Tony Benn on the Misrepresentation of ‘Moderates’ versus ‘the Left’ in the Labour Party

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I fond this passage, ”Moderates’ versus ‘Left Wing’ – a Misleading Description’ in Tony Benn’s Argument’s for Democracy, edited by Chris Mullin (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1981). In it, the great man shows that its the Labour party as a whole that’s moderate, and those the media describes as moderates aren’t always moderate Labour, but just as likely Tories or Lib Dems. He writes

First, the uxse of the adjectives ‘moderate’ and ‘left wing’ mjerits some examination. The Labour Party, being avowedly socialist in its aims, is itself left wing and so are all its members, as compared to the Conservatives and Liberals. Moreover, the term ‘moderate’ is equally confusing. By any world standard of socialism, the entire Labour Party is exceptionally moderate, offering, even in its supposedly ‘full-blooded’ manifestos in the past, the most modest proposals for changes in the structure of wealth and power, all to be achieved firmly within the framework of parliamentary democracy, complete with regular and free general elections. The main characteristics of the ‘left wing’ of the party are that it may be more analytical and philosophical in its approach, and more committed to carrying through the policies agreed at conference, once they have been endorsed by the electorate and a Labour government is in power. By contrast, some of the self-proclaimed ‘moderates’ have ended up in other political parties. Whatever else they turned out to be, the were not moderate socialists but committed Conservatives or Liberals. Thus the labelling now in general use is not very accurate in describing the wide spread of opinion within the party, and the spirit of tolerance to be found among people of differing views. (p. 35).

Everything Benn said is right, and unfortunately as true now as it was when he wrote it nearly forty years ago. The Labour Party has always been very moderate in its approach to socialism. That’s why it aroused such scorn from Lenin and the Communists, and why historically even other continental socialists, who had more moderate views, looked down upon the Labour party as something that wasn’t really, or was just barely, socialist.

And we’ve seen that the so-called ‘moderates’ in the Labour party were and are anything but. They’re neoliberal Thatcherites, true-blue Tories. They were caught intriguing against Jeremy Corbyn in order to prevent the Labour Party winning the 2017 and 2019 elections. In their struggles to overthrow him, some of them even appealed to Tories and Lib Dems to join constituency Labour parties. One of the intriguers was, apparently, a member of a Conservative internet group, and more extreme in his bitter hatred of Corbyn and his supporters than the real Tories. But you’ll be purged as a member of the hard left and an anti-Semite if you dare mention this. It’s only Corbyn and his supporters that are infiltrators.

As for Jeremy Corbyn and the Left, I’ve said many times before: Corbyn wasn’t particularly. The policies he adopted and advocated were traditional Labour policies of a mixed economy, strong welfare state, properly nationalised NHS and strong trade unions able to protect working people. This is the social democratic consensus which governed this country from the end of the Second World War to Thatcher’s election in 1979. It is not even remotely Communist or Trotskyite. But the media have bellowed and screamed that it is, and unfortunately there are too many people who believe this flagrant lie. People who have no idea what Communism is, or what Trotsky said.

Tony Benn: the greatest Labour leader and Prime Minister this country never had.