hands twisting young arms”, which is really not a good way to persuade those with young arms!


  1. Centre-left, social democratic parties which have been in government in the advanced economies seem to be fated to increase the future number of centre-right party voters - and to repel many of their core supporters. In the handful of European countries where they are in power their grip is tenuous. Elsewhere their prospects of securing power are diminishing.

    So, even if the 'left' in Britain - however that might be defined - were totally united it would still fall short of securing a parliamentary majority. At the last general election the Tories and UKIP secured almost 50% of the votes cast. All of the current indications suggest that if an election were held in the near future they would secure far more than 50% of the votes cast. The principal difference between the outcome of the current FPTP voting system and a more proportional voting system would be a whopping Tory majority under the former and a Tory-UKIP coalition under the latter.

    The Labour party is irrevocably split. There is little point in trying to determine which side is the more to blame. There is more than enough blame to go around - and there are faults on both sides. The FPTP voting system and the need to retain access to the "title" and structure of the party is preventing a formal separation. But it would be better if such a separation were to take place (perhaps generating parties similar to the SPD and Die Linke in Germany). The eventual realignment of politics might generate the basis for a governing coalition when voters eventually and inevitably tire of this Tory dominance.

    And in terms of oppositional economic policy it might make sense to dial down the emphasis on macro issues and to focus on micro and sectoral matters such as collective action problems and addressing the exploitative behaviour of oligpolistic firms providing essential services and the manifest failures of economic regulation and competition policy.

    1. Except that the SPD would rather partner and prop up the CDP than Die Linke.

  2. I wonder about people like Watson, who can't see the irony of complaining about small groups organising and manipulating rules in order to take control, while being part of the same themselves.

    But the latest Trots-under-the-bed alarm is part of a pattern, following on from scare stories about anti-semitism, misogyny and vandalism/abuse.

    Talbot is interesting. IMHO (as I was also part of it in the past) it's true that there are a lot of ex-left radicals out there, because turnover was very high. But, as you imply, he ignores one main factor in that turnover, that those radicals got alienated by being manipulated by the hardcore. As such, these returnees are *less* likely to be responsive to entryists.

    And their only complaint certainly wouldn't just have been the Iraq war ...

  3. Oh, and there is another excellent demolition of entryism here.

  4. I agree with the argument of this post. But given its correctness, your support for Owen Smith makes no sense.You implicitly reject the claim that Smith will come under the sway of anti-Corbynistas. But what grounds do you have for thinking that he is not already a closet anti-Corbynista? Given his history as a lobbyist for Pfizer (an organization that has donated funds to Progress) and his past statements in favour of the Iraq war and PFI (see it is quite easy to imagine him turning round once he has won the leadership election, halting or reversing the democratization within the Labour Party and returning to the policies of triangulation and appeasement of the right wing press. With Corbyn in charge, we can be sure the democratization of the party and the rejection of triangulation will continue.

    This leads to another question: do you know anything about this topic that we, the readers of your blog, don't? There are two reasons to read the blog. The first is that you are a professional economist who can give simple explanations of economic concepts. The second is that you have been acting as an economic adviser to the current Labour leadership. This creates the expectation that you might have some kind of inside knowledge. But if you don't, then your opinions on internal Labour politics are not really any better than those the rest of us can form by reading the newspapers.

    1. Your first paragraph is indicative of too much thinking among Corbynistas and their opponents: you have to completely for us or against us. So I agree, when some of us appear in between it is confusing. But why is there any contradiction between this post, and thinking that any party where 172 MPs vote no confidence in their leader has no future under that leader?

      As to you second paragraph, I started writing about politics for two reasons. First, a great deal of politics is about economics (its political economy). Second, I thought I had things to say which were not being said elsewhere. That - alas - continues to be the case, as the example of Corbyn illustrates.

      As to 'inside knowledge': of course being part of the EAC has informed my views, but I wrote when that started that I was not going to give a blow by blow account of that experience and I will stick to that because it is the right thing to do. However when Danny Blanchflower resigned, most of the rest of us felt we had to make a statement, and that included a comment about the referendum campaign. In my view Corbyn's line in the campaign was wrong, and whether it contributed to the defeat or not that informs my view about the current leadership.

