The election of Jeremy Corbyn provided the one thing that was lacking in Britain: a point of reference for the accumulated discontent and frustration of the masses. It is beginning to regenerate the Labour Party and push it to the left. That represents a mortal danger to the ruling class and they will stop at nothing to destroy it.
The Fifth Column
For decades the Labour Party under right-wing leadership was a pillar of support for the existing system. The ruling class will not abandon this without a ferocious struggle. The first line of defence of the capitalist system is the PLP itself. The Blairite majority of the PLP are the direct and conscious agents of the bankers and capitalists in this struggle. That explains their fanatical determination to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn by any means, fair or foul.
What we are describing here is neither more nor less than a Fifth Column inside the Labour Party. Everybody knows the story of the Wooden Horse of Troy: how the Greek soldiers came out from the belly of the Trojan horse, killed the guards on the walls and signalled to the other Greeks to attack Troy. They could get in because the city’s defences had been torn down from the inside. This story adequately describes the relationship between Labour’s right wing and the Tories.
Labour’s right wing is planning to split the Party and go over to the Tories at the first convenient opportunity. They make no secret of their intentions. Robert Peston, the BBC economics editor, writes:
“One or a number of the New Labour Blairite ultras could cross the floor to the Tories, because of their personal relationship with Osborne – to whom they feel closer, in a political and social sense, than they do to Labour’s new leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Osborne mixes in the same modish London metrosexual and metropolitan elite circles as them. He takes their calls, responds to their emails, and is fully abreast of their current agony. And they admire him. More than once I’ve been told, by a couple of their gang, that Osborne is the most impressive politician of the moment.
“Naturally it would be quite a coup for the Tories if the ascent of Corbyn led to Labour defections to their ranks. As is well known, both Osborne and Cameron were great admirers of Tony Blair, almost his disciples – and they both believe elections are won from the centre of politics […]
“To be clear, the Blairites are already closer to Osborne than Corbyn on a whole range of issues they regard as basic – from membership of NATO, preserving the independence of the Bank of England, nationalisation, and the propriety of singing the national anthem on state occasions. […] more than one of them has told me that they could not possibly remain in Corbyn’s Labour Party for long if it looks as though Corbyn will endure.”
Socially, politically, in their psychology and life style, people like Chukka Umunna and the aristocratic Tristram Hunt have far more in common with Osborne and Cameron than with Jeremy Corbyn and the overwhelming majority of Labour Party members. When the time comes they can cross the floor of the House of Commons with the ease of a man passing from the public bar to the lounge bar of a pub. These right-wing careerists have no loyalty whatsoever to the Labour Party. Their outlook was best summed up by Tristrum Hunt, who was recently speaking to the Labour Club at Cambridge University. According to the Cambridge University student newspaper Varsity, Hunt told students: “You are the top 1%. The Labour party is in the shit. It is your job and your responsibility to take leadership going forward.” Hunt not only wants the 1% to run society, but also the Labour Party.
The Right would prefer to see the Labour Party destroyed rather than accept the democratic verdict of the rank and file. Their slogan is “rule or ruin”. Either they will be allowed to perpetuate their dictatorship over the Labour Party, or they will be prepared to see it destroyed. Right-wing MP Frank Field says that if MPs are threatened with deselection, they should stand against Labour as “independents” – that is to say, independent of the Labour Party but completely dependent on Big Business, the Tories and Liberals and the billionaire press.
Speaking to The New Statesman, the MP for Birkenhead said:
“If candidates are picked off they will stand as independent Labour, cause a by-election immediately and a whole pile of us will go down there to campaign for them.”
“They can’t expel 60 of us. Momentum ought to know that they’re not the only pair of wide eyes in the business. We’re not powerless.
“Those of us who are not going to let Momentum win have a trump card on our side, which is that we would probably win the by-election.”
In a court of law this would be classified as blackmail: “Do as I say, or else…” And the only way to deal with blackmailers is to confront them head on. Ken Livingstone was quite correct when he told the Sunday Politics on BBC1: “If your local MP is undermining Jeremy Corbyn, opposing the anti-austerity measures that we want, people should have a right to say: ‘I’d like to have an MP who reflects my view.’ It shouldn’t be a job for life.”
Field has not been disciplined by the Party machine for urging people to stand against the Labour Party, but when Andrew Fisher, a left wing policy adviser to Corbyn was reported once to have twitted as a joke support for a Class War candidate and even suggested supporting a socialist Green candidate in the 2010 election, five years later he has been suspended by the Party’s General Secretary and threatened with expulsion from the Party.
