Category Archives: Labour Party conference

Confusion reigns on the left

Gaby Rubin reports the highs and lows of those who placed themselves within the fringe in Liverpool

Leave aside the ‘Beyond the fringe’ events staged by Labour Left Alliance, Labour Party Marxists and the Socialist Labour Network. There can be no doubt that what characterised most of the fringe events at this year’s conference was utter confusion.

Once again Momentum’s The World Transformed saw the biggest turnout – though the new kid on the block, the Enough is Enough campaign, seemed to have its tentacles everywhere. From its point of view the rally it organised was a total triumph, of course.

The demographics were a little dispiriting: most were far older than the general population average. One meeting after another, whether large (with up to 800 people attending) or small (just 25), had many attendees in their 50s and far above. On the other hand, a large percentage of women attended, with many female chairs or speakers. True, officers of Young Labour spoke, but very few younger comrades were there.

Attitudes towards the Labour Party ranged from “There is no alternative” (Bell Ribeiro-Addy) to “This system cannot be changed. It must be burned down” (Dr Maryam Jameela). Other areas of difference – sometimes expressed in the same meeting – arose over the failure to learn from the Corbyn era, the question of factionalism vs ‘destructive factionalism’ and the need for unity with the right to win elections.

The following hopefully gives a flavour.

Enough is Enough

The 690-seat theatre was packed. The five demands of E!E (its logo) were projected onto the screen of the stage: 1, a real pay rise; 2, slash energy bills; 3, end food poverty; 4, decent homes for all; 5, tax the rich.

Dave Ward, general secretary of the Communication Workers Union – which seems to be guiding things behind the scenes – laid down the parameters. E!E is not positioning itself as a political party, it wants to build a social movement around a new political consensus to challenge the outrageous inequalities of today’s UK.

Speeches followed on hunger, along with some supposedly useful information, ie, there are more food banks than there are McDonalds in Liverpool – which most people probably already knew, since a good portion were clearly Liverpudlians.

Zara Sultana MP said that, where workers were on strike, she would be on the picket line – and that was what every Labour politician should be doing. Fire Brigades Union leader Matt Wrack added: “If you’ve built your career on 100 years of struggle, damn right you should be on the picket line.” In another meeting he bravely quoted Karl Liebknecht saying “the main enemy is at home”, and  tellingly added that “Putin protects his oligarchs”, but “who protects the oligarchs here”.

Local MP Ian Byrne called for “collective solidarity” (a concept never defined) to solve food problems. Mick Lynch of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, when heckled, said he did not care who the leader of the Labour Party was: “We have to return to the foundation of our movement and win the argument for socialism for our class.” Fighting words, but devoid of serious politics.


Just over 50 brave souls attended the meeting organised by Jewish Voice for Labour, and the majority were certainly on the elder end of the age spectrum. JVL was, of course, formed by Jews in the Labour Party to oppose the ‘anti-Semitism’ big lie. Although its speakers did not explicitly say they were anti-Zionist, they were very clear that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism.

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, recently elected to the Labour national executive – and then predictably suspended just before the conference – asked the audience to raise their hands if they had also had “the letter” from the Labour bureaucracy. Fully half raised their hands. One comrade had been told that, in order to be allowed back in the party, he would have to take a course in anti-Semitism. He was not sure he was going to comply!

Comrade Naomi reported that there had been a whole number of recent suspensions and expulsions, while a number of CLPs had been refused conference credentials. Democracy had been “thrown out of the window”, she rightly said.

Labour for labour

Three hundred attended this meeting. The chair began by saying that Starmer needed to be convinced to back the unions or how could we win the next election? Rightwing Labour governments lose votes – we have to act left to win votes and elections. What is more, “Not everything that New Labour did was bad. Saying that would be stupid.” In contrast, an FBU speaker said “I wouldn’t want him [Starmer] on an FBU picket line.”

John McDonnell labelled the politics of Truss and Kwarteng as “morbid pathology”, adding that “We are in the death throes of neoliberalism.” We need to “take down the Tories”, but Labour can only win if it has a “radical transformation” programme. Truly, profoundly, stupid.

The spokeswoman from the Young Labour national committee wanted everyone to become engaged in a trade union, which would then be able to put pressure on Labour. Andrea Egan, Unison president, felt that you “had to be in the party to change it”. Dawn Butler MP, for her part, claimed that she wanted to see Starmer in No10 because that would mean we had a Labour government! Well, what a lazar mind.

Act on Forde

The first speaker was Alex Nunns, author of the upcoming Sabotage: the inside hit job that brought down Jeremy Corbyn. The comrade correctly maintained that, contrary to the media narrative, Corbyn was not soft on the anti-Zionism equals ant-Semitism witch-hunt – he actually accentuated suspensions and expulsions.

Next Steve Howell, former Straight Leftist and former Corbyn aide, complained that they were not factional: they had “played by the rules”. Next time we need to be meaner towards the right because we can’t expect them to play nice. What a pratt.

Len McCluskey, former Unite general secretary, elicited rapturous applause when he stated that Jeremy would have formed a minority government in 2017, if funds had not been siphoned off by the right. Then he would have forced another general election by provoking the Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party to vote down the queen’s speech and budget, after which Labour would have won the general election. What a very, very, cunning plan! The fact that the party’s MPs had voted 172-40 for no confidence in Corbyn would apparently have meant nothing.

The meeting took a different turn when the expelled former Labour parliamentary candidate, Pamela Fitzpatrick, spoke. She explained the details of her unjust treatment, but revealed a degree of naivety often present on the left – “If they are like this now, how will they behave if they get to run MI5?” she asked – clearly oblivious to the deep state’s involvement in the operation to bring down Corbyn. She then set the cat among the pigeons by calling for the trade unions to break with Labour and set up a new party. She was joined by blocked Liverpool mayoral candidate Anna Rothery, who went one step further, suggesting that Corbyn should be the leader of such a Labour Party mark two.

She said: “I didn’t leave the Labour Party – the Labour Party left me.” Labour had to bring the party together. “We wanted unity with the right, but they want to get rid of us.”

Jeremy Corbyn himself was the final speaker. In an emotional contribution he told us: “I personally underestimated the cultural hegemony [of the Labour Party staff]”. He also felt the hierarchy had not been fair (as if this was possible). But, of course, he received a resounding standing ovation.

Strikes back

This Momentum meeting had 700-800 people attending, but there were no seats! People either remained standing or sat on the floor – making the whole meeting a fire hazard. Kate Dove, Momentum co-chair, apparently felt that the current defensive strike wave means that “the flame of socialism is burning bright”, while Mick Lynch argued: “We can’t have a division.” We can’t get rid of the right – we have to steer them to do our bidding, apparently.