    2. Thank you for your reply. I don't think - nor do I think I suggested in what I wrote above - that you have to be completely for or against one side or the other. But we are being presented with a binary choice - vote Corbyn or vote Smith - and by necessity you are choosing one side over the other. The question is whether your reasons for making the choice as you do are sound. You're right that, strictly speaking, there's no contradiction between what you say in the post above and the view that a party has no future under a leader whom its MPs don't accept. As other commenters have said, whether or not one votes for Smith is a matter of trust. In some of your comments in relation to earlier posts, you have asserted that Corbyn's supporters have achieved what they wanted, the implication being that the rejection of triangulation and the turn towards internal democracy that Corbyn's election have brought about will continue whoever wins the present leadership election. But do you honestly trust Smith to preserve these achievements?

      Having written this, it strikes me that you have said in earlier exchanges that you are more doubtful of Corbyn’s commitment to the EU than you are of Smith’s motives. So I suppose we must conclude that given the choice you imagine between Labour ceasing to be a triangulating, neoliberal party and a slightly increased likelihood of our remaining part of the single market, you prefer the latter.

    3. Being French and pro-EU I am nevertheless quite critical about EU on some issues. EU is not perfect and Corbyn did say so and in that way he reflected the opinion of many people. Being 10/10 EU is telling people critics are not welcomed or irrelevant and displays an approach with no nuance and reflexion. I thought Corbyn was very smart to go for the 7/10. That way, he told to Brexit people : "I hear you, I am aware of your concerns which are not necessarily irrelevant and I eventually share some of them but like myself you should reconsider it again and vote for Remain in order to improve EU". I thought that was quite smart and according to many comments I read in newspapers accusing Corbyn of not having done enough (when even Angela Eagle did say the press was not paying attention to his campaign) many switched to remain because of this 7/10 that was telling them "you are not idiots, your concern are worth considering but with your help and your vote for remain we will change that". After all, Labour did not do so bad and ended up more pro EU than the Torys... The irony is that the most virulent MPs attacking Corbyn on this issue saw their consituency in favor of Brexit when 70% of his own voted for Remain...In a way, I am not far from thinking that his 7/10 and cautious attitude did very well in favor of Remain. Also Owen Smith forgets that if Corbyn had say he was for Remain 10/10, the press will have focus on how disingenuous he was and a liar (could not be trusted) and take it as usual as a great opportunity to put him down...

    4. " . . . and thinking that any party where 172 MPs vote no confidence in their leader has no future under that leader?"
      Why not reverse that? i.e. has no future with those MPs? How many of those 172 truly have a personal mandate (as opposed to being elected because they stood for Labour). And is not the real answer to this problem - that they all ask their constituencies in open reselection primaries for their support? If they get it, then Corbyn must go. If they don't, then they should go. And stop wasting money in the country's courts.

    5. Unlike some, I don't have a problem with a more nuanced approach to the issues around this leadership contest - to recognise that there have been MPs who opposed Jeremy's leadership from its inception but also consider that losing the confidence of the majority of the PLP makes his position untenable. Besides, many have defended Corbyn from the charge that his 'shades of grey' approach to issues (7.5/10 for the EU, views on police 'shoot-to-kill' etc) is not what an electorate hungry for unambiguous, easily digested soundbites wants. It would hardly be fair to then take umbrage when those who don't agree with him adopt the same!

      Perhaps you have greater insight into this, but is it really safe to take for granted those all 172 no-confidence MPs are now, forever and all time, unable to work effectively with a Corbyn leadership? Some, I am sure, fall into that group, but the vote of no confidence was partly a snapshot of feeling in the febrile post-referendum atmosphere as well as leverage for those who clearly believed he would resign. What happens if he instead wins this leadership contest with a similar or improved mandate - backed by an expanded membership and a newly supportive NEC? Would there not be MPs among the 172 who viewed these are signs that they had a duty to work with him? Would there not be those who considered that the best way to endow his leadership with confidence is now to work alongside him and to assist him in his and the party's job?

