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Letter to a Jeremy Corbyn supporter—time to leave Labour

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In a third letter to a Jeremy Corbyn supporter, Charlie Kimber argues to break from Labour, join the Socialist Workers Party and to build the resistance on the streets
Issue 2712
Keir Starmers vision of the Labour party is no place for socialists
Keir Starmer’s vision of the Labour party is no place for socialists

The general election result in December was awful, but you told me that the last week has in some ways been worse. Labour leader Keir Starmer’s sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey—and the cringing lack of resistance by much of the Labour left—underlines the clear direction where the party is now headed.

An editorial in the Sun newspaper last month demanded, “Starmer must choose. To look like a potential government, Labour can no longer indulge jumped-up Twitter trolls on its backbenches, or their extremism. He should expel the lot.”

Starmer has shown that’s what he wants to deliver. He is telling the bosses, the media and all those nests of pro-capitalist mainstream opinion that the Jeremy Corbyn era is dead and buried. 

Labour will be a reliable choice to maintain the system and run it more effectively than the Tories. He won’t raise any decisive break from pro-corporate economics. 

Time to leave the Labour Party and fight for change outside it
Time to leave the Labour Party and fight for change outside it
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He won’t interfere with the fundamentals of ownership. He won’t question the military and the state. Starmer dismissed the Black Lives Matter uprising as a “moment” rather than a ­movement and said calls to defund the police are “nonsense”.

And the left retreated. Long-Bailey posted a grovelling apology that avoided any criticism of Starmer. John McDonnell’s petition has no criticism of Starmer and states only, “We believe Rebecca Long-Bailey should be reinstated as Shadow Education Secretary”. It had fewer than 21,000 signatures a week after her sacking. 

That’s less than 5 percent of the membership, even if you assume all the signatories are in the party.

Unite union leader Len McCluskey claimed, “The sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey was a mistake, perhaps brought about by a lack of clarity in communications.” If only in the modern world there was some way for people to exchange messages easily.

McCluskey reminded the leader that he needed unity to win the next election. But for Starmer unity means signing up to his agenda. Corbyn has said nothing.

This isn’t what is sometimes pretended to be “stay and fight” by the left in Labour. It’s stay and surrender.

The election of Corbyn was a boost for the whole of the left and made it easier to talk about socialist ideas. But the solution now isn’t to hope—somehow—for a Corbyn Mark II to arrive in a decade or so. We don’t have ten years to waste before the irreversible effects of climate change deepen. And we can’t wait until 2030 or whenever to confront racism and poverty.

In the next few months there will be key decisions about what kind of society emerges from the coronavirus crisis. All the talk about “not going back” to the toxic normality that existed before will be tested by the ruling class’s insistence on reasserting a world where their profits and their power prevails. 

And even if we did get a new Corbyn, you and I know that there was a persistent failure to confront the Labour right over the last few years. There were a series of major concessions—from Trident nuclear missiles to a second Brexit referendum—under the left’s leadership. Labour’s electoralism and fixation on parliament means giving an exalted role to MPs and making compromises with the right in order to hold the party together.

All this was before entering Downing Street. The record of every previous Labour government is that if it’s at all serious about change then it faces an avalanche of assaults from bankers and bosses.

And after a period of reforms—often very limited—the response is to turn on those people who vote Labour into office and to implement what big business demands. For a while in 2015 you were exultant about the victory of Syriza in Greece.

Why Corbyn couldn’t beat capital
Why Corbyn couldn’t beat capital
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But very soon its retreats and ruthless implementation of austerity shattered the idea that voting will bring fundamental change. The key struggles are in the streets and the workplaces, not the House of Commons. 

British trade unions became mass organisations as a result of the inspiration from the matchwomen’s strike and the dockers’ strike in the 1880s, not the Labour Party. Workers’ militancy during and after the First World War was sparked by activists who were already tiring of parliamentary reform and looked to the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Fascist Oswald Mosley was defeated by the actions of revolutionaries and radical Jewish organisations, not Labour.

Labour was marginal to the mass strikes of the early 1970s—and the target of strikes at the end of the decade. Labour leaders spurned the miners’ strike of 1984-5.  

The great anti-war movement from 2001 was directed against Labour prime minister Tony Blair’s lies and blood pacts with the US.

The actions of ordinary people are the source of the most important changes in society. The Black Lives Matter protests did more to highlight systematic racism and win reforms than any number of election campaigns. Statues of slavers and racist generals that had stood for 100 years are toppling. City councils have been pushed to say they back police budget cuts.

It is mass and militant protests, not the witterings of Joe Biden or the pro-police appeals from Bernie Sanders that have thrown politicians on to the defensive and undermined Trump’s support.

The school students’ climate strikes are more important than any Labour leadership election. They mobilised millions and put the issue of climate chaos inescapably on the political agenda.

Is Labour a party of struggle?
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I can hear you say let’s do both—a “twin track” strategy of working inside and outside parliament. Of course, you can and ­sometimes we must stand in elections as revolutionaries. But what matters is which form of action dominates and disciplines the other.

The Labour tradition always puts parliament first—whether the left or right is in the leadership. Strikers are told not to rock the boat because an election is coming. Militant protesters are told to tone down their rage because it might “put voters off”.

Maybe you are now one of those saying, “Ok I am ready to leave, but what should I do then?” Some people’s answer is to be active, keep campaigning, and look for a place to work with others. Those are all good and necessary things.

We need broad and coordinated action by people in lots of different parties and none—against racism, climate chaos, the effects of the coronavirus crisis and over many more issues. But this is not enough.

The times are too urgent for me to play around with soothing appeals to simply not give up and to keep discussing. I want you to join the Socialist Workers Party—now. Turning movements into effective paths to change requires organisation and strategies. 

It means winning arguments against those who urge caution and want to put limits on our imaginations. That means people coming together in democratically decided and united activity—the creation of a political party.

We face a ruthless ruling class. Fighting it requires a party of leaders in workplaces and housing estates and campaigns. 

Lenin and his ideas today
Lenin and his ideas today
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It is not a loose electoral coalition that splits over key issues, but a party of fighters. A revolutionary party does not seek to reflect all the different views in society or even in the working class. 

It brings together the people who want to stick to their principles and defend socialist policies, whatever the pressure. That doesn’t mean being remote from struggle. Revolutionaries have to be engaged in every sphere of resistance. 

But they must also bring arguments for socialism and a vision for how to achieve it. We don’t tolerate racists, sexists and strikebreakers in the SWP. In Labour it’s a crime to denounce Israel. In the SWP it’s essential to support Palestinian rights.

We are a revolutionary organisation. We’re not trying to “preserve Corbyn’s legacy”. We’re focused on a completely different set of politics.

A few thousand of us can make a difference now. Working with others to build an anti-racist organisation, supporting and encouraging workplace resistance, arguing against capitalism and agitating for a socialist society.

We need a party that can fight over immediate questions but also think always of the battle to change the whole of society through socialist revolution. It’s time to break from the failed politics of Labourism and join us.

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