Jeremy Corbyn is taking the Labour Party to court. The party he once led is on a crusade to grind him and the politics he represents into the mud.
His supporters are following his lead. Ever more of them are being suspended from membership for speaking out in solidarity with him, for challenging the smears against them, or for criticising Israel.
Momentum co-chair Andrew Scattergood said the Labour left organisation would “support them legally” to keep passing motions in support of Corbyn. But it’s difficult to know exactly who or how many Labour members are fighting suspensions as the process demands they stay silent.
Suspension letters from Labour tell the accused to keep everything “private”.
In other words they can’t challenge their suspension publicly or openly. Treating each suspension purely as a legal case means playing by these rules—keeping those accused isolated and silent.
It only looks like a good option if you’ve decided you can’t—or won’t—fight the accusations politically. And that’s not a strong position from which to fight a political witch hunt.
There aren’t many cases where the courts have given justice to the left. It’s a much more natural weapon for the rich and powerful to use against anyone fighting injustice.
Think of how many strike votes have been overturned by bosses in the courts. Think of how many families of victims of police violence have been denied justice.
By and large ordinary people are excluded from the option to use the courts. The massive legal costs—a barrier the rich don’t face—help see to that. But say you manage to crowdfund enough to pay your lawyers’ fees, as some Labour members are trying to do.
Then you have to convince a very rich judge who’s spent decades learning and practicing the conservative traditions of the law to see things from your point of view. And all within the framework of a legal system designed to protect the property of the rich and the rule of the state.
Those who champion Corbyn’s legal challenge claim confidently that a judge will see his evidence and have no choice but to agree with his case.
That’s naive at best.
All that evidence rests on the judge’s interpretation.
The Labour left claims it’s learned all the lessons about how the establishment lined up to beat Corbyn. If that’s the case, how confident can they really be that an establishment judge will side with him against Starmer?
The cost of losing a legal battle is great—and not just financial. A defeat for Corbyn will be taken as another political defeat for the left, and make it much harder to fight the accusations hurled by the right.
But even if the legal challenges are successful. What have they gained if they’re won on the basis of not speaking freely, but adhering to the rules that ultimately prop up Labour’s machine?
It’s not worth winning a legal battle if the price is to lose it politically. Any fight in court has to be part of a bigger political campaign.
There’s no good way of ducking the political assault on Corbyn and the left. It has to be fought in the open, as a collective defence of the left’s politics and the right to stand with Palestine.
It’s true that it risks expulsion from the Labour Party. But in that case, isn’t it better to be outside fighting openly than to stay inside and be silenced?