When the right is attacking you, going along with it is not the solution, fighting back is, argues Chris Nineham
There is no doubt Monday morning's 'historic' walkout was a shambles. The speeches were hollow, the plan hazy, the nametag painfully unimaginative. By the time 'theindependent.group' had crashed and Angela Smith had made racist comments on air, the thing looked more like a car crash than a party launch.
But this is largely missing the point. Most news platforms predictably ignored Smith's 'funny tinge' moment (imagine if a Corbyn supporter had been caught mumbling this kind of racist drivel), skipped the embarrassing speeches and focussed on the attacks on Corbyn. In particular, they picked up and ran with deputy leader Tom Watson's carefully prepared, passive-aggressive video message. Headline: if the party doesn't change course there is more trouble to come.
This slightly chilling communique can be dealt with, too. But only if it's called out for what it is. It is not enough to keep shtum in public and privately welcome the departure of a bunch of reactionaries. We all know Watson's intervention is part of a co-ordinated attempt to spread confusion about the Corbyn project and to pressure the left to make more concessions. So why not just say it? If we don't then some will be confused and others demoralised.
Worse still is to bend to the pressure. Even if it is meant as a clever manoeuvre, John McDonnell's promise to 'listen more' only sows more confusion and emboldens the right. He is effectively accepting there is a big problem and in the process endorsing attacks on the left that he knows are mainly motivated by opposition to his own socialist agenda. What is clever about that?
Stop and think for a moment. It was right to deal with cases of antisemitic abuse, but did making concessions over the IHRA definition over the summer solve the problem? Of course not. Because of the atmosphere created by the antisemitism scare, what we can now see as utterly justifiable no-confidence motions in Luciana Berger were denounced even by some on the left as insensitive. Antisemitism has to be challenged and rooted out and the left has a long record of doing so. But we must also be clear about agendas and call out hypocrisy.
Is it really so hard to expose this Blair-backed operation and to make it crystal clear what is motivating it? They are barely trying to conceal it themselves. Even the BBC's Nick Robinson noticed their statement is more an attack on Corbynism than anything approaching a political programme. A glance at the voting record of the seven stooges shows they are pro-war, pro-privatisation and pro-austerity to the last person. Smith at least is arguably corrupt. Mike 'I have reached breaking point' Gapes' charming pro-Saudi stance has been backed by lavish all-expense-paid trips to the Kingdom.
The Corbyn leadership will face bigger challenges than this. But we should not underestimate the cumulative impact that Chuka's crew can have. As many commentators have pointed out, the much more serious split from Labour that led to the formation of the SDP in the early 1980s failed in the end to create a viable new political party but played an important role in enabling the Labour right to break the left.
This is the game plan once again and we need to be clear about it. The departure of right-wing MPs is only progress if the left is absolutely honest and open to its supporters and to the wider public about what is going on.
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.
More articles from this author
- A World to Win: The Life and Works of Karl Marx - book review
- Criminal negligence while the virus lets rip - CounterBriefing 19 March
- Endless conflicts are deepening Coronavirus crisis
- Sunak just proved you can spend big but still back the rich
- Syrian crisis set to grow deeper as NATO might extend involvement
- Toby Young is wrong again: the threat to free speech comes from the right
- Behind Trump's tantrums: the US, Iran and the continuing threat of war