Category Archives: The left

Will ye no come back?

Amidst rumours of Jeremy Corbyn being set to launch a new party, Derek James asks why so many on the left are still in thrall to Corbynism

We can gauge the current state of the Labour left by the reaction, over the last few weeks, to rumours that Jeremy Corbyn was about to launch a new party. The response on social media was overwhelmingly positive, with many activists warmly welcoming the supposed initiative. One writer in the Morning Star spoke for many when she bemoaned the loss of energy, creativity and hope amongst the Labour left that followed Corbyn’s defeat and the election of Keir Starmer. Supporting the idea of a new party, Chelly Ryan argued that the possibility of any fight within Labour was now over:

The prospect of building slowly from within the Labour Party is now entirely defunct. We don’t have time for slow movement-building. And we don’t have the heart for it either. We are all spent from five years of internal warfare, defending one of, if not the, best leader the Labour Party ever had, from sabotage by the PLP and party staff.

… Starmer is sitting there, rubbing his hands in arrogant glee, knowing all he has to do is not cock up too badly and his time will come. And when it does, he will claim it was his purge of Corbyn and the “hard” left that won it. Then it will be business as usual. Fuscia Labour will tweak the status quo but they won’t change it dramatically This revolving door of not much changing can only be challenged by a new party and that new party has to be headed by Jeremy Corbyn. [1]

For these comrades Corbyn still remains the prince over the water, the rightful leader who, they hope, will one day return to claim his own and lead his followers to victory. He is, they say, the most unifying and inspiring figure we have had for generations, with the political weight and credibility to “light that spark” the left so urgently needs to revive.[2] Similar hopes are entertained elsewhere. Former left Labour MP Chris Williamson’s organisation – Resist: movement for a people’s party – welcomed the possible move, as did those who have always seen Corbyn’s Peace and Justice Project as the nucleus of a new party-in-waiting.[3] However, before everyone gets too excited, it seems that the rumours were just that – rumours. It appears that the source of the stories were a number of articles in the right-wing media and briefings from sources close to the Labour leadership.[4] Whether these speculations were part of a deep-laid  Machiavellian plot to force the Labour left’s hand into formally breaking with the party, a simple misreading of yet another fairly innocuous Peace and Justice Project initiative, or a distorted echo of  the party bureaucracy’s plans to select a new parliamentary candidate for Islington North, remains to be seen.[5] However, it is the left’s rather excited response to the  reports that is the important issue here.

The reaction to this ‘news’ by comrades like Chelly Ryan shows that many are still clutching at straws and hoping that the Starmerite tide can be turned. This is illusory for two reasons. Firstly, such hopes fail to really account for the political  failure of the ‘Corbyn project’ and the treacherous role that the Corbyn leadership played in appeasing the pro-capitalist Labour right during the anti-Semitism smear campaign against the left. Remember that the purges and witch-hunt began under Corbyn, who not only stood idly by when genuine socialists were expelled, but, along with John McDonnell, was quite willing to throw long-standing comrades and close allies under the bus in what proved to be an ultimately fruitless attempt to preserve their position. Not only was it a cowardly response to the attacks from the Labour right and the capitalist media, but it actually proved to be worse than useless as it only further demoralised and weakened the Labour left. Let’s have no more illusions – this particular prince and his politics should remain firmly over the water. Corbyn’s rotten strategy of appeasement does not deserve a second outing, and his warmed-over Keynesianism and limited tinkering do not at all constitute a real socialist alternative to capitalism.

The second fallacy is that the rank and file of the Corbyn movement can be easily recalled to the colours and that the clock can be turned back to 2017 or 2018. Many comrades on the Labour left talk as if the 150,000 or so who have quit since Starmer took over are just waiting behind the lines in reserve, ready to be called back into the battle. Unfortunately, this is not the case at all. This left has scattered to the winds: some have joined single issue protest campaigns or now focus their attention on trade union militancy, others have joined one of the confessional sects, but the vast majority have simply dropped out of politics altogether, disillusioned with the abject failure of the Corbyn project.

Yet many on the left cling to the idea that some kind of revival of these politics of the past is not only possible but is actually desirable. Some examples of this misplaced optimism were on display at what was, in effect, the foundation meeting of the Socialist Labour Network (LAW and LIEN) on January 14. Regular readers will remember that this group has emerged following the liquidation of Labour Against the Witchhunt through its merger with the Labour in Exile Network. The main impetus behind the new group appears to be an attempt to rally the confused and disoriented forces  and begin some kind of fightback. But despite the righteous indignation and the opposition to what has happened in the Labour Party since the election of Starmer, the initial meeting of this new grouping shows that it lacks coherence and a unifying strategy. The basic division within the SLN is between those comrades who still orientate towards the Labour Party and those who believe that it is now both possible and necessary to build some new project primarily outside of Labour. While the new group has yet to agree its aims (that will be the first task of the newly elected steering group), both the composition of that committee and the discussion on January 14 shows that this is a fundamental, if as yet implicit, faultline.

How exactly these divisions will play out remains to be seen. For example, what will be the response of those members who are in effect Labour left loyalists to election candidates who stand against Labour? On past experience, some of the leading members will want to support the next electoral outings of, say, George Galloway or his ilk, or advocate that trade unions disaffiliate from Labour, while others still hope that Labour can be saved by the revival of Corbynism. Perhaps such minor ‘tactical’ problems and political differences can be temporarily papered over, but the real issue of the direction of this type of project cannot be ignored by the principled and serious left.

A significant and leading minority of the leadership of the SLN claim to be Marxist. Yet, rather than advocating a Marxist programme that seeks to replace capitalism by building a Communist Party and a conscious movement for the self-emancipation of the working class, these comrades play at being left reformists, proposing instead the ‘transitional’ economistic politics of the half-way house. Arguing that such timid, essentially reformist politics can build a bridge to the masses, they see the new network as a way to gradually win the Labour left to Marxism. However, when push comes to shove on significant matters of programme, this approach badly falls down and our bold ‘Marxists’ stick to the commonplace reformist banalities of the Labour election manifesto or the Fabian certainties of the    old Clause Four.

These concessions to Labourism and compromises with reformism may ensure that the SLN limps on for a few months or so, but both its internal dynamics and the state of the wider left do not augur well for its long-term future. Instead of pretending that the Corbyn movement was the zenith of real left politics, the authentic, militant left needs to settle accounts with the past and completely break from what is now  clearly a project whose time has passed. Corbynism is dead, but the struggle for principled Marxist politics and a revolutionary programme continues l

[1]. morningstaronline.co.uk/article/f/why-im-hoping-corbyn-launches-new-party.

[2]. morningstaronline.co.uk/article/f/why-im-hoping-corbyn-launches-new-party.

[3]. creatingsocialism.org/resist-welcomes-rumoured-new-corbyn-party.

[4]. www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10386125/Jeremy-Corbyn-launch-new-Peace-Justice-Party-losing-Labour-whip.html; www.newstatesman.com/politics/labour/2022/01/why-a-new-left-party-led-by-jeremy-corbyn-is-a-bad-idea.