Frank Field and his likes have no right to complain if the members decide to exercise their democratic right to remove them and replace them with people who are prepared to represent the views of those who elected them. That, after all, is what democracy is supposed to be all about. The time when a handful of right-wing MPs could defy the will of the membership with impunity is long gone. It is time to say to the blackmailers, in the words of Oliver Cromwell: “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately... Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”
The real situation in Britain
The real situation in Britain is very different to the rosy picture of economic growth and rising prosperity painted by Cameron and Osbourne. The ladies and gentlemen in Westminster have no idea of the hardship and poverty suffered by not just the unemployed but the millions of poor people working on low wages and zero-hour contracts who depend on government aid in the form of tax credits to survive.
George Osbourne introduced a vicious bill intended to make savings by taking away tax credits from the working poor. This measure alone is estimated to make three million families more than £1,300 a year worse off when it comes into effect next April. The Resolution Foundation found that the Government’s planned tax credit cuts would immediately put 200,000 children into poverty when they come in in 2016.
The Coalition government introduced free universal infant school meals, but there are reports that the policy may be “under review”. The Trussell Trust, a charity that runs food banks, warned in March that it registered an increase in referrals during school holidays. One third of parents have skipped a meal so their children could eat during the school holidays when there are no free school meals. Around three quarters of households on incomes lower than £15,000 are not always able to buy food. Trussell Trust food banks saw a 38% rise in usage over summer 2014 compared to the same period the year before, with 30% of those referred being children.
The anger felt by millions of people found an expression in the BBC’s Question Time when Michelle Dorrell, a mother of four who had voted Conservative last May, was reduced to tears as she spoke of the devastating effects this vicious measure would have on her family:
“I voted Conservative originally because I thought you were going to be the better chance for me and my children,” she said. “You’re about to cut tax credits after promising you wouldn’t.
“I work bloody hard for my money to provide for my children, to give them everything they’ve got and you’re going to take it away from me and them.
“I can hardly afford the rent I’ve got to pay, I can hardly afford the bills I’ve got to do, and you’re going to take more from me,” she said. The government’s spokesperson looked very uncomfortable as the woman finished off by shouting “shame on you”.
In her few seconds this woman did more to cause panic in ministerial minds about the austerity agenda than anything else. Over the next four years Cameron and Osborne want to carry out deep cuts that represent an attack not just on the unemployed but on many people who are struggling to make ends meet on poverty wages.
Tory MPs know that “middle-England” Tory voters are among those who are going to be hit by the cuts. That is why in the election David Cameron hastily promised that tax credits were “not going to fall”. That was a blatant lie. The message the Tories are sending to these people is: “We know you’re working, but we’re going to penalize you anyway.” The electoral base of the Tory party can evaporate far more quickly than they imagine.
Is Corbyn unelectable?
In public the ruling class, through its hired prostitutes in the mass media, is conducting a frantic campaign that aims to convince people that Jeremy Corbyn is “unelectable”. But in private the serious bourgeois understand only too well that Corbyn could win. The situation in Britain and internationally is unparalleled. The growing mood of discontent means that the election of a Left Labour Government is possible.
The boasts of the British government about “strong growth” are met with sullen indifference by millions who know that their living standards have steadily fallen. People no longer believe what the politicians say or promise. There is a growing disillusionment with the political establishment and in political parties in general. This situation will lead to a sharp polarization within society and a growing swing against the Tory government. The so-called “middle ground” upon which the Blairites are attempting to base themselves will be shattered by events.
There is a growing mood of anger against the Tories, which can produce a massive swing in Labour’s direction. All the conditions exist for a sharp turn to the left. It is clear from the opinion polls that many Tory and Liberal voters are looking with increasing interest at Jeremy Corbyn’s ideas, particularly his campaign against cuts and austerity. This tendency will inevitably grow as the harsh reality of vicious Tory cuts becomes increasingly clear to the public.
Nor is it true that Corbyn is only capable of reaching a narrow layer of traditional Labour voters and left-wingers. An opinion poll in the London Evening Standard showed that 62% of UKIP voters supported Jeremy Corbyn for Leader of the Labour Party, as compared to 52% of Labour voters. Many of these will be former Labour voters who were disillusioned with the right-wing Labour leaders and look with hope towards the new leader.
The fact that the government was defeated in the House of Lords on the tax credit issue indicates that a section of the ruling class is aware of the danger of a social explosion. Splits are opening up in the Tory Party in parliament. The debate over Britain’s membership of the EU will widen these differences into a yawning abyss. It is not even excluded that Cameron might fall, provoking an early general election, which Labour might win. This is very well understood by the serious strategists of capital, who are filled with alarm and foreboding. While they seek to downplay what they term the “Corbyn phenomenon” in public, in private they treat it very seriously indeed.
How would the Establishment react?
