Workers Vanguard No. 1073
4 September 2015
Labour Party Fight Rocks Britain
Jeremy Corbyn: Tony Blairs Nightmare!
LONDON—A startling change has shaken up the political terrain in Britain this summer. With the defeat of the Labour Party in the May general election, Labour leader Ed Miliband resigned, opening up an election inside the party for its top post. Jeremy Corbyn, a longtime Labour Member of Parliament (MP), entered the race on a pro-working-class, anti-austerity programme and has rocketed to frontrunner. Voting, by post and online, is underway and the result will be announced on 12 September.
Three of the four candidates—Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall—stand in the anti-working-class tradition of “New Labour” under Tony Blair. Jeremy Corbyn is a stalwart of the left wing of the pre-Blair “old Labour” party. An MP for 32 years, Corbyn has voted against the party “whip” (directives on how to vote) some 500 times since 2001. Yet until now he has managed to remain in the background, not rocking the boat.
Corbyn’s meteoric rise to frontrunner in the Labour leadership contest has shocked virtually everyone, including Corbyn himself, and provoked panic in the party establishment. Up and down the country, working people and youth are packing meeting halls and cheering Corbyn. Since May, the party has tripled its size to some 600,000, with hundreds of thousands joining as members or paying the £3 [$4.50] fee to sign up as supporters in order to vote for Corbyn. Horrified by this mass influx for Corbyn, the party leadership launched an intense red-scare-style witch hunt of his supporters, screaming that the party is being infiltrated by “Trotskyites” and other evil elements. Present and former party leaders wail that a Corbyn win would render Labour “unelectable.” The party apparatus is feverishly working through the newly registered membership rolls and has disqualified over 50,000 votes so far.
Corbyn is not and does not claim to be a Marxist. Yet his campaign represents a working-class-based opposition to the rightist Blairite wing of the party that currently leads it. An August 12 leaflet issued by our comrades of the Spartacist League/Britain (reprinted below) welcomes the Corbyn campaign, noting that it addresses issues that are in the interests of working people. At the same time, while the campaign’s chief demands are supportable, the fundamental issues facing the exploited and oppressed cannot be solved within the framework of Corbyn’s old Labour parliamentary reformism, which has always upheld the capitalist system.
The Labour Party was formed at the beginning of the 20th century by the trade-union bureaucracy in order to gain a voice in Parliament. The old Labour Party exemplified what Russian Revolution leader V.I. Lenin termed a bourgeois workers party, having a working-class base saddled with a pro-capitalist leadership and programme. What defined it as such was the party’s organic links to the trade unions. The unions were an integral part of the party structure—members of affiliated unions more or less automatically became members of the party and union dues provided its main source of funding.
As party leader, Tony Blair set out to “modernise” the party. Two decades ago, he declared his intention to sever the link with the unions, thus to transform Labour into an outright capitalist party like the U.S. Democratic Party. The “Blair project” has been a protracted one, not least because the party tops wanted to keep the union donations which remain the party’s main source of funding. Meanwhile, the pro-capitalist leadership of the unions clung to the Labour Party, even as the party became seen as toxic by the union rank and file. For some years Labour has been moribund as a reformist party of the working class. Finally, in March 2014, a special party conference voted to disaffiliate the trade unions over a period of five years. In a delightful irony, the new members who have surged into the party to support Corbyn are today eligible to vote for the party leader courtesy of new rules adopted at the conference that disaffiliated the unions.
Corbyn insists that if elected he would want to maintain unity with the right wing of the party. But the clear fact is that two opposing classes are clashing within the framework of one party. On one side, the Blairites, who have a majority of Labour MPs, are unashamedly loyal to the City of London bankers and seek to expunge the connection to the unions. On the other side, Corbyn wants to rebuild the party’s connection to the unions, which are overwhelmingly backing him. At a campaign rally in Glasgow, the 1,000-strong audience roared its approval when Corbyn declared that he’s not ashamed of the party’s connection to the trade unions, he’s proud of it. His campaign is wildly popular with British working-class people, who have suffered the effects of major defeats for decades and for even longer have been told to know their place.
Following 18 years of Tory (Conservative) rule under Margaret Thatcher and her successor, Labour governments under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown continued with Thatcherite attacks on the unions, workers and minorities. Especially outrageous to the working class has been the piecemeal privatisation and running down of the National Health Service, which gives free healthcare to all. But the crime for which Blair is most reviled is taking Britain to war in Iraq alongside the U.S. When Jeremy Corbyn recently announced that, if elected, he would apologise for Britain’s role in the Iraq war, he launched a missile against the Blairites.
Comparisons have been made in the bourgeois press between the Corbyn campaign and that of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, cheered by a chunk of the U.S. fake left. However, there is a fundamental difference—Corbyn’s campaign seeks to recreate the “old Labour” reformist party, whereas Sanders is running for nomination by the Democratic Party, a bourgeois party. Whatever his “socialist” pretences, Sanders is a capitalist politician.
