Editorial of the Socialist, issue 913

#KeepCorbyn: Answer right’s attacks with firm socialist programme

3,000 people rallied for Jeremy Corbyn in Hull, 30.7.16, photo Michael Hurst

3,000 people rallied for Jeremy Corbyn in Hull, 30.7.16, photo Michael Hurst   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

It is no accident that as ballot papers were sent out in the crucial Labour leadership contest, London mayor Sadiq Khan chose this moment to openly join the long list of those to attack and vilify Jeremy Corbyn.

The Socialist Party warned from before Khan was elected that he would use his position not as a political victory for Labour but as a personal victory in opposition to the anti-austerity message of Jeremy Corbyn. Our objections were pushed aside by many on the left, including the leadership of pro-Corbyn group Momentum.

Only a day before this attack, Khan was allegedly committed to not ‘interfere’ in the contest. Such is the desperation of the Labour right and supporters of Owen Smith that they have exerted pressure on him to come out against Corbyn on allegedly electoralist grounds.

Khan wrote in the Observer that he would support Owen Smith because “Jeremy has already proved that he is unable to organise an effective team, and has failed to win the trust and respect of the British people.” This from somebody who nominated Corbyn last time but didn’t vote for him.

Nevertheless Jeremy Corbyn gave Khan full support in his own election campaign. Moreover he was elected on the coattails of the massive anti-austerity wave which was both reflected in the Jeremy Corbyn leadership campaign and given a big boost by its success. Khan came to power in London pledging, for example, far-reaching measures in favour of tenants. Yet when tenants threatened with eviction on the Butterfields estate in east London wrote to him asking for support, his office replied simply saying there is nothing he can do.

We warned the leadership of Momentum that its uncritical support for Khan in the London election would come back and bite it later. Khan had already demonstrated his support for the super-rich 1%, calling for more billionaires in London – a city that already has more billionaires than any other major city in the world.

Khan’s is just the latest in a long line of attacks on Jeremy Corbyn. Heidi Alexander, who resigned as shadow health secretary in June, wrote in the Guardian: “I hated being a member of Jeremy’s shadow cabinet – because it was entirely dysfunctional.” Alexander’s priorities were exposed when, while still in the shadow cabinet, she complained about Jeremy Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell appearing on picket lines to support striking junior doctors!


Deputy leader Tom Watson has launched an attack on alleged ‘Trotskyist entryists’, which Corbyn has correctly dismissed as nonsense. The real problem for Labour has not been entryism but exitism of hundreds of thousands of members and of five million former Labour voters who deserted the party during the catastrophic pro-capitalist years of Blairism.

But this attempt to repeat the methods of the right wing of the early 1980s has not worked because now they are identified with austerity and neoliberalism. This is in contrast to the Socialist Party and others, often leading the struggles against the consequences of these policies, including zero-hour contracts, poverty pay, and so on.

Moreover, we have been to the fore in gaining support for Jeremy Corbyn, especially through the trade unions. In Unite, it was a Socialist Party member who moved the successful motion at conference calling for mandatory reselection. In the Communication Workers’ Union Socialist Party members successfully moved a motion calling for everything possible to be done to defend Corbyn and defeat the Blairites. In the PCS Socialist Party members have been to the fore, along with others, in maximising the support.

We’ve answered these attacks on Trotskyism by pointing out that Leon Trotsky, one of the leaders of the 1917 Russian Revolution, played a heroic role opposing Stalinist totalitarianism and fighting for workers’ democracy. Also, adherents to his ideas – in particular in the Socialist Party and its predecessor Militant – led the heroic battle in Liverpool City Council in the 1980s, which defeated Thatcher, as well as the movement against the unfair Poll Tax which brought her down.

We have suggested that we be able to participate as an affiliated part of the movement, which has found more and more support. We call for the Socialist Party and others to be able to participate in an anti-austerity Labour Party on the same basis as the Cooperative Party does currently. It has been affiliated to Labour since 1927 as a separate entity supporting Labour from within the party. This proposal has been dismissed by the right wing as support for a ‘party within a party.’

