Corbyn’s attempts to reform the Labour party rebound

Lessons in the futility of trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

Proletarian writers

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Proletarian writers

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It has been a tumultuous time for Jeremy Corbyn since being elected as leader of the Labour party. Within weeks, Labour has begun the process of tearing itself apart. The inevitable arguments and splits are coming to the fore quickly, as the new leader finds himself to be out of line with the party’s grandees and political big-hitters.

This situation must not only be intolerable for Corbyn’s Labour supporters, but also for the liquidationist, troto-revisionist hangers-on who surround the party. Their theory of the parliamentary ‘road to socialism’ is being put to the test daily … and is failing at every turn.

A U-turn on Europe

When it comes to the left and Corbyn’s so-called socialist and communist supporters, no issue should prove more divisive than Europe. As a backbench MP, Corbyn found opposing the EU easy. Quite correctly, he has for many years called for a complete withdrawal from this imperialist club. As far back as 1975, he voted for Britain to leave the European Economic Community (EEC).

However, for some time now, this view has been out of step with the official machinery of his party (as his views have been on many other issues, too). Predictably, then, as he got closer to the leadership of the party, JC’s position softened – and then reversed entirely. The EU was now merely imperfect and in need of reform.

“Labour’s egalitarian new leader appears to favour a balanced distribution of cake-eating and cake-having. One of the great questions looming over his young leadership of Britain’s opposition is that of the country’s membership of the EU, which will go to a referendum by the end of 2017 (probably next year).

“In his long years on the back benches, he was one of the few Labour MPs to keep the flame of left-euroscepticism – once a dominant force in the party – alive. In the just-finished leadership campaign, the MP for Islington North, who would probably prefer that Britain quit the EU, was studiously vague about which side he would favour in the upcoming plebiscite; refusing to rule out campaigning for an Out vote while ‘clarifying’ that Britain should ‘stay to fight together for a better Europe’.” (Jeremy Corbyn’s EU flip-flop, The Economist, 14 September 2015, our emphasis)

Labour’s campaign to remain in the EU is being headed by former home secretary Alan Johnson. The entire shadow cabinet are backing the campaign, as are 213 of Labour’s 231 MPs. This leaves vastly more Tory than Labour MPs in favour of leaving the bosses’ club.

“Speaking to The Independent on Sunday, Mr Corbyn insisted he was ‘proud’ to support Labour’s Britain in Europe campaign.

“He added: ‘Labour has campaigned to make sure our place in Europe has led to better protection and rights in the workplace, and we will continue to fight for jobs and security for all the British people.’” (EU Reform: Jeremy Corbyn agrees to join Labour’s campaign to keep Britain in European Union by Tom McTague, Independent, 15 November 2015)

When it comes to the EU, the limitations on any social-democratic leader are quite apparent. No matter how well-intentioned he might be, the force of the party apparatus is greater than the will of any man. Any ‘socialist’ seeking to lead an imperialist party, must at some point, make concessions to imperialism. Jeremy Corbyn has already reached this point.

His position on Europe ought to come as a severe body blow to his revisionist and Trotskyite hangers-on. Amidst their triumphalism, the Labour cheerleaders at the Communist party of Britain (CPB) had this to say on Corbyn’s election victory.

“But be in no doubt, the EU Commission, European Central Bank and the anti-trade union EU Court of Justice will do everything in their powers to obstruct the alternative economic and political programme that Labour under Corbyn’s leadership must [!] now pursue.

“The forthcoming EU referendum will provide a huge opportunity for the labour movement to inflict a massive defeat on the Tory government, its City paymasters and the EU by campaigning against continued membership.” (Corbyn Victory! – Rebuilding the force for change, our emphasis)

Corbyn’s EU u-turn should embarrass that party’s leadership, even as it gives a bloody nose to their political analysis.

Backing away from Trident

Having barely settled into his position of party leader, further clarity was given on just how isolated he remains within the parliamentary Labour party (PLP). A long-time supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), Corbyn has been absolutely squashed by both the PLP and the unions over the issue of Trident renewal.

After some fairly lacklustre attempts to persuade the party conference to discuss the issue, Corbyn and his team were in all probability fairly relieved to find they had failed – knowing full well that they would roundly lose any vote on the vexed question.

