HANNAH SELL introduces this special edition of Socialism Today,
which draws together a selection of articles from 2015 on Jeremy Corbyn’s
Labour Party leadership and the lessons from it for the ongoing struggle to achieve
mass, working class socialist political representation.
The lives of billions around the globe have been turned upside down
by the coronavirus crisis with, for many, no prospect of a return to how it was
before. The pandemic and resulting lockdowns have enormously exacerbated and
deepened the economic crisis that was already on the horizon. Working class
people face a new era of mass unemployment, pay cuts and attacks on working
conditions as capitalism enters its steepest slowdown since the 1930s.
immediate response to this prospect trade union membership has soared in
Britain, as many workers look to collective organisation as a means to defend
their interests. There has not as yet, however, been any equivalent turn to a
collective political alternative. The Labour Party has not seen any noticeable
surge of new members. On the contrary, a significant layer have torn up their
party cards, angry at the triumph of the preferred candidate of the capitalist
class, Keir Starmer, in the 2020 contest to replace Corbyn. Clearly Labour
under Starmer is not seen as a potential bulwark against the coming storms. Nor
is there any other party in the running to play that role on a mass scale. Does
this leave workers fatally unprepared for what lies ahead?
2015 Labour Party leadership election ballot ran from August 14 to September
10, with the result declared at a special conference on September 12. The
following article is the editorial carried in the September 2015 edition of
Socialism Today, issue No.191.
This edition of Socialism Today goes to press three
weeks before the result of the Labour Party leadership election is announced. But
whatever the outcome of the contest, Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign has already transformed
the political situation in Britain. Public ownership, a free education system,
trade union rights, councils resisting the cuts and not implementing them, all are
once again up for discussion. And although explicit references to it have been
muted in the campaign, even the S-word itself – socialism – is now back in ‘mainstream’
after Jeremy Corbyn’s victory the right began to organise to unseat him. In an
article first published in Socialism Today No.193, November 2015, CLIVE
HEEMSKERK argued that the likelihood the coming struggle could pose the need
for a new party would have to be discussed.
Inherent in a revolution is
the prospect of counter-revolution developing in its aftermath, as the forces
of the old order test out the possibilities of regaining power. And the blow at
the capitalist establishment that was Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership insurgency is
no different. A systematic campaign is under way to restore what can be
salvaged of the status quo ante by the pro-capitalist forces – ‘establishment
Labour’ – which still dominate the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), council
Labour Groups, and the Labour Party officialdom, both nationally and, in most
cases, locally too.
December 2015 Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell issued a circular letter to council
Labour groups. In an article first published in The Socialist, issue No.883, 6
January 2016, CLIVE HEEMSKERK warned against any hint of colluding in new rounds
of cuts to local council services and jobs.
A week before Christmas, on the last day of
parliamentary business in 2015, the Communities and Local Government Secretary
Greg Clark announced the 2016-17 local finance settlement, listing the exact
amount of national funding each council will receive for the next financial
year. This filled out the details, at least for the coming year, of George
Osborne’s plan revealed in the November comprehensive spending review for a
further four years of draconian austerity for local public services.
June 2016 the PLP organised a 172 to 40 vote of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn and
another leadership election was held, with balloting closing on September 21.
The following Socialism Today editorial was published in the October 2016 edition,
At the time of writing – and bar what would be an
election stitch-up of monumental proportions – it appears that it will be Jeremy
Corbyn who is announced as the victor in Labour’s leadership contest on 24 September,
the day before the start of the party’s annual conference.
Corbyn’s expected re-election triumph will be a significant
defeat for the capitalist establishment – big business, the media tops, and
their political representatives. Despite Owen Smith’s recently-discovered
verbal radicalism – he stood, he said, for a ‘cold-eyed socialist revolution’ –
he was the candidate of the ruling class, with their vested interest in keeping
the Labour Party a safe, New Labour-style alternative to the Tories.
Jeremy Corbyn decisively defeated Owen Smith in the
2016 leadership election. Writing in the November 2016 edition of Socialism
Today, issue No.203, PETER TAAFFE, discussed the Corbyn movement in the context
of an international wave of left-wing populism.
Jeremy Corbyn, through mass support, has fought off
the attempted coup by right-wing Blairite Labour MPs and their supporters. Corbyn
actually increased his majority in the second Labour leadership campaign in twelve
months. But the Labour right and behind them the strategists of British
capitalism still remain unreconciled to his victory, so the ‘civil war’ that
has raged throughout the party since his initial election will continue
unabated. The main reason for this is to be found in the determination of the
pro-capitalist Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and its supporters, backed up
by the venal capitalist media, to continue their campaign, not even excluding a
third attempt to unseat Corbyn.
The 2017 general election created another opportunity to carry through
the transformation of Labour into a mass working class party fighting for
socialist change. The following article by HANNAH SELL was published in the
immediate post-election edition of The Socialist, issue No.952, 14 June 2017.
Theresa May’s failed election gamble is a nightmare
for the capitalist class in Britain. Seven weeks ago most of Britain’s elite
were hopeful that May would succeed in dramatically increasing the number of
Tory MPs, thereby buttressing her government to be able to weather the storms
of economic crisis, to carry out vicious austerity against the majority in
society, and to implement a Brexit in the interests of the 1%.
Instead she is now a ‘dead prime minister walking’, only able to temporarily cling to power by leaning on the reactionary, sectarian Democratic Unionist (DUP) MPs, describing them as her ‘friends’ on the steps of Downing Street.
the general election a new debate opened on how the left-led trade unions should
act to transform the Labour Party. This article by CLIVE HEEMSKERK was first
published in The Socialist, issue No.956, 12 July 2017.
In a significant development for the whole labour movement, the recent annual general meeting (conference) of the RMT transport workers’ union agreed to open a branch consultation on re-affiliation to the Labour Party. A special general meeting will be organised subsequently to discuss the results.
An RMT predecessor union was one of Labour’s principal founding organisations in 1900, as the larger unions initially maintained their support for the capitalist Liberal Party. Expelled over a hundred years later in 2004, the union continued to fight for a political voice for working class voters, effectively disenfranchised by the transformation of Labour into Blairite New Labour.
after the general election, the right renewed their destabilisation campaign
against Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. The following Socialism Today editorial was
published in the September 2018 edition, issue No.221.
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”.
2019 local elections saw Labour suffer a net loss of councillors. The editorial
from the June 2019 edition of Socialism Today, issue No.229, was published just
before the further warning sign of the 2019 European elections.
promise of the Corbyn insurgency that began in 2015 is in danger. The triumph of
the left-wing backbench outsider in the Labour leadership election four years
ago opened up the prospect of overturning Tony Blair’s 1990s transmutation of
the Labour Party into New Labour. By qualitatively changing Labour from a
‘capitalist workers’ party’ working-class political representation had
effectively been eliminated as a mass force for over two decades. Jeremy Corbyn’s
unexpected victory was a bridgehead from which, potentially, this process could
be reversed and workers achieve a mass party of their own.