      Aside from that, I think it is legitimate to worry about what an Owen Smith leadership would mean in terms of continuing to democratise the party, engage with what would be an alienated membership, and continue developing a coherent and comprehensive opposition to neoliberal ideology. The broad backing he has after all includes MPs who saw the 2015 GE as a sign the party needed to move in the absolutely opposite direction to its path under Corbyn. Owen Smith has already stated that he would form a shadow cabinet including all wings of the party - yet the fact that he would not work under Jeremy after the election suggests that what he has in mind here applies far more to the right at the expense of the left. What would happen to those promising MPs from the 2015 intake - Clive Lewis, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Cat Smith and others - who are currently supporting and serving on Jeremy's front-bench? What about John McDonnell, who elsewhere you have praised but would almost certainly be the first figure returned to the backbenches? Where is the evidence that an Owen Smith leadership would not return to a comfort zone of centrally controlled policy, apathetic membership and working on terrain defined by ideological opponents that Jeremy's election was an explicit vote against?

      Secondly, while I believe that political economy is the central subject influencing and determining the nature of policy elsewhere, it can't be forgotten that some of Corbyn's most determined opposition in the PLP is based on other areas - foreign and defence in particular. I worry that a victory for Owen Smith would represent a return to the attenuated debate that has prevailed for far too long in Labour about these issues - a debate that is defined largely by special interests and a perceived need to appear like a legitimate government-in-waiting. This may be important, but it should never preclude certain subjects from discussion and reassessment - but I see some evidence that this is what would happen again should Owen Smith become leader.

  5. Trust works both ways the voting record of the plp is poor there for those they seem to not want to be able to effect the policies they want!Corbyn offers hope it may well be a false hope but it is far better than being ostracised by people you have lost trust in!and being told we've changed,PLP whether you split the party or not,it will be you who will be under scrutiny by the public,you can't hide your actions on the media backing your position,it maybe you want to offer the (a) dream but so many are living the reality!
    I agree with your analysis a true tour de force,your thoughts on Corbyn,but many years ago, i said hope is a very important and powerful virtue that should not be underestimated,Thatcher offered it and so does Corbyn maybe if someone else did then Corbyn wouldn't be such a force himself,since he as been seen in this manner before!

  6. Nice post. Things well said.

    While I was open to considering Smith, the actions of the 'anti-Corbynista' faction has hardened my view. So much nonsense and propaganda. I will vote for Corbyn along with EVERYONE else I know in the party.

    The media message (on many fronts, but particularly on this one) has lost nearly all credibility - especially for the younger generation. People don't accept what they are told anymore - for better or for worse.

  7. I thought it was a good time to buy and read Tony Wright's 'Doing Politics' (2012), the academic who as MP for Labour (1992-2010, Cannock Chase) believes he was the first person to publicly nominate Blair for the leadership, and who also in 2003 did not vote for the Iraq war.

    Wright piloted through the FOI legislation, as well as being turned to when the expenses scandal broke to clean up a mess he had been warning about for over a decade.

    Well, it's an excellent book.

    And of his six categories of MP he thinks inhabits the Commons, I would guess that Jeremy Corbyn is what Wright calls a 'fixed cannon', a subset of the 'loose cannons', "ones which are are likely to shoot friends as enemies. These are the ideological warriors, not Loners because they are often highly organised, but likely to fire off in unpredictable directions."

    And Owen Smith would be a 'loyalist' in a Party in which a professional class of politician living in a bubble has been becoming increasingly troublesome when its comes to their ability to represent those outside their Westminster careerism. Wright quotes Lord Turnbull in 2010 as saying "there is a growing trend for people to come into politics more or less straight from university. They lick envelopes in Central Office, become a Special Advisor, and on and on it goes, and by the time they are in their mid-thirties they are Cabinet Ministers, barely touching the sides of real life."

    Change 'Cabinet' above for Shadow Cabinet, then look at Corbyn's ability to alienate so many of his Party colleagues, and Wright looks prescient indeed.

