The Enduring Legacy of Tony Benn: A Reflection on His Life, Work, and Ideas

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tony Benn
Tony Benn

Tony Benn, a towering figure in British politics, left a lasting legacy that still resonates today.

As we mark the anniversary of the passing of Tony Benn, it is worth considering what he would make of the current state of today’s Labour Party. Benn was a towering figure of the British left, a passionate advocate of socialism, and an unwavering critic of the neoliberal consensus that has held sway in British politics for the past several decades. His views on the Labour Party were complex and evolving even then, but it is clear that he would have much to say about its current right-wing stance.

So we gather today, not to sing hymns to a departed careerist, but to a firebrand. A man who, unlike the current crop of career-climbing poseurs, stood firm against the tide of self-interest and gilded elitism.

For those who may not know, Tony Benn was a British politician who served in the House of Commons for over 50 years. He was a tireless advocate for the rights of working people, and his commitment to socialist principles inspired many within the Labour Party and beyond.

But Tony Benn was more than just a politician. He was a philosopher, a poet, and a visionary. He believed in the power of democracy and the importance of empowering ordinary people to shape the world around them.

Tony Benn. A name that sends shivers down the spines of every champagne socialist and metropolitan liberal. Here was a man who didn’t traffic in the vacuous slogans of “fairness” or “equality” – those mere marketing tools of the modern Labour Party. Benn was a true believer, an unyielding socialist who refused to be seduced by the siren song of Mammon.

Tony Benn war
If we can find the money to kill people, we can find the money to help people -Tony Benn

Benn was a passionate advocate for socialism, democracy, and peace, and his political philosophy and vision continue to inspire and influence many on the left. As a tireless campaigner and orator, Benn warned of the dangers of unchecked corporate power, neoliberalism, and the erosion of democratic rights and freedoms.

His prescient insights and critiques of the Labour Party and the wider political establishment have proven to be remarkably accurate, as recent events have shown. In this context, it is worth reflecting on Benn’s life, work, and ideas, and to consider how we can continue to build on his legacy in the years to come.

Benn’s political journey was a long and winding one, marked by both triumphs and setbacks. In his early years, he was seen as a rising star within the Labour Party, a charismatic speaker with a knack for connecting with working-class voters.

But as the political landscape shifted in the 1980s and 90s, Benn found himself increasingly at odds with the leadership of his own party. He was a passionate opponent of the neoliberal policies that came to dominate British politics during this time, and he argued fiercely for a return to the socialist roots of the Labour Party.

However as I sit down to pen this piece, of course, I am reflecting on the towering figure that was Tony Benn and his contributions to the Party he loved.

However, I am also brought to mind his prophetic quote concerning the future of the Labour Party. A quote that could stand proudly alongside that of any soothsayer from the oracle at Delphi to Nostradamus. I’m reminded of Benn’s predictions about the fate of the Labour Party, namely that it would ultimately abandon its socialist roots and become a centrist Party, which have proven to be eerily accurate.

Tony Benn labour

Benn famously declared:

“If the Labour Party could be bullied or persuaded to denounce its Marxists, the media – having tasted blood – would demand next that it expelled all its Socialist and reunited the remaining Labour Party with the SDP to form a harmless alternative to the Conservatives, which could then be allowed to take office now and then when the Conservatives fell out of favour with the public.

Thus British Capitalism, it is argued, will be made safe forever, and socialism would be squeezed of the National agenda. But if such a strategy were to succeed… it would in fact profoundly endanger British society. For it would open up the danger of a swing to the far-right, as we have seen in Europe over the last 50 years.” ― Tony Benn.

Tony Benn believed that the Labour Party had become too entrenched in the political establishment and had lost touch with the concerns of ordinary people.

Tony Benn: ‘Will and Testament’

Benn was a passionate advocate of the working class, he believed the Labour Party was built on the backs of the working class vote however he could see the shift towards the centre-right would eventually mean the Labour Party would become a shadow of the old Liberal Party.

Now under the tenure of Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour Party is no longer an alternative to the Tory Party, but an alternative Tory Party.

In recent years, Benn’s legacy has been particularly relevant, as his protege, Jeremy Corbyn, became the leader of the Labour Party, only to face resistance and sabotage from within.

I see myself as an old man and an unqualified teacher to the nation. I think being a teacher is probably the most important thing you can be in politics.

Tony Benn

Benn was not only a passionate socialist but a vocal supporter of Lexit. He believed that Britain must leave the EU to restore democracy and create a more equal society. Benn argued that while the EU may have started out as a project for peace and prosperity, it had since been transformed into a neoliberal project that had eroded democracy and led to greater inequality.