This meeting, ‘Ireland and the British state’, was designed to point out the acute ignorance of the British left on the history of Ireland and its struggles against British imperialism. It was presented by a “trade union based” organisation called Trademark Belfast, one of whose functions is political education, but which is deliberately otherwise hard to categorise (it is promoted by the Rosa Luxemburg foundation). But, in fact, it appears to be a front for the ‘official communists’ in Ireland. Surely obvious.

Its comrades, not least Maeve McDaid, presented a quick overview of the struggle against British colonialism up to the present day, not falling into the trope of green versus orange “fanatics”. They stressed the complicity of the Labour Party in British imperialism, and noted that even now Keir Starmer has spoken against a united Ireland and for Britain keeping the Six Counties.


This meeting, ‘We need to talk about Nato’, was presented by the Stop the War Coalition and, unusually, most attendees were under 30. The title of the meeting referred to Starmer’s edict that during the Ukraine war Labour MPs are not allowed to question the role of Nato, effectively silencing any anti-war MPs. Those spineless left Labour MPs who signed the StWC declaration were forced to withdraw their signature or face losing the Labour whip.

Shelly Asquith, StWC chair, outlined Nato’s record of bloody interventions around the world, and pointed out how wars provide huge profits for arms manufacturers. She introduced four speakers.

First, Lindsey German. She drew attention to Nato’s requirement for all member states to increase their defence budgets. She explained Nato’s formation in 1949 by the US and its allies in western Europe to coordinate their military activity in the cold war against the Soviet Union. With both sides armed with nuclear weapons, a balance of terror prevailed, which ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Instead of abolishing itself, with its mission completed, Nato has expanded, she said, drawing in more members in eastern Europe, and intervening in conflicts around the world. Although not a member, Ukraine has received huge military assistance from Nato. Comrade German asserted that neither side was ready to seek a peaceful settlement.

Mohammad Asif, from the Glasgow-based Afghan Human Rights Foundation, covered the experiences of Afghanistan, where Nato intervention had resulted in an extended war, only to end in its withdrawal, with the country handed back to the terror of the Taliban. His talk was at times incoherent – he seemed to want a successful western intervention.

Matt Kennard then spoke from Declassified UK, the radical online media organisation that specialises in investigating Britain’s military and intelligence. He explained how Putin became leader with the support of the west, and became a “close friend” of Tony Blair. But, when Putin stopped doing as he was told, Nato turned its guns against Russia. He pointed out that 90% of Nato is made up by the US, and that US hegemony ensures members of Nato subordinate themselves to American foreign policy. In his view there are internal tensions within Nato that render it fragile, and it could easily collapse.

Andrew Murray, StWC chair, and also a returned member of the Morning Star’s CPB, having entered the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, explained how Starmer’s edict banning discussion of Nato was preventing all debate on the war within the party. He said Labour members needed to take on not just the Tories, but Starmer too. Instead of the current pro-imperialist foreign policy, Labour need to return to the fight for peace – to the social pacifism promoted by Corbyn.

When the meeting opened to the floor the fireworks began. The first speaker – from Poland – asked why there was no speaker from Ukraine on the panel. In a long, emotional contribution, she described her experiences of the war, and why she supported Nato’s arming of Ukraine.

The applause at the end of her contribution showed that at least one third of the audience supported Nato’s involvement. And it got worse – Matt Kennard replied that he too thought it was in order to arm Ukraine.

Despite the best efforts of Lindsey German and Andrew Murray to salvage the StWC position, the pro-war lobby dominated. The organisers must have gone away wondering how they had so badly botched things.


Ex-Labour NEC member Mish Rahman, speaking at Sunday’s Stand up to Racism event on behalf of Momentum, made a point of confronting the paradox, for SUTR, of the long list of non-white Tory government ministers in a “systemically racist” Britain.

After naming them, Rahman asserted that these “unprincipled careerists” would “sell their grandmother”, and are used as a shield for the racist actions and policies of the Tory government – a cover for the “institutional racism” in British society.

The official anti-racism of official Britain and official Labour seems to be beyond the comprehension of the official Labour left and its SWP promoters and lackies

Political wing of capitalist class

While the right is relishing the prospect of government, the left is marginalised and thoroughly demoralised. Kevin Bean, expelled secretary of Wavertree CLP, reports on the Liverpool conference

For Sir Keir Starmer everything seems to be going to plan – it seems he can do no wrong. Labour is riding high in the opinion polls and the prospects of a Labour government have grown stronger, as the economic crisis has dramatically worsened just in the last week. His widely applauded leader’s speech established his credentials as an alternative prime minster and rounded off a Labour conference which saw the left seemingly banished to the sidelines.

The long-trailed speech included few surprises and Starmer lived up to his advance billing as a Tony Blair tribute act. The policy commitments were studiedly modest, as if to contrast the responsibility and caution of the Labour leadership with the dangerous experimentation and wild adventurism of the Truss government’s mini-budget. As ever, Sir Keir had two important audiences for his speech: the capitalists at home and abroad; and the electorate he is hoping to persuade that (newish) Labour is a party they can trust. Increasingly he can take the benign acquiescence, if not the backing, of the capitalist class as read.

The broad thrust of Starmer’s economic strategy is entirely in line with mainstream bourgeois commentators, who regard Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget as a form of madness. It is clear now that the ruling class sees nothing to worry about – much less fear – in a Labour government headed by Sir Keir. Indeed, given the scale of the economic crisis facing Britain, key sections of the bourgeoisie can now see the distinct advantages of a Labour government in handling both the economic and political threats facing British capitalism.

However, this conference speech was largely targeted at potential voters – the mythical centre ground that Starmer’s triangulation strategy has been pursuing since he became Labour leader. It was to this psephological construction that he was talking, when he claimed that Labour was now “the political wing of the British people”. Sir Keir’s speech writers have done well, covering all the major points under mainstream discussion, from home ownership and enterprise through to patriotic values and helping Britain to ‘stand tall’ again. There were some specific policy commitments, such as a publicly owned renewable energy company, but these were rather modest and offered no serious solutions to the energy crisis. Similarly, promises to help first-time home buyers and use restored higher rates of taxation to fund more nurses said all the right things, but offered little detail. What Starmer was doing here was setting the mood music. This was Labour’s moment, we were told – equivalent, it seems, in its own way, to 1945 or 1997.

This all went down well with the Labour bureaucrats and the toadies in the conference hall. There were frequent outbursts of stage-managed, ‘spontaneous’ applause – the references to rooting out ‘anti-Semitism’ within the party were especially well-received, on cue for the cameras. In contrast to Brighton last year, there were no heckles and few dissenting voices in the debates (such as they were). This was a first-class performance of ‘consensus’ and ‘unity’, in which a watching world saw a party leader project himself and his party as a prime minister and government in waiting.

