This week, Labour’s ruling body voted to prevent Jeremy Corbyn from standing as a Labour MP. Subsequently, many on the left have raised the idea of a new workers’ party. The key unresolved question, however, is that of revolutionary leadership.
In their latest provocation against the left, ‘Sir’ Keir Starmer and the right wing have barred Jeremy Corbyn MP from standing as a Labour candidate at the next election.
The Labour leaders had signalled their intention to take this incendiary step for months. But it was finally formalised on Tuesday this week, at a meeting of the NEC, where Starmer himself proposed a motion to officially prevent the MP for Islington North from standing for the party.
In response, Corbyn put out a public statement denouncing this decision as an assault on party democracy. “I will not be intimidated into silence,” the former Labour leader stated. “I have spent my life fighting for a fairer society on behalf of the people of Islington North, and I have no intention of stopping now.”
This inflammatory move by Starmer, the establishment’s knight in shining armour, rides roughshod over the democratic rights of Islington North CLP members to choose their candidate.
Questions are now being raised over whether Corbyn will choose to stand as an independent – or even lead the charge in founding a new workers’ party.
How should socialists respond to these turbulent events?
The actual text of Tuesday’s motion states that:
“The Labour Party’s interests, and its political interests at the next general election, are not well served by Mr Corbyn running as a Labour Party candidate.”
It then goes on to add that, were Corbyn to be a Labour candidate, this would have a “detrimental effect” on the party’s “standing with the electorate”. And it lays the blame for the 2019 election result at the former leader’s feet.
This is stinking hypocrisy from Starmer and the right wing. It was they who pushed the party to call for a second referendum on Brexit – a key factor behind Labour’s loss of seats in the ‘Red Wall’ and elsewhere.
It was they, not Corbyn, who did everything they could to undermine the party’s electoral chances, as the recent Forde inquiry, ‘The Labour Files’, and the infamous leaked report have since categorically proven.
Whether it was their hysterical antisemitism smear campaign; their failed ‘chicken coup’; their constant slanders and sabotage; or their scheming with the Tories and the establishment: these ladies and gentlemen worked day-in, day-out to deliberately torpedo Corbyn’s leadership and to wreck the party.
This week’s shocking – but unsurprising – move has provoked outrage amongst Corbyn’s thousands of supporters on the left and in the labour movement.
Following the NEC vote, social media was awash with rightful anger: often from former Labour members who have either been purged from the party, or voluntarily left it following its lurch to the right.
A solidarity statement by the BFAWU (bakers’ union) – a founder of the Labour Party over 100 years ago, which subsequently voted to disaffiliate in 2021 – does not hold back, laying bare the real reasons behind this manoeuvre.
“Starmer is no threat to wealth or the status quo,” the union’s leaders correctly assert. “His job on their behalf of the established order is to ensure a Corbyn-like figure can never again be elected to a position of power…Both inside and outside of the party, they feared a politician that can’t be bought; that wouldn’t continue the policies of the rigged game.”
“The importance of making sure any flame of hope is extinguished is priority No.1,” the statement continues, “which is why we have seen the deliberate demonising of the left and Jeremy Corbyn, who lit those fires of hope.”
In the wake of these events, with no clear fightback to this right-wing onslaught, many left-wingers will feel even more demoralised about the prospects of Labour ever again being a vehicle for transforming society.
No doubt this is part of Starmer and the right wing’s strategy: to taunt and goad the left into leaving the party in disgust, if they have not abandoned it already, thus tightening the right’s grip even further.
Similarly, and understandably, this latest attack will fuel calls for other unions to follow in the footsteps of the BFAWU and disaffiliate from the party.
Already, for example, in advance of this year’s Unite congress, motions have been tabled on the question of disaffiliation.
While grassroots activists are outraged, however, with declarations of solidarity pouring in from across the left, this burning anger has not been matched by those at the top.
Jon Lansman, for example, the founder of Momentum, criticised Corbyn’s exclusion on the grounds that it damages the “coalition” of left and right in the party.
“He is a necessary and desirable part of Labour’s coalition, as is Labour’s right,” stated the former Momentum head honcho. “It is the job of the leader to hold that coalition together, not to break it apart.”
Lansman then goes on to advise Corbyn not to stand as an independent, but to instead gracefully retire, becoming some kind of elder statesman of the left.
Similarly, responding to the NEC vote, John McDonnell put out a tweet saying that this would hurt the need for a “united party”.
Unlike Lansman, however, the former shadow chancellor went on to call for a campaign amongst the ranks of the labour movement to overturn this decision.
Such calls for party ‘unity’ have been a persistent Achilles heel for the Labour left. From day one, even when the Blairites were stabbing them in the back (or in the front as, right-winger Jess Phillips brazenly put it), left leaders continued with this same refrain.
This unfortunately demobilised and disorientated the Corbyn movement, particularly at crucial moments in the struggle.
Rather than organising grassroots activists to drive out the Labour right wing, these agents of capitalism within the party, the left leaders consistently sowed illusions in the potential for ‘compromise’ and ‘peace’.
In practice, this meant offering endless concessions, in a futile attempt to appease the Blairites and the establishment; admitting to ‘crimes’ that had not been committed; holding olive branches that were constantly rebuffed; and blocking attempts by rank-and-file members to bring in mandatory reselection and democratically sweep these Tory infiltrators out of the party.
The right wing, by contrast, were ruthless. They were extremely conscious of their class interests, and would demand a mile whenever they were offered an inch.
