Right wing attacks on Corbyn have intensified. If we lose ground now, we will pay heavily in the future, argues Alex Snowdon
It is almost certain that Labour MPs will vote (probably by a large margin) on the 5th of September to reject the NEC’s antisemitism code, in favour of a version that outlaws criticism of Israel as ‘a racist endeavour’. It is also reported today that there’s probably now a majority on the NEC for opposing Corbyn on this question.
This illustrates why it would be dangerously complacent to assume that the Left will always prevail against the Right in a Corbyn-led Labour Party. The Right can get well-organised, put pressure on the centre ground of vacillating career-minded MPs, and in turn force divisions among the Left, pulling more conciliatory elements towards it.
The dedicated opponents of Corbyn are powerful within the PLP. Labour is above all a parliamentary party, so the parliamentary grouping has great weight. Historically it has trumped the NEC, Conference, and so on many times.
The right wingers also have the backing of the media, not to mention support from pressure groups and institutions outside Labour (on this issue a number of Right-leaning Jewish organisations, but on other issues it could be the CBI, the Bank of England etc).
It’s not even like this is an issue where the Left is objectively weak. The substantial differences are entirely based around statements to do with Israel. This is in a context of the aftermath of Israel killing 160+ Palestinians in Gaza in recent months, the Knesset’s apartheid law, the Trump-Netanyahu alliance, and so on.
The cracks in the wall of support for Israeli apartheid have never been wider. The debate is entirely winnable, but it requires political clarity and a willingness to conduct the arguments openly.
If the Right can prevail on this issue, it can potentially do so on others. Current tensions within the Left - e.g. Momentum leaders throwing Pete Willsman to the wolves, Jon Lansman reportedly lobbying the NEC to change its proposed code - make it clear that internal elections and waiting for Conference are not enough. Political arguments have to be addressed and taken seriously. And it has to be done now.
There has been a lot of defensiveness, apologetics and conciliation. None of that has been necessary. None of it has worked.
Capitulation on including statements curtailing free speech on Israel will not satisfy those who want to wreck Corbyn’s leadership. It will only embolden them on this issue - a major setback for the cause of Palestine in the labour movement - and on other issues too.
The alternative: stand your ground and take on the arguments. That’s what should have happened from the beginning. Labour, led by Corbyn, is closer to being a serious anti-racist party than at any time in its history. It has taken steps forward on foreign policy, including on Palestine, and needs to take further steps in defiance of those on the hard right of the PLP.
A willingness to fight for principled positions, combined with harnessing the energies and reach of extra-parliamentary movements (against racism, in support of Palestine, and so on), can prevent further capitulations. The wreckers are not going away, but they don’t have to shape the whole political agenda.
Alex Snowdon is a Counterfire activist in Newcastle. He is active in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War Coalition and the National Education Union. He is the author of A Short Guide to Israeli Apartheid (2022).
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