The sense that the leadership were in control was palpable to anyone who was around the conference centre. The well-padded apparatchiks felt they were masters of all they surveyed, while the young, aspiring bureaucrats and would-be MPs in their fashionable suits trailed in their wake, disdainfully eyeing mere CLP delegates as a lesser breed. All along the line – from attempts to refer back reports to enable debate on Palestine and Nato, through to demands to nationalise key industries – the left lost out. Although some MPs and supporters of the official left were claiming that important parts of the party’s policy had been shaped by the left, this was less a reflection of the left’s strength and more its further retreat into monumental self-delusion. The ‘Green New Deal’, much heralded by the left, is, in essence, managed capitalism, and certainly not any kind of break with it. The fact that Starmer and the right can nod to this policy in their rhetoric shows just how limited this ‘radical’ policy really is.


If you really wanted to see the state of the left and how successfully it had been marginalised, you only had to look at the monarchist pantomime at the opening of the conference. For the first time ever at a Labour conference delegates began their deliberations with a rendition of ‘God save the king’ (albeit with the aid of song sheets to prompt their patriotic memories). Although Sir Keir might have been a little worried whether this display of loyal fervour would come off, he had no need to fear. If the delegates’ singing left something to be desired, Starmer got his media opportunity as the conference showed its loyalism.

Certainly, many left delegates could not stomach this revolting spectacle and stayed away. But individual disgust and ‘protest’ by absence is not enough. Where were the walk-outs and the heckles when Starmer ran through the virtues of our late sovereign lady and demonstrated his fealty to the constitutional order and the capitalist system? It was all in marked contrast to recent conferences, where the pro-capitalists at the top of the party faced a noisy reception from the left: remember when the late, unlamented deputy leader, Tom Watson, was so afraid, he ran away rather than speak to a hostile party conference? And even last year the left could still make its voice heard, despite Starmer’s summary expulsions and suspensions of scores of delegates.

While the left may be in a very much weakened state, Labour is not dead yet. Keir Starmer may be one of the most rightwing leaders in the history of the party, but he is by no means unique in that regard. Remember Tony Blair or James Callaghan in the 1970s? What about Ramsay MacDonald in 1931? These are just some of the long line of careerists who have made Labour a reliable second eleven for capitalism since the party’s foundation in 1900. Likewise, the current weakness of the left is not that unusual. Again, think historically. There has never been a golden age for the Labour left. It was under the cosh during the Blair years and the right has always been dominant in the Parliamentary Labour Party, the bureaucracy and even amongst the trade union leadership. While the 1970s and 1980s, like the Corbyn years, saw the growth of the left in the CLPs and at conference, Neil Kinnock’s counter-attack from 1985 onwards only paved the way for Blair and the New Labour reactionaries in the 1990s and 2000s. Corbynism was the exception, not the rule, in Labour’s history. So, given this dismal record for socialism in the party, shouldn’t we just give it up as a bad job altogether?

It is not surprising that many leftwing activists have concluded that it is pointless remaining in the Labour Party. Membership has fallen – partly through expulsions, but also through demoralisation and disorientation. Some on the left have simply become inactive and disillusioned, while many others are talking about various alternatives to Labour. The recent upsurge in strikes and working class struggle has revived ideas that industrial militancy and forms of syndicalism are the way forward for socialists. As we saw at the fringe in Liverpool, others are talking about setting up new parties and new initiatives. These take different forms, but what unites these new ideas is that most of them are framed as setting up a Labour Party mark two – and all are rooted in the broad politics of Labourism, which attempts to unite reformists and so-called Marxists in one organisation and ‘unity’ around essentially left reformist politics of the lowest common denominator that gives up on anything resembling a revolutionary programme in favour of ‘realistic’ reforms.

Agreed that the record of both Labour leaders and Labour governments in siding with capitalism and attacking the working class is pretty dreadful, but, no matter how bad the party has proven to be, socialists in Britain cannot simply wish Labour out of existence. Historically, it has been a contradictory party with an openly pro-capitalist leadership with close ties to the establishment and a base rooted in the organised working class through the trade unions. Despite the recent strains in that relationship, it is likely to continue, if only because the union leaders believe that it is possible to do business with a Labour government and make some gains for their members.

So, because of this trade union link, many working class people continue to see Labour as their party, and, as history has shown, when they want radical change, many flock into Labour. However, as the Corbyn period showed, this is not an automatic process producing a serious and consistent leftwing, capable of transforming Labour into an instrument for socialist politics. The house-trained ‘official left’, such as Momentum and the Socialist Campaign Group, prefers surrender to a battle with the Labour right.

Of course, the left can see through Starmer’s rhetoric of a fresh start and his favourable references to the Blair and Brown governments. We know why he hopes to recapture the supposed optimism and enthusiasm of the 1990s. However, it will take much more than reheated rhetoric to deal with the multiple crises facing any new government. These are not the relatively favourable economic conditions that formed the backdrop to the much-hyped electoral and political successes of the Blair years; an incoming Starmer government will have no such luxury and will have to attack the conditions and rights of the working class from day one.

As the loyal servants of capitalism and its state, the Labour leadership will have no choice but to do this; their commitment to capitalism means they can do nothing else. However, as partisans of militant working class politics, we have to take the fight to these members of the political wing of British capitalism and drive them out of our movement. Despite their dominance, Labour is not dead yet.

Our fight is still one of forging Labour as a united front of all socialist and working class organisations, which goes hand in hand with building an independent Marxist party, committed to a revolutionary programme of working class self-emancipation, the overthrow of capitalism and the struggle for socialism internationally.

God save the king, the Starmer regime

James Harvey calls for rebellion against the blue Labour monarchism being foisted on the Liverpool conference

After 10 days of national mourning and media saturation of matters monarchical, it seems that our trip to Ruritania is over and we are now very much back to business as usual – particularly in the Labour Party.

As befits a new prime minister, Liz Truss is settling in at the United Nations and upping the ante in the war drive against Russia, while at home her government is announcing its economic strategy and plans to deal with the energy crisis. So, despite all the talk of a new national mood following the death of Elizabeth Windsor and the accession of her son, it seems that, after a brief hiatus for the funeral, normal service has been resumed.