  8. Simon, I think I am quite typical of a lot of Corbyn supporters. As a "centrist" Labour support in the late 90s, I was depressed with the authoritarian shift that Labour took under Blair and Brown, and actively campaigned for, and voted for, the Lib Dems in 2010. After they governed so disasterously, I switched back to Labour and actually paid up my membership fees, but was so dismayed by their mindless dog whistle campaign in the run up to the 2015 general election I considered quitting.

    I still don't think the PLP understand why they lost that election. Like thousands of other centre-left voters, I voted for Corbyn as a way of sending a message that the proactively passive direction (no policies, no principles, no arguments, no direction) the party had taken under Miliband had been a disaster and that more of the same would only see the situation deteriorate even further.

    I see the PLP as to the right of the centre ground, possibly even to the right of the Tories. If Smith gets in, Labour are finished, forever. If Corbyn gets in, they at least stand a chance of continuing as a political party.

  9. If Smith isn't going to come under the sway of the anti-Corbynites, he needs to stand up to them - essentially by taking your advice from a few posts ago. Unless and until he does so, nobody who's worried about the anti-Corbynites' influence in the party will (or should) put their trust in him.

    But the main point I wanted to make was just to thank you for writing this - good points well argued & referenced. (Can I also plug my post on entryism, particularly for anyone curious about the numbers involved.) The word 'entryist' is rapidly ceasing to have any meaning; Stephen Kinnock has applied it to Corbynites in general, despite the fact that Corbyn has been active in the Labour Party since S. Kinnock was in junior school.

  10. Quite. This is sinister stuff, reds under the bed and all that. The Guardian and Labour List are now full of little Tricky Dicky's smearing their opponents as Trots and Militants without the slightest idea of the terms that they bandy about so readily (or the allegiance of those they so readily accuse: I was 12 when Militant ran Liverpool!).

    Many new members are far too young for this ploy to be effective so we can only assume it's yet another attempt to disenfranchise members. Unlike you, I think Tom Watson knew exactly what he was doing, particularly when you read the NEC's defence in court today.

    This is cynical and dangerous stuff, which is why I've raised concerns about your choosing the wrong side. The Labour right have a long tradition of purging and intolerance. The church is only broad as long as the right/moderates are in charge.

    Can't disagree with a word you've posted today, mind. A refreshingly honest appraisal. I'd recommend everyone read Simon's links too. I'd add this one, just because it's from the BBC:

  11. This scrabbling attempt to flee the sinking ship of a failed coup is hilarious. Thanks for the laughs.

  12. You've made a very clear case on several occasions that it is wrong to say that the previous Labour government caused problems by excessive government spending. I agree with you. I'm very worried that only last year Owen Smith was feeding the myth of Labour fecklessness "Then there was the issue of the economy.

    Though everyone knows it was rubbish to compare Britain with Greece and crass party politics to go about waving a bit of paper shouting Labour spent all the money, people also know that Labour could have chosen to spend less in the last few years before the global crash and that we might have been better off if we had.

    Now that isn’t to say that we were wrong to invest in schools or hospitals, or wrong to use public money to stop the banks falling over and our savings from disappearing.

    But it is to acknowledge that when people asked the question, “Did we spend too much?” it wasn’t enough to simply say, “No.”

    There was a debate to be had, a record to defend and some failings to acknowledge.

    And our refusal to take that head-on, to ’fess up to shortcomings, was a key reason why people balked at putting us back in charge"

  13. From afar, I agree with your characterization of the "anti-Corbynistas". When Corbyn wins election as leader, for the second time in slightly more than a year (!), what do they do? Continue the effort to sabotage and bring him down? Negotiate a peace? What would offer some chance of redeeming themselves, the Labour Party and Corbyn, would be a serious effort on their part to reach a compromise, on goals and on Corbyn's tenure as leader. If the Tories calls an election soon, then Corbyn stands as leader. If they don't, then perhaps Corbyn, in exchange for support and unity, would agree to step down before the next election. Something along such lines has to be agreed to. Corbyn cannot win re-election and expect to lead the PLP. The PLP cannot win and expect to lead the membership. Separately both sides fail. Why can't they see this?