“When the ballot of party members on which motions should be discussed by conference was announced on 27 September, [the motion to discuss Trident] was supported by only 7 percent of delegates. The unions also overwhelmingly voted against it – with only 0.16 percent backing the move.” (Jeremy Corbyn loses the battle on Trident by Oliver Wright, Independent, 28 September 2015)

On this occasion, not only is the party machinery against him, but so are his backers in the trade unions. No sooner have they got their man in charge than they have sabotaged the peace movement in the interests of imperialism. So much for the CPB’s optimistic pronouncements on this score, too. In another calamitous error within the earlier-referenced statement, the party’s leadership said:

“The trade unions now have a vital role to play in ensuring that his victory helps chart a new course for Britain. Their organisation, resources and democratic discipline will be needed inside and beyond the Labour party, coordinated as never before. Right-wing Labour MPs and pressure groups funded by big business can no longer be allowed to sabotage the democratically-expressed wishes of the party’s members and supporters.” (Corbyn Victory! – Rebuilding the force for change)

Ordinary members of the CPB would do well to track their leaders’ erroneous statements, which expose the party’s fundamentally-flawed ‘road to socialism’ at every turn. Whilst the CPB leadership cabal has long proved its commitment to revisionist dogma, it is to be hoped that rank-and-file members may begin to wake up to the fatal defects in their party’s analysis.

Despite this massive defeat for Corbyn, CND has appointed him as vice-president. This move came after his election as Labour leader made him step down as vice-chairman due to “increased workload”.

“CND’s general secretary Kate Hudson said Mr Corbyn’s new role was a ‘fitting tribute to a very principled man with a lifelong commitment to CND and the cause of nuclear disarmament’.

“‘Working together, with enormous support from across society, we will prevail against Trident and secure a crucial step towards global disarmament’.” (Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn to become CND vice-president, BBC News, 17 October 2015)

As a result, we now find ourselves in a position in which the country’s leading anti-nuclear campaigning organisation has a vice-president who also happens to lead a party that is fully committed to maintaining a nuclear arsenal; a situation maintained in no small part by the trade unions. Such is the state of the anti-war and labour movements in Britain today.

Labour rebels

“Trident is a particularly difficult subject for Labour because Corbyn was elected on a mandate of opposing renewal of the nuclear deterrent, but the party’s national policy currently supports it, as do many in his shadow cabinet including [shadow defence secretary Angela] Eagle, Tom Watson, the deputy leader, and Hilary Benn, the shadow foreign secretary.” (Jeremy Corbyn speaks to shadow cabinet over party discipline after Trident row by Rowena Mason and Patrick Wintour, The Guardian, 10 November 2015)

Corbyn’s views on the use of nuclear weapons have even seen his party line up against him with army General Sir Nicholas Houghton. When Corbyn said that, if elected prime minister, he would never use nuclear weapons, military top brass and his own party showed themselves to be more than a little displeased with this public avowal. Appearing on the Andrew Marr Show,the general made clear that a Corbyn-led government would “worry” him.

More public criticism came from Labour’s Lord Hutton, who said: “It is the Labour leader, not General Houghton, who is in the wrong … The chief of the defence staff must not be gagged or bullied into silence. We need to hear his views loudly and clearly.” (Labour peer backs general over Corbyn by Deborah Haynes and Michael Savage, The Times, 10 November 2015)

Shadow defence secretary Eagle also supported the comments made by the General. “I understand the point that he is making … I don’t think there is anything wrong with him expressing himself in those terms.” (Corbyn roasts shadow cabinet over party discipline by Philip Webster and Lucy Fisher, The Times, 11 November 2015)

Such is the loyalty of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet.

Recent developments have seen the situation deteriorate still further, as all 17 of Labour’s parliamentary backbench committees are now in the hands of his political rivals.

“The group has already been dubbed the ‘shadow shadow cabinet’ and includes MPs who refused to serve on the front bench under Mr Corbyn, including Tristram Hunt, Chris Leslie and Ivan Lewis. Not one of the 17 new chairmen and women nominated Mr Corbyn for the leadership, whereas 11 backed Liz Kendall, the Blairite candidate.

“As committee leaders, the group will have regular meetings with Mr Corbyn’s shadow ministers and have the chance to raise the alarm over policy decisions. They will also have a role in drawing up new policy ideas.

“It means major battles lie ahead in almost every policy area. John Woodcock, a vocal supporter of renewing the Trident nuclear weapons programme, is chairman of the defence committee. It will put him at odds with Mr Corbyn, who believes he has a mandate to back scrapping Trident.

“Chris Leslie, the former shadow chancellor, will chair the Treasury committee. He has already attacked some of Mr Corbyn’s main economic ideas, such as printing money to invest in infrastructure.

“Mike Gapes, elected chairman of the foreign affairs committee, has been one of the most vocal in attacking the leadership. He supports airstrikes on terrorist targets in Syria, a move opposed by Mr Corbyn. Ian Austin, the education chairman, is a formidable figure who has already told Mr Corbyn to stop behaving like a ‘student union president’.