That certainly seems true on the face of it for this week’s Labour conference in Liverpool. Over the last year, Sir Keir Starmer and the pro-capitalist right have continued to tighten their control over the party, along with their triangulation strategy and its promise of electoral success. The Labour leadership’s tepid response to the cost-of-living crisis and soaring energy bills, along with its failure to support strikes in defence of living standards, are all of a piece with this ‘responsible’, statesmanlike strategy. So far Sir Keir has done a good job in reassuring the capitalist class that the ‘bad old Corbyn days’ are well and truly over and will never return. It seems that he has finally restored ‘sanity’ and ‘common sense’, and once again made Labour an acceptable second eleven.

Should the crisis become too severe and the challenge of the working class too great for the Truss government, it seems that our noble knight can ride to the rescue and save the day for the capitalist class. Favourable articles in the Financial Times and The Economist show that Starmer’s message is getting through to sections of bourgeois opinion, while even The Times – the Murdoch flagship – is saying some nice things about a possible Starmer government.

It is worth taking a moment to understand the political and strategic thinking of the pro-capitalist leadership. Leaving aside the obvious careerism and individual desire for advancement, wealth and status exhibited by many Labour politicians, they do have a political project that essentially boils down to maintaining capitalism. Historically, this might have been understood as reforms in the interests of the working class, or framed in the rhetoric of ‘modernisation’, but the options for even the most minor modifications are now very limited indeed.

As leaders of a bourgeois workers’ party, Labour politicians are an integral part of the ruling class, so protecting capitalism and advancing their own interests go hand in hand. They are completely loyal to the constitutional and economic order: they stick to the rules, because they are intrinsically part of the game. This is all we need to know to understand the politics of Sir Keir Starmer.


While media neutrality or even support is useful for electoral success, the Starmer strategy still has to win over and retain the support of sufficient voters to win the next general election. Labour’s lead in the opinion polls can be read as a type of quiet progress for the Starmer camp, but in their eyes there is still a lot for them to do if they are to become a credible party of government.

Again, a small, symbolic act can reveal a lot. For Sir Keir, and the constitutional loyalists who form the leadership of the party and the trade unions, the death of Elizabeth Windsor was a good opportunity to demonstrate their fealty in every way to the status quo. The Labour leaders played their part to the full in the official ceremonies of mourning and the accession of a new monarch: they did not put a foot wrong. They were joined in that bowing and curtsying by the supine Labour ‘left’ MPs, who maintained a vow of loyal silence and tweeted their officially sanctioned sorrow at the passing of the hereditary head of state.

The Labour leadership wants to double down on this pro-monarchism and keep the patriotic mood going by opening the party conference with a rousing rendition of ‘God save the king’. What better way to convince socially conservative ‘red wall’ voters, who supposedly defected to the Tories in 2019 because they hated Corbyn’s suspect leftism, that Labour under Starmer is the patriotic party once again? Likewise, for Tory ‘blue wall’ voters, such a stirring example of banal loyalty by conference delegates would seal the deal and show that Sir Keir’s party was on the side of ‘people like us’. Appealing to two vital electoral targets with one anthem – what an absolutely wizard wheeze and a brilliant master-stroke of media management. If it comes off!

However, lots could go wrong; let’s hope so. We would suggest that delegates in good voice sing The Guillotine. Written in 1794 by the American republican and French citizen, Joel Barlow, the music is the same. It is only the words that are rather different:

God save the guillotine
Till England’s king and queen
Her power shall prove:
Till each appointed knob
Affords a clipping job
Let no vile halter rob
The guillotine.[1]

That, or we would urge delegates to walk out. Rows of empty seats would send an excellent republican message (including to viewers at home – that is, unless the TV companies resort to censorship).

The historical record of Labour leaderships and governments from the very beginning has been one of complete loyalty to the state and British imperialism. There have been occasional social-pacifist lapses, but both at home and abroad Labour has safely been an obedient servant of the constitutional order. Yet Sir Keir still feels the need to sing the ‘national anthem’ to prove his allegiance to the ruling class: explained by the fact that Labour remains a bourgeois workers’ party (because of its name, trade union links, mass membership, voting base, etc).

But what of the Labour left – both historically and, most immediately, at this conference? In the early 1920s there were motions calling for the abolition of the monarchy and the hereditary principle. James Maxton in the 1930s and Tony Benn in the 1990s championed republicanism too. Nowadays, however, the official left, represented by the completely tamed Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, has fallen into line and capitulated entirely to the Starmer leadership. Apart from Clive Lewis’s rather feeble comments on our new head of state, these so-called left MPs have remained completely silent when it comes to republicanism.

Meanwhile, Andy Burnham is on manoeuvres, tacking to the left, speaking at Enough is Enough rallies and angling for a return to Westminster: Burnham for West Lancashire, following Rosie Cooper’s announced retirement, anyone? He is clearly waiting in the wings, should the Starmer electoral strategy fail. Such flagrant opportunism and careerism fools no-one, but, given the pathetic state of the parliamentary left, they could rally to his cause as a future ‘left’ candidate for the Labour leadership.

Although the recent election of Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi to the national executive committee was a small ray of light, the incoherence and disorientation of the non-parliamentary Labour left continues. The expulsions and suspensions of the witch-hunt, combined with resignations and disillusion amongst activists in the CLPs, have severely weakened the left. Momentum’s outright capitulation to the Labour right during the witch-hunt continues, while the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy equivocates in such a way as to effectively render support for the Starmer leadership.

Attempts to open a debate on the Forde report or change the rules to allow Jeremy Corbyn to rejoin the party and stand as a Labour MP must, of course, be supported. The same goes for demands that the party leadership support workers’ demands for higher pay and give solidarity to strikes. However, remember that such conference victories can safely be ignored by Sir Keir. The left will protest, grumble and begin again the endless cycle of drafting new conference resolutions and getting ready to throw themselves into the next general election (this time with the chance of replacing the Liz Truss government with one headed by Sir Keir).

The current balance of forces within the party is not simply a product of the inability of the Labour left to learn from history. The more successful the Labour left is, the more it merges with the labour and trade union bureaucracy and therefore the outer layers of the state. Going from left to right is par for the course.

Even when leftwingers break with the Labour Party organisationally, they just reproduce its politics of Labourism in another form. Whether it is called the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, the Socialist Labour Network or Resist, all we get is lowest-common-denominator politics and therefore economism.

Until leftwingers break decisively with that type of politics and recognise the necessity of a Communist Party, a mass party based on a Marxist programme and the principles of democratic, not bureaucratic, centralism, there is no possibility of winning the Labour Party to socialism, let alone winning a socialist government l

[1]. For all the words and something about Joel Barlow see:

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?


[1] ‘Unity without principle’ Weekly Worker October 21:

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

[3] Ibid.


