Australasian Spartacist No. 230
British Trotskyists Say:
For Jeremy Corbyn's Right to Run the Labour Party!
Out With the Blairite Plotters!
The results of the British Labour Party leadership elections were announced on 24 September. Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, a left-winger popular with the party’s working-class base, comfortably defeated challenger Owen Smith, who was supported by right-wing forces in the party around former prime minister Tony Blair. As Labour leader from 1994 to 2007, Blair sought to transform Labour into an outright capitalist party akin to the U.S. Democratic Party. The article below is reprinted from Workers Hammer No. 236 (Autumn 2016), newspaper of the Spartacist League/Britain, section of the International Communist League.
SEPTEMBER 10—The day after the shock vote on 23 June for Britain to leave the European Union (EU), the majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party [Labour Party Members of Parliament], consisting of Tony Blair’s disciples along with their “soft left” toadies, seized the moment to scream, yet again, for the head of Jeremy Corbyn as party leader. After choreographing a series of rapid-fire resignations from the shadow cabinet, the Blairites forced through a vote of no confidence by Labour MPs in Corbyn, which they carried by a vote of 172 to 40. The howls for Corbyn’s resignation were echoed across the board by the capitalist media and endorsed in Parliament by outgoing Tory prime minister David Cameron.
But to the plotters’ dismay, Corbyn refused to resign. As he said, to do so would have been a betrayal of the members who elected him party leader. The upshot of the failed coup was a leadership election, in which the Blairites tried unsuccessfully to keep Corbyn off the ballot. The National Executive Committee (NEC) then rigged the rules in an effort to deprive 130,000 members who had joined since 12 January of their right to vote.
From the moment Corbyn was elected party leader a year ago, the ruling establishment and its media, not least the liberal Guardian and the BBC, joined with the Blairite cabal in using every dirty trick they could come up with to isolate, discredit and remove Corbyn. The then head of the armed forces, General Sir Nicholas Houghton, appeared on television to declare Corbyn unfit to ever be prime minister because he calls for unilateral nuclear disarmament. The Corbyn camp was accused of harbouring anti-Jewish bigots, male chauvinists and violent radicals, among other slanders.
In the lead-up to the EU referendum, Corbyn was chastised for not waging an aggressive enough campaign for a remain vote, and especially for refusing to appear on platforms alongside Cameron and other pro-EU Tory leaders. Then came the actual vote for Brexit, which drove the Blairites into a frenzy. Here were the “unwashed masses” voting in defiance of the “sound advice” from their betters, the same masses who might one day elect the supposedly “unelectable” Corbyn as prime minister.
The groundswell of support for Corbyn—who supports trade union rights and has the audacity to talk of socialism—that began last summer gave voice to the aspirations of those who have been repeatedly kicked in the teeth over the years. The same dissatisfaction at the base of society also fuelled the vote against the EU and it shows no sign of dissipating. Notwithstanding Corbyn’s wrong-headed support for the EU, a recent YouGov poll indicates that he retains the support of 63 per cent of Labour voters in the north of England, which voted heavily in favour of leave (Independent, 31 August).
Hundreds of thousands of working-class people flocked to support Corbyn’s campaign for leader last year, many of them former Labour members and others who paid £3 to sign up as registered supporters so they could vote for him. Labour’s membership doubled in the months after his election, and well over 100,000 more joined the party in the weeks following the attempted Blairite coup. In order to prevent a repeat of last summer’s outcome, the NEC has not only tried to disenfranchise a huge segment of the party membership but also raised the £3 to £25 and restricted registration to a single 48-hour period. Even so, a whopping 180,000 people registered to vote in the upcoming ballot. Corbyn looks set to win the contest handsomely, yet again.
The Blairites’ candidate is Owen Smith. The other nominee, Angela Eagle, was forced to step down, deemed to be too tainted for having voted in favour of the Iraq war in 2003 and for the bombing of Syria last year. Smith postures as the candidate of the “soft left,” which means “Blairism lite”—i.e., Labour MPs who share many of the anti-working-class policies of Labour under Blair, but who soft-soap them to fool voters among whom Blair is reviled. Smith is a nonentity who was unknown even to the bulk of his South Wales electorate in a recent survey. He refused to vote against Tory welfare cuts and was for years a highly paid lobbyist for the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. It is indeed symbolic that the Blairite puppet is associated with Pfizer, one of the many capitalist vultures that make enormous profits out of the National Health Service. The NHS is about the last remaining gain of the post-1945 Labour government, and has undergone piecemeal privatisation under both Labour and Tory governments. It is in the interest of the whole of the working class that Owen Smith is resoundingly defeated in the upcoming leadership election. Jeremy Corbyn must be allowed to run the Labour Party, in his own way.
