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It’s time to leave Labour

This article is over 3 years, 6 months old
Keir Starmer’s assault on the left shows that Labour is a trap for socialists. It’s time to leave and fight for real change argues Charlie Kimber, editor of Socialist Worker
Issue 2729
 Corbyn inspired a tens of thousands to become socialists. They should turn to building a working class fightback outside of parliamentary politics
Corbyn inspired a tens of thousands to become socialists. They should turn to building a working class fightback outside of parliamentary politics (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Socialist Worker agrees with all those campaigners and socialists who are outraged by the attack on Jeremy Corbyn. We stand with those who are fighting Keir Starmer’s attacks.

But the assault has underlined fundamental problems with Labour.

Starmer has pushed Corbyn out to demonstrate that Labour will be a reliable choice to maintain the bosses’ system and run it more effectively than the Tories. 

He won’t raise any decisive break from pro-corporate economics, even in the middle of a world-altering pandemic. 

He won’t interfere with the fundamentals of ­ownership—even as it becomes obvious that we need democratic planning, not the domination of capitalist profit-making.

He won’t question the military and the state. Indeed, he’s made Labour being “patriotic” and a loyal supporter of the armed forces central to his leadership.

That is why he has spent months seeking “national unity” with Boris Johnson’s murderous government while it implemented toxic policies around coronavirus. 

It’s why he called the Black Lives Matter movement a “moment” and denounced the toppling of a slaver’s statue in Bristol.

This is what Labourism looks like—obsessed only with electoral calculation, centred on parliament and looking to change within the system.

The ugly face of Labour
The ugly face of Labour
  Read More

Many of Corbyn’s ­supporters who flocked into the party to vote for him were revolted by previous Labour leaders’ records. Corbyn represented hope, an apparently different way forward. 

For five years nearly all of the left was swept by the belief that Corbyn as leader could shake off the experience of previous Labour governments. 

Certainly, Corbyn boosted everyone who wanted to see resistance, and made it easier to talk about socialism. But the other side of his rise was that many activists burrowed into Labour and stopped any sort of mobilisation outside it. 

There were fewer, and smaller, demonstrations in defence of the NHS or against austerity.

It was all justified by the hopes invested in making Corbyn prime minister. The 2019 general election shattered those hopes. 

Now the question is not whether Corbyn can be in 10 Downing Street—but whether he is allowed to be a party member. The left is good at forgetting failures, and we all want to concentrate on positive resistance and united action. 

But it’s time for a balance sheet.

The Labour Party is not a vehicle for change and socialism. Its reliance on MPs, the central role given to trade union leaders, and its elevation of elections and parliament affect every element of the party.

It’s not just Starmer who is prepared to make concession after concession to the ruling class and the Labour right. It happens under every Labour leader. Corbyn backed off over Trident nuclear missiles, a second EU referendum, the right of the Scottish parliament to determine whether to hold another referendum and more.

And under his leadership there were expulsions.

Corbyn was supposedly suspended for saying “the scale of the problem” of antisemitism within the Labour Party was “dramatically overstated for political reasons”. This was done “by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media”.

This is almost exactly the same reason that disciplinary action was taken against Chris Williamson MP—when Corbyn was leader.

On Labour’s response to claims it was riddled with antisemitism, Williamson said, “We’ve backed off far too much, we’ve given too much ground, we’ve been too apologetic.” 

That was enough for him eventually to be removed.


Under Corbyn’s leadership left winger Ken Livingstone was driven out, while imperialist warmonger Tony Blair remained.

Leading left wingers have been expelled before. In the 1930s, after Labour prime minster Ramsay MacDonald joined the Tories in a national government, Labour was reduced to a rump of just 52 MPs.

Most Labour members were horrified by MacDonald’s betrayal, and the socialist left grew in the party. 

In 1932 the party conference passed a motion that said, “The main objective of the Labour Party is the establishment of socialism.”