Sir Keir’s second eleven

Derek James says keeping heads down does not amount to a viable strategy

After a shaky start, and a few hiccups and protests along the way, Starmer has clearly emerged as the winner. He has secured his two main objectives: one, to prove to the ruling class that he is a reliable, safe pair of hands; two, to show that Corbynism is dead and safely buried.

Although the red card protest during his speech showed there are still a large number of left delegates from the Constituency Labour Parties, when it really mattered Starmer had the votes he needed to get over the line.

His success is not just measured in votes won or in changes to the party’s constitution and rule book that consolidate the power of the Labour right. No, his success also lies in the demoralisation and disorganisation in both the official left – as represented by the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs – and amongst left activists in the CLPs and trade unions. Left victories over the £15 minimum wage and other such questions will simply go ignored when it matters: drawing up the next general election manifesto.

That is not to say that the left were silent or simply acquiesced – far from it. There were angry speeches at fringe meetings – Richard Burgon’s contribution at the final SCG rally was a particularly well-received example, along with some excellent interventions by left delegates from the CLPs during the stage-managed conference debates. But what was lacking on the left at all levels of the party – and what ensured Starmer’s victory, in the final analysis – was a clear strategy for a serious, militant Labour left that really takes the fight to the right.

For Starmer and the Labour right, conference was vital, in all senses of the word, in their campaign to finally purge the taint of Corbynism. Although the focus was on winning the next election, the primary audience for this performance was not potential Labour voters catching the headlines on the evening news. No, the people to whom Sir Keir has to prove himself is not the electorate, but the real wielders of power: the ruling class in London and Washington. The reliability Starmer has to demonstrate, of course, lies in upholding the capitalist economic system and repudiating the excesses of Corbynism, such as public ownership of the utilities. Thus, the shadow chancellor, the unspeakable Rachel Reeves (a politician with the voice, but not the warmth and empathy, of a Dalek) reassured the ruling class that Labour had finally said goodbye to Corbyn’s legacy and was now “the party of long-term economic stability, of secure public finances and of economic growth”.1

However, the most important reassurance that the Labour leadership had to offer was to the imperialist hegemon, the United States, and its clients. They got it when John Healey, Labour’s defence spokesman, echoed Boris Johnson in his call for a “new and powerful role for Britain in the world” and reiterated Sir Keir’s unconditional support for Nato and the US-imposed international order.2

In the saddle

There were other signs that Starmer and the right were firmly in the saddle. Despite criticism from the left, David Evans was ratified as general secretary with a 59% vote in favour. There was also a marked shift within Labour’s internal regime, where Starmer succeeded in imposing major rule changes, which undermined party democracy and accountability by doubling the threshold of MP nominations needed for candidates to reach future leadership ballots, and by making it harder for CLPs to deselect MPs. These were attacks clearly aimed at the left and were designed, as Peter Mandelson put it, to ensure that there will be no repeat of Corbynism. Well, to show that there will be no repeat of Corbynism, might be a better way of putting it.

The other key rule change endorsed a new ‘independent’ complaints process, initiated following the Equality and Human Rights Commission report on ‘anti-Semitism’ in the party. All part of the ritual humiliation of the left. Conference performed an act of collective penance, in which the lies equating anti-Zionism and the left with anti-Semitism were yet again repeated as verity by Margaret Hodge and Ruth Smeeth. This is now the official version of Labour’s recent history.

The explanation most widely heard in Brighton to account for Starmer’s successes was the support of the trade union right and the bloc votes of the GMB and Unison. The figures support that analysis up to a point. The successes that the left had in card votes came on the rare occasions when key delegations switched sides. The pressure the union leaders exerted on Starmer over last weekend that forced him to water down his proposed ‘reforms’ of the leadership election system also shows the key role of the trade unions in the party.

Although the left remains strong in the CLPs, its position is not overwhelming. Through various manoeuvres, suspensions and expulsions (in some cases while delegates were actually at the conference!) the right has a sizable presence in the CLPs – which rarely speaks in debates, but knows when to put its hands up. The stage management, manipulation and suppression of debate and points of order by such blatantly partisan chairs as Margaret Beckett had to be seen to be believed, and proved decisive in swinging votes. Although the left could point to some victories, such as the condemnation of the Aukus deal and the overwhelming support for a motion attacking Israel as an apartheid state, these were crumbs of comfort in an otherwise grim conference for the left. It was clear, however, that like the £15 minimum pay, they will not find their way into any Labour manifesto.

Much of what happened was not only expected: it was easily predictable and so could have been more effectively countered. For all the powerful cards that Starmer and the right hold in their hands, they are not invincible, as some of the conference votes showed. No, in assessing what happened at Brighton, the left needs to ask how we got here.

A long series of defeats since 2019 have allowed the Starmer leadership and his Victoria Street bureaucracy to get a tight grip over the party. The exodus of 100,000 or more matters not to them. In point of fact it is music to their ears. But it is the compromises, the retreats, the betrayals of the official left in the SCG and Momentum leadership, that have been the major factor in the disorientation and to some extent the disintegration of the left.

Left response

In the aftermath of the real defeats inflicted on the left and the further attacks promised in Starmer’s speech, debate on the Labour left remains confused and inchoate. However, both in the pre-conference period and on the fringe at Brighton, two broad positions seem to be emerging.

One is simply to double down on Labour loyalism and cling on to party membership for dear life. The ‘theoretical’ justification for this approach is the belief that the only road to socialism lies through the election of a Labour government and the ‘transformation’ of capitalist society through incremental reform. Such a strategy relies not only in maintaining Labour as a broad party, uniting both the left and the right, but also necessitates compromise and effective subordination by the left to the right to preserve that unity. In effect the Labour left functions as a licensed ‘official opposition’ within the party at the sufferance of the right, taking solace from their self-imposed impotence with the comfort blanket of ‘resolutionary socialism’ and the self-reassurance that they really are dangerous leftists after all. The whole history of the Labour left, at least since 1918, has been to play second fiddle to the right – the open agents of capitalism within the workers’ movement.

The second strand calls for new parties and movements, either completely separate from Labour or a combination of inside/outside organisation. Given the trajectory of Labour after this conference, the call for a ‘new party’ of some type will surely grow: the disaffiliation of the Bakers Union (BFAWU) can only add further impetus to these demands and spark similar moves to break the links with Labour in other unions.

But the history of such initiatives is not an encouraging one and any attempt to exploit the current hostility to Starmer amongst leftwing trade unionists is likely to produce stillborn initiatives, which only create further demoralisation and disillusion. Any attempt to simply replicate the Labour Party through a ‘new party’ based on leftwing activists and disaffiliated unions, such as has been unsuccessfully attempted by the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, is just a dead end and should not be attempted by any serious socialist, no matter how angry they are with Sir Keir and his crew. Emotional spasms of this type are not going to get us anywhere. Similarly, initiatives for a broad party that unites the left outside of Labour will go the way of Respect, the Scottish Socialist Party, Left Unity, and the countless other unity projects that sought to bring the ‘real left’ together by compromising principles and adopting the politics of the lowest common denominator.