[5]. www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2022/01/09/jeremy-corbyn-could-establish-party-hopes-fade-reinstated-labour; leftfootforward.org/2022/01/tory-press-stirs-speculation-that-jeremy-corbyn-is-considering-launching-new-party; www.facebook.com/TheCorbynProject; www.islingtongazette.co.uk/news/local-council/jeremy-corbyn-islington-mp-could-face-labour-challenge-8616308.

Shuffling further to right

Derek James assesses Sir Keir’s new shadow cabinet, the cowardice of the official left and the danger of both Corbyn and McDonnell being expelled

While Keir Starmer’s reshuffle of his shadow cabinet was surrounded by the usual political speculation and gossip about who was in and who was out, the re-emergence of a number of figures from the Blair era is significant in showing the direction that Starmer is going.

It also shows how tightly he now controls both the Parliamentary Labour Party and the party machine – that and the weakness and demoralisation of the Labour left at all levels. Cat Smith – former Socialist Campaign Group member and shadow minister for democracy and young people – presumably jumped before being pushed. She was the last ‘leftwinger’ on Labour’s front bench. Clearly, though, Sir Keir’s whole approach, and not only when it comes to the shadow cabinet, is designed to win the next election.

Arguments coming from not a few that Starmer is so fixated on rooting out the Labour left that he is prepared to destroy the party and risk yet another electoral defeat are plainly nonsensical. As a dedicated careerist, Sir Keir understands that his route to Downing Street can only be achieved with the support of the bourgeoisie and its media. He must prove that he is a safe pair of hands that can provide a reliable alternative government when the first eleven, the Tories, are no longer able to do the job. Hence his pledge, once safely elected as Labour leader, to continue the attacks on the left under the guise of rooting out the so-called scourge of anti-Semitism. Hence his eagerness to ritualistically sacrifice Jeremy Corbyn. Hence his reshuffle. All designed to show Sir Keir’s hostility to any hint of socialism and prove his commitment to the Atlanticist consensus and support for Israel, US imperialism’s most important asset in the Middle East.

The reshuffle moves the Labour leadership still further to the right: given her role in the Blair government and acceptance of the Cameron government’s austerity strategy after 2010, the presence of Yvette Cooper alone would justify that description. However, high-profile appointments, such as David Lammy as shadow foreign secretary and Wes Streeting at health, confirm the shift. Then there is Jonathan Reynolds taking over the business brief from Ed Miliband. While the latter made some vague and clearly unacceptable suggestions about ‘public control’ of energy supply, Reynolds is on record as supporting ‘market-led solutions’ to the energy crisis. Lisa Nandy is now shadowing Michael Gove on the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda. She has clearly read the Blue Labour playbook and argues that Labour must position itself as a “patriotic and responsible” party to win back the ‘red wall’ voters who deserted the party during the Corbyn period.

The return of Blairite veterans and the complete takeover by the right was warmly welcomed by many media commentators and added to the momentum Starmer gained following his fawningly pro-business, ever so grown-up speech to the November conference of the Confederation of British Industry – which was positively contrasted with Johnson’s incoherent Peppa Pig ramblings. The continuing headlines about sleaze, government incompetence over Afghanistan, outright lies about Christmas parties and the tearful resignation of Allegra Stratton have all helped to boost Labour in the polls. A Labour government can no longer be discounted, that is for sure.

The carefully calculated snub Sir Keir administered to his deputy, Angela Rayner, in announcing the reshuffle at the same time as she gave a major speech only goes to show the commanding position that the Labour leader now enjoys. As a directly elected deputy, Rayner cannot be removed, but she can be sidelined and humiliated, as the occasion requires. From Starmer’s point of view, the politics behind this are relatively simple. She is yet another symbolic target, who offers an opportunity to prove both his domination of the party and his electoral credibility.

Others, however, see her differently. In a series of interviews and media interventions Rayner has played up her background and life story to position herself as the voice (quite literally) of the Labour heartlands and the working class. In reality she is a former trade union bureaucrat and political opportunist of the first water, using her union contacts to climb the greasy pole and to quickly abandon the Corbyn project when the tide turned. She is so blatant a careerist that even the most gullible party member should be able to see through her rather threadbare act.

But no! Even if they are not really taken in, some on the left claim to see her as some type of leftwinger, perhaps mistaking her demotic rhetoric and personal spat with Starmer for principled opposition and socialist politics. If they genuinely do see her in this light, it just shows how far the Labour left has degenerated politically – and if they are only pretending, it truly reveals how desperate and opportunist the official left has become.

Demoralisation

The official left, in the form of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs and the leadership of Momentum, have cut a sorry figure throughout the witch-hunt. Their policy of compromise and keeping heads down has not only been unprincipled: it has proved to be singularly ineffective. Their pathetic little careers are what really matters to them.

Given the complete abdication of leadership from the official left, the mood amongst its rank and file in the Constituency Labour Parties is one of demoralisation and confusion. As we have reported on several occasions in the last few months, the organised left does not know which way to turn in the face of the witch-hunt. In fact, with ever more comrades being expelled, with nothing approaching an agreed common strategy, it is going in all sorts of contradictory directions.

For example, the Labour Left for Socialism initiative – ie, the Chatham House left – has run out of steam and is effectively dead, while Labour Against the Witchhunt has been liquidated into yet another grouping which has a definite trajectory away from the fight in the Labour Party and into the useless, ineffective and utterly ridiculous territory of Corbynism without Corbyn. But whether it is in the Labour Party or out of the Labour Party, the left is incapable of learning from its repeated failures. It remains trapped in Labourism.

All this was on display at Expulsion Rebellion – an online meeting held on Sunday December 5 to celebrate those members who had been expelled or suspended. Chaired by Crispin Flintoff of Labour Grassroots, the event had an upbeat feel with speeches by purged comrades, along with video clips, poetry and songs. Speakers outlined their various experiences of the witch-hunt and some offered their perspectives on the way forward.

For Graham Bash, the purge of the left was a form of class war inside Labour, carried out by a leadership that feared the membership more than the Tories. He argued that this was the greatest crisis the Labour left has faced in the entire history of the Labour Party – no exaggeration. Instead of advocating giving up on Labour, he called on comrades to stay and fight. There were still more socialists within Labour, he said, than outside. This, of course, depends on what defines a socialist, but it is certainly the case that Labour remains a party with a mass working class base in terms of members, trade union affiliates and voters. Correctly, comrade Bash stressed that there was no hierarchy of those expelled and suspended, that it was vital to stand by and speak up for not only Jeremy Corbyn, but all victims of the witch-hunt, including, by implication, those thrown under the bus when Corbyn was Labour leader and Jennie Formby was general secretary.

