An open letter to a young Labour member

Submitted by AWL on 13 October, 2015 - 5:31 Author: Tom Harris

Dear comrade,

You are one of the tens of thousands of young people who have joined the Labour Party since Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign for and victory in the leadership election.

Like me, you grew up and became interested in politics at a time when the Labour Party seemed like a very unattractive proposition to socialists, left-wingers, or people who just wanted to change the world.

New Labour had taken Britain into a bloody and disastrous war in Iraq. Domestically, it had introduced tuition fees, privatised public services and overseen an increase in inequality.

When a right-wing Tory-Lib Dem coalition came to power in 2010, the Labour Party was half-hearted and spineless in its opposition to the new government’s programme. The Labour opposition pandered to the tabloids in their scapegoating of migrants and refused to back workers when they went on strike to defend themselves against spending cuts.

But after all of that, you and thousands like you have been enthused to join the Labour Party by Jeremy Corbyn and the ideas he represents. Those ideas represent a break with New Labour and a break with the right-wing consensus that has been dominant for as long as our generation has been alive. It is a hugely exciting time.

Now that Corbyn has won, it might be tempting to think: “Job done! A left-wing leadership has been elected, and now they can get on with it.”

I urge you to not be satisfied with that conclusion, and to persuade you to instead stay active, and get more involved.

Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour left have been propelled into leadership thanks to a wave of enthusiasm for a different kind of politics. But they face a parliamentary party made up of MPs who are, in the main, horrified by the upheaval and keen to see it reversed.

They face a corporate media that is deeply hostile to the left.

They face the challenge of overturning all the conservatism and prejudice of the dominant “common sense” in society.

So long as Corbyn and co. are isolated, surrounded by hostile MPs and a bureaucratic party machine, their prospects look bleak. But the leadership election shows that if the left can harness the support and enthusiasm of the grassroots members, it can beat back the right. In the longer term, the success of the socialist left depends on our capacity to convince more and more people of socialism.

Whether that happens or not depends on what we do now, on whether people like you, who signed up to vote for Corbyn, can turn yourselves into activists and in turn win over new layers of people.

One of the important ways we can do that is by rebuilding Labour’s youth organisation into a left-wing movement, active in our communities and which provides young people with a place to discuss big politics and develop their ideas about the world.

That might sound like a tall order. But only a few decades ago, hundreds of Labour youth groups existed across the country, bringing thousands of young people into socialist activity.

Nowadays, most places do not have a Young Labour group, or if they do, the group covers such an impossibly large area (“Birmingham” or “the North West”) that it is hard to do much in the way of regular activity in a local area. Often the focus is too much towards door-knocking for elections and not enough towards providing young people with the space to think, argue and learn. But there is no reason why this can’t change.

Likewise, most universities and colleges don’t have Labour Clubs. Of the ones that do exist, many of them are right-wing, inactive and confined to throwing an occasional cheese-and-wine evening with an MP. But there’s nothing to stop people from setting them up, or getting involved to transform bad ones into vibrant, campaigning bodies.

To carry out this kind of work, left-wingers among young Labour members need to get organised ourselves. Last month, a meeting of around a hundred people set up a new organisation, Labour Young Socialists, to help bring together and organise the left.

The “Corbyn surge” has provided a rare opportunity for our generation to change politics, a generation that had been brought up to think that any radical challenge to the status quo was out of the question. Let’s organise to grasp that opportunity with both hands!

• Labour Young Socialists

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