anti nazi league Anti-Nazi League demonstration, Trafalgar Square, 1978. Photo: Sarah Wyld

Lindsey German looks beyond the Labour right’s Trotsky twist and locates a deeply anti-democratic impulse    

It seems that the more support Jeremy Corbyn gets, the less reconciled his enemies are to him winning re-election as leader of the Labour Party. Tom Watson in particular seems to be in paroxysms of impotent rage as every day brings a new challenge.

The party’s deputy leader appears to have been instrumental in appealing the court decision which will allow new party members to vote in the leadership election. This cannot end well for him. If the appeal finds for the original decision his position is very difficult. If it overturns that decision there will be uproar in the Labour Party (and Jeremy Corbyn will still, in all probability, win).

The latest red scare about ‘Trotskyist arm twisting’ combines complete contempt for the new membership with a total misunderstanding of what is going on in Labour. There have always been relatively small numbers of Trotskyists in Britain and some have at various times been in the Labour Party. They have often been subject to witch hunting by the right, and sometimes their organisations have been proscribed. They have always amounted to a small minority of Labour Party activists and have fought openly for their politics (a fact which has annoyed successive right wingers who have sought to lessen their ability to pass resolutions and attend conferences). 

Revolutionary socialists have often been at the centre of campaigns outside Labour which seek to involve Labour Party members alongside others. Think of the Anti-Nazi League, the anti-poll tax campaign, Stop the War, and many other campaigns and you will see socialists influenced by the ideas of Trotsky involved (and often initiating) them. This is not because they are secretive manipulators, but for exactly the opposite reasons: they want mass campaigns as a way of taking the movement forward.

This is rather unlike Watson and his supporters, who want to narrow Labour’s membership. Indeed Watson wants to return to the old electoral college system of voting, which would shift the balance of power back to MPs in determining the party leadership.

Yet again, Watson is being aided and abetted by the supposedly liberal media, the BBC and the Guardian. It is an interesting question why the Guardian in particular is declaring war on its readership in such a spectacular way.

The supposedly tolerant liberals have become very illiberal about the Brexit vote. This has made them agitated enough. The intersection of this with widespread support for Corbyn seems to have sent some of its journalists over the edge. Hence the highlighting of any opposition to Corbyn, the desperate attempts to promote an alternative, and the incomprehension when none of this works. 

The problem is that it isn’t working. That reflects not just a move to the left inside Labour but a wider opposition to the demands of a neoliberal system. Cue more hysteria about a totally justified series of industrial disputes on the railways.

Solidarity will be crucial here. No one can say British politics aren’t interesting.

Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.