Similar points were made by Pam Fitzpatrick and two members of Jewish Voice for Labour, Leah Levane and Richard Kuper. They also conclusively nailed the Starmer leadership’s lies about anti-Semitism and exposed the Kafkaesque situation, where expelling Jewish members was described as ‘dealing with anti-Semitism’ in the party! However, whilst there was a degree of unity in opposition to the injustices of the witch-hunt, no speakers proposed a clear way forward. Expelled Labour councillor Jo Bird, for example, expressed her relief at being purged and suggested the totally futile strategy that other councillors in her position should stand for re-election as independents and thus build a grassroots campaign. Such an approach represents a political dead-end, a recipe for individualistic gestures, and has no chance whatsoever of long-term success.

As to the meeting overall, while it is good to be defiant and positive in the face of Starmer’s purge, we need much more than speeches of solidarity – we need a militant strategy and a clear alternative to seeking unity with the pro-capitalist leadership of the Labour Party. Many who attended this meeting, along with others who were part of the wider Corbyn movement, still look to the official left to provide some kind of fighting lead.

So it was with some anticipation that the meeting awaited the messages received from Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. When they were read out by the chair, the disappointment was palpable. Corbyn restated his commitment to Labour principles and his own continued membership of the party. His focus was on the need for party unity to fight the Tories. Likewise, John McDonnell reiterated his original statement in support of Graham Bash, but there was no explanation of why the witch-hunt was being carried out and no calls for solidarity with all those who have been expelled. Corbyn and McDonnell probably hope that they said enough to reassure the rank-and-file left that they remain on their side, whilst at the same time saying nothing that would justify action against them from the party machine.

What happens next remains to be seen. It is, though, far from impossible that Sir Keir and the Victoria Street apparatus will see an opportunity to prove themselves to their masters yet again by expelling both Corbyn and McDonnell. After all, they sent messages of support to a meeting ‘celebrating’ the contributions of people who have been expelled. Nowadays a heinous crime.

Merging into a cul-de-sac

Derek James argues that this is no time to give up on the fight against the witch-hunt. Nor will the attempt to form an amorphous socialist movement get anywhere

The decision to close down Labour Against the Witchhunt represents a step backwards in the fight against the Labour leadership’s attacks on party democracy and freedom of speech.

The proscribing of four organisations, the expulsion of long-standing leftwinger Graham Bash and the return of open Blairites to the shadow cabinet are just the most recent examples of how the right’s offensive is being intensified. Unfortunately, at a time when Keir Starmer and the party bureaucracy are stepping up their attacks on the left, the so-called merger of LAW and the Labour In Exile Network is likely to produce a total much less than the sum of its two parts. So, just when the need for a determined fightback by the left has never been greater, the possibility of it actually happening seems less likely!

The LAW all-members’ meeting on Saturday November 27 was presented with two sharply opposed motions that posed very different perspectives about the future direction of the campaign. The first, submitted by Tony Greenstein and Esther Giles, called for the merger of the two groups. It took as its starting point the argument made by Ken Loach that “democracy was dead in the Labour Party” and that there is now a political vacuum which presents the biggest challenge to the left in a generation. Quoting directly from comrade Loach, the motion said:

… we do need a new political movement, across the whole left, inside the Labour Party and outside; it’s got to be ready to become a party when the time is right … Otherwise we fragment … At this critical moment, when you have this mass of people just driven out of the party, where are they going to go? If we miss this opportunity, it is a very black outlook.

After calling for a merger – or a “consolidation”, as comrade Greenstein described it – the motion went on to define its strategy as one of working or joining forces with other “like-minded organisations, including the Labour Left Alliance, Labour Representation Committee, Resist and Defend the Left”. Significantly a section of the original motion was deleted. This would have committed the merged group to:

both fighting the witch-hunt in the Labour Party and the politics of Starmer and bringing together socialists both inside and outside the Labour Party to build a socialist movement [and seeking] to work with grassroots mass movements such as over climate change (XR) and racism (BLM).

It was deleted as a result of an amendment moved by a leading member of LIEN, Norman Thomas.

The second motion, moved by LPM supporters Stan Keable and Andrew Kirkland, opposed the merger of LAW and LIEN, and argued that the focus of our campaign should remain on Labour and not the formation of a new group outside the party. The motion located the witch-hunt and the continuing battle inside Labour in a wider political context, by arguing that “reasserting rightwing domination of the Labour Party is of great importance to the UK establishment in guaranteeing the loyalty of its alternative capitalist government to the US world hegemon and its ally, Israel”.

The motion rejected the view that the struggle against the Labour witch-hunt is over, and that LAW has outlived its usefulness. Comrades Keable and Kirkland believed that the merger of LAW and LIEN would not only liquidate LAW, but would add to the widespread demoralisation and disorientation that already exists on the Labour left. Far from giving up on this fight, the motion stated that LAW still has a specific job to do in fighting the ongoing witch-hunt.

Thus it outlined a concrete set of campaigning proposals, such as intervening in all layers of the Labour Party and continuing to campaign at a grassroots level: working to build opposition to bans and proscriptions in the trade unions; winning the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, Momentum, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, etc to adopt a militant and unambiguous stance against the witch-hunt; deepening links with those outside the Labour Party who are being subjected to the bogus ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ smear campaign – pro-Palestine activists, academics, students, trade unionists, journalists, writers, artists, comics, film-makers, etc – and joining together with those internationally who are fighting back against the witch-hunt: eg, in the US, Germany, the Netherlands and France.

Consolidation?

Although both motions were moved, the meeting agreed by 49 to 41 to only vote on motion 1. Thus, if motion 1 was agreed, motion 2 would then automatically fall. In the event, it was indeed motion 1 favouring the merger that eventually passed with 47 votes in favour, 27 against and 12 recorded abstentions – although, with some 100 members present online, another 14 participants did not record a vote.

Both in moving the motion to merge and during the subsequent debate, the supporters of liquidating LAW argued that the current attacks on the left were “unprecedented” and that there was no real possibility of continuing the fight in Labour. Trade unions are breaking their links with the party and a slow “one-sided split” was underway. Comrade Greenstein said that there was little that LAW could do to resist the witch-hunt and that the immediate task was to build a socialist movement that could keep together the 150,000 party members who had left Labour since Starmer had become leader. In due course, when the time is right, he suggested, this would lead to the formation of a new party. But what sort of party and programme are we offered?

Here the real political weaknesses of the merger project were revealed. Although some of the comrades supporting this new initiative self-define as Marxists, all that they could offer us was yet another warmed-up halfway house or a Labour Party mark two. This oh-so-new project is in fact based on Labour’s 2017 and 2019 general election manifestoes, whose timid, managed capitalism is impossible to dignify even with the title ‘left reformism’, much less ‘socialism’. When the essentially pro-capitalist and pro-imperialist nature of these manifestoes was pointed out, all these comrades could do was to warn us not to scare the horses – the Labour left would be frightened off by too radical a project! Take it easy! Gently does it!

The transition towards socialist consciousness is a gradual one, we are told, showing that our rather Fabian Trotskyist comrades really lack confidence in winning the working class to the cause of socialist revolution. Instead, in this new organisation we can be sure that these ‘Marxists’ will hide their revolutionary light under a bushel and play the part of loyal Corbynites, whose only aim is to return to the glory days before the 2019 election defeat: no socialist politics or Marxist programme here, you understand; just an attempt to revive the Corbyn moment and its inchoate slogans, albeit this time sans Corbyn.