Smith’s attempts to “out-Corbyn” Corbyn are laughable: when Corbyn promised that under his leadership, a Labour government would build a million new homes, Smith pledged to build a million and a half. But there is a clear class difference between the two contestants. On the EU, Corbyn pledges to honour the vote for a British exit; Smith is committed to keeping Britain in the EU despite the vote and has even called for another referendum to reverse the verdict. There is a clear difference, too, on the question of renewing the nuclear-armed Trident missile submarine system, a symbol of Britain’s commitment to the “special relationship” with Washington. When new Tory prime minister Theresa May forced a vote in Parliament, Corbyn voted against the renewal of Trident—in the face of an overwhelming majority of Tory and Labour MPs, including Smith.
Later, when he was asked in a public debate how he would respond to “military aggression by Vladimir Putin towards a Nato member,” Corbyn replied “I don’t wish to go to war.” In contrast, Smith affirmed: “We would have to come to the aid of a fellow member of Nato” (Guardian, 18 August). Corbyn’s lack of commitment to Trident and to NATO underlines why he is deemed unfit to be prime minister by the British ruling establishment and its senior partners in Washington.
We do not share Corbyn’s utopian unilateralist agenda. As Marxists, we seek to imbue workers and opponents of imperialist war with the understanding that imperialist militarism can be brought to an end only through the revolutionary seizure of power by the working class and the expropriation of the bourgeoisie under a government based on workers councils. To that end it is necessary to decisively defeat the warmongering Blairite hawks in the upcoming leadership election.
Blair and his followers repudiated Labour’s traditional lip service to “socialism,” as a prelude to openly and eagerly embracing the City of London financiers and gutting the NHS, while working assiduously to sever the party’s links to the trade unions (except for their cash). And as the response to the release in July of the long postponed Chilcot report on the Iraq war demonstrated, hatred for Blair’s avid participation alongside the U.S. Bush administration in that brutal imperialist conquest continues to run deep in Britain.
While the Blairites retain overwhelming control of the parliamentary party, they know they are despised by the bulk of the membership. The Blairites are so terrified of re-selection that they imposed a state of siege in the party, suspending Constituency Labour Party (CLP) meetings until after the leadership contest. It drove the right wing crazy that, during the attempted coup, Corbyn supporters in numerous CLPs passed motions of confidence in Corbyn’s leadership.
Party unity has long been an article of faith for the Labour lefts. On the contrary: it is necessary to exacerbate the split within the party. The Blairites should be forced to face the wrath of the party membership. Re-selection would weed out a great many of these open lackeys of finance capital who exude contempt for the poor and oppressed, and indeed for the party membership.
The working class has a side in the struggle that has raged in the Labour Party since Corbyn’s election a year ago. We are for driving out the Blairite wing, leaving Corbyn in charge of a “parliamentary socialist” Labour Party based on the trade unions. A split with the right wing would constitute a step towards the political independence of the working class. Historically, the formation of the Labour Party at the beginning of the 20th century was an expression, at the organisational level, of working-class independence from the bourgeois Liberals. At the political level, however, its programme subordinated the interests of the working class to those of the capitalist rulers.
Today the industrial proletariat is a fraction of the size it was when the Labour Party was founded. For years the trade union bureaucrats have provided no avenue for the working class to fight back, refusing to mobilise the unions’ strength to fight government austerity, job cuts and attacks on living standards. In contrast, the junior doctors in the British Medical Association (BMA) have staged a number of walkouts over the past six months and rejected a new contract agreed by the BMA leadership, forcing the head of the BMA Junior Doctors’ Committee to resign. Defying government and BMA pressure, the doctors are planning further strikes of up to five days duration. But so far there has been no attempt at solidarity strikes by the trade union leaders who organise hundreds of thousands of other workers, including a high proportion of immigrants, in the health service.
We stand with Jeremy Corbyn as part of our fight for the class independence of the proletariat, a necessary condition for advancing the class struggle against capitalism. We do not join the Corbynistas in promoting illusions that a Corbyn-led Labour Party is a direct step towards socialism, but it can aid us. Our task as the nucleus of a Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party is to intervene and to demonstrate over the course of future struggles the need for an authentic, revolutionary workers party.
