An article of mine was published in the
Weekly Worker a week ago on the situation, as I see it, facing Jeremy Corbyn.
Labour Turned Upside Down
Snatching Defeat From the Jaws of Victory
The election of Jeremy Corbyn opens up significant
possibilities for the left to advance a socialist agenda in Britain, but it
also lays the basis for a possibly terminal defeat for the left in the Labour
Party if the wrong strategy is adopted.
The danger is that the far left will retreat behind sterile slogans
about the Labour Party and the limitations of a reformist or bourgeois workers
party without analysing the uniqueness of the present situation. That is the method of the SWP which views
everything through the prism of recruiting opportunities.
People need to understand what has happened
and the limits of what is possible. Since
the General Election over 150,000 people have joined the Labour Party. Revolutionaries should be joining the party. The idea of affiliation of groups to the
Labour Party in this situation is irrelevant.
It bypasses peoples’ consciousness.
The election of Corbyn has taken place in the absence of any significant
working-class mobilisation or a mass movement against the decimation of the
steel industry, local government cuts or the housing crisis.
Politically the mass media has embarked on
a concerted attack on Corbyn and there is a danger of wide-scale demoralisation
amongst those who voted for him.
For the first time in over 30 years the
Left has achieved a significant political victory, almost in spite of itself. The far Left in Britain has never been very
good when it comes to strategy or forward planning. It has been bedeviled by sectarian impotence,
the belief that differences between groups are more important than what unites
them. Since the 1960’s the socialist
left has gone backwards as the working-class has suffered successive defeats.
As one of the few people to predict
outright Tory victory
in May, I suggest that the first thing to do is to
understand why Corbyn, as near to the far-Left as any candidate could get in
the Labour Party, came from being a 100-1 outsider to winning the leadership with
60% first preference votes. All talk of
infiltrators from the massed ranks of the far-left disappeared with the result. Can the British left, for once in its history
take advantage of what has happened or will it continue to plough the same
furrows of irrelevance?
After its General Election defeat, the
reaction of New Labour was that Labour had lurched too far to the left.[Miliband made ‘terrible mistake’ in ditching New Labour, says Mandelson
] Who can forget the distilled wisdom of Tristram Hunt
that Labour had to appeal to the “John Lewis community”, the
aspirational Waitrose shopper. In fact
Labour had actually gained 1.4% of the vote nationally and 3.6% in England,
compared to the Tories 0.8%. New Labour’s ideologues comprehensively
misread the popular reaction to the Tory victory and their candidate, Liz
Kendall paid the price.
The nomination of Corbyn by right-wing
Labour MPs was not merely fortuitous.
Thousands of people, via social media, including my 13 year old son, bombarded
Labour MPs demanding that they lend Corbyn their nomination. Undoubtedly this created an atmosphere in
which MPs were pushed into accepting the need for a contest where the Left
The primary reasons for Labour losing the
election in England were the 16% drop in the Lib Dem vote coupled with the
10.7% increase for UKIP. In addition the
Green Party gained 3.2%. The Tories
gained 21 compared to 15 seats for Labour in England. In Scotland the SNP took 10 seats from the
Lib Dems. It had no effect on whether
there would have been a Labour government (assuming an arrangement had been
reached with the SNP).
From the first declaration in Sunderland, where
UKIP gained around 8,000 votes, it was clear that UKIP would make a heavy inroads
into Labour’s northern working-class vote.
The mistake was in writing off such a vote as racist or chauvinist. When people mentioned ‘immigration’ what they were
really doing was looking for an explanation for job insecurity, low wages,
housing and poverty. In the absence of
any class alternative UKIP’s scapegoating provide an alternative. In these same northern cities Corbyn was
speaking to meetings of 1,000+. Those
who voted UKIP also support rail renationalisation, rent controls and many
other socialist and radical demands.
They are not revolutionary demands but we
are not in a revolutionary situation. Nationalisation
is a progressive demand because it poses a collective solution to the
fragmentation and profiteering of private capitalism. To dispense with transitional demands is to dispense
with any notion of how to change society.
Corbyn is in a distinct minority in the
Parliamentary party. Unfortunately his
strategy appears to be one of feeding the lions rather than shooting them. Appeasement is rarely a successful
strategy. At best it buys time. As soon as sufficient time has elapsed, the
Labour right is going to go in for the kill.
Far from giving the green light to MPs to
rebel over the bombing of Syria, the sole purpose of which is to make it clear
that in foreign policy bipartisanship rules, a three line whip should be issued
opposing all military action. Instead it
seems that Corbyn is contemplating supporting a ‘safe haven’ which can only be
enforced militarily. No serious
strategist believes that Britain will succeed where the US has failed in
bringing ISIS to heel. The only American
success was in Kobani where the Kurds were on the ground.
Appeasing the right can have only one
outcome. The removal of Corbyn when the
time is right, probably 18 months at the maximum. Having betrayed most of his promises there
will be no one left to fight for him.
The omni-shambles represented by MacDonald’s
about turn on supporting Osborne’s fiscal statement betrays a Labour left that
talks anti-austerity but refuses to adopt, even within capitalism, an economic
policy that rejects the framework of reducing the deficit. If the State is in deficit others are in
surplus. If the state is in surplus
savings are run down and deflation stalks the land. That by any definition is austerity.