However, when reminded that the recent history of the left is littered with many such attempts to build broad fronts, such as the Scottish Socialist Party, Respect and Left Unity, and that all they produced were futile political cul-de-sacs, we are assured by these comrades that this time everything will be different. What justifies such confident hope after this often bitter story of the left’s political failure? Why, it is the experience of ‘the Corbyn movement’ itself and the belief that the missing 150,000 members can be quickly recalled to the colours by the new broad socialist movement that will emerge from the “consolidation” of LIEN and LAW.

While we wish the comrades well, it is not only past attempts to unite disparate elements in halfway-house projects that fail to inspire confidence about the future of this new initiative – which means, in effect, the absorption of LAW by LIEN. The plain fact is that the Corbyn moment has passed and no amount of ghost dancing is going to bring it back. The 150,000 lost members are not sitting around waiting for a call to arms to join a new initiative. They will not be so easily scooped up. Some have joined the numerous small groups outside the Labour Party, such as Chris Williamson’s Resist; others have turned their attention to renewed activity in the trade unions or thrown themselves into activism and protest politics, such as XR; while many more have simply given up – disillusioned by the dismal failure of the Labour left and its leaders.

Disgrace

The leaders of the official, licensed left in the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs and Momentum have compromised and surrendered to the Labour right all along the line. They are a disgrace, having squandered opportunity after opportunity to advance the politics of the left in the party. They have been prepared to throw good comrades under the bus and join in the attack, as socialist militants are smeared with false accusations of anti-Semitism.

The continued failure of Corbyn, McDonnell et al to rally the left in the face of the witch-hunt has only added to the demoralisation of the left, which is now in a full, disorganised retreat. Attendance at meetings has fallen dramatically and there is a widespread pessimism in many Constituency Labour Parties. Indeed, many left activists are keeping their heads down and their powder dry, hoping for better times ahead somewhere in the distant future, and only breaking cover to take part in Twitter storms and sporadic conference rebellions against the leadership.

In this period of defeat, it is essential to keep a cool, strategic head. Despair is no help whatsoever. If the comrades were proposing an organisation, a movement, which had half a chance of leading to a serious Marxist party, it would be another matter. Meanwhile, it is clear that the fight in the Labour Party is far from over. Like the trade unions it remains a vital site of struggle.

Despite the seriousness of the current witch-hunt and the dire position in which the left now finds itself, the present situation is part of a wider pattern. Just look at the history of recurring witch-hunts against the left from the 1920s onwards. Bans and proscriptions, expulsions and suspensions are nothing new.

Neither is the bourgeois nature of the party’s leadership and pro-capitalist right, irrespective of their individual social backgrounds. Who can tell me that trade union leaders turned Labour politicians like Jimmy Thomas and Ernie Bevin did not further the interests of capitalism within the workers’ movement? Many comrades in the 1990s argued that Tony Blair’s apparent total victory meant that Labour had become a completely bourgeois party. In the main the various halfway house projects and ‘new workers’ parties’ that developed in this period were predicated on that assessment, yet failed to break through – even when they watered down their ‘Marxism’ and presented themselves as the real inheritors of the ‘old Labour’ tradition.

The politics of the Labour leadership from the foundation of the party have always been bourgeois, in that they seek to integrate the working class into capitalism and the constitutional status quo. Given the party’s origins as a sectional representative of ‘labour’ and a party of the trade unions, which attempts to bargain with the ruling class, the development of this type of limited politics, focused on obtaining concessions within the framework of capitalism, was inevitable. The absorption of individual Labour leaders into the ruling class and the creation of Labour as an acceptable alternative party of government from the 1920s were simply a corollary of this structural process of incorporation.

Starmer and Blair are particularly egregious examples of this, but, in their acceptance of capitalism and the rules of the political game, they are just the same as earlier Labour leaders. Characterising the leaderships of Blair and Starmer as somehow uniquely ‘bourgeois’ not only obscures the historical nature of the Labour Party, but also sows illusions in those Labour leaders, like Jeremy Corbyn, who use left rhetoric to cover their compromises with capitalism.

However, whilst Labour retains the affiliation of significant trade unions, maintains an electoral base amongst working class voters and remains a potential focus for those who define themselves as socialists, it still can be seen as a bourgeois workers’ party. So, despite and perhaps because of the witch-hunt, Labour under Keir Starmer is far from dead: it remains a bourgeois workers’ party that the ruling class are determined to keep under their control and thus it is still an important site of struggle for socialists.

History repeating

Our critique of the as-yet-unnamed merger project is both political and strategic. The leadership of LIEN includes comrades who are uncritical supporters of Corbyn, do not understand his treacherous role and will not countenance a word said against him, whilst others who support the merger are openly and correctly critical of Corbyn’s surrender to the right during the witch-hunt. Hardly a recipe for harmony.

Likewise, there are similar political fault lines about the strategic direction of the new group. Whilst for many the merger is simply a case of huddling together in a cold and hostile political environment or continuing the headless-chicken ‘politics’ of ‘action, action, action’, others have a more clearly defined aim. Although it appears that, in arguing that the new initiative should work or join forces with other “like-minded organisations”, options are being kept open. In practice the general line of travel into a new broad-front grouping and political dead-end outside the Labour Party is clearly signposted. The two lines of ‘action’ and ‘fusion’ are, of course, not incompatible and can easily coexist and cooperate within one organisation for a certain period. But, taken as a whole, they do not make for long-term political coherence and a clear organisational strategy.

Our opposition to the liquidation of LAW and our call to keep its focus on Labour is not the result of any blind Labour loyalism or of clinging onto the routine certainties of party membership and activity. LPM recognises both the historical and contemporary place of the Labour Party in British society and working class politics. It also understands that this position is not immutably fixed for all time and that it could change in the future: like other social democratic parties in Europe, it could undergo a process of decline and Pasokification. The electoral collapse of Labour in Scotland and the undermining of the ‘red wall’ is a warning of how that might happen in Britain as a whole.

However, Labour is not dead yet. Just as the obituaries pronounced in the 1990s were proven to be premature by the unexpected development of the Corbyn movement and the growth of a mass left in the party, so the continued witch-hunt shows that for the ruling class and their collaborators on the Labour right the party remains too valuable a tool to be abandoned to the left and working class militants. If the ruling class thinks the battle is still worth fighting, then so must we.

LPM has a serious strategic orientation towards Labour. We call not for the abandonment of the party, but its refounding as a united front of a special kind, open to affiliation by all working class and socialist organisations. We recognise that Labour is not a ready-made instrument for achieving socialism: that requires a party armed with a Marxist programme of working class self-emancipation, as opposed to electoralism and participation in bourgeois governments. The development of such a party and such a programme is absolutely essential. This is not a Labour Party mark two, or a broad-left party with a Marxist vanguard.

