Rob Sewell, editor of Socialist Appeal, replies to sectarian slanders and points the way forward for the unions in the fight to reclaim the Labour Party, defend Jeremy Corbyn, and fight for socialist policies.
The debate within the RMT over whether or not to reaffiliate to the Labour Party is too important for games. The union’s reaffiliation would clearly strengthen the hand of Jeremy Corbyn in his fight against the Party's right wing. It would help to secure his position against the Blairites. In other words, it would be a historic step forward.
Unfortunately, the Socialist Party of England and Wales (the SP) cannot see this. They are opposed to the union’s reaffiliation unless all those expelled are reinstated, the unions are granted greater powers and the Labour constitution is rewritten on federal lines to allow the SP to affiliate. Let’s face it, given the civil war raging in the party, such conditions are certainly not going to be met anytime soon.
In fact, these conditions are being used as a smokescreen to oppose RMT reaffiliation for their own narrow sectarian interests, namely to retain the union’s support for TUSC (Trade Union and Socialist Coalition).
Our criticisms of the Socialist Party have certainly ruffled a few feathers, so much so that its general secretary, Peter Taaffe, has been forced to issue a public rebuttal and attempt to set the record straight for "members of the labour movement".
In reality, his reply is not aimed at the labour movement but to try and calm the rumblings of discontent within his own group. This is clear from its content, which oddly draws in his group's internal affairs in Spain, then a whole host of other countries, which have nothing to do with the RMT discussion. Then, instead of answering points honestly, he reverts to distortion and petty slanders, hoping this will inoculate his members from our telling criticisms.
He says that Socialist Appeal described the decision about reaffiliation taken by the RMT’s annual meeting as "scandalous". This is completely false. We support the union’s decision to hold a rank and file consultation and then an emergency meeting to decide the question. What we described as "scandalous" was the SP's decision to argue against reaffiliation unless certain unachievable demands are met. In effect, they don’t mind a request for reaffiliation as long as it is in such terms that will invite rejection!
What they are asking for is for the Labour Party to be completely transformed, the right wing utterly defeated and Corbyn completely victorious, before the RMT can agree to reaffiliate - in other words, when everything is already done and dusted and the battle won.
But we are in the midst of a civil war over the future of the party. The more people who come to Jeremy Corbyn’s aid, the more successful we will be. Shouting from the sidelines is simply sterile.
Peter Taaffe then goes on to slander us, accusing us of keeping our mouths shut in the Labour Party and accommodating ourselves to the right wing. How would he know when his members are not in the Labour Party?
Ironically, this is the same slander used by the sects against Militant comrades in the past. The Healy group went further and accused us of supporting their expulsion from the Labour Party, the same slander that Taaffe is now making against us, without the slightest proof whatsoever.
Please name the Labour Parties where this has supposedly happened. Tell us, we want to know! But he cannot.
This baloney is being spread to throw dust in the eyes of his own members who have sympathy with our position. The reason why the SP alienated so many in their forage into Momentum was not due to us, but due to their own sectarian behaviour and their insistence on standing candidates against the Labour Party, even with Corbyn as leader. This made it easy for the Momentum leadership to exclude them.
Money and politics
RMT safe trains demo July 2017One of Peter Taaffe's key arguments against RMT reaffiliation is about money, rather than politics. You see, affiliation will mean the union has to pay - horror of horrors - affiliation fees to a right wing machine! But all affiliated unions pay fees. Yes, says Taaffe, but this money will help pay for the hated Compliance Unit! To pay such money, he says, "is indeed reprehensible".
If you follow Peter Taaffe's ridiculous logic, all Labour-affiliated trade unions should immediately refuse to hand any money over and disaffiliate from the Party. In addition, Labour Party members should also stop paying their dues and resign. But if they did this, they would forfeit their right to vote for Jeremy Corbyn for leader and support left policies and candidates against the right wing. Without the payment of these “reprehensible” fees, you have no rights, and will simply hand back the party to the Blairites.
Following the advice of the SP, instead of the Compliance Unit attempting to exclude members, the members should exclude themselves! Brilliant logic! This can only lead to one thing: the strengthening of the right wing within the Party and certain defeat for Jeremy Corbyn.
Surprise and support
“The candidature and subsequent election of Jeremy Corbyn was unexpected - not least to himself (Rob Sewell),” writes Peter Taaffe. Yes, we were surprised, but the SP leaders were absolutely dumbfounded! Their whole position for 25 years was that the Labour Party was a “capitalist” party, no different from the Tories. So how could such a “pro-business capitalist” party develop a left opposition, this left opposition win the leadership (twice) and, as a result, attract hundreds of thousands of workers and youth into its ranks?
In June 2015, at the beginning of the first leadership contest, Peter Taaffe dismissed Corbyn’s challenge as hopeless:
The entry of Jeremy Corbyn, a long-standing Labour left, into the Labour leadership contest has generated interest in an otherwise moribund 'pro-business', mostly Blairite-dominated contest. ‘Hope springs eternal’. There are some who have perhaps now renewed hope that, after decades of disastrous Labour right-wing rule, politically and organisationally within the party somehow the pendulum could begin to swing back towards the left as a result of Jeremy's challenge. We wish Jeremy well - we hope that he gets the maximum number of votes and, in the unlikely event that he wins, we would welcome that…But we do not believe that he will succeed in reclaiming Labour as a political weapon for the workers' movement. Any attempt to foster illusions that his challenge could do this, is a dead end. The process has gone too far, transforming Labour into a British version of the Democrats in the USA.”