Moreover, there are substantive differences of policy between them. Sanders backed U.S. military interventions abroad, including Iraq and Afghanistan, enlisted in the “war against crime” (read: against black people) and backed a Senate resolution supporting the 2014 Israeli massacre of Palestinians in Gaza. For his part, Corbyn voted in Parliament against the invasion of Iraq and against the domestic measures enacted in the name of the “war on terror” which primarily targets Muslims. To thunderous applause at a west London rally he condemned Prime Minister David Cameron’s vile racist comments about “a swarm” of immigrants. Not surprisingly, Corbyn has support among Britain’s black and Asian minorities.
Corbyn’s campaign has been ridiculed by the Labour Party tops, the Tory party and the right-wing press who all regard his brand of socialism as something that ought to be extinct. Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle skewered Corbyn’s critics in the House of Lords: “I’m enjoying senior Tory peers calling Corbyn a ‘throwback’. A guy in a horsehair wig wearing a cape, who got a job for life because his great-great-great-grandfather had a knack for picking out the healthiest slaves?”
As to why the 66-year-old Corbyn has a substantial following among youth, a supporter quoted by Seumas Milne in the Guardian (5 August) explained: “People say he is an old leftwinger or an old Marxist but to my generation his ideas seem quite new.” Corbyn’s “old Labour” reformism rests on the pipe dream of refashioning British capitalism to meet the needs of working people through enacting legislation in Parliament and nationalising industry.
Corbyn argues for reindustrialisation of the country, which indeed is necessary, as is regenerating Britain’s infrastructure wholesale, rebuilding its rusting manufacturing base and putting the working class back into productive work. But finance capitalists will not opt to forgo the cool billions made through banking deals in favour of unknown returns on investment in reindustrialising the north of England. The bottom line for the capitalists is to invest where they can get the highest rate of return, and this cannot be changed through enacting legislation in Parliament. The party the working class needs is not a new version of “old Labour” but a revolutionary party to lead a fight for socialist revolution.
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“Corbyn could lose, be deposed, go wrong but I love that sound, that beautiful soft sound of Tony Blair sobbing”
— Derek Wall, “Green socialist”
Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign for Labour Party leader has the right wing frothing at the mouth—from the Daily Mail and the Murdoch press to Tony Blair and his successors. Corbyn has drawn enthusiastic support from youth, workers, and minorities who are sick to the back teeth of the austerity, racism and war dished out for years by Tory and Labour governments. Here, for the first time in ages, is a campaign that speaks to the felt needs of working people.
Corbyn opposes Tory government attacks on benefits and the NHS, and is for decent pay and pensions for the public sector. He is for renationalising privatised services—rail, post and energy. All the main trade unions are backing Corbyn, not least because he is for repeal of the anti-union laws. He calls for affordable housing, desperately needed by the millions faced with extortionate house prices and rents. His campaign is for abolishing university tuition fees and restoring student grants. Corbyn opposes the government’s “war on terror” targeting Muslims. And to his credit, he denounced the Labour leadership for caving in to UKIP’s anti-immigrant racism in the run-up to the general election.
The Corbyn campaign outflanks to the left the bourgeois nationalists of the SNP [Scottish National Party] who wiped out Labour in Scotland in the election. Unlike the SNP, Corbyn opposes NATO and is for Britain out of this imperialist military alliance. In contrast to some on the left who howled with the imperialists over Ukraine, Corbyn could at least state the obvious that, “It is the US drive to expand eastwards which lies at the root of the crisis in the former Soviet republic” (Morning Star online, 17 April 2014). He is also opposed to renewing Britain’s Trident nuclear missile system and has long called for British troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq. Corbyn is critical of the European Union and calls for cancellation of the Greek debt, which has starved the Greek people. However, whereas we revolutionary Marxists oppose the imperialist-dominated EU in principle, Corbyn wants to reform it, calling for a “better Europe.”
A principled and honest representative of the left wing of old Labour in the tradition of Nye Bevan, Michael Foot and Tony Benn, Corbyn is an eloquent spokesman for the cause of parliamentary “socialism.” All old Labour governments have loyally served the British capitalist class—carrying out attacks on the working class at home, supporting British imperialism in its wars abroad. Labour supported British imperialism in World War II, presided over the bloody partition of India, and in 1969 sent troops to Northern Ireland. Unity with the right wing of Labour has long been an article of faith for the Labour lefts, including Benn and Corbyn, while reformist groups like the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party in turn tailed the Labour lefts.
While the demands posed by the Corbyn campaign are supportable, they cannot be achieved through old Labour parliamentarism. Even to begin to address such issues as jobs for all, free quality healthcare and education requires mobilising the trade unions as fighting organisations of the working class, under new, class-struggle leadership. To regenerate the former industrial areas and to lay the basis for a decent living standard for all requires the overthrow of capitalist rule. Socialist revolution will shatter the capitalist state, expropriate the bourgeoisie and lay the basis for an internationally planned, socialised economy.
Victorious workers revolution in Britain will put an end to Westminster-based capitalist rule: abolish the monarchy, the established churches and the House of Lords! For the right of self-determination of Scotland and Wales! For a voluntary federation of workers republics in the British Isles! For a Socialist United States of Europe!
The Spartacist League fights to construct the revolutionary workers party, section of a reforged Trotskyist Fourth International, that is necessary for this task.