Editorial of the Socialist, issue 1108
Corbyn rally in Newcastle, 2019, photo Elaine Brunskill

Jeremy Corbyn at a rally in Newcastle, 2019, photo Elaine Brunskill   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Corbyn suspended – Time to fight for a new mass workers’ party

The suspension of Jeremy Corbyn shows the determination of Starmer to annihilate the last vestiges of ‘Corbynism’- as the Socialist Party warned would be the case. Corbyn has broken no rule and has always opposed antisemitism. For Blairite Labour general secretary David Evans to suspend him for stating antisemitism within Labour has been ‘dramatically overstated for political reasons’ is an incredible attack on the right of Labour Party members to express their views. Labour Party Deputy Leader Angela Rayner has even admitted that what Corbyn said is true, but he should still be suspended for saying it!

Since Starmer was elected leader, many have already left Labour. Now a further avalanche of Labour Party members are tearing up their membership cards in protest. It has been reported that staff from all departments at Labour HQ have been moved to dealing with resignations, such are their numbers. In response, leading figures on the Labour left, including Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, have pleaded with those who are angry to stay in the Labour Party and “stay calm”.

Unity doomed to failure

The Labour Party members who are resigning have a clearer idea of the reality facing the Labour left than the leaders appealing for calm.

Seven leaders of affiliated trade unions, including Len McCluskey, have produced a joint statement opposing Corbyn’s suspension.

Unsurprisingly, the right-wing led unions – including Unison, GMB and Usdaw – have not signed. Unfortunately, however, even the statement from the left-led unions is extremely weak.

Its only proposal for action is to plead with Starmer to work with them on finding a “fairer, unifying way forward”.

The last five years have shown beyond any doubt that this strategy is doomed to failure. Under Corbyn, Labour was not transformed into a workers’ party, but remained ‘two parties in one’, with a pro-capitalist right which continued to dominate the Labour machine, and a potential anti-austerity party around Corbyn.

When the right were forced to retreat, it was not through trying to assuage the Blairites, but standing up to them.

Unlike the leadership of Momentum – supposedly set up to build support for Corbyn’s policies – which retreated at every stage, the leadership of Unite, the biggest affiliated trade union, did sometimes play that role.

Nonetheless, the opportunity to transform Labour into an anti-austerity, socialist party was thrown away, as endless compromises were made with the pro-capitalist right of the party in the hope of pacifying them.

The leadership around Starmer

Starmer was therefore able to walk into the leadership of a party which was already dominated by his co-thinkers.

Mandatory reselection of MPs has not been introduced, and the democratisation of the party, including the restoration of the role of the trade unions, was never carried out.

The biggest rebellion of Labour MPs since then has been the 34 MPs who voted against the ‘Spy-Cops’ bill, which gives state agents the right to break the law while spying on socialists and trade unionists.

This shows how small the left of the parliamentary Labour Party still is, five years after Corbyn’s initial leadership victory.

Even before Corbyn’s suspension, the left had been remorselessly removed by Starmer from any positions they still had.

Now, given further confidence by the complete passivity of the leaders of the Labour left, Starmer and those around him are trying to ground the left into the dust.

Constituency Labour Parties have been banned from passing motions that criticise the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report or Corbyn’s suspension. A stepped-up crackdown on social media posts has been planned.

Starmer is determined to demonstrate to the capitalist class that Labour is once again ‘New Labour’ and can be relied upon to act in the interests of the elite – the 1%.

Popular fury against Johnson’s incompetence is growing. Starmer sees his role, however, not in harnessing working-class anger to fight for socialist policies, but the exact opposite.

He is auditioning to be a more competent representative of the capitalist class in government should Johnson be forced out.

Starmer safe for the bosses

Starmer’s trenchant opposition to teaching unions’ demands that schools close during the new lockdown is the latest example of his backing for the agenda of big business rather than the workers’ movement.

Appealing to Starmer to reverse his decision, Len McCluskey has emphasised the importance of party unity. However, unity is only an asset if it’s around a programme in the interests of the working class. The only unity Starmer will accept is on the basis of the complete and utter capitulation of the left, not even able to make the mildest criticism of his pro-capitalist agenda.

The working class in Britain is facing a resurging virus, a lockdown, and the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. To leave them without any political voice would be a serious dereliction of duty.

Instead of pleading with Starmer, left trade unions should immediately institute a call for a conference, to be a council of war of the workers’ movement – inside and outside of the Labour Party – to fight this attack, and to discuss how to ensure workers have a vehicle that does fight for their interests.

While that discussion takes place, not a penny should be paid by the affiliated trade unions to the Labour leadership.

New mass workers’ party

The Socialist Party is arguing that what is required now is for the left trade unions to found a new mass workers’ party with a socialist programme.

Some will argue that it would be better for the left trade unions to stay inside Labour and use their social and financial weight to launch a campaign to try and pull it back to the left.

There is no question that serious opposition to the right would be an improvement on the current policy of supplication, but – having failed to transform Labour into a mass democratic workers’ party while Corbyn was leader – we do not think it can be belatedly accomplished now.

The unions’ financial weight is limited, with annual union affiliation fees accounting for under 15% of the party’s income.

In addition, the tens of thousands of people who were inspired by Corbyn’s election to become active are now thoroughly demoralised by the retreats and defeats of the last half decade.

The development of a new workers’ party would do more to fight for workers’ interests at the ballot box – and also to turn the heat up on Starmer and the Labour right – than would be possible with a campaign within the confines of the Labour Party.

If a lead does not come from the top, there will be many workers and young people who will be prepared to take steps in that direction.

The Socialist Party is fighting for a new mass workers’ party, and appeals to all those who agree to join us in that struggle, including those tearing up their Labour Party membership cards in disgust.

May elections

As a starting point, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, involving the RMT transport workers’ union, the Socialist Party and others, is back in action and preparing to stand in elections next May against pro-capitalist, pro-cuts Labour candidates. Local steering committees – involving representatives from trade union branches and community campaigns – are starting to be formed.

The rest of the labour movement – the left union leaders in particular – must act. The determination of the right to make Labour safe for capitalism could not be clearer.

If now is not the time for similar determination from the left to fight for a mass workers’ party, when is?

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 3 November 2020 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.