The whole article contains not one iota of support for Corbyn (other than “we wish him well”). In this election people could register for £3 and vote, but Taaffe dismissed this as a trap. The SP did not make an appeal to its members and supporters to take up this offer. Affiliated trade union members also had the vote. But the SP did not make any public appeal to trade unionists to support Corbyn. In fact, the position of the SP had been throughout to argue for the disaffiliation of the unions from the Labour Party!
For them, everything was clear. The Labour Party was a capitalist party, like the Democrats in the US, and therefore Corbyn could not possibly win. Not only did Peter Taaffe assure us that Corbyn could not win because the Labour Party was capitalist (“an out-and-out ‘pro-business’ capitalist outfit”), but he went further, to say that Corbyn’s challenge was dangerous and misleading:
“The danger of accepting this 'charity' [allowing Corbyn onto the leadership ballot] could yet be further delay in workers drawing the obvious conclusion from the consistently rightward direction of Labour, that it is now an urgent task for the unions and the working class to take the necessary steps towards a new mass workers' party…” (our emphasis)
In the same article, Taaffe stressed that the main trend was: “the pressure for a new beginning for the working class outside of the Labour Party.” (our emphasis)
Peter Taaffe, after lecturing Corbyn, drew the only conclusion he could from his wrong analysis:
“Jeremy Corbyn's campaign, despite its good intentions, will not resuscitate the Labour Party… if the leadership election results in 'more of the same'... he should draw the obvious conclusion and break from historically obsolete Labour and help to found a new mass force.”
This is the flea calling on the elephant to abandon the herd and join it in forming a new one.
Support Corbyn! Fight for socialism!
We, on the other hand, enthusiastically welcomed Corbyn’s challenge for Labour leader from the word go and participated in his campaign. On 15th June 2015, we wrote within an hour of the ballot selection process closing:
“Jeremy Corbyn, the left wing Labour MP, has got on the ballot paper for Labour leader. This is a remarkable and welcome turn of events, despite being achieved by the slimmest of margins.
“After decades of right-wing ascendancy in the Labour Party, this left-wing challenge, if waged properly, could serve to break the ice. It certainly allows a left alternative to austerity to be aired in the labour movement and beyond…
“This means that Jeremy Corbyn is in with a credible chance in a wider ballot, especially if the trade unions swing behind him. Despite the changes to the electoral procedure for Labour leader, the unions still have an enormous sway and influence, which should now be utilised to maximum effect…
“The ruling class are determined that their representatives within the party, the right wingers and careerists, maintain their control and keep the party safe for capitalism. The Jeremy Corbyn candidature challenges this. This means that the debate will open up the way forward for the Labour Party and the working class in Britain.
“For our part, we support Corbyn’s campaign for Labour leader. All the other candidates represent the interests of big business, to one degree or another, whilst Corbyn has been clear from the beginning about his opposition to austerity.”
However, we also stated that:
“we will campaign for bold socialist policies, not piecemeal measures. We will explain that austerity arises not from the whims of individuals, but from the crisis of capitalism. All attempts to patch up the capitalist system are doomed to failure. Only the overthrow of capitalism and the introduction of a socialist planned economy can offer the way forward in Britain and internationally.”
The right wing had blundered by offering “associated membership”, believing this would simply reinforce their dominant position. Here we see the relation between accident and necessity, where the “accident” provided the catalyst for the discontent in society, which transformed the whole situation. We never said change would come from inside the Labour Party, as Taaffe says, but from outside, as was the case in the 1970s.
Fight to transform the Labour Party
Peter Taaffe then tries to defend the role of TUSC, which stood candidates against Labour in this year’s local elections. This is seen as “fighting the cuts”. But they are the only ones who see it like this. Corbyn is the leader of the Labour Party and to stand candidates against Labour is the equivalent of standing against Corbyn. No wonder TUSC only gathered a handful of votes.
In Cardiff, for example, where TUSC had a big push and stood 12 candidates in the local elections, they all got less than 100 votes each, mostly coming bottom of the poll, and the lowest being 28 votes in Caerau. This whole episode was a shambles. Despite this, the SP has since said that TUSC “has a role to play” in standing candidates against Labour in the future. This is pure sectarianism.
Rather than seeing the affiliation of the RMT as another contingent in the fight against the right wing within the Labour Party, Peter Taaffe regards reaffiliation “without conditions” as providing “resources and money indiscriminately to right-wing Labour to act against the interests of trade union members - as for instance has happened in Birmingham by the Labour Group in the recent bin dispute and elsewhere.”
But there is only one way to stop this and that is defeating the right wing within the Labour Party. This can only be achieved by joining or affiliating to the Party and using this strength to oust the right and replace them with class fighters.
“The left unions cannot allow a Labour Party version of the Trade Union Congress's disgraceful attempt to isolate and break the RMT in the Southern Rail dispute,” states the SP.
Correct, but the fight against the right in the TUC is the same as the fight against the right in the Labour Party. The same principle applies to both. A struggle must be carried on within both the industrial and political wings of the movement. That obviously means contracting in and not contracting out!
The left-wing FBU has already re-affiliated to the Labour Party after Corbyn’s victory. It will be a red letter day when the RMT joins them. Together, they will battle to transform the Labour Party into a real socialist party fighting to change society, as the RMT constitution correctly states. This can only be achieved by joining in the fight where it counts - inside the party - and not standing on the sidelines.
We hope that comrades in the Socialist Party will reject the slanders made against us and consider honestly what we have to say.