Time for a Rethink

Derek James rounds on John McDonnell for his pusillanimity and the official left for its silence over the expulsion of Graham Bash

News that veteran Labour left activist Graham Bash has been expelled by Labour for supporting Labour Against the Witchhunt had been long expected and was met with a predictable and entirely justified wave of protest from the left.[1] The fact that a Labour member of over 50 years standing, editor of Labour Briefing and a leading figure in organisations such as the Labour Representation Committee and Jewish Voice for Labour could be expelled for the ‘offence’ of signing a LAW petition before it was proscribed is Kafkaesque – but sadly not at all unusual nowadays.

That this form of retrospective charge, which runs counter to any democratic principles or sense of natural justice, can be so widely used by the Labour bureaucracy shows just how firm a grip they now have. While the usual suspects on the left vigorously protested about the expulsion of comrade Bash, the other usual suspects who claim to be on the left – the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, for example – kept to their now customary vow of silence. However, one valiant member of the SCG, John McDonnell, a long-time comrade did manage to tweet about his treatment:

I’ve known and campaigned alongside Graham Bash for over 40 years. He is one of the finest socialists I have met. I do not believe it can be just to expel someone from the Labour Party based upon actions or associations with an organisation before it has been proscribed.[2]

Given their political association within the London left in the late 1970s, and more recently through the LRC and Labour Briefing, for which McDonnell once wrote a regular column, these comforting words are the least that he could do for an old comrade – but they are not nearly enough. It might seem churlish to criticise this gesture of support: after all, given the vehemence of these attacks on the left should we not be grateful for even this rather lukewarm expression of solidarity?

No, we should not! This type of hand-wringing ‘support’ is simply not good enough, given the scale of the witch-hunt we now face. Leaving John McDonnell’s personal feelings aside, his tweet is not only woefully inadequate in defending comrade Bash, but is worse than useless in fighting back politically against the attacks of the Labour leadership. The type of statement McDonnell should have made would not simply have defended Graham Bash’s character and political reputation, nor would it merely raise a query about the ‘justice’ of the charges and procedure of his expulsion. What we need is more than a muted ‘condemnation’: the situation demands a political defence of party democracy and free speech and a real explanation of why Keir Starmer and the right are using trumped-up accusations of ‘anti-Semitism’ against the left.

However, as the last five years have shown, what the situation requires and what we get from the leaders of the official left are two very different things. Thus, John McDonnell’s rather tardy apologia on behalf of comrade Bash runs very much true to form in its oh so faint criticism of his expulsion. It also sheds light on the political duplicity and slavish compromises with the Labour right that characterise the politics of the official Labour left. So, McDonnell is concerned about the shabby treatment of his erstwhile comrade and rails, albeit sotto voce, against the terrible injustice that has been done to him. Comrade Bash is one of the finest socialists John McDonnell has ever met, so he tells us, and we agree that the expelled comrade is a genuine socialist who has been grotesquely smeared. But Graham Bash is not alone in facing persecution by the right: many other Jewish socialists are currently being attacked in this way. The question is: aren’t these and other leftwing comrades equally worthy of McDonnell’s support? Why the silence about the thousands of others who have been expelled? Are they not also ‘fine socialists’ who have been treated unjustly? Why no outcry about the reintroduction of bans and proscriptions?

The answer is that McDonnell is rather selective in whom he offers support to and who he is prepared to sacrifice when the right demands it. In conceding to the right that the left does have some form of anti-Semitism problem, as he did recently in Solidarity, the paper of the pro-witch-hunt Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, he is simply preparing the ground for yet more attacks and expulsions.[3] He ceded similar ground to the Labour right during the Corbyn leadership that only acted to undermine the left and embolden the witch-hunters.[4]

In this period he perfected an ability to speak out of both sides of his mouth at the same time. So, when activists were pushing to deselect rightwing anti-Corbyn MPs, McDonnell equivocated, offering a degree of public support for party democracy and the accountability of MPs to their Constituency Labour Parties, whilst at the same time privately urging restraint and attempting to broker compromise at every turn. John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn both acted behind the scenes to hold back the left in the CLPs. McDonnell in particular traded upon his left reputation in the CLPs: he was very active in personally persuading them that it was clever strategy not to move against rightwing MPs in a vain hope that such concessions would buy peace and secure the cooperation of the Parliamentary Labour Party. We all know how well that worked and where it ended up, don’t we?

Pointing out the contradictions and the failures of this strategy, and the disastrous role of the official left since 2015, is not simply point-scoring or a personal attack on McDonnell. Rather the failure of the Labour left – both during the Corbyn leadership and since – has not even been really discussed, much less understood, by the left. We know how those on the official left like McDonnell failed and continue to fail, both in taking the fight to the right and in really defending leftwingers like Graham Bash. For all his fine words, John McDonnell is quite willing to throw even his closest comrades under the bus.

This is not simply a flaw in his character or a personal betrayal. The fault lies not in the stars, but in the politics and the strategy of the official left and its inherent Labourism. Put simply, the sole strategy of this ‘left’ is to pursue ‘socialism’ (in reality a managed and reformed capitalism) through the election of a series of Labour governments and utilising the existing state to bring about the ‘transformation’ of society. Such a ‘strategy’ places a premium on the continued existence of Labour as an electoral force and a potential government and is in turn quite fundamentally predicated – in fact and ‘theory’ – on the essential unity of the left with the Labour right.

Maintaining that unity as a matter of course necessitates that the Labour left must make concessions and thus make itself completely subservient to the pro-capitalist right. The whole history of the left has been one of subordination to capitalism, the existing constitutional order and the Labour lieutenants of capital on the Labour right. Corbynism was no exception to that rule, as its failure and continued disintegration shows. However, until we understand these inherent historical and political flaws, and why it produces a completely useless strategy, the Labour left will continue to remain enchained by both its own politics and its trust in duplicitous ‘left’ MPs like John McDonnell.

Sadly those who fail to learn from their mistakes will be doomed to repeat them .

Notes

[1] www.thecanary.co/uk/analysis/2021/11/07/graham-bash-tells-the-canary-the-labour-witch-hunt-will-not-stop-until-it-guts-the-party.

[2] twitter.com/johnmcdonnellMP/status/1456923121215320070.

[3]www.workersliberty.org/index.php/story/2021-10-19/trade-union-struggle-and-political-struggle-interview-john-mcdonnell.

[4]www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-45035341.

Feeding the revolving door

Andrew Byrne, Gerald Wiley and Derek James report on an all too carefully choreographed event staged by the Socialist Appeal comrades

Last weekend’s Revolution festival, organised by Socialist Appeal and the International Marxist Tendency, provided a good snapshot of the politics and the state of the contemporary left, both inside and outside the Labour Party.

The IMT put on a tight show and talked a good talk: in contrast to many on the Labour left, the tone was buoyant, if downright apocalyptic, and morale seemed high. The casual observer who wandered in might easily have concluded that this was a group that was really starting to take off. Certainly, the leadership and committed members of the IMT must have been happy with both the turnout and the tenor – an overall attendance of 400-500, mostly young, people, who listened intently and, when the occasion demanded, warmly applauded the calls for revolution and the overthrow of capitalism. What’s not to like?

