Jeremy Corbyn, July 2017. Photo: Jim Aindow Jeremy Corbyn, July 2017. Photo: Jim Aindow

The question isn’t ‘stay or leave’, it’s whether or not the left inside and outside the Labour party is going to fight back, argues John McInally

With the full weight of the establishment and media behind them, Keir Starmer and Labour’s right-wing are determined to extirpate socialist, anti-war and anti-imperialist ideas from the party, or, at the very least, neutralise them. This is the real strategy behind the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn – it is a declaration of war, and it is class war. Horrified at how close Corbyn came to being prime minister of a Labour government in 2017 on a Manifesto that offered some alternative to cuts, privatisation and austerity the right-wing are determined to ensure it never happens again.

While debate is heavily focussed on whether socialists should stay in the Labour Party the real issue is whether the left is prepared to launch a serious fightback to defeat this McCarthyite witch-hunt. A fightback must be conducted in the party, the trade unions and the social movements through which workers and youth are challenging a system incapable of offering them a safe and stable life. Starmer and the right-wing would prefer the left to cower in compliant silence but will carry out a wholesale purge of activists if required. The left can challenge and defeat this witch-hunt only by an uncompromising and determined fightback in defence of socialist ideas and policies.

It suits the right-wing if activists leave. But that means a defeatist message is sent out to workers and activists that faced with acts of bureaucratic gangsterism socialists concede without a fight. Right-wing bureaucracies in the trade unions regularly employ these witch-hunting strategies and history tells us the only serious response is to build the most determined and sustained fightback. For over a hundred years Labour has been the traditional mass organisation of political representation for the working class, to hand it over to the forces of pro-capitalist reaction without a fight would rightly be perceived as an historic defeat.

The ruling class’s surrogates and agents in our movement need neither encouragement nor an instruction manual on how to witch-hunt the left. They were as terrified and horrified as much as the Tories by Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, more so in fact. Corbyn represented a mortal threat to their careers and prestige. For the right-wing it is not enough Corbyn is defeated – he must be broken, crushed and humiliated. Starmer’s claim there was no strategy to suspend Corbyn is a lie, but he must now follow through and expel him, anything less would be a setback for him.

The left’s response so far has been wholly inadequate to the scale of the attack. If the Labour left and particularly leaders of affiliated unions and MPs who demand activists “Stay And Fight” or “Stay And Organise” do not launch a serious campaign to challenge and defeat the witch-hunt these will be no more than empty slogans.

Tories in crisis – Starmer to the rescue    

Class interests are driving the witch-hunt. The ruling class face multiple crises, the pandemic, Black Lives Matter movement, slump, Brexit and growing support for Scottish independence. All this adds a greater depth and urgency to the Tories aim of dividing the labour movement and crushing any idea there is a socialist alternative to the unfettered market. In times of crisis right-wing labour and trade union “leaders” always prioritise defence of capitalist interests over those of the workers they purportedly represent. It is no accident the right-wing have chosen this time to launch an attack on the left.

As the pandemic rages it is increasingly clear the Tories are incapable of protecting workers’ lives, let alone their livelihoods. Despite raising some criticisms of the Tories’ competence, Starmer has failed to expose their role in the slaughter and their kleptomaniac looting of the public finances. As England goes into its second lockdown he fully backs Johnson’s insane decision to keep schools open and is keen to show he will stand up to the unions. His aim is to take Labour into a government of “national unity”, in the “national interest” of course – an open alliance with the Tories.

Starmer aims to reassure the ruling class Labour will abandon Corbyn’s Manifesto commitments in favour of the type of pro-capitalist policies that defined Blair’s New Labour. Starmer is an  establishment man to his bootstraps and he wants to show that as a future Labour prime minister he would be a “safe pair of hands”. Ironically, this strategy would ensure Labour loses the next election.

Corbyn suspended for speaking the truth 

The ruling class internationally were appalled at the prospect of Corbyn as Labour prime minister of the world’s oldest, if rapidly declining, capitalist state. Labelling Corbyn and the left as “antisemites” was an act of ruthless opportunism that expropriated the language and principles of anti-racism and the left all the better to discredit it and to silence criticism of the Israeli apartheid regime. Antisemitism is abhorrent and while it would be absurd to deny it exists in the Labour Party, that can never justify it being weaponised for ulterior political motives to smear those fighting for socialism – the antithesis of imperialism, racism and oppression.

Starmer’s said those who deny the existence of antisemitism or that it was greatly exaggerated are part of the problem. Corbyn was suspended for contradicting this – for telling the truth. The suspension is not about fighting antisemitism within Labour, it is an attempt to destroy free speech, shut down discussion and provide a catch-all charge for anyone daring to express even the mildest dissent.

It is precisely on this issue the left so far has failed to confront the right-wing. Corbyn’s statement should be fully and unequivocally endorsed by the left, and by every left affiliated union leader and MP. Those spineless, deceitful “lefts” who are acting as apologists for the suspension by criticising Corbyn’s wholly justified statement on the EHRC Report are effectively advising him to issue a grovelling apology, an humiliating capitulation that would embolden the right-wing to even greater excesses.               

Organise the fightback now

Past errors must be confronted. Under Corbyn’s leadership the Labour left naively pushed the idea, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that “unity” with the right-wing was possible. The right-wing reacted to such appeals with open contempt. Failure to drive through mandatory reselection was a catastrophic mistake. In pulling back from holding the Parliamentary Labour Party to the most basic democratic accountability, the Blairite bureaucracy were encouraged and emboldened.

Supplicatory appeals to Starmer for “party unity” won’t work. This will not be settled “amicably” or with appeals to goodwill. There can be no unity with people conducting a witch-hunt, they must be taken on and defeated. The right-wing will pursue a scorched earth policy and destroy the party rather that allowing the left to reclaim the party. But while that process has begun, it is some way from completion and the left’s response is the most important factor in determining the outcome.

The left must demand the suspension is immediately and unconditionally lifted. Demand the EHRC report is openly and democratically debated in the party – no silencing of debate. Left unions leaders and MPs should confront Starmer and tell him to either lift the suspension or face votes of no confidence with the purpose of launching a leadership election to remove him. Mandatory reselection should be re-raised and prioritised as a policy. This is the bare minimum to show serious intent.   

If the counter-revolution in Labour is not challenged, a rout of the left cannot be ruled out. In such circumstances calls for a new workers’ party will gain even greater currency. Demands for union disaffiliation from Labour will grow. New forces entering struggle to fight in this period will look to their traditional organisations, the trade unions, including those affiliated to Labour. These workers and youth will demand effective political representation and left union leaders who argue Labour is still the best vehicle to represent the interests of our members and our class will need to explain if that is so why then was it abandoned without a fight.       

This struggle is unfolding in a period of multiple crises and rapid shifts in consciousness, not in the relative calm of the 1990’s. The right-wing have nothing to offer the working class but the status quo of austerity, cuts and privatisation. The lack of confidence on the Labour left to seriously confront these attacks is in large part explained by the current relative weakness of Marxist ideas and forces in our movement. Despite this, the fightback must be organised now, inside and outside the party, in order to build the type of united front and the widest alliance on a socialist programme that can challenge and defeat both the witch-hunt and the Tories themselves.  

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