In short, the left’s weakness simply invited further aggression from the right.
As a result, the right have been able to regain control with almost no resistance. And from its gigantic peak of over half-a-million members, through a mixture of purges (including of Socialist Appeal supporters) and utter demoralisation, the party has been hollowed out.
This, in turn, makes McDonnell’s call for a rank-and-file campaign in “CLPs and affiliates” also seem quite hollow – a case of too little, too late.
Similarly, Momentum has appealed for left activists to ‘stay and fight’. “We are not giving Keir Starmer what he wants – we are not leaving,” the organisation declares in an email to its followers. “We will not exile ourselves from the public sphere.”
All of this sounds very defiant. But where was the bold fightback against the right wing that was required from the start? Where was the mass mobilisation at the time that Corbyn was first suspended, on trumped-up charges of racism? And where is it now?
Those left Labour MPs who remain in the PLP are fearful of being next in line for the chop. Local parties across the country have largely fallen back into the hands of the right, or have become moribund. Left-wing unions are contemplating disaffiliation. And most activists are understandably focussing their energies on other struggles and strikes.
In any case, the right wing will not budge or change their minds. The only way that Corbyn could be readmitted into the Labour Party is if Starmer and the Blairites were cleared out. But the left leaders have no such perspective or strategy. They had their chance to do this, and they buckled, paving the way for the present impasse.
Instead, some on the left are raising the idea that Corbyn should now stand as an independent, or even make a clean break with Labour to form a new party, along with others from the Socialist Campaign Group (SCG) of MPs.
“Whatever path Jeremy chooses, we will support his decision,” BFAWU have stated, for example. “And if he stands as an independent, we will support his campaign.”
This is linked to the suggestion that unions such as Unite – one of Labour’s biggest financial backers – should also disaffiliate, and then throw their weight behind such an endeavour.
This, the argument goes, would provide a new vehicle for socialism, free from all of the problems that infest the Labour Party: chiefly Blairism, big business, and bureaucracy.
Such proposals are clearly made with the best of intentions. Putting aside a number of secondary questions, however, we must get to the root of the problem.
Calls for a new left party are, in many ways, a red herring; an organisational solution to what is at heart a political question.
The truth is that the left had power in Labour. Corbyn allies held key posts in the party – from the leader’s office to the position of general secretary. Hundreds of thousands of radicalised workers and youth signed up to support Corbyn and his programme. CLPs came under the control of the left.
But all of this was squandered, and turned to dust, because those in charge of the Corbyn movement were afraid of doing what was necessary: standing up to the establishment; deselecting right-wing MPs; and completing the transformation of the party from top to bottom.
This flows from the woolly, reformist politics of these ‘lefts’: the belief that you can have a kinder, gentler capitalism; and, in turn, that workers and capitalists can come together and cooperate in harmony, for the benefit of all.
This conditioned all their decisions – above all, feeding the illusion that the left, representing the interests of the working class, could coexist with the right wing, representing the interests of the ruling class.
If a new left party was formed on the same reformist basis, therefore, with these same reformist types at its helm, it would encounter all the same obstacles as those which faced the Corbyn movement. And it would repeat all the same mistakes.
As the saying goes: those who do not learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.
And the lefts in the labour movement have clearly not learnt the lessons of these events – as demonstrated by the capitulations of the left wing in Unison, who made all the same errors as the Labour lefts, only in a more concentrated timeframe.
These limits of reformism are posed even more sharply in the present period: an era of deep capitalist crisis; a time not of reforms, but of counter-reforms.
Only a bold socialist programme can address the fundamental problems facing the working class.
Similarly, any new left party would need to be based on the mass participation of radical workers and youth, with local branches and proper democratic structures.
But when the same efforts were attempted by Corbyn supporters in the early days of Momentum, left leaders like Lansman quickly moved to suffocate these initiatives by grassroots activists to organise and mobilise.
This wasn’t out of any inherent bureaucratic tendencies on the part of Lansman and co., but because of the reformist politics of those involved.
These figures were afraid of conjuring up a movement that was out of their control, and which was heading in a militant direction – that is, towards a collision course with the Blairite saboteurs.
And again, faced with the same tasks, with the same kind of leadership, history would no doubt repeat itself.
This is not mere conjecture, but is demonstrated by the development of the ‘Enough is Enough’ campaign over the past six months.
Despite huge attendances at ‘Enough is Enough’ rallies across the country, with plenty of fiery speeches from its self-appointed representatives, none of this energy and enthusiasm has translated into a genuine mass movement, or into the embryo of a new party.
At the same time, workers and youth are being radicalised by the hammer blow of events, and are increasingly looking far beyond the soft, timid reformism of these ‘lefts’.
This process will only deepen, especially in the course of the bitter industrial struggles that are breaking out. The grassroots campaign to reject the rotten deal being put to NHS workers is just one case in point.
Already, 1-in-3 young people identify with communism. This shows the revolutionary direction in which Britain is heading. Socialists must base themselves on this future, not cling to the ghosts of the past.
What the working class requires is not a reheated Corbyn movement, but a revolutionary leadership, capable of showing the way forward in the struggle to overthrow capitalism.
Such a leadership cannot simply be declared. It must be actively and consciously built: based on the most determined class fighters, and on the clearest ideas and perspectives, as represented by Marxism.
Socialist Appeal – the British section of the International Marxist Tendency – is attempting to build such a force. We call militant workers and youth to join us today, and help us forge the revolutionary leadership that our class deserves.