Jeremy Corbyn’s principled socialist stance attracted hundreds of thousands of new members to the Labour Party This reflected his record over decades as a consistent campaigner in solidarity with workers’ struggles, against war and imperialism, and in support of the Palestinians, Kurds, and other peoples resisting national oppression.
In June 2017 Corbyn took Labour to the brink of election victory on a programme of opposition to austerity and neoliberalism. This unleashed a massive campaign by the mainstream media and the Tory party to prevent him becoming prime minister.
They were aided by the right wing of the Labour Party, who forced on him the disastrous policy of calling for a second Brexit referendum and spread the lie that Corbyn is an antisemite.
This fifth column helped Boris Johnson win the December 2019 general election, with disastrous consequences as tens of thousands die unnecessarily thanks to the Tory government’s bungling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sir Keir Starmer was elected in April to succeed Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. He ran as a “unity candidate”, promising to preserve Corbyn’s legacy while reintegrating the Labour right. But Starmer has been feeble in his challenges to Johnson, largely going along with Tory policies to handle the pandemic “in the national interest”.
And, far from building on Corbyn’s achievement, he is intent on driving him out of the Labour Party.
The pretext for Corbyn’s suspension from party membership and the withdrawal of the Labour whip in the House of Commons was his alleged failure to deal with antisemitism within the party. We should be absolutely clear what the issue is here. It is not the small number of party members who are antisemites.
As Corbyn himself has rightly said in the statement that led to his suspension, “one antisemite is one too many, but the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media.”
No, the real issue is Corbyn’s record of supporting the Palestinian people in their resistance to oppression by the State of Israel with the backing of the United States. For the powerful bloc of MPs and party officials loyal to Tony Blair, who strongly supported Israel as part of a broader policy of supporting US imperialism in the Middle East, this was anathema.
Hence the relentless campaign to equate any criticism of Israel with antisemitism, ignoring Corbyn’s long history as an anti-racist and anti-fascist activist who has combatted the genuine antisemites of the far right.
Starmer also wants to remove any sense of Labour being a threat to the rich and powerful. He wants the left to be removed or to be silenced and humiliated.
It is clear that from the uproar at a National Executive Committee panel’s decision to reinstate Corbyn’s party membership that the Labour right will not rest till he has been expelled.
This is about reinstalling Blair’s pro-imperialist policies. Starmer’s decision to continue denying Corbyn the Labour whip coincided with his backing Johnson’s decision to expand defence spending so that “Global Britain” can continue tailing US imperialism.
This is the revenge of New Labour against someone who had the foresight and courage to warn and campaign against the disastrous invasion of Iraq.
Ever since the general election defeat in December, Corbyn’s allies in the Labour Party have been appealing to members to “stay in and fight”. But there has yet to be a real fight against Corbyn’s victimisation.
Labour left-wingers such as Unite general secretary Len McCluskey have appealed for party “unity” and sought to negotiate a compromise that would allow Corbyn’s reinstatement. But Starmer has now shown that he isn’t interested in compromise or in unity. He wants to crush the left. McCluskey is right that this a witch-hunt.
The left certainly needs to fight for Corbyn’s full reinstatement. Affiliated unions who backed his leadership should cut off funding to Labour until he is reinstated.
But what if, as is seems quite likely, the campaign to defend Corbyn fails? It’s clear that the implementation of the report into antisemitism by the Equality and Human Rights Commission—a body whose character is shown by the recent addition of leading anti-immigration campaigner David Goodhart—is being used to shut down debate within the Labour Party and discipline the left.
If Starmer succeeds in excluding Corbyn and silencing the left this will leave politically homeless the hundreds of thousands who were inspired by the vision of a Labour Party striving for socialism. We got a hint at the resulting disillusionment in the sharp drop in numbers voting in the recent NEC elections.
Pursuing socialist politics now will mean breaking with the Labour Party. The space that the left used to enjoy within it is disappearing. Rather than socialists being squeezed out or silenced, they need to organise independently of a machine that is determined to crush them.
We believe the Labour left should break away and form its own party of struggle. Such an initiative can offer a way forward for the hundreds of thousands whom Corbyn inspired. We can’t allow Starmer and the Labour right to crush their hopes for socialist change.
A new party must learn the lessons of recent radical left experiences. The election of a Syriza-led government in Greece in January 2015 promising an end to austerity inspired socialists around the world.
But within six months it had capitulated to the European Union. This was a consequence of a strategy that gave priority to achieving electoral success over building and sustaining mass workers’ struggles.
Similarly, under pressure to maintain the same “party unity” to which Labour leftists ineffectually appeal today, Corbyn made concession after concession to the right.
The pursuit of electoral success meant the movements against austerity, racism, and war he had so strongly championed as a back-bencher were neglected. This made it much harder to appeal to working-class communities whose lives have been ravaged for 40 years of neoliberalism.
Any new socialist party would need to give priority to building struggles rather than winning elections. There is indeed even more to resist today, with a Tory government giving priority to profits over lives in a pandemic that reserves its worst ravages for the elderly, the poor, the racially oppressed.
It is through its involvement in social movements that the left can show its relevance to ordinary working people’s lives. And any new party will need to campaign much more robustly than Labour ever has against war and racism. This project could win the support of hundreds of thousands of socialists.
We in the Socialist Workers Party believe that the experience of Corbynism demonstrates the need for a revolutionary socialist alternative to the parliamentary and electoral politics of the Labour Party.
Through their struggles from below, working people can develop the confidence, organisation, and power to transform society. We appeal to Labour Party supporters who have reached the same conclusion to join us. Together we can ensure that whatever developments take place, and whatever struggles emerge, there will be a strong revolutionary pole in politics.
The Central Committee of the Socialist Workers Party
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