|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Issue 221 September 2018
Editorial: vultures circle but the Corbyn insurgency can still be saved
Jeremy Corbyn’s insurgent Labour Party leadership election campaign in the summer of 2015 raised the hopes and expectations of millions of workers and young people, not just in Britain but internationally.
The late Michael Meacher MP, one of the handful in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) backing Corbyn, spoke at the time of "the biggest non-revolutionary upturning of the social order in modern British politics". The enthusiasm for Corbyn’s anti-austerity challenge, he said, was a product of mass discontent with "20 years of swashbuckling capitalism".
Even then, however, as the contest was still in progress, we warned in an editorial responding to Michael Meacher that the political order established since the 1990s "will not be lightly overturned" (The Corbyn Insurgency, Socialism Today No.191, September 2015). Central to it had been the transformation of the Labour Party into Tony Blair’s New Labour, serving completely the interests of capitalism and effectively disenfranchising the working class. The class interests at stake were high.
So even if Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership vote on 12 September, we wrote, the "still dominant organised capitalist forces within the Labour Party" would do everything possible to sabotage him and prepare for his removal. A Corbyn victory would only be the first incision of the major surgical operation required to reconstruct Labour into a mass working-class, socialist party.
To complete the insurgency, we said, it would be necessary "to mobilise the maximum possible support from across the workers’ movement", to re-transform the Labour Party, "going back to the founding structures of the party which involved separate socialist political parties coalescing with the trade unions and social movements". An immediate first step, we argued, should be an open and democratic conference of all Corbyn’s supporters, inside and outside the Labour Party, to decide a plan of action.
But the organisation of an inclusive mass movement to consciously reconstitute the Labour Party was mistakenly resisted by Jeremy Corbyn and his immediate circle in favour of attempting conciliation with the right. Consequently, three years on, Labour is still two-parties-in-one: the embryo of an anti-austerity socialist party embodied in Corbyn’s support base, and the persisting ‘organised forces of capitalism’ on the other hand.
The scale of Corbyn’s initial victory held back the Blairite saboteurs in autumn 2015. They were also frustrated, when they did move, by the defeat of the 2016 leadership coup and then the ‘third wave’ of support for Corbynism’s anti-austerity message manifested in Labour’s surge at the 2017 general election. But they never went away. And now, aided by their patrons in the media and the capitalist establishment generally, a new destabilisation offensive is in full swing against Jeremy Corbyn.
The great antisemitism smear campaign
The working-class movement has no place in its ranks for anti-Semites and must take every measure necessary to defeat the scourge of arguably the oldest religious and ethnic prejudice. In reality, however, the last thing that concerns those attacking Jeremy Corbyn over the Labour Party’s proposed new code of conduct is how to defend Jewish party members against antisemitism.
The 39-word definition of antisemitism agreed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) describes its essence: an irrational hostility towards Jews. This definition was adopted by Labour under Jeremy Corbyn in 2016, and the party’s national executive committee (NEC) is now considering whether to include in Labour’s code of conduct the IHRA’s eleven ‘illustrative examples’ of antisemitism, seven of which refer – mostly problematically – to the state of Israel.
The IHRA, however, is not a higher authority than the organisations of the working class. On the contrary, founded in 1998 by the Swedish Social Democrat prime minister Göran Persson, US president Bill Clinton, and the then UK premier Tony Blair, the IHRA is an intergovernmental institution, now with 31 member states. Every one of them has a pro-capitalist government – prepared, when necessary, like all capitalist politicians in history, to use racism to try and divide and rule over the working class. Since when has the labour movement been obliged to accept the ‘expertise’ of such figures on how to fight racism? The IHRA UK delegation, which has pronounced on the Labour Party code of conduct ‘debate’, is headed by the ex-Tory Party chairman, Eric Pickles!
It now seems that, bowing to the media storm, Labour’s NEC will adopt the IHRA’s examples. But the manufactured furore will not end there. By July the NEC had before it 70 cases (involving 0.01% of the Labour Party membership) of potential anti-Semitic incidents, mainly online abuse. Yet the joint editorial produced by three pro-capitalist UK Jewish newspapers – warning hysterically of an "existential threat to Jewish life in this country that would be posed by a Jeremy Corbyn-led government" – spoke of "hundreds, if not thousands" of members who "would need to be expelled".
The Blairite MP, Margaret Hodge, who moved the vote of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn to trigger the 2016 leadership coup attempt, feigned incredulity that Labour’s NEC would not automatically accept the IHRA’s examples. "The party thought it knew better" than the UK government, she wrote. "It thought it knew better than 31 other countries". (Guardian, 19 July) But workers’ organisations do ‘know better’ than capitalist authorities on how racism divides the working class – and what, on the other hand, is a great smear campaign designed to demoralise the working class.
The real problem, unfortunately, is that the Corbyn movement, including his supporters on the NEC, has not yet sufficiently recognised that Hodge and the other Blairite agents of capitalism have no place in the type of party needed to genuinely represent the working class.
Better fewer but better
Who can now seriously question the role that Hodge and the majority of the PLP will play under a Corbyn-led government? Or, in the event of a Labour election victory, that they might attempt to prevent Corbyn forming a government? Over the summer, the Daily Express uncovered evidence of secret ‘away day’ meetings of MPs discussing possible tactics – from efforts to ‘collapse’ the Corbyn leadership, forming a new party, or establishing a separate parliamentary group after an election – to stop Corbyn becoming prime minister.
The Socialist Party argued early on that a Labour Party of struggle, even if initially with fewer MPs and councillors but with a mass membership mobilised around a fighting socialist programme, would have a bigger impact in defence of the working class than a party with more MPs and councillors but which accepts the policies dictated by capitalism. The contrast between the enthusiasm of last summer for Corbyn’s general election manifesto, and the disquiet and growing disengagement revealed this year as the right-wing offensive has gone unanswered, confirms our position. The Blairites cannot be allowed to contest the next general election as Labour MPs. They must be deselected now.
There is a battle to be conducted in the trade unions, too. While Unite union general secretary Len McCluskey denounced Blairite MPs for using the antisemitism smear campaign to prepare for a new breakaway party, the Unison public-sector union leader Dave Prentis, the GMB’s Tim Roache, and the USDAW shop workers’ general secretary Paddy Lillis, joined the media barrage against Jeremy Corbyn.
How the left-led unions should intervene independently in the process of building a working-class political voice from the starting point of Corbyn’s Labour leadership is one of the issues behind the dispute on the left in the PCS civil servants’ union (see PCS: The Real Issues at Stake).
Ideological clarity is also necessary to ensure that the Corbyn insurgency can fulfil the hopes it generated in 2015 and since. A Corbyn-led government is not an end in itself if, for example, it repeats the experience of the Syriza government in Greece, which ultimately capitulated to the demands of capitalism and today presides over ferocious austerity. In Parasitic Capitalism Exposed Peter Taaffe looks at the latest book from the radical economist Mariana Mazzucato, who was a member of shadow chancellor John McDonnell’s Economic Advisory Committee. He concludes that her illuminating insights into the parasitic character of modern capitalism only accentuate the necessity for a clear socialist alternative to a system that cannot overcome its inevitable tendency for periodic crisis and which needs to be overthrown.
That is why, in the last analysis, for the Corbyn insurgency to be saved from today’s vultures and tomorrow’s, it cannot co-exist in one party with the pro-capitalist right.