  1. ‘Reeves vows to bury Corbyn’s fiscal legacy’ Financial Times September 28.↩︎

Focus group goop

Left treated with blatant contempt. Right relishes its witch-hunt triumph. Andrew Kirkland of Labour Party Marxists reports from the Brighton conference hall

Braving the Covid risk, 1,300 delegates attended the five-day conference.

In her opening remarks the chair for the first session, Margaret Beckett, enthusiastically referenced Labour politicians from the pre-Corbyn era – by omission implying that the recent period was one best forgotten. This set the scene for conference, where various chairs would display an obvious bias in favour of pro-Starmer speakers, and treat the left delegates with a patronising contempt that was so blatant that it offended the few neutrals present.

Every day proceedings began with a short report from the conference arrangements committee (CAC). On the first day the question was asked: would there be a vote to approve the report to conference provided by the national executive committee? The reply appeared to be affirmative – more on this later.

The first big speaker was deputy leader Angela Rayner – one-time senior figure in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, now equally at home in the new regime. Her speech was all about Labour’s new green paper on employment rights, which she acknowledged was the work of Andy MacDonald – the same Andy who resigned from the shadow cabinet later during conference. As is the custom for Labour politicians, she raided the history of left struggles to appropriate convenient heroes for her speech. This time it was the Shrewsbury pickets. (Obviously she failed to mention the shameful record of previous Labour governments, which refused to intervene on their behalf.)

Next we had the report from the general secretary, David Evans. He pre-empted left attempts to force a vote on endorsement of his appointment by announcing that he wanted to be approved by a card vote. He gave us a few biographical details, and then asked the rhetorical question: “Everyone remembers why they joined Labour – what was it for you?” Before he could answer his own question, he received a barrage of replies from the floor: “Jeremy Corbyn!” Although clearly rattled by this intervention, he carried on, knowing that the arithmetic was on his side – pledged support from most unions, along with his own gerrymandering of constituency delegations, would see to that. With no regard for irony he went on to praise the dedication of those who work full time for the Labour Party, despite his own plan to abolish 90 positions.

After Evans we heard from Anneliese Dodds, the party chairperson, reporting on the ‘Stronger Together’ policy initiative that she has been fronting. I must admit this was a new one on me – yet another vehicle for bypassing the democratic policymaking structures of conference. All the emphasis is on ‘Labour is delivering now’. Apparently implementing the Tory government’s austerity at the local level is a real vote winner.

After the report from the treasurer, who managed to present the complete meltdown of the party’s finances as “remaining on target”, we witnessed a most dictatorial abuse of power by the chair, Margaret Beckett, that was to be challenged over and over during the rest of the conference. She bundled the finance report and the NEC report together and asked for “formal acceptance”.

Ignoring shouts from the floor, she moved on to the next item – merit awards – thus avoiding any debate or vote on the NEC report. This was highly significant, because it was the only opportunity conference would have to challenge the bans and proscriptions recently re-introduced and used for the latest wave in the witch-hunt against the left. Despite all the well-argued challenges that referenced the particular clauses in the rules requiring such a vote, none of the conference chairs were prepared to overturn this ruling.


Dodds was soon back on her feet presenting the ‘Equalities Report’. This gives an indication of where the new leadership intend to move the party: namely identity politics. The shift away from the traditional class-based paradigm was also reflected in a large swathe of rule changes from the NEC. These introduced whole new chapters laying out party structures for women, BAME (that awkward combination of all people of colour, together with multiple white minorities) and disabled members. These rule changes were greeted enthusiastically by both left and right.

The NEC recommended that all the rule changes submitted by Constituency Labour Parties should be rejected. It was a major surprise then to learn that one of these changes had passed. This requires that for snap elections and by-elections there must be a local majority on the committee supervising the candidate selection process. It will be a welcome spanner thrown into the works of the now regular parachuting process used by the NEC to foist outside candidates on CLPs. However, in another session on the second day of conference, the CAC chair advised conference that, when the NEC proposes rule changes, they are allowed to bundle them up as they see fit, giving the NEC even more say over how conference is run, when in theory conference should be the highest body.

Ed Miliband returned to the big stage to tell us how to fight climate change, repeating the usual capitalist calls for Britain to “lead the world” in green technology – with the green industrial revolution generating a “people’s dividend”, however that works. He also called for offshored jobs to be brought back to Britain. Clearly he thinks we can fix the global crisis with a British solution.

As at the last conference, sectionalism within the unions led to two conflicting composite motions on the green industrial revolution. Delegates strongly argued in favour of one and against the other, but, in line with the new fashion for consensus, the delegates managed to pass both, which obviously devalues the whole exercise.

Composite one contains some very radical proposals, including a ban on fracking, free bus travel, rewilding of the countryside and introducing a right to asylum for climate refugees. Composite two, on the other hand, insists that policies must be developed with workers and trade unions, not imposed on them, and a future energy mix should include nuclear generation and ‘green gas’.

Other groupings of motions were able to agree a single composite text, but that does not mean there was any ideological unity. Pro-capitalist motions on “community wealth” and “business recovery” sat uncomfortably alongside demands for more public ownership and radical solutions to the housing crisis, but all were backed by most delegates.

For the final part of Sunday afternoon’s session, a sudden chilled atmosphere descended. The visitors’ gallery was invaded by triumphalist strangers appearing from nowhere.

The chair, Unison’s Mark Ferguson, made it clear he was taking no prisoners (or points of order). The second wave of rule changes from the NEC were to be considered by conference, and these would achieve two objectives. First, to comply with the state’s interference in the Labour Party – as enshrined in the Equality and Human Rights Commission report on anti-Semitism – we saw rule changes to introduce the external handling of disciplinary cases. And, second, changes to roll back some of the democratic reforms introduced when Corbyn was leader, and ensure that the threshold of Parliamentary Labour Party support required for a leadership candidate is immediately out of reach for a leftwinger.

After the details of the EHRC rule changes were outlined, the horror show began. The chair ‘randomly’ selected the first two speakers: Ruth Smeeth and Margaret Hodge. The left sat in stunned silence, as the Jewish Labour Movement Zionists formally declared the end of Corbynism and the ‘anti-Jew racism’ associated with it.

