An open letter to a “rejoiner”

Submitted by Matthew on 7 October, 2015 - 11:23 Author: Martin Thomas

Dear comrade,

You’re one of the sizeable minority of “rejoiners” among the 180,000 or so people who have joined the Labour Party since the general election, in the leadership contest or since Jeremy Corbyn won leader.

I’m writing to urge you to make your rejoining not just a tepid “see how it goes” affair, but a full restart of the political energy and ardour of your previous activism.

Even if the young people entering politics with the Corbyn surge have been on demonstrations and other one-off actions before, there has been effectively no Labour youth movement, and no other leftish youth movement, either, broad and big enough to allow new young people to learn through regular discussion, debates, and activity.

Even if they’ve got to university, they’re unlikely to have found more than a scattering of mostly small left meetings, and on some campuses not even that.

They will learn, they will shape themselves, by sifting, analysis, comparing, criticising, appropriating the ideas that they’re offered by more experienced people, and by melding those ideas with what they’ve picked up from school or university or family. They will do that under a downpour of conservatising ideology, subtle from the Guardian as well as loutish from the Mail.

Will the voice of independent working-class politics, of revolutionary socialism, of critical Marxism, be loud and clear enough amidst the hubbub? It depends. It depends on how many of us there are, how organised, how energetic, how cohesive and disciplined, how well educated and trained.

Instructive, when selling papers or distributing leaflets on the streets or at a demonstration, is the realisation that most of the people who seem to reject your offer actually don’t “see” you. Just as everyone does every day on the streets, they semi-automatically screen out most of the bustle around them, the better to focus manageably.

Our left, the Marxist left, must pass a threshold of vigour and visibility even to enter effectively into contest with the NGO-ish soft left, the Stalinoid “the-USA’s-enemy-is-our-friend” ideologues, or the equivalents in the new Labour Party of those around Tsipras who took Syriza from vowing socialism to enforcing a new cuts Memorandum.

If we don’t, the new young activists will be drawn down those political blind alleys, or retreat and disperse in dismay.

Maybe you came into left-wing politics in 1984-5, around the miners’ strike. Or in 1990-1, in the battles against the poll tax and against the Kuwait war. Or in the “new anti-capitalist” actions following the Seattle WTO protest of 1999.

You met defeats, disappointments, difficulties. You’d always had friends and family telling you that you were fighting the sky with your socialist activity: their arguments started to bite.

Young children, frail parents, jobs, ill-health, or a dozen other influences pulled you out of activity. You were nauseated by Blair’s Labour Party. You may have joined an organised effort to build something better to the left of Labour, like the 2000-2 Socialist Alliance; but most of you didn’t, and those efforts produced new disappointments.

Unlike many, though, you remained true to your values. You didn’t capitulate to Blairism. Probably you’ve come to demonstrations from time to time, you’ve been active at some level in your union.

Unlike so many, you didn’t kill the militant younger self within you. You didn’t throw away the “investment” you, and many comrades around you, made in educating you in the ideas of socialism and the lessons of working-class history. Now you can put it to work again.

In some ways, Tony Blair’s greatest crime was his success in driving so many socialists into retreating, disgusted, from activity. If he hadn’t carried through that crime, he would never have been able to join the USA in invading Iraq, or undermining the health service through the internal market and PFI.

You opposed Blair. Now tens of thousands of young people will be striving to undo Blair’s malign work. Will you bring your knowledge and experience to help them?

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