Jeremy Corbyn, just a year ago the left Labour leader and now suspended from sitting as a Labour MP, has launched a new Peace and Justice Project. HANNAH SELL analyses what it represents and whether it matches up to the tasks facing the workers’ movement.
Around 10,000 people attended the online launch of Jeremy Corbyn’s Project for Peace and Justice on January 17. Speakers – in addition to Jeremy Corbyn – included Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite trade union, Labour peer Christine Blower, and Yanis Varoufakis, the former finance minister of the Syriza government in Greece.
Each refinement of climate science demands more urgent action than the last if we are to prevent complete climate catastrophe. Reductions in net emissions must be made rapidly and on a global scale. However, the policies of individual governments can still make a big difference, especially in a country like the USA. As the producer of over 13% of global CO2 emissions it is the world’s second largest polluter after China, producing almost twice as much CO2 per person. As the most powerful imperialist nation on the planet the approach the US government takes can have enormous influence beyond its own borders. No wonder then, that after four years under the presidency of climate sceptic Donald Trump, there is a desperate hope that Joe Biden will usher in a radical change of direction for US environmental policy.
Peter Taaffe reviews the recent book by Owen Jones, which provides an insider’s account of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party.
This Land – The Story of a Movement
By Owen Jones
Published by Allen Lane, 2020, £20
This is an important account of the rise and fall of Jeremy Corbyn, his army of supporters, and his colossal effect on the labour movement. Coming from an ‘insider’ within the Corbyn movement itself makes it especially interesting. It supplies important information not only about how the Corbyn movement developed, particularly at the top, but also how it subsequently disintegrated in the teeth of remorseless opposition from the right within the Labour Party.
CHRISTINE THOMAS reviews a new biography of Sylvia Pankhurst, a major figure in the working class movement of the first decades of twentieth century Britain.
Sylvia Pankhurst: Natural Born Rebel
By Rachel Holmes
Published by Bloomsbury, 2020, £35
Rachel Holmes, author of Eleanor Marx: A Life (reviewed in Socialism Today No.186, March 2015) has once again chosen a subject she clearly finds sympathetic in her recent, extensive, biography of Sylvia Pankhurst. In fact, she immediately makes the link between the two female protagonists, crediting Eleanor Marx with having a formative influence on the 13 year-old Sylvia Pankhurst, who heard her speak in Manchester in 1896. Sylvia is portrayed as a principled, determined and brave fighter. A woman born into a middle-class family prepared to stand up for and put herself on the standpoint of the working class. A feminist, anti-racist, anti-imperialist and, for a brief period, revolutionary communist, who sacrificed her obvious talent as an artist and finally broke with her own family to fight for the causes she believed in.
DAVID JOHNSON writes on the tenth anniversary of the Egyptian revolution, a movement that reverberated across the world.
Ten years ago a mighty uprising of Egyptian workers and youth ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s brutally dictatorial regime. Starting on 25 January 2011, increasing numbers turned out in city squares and then struck in factories, defying tear gas, bird shot and bullets. After 31 years, power slipped from Mubarak’s grip during eighteen days as the masses grew in strength and confidence.
Yet today, Egyptian workers and youth face even worse conditions than under Mubarak. Living standards, unemployment, housing, education and health have not improved. Rights to organise and fight for better lives, to protest and even to speak or write about these are severely repressed. Mubarak’s methods of imprisonment and torture are now even more widespread.
The historian David Olusoga is both Black and British. One of his earliest memories, growing up as a mixed-race child on a council estate in the 1970s, is of his white mother and their family being driven from their home by National Front thugs. His excellent book gives a detailed history of the relationship between white and black people in Britain from earliest times – a history largely ignored in our schools even today.
Until the sixteenth century Britain had very little direct contact with the African continent. The very few black people who made their way here, such as John Blanke, court trumpeter to Henry VIII, were probably regarded with curiosity rather than hostility. However, from the 1600s on, in the age of exploration, things changed dramatically.
In any battle the tactical details and their timing always have an element of the accidental and unexpected in them. Keir Starmer’s suspension of Jeremy Corbyn from the Labour Party on October 29 and – after the decision by a disciplinary panel of the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) to reinstate Corbyn on November 17 – the withdrawal of the parliamentary whip, may not have followed a prepared script.
It could be, as the former Labour Party chair and Corbyn-supporting MP Ian Lavery said of the October suspension, that there was “a miscalculation” involved, at least initially. Others, like the columnist Owen Jones, have spoken of Starmer’s ‘panicked’ reaction to events.
But a move against Corbyn himself had been an inherent possibility in the single-minded campaign against ‘Corbynism’ that Starmer has conducted since his ascent to the Labour leadership earlier this year.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report, released on October 29 – Investigation into Antisemitism in the Labour Party – is a serious challenge to the rights of the workers’ movement to organise independently of the capitalist class and its agencies.
The report is written in a coy legalese not explicitly attacking Jeremy Corbyn’s four-and-a-half year leadership of the Labour Party, although easily re-messaged by the media to do so with the venal BBC again to the fore.
There is a nod to the right of Labour Party members to “express their opinions on internal party matters, such as the scale of antisemitism within the party” (which Keir Starmer promptly overturned with his suspension of Corbyn).
But the ‘welcome’ given to the report and its recommendations even by those defending Jeremy Corbyn, is mistaken. This is a deeply political document, doing a job for the capitalist establishment.
The end of austerity has been heralded many times by leading Tories over the last few years but never actually arrived. Behind the populist declarations nothing has been done to reverse the deep and damaging cuts of the last decade. Government departments were asked to cut budgets by five per cent at the start of this year. The living standards of the working class remain squeezed.
However, coronavirus has forced Boris Johnson’s government to spend big. As in many other countries, the Tories have turned to state spending to try and limit the catastrophic economic falls triggered by the health crisis – £280 billion of pandemic-related spending has already been made, including £73 billion for job retention measures.
This ‘Covid Keynesianism’ runs contrary to the Tories’ usual neo-liberal instincts. There are ideologues on the right of the party who have swallowed their own lies that austerity was an economic necessity hook, line and sinker. There have been rumblings of discontent from these deficit hawks even as the health crisis rages on. They’re already looking to sharpen the axe for public spending.