In a recent article for the Times, prominent Conservative Lord Daniel Finkelstein argued that “Keir Starmer has challenged the left of Labour in a fundamental way”, and cited three reasons for making his assertion.
First, he averred that Starmer’s refusal to allow Jeremy Corbyn to be selected as a Labour candidate in the next general election calls into question the very basis of the Labour party’s existence.
Second, he postulated that this stance of Starmer’s highlighted the extreme unlikelihood that anyone from the ‘left’ of Labour would have the gumption to try to form a new party, despite crowd-pleasing avowals that Starmer is no different from a Tory.
And third, he quite correctly pointed out that, as a result of this failure to put their money where their mouth is, the position of ‘left’ MPs in the Labour party now stands clearly exposed. (The Labour left is facing its moment of truth, 21 February 2023)
On his first point, Finkelstein pointed to the words of the Fabian ‘socialist’ Ralph Miliband, who wrote in the 1970s that the Labour party needed to choose between being “a party of a modest social reform in a capitalistic system” or “one concerned with socialist change”. Under Starmer, says Finkelstein, Labour has clearly and definitively opted for the former: it cannot possibly be seen as a vehicle for introducing socialism to Britain.
This is perfectly correct, of course. But Finkelstein ‘forgot’ to mention that becoming ‘a party of a modest social reform’ was not, in fact, a choice made by Starmer, or even by former prime minister Tony Blair, but has been the essential nature of the Labour party since its birth in 1900.
According even to Ralph Miliband himself: “The Labour party was never a party concerned with socialism … Of political parties claiming socialism to be their aim, the Labour party has always been one of the most dogmatic – not about socialism, but about the parliamentary system …
“The leaders of the Labour party have always rejected any kind of political action (such as industrial action for political purposes) which fell, or which appeared to them to fall, outside the framework and conventions of the parliamentary system.” (Parliamentary Socialism, 1961)
Moreover, as our own comrade Harpal Brar has consistently pointed out: “Labour never has been, is not now, and will never in the future be, a party of the British proletariat.
“It was formed to defend the interest of the privileged upper stratum of the working class … and from its inception was committed to the defence of the British empire and British imperialism alike … it has always been a party of opportunism and social chauvinism, which is totally alien to the revolutionary proletariat.” (Social Democracy – The Enemy Within, 1995)
In support of his second point, Finkelstein argued: “Labour-left MPs needs Starmer and he doesn’t need them,” adding: “the most solid objection to the creation of a new left party is that it might reduce the chances of Labour winning an election”.
Of course, fear that starting a new left-wing party would damage Labour and hand victory to the Tories implies that ‘left-Labour’ MPs do in fact believe that Labour’s policies are fundamentally different from those of the Tories, even under the leadership of so impeccable an establishment figure as Keir Starmer.
This is despite the endless proofs provided by history that both parties consistently support big capital, wage imperialist wars, and enthusiastically enact the programme of welfare and social service cuts that have been demanded by Britain’s rulers since the 1970s.
On his final point, Finkelstein observed that the belief of Labour MPs in the value of retaining Labour no matter what is underlined by the fact that “Labour-left MPs [are] not quitting to join up with Corbyn. And not even being able to indicate support for him, because to do so would lead to their own expulsion …
“I think they will find themselves still in Labour at the general election, having dithered and debated their way into total irrelevance … because in the end, they are the few and not the many [in the Labour party, that is – Ed]”.
With this last ironic reference to Corbyn’s famous slogan (which actually originated in the Blair era), Finkelstein satirised the deceptive propositions of the Corbyn project.
This project was based on continuing to beat the tired old drum that a party that had been founded for the defence of existing class relations, a bourgeois parliamentarist party that has steadfastly and consistently supported British imperialism and its wars, could somehow become a force for ‘change’ if only it had a ‘progressive’ person at its head.
This is despite the fact that no ‘progressive’ representative of Labour has ever done anything to change its trajectory. And even after all the party’s apparently progressive members have been either marginalised or expelled, groups from the Labour left continue to feed this narrative.
But this should not surprise us. As Finkelstein quite correctly made clear in his article: the motivation of those comprising the ‘left wing’ of the British Labour party is not the advance of the interests of the British working class, but the advance of their own careers. They are loyal to the Labour party, not to any particular politics.
They cleave to Labour not in the service of any great principle but because that is how they get paid. And the Labour party they serve is an integral part of the British establishment and unshakeably loyal to British imperialism.
Meanwhile, to imagine that anything ‘left’ could really be born from the imperialist-aligned morass of Labour parliamentarism is frankly delusional.
The real question that constantly eludes those who talk about this possibility is: What type of party? As we pointed out in this newspaper back in 2019: “Any new workers’ party will have to be different. It will have to put the agenda of workers first. It will have to be economically radical. It will have to stand for a change in the ownership of the means of production, of the real sources of our modern material wealth, and make it clear to workers why this is necessary …
“A new workers’ party will have to oppose imperialist war, not on pacifist or charitable grounds but on the basis that it is against the interests of workers at home and abroad …
“It will have to educate, mobilise and weld workers into a determined force.” In short, it would have to represent a total break with bourgeois parliamentarism. (The Brexit election and the death of Project Corbyn, 12 December 2019)
Once again, we arrive back to the immortal words of VI Lenin: “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement. This idea cannot be insisted upon too strongly at a time when the fashionable preaching of opportunism goes hand in hand with an infatuation for the narrowest forms of practical activity”. (What Is To Be Done, 1902, Chapter 1)