One morning last week and with a little time on my hands I turned the pages of the newspaper I was reading beyond the current affairs and bad news, and arrived at the literary review section. There I found two reviews from among the nonfiction titles which offered helpful alternative perspective on the travails currently experienced by our Party. The first can be characterised as a warning of the potential outcome of what we are currently wrestling with as a party. The second describes a very dark place that some suggest we have already arrived at having fought and lost our internal battle.
Stay with me – It gets easier later… Historical nonfiction has not been on my reading list since I left school, but like I said, with time on my hands I read on anyway. The first* review was of a book concerned with life in Petrograd at the start of the 1917 Russian revolution as experienced by the community of foreigners in the city at that time. Some of whom failed totally to recognise and understand the significance of what was unfolding around them, or the magnitude of the likely consequence for the world that survived. What I noticed was that by changing a single word many of the quotes of expats and diplomats would have an eerie resonance with what is presently abroad in the Labour Party. “All of Russia could go to hell for the want of a little wise management… What a chance for some wise American organiser [AMERICAN only because of the prejudice of the American speaking the words.]”. When the mob did take over the city, a French diplomat dismissed any prospect of a greater revolution because the rioters were “without alcohol, without a leader and without a clear objective”. There were of course leaders; Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and Leon Trotsky. One business person wrote of them “[They’re] talking rank anarchy!”. While those from abroad who remained in the city learned it was “unwise to appear well dressed” and to appear bourgeois was “to sign one’s death warrant”. Finally, with the old boss gone and the new boss with his hands on the levers of power, the most perceptive realised “Not only is she [Russia] out of the war but she is out of the world for a long time to come.”
The second review** is of a book which takes the French Revolution as it’s subject. Comparisons (in the review not the book) are drawn between what happened 225 years ago in France and what is by some interpretations currently occurring within the Labour party. The French Revolution was not a single event, rather it was a series of riots and coups d’etat between 1789 and 1799. It also saw establishment of the National Assembly, storming of the Bastille, a collapse of the relationship between the bourgeois and the sans-culottes, and great blood letting courtesy by Madame Guillotine. The new society was funded by sequestration of private possessions (nationalisation by any other name), and was managed by a dogma with a central tenet that “he who is not with me is against me”. In turn this created factionalism that courted support of partisan mobs with which to intimidate opponents; elected or otherwise.
Now it gets easier…
In the first scenario, current affairs in the Labour Party are compared with Russia circa 1917. The moral of the tale is the need to understand the importance of eternal vigilance, to recognise where danger lies, and to confront the challenge from those who would divert us from our purpose.
In the second scenario where the comparison is with the French revolution, the takeaway nugget of wisdom is equally valuable. If the Labour Party is already on the road to self ruination as some suggest, then it is regrettable that the hypothetical position from which we start is made more difficult. If this is the case, then the dangers have already made themselves known and the task before us is clear. We must join together in a reformation of the broad church we once were, and to expel those who practice sectarianism, who promote division, and who subvert our constitution.
All of the above may be a bit playful, but I would hope that it will cause the reader to ponder for a moment on what the outcome will be of our group soul searching during the next five weeks. Be in no doubt, what we do as a party in this period will have profound consequences:-
Either the Labour Party will banish itself to the wilderness of a generation in opposition with little hope of righting any of the wrongs we see in our society.
Or the Labour Party will once again be recognised as a government in waiting with realistic prospects of winning power, and to not only oppose what we believe is wrong but to legislate for what we know is right.
Finally, the stark truth…
If the Labour Party is to win even the most precarious overall majority at the next general election we must gain a further 95 seats. Regardless of all else, this will not happen before or until the following issues are resolved.
- We must dispel the rumours of Trotskyist entryism in to our party.
- We must be seen to be a united party with a strong leader.
- We must effectively challenge Tory policy at every turn.
- We must have a raft of policies consistent with the hopes and aspirations of the greater part of the electorate.
- We must inspire that greater part of the electorate to believe a Labour government will have the ability to exercise the privilege inferred by the system of representative democracy for their benefit.
*’Caught in the Revolution’ by Helen Rappaport, reviewed by Gerard DeGroot, The Times 13.8.2016
**’The French Revolution, from Enlightenment to Tyranny’ by Ian Davidson, reviewed by David Aaronovitch, The Times 13.8.2016