When the session moved to the other changes, the left could breathe again. Dave Ward of the CWU spoke first and made it clear that the trade unions were not consulted over the changes. As he called on Starmer to withdraw the new leadership threshold, so that a consensus could be agreed, the left delegates once again cheered out loud. But Starmer was unmoved. He may have retreated over reintroducing the electoral college for leadership elections, but he was happy to move forward on the other changes despite opposition from some unions.

Speakers opposing the changes homed in on the new 20% PLP requirement for leadership nominations. The case was forcefully made, with one delegate directly confronting Starmer, who sat just a few metres from the podium. However, it was all to no avail – all the rule changes were approved. The state was once more fully in control of its alternative party of government. Actually there was some truth in the final summing up from NEC member Shabana Mahmood, when she declared that a candidate who was unable to assemble nominations from 20% of the PLP would be unlikely to command the support of the PLP in the House of Commons.

The CAC was asked by a delegate to provide details of how many approved conference delegates had been suspended or expelled from the party during the course of the conference. I never expected them to reply, but on Tuesday the figure of 20 was furnished. To this should be added all those excluded during the approval process before credentials were issued. Starmer had left nothing to chance.

A portent of things to come was slipped into the agenda for late Tuesday afternoon – the return of the platform panel discussion. Billed as ‘Metro mayors in conversation’, a private media ‘facilitator’ questioned three of Labour’s northern stars. This can only be viewed as another step backwards, appropriating precious time from conference policy debates.

In the international session the conference once again revealed the political confusion of most of the CLPs and affiliates. Delegates proudly passed a motion on Palestine that went much further in criticising Israel than those passed when Corbyn was leader. Was this the same conference that only hours earlier had condemned such views as anti-Semitic poison? Not only that, but the same session heard from John Healy, shadow defence minister, who promised Labour would deliver a powerful new role for Britain in the world, and pledged total loyalty to Nato and our “essential ally”, the USA. Add to this the motion on Afghanistan: no, Labour was not condemning the imperialist intervention – this motion was all about criticising the government’s role in the emergency evacuation, and praising the British occupying troops and their Afghan collaborators.

End of dream?

Wednesday saw Sir Keir’s big moment. Ninety minutes of focus group-scripted family background goop; how his father was a humble factory worker; how his mother got ill; how, unlike that trickster, Boris Johnson, he was not a privileged posh boy. All designed to show his emotional side. Nothing about his Pabloite past, of course. The deep entry strategy of the International Revolutionary Marxist Tendency and his role as one of the editors of Socialist Alternatives. That would hardly fit with the banning of Labour Against the Witchhunt, Socialist Appeal, etc, and the round after round of expulsions.

There was a sprinkle of much expected policy announcements: mental health, green jobs, combating climate change and retrofitting houses. All properly costed. Naturally.

Amongst the delegates there were those who bravely waved red cards and dared to heckle. Sir Keir was more than well prepared: “shouting slogans or changing lives conference”, he snapped back to wide applause. A line that must have been readied by a whole committee of advisors. Like Brecht’s Arturo Ui he doubtless practised the line in front of a professional acting coach time and time again.

But it worked. And not only for those in the conference hall … those who want a Labour government, any damn kind of Labour government. No, more importantly, much more importantly, it showed the capitalist media that Sir Keir’s Labour is now a different party. It can be trusted by the capitalist class and the state machine. That, of course, is what the completely unnecessary rule changes were all about, what the high profile welcoming back of Louise Ellman, the nonsense about seeing the back of anti-Semitism and the law and order promises were all about.

Yes, there were a few votes where the left scored victories, but overall, this conference was the logical outcome of Starmer’s leadership win in April 2020. For many comrades this marks the end of their dream. For others it points to the need to find a better strategy for transforming Labour and winning socialism. A key issue here is the twin-track approach advocated by LPM: build a mass Marxist party, while at the same time fighting in Labour and the trade unions.

Around conference left

LPM comrades William Sarsfield, Andrew Byrne and Stan Keable report on fringe meetings, hubs and bulletins

Where to go from here? That was the question facing the Labour left – not least those comrades expelled or anticipating imminent expulsion.

While conference itself was taken up with media-pleasing displays by shadow ministers and crude attempts to stifle the rank and file by session chairs, a whole series of events on the fringe at least provided space for debate. There were also fringe hubs, the most important being the Resist event at the Rialto, supported by groups such as Labour Left Alliance, Labour Against the Witchhunt and Labour Party Marxists. And, of course, there was Momentum’s World Transformed.


The damage inflicted on the Labour left by the witch-hunt was on display at the Defend the Left rally on September 27. In the same large venue in 2019 there had been standing room only, but the numbers for 2021, while not embarrassingly low, were significantly down. Starting her contribution, Jackie Walker urged us to look at the empty seats. “People are terrified to come,” comrade Walker said. “The venue of this meeting could not be revealed in any normal way … Previous meetings of this kind have been the targets of the threats to bomb, threats to kill …”

This is no surprise, of course. The right of the party – in concert with their allies in the venal mainstream media – has bullied and battered the left. Ironically this was facilitated by the timidity of Corbyn and his close advisors, even to the extent of throwing their own comrades onto the flames of the ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ big lie.

So, it was encouraging that a good number of comrades attended in defiance of the threats, both official and unofficial. Also, there seems to be an admission from comrades – including from the top table – that there needs to be a frank debate about the “errors” (!) made by the leadership of the Labour left.

Tina Werkmann, chair of Labour Against the Witchhunt, argued that “the situation before this conference was pretty bad; after it is a lot worse”. She claimed that the last few months have seen “the biggest attack on the left in the labour movement for decades, if not ever”. Hyperbole, surely.

The refusal to accept communist affiliation in 1921 and the subsequent banning of CLP’s supporting CPGB members as Labour parliamentary candidates, the expulsion of thousands, the closing of the London Labour Party were pretty big attacks on the left. More to the point: the anti-communist witch-hunt put an end to the Labour Party as a united front of the working class. A historic defeat from which we have yet to recover.

Comrade Werkmann warned against simply regarding “what is happening in the party in isolation” and linked attacks on free speech to the “massive efforts of the international ruling class to punish Julian Assange and other whistle-blowers” – desperate initiatives to bolster a “system in decline”. But “unfortunately it’s working”, she bluntly stated, citing the “pathetic response of much of the Labour left”, the near total silence of Momentum and the MPs in the Socialist Campaign Group – an attempt to save their own skins. Comrade Werkmann emphasised that Defend the Left was in solidarity not only with the four organisations that been explicitly proscribed, but also with the hundreds, the thousands of innocent comrades who had been smeared by the Labour leadership.

