Adrian McMenamin responds to Andy Pearmain

The way to pick up the Gramscian thread is not to wind up the Labour party but rebuild it’s political coalition, argues Adrian McMenamin in response to Andy Pearmain’s "Labour Must Die!"

Firstly I think we have to begin with the very purpose of the Labour Party. The Party was explicitly founded to be an electoral vehicle. We were different from the other parties—formed by MPs looking for external support rather than extra-parliamentarians seeking MPs. But we were still about winning elections.

That remains true today. And why not? Every vote cast for Labour in 1997 did more to change Britain in a progressive and positive direction than anything else in the previous 18 years.

What is certainly true is that Labour’s progress has been based on giving fiscal and legislative shape to many of the ideas of the broader left over that 18 years. There would be no action on child poverty in government if so many of us had not made it such a key focus for the left over the previous two decades, but we should not forget that most of that effort was focussed on changing the government’s approach.

And changing the government did change the approach.

Pearmain’s suggestion that the progress of the last nine years is merely ephemeral, all to be swept away at the first sign of economic difficulty shows the Leninist core shining through again. It reads to me as nothing more than a claim, albeit slightly more sophisticated than some, that reforming capitalism is bound to fail.

Well, reforming capitalism is what we do in the Labour Party. Some times we do it well—who will argue against the NHS? Sometimes we do it badly—the tragedy of British Leyland comes to mind.

When I was a student in the 1980s my favourite Trotskyist news cutting was an article in Socialist Worker on the Scottish teachers’ strike. It declared without irony "an EIS sell-out is inevitable, the question is when and by how much". Pearmain roots that attitude in labourism, but actually its core is the Marxist idea that reform is the enemy of real progress.

So, if we need to change Labour’s internal political culture and the way the wider left relates to the world it must be based in these two realities—that electoral success is a key requirement for progress and that reformism and gradualism is what delivers.

I willingly concede that Labour in government needs to understand the need to keep a special place in its heart for a wider progressive constituency in the country. Unlike socialism, progress is not just what a Labour government does!

Labour in government needs to lead the constellation of progressive forces in wider society, though a lot of them—the organic intellectuals in the NGOs and elsewhere—need to have a less sour attitude towards Labour and government.

More than that, Labour needs to rethink itself and drop, once and for all, the revolutionary romanticism that envisages a "transformation" to a society where private property is abolished. This isn’t an argument against radicalism—but it is an argument against dismissing the achievable because it is not sufficiently aggressive in its attack on capital.

The Labour Party of the future will be the place where progressives come together to build the electoral coalitions that will keep the left in government and to do that we will need to pick up the Gramscian thread that was broken by the collapse of the Communist Party. We will need to rebuild a wider cultural politics that re-energises energises the idea of the progressive left.

But, no, we won’t be winding our party up and we won’t be belittling its achievements either.

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