Corbyn has the great merit of giving hope to millions of people who were alienated from politics. He gave a voice to those who had none and expressed, however partially, their burning discontent with the existing state of affairs. The ruling class is well aware of the danger that a Left Labour government would pose. Their hatred of Jeremy Corbyn is not so much directed at the man himself, but rather it is the expression of a deep-seated fear of the masses that stand behind him.
How would the bourgeois state react to such a Corbyn Labour government? It is sufficient to pose the question to answer it. If the election of Corbyn as Leader of the Labour Party was sufficient to trigger an unprecedented campaign of slander, then the election of a Corbyn Labour government would be immediately met with a furious reaction. From the very first day all the considerable resources of the Establishment, the media, Big Business and the state would be mobilized against it.
There would be a strike of Capital, designed to cause maximum economic disruption and bring the government to its knees. The City of London will wish to impress upon the elected government who really controls Britain: the boards of directors of the banks and big monopolies that care little for the wishes of millions of voters. If anybody has any doubts about this, let them study what happened to the Syriza government in Greece.
Across the Atlantic US imperialism will be following these developments with concern. The threat to leave NATO would deprive the USA of its main European “ally” (read lackey), which the Pentagon and the CIA would go to any lengths to prevent. It is well known that the CIA extends its tentacles into every corner of the British state and Establishment and has close links not only with the tops of the British armed forces but also with Labour’s right wing.
Already the air is thick with menace. A senior serving general, speaking anonymously to The Sunday Times, said Corbyn’s victory had been greeted with “wholesale dismay” in the army. He added: “There would be mass resignations at all levels and you would face the very real prospect of an event which would effectively be a mutiny […] with senior generals directly and publicly challenging Corbyn over decisions such as scrapping Trident, pulling out of NATO and any plans to shrink the size of the armed forces.”
And he made an explicit threat: “The Army just wouldn’t stand for it. The general staff would not allow a prime minister to jeopardise the security of this country and I think people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul to prevent that. You can’t put a maverick in charge of a country’s security.”
What does this phrase “whatever means possible, fair or foul” signify? It can only mean that a clique of unelected generals consider they have the right to force an elected government to do their bidding, or else face the prospect of overthrow. Is such a thing possible in democratic Britain? Yes, it is perfectly possible. In the final analysis the ruling class would not hesitate to resort to unconstitutional methods to get rid of a government it regarded as a threat to its interests.
The military are actively intervening to undermine Corbyn. On Remembrance Day, even as he stood with head bowed before the Cenotaph, Corbyn was publically attacked on TV by General Sir Nicholas Houghton, the head of the armed forces. Generals are not supposed to interfere in politics. Yet Houghton said he would be worried by any prospect of the Labour leader’s views being “translated into power” because Corbyn has said he would never be willing to approve the use of nuclear weapons. The chief of defence staff used a separate interview to say Britain was “letting down” its allies by not engaging in air strikes against Islamic State in Syria.
What was the reaction to these outrageous comments from our freedom-loving press? There was no outcry, no hint of a protest. There was a deafening silence, and silence here denotes sly complicity. The same complicity can be seen from the Blairites – including members of the shadow cabinet. This is a very serious warning to Labour. Houghton received the full backing of Maria Eagle, the shadow defence secretary, who told the programme that the chief of the defence staff was “within his rights” to express his doubts about her Party Leader becoming prime minister. Downing Street also welcomed his intervention against the Labour leader, saying that the chief of the defence staff was entitled to criticize Jeremy Corbyn. This blows the myth the military are “above politics” sky-high.
This is not the first time that the British army has intervened in politics. On the eve of the First World War, when it looked as if the Liberal government of Asquith was preparing to grant Home Rule to Ireland and Lord Carson was mobilizing the armed forces of reaction in the Protestant Ulster Volunteers, a group of British army officers based at the Curragh Camp, not far from Dublin, refused to disarm the UVF in what amounted to a mutiny against the elected government at Westminster. This might have led to civil war if it were not cut across by the outbreak of the War. Nor is this the only example. We know that as far back as the 1960s there were plans to carry out a coup d’état against Harold Wilson, the leader of the Labour Party.
All this is a very serious warning to the Labour movement in Britain. But there is a power that is greater than all the generals in the world and that is the organized power of the working class. Let us not forget: not a lightbulb shines, not a wheel turns, not a telephone rings without the permission of the working class. That is a tremendous power! It is high time that this power was used. The only way to defeat the inevitable resistance of the ruling class is to mobilize the power of the working class outside parliament to bring about a fundamental change in society.
Ultimately, what are decisive are not personalities but programmes and policies. Jeremy Corbyn’s programme has yet to be fully worked out. It is said to be a “work in progress”. However, its general outline is already known. When he entered the race for Labour Leader he outlined his core principles as follows:
- A new kind of politics: a fairer, kinder Britain based on innovation, decent jobs and decent public services.