But lo and behold, the right themselves have now embraced this idea, although in a distorted form – not to push Labour to the left but to shore up the right. The Sunday Times reported: “Labour MPs will set up a new rebel group in parliament to co-ordinate mass defiance of Jeremy Corbyn’s hard-left policies if he wins the leadership election.” This group would supposedly have its own whip and aims to change the rules to elect the shadow cabinet themselves. Evidently they don’t mind a party within a party as long as it’s one that can be used against Jeremy Corbyn and the anti-austerity movement.

Counter to what the right claim, Corbyn can win support not just from the wider labour movement but also in the broad electorate. They peddle the myth that he is unelectable. But in reality they and the capitalists bitterly oppose him precisely because he could win on an anti-austerity programme.

Right-wing social democracy is discredited everywhere – in France, Greece, Spain and in Germany where it now seems that the social democrats are agreeing to the raising of the retirement age to 69!

Despite all the mud slung at his campaign, Corbyn won the nominations of Constituency Labour Parties five to one.

Trade unions

However, the right are determined to further undermine him and his supporters and to remove him if necessary. The leadership of the GMB trade union have justified their decision to support Owen Smith on the basis of a consultation in which several GMB members have complained they received no notification and so were unable to participate. The same was the case in the Usdaw shop workers’ union, where the only vote was a phone ballot of the 16 members of the union’s executive committee!

Dave Prentis at TUC demo in Manchester: 50,000 marched against the Tories, demanding action on NHS, photo Paul Mattsson

Dave Prentis at TUC demo in Manchester: 50,000 marched against the Tories, demanding action on NHS, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Even some of those union leaders who are officially supporting Corbyn can’t resist striking a low blow at the same time. For instance, Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, referred to the Labour Party becoming “the nasty party” – an outrageous comparison between Corbyn’s Labour and the Tory party. But it is Prentis and his witch-hunts of the left – particularly of four Socialist Party members who were accused and cleared of racism – not Corbyn supporters, who presents the ‘nasty’ face of anti-democratic bureaucracy.

The right want to limit the scale of the Corbyn victory, hoping that this will make it easier for them to continue undermining him afterwards. If they fail in this and Corbyn maintains a big majority, they hope against hope that the Tories will come to their rescue, like Thatcher in the 1980s. Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, who was quoted during the EU referendum campaign saying that he had no interest in stabbing Cameron in the back and would much rather stab him in the front, has revealed that the Labour right are desperate for an election and are pursuing a policy of ‘electoral defeatism’. He has claimed that senior Labour politicians have approached him begging for the Tories to call a general election, which they then hope their own party would lose.

But again, the problem for them is that the idea Jeremy Corbyn and the left can’t win is bogus. Corbyn has correctly said that Labour must appeal to former Tory voters. What’s the best way to do that? With policies like democratic nationalisation of rail – which a big majority of the population, including many Tory voters, support.

The constant harassment and vilification in the media will cut no ice with the great majority voting in this election. The argument that Corbyn is not popular and that the Tories will exploit the ‘lack of support’ for him and his programme is wrong. So is the idea that splits in Labour will be a major factor in Corbyn’s defeat. There are even bigger splits on the Tory side – over Brexit and its terms, for example. Ken Clarke has talked of 100 MPs wandering around in a daze.

The right, if they have a majority, always go for the jugular and seek to force the left out, including through expulsions. Unfortunately, even when it is clear they have the upper hand, the left don’t act as firmly in standing up for our side and replacing these people with class fighters. The Labour Party needs mandatory reselection to transform the basis of its elected representatives. This is not just the case for MPs but also for local councillors – 1,000 who have signed a letter in support of Owen Smith. These are the people passing on Tory cuts at local level, as well as thousands of others who haven’t signed. Corbyn must be consistently anti-cuts, including being prepared to replace these councillors.

The way to cement the Jeremy Corbyn campaign and guarantee victory is to come out clearly for a fighting socialist programme. His recent stand in relation to Nato, of arguing in opposition to the right who say they would automatically support Nato in any conflict, won wide support, particularly from young people.

He and his supporters must stand firm on this and on other key issues such as demands for free education and student grants, reintroducing EMA student payments, a mass programme of council house-building, rent controls and the democratic nationalisation of rail and the utilities. They must fight for mandatory reselection to ensure we have politicians who stand for and fight for these policies too. And they must link these immediate struggles to the need for socialist change.

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 23 August 2016 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.