The first speaker in discussion – Graham Bash of the Labour Representation Committee – underlined how he saw the leadership election rule change. It is an attempt to permanently “lock out the left”. True, today the rule change locks out careerists like the pathetic Rebecca Long-Bailey. But that is to miss the significance of the rule change. It has nothing to do with fending off the official left. They no longer represent any kind of threat. No, the rule change is there to draw a line in the sand. It symbolises the end, the complete defeat, of Corbyn and the whole Corbyn project. It is about sending a message to the bourgeois establishment: Labour is ready to serve.

Of course, the new rule requires that a leadership candidate must be nominated by 20% of MPs. That would hardly represent an insuperable barrier to a well organised, Marxist-led, Labour left. But that would need a mass Marxist party already in place that organises throughout the labour movement and digs deep roots in wider society.

Comrade Bash rightly insisted that to complain about the crude injustice that we have seen throughout the course of the witch-hunt was insufficient: “What we see in this conflict from the enemies on the right is class war.” The comrade intriguingly suggested that “new ways of working” would have to be learned if socialists were to be of use to our class.

Rob Sewell, editor of Socialist Appeal, quite correctly criticised the “naive view” in some quarters that the left could ever co-exist with people who were “stabbing us in the back”. He pointed out that we had “missed a few tricks in 2016” and that softness had cost us dearly. However, once again showing a weak grasp of labour movement history, he claimed that the “greatest betrayal in the Labour Party” was Ramsay MacDonald in 1931. Not support for World War I, not defence of the British empire, not the banning of communists. What MacDonald did in 1931 was fully in accord with the rotten tradition of the pro-capitalist right: defending the interests of capitalism, not the interests of the working class.

Showing a distinct lack of imagination, the comrade drew “parallels” between today and MacDonald’s National Labour-Tory-Liberal national government. Other than reminding readers that “betrayal is not new in the Labour Party, unfortunately”, he did not elaborate. Well, comrade Sewell, is Sir Keir about to jump ship? Join a coalition along with Boris Johnson, Priti Patel and Sajid Javid? No, he wants to be a successful Labour prime minister in the mould of Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson and Tony Blair.

Showing how the comrade remains trapped within the narrow thought-world of Labourism, he insisted that the old clause four was a “socialist aspiration” driven by the politically most advanced working class people in Britain. In 1918, horrified by World War I and inspired by the Russian Revolution, it seems that the most politically advanced workers “aspired” to socialism. Doubtless, that was the case. The most politically advanced part of the working class formed the CPGB in July-August 1920. But what they got from the Labour Party was Sidney Webb’s Fabian clause four. Not the aim of working class rule and ending wage slavery. No, instead what Webb offered was a formulation that was implicitly anti-Marxist, pro-imperialist – not socialist, but state capitalist.

We need a new, Marxist clause four. We should not seek to revive a stinking Fabian corpse.


The World Transformed festival featured around 100 different sessions that ranged from ‘The frontiers of liberation’ (dealing with the history of LGBTQ+) through to ‘Can Labour win?’ However quantity does not necessarily mean quality.

Whilst retaining its hipster-millennial charm, TWT seeks to revive the original enthusiasm of Momentum through an eclectic and contradictory amalgam of utopianism, movementism and opportunism. Some attempts were made to shepherd the ‘silent majority’ of those Corbynistas who never formally engaged with the organised left into unity with the right by stressing the importance of the “next Labour government”.

In previous years TWT had ‘big name’ Labour left speakers and a clear orientation towards the Corbyn project, but now that that moment has passed, the focus is less clear. References to “the other conference – the one we don’t talk about” – highlight the divergence between TWT and the Labour Party since 2019.

The size of the sessions varied considerably, depending on the topic and speakers. Some were no more impressive than a hippie gathering round a campfire, whilst others saw several hundred eager punters surging through the doors, with a number of overflow sessions and queues being directed to other sessions. The more seriously political meetings – or the closest that they came to such a thing – generally averaged around 200 participants.

Likewise, the age profiles of attendees varied, depending on the intended audience for the topic. Those sessions inclined towards movementism or identity politics averaged about 25 (with some specific sessions overwhelmingly younger), whilst those aimed at Labourites drew in comrades whose profile was more in line with the rest of the left. Needless to say, despite sharing the same place – and mutual worship of Jeremy – they did not engage with each other politically.

A common trend throughout many of the sessions was of a particular kind of anarchism that fetishises local organising and mutual aid, as opposed to the serious political organisation of the working class as a whole. Suggestions for direct action ranged from picking up dog shit to bring down the Tories, through to sending out emails to end trans oppression! This form of ‘immediate struggle’, which is detached from any serious strategy for achieving socialism, was a disease that affected the ostensibly sophisticated and theoretically naive alike.

In denial

An important feature of the left at Labour conferences is the proliferation of leaflets, journals and bulletins handed out by a swarm of activists. This year was no exception. Despite the diminished strength of the left, we had: Jewish Voice for Labour, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Labour for a Republic, Socialist Appeal, CLDP’s Yellow Pages and, of course, Labour Party Marxists No27.

The LRC’s Labour Briefing is worth a comment. Its editorial insists that the struggle for the Labour Party is not over. Quite so. “There is a fightback in the party – seen by the excellent results in elections in the constituency sections for the National Women’s Committee and for the conference arrangements committee.” And then: “There is a struggle too in the world outside the Labour Party.” The editorial refers to trade unions – the new left NEC in Unison, and Sharon Graham’s election in Unite – as well as climate change protests and Black Lives Matter. “Connecting these struggles and giving them a political expression” means, “for the foreseeable future, the Labour Party”.

So, the “new ways” of socialists working in service of our class amount to tailism and carrying on carrying on in the old – and failed – ways. The abject defeat of the Corbyn leadership and its complete surrender before, indeed connivance with, the witch-hunt does not seem to have registered. As for the idea that BLM protesters and XR activists will flock into Sir Keir’s party to put the conference arrangements committee into the hands of official left careerists, well that seems more like the forlorn hope that the cavalry will come to our rescue. It is certainly not a viable strategy for socialism.

Then there is the Resist Movement for a People’s Party set up by Chris Williamson – the only Labour MP to stand up to the witch-hunt. This has the advantage, for refugees from Labour, of actually offering them somewhere to go – but it cannot be recommended. Although neither the politics nor the organisational form of the imagined party is yet spelled out, we can reasonably predict that a party born of running away from the struggle in Labour will be unable to fight any other struggles effectively.

According to its leaflet, “Our mission is to develop activities that build trust, capacity and skills, to promote industrial democracy and reduce inequality, eradicate poverty and improve the quality of daily life for all, around essential and innovative environmental policies.” Not the working class politics of the struggle for socialism, but a People’s Party that promises the good life without overthrowing the capitalist state and expropriating the capitalist class.