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Corbyn’s retreat shows Labour’s limitations

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Issue 2620
Corbyn’s retreat shows Labour’s limitations
Corbyn’s first act after being elected Labour leader in September 2015 was to join a protest in solidarity with refugees (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Jeremy Corbyn has spent his political life campaigning against oppression, imperialism and racism. His first act after being elected Labour leader in September 2015 was to join a protest in solidarity with refugees.

He chaired the Stop the War Coalition and has spoken out against Islamophobia and the far right. And he has consistently stood in solidarity with Palestinians who are oppressed by the Israeli state.

So how is it that Corbyn this week looked set to oversee a retreat that will make solidarity with Palestine much harder?

Labour’s ruling national executive committee was set to agree that it’s antisemitic to call Israel a racist endeavour. This will mean the root of Palestinians’ oppression—the creation of a state that excludes them—will be beyond criticism.

Why would Corbyn accept such a move? The answer lies in the nature of Labour and reformism. Labour believes that parliament is the best way to win change.

This means elections are the priority, and everything else comes second. It aims to be a broad party representing a variety of views in order to appeal to the maximum number of voters.

People who praise racist Tory Enoch Powell, such as Frank Field, are in the same party as anti-racist Diane Abbott. Warmongers such as Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell are in the same party as Corbyn.

If Labour’s priority is winning elections, it becomes crucial to hold this party together. But because the right is stronger than the left in the Parliamentary Labour Party, the left is forced to make concessions to the right.


This is why Corbyn has ended up in a position where he will allow Labour to undermine solidarity with Palestine. It’s also why, combined with pressure from trade union leaders, opposition to Trident renewal was dropped from Labour’s manifesto.

Right wing Labour MPs justify their policies by saying they will win votes. Sometimes this can seem true. Not every working class person is left wing.

But Labour’s last general election campaign, with a radical campaigning message from Corbyn, was a huge success.

Despite this, Labour MPs have repeatedly undermined Corbyn and organised to force him out. This has fed continuous attacks on him in the media and among the Tories.

As long as a left agenda is contained within a reformist party, there will be constant pressure to retreat, compromise and pander to right wing ideas.

Corbyn has shown that left wing ideas can be popular. And the enthusiasm around Corbyn can make it easier to put forward socialist arguments.

We should support him against the right and fight for left wing reforms. But we also have to go beyond that—and build a revolutionary party that looks to workers, not parliament, to change the world.

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