“Emma Reynolds will chair the health committee, Mr Hunt will cover communities and local government and Mr Lewis will cover international development. They are among the 11 chairmen and women who backed Ms Kendall.” (Corbyn in for battle as moderates win key posts by Michael Savage, The Times, 6 November 2015)

Corbyn has also seen his political adviser Andrew Fisher suspended from the party. Complaints were received from a variety of Labour sources, including the granddaughter of Tony Benn, that he had expressed support for an anarchist group in Croydon South during the general election. Furthermore, on the morning after the election, Fisher took to Twitter expressing delight at the unseating of former shadow chancellor Ed Balls in Morley and Outwood.

Ken Livingstone correctly read the situation, stating: “The MPs who have taken this up and the people driving this aren’t really terribly concerned with this one individual; they are trying to undermine the leader who has just been elected.” (Labour suspends Corbyn’s political adviser Andrew Fisher by Andrew Sparrow and Chris Johnston, The Guardian, 7 November 2015)

Added to all this, Lord Mandelson has spoken out against Corbyn’s appointment of journalist Seamus Milne as his director of strategy and communications. Graeme Jones MP has attacked Corbyn’s lack of authority. Labour Admiral Lord West of Spithead has said that Corbyn is disloyal … and so on.

Attempts to discipline dissenters have only been met by bewilderment and defiance. From their point of view, Labour’s parliamentarians cannot see why they should be lectured on matters of discipline by someone who spent his time on the backbenches consistently ignoring the party whip.

It is not the intention to present these critics of Corbyn as correct. Of course, we could never endorse some of the most right-wing, reactionary politicians this country has to offer. The point is that the core body of the Labour party is rotten, and Corbyn’s election as leader does not and cannot change this fact. At best, he is a relatively well-meaning man attempting to work in an unworkable situation.

This already amazingly long series of trials and controversies can only highlight the isolation of the Labour leader within the PLP. The situation gives him all the power of a primary school classroom monitor. But, even if it were the case that the PLP consisted of hundreds of Jeremy Corbyns, and even if they managed to form a government, what they could actually achieve for the working class would be minimal and temporary at best.

Even electing an entire parliament of communists would not lead to socialism. As Marxism Leninism proves, this would only be a positive gauge of the maturity of the working class. The toothless sham democracy of the British parliamentary system has been perfected to serve the capitalist ruling class and reinforce its rule; to build a socialist society, on the other hand, will require a socialist (soviet) system of government.

A word on the troto-revisionists

Revisionists will talk about ‘reclaiming the Labour party’ and their hopes for a parliamentary ‘road to socialism’, despite all the real-life evidence that these are mere pipe dreams.

Meanwhile, Britain’s real communists remember these words of Lenin’s: “A democratic republic is the best possible political shell for capitalism, and, therefore, once capital has gained possession of this very best shell it establishes its power so securely, so firmly, that no change of persons, institutions or parties in the bourgeois-democratic republic can shake it.” (The State and Revolution, 1917)

With Jeremy Corbyn facing this host of storms, and with even more bound to be coming, it will be interesting to see how the Trotskyites and revisionists ride to their messiah’s rescue, even whilst they struggle to come to terms with the point of their own existence.

One group already facing an existential crisis is Left Unity. The organisation has publicly resigned itself to a dwindling membership and is paralysed by doubts. Here are some extracts from a motion passed by Left Unity’s executive committee even before Corbyn won the leadership election.

“Left Unity understands that some of its members will view joining the Labour party as the avenue for supporting this new movement. Some have already left in order to campaign and vote for Jeremy. We wish them well and recognise that in ending their membership they are not renouncing the shared politics which drew them towards our party in the first place.” (Jeremy Corbyn: A new moment a new movement, 10 August 2015)

Meanwhile, the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) appears to be returning to entryism in order to justify its existence. Greeting the news of Corbyn’s election, the SWP declared: “The Blairites are crying, we’re cheering. The Socialist Workers’ Party congratulates Jeremy Corbyn on becoming Labour party leader. His success is a clear sign of the feeling against austerity, racism and war. His victory is an utter rejection of the warmongering and veneration of big business that were the hallmarks of the Tony Blair eras.” (SWP statement on election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour party leader, 12 September 2015)

But, as the The New Statesman reported later: “Rather than just go all the way and join Labour, they are instead grouping around Momentum, a group created by Corbyn supporters and open to non-Labour members.” (Pro-Corbyn group Momentum vows to resist SWP ‘infiltration’ by George Eaton, 16 October 2015)

As far as the revisionists of the CPB are concerned, there will never be a better time for them to follow their liquidationist line to its logical conclusion. The ‘party of the working class’ has the leader you could only dream of. Now he needs allies: go forth and join him! Do not remain in separate groups and parties; you must join the party of the working class, after all. Anything less must surely be sectarianism.

