Britain: Labour left wins the battle – but not yet the war

Victory in the Labour NEC elections shows the potential strength of the left. But this is currently being squandered by the left leaders. Instead of seeking compromise, we must mobilise members for an all-out struggle against the right. This article was originally published on 17 November, read here for a more recent update on events in the Labour Party.

The results of the latest elections for the Labour Party National Executive Committee (NEC) have boosted the confidence of left activists. Defying expectations – and a new voting system designed to favour the right – the left-wing ‘Grassroots Voice’ slate has taken the majority of the positions up for grabs.

This enthusing victory has shown where the real balance of forces lie within the Labour Party. This fact must be used to breathe life into the Corbyn movement – to galvanise members for a new offensive against the Labour right wing.

The left has won an important battle. The task now is to mobilise our army to win the war.

Left victory

Grassroots LP Image Jeremy Corbyn FlickrThe left has won an important battle. Now it must mobilise and win the war

This year’s NEC elections were conducted under a new ‘Single Transferable Vote’ (STV) system. In the past, members could vote for multiple candidates in the CLP representatives contest. This allowed for a ‘winner takes all’ outcome, where the left could achieve a clean sweep, given the mass left-wing membership of the Corbyn years.

Under the convoluted STV process, however, these positions are instead allocated on a more proportional basis. This change was cynically brought in by the outgoing NEC, dominated by Starmer’s supporters, in order to benefit the right wing.

In tandem with a wave of rank-and-file resignations, provoked by Starmer’s attacks on the left, right-wingers believed that they would be able to tip the balance on the NEC firmly in their favour. But in the end, the results – released last Friday – thwarted these hopes.

The Grassroots Voice slate ended up taking five out of the nine positions available to represent ordinary members. This includes prominent lefts such as former North West Durham MP Laura Pidcock, along with other candidates backed by Momentum.

Out of the remaining places, three went to the right-wing ‘Labour to Win’ slate – including the notorious arch-Blairite Luke Akehurst. The final spot was won by Ann Black, a right-winger masquerading as a ‘soft left’ as part of the ‘Open Labour’ platform.

Elsewhere, left candidates Ellen Morrison and Lara McNeill won the contests for disability rep and youth rep, respectively. Meanwhile, Momentum’s ‘For a Socialist Future’ slate secured a majority of the positions in the elections for the Young Labour National Committee.

Overall, then, these results demonstrate an important fact: that despite various suspensions and resignations, the left still has far greater numbers on the ground. After a series of defeats and retreats in recent months, this should fill activists with a sense of confidence and optimism.

It is vital now that this enthusiasm and strength is now channelled by the left leaders in order to take the fight to the right.

Demoralisation

The left’s victory is bittersweet, however. Despite the left winning these elections, the overall result has actually been to bolster the position of Starmer and his supporters on Labour’s ruling body.

With the backing of right-wing controlled unions such as Unison and GMB, the Labour leader now has a definite majority on the NEC. This only underlines the vital importance of left-wing trade unionists mobilising to elect fighting leaderships in their own internal elections.

Furthermore, the results indicate that whilst the left still outweighs the right amongst the membership, it has been weakened in recent months.

Partially this is the result of left-wingers understandably leaving the party in disgust. But mostly it reflects a wider demoralisation, with many members seeing elections such as these inconsequential, given the general ebb in – and attacks on – the Corbyn movement.

Responsibility for this ultimately lies with the leaders of the left, who have keeled over in the face of the right wing’s recent aggression. Starmer and the Blairites have thrown down the gauntlet and declared war on the left. Yet instead of mobilising activists for a fightback, the response of the soft lefts has been to run for cover.

Political attack

LabourRightWingBlairites Image Socialist AppealThe chair and co-secretary of Bristol West have been suspended for daring to organise a democratic meeting and provide rank-and-file members with an opportunity to make their voices heard / Image: Socialist Appeal

Given an inch, the right wing have taken a mile. And seeing the lack of resistance to Corbyn’s suspension, which was a clear provocation and political attack, the Labour leadership and right-wing bureaucracy are now looking to undertake a full-scale purge of the left from the party.

Repeated orders have been sent out to local party secretaries from Labour HQ, warning that any motions in support of Jeremy Corbyn would be ruled out of order, with threats of disciplinary measures against ‘offenders’. Despite this, many CLPs have defied these diktats, passing resolutions in solidarity with Corbyn.

Most notably has been Bristol West CLP, where members overwhelmingly voted in favour of a motion calling for Jeremy Corbyn’s reinstatement. This motion correctly states that Corbyn’s suspension is “a politically motivated attack against the left of the Labour Party by the leadership”, and calls on the CLP to “oppose any and all politically motivated disciplinary actions against the left by the leadership”.

This act of dissent has been quickly met with the iron fist of repression, however. Outrageously, both the chair and co-secretary of Bristol West have been suspended for daring to organise a democratic meeting and provide rank-and-file members with an opportunity to make their voices heard.

This is a scandalous attack on party democracy and the basic democratic rights of Labour members. After all, who are apparatchiks such as David Evans – the Blairite general secretary of the party – to decide what can and cannot be discussed by rank-and-file members?

The right wing’s hypocrisy knows no bounds. On the one hand, they attempt to bureaucratically silence activists from supporting Corbyn, citing potential ‘interference’ with investigations. Yet simultaneously, they offer a megaphone to anyone who wants to denounce the former Labour leader.