The mood was set by Rob Sewell, editor of Socialist Appeal, at the opening rally. He argued that “this is an age of convulsion, an age of turmoil and an age of crisis”, which will only “intensify, because it is rooted in the impasse of capitalism”, the “anarchy of the market” and the “capitalist system”. The result of this pressure on the working class, he predicted, will be a social explosion: a wave of strikes and “Titanic battles” on the horizon. For comrade Sewell, there is “enormous disenchantment in society, especially amongst young people”. The ruling class is “forcing down the lid, but this pressure is continually building up and building up …”

Having set the scene for this impending crisis, he then reviewed the recent history of the Labour left and Corbynism. Here comrade Sewell went over familiar and, for us, uncontroversial ground about the failure of the Corbyn leadership and the official left to take the fight to the right on open selection, along with the disastrous compromises and concessions it made during the witch-hunt against the left. He argued that such compromises and retreats were inherent in Labour left reformism, but did not explain the structural reasons why such conciliationism is inevitable. This was strong, barnstorming rhetoric and correct condemnation, but no analysis whatsoever, beyond ‘Corbyn movement good, left reformism bad’!

The culmination of the peroration went to the heart of the IMT’s politics and current strategy. Because there can be no lasting reforms during a capitalist crisis, the Labour right and trade union bureaucrats will crumble, since they cannot deliver anything for the working class, we were told. In the coming period the workers will look towards the industrial front to defend their living standards rather than the Labour Party and “we will be with them”. But the crisis will also produce radical changes from which, comrade Sewell assured the meeting in his conclusion, a new, stronger, more determined left will emerge. However, these developments, in and of themselves, were not enough to produce a socialist revolution:

We still need the forces of Marxism in order to steel it and direct it. Our task, surely, is to … be there … with the right ideas. We have to build our force of five or 10 thousand Marxists. At the moment we have about a 1,000. We have to get to 5,000, we have to get to 10,000. Then we can become a factor in the situation … we can provide not just the backbone, but also the ideas and perspectives. And these ideas can grow and develop on the basis of the events themselves.

Consciousness will change. It will be transformed. And the ideas of Marxism will become more and more attractive, despite the attacks of the right wing. We stand for the idea of socialist revolution … But it depends on us, no-one else … our task is to build the forces of Marxism and prepare for the future, lead a successful revolution in Britain as the stepping stone for a successful world revolution in the coming period (our emphasis).

Mechanistic

Whether discussing historical materialism or the lessons of the Paris Commune, variations on these themes would be heard in the various sessions throughout the weekend. This theory of crisis and the idea of spontaneous, economistic transformation of consciousness “on the basis of events themselves” has been very much the common currency of Trotskyism since the late 1930s at least and is all too familiar as a guiding strategy for many on the left today. Its combination of passivity produces a sense of inevitable determinism: for these comrades Marxist political consciousness is either generated spontaneously simply by the mere fact of exploitation in work or by “events”.

This mechanistic schema of how the consciousness of the working class will be transformed and thus produce the desired revolutionary outcome has now become the common sense of far too many of those claiming to be Marxists. As we see here with the IMT, paradoxically it is often combined with a heightened sense of urgency, agency and activism, which substitutes the building of a mass party of millions committed to the self-emancipation and self-activity of the working class with an enlightened group of a few thousand leading the bovine masses towards ‘revolution’.

This emphasis on ‘building the revolutionary party’ was the central theme and the main purpose of the whole event. It was clear from both the opening contributions and resulting discussions that the Revolution festival was part of a process of what one leading IMT comrade described as “building a revolutionary and theoretically trained cadre who could intervene in the struggles ahead and lead the masses to victory”. However, the ‘theory’ on offer was pretty thin gruel and ultimately rather unsatisfactory if you wanted more than the familiar slogans and appeals for action.

Thus, the session on ‘The life and ideas of Lenin’ was a rather potted and distorted account of Lenin’s politics and the development of Bolshevism during the Russian Revolution, which emphasised “the rapid growth of the party” in a few months from a small minority to a force capable of taking power. Similarly, ‘How to build a revolutionary party’ , although ranging far and wide over the history of revolutionary politics in the 20th century, just repeated many of the same canards about the nature of these parties and why they succeeded – or, in most cases, failed. The lesson was that “cadres are the bedrock of the revolutionary party and the key to a successful revolution” rather than the conscious hegemony of the class acting as class for itself. So the message here was loud and clear: “We need a party of thousands”, so, join, join, join!

Given the IMT’s origins in the old Militant Tendency, we were not surprised to see Militant’s historical economism rear its ugly head in a complete lack of serious analysis of the important political question of the state and constitution. In sessions whose topics ranged from the climate crisis to the monarchy, we found the same unMarxist formula, “the market dictates to the state, and not the other way round”. Whilst the IMT comrades were drilled well on the need to abolish the monarchy, the state, standing army, etc, speakers and chairs were vigilant in reminding listeners that such demands, whilst relatively popular now, should not be made in the current context, as such institutions can “only be overthrown by the socialist revolution”.

Thus, the IMT not only finds itself at odds with over 170 years of Marxist tradition: it also adopts a position with its own internal contradictions. The comrades simultaneously recognise that in times of revolutionary crisis state institutions like the monarchy are given “unlimited and unchecked power”, yet at the same time characterise it as a mere “reactionary relic” – something that is not really worth dealing with now. As one of the comrades put it, “We’re not going to abolish the monarchy under capitalism and, to be honest, abolishing the monarchy under capitalism wouldn’t change anything.”

As an event, this was all about recruitment and consolidating the IMT’s periphery, especially the students around the Marxist Student Federation, as well as getting existing members to “step up” and commit themselves fully to the group. It was not really designed for the seasoned cadre and made no attempt to engage with the wider left, who were frequently disparaged as mere discussion circles. Most of the sessions were ‘introductions’ to the relevant topics and seemed to assume quite a low level of prior knowledge. Moreover, the sessions were clearly highly choreographed, and scripted in a rather obvious and crude way.

Thus, in the session on the revolutionary party seven IMT comrades, one after another, were called in to the ‘discussion’ simply to amplify the main points addressed by the speaker. How do we know this? Because the chair called them by their first names and they read from prepared scripts, which was a feature common to the other sessions as well! In the sessions where we were successful in getting into the discussion, our contributions were curtailed by the chair and our very polite, democratic heckles were regarded as disruptive interruptions to the smooth running of the event!

Despite these limitations, it was worthwhile. But where were the rest of the left? Shouldn’t we be talking to each other about the way forward? In the corridors and outside during the breaks we engaged with many of those who attended, distributed copies of the Weekly Worker and had many interesting conversations with some genuinely friendly comrades. If we are going to build a genuine Marxist party, refusing to talk to, debate and work with those who already identify themselves as Marxist is not going to be the way to go about it.