  14. It does seem to me that Colin Talbot's comments cannot reasonably be described as suggesting that the people involved 'have not grown out of their youthful behaviour'; his chosen example, ageing men buying Harleys, is obviously demonstrating something quite different.

    Corbyn had the power to challenge the entire 'Brexit Means Brexit' mantra, and take on the task of forcing Parliament to do what Parliament should do; after all, the legislation enabling the Referendum makes it clear that it is advisory, not prescriptive. Instead he chose to ignore the advice of almost all economists that there would be substantial job losses if Brexit happened, and abandoned those workers in favour of preserving his own job.

    I live in the City of London, and thus I am accustomed to being surrounded by the clamour of a semipermanent building site; in the weeks since the vote, and the subsequent realisation that no one was going to challenge the vote, it feels more like a mothballed set in a film studio.

    Looking at it from a purely selfish perspective this is fine; it's improving my quality of life. Yet I can't do that; it's only too obvious that people are losing their jobs, and if I can see that as a rotten thing to happen then surely the leader of the Labour Party must also see that. And yet he has made no attempt to prevent this by challenging the Tories to fight it in Parliament; instead he puts out statements assuring people that when he becomes Prime Minister he will create a million new jobs.

    I do feel that economists should consider and comment on whether that is a plausible claim.

  15. Smith is a non-starter. If he is genuine in his pretensions to genuine leftism (which I believe he probably is, at least partially), he will no sooner be elected as leader then there will be right-wing MPs backgrounding against him, probably leaking from inside cabinet where he will, I suspect, appoint many of them. It will be six to twelve months before he too is torn down - as an appeaser to 'Mad Corbyn'. A nicer suit but, sadly, just as unelectable. Miliband 2.0. Never forget that there were already plots afoot to take down Andy Burnham if he had won the leadership election. The right-wingers (for that is what they are) are determined to take back control. Only their excision from the party can end the madness.

  16. I fear you've crossed to the dark side, Simon. I don't think you meant to, I don't think you wanted to, I do think your intentions are honourable. I don't, however, know how you can align yourself with such dark forces. You will no doubt argue that I'm symptomatic of the wider problem, that of divisiveness, but it's not that straightforward: members of the PLP and the NEC are behaving appallingly. There's simply no escaping that fact, and you can't say you haven't been warned!

  17. Even more incisive post than usual. Thank you.

    But here’s the crux. The rebels have at their centre a (small) group who were determined from the first day of Corbyn's tenure to destroy him. They resolved to take any necessary actions, and they fight dirty. To start with, they thought they could destroy Corbyn and still save the Party, but as their own conniving has polarised people, they've realised that (if he wins again) the only way they can stop him is to undermine him so persistently that he and his ideas are wiped out at the next GE for a generation. This is of course "we had to destroy the village in order to save it" thinking - Labour would be wiped out for a generation as well.

    Now, only a fool would think Smith has anything to do with all this - ditto Watson, Eagle and Benn, although Eagle has proved to be a "useful idiot" to this core resistance. If Smith had been implicated, I would have though simple morality would lead us to support Corbyn - such appalling behaviour shouldn't be rewarded. But he isn't. As far as I can see, SWL's position is that since the core rebels will destroy the Labour party if Corbyn wins again and since this is not anything to do with with Smith himself and isn't within his control and isn't what he wants, we should support Smith. It's a good argument, but a damned one.

    I shall be unpacking my long spoon.

  18. 'AntiCorbynistas' - everyone who opposes Corbyn is the same, S W-L? I know you are referring to those within the PLP here, but many of MPs have views similar to mine. Many of us are just pro intelligent competent, strategic leadership, therefore, it follows, anti Corbyn, and his inner team. A lot of what you say about some who oppose him may indeed true, but none of that makes him the right person to lead Labour Very grateful to him for shaking up Labour though. It was long overdue

  19. I think what will really sink Owen Smith is the perception that he and those who back him are positioning themselves against the membership - something that today's Pyrrhic victory will do nothing to dispel. (I owe this point to David Wearing.) Obviously, letting it be known that you don't trust the members doesn't help in wooing those same members - at least, I'd have thought it was obvious.