The American Connection
Corbyn betrayed the interests of the working class in campaigning for a vote to remain in the EU, falsely claiming that this imperialist cartel could somehow defend the rights of workers against the Tory government, a view also promoted by the trade union bureaucrats. The failure to offer a working-class pole in opposition to the EU ceded the ground to outright racist reactionaries in the Tory right and UKIP and belied Corbyn’s claim that Labour should speak for the working people.
Corbyn’s pro-EU stance also meant that he lined up with the bourgeois nationalist SNP in Scotland, where 62 per cent voted to remain. This left almost 40 per cent who voted to leave with no working-class-based political expression. Corbyn supports devolution, but his refusal to acknowledge Scotland’s right to independence also places him on the side of the Tories and Blairites who regard the “United Kingdom” as sacrosanct. Corbyn’s positions on these questions undermined the possibility of rebuilding Labour’s decimated base in Scotland to challenge the dominance of the bourgeois SNP. In opposition to English domination, we uphold the right of self-determination for the Scottish and Welsh nations.
Politically, Corbyn stands in the tradition of the Labour “lefts,” exemplified for decades by the late Tony Benn, who have never posed a threat to the existence of the capitalist order and reject the need for socialist revolution. But as far as the powers that be are concerned, there is no way that a party led by Corbyn—who has the support of the major trade unions and who opposes capitalist austerity, anti-immigrant racism and imperialist militarism—can be allowed to govern. With the demise of the Soviet Union, the capitalist rulers deluded themselves that the class war was all over, that they had won, and all of this nonsense about the working class is only history.
A year ago, when it began to dawn on these people that Corbyn would be elected Labour leader, the deputy editor of the Telegraph Allister Heath confessed that in the 1990s it seemed as if “the free-market counterrevolution of the 1970s and 1980s, combined with the collapse of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, had finally killed off socialism” (Telegraph, 31 July 2015). The “free-market counterrevolution” meant a sustained assault on trade union rights and on the living standards of the working class under Thatcher that was continued under Blair’s New Labour governments. The Blairites’ determination to destroy Labour as any kind of workers party continues with their wrecking operation against the Corbyn leadership.
The Canary website did a valuable service for the workers movement with its reportage, beginning in late June, which shed some light on the cabal behind the attempted coup. According to the Canary, the mass resignations from Corbyn’s shadow cabinet on the weekend after the referendum, leading to the no-confidence vote, appear to have been orchestrated by a public relations outfit called Portland Communications, set up in 2001 by a former Blair advisor and heavily staffed by other former figures from the Blair and Brown governments.
Portland executives have historical links to the right-wing, union-busting Murdoch media empire as well as to the World Bank and the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations. Portland, in turn, is a subsidiary of Omnicom, a multi-million dollar international firm, based in New York. The Canary revelations lift the lid on the workings of parliamentary democracy that are normally kept out of sight. The machinations described could have come out of an Edward Wilson spy novel set in the era of the U.S. imperialist-led Cold War against the Soviet Union. In those days the “American connection” to the Labour Party right wing was maintained by figures like Denis Healey through Encounter magazine and other conduits for CIA funding.
The Blairites’ connections to the U.S. imperialists are primarily to the Democratic Party. David Miliband moved to the U.S. after losing the 2010 Labour leadership contest to his brother. Miliband is a personal friend of Hillary Clinton, the U.S. presidential hopeful who now has the backing of some of the country’s most notorious hawks and warmongers, both Republican and Democrat. Miliband heads the International Rescue Committee in New York, a “charitable” organisation on whose board sit many heads of big corporations. According to the Canary, they include one Alan Batkin, director of the aforementioned Omnicom Group.
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale spent two weeks in the U.S. in July on a U.S. government-funded “leadership” course, after which she attended the Democratic National Convention. Dugdale worked closely with former Glasgow MP Jim Murphy, one of a number of Labour politicians listed as members on the website of the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based outpost of American imperialism’s right-wing neoconservatives. The society is named after a prominent Democratic Party politician who was widely known as “the Senator from Boeing” for his close ties to the giant arms manufacturer and served as a key architect of the anti-Soviet Cold War.
It was no surprise, then, that Dugdale denounced Corbyn in August and declared her backing for Smith, as did newly-elected London mayor, Sadiq Khan. Unlike Corbyn, Khan did join Cameron in the Tory campaign for a remain vote in the EU referendum. Khan’s election campaign was supported by many grassroots Corbyn supporters, who believed that any Labour victory is good because it proves that Labour under Corbyn is electable. We nailed Khan with a placard at our literature table at London’s Mayday march which read: “No vote to Blairite stooge Sadiq Khan!”
