The defeat of Jeremy Corbyn in December’s General Election and his subsequent replacement as Labour leader by Keir Starmer raises serious questions for the mainstream left. These are underlined by the suspension of Bernie Sander’s bid to become the Democratic Party candidate in the US presidential election and his endorsement of Joe Biden’s candidacy.
The belief that either the Labour Party or still less the Democratic Party in the US offers hope for socialist or even progressive policies in government is gravely misplaced. The history of both parties has shown this belief has only led to frustration and defeat. Starmer’s initial actions as leader confirm this belief is fundamentally flawed.
Any credible Labour leader in the horrific context of the Covid-19 pandemic would give a voice to the anger and distress of the frontline workers in health and transport. Instead, Starmer has emphasised his willingness to work with the government and not to “oppose for opposition’s sake”.
His intervention in the debate around Covid-19 focussed on the “exit strategy” from the current lockdown rather than holding the Tories to account. He gave comfort to those on the Tory right and the interests of big business by his focus on the economy rather than people’s safety and health. It beggars belief that Piers Morgan and Murdoch’s Sunday Times have been much more effective in calling out the government’s criminal
incompetence. Even more revealing is Starmer’s response to the leaked Labour Party report into the Governance and Legal Unit’s attempts to undermine Corbyn’s leadership in the run up to the 2017 General Election.
The 860-page document contains shocking revelations about the lengths to which Labour Party staff would go in order to sabotage their own party’s election prospects. These apparatchiks were giving practical effect to Peter Mandelson’s infamous pledge to spend every day thinking about how he could undermine Corbyn.
The racist, sexist and disablist language used to describe Corbyn and his supporters is shocking, but even more damaging is the fact these people sat on reports of anti-Semitism instead of acting on them. The response of Starmer and his deputy Angela Rayner was to call for an independent inquiry that would “examine the background and circumstances in which the report was commissioned and the process involved”.
In the interim they advised members “to refrain from drawing any conclusions” They also called on the general secretary “to put measures in place to protect the welfare of the party members and party staff concerned or affected by the report”.
This went beyond kicking the affair into the long grass by providing cover and opportunity for the offenders to present themselves as the real victims; the traditional strategy for bullies everywhere when they are
confronted. General secretary Jenny Formby has subsequently written to constituency Labour Parties instructing them not to discuss or share the report under pain of potential legal action.
In parallel developments, leaders of the US Democratic Party have sought to discredit Sanders from the outset. They were terrified that his progressive polices on Medicare for all, $15 an hour minimum wage
and a Green New Deal would undermine their traditional support from big business. They were dismayed at his success in the earlier primaries and his ability to energise a mass of supporters. They threw their
weight behind Biden’s candidacy once they had successfully pressurised the other candidates to withdraw.
In policy terms, this is a massive setback for the left. Many socialists in the US are now arguing that they support Biden because the alternative is the unthinkable Trump. A number of luminaries from the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the ‘New Left’ of the 1960s, have signed a letter castigating the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), the ‘New Left’ of today, for being morally reprehensible for refusing to endorse the corporate liberal Biden.
But their position is a betrayal of the 43 percent of Americans who view the ideas of socialism favourably and an abandonment of everything that Sanders stood for. The forlorn hope that today’s Democratic Party could be a vehicle for real change has gone with his departure.
The defeats of both Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn are defeats for the whole of the left. The shifting political sands on both side of the Atlantic should reignite the arguments about the need for independent socialist organisations, outside both Labour and the Democratic Party. There is now a great need for unity on the left around the struggles we are currently engaged in.
Crucially in Britain this involves the Covid-19 support groups and the struggles around safety issues of PPE and testing. In addition, the united fronts around racism with Stand Up To Racism, and action around
climate change, provide a further basis for unity. In the process of working together, the critical argument for independent revolutionary organisation will find a wider and potentially sympathetic audience.
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