    I wonder if one explanation for the anti-Corbynistas' behaviour is simply that they haven't reset their chronometers since Miliband's redesign of the electoral college. Under the old system, loudly condemning anything and anyone coming up from CLP level (while lamenting the under-representation of ordinary party members) wasn't just permissible, it was a positive vote-winner.

  20. S. W-L, thank you a well thought through piece of political and social analysis. There is also the point that the anti-Corbynistas have used those parts of the media that helped to perpetuate the myth of the Labour spending too much as a cause of the financial collapse of 2008 and, I believe, the BREXIT vote, as a means for attacking Corbyn. This is not just a matter of morale decay, but one of tactical error. As that approach adds to the authority of these media organisations and reinforces the party's reliance on them. In addition it places the PLP's preference to use these media to go over the heads of its membership. It's not just getting into 'bed with the Devil', but lays bare the Faustian pact between the two.

  21. The only true 'Entryists' in the Party are, of course, those dodgy Used Car-salesmen / PR operatives active in the highly destructive, lavishly-funded Blairite Progress group.

  22. This is a really excellent piece on the differences between what Smith & Corbyn are proposing.

  23. "the anti-Corbynista claim about the leaderships real motives is unprovable"

    No. The approach of Corbyn after 81% of MPs gave him a vote of no confidence proves beyond peradventure what the agenda is.

    Any other leader of Labour in history would have resigned at that point.

    That Corbyn did not, showed that he (and McDonnell, Fisher, Milne, Lansman et al) have a quite different agenda from that of previous leaders. Indeed their agenda is obvious to anyone who has followed the Bennite left over the last 40 years or so.

  24. Simon,

    I imagine that like most normal people you've limited interest in the long history of entryism, but I think you've somewhat underestimated their influence and the danger of their presence in a broader left movement.

    While of course prominent in the left of the 70s and 80s, entryism has much longer roots than that, starting with Lenin's advice to British Communists to enter the ILP in 1920 ( set out in left wing communism - an infantile disorder, with 'as the rope supports the hanging man' aimed at Labour's Arthur Henderson. From there you can trace the CPGB's efforts (on both party and individual basis) to affiliate to the Labour party, Trotsky's advice to communists to join the ILP, the various attempts to form popular or united fronts - which of course led to the expulsion of figures like Stafford Cripps and Nye Bevan, neither leninists themselves.

    After the second world war, with 'official' communism committed to the russian line, the main influence was Trotskyist, and here the careers of familiar figures like Ted Grant, Peter Taaffe, Tony Cliffe and Gerry Healy emerge. As revolutionary communists ,Gerry Healy was a 'deep entryist', helping Foot and Bevan in the battles of the 50s, even writing for Tribune, Ted Grant nearly became a Labour MP in 1955 and there were endless front groups intended to bring the Labour non-marxist left into their orbit - Ken Coates (later an MEP!)'s IG/IMG often involved especially when Tariq Ali was at his height. The entrusts may have reached their high watermark in the 70s and 80s, but that was the culmination of a battle begun much, much earlier.

    Nor was it confined to the Labour party. The importance of the Labour party to marxists lies only in its place as the voice of the working class. Other voices - from the Trade Unions to the Media can be pursued. That's why Trotskyist papers are tabloid in style, and it's also why you find so many far leftists entrenched positions on Union Councils, STWC, CND and so on.

    The point of all this is to say that yes, of course the vast majority of those who support Corbyn are not Marxists, lefininists or anything at all of that nature. The average momentum supporter is no more a Marxist than the average PCS or CND member is. Yet both PCS and CND have major entryist presence at the very top from just one of the old Trotskyist groups, -CND General Sec Kate Hudson is ex CP and the dominant faction in PCS is Socialist party (the old Militant Tendency).