On this showing, in its calls to build a revolutionary party, Socialist Appeal has moved to the left and away from its previous unremitting Labour loyalism. However, if this new focus on working outside the Labour Party has meant some changes in orientation and demands, the underlying political assumptions about the nature of crisis as a trigger for the growth of revolutionary consciousness have remained the same as the Militant forebears of the IMT over half a century ago.

What has changed? Simply, a new round of recruits has entered what is too often a revolving door!

Right firmly in control

The Labour left is still clutching at unity and refusing to face up to defeat. Derek James looks at the sorry results

The smell of decay and disintegration that has hung over the Labour left since the defeat of Jeremy Corbyn has only got stronger since last month’s party conference. Although some on the left have tried to spin the conference votes on Israel/Palestine, Aukus and the Green New Deal as victories, the truth is that Sir Keir and the Labour right are now in complete control of both the party machine and policy, and can safely ignore such left votes.

Taking some small comfort from passing resolutions is understandable, given the continuing dominance of the right, but it really does not do anybody any favours to pretend that the Labour left is in any state to fight back against Starmer. As the party continues to haemorrhage members, the Labour left simply does not have the numbers to effectively fight back, but – most importantly – it does not have either the strategy or the coherent politics to resist.

If we are going to build an authentic, militant left in the Labour Party, we have to tell the truth, not tell ourselves fairy stories. So, despite attempts to talk up the continuing strength of the left in the Constituency Labour Parties, it is plain that Corbynism cannot be revived: we have to be honest and admit that its moment has passed, and that no amount of wishing it back into existence or hoping that the king over the water will return to lead us, will bring it back to life again.

The Socialist Campaign Group of MPs and the Momentum leadership constitute simply the official, licensed left, which can be relied on to say nothing and do even less in the face of the witch-hunt and the proscriptions against the left as a whole. A combination of careerist opportunism and a political ‘strategy’ that prizes party unity and the election of a Labour government above all else means that these ‘leftwingers’ will continue to keep their heads down and accommodate to the Labour right on every occasion. They are wedded to the idea that any Labour government, no matter how rightwing and pro-capitalist, is better than the Tories and that ‘socialism’ can be delivered incrementally through a series of left Labour governments.

The latest incarnation of this tendency is Labour Left For Socialism – primarily an initiative of left trade union bureaucrats and assorted hangers-on, which has distanced itself from proscribed groups, such as Labour Against the Witchhunt, despite its verbal opposition to bans and proscriptions. Like the official left as a whole, there they stand: they can do no other; compromise and subordination to the pro-capitalist leadership are in their very DNA.

If the official Labour left has shown its true colours, what of the various groups of activists that have arisen to try to rally the left in the aftermath of the defeat of Corbynism? Although made up of genuine and committed comrades, the discussions within groups such as the Labour Left Alliance, Labour in Exile Network and LAW show that many comrades still have not really come to terms with why Corbynism failed and the nature of the current moment.

Amidst the rather contradictory trends and moods expressed during the online meetings since the conference, two broad currents can be discerned: those comrades who cling on to the glory days of Corbynism and seek to revive it through ‘grassroots campaigning’ against austerity or in defence of the NHS; as opposed to those who either want to form a new party immediately or believe we are already in a transitional phase in which such a party is in the process of being formed. Chris Williamson’s Resist is just the latest such attempt at a new direction and if, as seems likely, it takes the form of a broad left amalgam of the lowest common denominator or an unprincipled popular front, it too will follow Respect, Left Unity, and the Scottish Socialist Party into the dustbin of history.[1] Repeating the mistakes of these failed left parties of the past is no answer. But neither is simply recreating a Labour Party mark two, as the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition has so lamentably failed to do.

Socialist Appeal

What is lacking in both positions is a clear understanding of the nature of the Labour Party, both as an historical formation and in its contemporary form. Supporters of Labour Party Marxists have argued for a continuing strategic orientation towards the Labour Party, given its links with the trade unions, its base of support in the working class and the identification of the class with Labour as an electoral force. Given this, we cannot simply wish Labour away: our strategy must be to work through the Labour Party if we are to build a genuine Marxist party.

However, we have no illusions in the nature of the party or that, as presently constituted, it can be a ready-made instrument for achieving socialism. Labour remains a bourgeois workers’ party with a pro-capitalist leadership and working class base: both in organisational and political form it is committed to capitalism. Even under Corbyn’s ‘left’ leadership, the party’s manifesto in 2019 merely stood for a form of managed capitalism and the continuation of the constitutional status quo, not the self-emancipation of the working class and the socialist transformation of society.

In calling on Labour members to stay and fight, LPM is not simply repeating the mantra of Labour loyalists or arguing for staying put faute de mieux (for want of a better alternative). Our argument is that the fight for a Marxist party goes hand in hand with the demand for the refoundation of Labour as a united front of a special kind, open to all socialist and working class organisations. Moreover, given the nature of Labourism and its focus on purely electoral politics, if such a process is to be successful, it cannot be simply generated spontaneously or organically within the Labour Party itself. The history of the party from its very foundation in 1900 shows that such a transformation requires the development of a hegemonic Marxist party and a revolutionary programme that can act externally as a galvanising force and a pole of attraction for the inchoate Labour left.

Debating this strategy is now vital for the genuine left, both within and without the Labour Party. In particular, it is a question that Socialist Appeal supporters are now facing, as they suffer one expulsion from the party after another following their proscription by Labour’s national executive committee. We agree with them that we cannot simply ignore Labour or abandon the fight within the party. What about this argument?

What is needed is a powerful Marxist tendency, to provide a genuine, bold strategy to defeat the right. Only the forces of Marxism can provide the necessary backbone for the left. We fully understand that there can be no compromise with capitalism or their rightwing agents. We have no truck with patching up capitalism. We stand for revolutionary change in society; for the abolition of capitalist rule.[2]

Despite this apparent rousing call to arms, Socialist Appeal has not actually had a Marxist strategy towards Labour at all. In reality its comrades have been content to act as Labour loyalists, arguing that their rather economistic version of ‘Marxism’ is fully in accord with the old, Fabian-inspired 1918 clause four. In framing its politics around the election of a Labour government committed to a socialist programme, Socialist Appeal clearly stays within the framework of ‘parliamentary socialism’, with politics that are simply a logical extension of existing left reformism.

Moreover, although sharply critical of the current state of the Labour left, Socialist Appeal’s own politics cannot explain the structural reasons why the Labour left continues to hang on to the coat-tails of the right and is thus ultimately tied to the capitalist class. So, rather than analysing the left’s failure to overthrow the right as an inevitable result of their reformist politics and electoralism, the surrender of the left is merely attributed to an inexplicable unwillingness to fight and vague “political weakness”.[3]

Until we seriously explain why Corbynism failed and analyse how the Labour left continues to subordinate itself in practice to capitalism, we are doomed to simply repeat the tried-and-failed politics of the past. And that is not going to take us very far forward at all, is it?


Notes

[1] ‘Unity without principle’ Weekly Worker October 21: www.weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1368/unity-without-principle.

[2] R Sewell, ‘Where is Labour heading?’ Socialist Appeal October 15 2021.