‘I’m Spartacus’

HandsOffCorbynDemo Image Socialist AppealCorbyn’s suspension has nothing to do with the EHRC’s findings or fighting anti-semitism, and everything to do with witch-hunting the left wing out of the party / Image: Socialist Appeal

Above all, these recent events underline the real meaning of Corbyn’s suspension. This has nothing to do with the EHRC’s findings or fighting anti-semitism, and everything to do with witch-hunting the left wing out of the party.

But removing members through suspensions and expulsions is only one side of the story. Alongside these direct purges, Starmer and the right wing are also consciously attempting to demoralise activists so that they will walk away voluntarily.

From the sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey; to the whipping of Labour MPs to abstain on the Overseas Operations bill and ‘Spy Cops’ bill; to the suspension of Corbyn and his supporters: all of these are purposefully designed to chip away at the left more subtly. And it is working, with over 50,000 members leaving the party since Starmer became leader.

The left leaders – in the Socialist Campaign Group (SCG), in Momentum, and in the unions – have attempted to combat this by calling on grassroots activists to ‘stay and fight’. But the emphasis seems very much to be on the ‘staying’, with little sign of fighting.

We cannot allow ourselves to be brow-beaten and intimidated by the barking of the Blairite bureaucracy. The way to stop a bully is not to lie down and plead for mercy, but to get off your knees and fight back.

Where the right-wing apparatus threatens CLPs or members with disciplinary measures, activists must stand up in defiance, passing motions in support of those suspended and in defence of party democracy.

What is needed is an ‘I’m Spartacus’ movement, with a wave of local parties refusing to obey orders, and instead coming out in open rebellion against Starmer and the party machinery. Every suspension should be turned around and used as a rallying cry to mobilise members in revolt against the right wing.

And this, in turn, must be linked to a political struggle: to deselect right-wing Labour MPs, and replace them with class fighters who will campaign for socialist policies. This is the only way to achieve genuine ‘unity’ – to unite the party on a class basis by removing the infiltrators who have actively done the bidding of the Tories and the establishment.

This is what the left leaders – including the Grassroots Voice candidates recently elected onto the NEC – should be calling for. We must show the same ruthlessness and audacity that the right wing has demonstrated against us.

Settlement or struggle?

Unite KeepCorbyn Image Socialist AppealWe would certainly welcome the reinstatement of Jeremy Corbyn. But the attack on the left is bigger than just the suspension of the former Labour leader / Image: Socialist Appeal

But all this requires bold and determined leadership. Yet it is precisely on this question where the current left leaders have been found wanting.

Rather than mobilising members to fight the right, the left leaders are continuing to appeal for ‘unity’. Instead of going on the offensive, they hope to ‘negotiate’ with their attackers, and make them see the ‘error of their ways’.

Jeremy Corbyn himself is guilty of fostering these illusions. In a recent public statement, the previous Labour leader implored for “this matter [of his suspension to be] resolved as quickly as possible, so that the party can work together”.

“I will do what I can to help the party move on,” the left-wing MP said, apologetic in tone, seeking a rapprochement with his belligerent opponents.

But even if a deal is reached to reinstate Corbyn, this will not lead to any ceasefire in Labour’s civil war. Instead, the right wing will seek to stick the knife in further. After all, weakness invites aggression, and appetite comes with eating.

At the same time, if Corbyn were allowed back into the party, this would only provoke further hysteria and frothing from the Blairites.

In effect, by suspending his predecessor, Starmer has released the hounds. And now, let off their leash, these rabid dogs are on the hunt for their next victims – including other Labour MPs, and even newly-elected NEC members.

We would certainly welcome the reinstatement of Jeremy Corbyn. But the attack on the left is bigger than just the suspension of the former Labour leader. What about those who have been gagged and punished while attempting to defend Corbyn? Or the countless other members who have fallen victim to the right wing’s purge?

Bringing Corbyn back through a negotiated settlement or McCluskey-brokered deal will solve nothing in the long run. Far from sending out a signal of strength and confidence to activists (and the right wing), it smacks of timidity and weakness.

Instead of recanting for its supposed sins, the left needs to mobilise its full forces to fight this whole witch-hunt politically and drive the right wing out of the party. This is the only way to achieve genuine, lasting peace.

Question of leadership

Corbyn suspension Image Socialist AppealCompromise is not possible. Concessions will get us nowhere. If the left wants peace, it must make war / Image: Socialist Appeal

Ultimately, this meek approach of the left leaders flows from their reformist politics. From day one, they have sought to appease the Labour right, naively believing that a compromise is possible – just as they believe that there can be a ‘nicer’, ‘kinder’ form of capitalism.

Yet how can there be any unity between the mass left-wing membership, which is looking to advance the interests of the working class, and the Blairites in the PLP, who are nothing but the agents of big business?

Compromise is not possible. Concessions will get us nowhere. Indeed, they are worse than useless, as they only sow confusion amongst activists, leading to disorientation and demoralisation.

The only ‘unity’ that the left should advocate is that of the working class; of grassroots activists in a struggle against the Labour right wing and the Tories, and for a socialist Labour government.

The recent NEC election results should give the left hope. They show that, despite the setbacks, there is still a clear support for the ideas that gave rise to the phenomenal Corbyn movement over five years ago.

But to advance, we must learn the lessons from this period – above all, the need for militant leadership: to organise activists around socialist policies; drive out the Blairite careerists and saboteurs; and complete the unfinished ‘Corbyn revolution’ to transform the Labour Party along socialist lines.

We call on workers and youth to join us in this task, to build the forces of Marxism, in the labour movement and on the streets.