    In both cases, a relatively large membership organisation finds that it is being run by people who have a very particular perspective, who although small in number are persistent, active and opportunist. The results are almost always a disaster. The warnings about entryism from "Blairites" like me are not simply an attempt to smear momentum supporters as trots, but the result of seeing that far from being allies, the heirs of lenin's revolutionary democratic centralism are enemies of the reformism of of the Labour party. One of the very many tragedies of Labour not is that whether from our own errors on the 'right', the relative ease of criticising 'centrists' in government and the little kudos gained by highlighting the dangers of Trotskyist ideology or organisation, or the propaganda and persistence of the leninist vanguards, many Corbynites regard supporters of social democracy as enemies and leninists as -at worst- a nuisance and at best, useful allies. All the while, there seems to be little idea what Leninism means for 'popular' organisations, or what such groups think of radical reformists like Corbyn, and of their supporters. Remember though, whatever you think of "Blairites", to the leninist, it is you who are the hanged men supported by their revolutionary thread.

    1. "Yet both PCS and CND have major entryist presence at the very top from just one of the old Trotskyist groups, -CND General Sec Kate Hudson is ex CP and the dominant faction in PCS is Socialist party (the old Militant Tendency)."

      Just like New Labour. Mandelson (CP), Darling (IMG), Reid (CP), Byers (SWP), etc., etc. Guilt by association in the LP is a fool's game.

      You could equally argue that the Progress group are entryists - after all they have behaved in the classic pattern.

      The point currently is not whether entryism is or is not occurring (I'd be surprised if it wasn't), but what actual influence is being achieved. The answer to which is liable to be "some" and "small". It's just another conspiracy theory being used to smear Corbyn.

    2. I share Hopi's knowledge base with regard to this one, but I come at it from such a different angle that it's as if he was commentating on the Grand National and drawing significant lessons from the number of horses whose names begin with a vowel. I don't think his observations are wrong, exactly, but I don't think they have the meaning or the significance that he finds in them.

      I've known and worked with members of four or five different Trot groups, and ex-members of another five or six (including some of the really scary ones). Most of those people have been bright, open-minded and imaginative; just about all of them have been hard workers; and all of them have been committed to short- and medium-term goals which I (very much not a Trot) could happily share. Many of them have engaged in caucusing and backstairs plotting, but the Labour Right can hardly claim to be innocent on that front. (I wonder if any organised group anywhere is entirely innocent; perhaps stitch-ups are to democratic organisations as office politics is to offices.) In the longer term I'm sure they supported the expropriation of private capital, the collectivisation of land, the militarisation of labour and God knows what else, but since the glorious day was clearly not about to dawn I didn't let those things come between us.

      Yes, a small and organised group can exert a disproportionate influence within a larger group, meaning that the presence of organised groups like Progress may be a bad... pardon me... the presence of organised groups like Militant may be a bad influence in itself. But to exert influence you still need the numbers - and you still need to put the work in. The Mils at their height had less than 10,000 members - say 8,000; that gave them enough people to control a couple of Labour councils and the Labour youth wing. Not too shabby as trophies go, but it didn't amount to much more than that; the fifty leading monopolies were never in any danger of being nationalised. Who have we got now? The main entryist bogey at the moment seems to be the weird little group currently trading as the AWL. Members of the AWL were recently elected to organising positions in the Brighton and Wallasey constituency Labour parties (which were promptly suspended). Now, the AWL scarcely has a membership in three figures, let alone five; they aren't going to be able to work that trick very often before they run out of warm bodies. What those numbers also tell us is that, if they've got people elected, it's because those people were popular among the ordinary membership; if they fall asleep on the job or derail the local party, the members aren't going to vote for them again. (Full disclosure: a mate of mine's AWL. We get on fine.)

      This comment's too long already, but one final point: "many Corbynites regard supporters of social democracy as enemies"? I really have to ask Hopi how he's defining social democracy here. If it means anything, surely it means supporting a mixed economy with public provision of essential services - in other words, rolling back to the pre-1979 status quo. The only people making social democratic demands at the moment are the Corbynites.

    3. Phil, I'm sure you're right about personal qualities There are a lot of people on the far left who are admirable people and some who are total shits just as in any group.

      But when Gerry Healy was being an entryist, that's what Michael Foot said in his defence too.

  25. Gastro George - Nothing wrong with changing your mind, but my point is that the people I mention have not.

    As for the difference such small groups can make - well, PCS is running on fumes and losing whole departments of govt. I'd say they're making a near fatal difference.


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