[3] Ibid.

 

Eighteen theses on Labour

Disputation on the self-defeating common sense of governmentalism and the illusions of broad left alternatives

1. The December 2019 general election defeat and Sir Keir Starmer’s subsequent leadership victory shows the bankruptcy of the reformist strategy for socialism. With Jeremy Corbyn they had their ideal leader, with John McDonnell they had their ideal shadow chancellor, with It’s time for real change they had their ideal manifesto.

2. Labour’s poor performance in 2019 is not only explained by ‘getting Brexit done’. Jeremy Corbyn faced unremitting hostility from the mainstream media, which did everything it could to feed and promote the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ smear campaign. But to have expected anything else would have been naive. The mainstream media “carry out a system-supportive propaganda function” (Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky). In the absence of a full-spectrum mass media in the hands of the labour movement, Corbyn was forced to undergo trial by the bourgeois establishment’s papers and journals, radio and TV stations, and news and blog sites. He was never going to win.

3. A Corbyn-led government was not a prospect that the ruling class was prepared to countenance. Economically, they deemed its programme grossly irresponsible. It could, they feared, trigger a crisis of expectations. More than that, they considered Corbyn and his close allies totally unreliable when it came to international politics. So, if by some fluke a Corbyn-led government had taken office, their response would have been such tactics as an organised run on the pound, wrecking operations by the Parliamentary Labour Party right, MI5 subversion, an army mutiny, US ‘pushback’, a royal-blessed coup, etc.

4. While the chances of a Corbyn-led government were always exceedingly remote, that cannot be said of the possibility of making changes to the Labour Party’s rules and structures. Yet, whereas Tony Blair carried out a (counter) revolution, all that Corbyn managed to achieve were a few tinkering reforms. That need not have been the case. With a more determined, more politically clear-sighted left, there really could have been a revolution in the party.

6. However, the left is politically weak. Too often it was determined to simply tail Corbyn, while Corbyn was determined to maintain unity with the openly pro-capitalist right in the PLP. That meant dropping open selection of parliamentary candidates, leaving Blair’s clause four untouched and refusing to confront and call out the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ smear campaign.

7. Corbyn did not protest, even as friend after friend, ally after ally, was thrown to the wolves. Instead of taking the fight to the Zionist forces, such as Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement (formerly Poale Zion), and championing the Palestinian cause through promoting the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, on his watch there was a concerted drive to increase the number of expulsions and suspensions. The Corbyn-Formby regime itself became an agent of the witch-hunt. To even deny that Labour has a real, a significant, a widespread problem with anti-Semitism became a disciplinary offence in its own right.

8. Not surprisingly, with the December 2019 general election defeat, many disorientated former Corbyn supporters variously concluded that: there needs to be a safe, acceptable, suitably centrist Labour Party that can ‘rewin the trust’ of the so-called Jewish community; that Labour can never be changed; that the fight for radical social change lies not in permanent political organisation, but in ephemeral street protests, economic strikes, tenant campaigns; etc.

9. Also not surprisingly, Starmer – former member of the International Revolutionary Marxist Tendency and editor of Socialist Alternatives – stood for leader promising to remain fully committed to It’s time for real change. A cynical lie designed to pull wool over gullible eyes. Apart from getting himself into No10, he has no master plan nowadays. The latest round of the witch-hunt under Starmer owes nothing to defeating, finally seeing-off the left, that is for sure. With Corbyn gone, Rebecca Long-Bailey soundly beaten, David Evans as general secretary, a rightwing NEC majority, the PLP overwhelmingly dominated by the right and the three big union affiliates, GMB, Unite and Unison, unlikely to rock the boat, he has a controlling grip on the Labour Party.

10. No less to the point, the left in the CLPs is much reduced and organisations such as the Socialist Campaign Group, Momentum and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy are cowardly and display not the least appetite for a concerted fightback. Self-serving careerism counts for far more than the principle of solidarity: there is, for example, still a steadfast refusal to call out the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ big lie.

11. No, the suspensions and expulsions under Starmer are a matter of display. He wants to prove to the capitalist media, big business, the City, the establishment, the armed forces and the US state department that, as prime minister, he would be trustworthy, utterly loyal to the constitution, the UK state and its international alliances. That is why Starmer promises to “uproot” anti-Semitism, why Jeremy Corbyn remains suspended from the PLP, why Labour Against the Witchhunt, the Labour in Exile Network, Resist and Socialist Appeal have been banned and why Ken Loach was auto-expelled.

12. The failures, the cowardice, the treachery, the constantly repeated pattern of the official Labour left becoming the official Labour right has to be explained in materialist terms. It cannot be put down to individual oddity, personal weakness or some congenital tendency to betray. The Labour left is still the natural home for many trade union militants, socialist campaigners and those committed to radical social change. But Labour’s position as the alternative party of government also makes the official Labour left a breeding ground for careerists, who, often starting off with good intentions, slowly or speedily evolve to the right. The lure of elected positions, generous expense accounts, lucrative sinecures, sly backhanders, mixing with the great and good and eventually entry into the lower ranks of the bourgeoisie all smooth the way.

13. Both the official Labour left and the official Labour right share a ‘common sense’ that politics are about winning elections. Therefore, policies are limited to what can be ‘sold’ to the electorate. But it is the mainstream capitalist media that, ultimately, decides what is to be regarded as sensible and what is to be dismissed as sectarian craziness. Anything that gets in the way of winning elections must therefore be avoided like the plague. Hence it is not only the Labour right which attempts to restrict, muddy and segment debate, and impose bureaucratic limits and measures to sideline awkward minorities. The official Labour left behaves in exactly the same anti-democratic manner.

14. The Labour Party, as presently constituted, is certainly not a “true mass organisation of the working class”. Doubtless, although it is down by a hundred thousand, Labour still has a mass membership and relies on trade union money and working class voters. But, in the last analysis, what decides the class character of a political party is its leadership and its programme.

15. The election of Corbyn did not produce fundamental change here. Neither For the many, not the few (2017) nor It’s time for real change (2019) questioned the monarchical constitution, the standing army, judge-made law or the US-dominated international order, let alone the system of wage-slavery. So, even under Corbyn, Labour was neither a democratic nor a socialist party. It was, and remains, a bourgeois workers’ party, which has its place in capitalism’s many defensive moats, ramparts and walls.

16. Despite the failure of Corbyn and the election of Starmer, we remain committed to the complete transformation of the Labour Party, forging it into a permanent united front of the working class and equipping it with solid Marxist principles and a tried-and-tested Marxist leadership.

17. However, this positive perspective for Labour can only be realised through the struggle to unite the left inside and outside the Labour Party – but not into a broad front based on soggy, middle-ground compromises, like the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, Left Unity, Respect or the Socialist Alliance. Sadly, all these have been wasted opportunities. No, we need to unite in building a mass Marxist party – a party that applies to affiliate to Labour, but can operate within the party despite bans and proscriptions.

18. Without a mass Marxist party, the left is doomed to suffer one Sisyphean defeat after another.