Benn’s views on leaving the EU were never considered controversial, the traditional Labour Party and supporters before Kinnock and Blair were in the main, Eurosceptics. Benn was motivated by a belief that leaving the EU would allow Britain to regain control over its own destiny and create a fairer society. He was critical of the EU’s treatment of Greece during the financial crisis, arguing that it had shown a disregard for democracy and a willingness to prioritise the interests of financial elites over those of ordinary people.

Benn also recognised that leaving the EU would not automatically lead to a fairer society. He believed that there would still be work to be done. Removing the Tories was an obvious part of that work, after all, no one really expected the Tories to act any differently outside the EU than they did within, did they?

Tony Benn
The EU is the only constitution in the world committed to capitalism.

However, Benn was an internationalist in the truest sense.

Amidst the unyielding force of his disdain for the machinations of global finance capital, Tony Benn’s commitment to internationalism remained steadfast, opposing every facet of Western imperialism’s authoritarian grasp.

He was a beacon of resistance against the myopic nationalism that plagued his contemporaries, his consciousness unwavering in its solidarity with oppressed peoples worldwide.

Benn fearlessly lent his voice to the struggle of Palestinian communities besieged by the grip of Zionist dominance, undeterred by the vitriol of London’s pro-Israeli factions. His unwavering focus on the injustices perpetrated against indigenous populations echoed with a clarity that few could match. In the face of Zionist propaganda and imperialist apologist, Benn stood resolute, a paragon of principled opposition.

He transcended the confines of partisan politics, embodying a rare blend of courage and integrity rarely seen in public life. Tony Benn’s legacy serves as a reminder of the power of moral conviction in the fight against oppression and exploitation. Though his like may not be seen again, his indomitable spirit lives on, a guiding light in the struggle for a more just and equitable world.

Benn was a visionary and a true champion of the left. He believed that socialism was the only viable alternative to the neoliberal consensus and that a new working-class Party was needed to achieve this vision. It is up to us to carry on his legacy and fight for a better future for all.

Despite his many achievements, Tony Benn never lost his humility or his commitment to grassroots politics. He was a tireless campaigner for peace, and he worked tirelessly to promote social justice and equality throughout his life.

Benn had an unyielding belief in people and their ability to overcome and come together, to work towards the common good, all in spite of politicians and the political parties that continue to fail us all.

The quote “Every generation must fight the same battles again and again. “There’s no final victory and there’s no final defeat” is a testament to Tony Benn’s enduring belief in the struggle for social justice. He recognised that the fight for a fairer society was an ongoing one, and that progress could not be taken for granted.

The fight for a fairer society is not a one-time event, but a perpetual struggle that requires the active engagement of ordinary people.

That fight continues. Our only alternative is to take the best from the old and build on that wealth of history and accumulated experience. To create a new party, a socialist party fit for the 21st century. One that would truly be a party of the people by the people. A party that would be a vehicle able to offer a fresh vision for the future and challenge the dominance of the neoliberal consensus.

A new party to take advantage of Britain’s newfound democratic freedom and use the resources we have to create a society that works for everyone, not just the few.

There are signs that this vision is starting to become a reality. The emergence of new left-wing parties, such as The Workers Party of Britain, TUSC and The Socialist Labour Party, is a promising development. These parties are focused on building a coalition of working-class people and offering a genuine alternative to the status quo. They are committed to protecting the things that matter most to people, such as healthcare, education, and public services, and challenging the dominance of big business and the political establishment.

However, Benn’s true legacy lies not in Westminster’s hallowed halls, but in the hearts of those who yearn for a more just and equitable society. He understood that the wellspring of true change lies not in the machinations of global elites, but in empowered local communities. His vision of participatory democracy, a million voices rising against the tyranny of the unaccountable, remains a beacon for the disillusioned.

However, let’s not indulge in starry-eyed sentimentality. Every revolution breeds its counter-revolution. The forces of reaction are ever-present, waiting to pounce on the flickerings of dissent. Benn knew this, understood the cyclical nature of struggle. There can be no easy victories, no final triumphs. Only a relentless pursuit of justice, a refusal to be cowed by the siren song of the status quo.

So let this be a call to arms, a rejection of the soulless materialism and bureaucratic tyranny of our times. Let Benn’s spirit guide us, a reminder that the fight for a better world is a constant struggle, a battle against the “mordant governments” and the “globalizing neo-patrimony” that seeks to stifle dissent. Let his legacy be one of unwavering resistance, a refusal to bow before the gilded idols of our age.

Interviewed a few weeks before he died, he was asked how he’d like to be remembered. He said: “With the words ‘he inspired us’.”

Well, he’s got no worries there. No worries at all.

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