- Growth not austerity – with a national investment bank to help create tomorrow’s jobs and reduce the deficit fairly. Fair taxes for all - let the broadest shoulders bear the biggest burden to balance the books.
- A lower welfare bill through investment and growth not squeezing the least well-off and cuts to child tax credits.
- Action on climate change - for the long-term interest of the planet rather than the short-term interests of corporate profits.
- Public ownership of railways and in the energy sector - privatisation has put profits before people.
- Decent homes for all in public and private sectors by 2025 through a big housebuilding programme and controlling rents.
- No more illegal wars, a foreign policy that prioritises justice and assistance. Replacing Trident not with a new generation of nuclear weapons but jobs that retain the communities’ skills.
- Fully-funded NHS, integrated with social care, with an end to privatisation in health.
- Protection at work – no zero hours contracts, strong collective bargaining to stamp out workplace injustice.
- Equality for all – a society that accepts no barriers to everyone’s talents and contribution. An end to scapegoating of migrants.
- A life-long national education service for decent skills and opportunities throughout our lives: universal childcare, abolishing student fees and restoring grants, and funding adult skills training throughout our lives.
Marxists would agree with most of this. But there is a problem. On a capitalist basis this programme cannot be realized. Any government that accepts the capitalist system will have to obey the laws of capitalism, that is to say, the laws of the market. In the present context that means carrying out a policy of cuts and austerity.
The standard answer to all these policies is to point to the huge debts that are dragging the British economy down. Osborne said the Labour leadership’s call for MPs to block his changes showed it was “happy loading debts on to our children they can never hope to repay”. What Osborne and the other representatives of the banks and big business on the Tory benches never say is why these debts existed in the first place.
The reason for the huge deficits that weigh heavily on the shoulders of the people of Britain and other countries is the massive bail-outs of the private banks following the financial collapse of 2008. Billions of pounds of public money were liberally shovelled into the coffers of banks that had been made insolvent by the gross mismanagement, irresponsible speculation and downright swindling by the bosses.
If a worker wrecks an expensive machine in a factory he or she would be immediately sacked. If gross inefficiency or recklessness or sabotage were involved, they could be open to legal prosecution, leading to fines or imprisonment. But if bankers wreck the entire financial system of the world, provoking an economic downturn that destroys the lives of millions of people, they are neither sacked nor put in prison, as they deserve, but are richly rewarded with lavish amounts of public money. In return, they laugh in the face of the public, pay themselves outrageous bonuses and do not lend any money to help struggling families and small businesses.
In order to carry out his programme, Jeremy Corbyn will have to take action against the big banks and monopolies that are the real rulers of Britain, no matter who sits in Number Ten Downing Street. The first measure of a Labour government must be to nationalize these institutions, which represent the commanding heights of the economy.
The idea of those who advise Corbyn is that it is possible to control the excesses of Big Business through taxation and regulation. But a regulated market economy is a contradiction in terms. What is needed is a rational and democratically planned economy that is geared to serve the interests of the many, not the profits of a few. But it is impossible to plan what you do not control, and it is impossible to control what you do not own. The objections to this are easily answered. We do not propose nationalizing the small or medium businesses – the small farmers, family businesses, corner shops and the like. It is enough that we take into our hands the key points of economic power.
Very few people nowadays have any sympathy for the bankers and the pampered billionaires of the City of London. If Jeremy Corbyn went on television and explained with facts and figures how the super-rich gangsters have plundered Britain and systematically robbed its people, there would be massive support for nationalization without compensation, or with minimum compensation on the basis of proven need only.
Jeremy Corbyn stands for the renationalization of the railways. That is a very good idea and will be enthusiastically supported by millions of people who pay exorbitant fares for an appallingly bad service. But he then added that this measure would not cost anything because the idea is to wait until the present franchise runs out. This would mean that if Corbyn becomes prime minister in 2020, only a third of the railways would be in public hands by the end of his first parliament in 2025.
That is a case of too little and too late. The owners of the privatized rail companies have already pocketed too much of our money. A Labour government should take back the railways without paying any compensation. Socialist nationalization has nothing in common with the kind of nationalizations carried out by past Labour governments, where the old private owners were replaced by unelected bureaucrats who ran the nationalized industries on capitalist lines. What is required is workers’ control and management. After all, nobody understands the best way to run industry better than those who have worked in them for years and decades.
Marxists will fight to throw out the Tories and for a Labour government. We will defend Jeremy Corbyn against the attacks form the right and fight for a democratic and socialist Labour Party. But we say that only by taking bold measures to put an end to the dictatorship of the City of London will it be possible to carry out the measures that are needed to end unemployment, homelessness and poverty and create the fairer, kinder Britain to which Jeremy Corbyn aspires.
London 9th November 2015