Reds Under the Bed?
As was the case last year, the major trade unions, with the exception of the GMB, are backing Corbyn, notwithstanding some discomfort with his left-wing rhetoric and particularly his opposition to Trident. To his credit, Unite union leader Len McCluskey took a hard stand behind Corbyn against the right-wing coup plotters and brought the Canary revelations into the limelight. But McCluskey has done nothing to mobilise his membership in class struggle against government attacks. Above all, the pro-capitalist trade union tops seek to maintain a voice in Parliament, in order to lull the workers with parliamentary illusions and divert them from the road of the class struggle. That is the reason Labour was originally founded by the union bureaucracy over a century ago. The union bureaucrats know that the Blairites will not give them the time of day, much less the chance to ply their class collaboration as “advisors” to a Labour government, a timeworn means for diverting and sabotaging working-class struggle.
Now a purge of the left is underway in the Labour Party, targeting Corbyn supporters among the thousands who joined (or re-joined) recently. Last month, Tom Watson, the party’s right-wing deputy leader, famed for his manoeuvring and backstabbing, alleged that hard-left “Trotsky entryists” are “twisting the arms” of young members of the Labour Party. Corbyn dismissed Watson’s claim as nonsense, saying “I just ask Tom to do the maths—300,000 people have joined the Labour party. At no stage in anyone’s most vivid imagination are there 300,000 sectarian extremists at large in the country who have suddenly descended on the Labour party” (Observer, 14 August). Watson also mentions the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL). If anything, the AWL’s refusal to oppose the occupation of Iraq or the 2011 imperialist bombing of Libya ought to earn them a place in the Blairite camp. The left’s “crime” in Watson’s eyes has nothing to do with Trotskyism, but simply that they support re-selection of MPs. We oppose these witch hunts of the left, as we did in the 1980s. Neil Kinnock’s purge of the Militant tendency, which was also aimed at the Bennites, and Kinnock’s vicious hostility to the striking miners in 1984-85, paved the way for Blair’s project of transforming the Labour Party.
The bogeyman of “Trotskyite entryism” harks back to the Militant tendency, which claimed to be Trotskyist, but was in fact an organic part of Labour’s house-trained left. Their brief spell running Liverpool Council in the 1980s confirmed that these reformists are committed to administering the capitalist state. Tom Watson’s (dodgy) dossier also refers to the Socialist Party, which emerged in the 1990s as a split from Militant. The Socialist Party is organisationally separate from the Labour Party, but politically belongs firmly within the Labourite tradition. Its programme for “socialism” is modelled on the Clement Attlee Labour government of 1945, committed to nationalisation of industry through legislation in Parliament. As opposed to such parliamentary reformism, an elementary starting point for revolutionaries is the understanding that the working class cannot simply take over the capitalist state and wield it for its own purposes. The state is the executive committee of the capitalist ruling class and must be shattered in the course of revolutionary struggle, resulting in a new state power of the working class.
Uniquely among the British left, the Spartacist League/Britain—section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist)—does strive to become the nucleus of a revolutionary party of the proletariat, modelled on the Bolshevik party of Lenin and Trotsky that led the October Revolution to victory. We have consistently taken a side with Corbyn against the Blairites, while at the same time making clear where our revolutionary internationalist programme is counterposed to his “parliamentary socialism.” Corbyn’s hopes of improving the conditions of the working class through parliamentary legislation and Keynesian economic tinkering are futile. In order to create a society for the benefit of workers, minorities, women and youth, it is necessary first of all to break the power of the bourgeoisie.
Corbyn’s opposition to imperialist militarism and war is based on the illusion that the British imperialists would simply opt out of the alliance with the U.S. and adopt a more “rational” foreign policy. British imperialism is subordinate to the U.S. militarily, and the City of London, the citadel of British capitalism, is a junior partner of Wall Street. Corbyn’s proposed reforms, such as for increased spending on public housing, the NHS and education, as well as his opposition to privatisation, are
However, to simply begin to address such issues as jobs for all, free quality healthcare and education requires mobilising the trade unions as fighting organisations of the working class, under a new, class-struggle leadership. To regenerate the former industrial areas and to lay the basis for a decent living standard for all requires the overthrow of capitalist rule. Socialist revolution will expropriate the bourgeoisie and lay the basis for an internationally planned, socialised economy. A successful workers revolution in Britain will put an end to Westminster-based capitalist rule and pave the way for a voluntary federation of workers republics within a Socialist United States of Europe.