By 1934 the Labour left organisation the Socialist League was a real force. Its leader, Stafford Cripps, urged Labour to be prepared to get ready for civil war. 

But the league’s apparent influence melted away as the union leaders turned against calls for fundamental change.

Stafford Cripps - a one-time Labour radical who was a turncoat twice over
Stafford Cripps – a one-time Labour radical who was a turncoat twice over
  Read More

The Socialist League’s members worked with organisations outside the Labour Party, such as Communist Party members, in joint activity against fascism and war.

The Labour leaders ordered that anyone sharing a platform with a Communist Party member would be immediately expelled. In 1937 the Socialist League was disaffiliated.

The league gave in and dissolved itself. But that was not enough to save Cripps and another leading left winger, Aneurin Bevan. They were both expelled.

When Cripps’s expulsion was discussed at the 1939 conference it was carried by 2,100,000 votes to 402,000. Bevan was readmitted, but only after agreeing a “loyalty oath”.

Cripps did not get back in for five years, by which time he was a mainstream Labour member.

Labour has expelled members whenever they are seen as “tainting” the Labour message with talk of going beyond methods endorsed by the system.

And every time the left retreats or is removed.

It was certainly extraordinary when Corbyn, so recently leader, was expelled. But it fits a wider pattern. Most of the Labour left will now stay in the party and push for Corbyn’s reinstatement. 

But there is also some talk of a breakaway from Labour, perhaps based on some ­councillors and trade union officials. That talk should be turned into reality.

Yet it will be no solution to set up a Labour Party 2.0, the same animal in different clothing.

‘Don’t silence our criticism of Israel,’ Palestinians tell Labour Party
‘Don’t silence our criticism of Israel,’ Palestinians tell Labour Party
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Recent years have seen the political collapse of projects that claimed to offer a different way forward but remained essentially inside the parliamentary model.

One of the most exciting struggles against austerity after the 2008 crash came in Spain.

There were mass occupations of city squares, strikes and huge movements against evictions and poverty.

In 2014 the Podemos party was formed to focus those movements politically. It was hugely successful, immediately winning European parliamentary seats.

At the 2015 general election Podemos took a fifth of the vote and won 69 MPs. But it was concentrated less and less on struggle and became increasingly fixated on parliamentary arithmetic.

It now sits in a government with the right wing PSOE social democratic party. It is ­administering a disastrous coronavirus strategy where profits come before people.

At the start of 2015 the radical Syriza party won elections in Greece, a victory that saw celebrations across Europe.

Syriza had replaced the discredited Labour-type Pasok party. But, despite much more fiery rhetoric, it was still committed to working within the system.

Alexis Tsipras came to office promising to roll back austerity measures imposed by “the Troika”—the European Commission, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank.

But the bankers and European Union (EU) institutions had no interest in the views of an electorate. 

They began a policy of financial waterboarding to bludgeon Greece into submission.

Eventually Syriza put to the Greek people the demands of the Troika. And the Greek people voted by 61 percent to reject austerity.

But Syriza had no plan to continue the resistance. 

Instead, fixated on parliament, negotiations with the powerful, and staying in the EU, it utterly crumbled. Within a week Tsipras declared he would implement a worse round of austerity than those imposed by his Tory predecessors.

In the US, much hope was invested in Bernie Sanders. But, working inside the Democratic Party, he has ended up as a frontman for neoliberal Joe Biden.

We need a party that puts struggle first and that sees the streets and the workplaces as more important than elections. 

Even when the Labour left talks about the need for struggle outside parliament, it’s still subordinate to electoral politics.

Most of the most inspiring movements during the last year have come almost entirely from outside the parliamentary sphere. They include the climate change rebellion, the Black Lives Matter movement, the revolt over A-Level grades and the protests over NHS pay.

We need more of this sort of resistance, and we need to build politics on struggle and revolutionary socialism to change the whole set up.

The future has to lie outside Labour.

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