Chris Nineham takes a snapshot of the current political crisis and argues for a fast and sharp strategic realignment
The British ruling class is being exposed as hopelessly out of touch, lying and incompetent. Having taken us into the referendum and lost it, they are struggling to respond. Their arrogance is such that it never occurred to them this might actually happen.
There is, at present, no stable political representation and no programme for the mainstream of British capitalism, which is pro EU. Instead we have political turmoil. The result has not been a tidal wave of reaction as some predicted, but the downfall of a series of influential figures on the right, growing popular participation in radical politics and demonstrations and, as a result, fledgling signs of the strengthening of the left.
The Chilcot Report has not just been a disaster for Tony Blair and his gang, it is a damning condemnation of the whole establishment which backed the war. However much the BBC and others spin it, the report makes it clear that parliament and the people were deceived in pursuit an illegal war for regime change. This in itself is a profound victory for the anti-war movement.
Since the referendum we have seen the backs of Cameron, Johnson, Farage, and Gove. Tony Blair has been humiliated, while tens of thousands have taken to the streets in defence of Corbyn, and 130,000 people have joined Labour, taking total membership to over half a million. Teachers have had a big strike and a national demonstration, and junior doctors voted against Hunt’s so called compromise deal on contracts.
The Tory leadership election has exposed another big problem for the right; the decay of the Conservative Party. Its membership has fallen to 150,000, with an average age of 60. Massively concentrated in the South East, its class character and lack of popular roots are illustrated by the fact that the Daily Telegraph is the majority of members’ paper of choice.
The situation remains complex. Anti-immigrant arguments were central in the referendum debate and an important factor in the result. There has been a worrying rise in racist attacks, and right wing elements will try and take advantage of the crisis. Despite Chilcot, the Blairites remain in place and their constant plotting against Corbyn has the unequivocal support of the bulk of the media, in particular the BBC which has been trying to ‘whitewash’ Chilcot. But, at the moment, there is an opening to the left. Millions of people are asking whether we can create a better sort of society. We have to try to provide the answers.
Keep Corbyn, keep fighting
We now have to go on the offensive. That means continuing to defend Corbyn, confronting anti-immigrant arguments and pushing for socialist solutions to the deep crisis in society. The Blairite coup makers have been beaten back for the time being. This is a testimony to Corbyn's resolve but also the strong stand taken by the unions and the wider movement. There were big protests against the coup almost everywhere, beginning with the fantastic rally in Parliament Square last Monday and reaching a high point when 3,000 marched in Liverpool last Saturday. It was obvious from the atmosphere on these events that they helped break the sense of Corbyn's isolation and to swing the initiative away from the plotters.
The survival and advance of the Corbyn project is the key to creating a left that can appeal to the millions of people who feel betrayed and battered by the political elite. The Blairites are, of course, still working for Corbyn's removal, though some of them now are clearly considering jumping ship into some kind of centre party, or maybe even the Liberals.
We need to build every strike, protest and mobilisation into the biggest possible show of movement strength, stressing support for Corbyn, and solidarity with migrants. It is fantastic that the organisers of this weekend’s Durham Miners’ Gala, which will be one of the biggest working class mobilisations of the year, have humiliated the coup plotters by disinviting them from their big meeting where Corbyn is speaking. The event looks set to be a massive Labour movement celebration of Corbyn’s radical politics.
Next weekend on July 16, there is the crucial People’s Assembly/Stand up to Racism demonstration against austerity and in support of migrants. This needs to be another huge mobilisation against the right.
Whether or not there is a Labour leadership election, everywhere we need to ensure there are rallies and meetings supporting Corbyn and massive JC4PM events to keep the project going forward. After the report, Stop the War groups can hold rallies and meetings on the people’s response to Chilcot and the War on Terror fifteen years on to start putting the case not just for Tony Blair’s indictment, but for the 180% change in British foreign policy that so many people are demanding.
Finally, in order to help make this happen, we need to continue putting the argument about the need for a stronger extra-parliamentary left. Many people are understandably joining Labour at the moment. The internal battles in Labour are crucial. But we must be clear. Corbyn would not be in position now if it hadn't been for the years of mass protests and campaigning that have built his support base. The Chilcot inquiry - the fifth into the Iraq War - would never have happened without the tireless work of tens of thousands of people up and down the country.
The attempted coup in Labour and the disgraceful post-Chilcot defence of Blair and his supporters should be warnings to us. We mustn't let politics become a spectator sport; we mustn't rely on Westminster politics to deliver change. The outcome even of the battle in Labour will depend more than anything on the wider movement’s success in mobilising on the streets, in workplaces and communities. It will depend on whether the teachers and junior doctors win their struggles, whether the unions grow, whether the People’s Assemblies and local campaigns against cuts can be strengthened. To organise this kind of popular, participatory, movement response and to put a clear case for socialist politics, there has to be socialist organisation outside of parliament, committed to the idea that change comes from below and what ordinary people do to shape their own future in the here and now.
Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.
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