As Marx himself pointed out: “The communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties. They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole. They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement.” (K Marx and F Engels, The Communist Manifesto, 1848)

The comrades who founded the CPGB-ML 11 years ago, did so because it was clear that there was no true party of the working class in this country – no organisation that represented the real, revolutionary interests of the British proletariat. We may still be small and relatively insignificant, but we are growing, we are guided by Marxist-Leninist science, and we are doing everything in our power to bring a scientific understanding of capitalist society and of revolutionary organisation to the rest of our class.

This is the work that desperately needs to be done, and which all the other parties that call themselves socialist or communist are simply sabotaging with their constant and repeated refrain about Britain’s imperialist Labour being a party of the working class and Britain’s bourgeois parliament being a potential vehicle for socialism.

Postscript: Corbyn facilitates the imperialist drive to war

As Proletarian goes to press, Corbyn has granted the Parliamentary Labour Party a free vote on bombing Syria. The anti-Assad, dressed-as anti-IS, campaign threatens to tear the PLP apart.

Corbyn is a lonely voice in verbally ‘opposing’ the bombing of Syria. In practice, however, his opposition amounts to precisely nothing, since granting a free vote to his MPs means facilitating the very thing he claims to be ‘taking a stand’ against. As everyone including Jeremy Corbyn knows, a free vote for Labour MPs means Syrian civilians and Syrian infrastructure will soon be being bombed by the RAF.

In this way, the former Stop the War chairman has effectively given the green light for war to be unleashed. This confirms Britain’s peculiar status as a country where the anti-war movement is controlled by the very people waging war.

Fearing mass resignations from the shadow cabinet, Corbyn has put his own political career above the lives of the Syrian people. He has betrayed workers abroad in service of the ruling class at home – but then, we would expect no less from a Labour party leader.

In his futile attempts to get his party to back him, BBC chief political correspondent Vicki Young was told by insiders that Corbyn had received a “thorough kicking” from the PLP. This metaphorical kicking, and its accompanying fear of a “Blairite coup” was clearly all it took to make the leader of ‘the party of the working class’ tremble. As a result, he has in record time transformed himself into the open functionary of imperialism he was always destined to become. (Labour MPs to get free vote on Syria, BBC News, 30 November 2015)

This betrayal will not be enough to lose him the support of his revisionist and opportunist hangers on, of course. Praise of Corbyn’s ‘long game’ is already emerging. And, as has historically been the case, this game is being played with the lives of Johnny Foreigner.

In the run-up to his chosen messiah’s about-face, Unite supremo Len McCluskey claimed that Corbyn had shown “the temerity to maintain his values and principles”, and continued: “The thought that some Labour MPs might be prepared to play intra-party politics over an issue such as this will sicken all decent people.”

But playing intra-party politics is precisely what Corbyn is doing – notwithstanding the heavy blood price that the Syrian people are bound to play for these games.

Indeed, given the knife edge on which events are presently turning in Syria, the blood price may ultimately be paid by British workers, too, and far sooner than we might imagine, if we allow ourselves to be sucked into the vortex of a third world war.

Finally, McCluskey had this to say, apparently quite oblivious regarding the real situation in Syria: “IS can only be defeated by a ground army which can secure some support from the people of the region itself,” he wrote, going on immediately to claim that no such force exists. (Labour cannot risk being tarred as a party of illegal and irrational war once again, Huffington Post, 29 November 2015)

Len would do well to subscribe to Proletarian and read a few of our back issues. He would quickly learn that such a force does exist. He and the rest of the so-called anti-war movement would do well to acquaint themselves with the heroic work of the Syrian Arab Army, and with the dimensions of the popular support enjoyed by President Assad.

Likewise, they should remember that, unlike the Nato invaders, Russia was invited by this popular government to support the Syrian army and people. Russia is wanted in Syria; it is trusted by Syria. Russia is helping target all terrorist groups that are targeting Syria’s people and trying to overthrow its elected government; Nato targets only those it cannot control. Russia is invested in the national independence of a free, secular, sovereign Syria; Nato wishes to destroy all vestiges of Syrian independence.

Despite these facts, the CPB’s Andrew Murray felt able to reassert Stop the War’s ‘neither Nato nor Moscow’ nonsense: “Stop the War has made clear its opposition to all foreign military intervention in the Middle East, including Vladimir Putin’s.” And he continued with similar obliviousness to Comrade McCluskey’s: “A lasting peace can only rest on self-determination and come through the agency of the Syrian and Iraqi peoples.” (UK sleep-walking into another bloody and pointless war, Stop the War, 29 November 2015)

Only with closed eyes, fingers in ears and the abdication of even the most primitive reasoning skills could one fail to see that the very invitation of Russia to Syria is precisely an expression of the self-determination and agency of the Syrian people Murray claims he wants to see. That the legitimate Syrian government has invited a trusted ally into the country can in no way be put on a par with the illegal and aggressive bombing campaigns of Nato imperialism – no matter what might be Saint Jeremy’s role in facilitating the latter.