‘What looks like politics, and imagines itself to be political, will one day unmask itself as a religious movement.’ — Kierkegaard
Apart from a handful of loyal Corbynites still clutching at the sinking raft of the electoral Medusa, the MPs in what’s left of the Parliamentary Labour Party, as well as the Labour candidates who failed to win their seat, have almost universally — and certainly overwhelmingly — denounced not only Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership but his policies as everything from unelectably idealistic to un-English and even anti-Western. Given the speed (and volume) with which the Labour rats are abandoning the Corbyn ship, who still honestly believes that, had they somehow managed to form a Labour Government, these MPs would actually have voted for even the flawed policies in the Labour Party Manifesto? I never have believed that, and I believe it even less now.
I know Labour is proud to declare itself more influenced by Methodism than Marxism, but one of the principles of historical materialism is that the base economic structure of a society — which in our case is Neo-liberal or monopoly capitalism — determines its ideological superstructure, which includes its political establishment. Completely incompatible with this materialist analysis is the idealistic belief — which has sustained Corbynites through the last four-and-half-years of repeated failure — that you can draw a neat dividing line between the Conservative and Labour representatives of that establishment; that somehow the former have been put into their positions by the financial interests of big business but the latter are all altruistic servants of the people; and that the Labour Party — which has the largest membership of any political party in Europe, that sits on over 6,000 council seats in the UK, runs nearly a hundred councils, a dozen combined authorities including the GLA, still has 203 seats in the House of Commons, 183 in the House of Lords, and 10 in the European Parliament, has the backing of the largest, most powerful and business-friendly trades unions in the UK and accepted £8.5 million in donations in 2019 — has somehow managed to escape the economic forces of the most totalised social structure in the history of the UK, in which every aspect of our lives is determined by capital like never before.
To hold this belief — which is all it is — is so absurd and naive that you have to question the political awareness of the people who believe it, how that awareness has been determined by their own class position within capitalism, and to what extent it is an expression of their (even unacknowledged) religious beliefs — especially when Corbyn’s project was from the first expressed in openly messianic and religious terms. But it also shows that the ideology of capitalism is not only to make an alternative to capitalism appear impossible but — when this fails under the increasing hardships and inequality it produces — to direct those who question this idea back into capitalist superstructural forms of ‘salvation’ that are not only entirely illusory but serve to re-entrench the hegemony of capitalism. Faith in the Parliamentary system that has kept the ruling class of the UK in power for 800 years is perhaps the most successful of these illusions. Unfortunately— though unsurprisingly — a large part of the population directed to its ballot box for the third time in five years includes a majority of young people who know little and understand less about how the world of capitalism works, and who have swallowed the quasi-religious ideology of Corbynism hook, line and communion wafer.
ASH faces a similar problem when we are invited onto estates on which residents are facing the demolition of their homes. On the one side are the council, the architects and the community consultants, with all their vast financial resources, telling residents that everything will be fine, and that if they vote for redevelopment they’ll all be rehoused in new and improved homes for the same housing costs. On the other side there’s us, with limited resources, telling residents about the economic consequences for the council and them of demolition, showing them the irrefutable evidence of what has happened to residents on hundreds of estates that underwent similar ‘regeneration’ schemes, and — worst of all — telling them that the only way to stop this happening to them is through opposition to the council, organisation of their community and months of hard work. Though there are a handful of residents who will agree to resist — at least for a while — the vast majority choose to believe the lies they are told by the council and their employees — not because they actually believe them, necessarily, but because they want to believe them. The Catholic motto is Credo quia absurdum: ‘I believe because it is absurd’; and between political struggle and belief in authority, most people will choose the latter — as we’ve seen on dozens of council estates targeted for demolition by Labour councils, as we saw in the local elections in which residents voted for the same council that threatens their homes, as we’re seeing in the resident ballots being held for estate demolition schemes, and as we’ve just seen in this latest general election.
After five years of political naivety — for which the older heads of socialists that should know better but were turned by a whiff of Parliamentary power must bear some responsibility — isn’t it past time that we grew up, opened our eyes to the reality of Parliamentary politics in this Imperialist country, and started building militant resistance to what’s going to happen over the next five years? If we don’t — and we continue to indulge in childish fantasies about a messianic figure who will enter Parliament on a palm-strewn road, throw out the money-lenders and save us all from Satan’s power — then this will happen again, and again, and again, for as long as each new generation keeps voting the political establishment back into power. Faith in religious salvation is always on the side of those with the keys to the church, and Labour is rightly described as a ‘broad church’.
Leave the obedient ranks of the faithful. Burn down the church. The unsurpassable truth of our time is that there is no Parliamentary road to socialism. And if this election is to have a historical meaning beyond the latest failure of the Labour Party to form a government, it must be taken as the final proof of that truth for all those not afraid to try building the alternative.
Architects for Social Housing