We are seeing a slow motion replay of
Syriza, except that Labour is not even in government. The left inside and outside the Labour Party will
pay the price for abdicating its responsibilities. The Labour Right would prefer a Tory to a left-labour
government. Blair wasquite explicit
: ‘I wouldn’t want to win on an old fashioned leftist platform. Even if I
thought it was the route to victory, I wouldn’t take it.’
It is the job of the Left is to draw the
appropriate conclusions. Instead Corbyn
has adopted a trappist silence, giving the Right in the shadow cabinet its
Whilst Corbyn had little alternative but to
appoint members from the Right as members of the shadow cabinet, it was a crass
political mistake to appoint a supporter of NATO and Trident to the post of
Shadow Defence Secretary. The
resignation of Lord Warner as a Whip in the House of Lords begs the question as
to why was this advocate of introducing charges in the NHS and a consultant to
private healthcare firms ever appointed?
Whilst Corbyn is making a virtue out of necessity, in turning the other
cheek, he should remember that even Jesus used whips to drive the money lenders
out of the Temple. Corbyn’s experiment
in the ‘new politics’ is simply postponing the inevitable whilst the Prince of
Darkness (Mandelson) plots away.
The Achilles heel of past Labour
governments, even of the reforming kind, has been the bipartisanship
relationship with America on foreign policy.
That is the real meaning of Trident. The idea that the ability to
incinerate millions of people contributes to Britain’s ‘security’ is
self-evidently absurd. Not only is it
not independent of the USA, but it makes it that much more likely that Britain
would be a primary target in the event of war between Russia and the USA.
Having been the subject of the Kinnock
purges in the early 1990’s and having participated in the Socialist Alliance,
Left Unity and TUSC, it is clear that efforts to organise outside the Labour
Party have been a failure. Thousands of
socialists have now joined the Labour Party and the urgent need is to provide a
leadership in the fight with a Right determined to save Labour for
That means drawing up our own red
lines. Trident, the bombing of Syria, rail
and utilies nationalisation, rent controls and security of tenure, abolition of
the benefits cap, Council Tax Benefit and the bedroom tax, tuition fees and
grants. If that means the resignation of
shadow cabinet members, then so be it. Higher
corporate taxation and an end to corporate welfare and to multi-nationals tax
avoidance, as well as the repeal of the anti-trade union laws should be part of
a minimum programme.
What we are talking about is a left
reformist government. Socialism is not
on the agenda but a left Labour government would represent a very distinct
advance in the fight for socialism.
The temptation is for Corbyn and MacDonald to
continue to appease the Right. Having promised
to abolish tuition fees and reinstate grants, Corbyn is now backing down on
this. In the face of steel closures the
SNP has called for nationalisation.
Labour has said nothing.
A major factor in Corbyn’s election was housing,
rent levels and security of tenure. Tory
policies of using housing price inflation to stimulate the economy are leading
to a situation where key workers can’t obtain affordable housing. A policy of taking housing out of the market,
reducing the price of housing and rent levels coupled with a right to buy at a
discount in the private sector and repeal of the right to buy social housing would
bury the buy to let sector.
There is one other question on which socialists
needs to take a stand. Proportional
Representation. To have a political
system that accords one seat to a party with over 4 million votes is grotesque.
Reform of internal party structures are crucial. The abolition of the National Policy Forum
and the reintroduction of Conference sovereignty, coupled with the abolition of
the requirement to obtain 15% of MPs as nominees for the leadership is the
minimum. The one measure that will put
the frighteners on right-wing MPs will be mandatory reselection coupled with
the right of recall. To abjure this is
not to strengthen but to weaken Corbyn’s position.
The Labour Party has always accepted the
British state uncritically. They are
literally Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.
A refusal by Corbyn to defend his republican beliefs and to pretend they
are ones of private conscience is part of the fundamental political weakness of
the Labour left. The Tory press
fulminated but the majority of people were unpersuaded by the necessity to doff
the cap and sing the anthem. A programme
to reform the feudal British state should include the royal prerogative, the
Privy Council and a referendum on abolition of the Monarchy.
MacDonald’s craven apology for having said that
the IRA were brave wasn’t simply embarrassing.
Did MacDonald forget the origins of the Northern Ireland state or its
existence as a Protestant supremacist police state for half a century or that when
the RUC and B-Specials invaded Derry’s Bogside in 1969, the IRA stood for I Ran
Away. Instead MacDonald apologised and
emphasised his allegiance to the British security state. Thus we see a Sir
Stafford Cripps in the making.
Corbyn has been involved in Palestine
solidarity for as long as he has been an MP yet he is now retreating to a
position of ‘dialogue’ which conveniently omits the question of who is the
oppressed and who is the oppressor.
Would he have called for dialogue to resolve Apartheid in South Africa? Those who possess privilege rarely give it
up of their own accord.
Working in the Labour party will not be
easy. Electoralism has its own
rhythms. Corbyn and MacDonald are prisoners
of their own shadow cabinet. Our job is
to free them. The victory of Corbyn
gives the socialist left opportunities it has rarely had. The question is whether they will instead
allow the Right to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat?