Whether Jeremy Corbyn stands or not …

On Tuesday 28 March I joined 35 or so socialists in Welwyn Hatfield constituency to watch a screening of the film ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn! The Big Lie’ distributed by Platform Films. By chance, the showing took place on the day that the Labour Party National Executive Committee took the decision to prevent Jeremy Corbyn from standing in Islington North at the upcoming general election.

At about 90 minutes the film tells the story of the rise and fall, in the Labour Party at least, of what has become known as the ‘Corbyn Project’. Narrated by Alexei Sayle, with contributions from a group of socialists of different hues, the film does a good job of describing the twists and turns of the last six years and how the right fought tooth and nail to undermine Corbyn.

It ends on a note which suggests the ‘Corbyn Project’ may well not be finished as a political movement. While you will have your own view of what is said in the film, Jeremy Corbyn does not escape criticism, it is a ready-made tool for drawing together socialists and Corbynites to discuss what to do next – something I offer an initial view on below.

Fighting for a ‘fairer society’

In response to the NEC motion, in his now typically ambiguous prose, Jeremy Corbyn issued a statement which concluded ‘I will not be intimidated into silence. I have spent my life fighting for a fairer society on behalf of the people of Islington North, and I have no intention of stopping now.’

Just after the NEC decision was made, Len McCluskey, former leader of Unite, used Twitter to advise everybody to join the Corbyn-led Peace and Justice Project arguing, also ambiguously, ‘What is also exposed is the Establishment’s strategy of turning the Labour Party into a mirror image of the Democratic Party in the US. If not stopped, the time will come (perhaps soon) when the question will be ‘Is Labour the voice of ordinary people?’

Blairism was the first attempt at this strategy which came a cropper because of the invasion of Iraq. Blair had a long-held belief that the split from the Liberals was a historical mistake. It is hard to know what the vessel Starmer thinks, but he seems set on a similar neo-Blairite course.

Len McCluskey’s ambiguity contrasts sharply with the outpouring of incandescent rage across Facebook pages and Twitter which took place during the day, expressed by people who see Jeremy the person as honest, decent, truthful, and a principled man who wants to see a ‘fairer society’.

There is nothing wrong with these feelings, it is difficult to remain calm when seeing a person who, at one level, embodies the values of Quakerism, being politically assassinated and metaphorically dumped into a canal. Some of those venting their anger on the Labour Party’s Facebook page were contacted by the Party’s messenger to ask if they would like to chat with the Party – i.e. Identification, before expulsion.

Should I stay or should I go?

The end of the showing in Welwyn Hatfield was followed by a half-hour discussion. I am new to the area but knew I was in a room of people made of up the Labour left, the SWP, and probably the Socialist Party, and independent socialists. The discussion was comradely, with different positions aired. The SWP argued that Corbyn’s fate showed the futility of trying to get people elected to Parliament, while others argued that a political alternative was needed during elections. The Labour Party members did not ask people to join them in the fight inside the Party.

For my part, I argued that we should not focus our primary energy on debating whether to stay in Labour or leave, whether socialists standing for election was a dead end, nor whether a new party was needed – although these are all necessary debates.

Those who have determined that the Labour Party is still a site of political struggle where gains can be made for the working class, need to engage in the fiercest inner-party battle to defend Jeremy Corbyn’s right to stand. Those who think otherwise can fight across the labour movement through its branches, district and national unions arguing that irrespective of the decision of the NEC, Jeremy Corbyn should be supported to stand in Islington North. A combination tactic will be essential.

A shot across the bows

By winning the leadership of the Labour Party, Corbynism was a left social democratic shot across the bow of the ruling class – and they took it seriously. Those trying to transform the Labour Party into a US-style Democrat Party understood that Corbyn was for some talismanic and for others symbolic of a radically different kind of society – something rather different to a ‘fairer society’ Jeremy Corbyn mentioned in his statement following the NEC decision. A point made several times in the film was, it is not the man they feared (how could they?) but the movement he inspired.

It is self-evident that a reinstatement of Corbyn in the Islington seat would be a fatal blow to the Starmer project and this is why, whatever the strength of the inner-party campaign, it will not be allowed to happen. The intention is to ensure nothing like Corbynism should ever happen again. So, staying silent if staying in is not an option – nor is resolution-mongering. It will be for socialists still in the Party to make an honest balance sheet of whether it was a viable instrument for socialism or the subject of an entirely different project.

I suggested what we should focus on was building the biggest possible campaign where we each felt most able to fight, in defence of Jeremy Corbyn’s right to stand in Islington North, as this could be the lodestar for the re-emergence of a socialist movement, that the 200,000 who had left the Labour Party had not simply disappeared into thin air, so it was urgent to bring them together.

Up and down the land

Groups should be formed in constituencies across the country calling on Corbyn to stand in Islington North and offering to bring support to the constituency if needed. These groups, premised on the defence of Corbyn, would in fact be organisations in defence of the movement he brought into being and places of the socialist politics the ruling class and its allies in the labour movement have long sought to exorcise from the British body politic.

It is inevitable in this context that a discussion about a new party of the working class will take place throughout the labour and campaigning movements. Marxists should immerse themselves in these groups, putting the argument for a workers’ party based on socialist politics.

Marxists need to be able to walk and chew gum during this process by first, putting the interest of the class above narrow group interest, ensuring the maximum possible unity on the democratic question of Corbyn standing in Islington North. Second, by putting socialist politics to the fore in any project for a new mass party of the working class and third, by seeking greater unity among themselves.

It is the case that there are now many more Marxists, like me, sitting outside the organised Marxist groupings than inside, not confident that what presently exists is adequate. We too must network together to enable us all to put the strongest case for open, non-sectarian, Marxist politics. A Marxist association or network is needed.

A socialist manifesto is also needed to present a radical alternative to the present society in which we live.  Starmer has been bold, we should pay him back in return. The content should clearly signal that socialism cannot co-exist with capitalism and will require a fundamental breach with it, a sweeping away of the capitalist state and replacement of the rule of a minority class by a new society based on an entirely different premise – the democratic planning of production for the needs of all.

One small example of how different the manifesto would be from the 2017 Labour manifesto is an obvious omission from the 2017 manifesto, but a glaring example now – a pledge to call for the end of NATO membership, an organisation drenched in the blood of imperial conquest.

In truth, the Corbyn movement was a confused jumble and mishmash of left social democratic, labourist, liberal and some socialist ideas. The strategic defeat of Corbynism demonstrated, if any demonstration was needed, that this type of politics is incapable of delivering a decisive shift in the balance of forces in favour of the working class. This will not prevent this type of politics from re-emerging again in any new formation so a clear socialist alternative needs to be posed.

Too many of us were holding the line for Corbynism and did not have the resource to make an effective case for socialism during the Corbyn wave. We cannot afford for that to happen again.

Whether Jeremy Corbyn stands or not …

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3 thoughts on “Whether Jeremy Corbyn stands or not …

  1. I beleive the only way to defend Corbyn and so the project is to directly attack Starmer in Holborn St Pancras which is why I have started a campaign and a company to fund the campaign to do just that. We will choose an high profile candidate (by a vote raised among the members of the company) and fund them as an independent to run against Starmer in Holborn St Pancras. The group is called OCISA-organise Corbyn Inspired Socialist Alliance and is open as a facebook group to join at the moment. The company has a socialist mission and the 2017 Labour Party manifesto is referred to as the preferred definition written into the memorandum & articles. This was a popular manifesto which would attract those who were arguing for a fairer society alongside Corbyn. I urge your readers to join me and this mission and would not object to my email being published. Yours in solidarity Jim Breese (jimbreese@ocisa.org.uk)

  2. An interesting article, Will, with a number of points that I do agree with. What I am not so sure about is the value of channelling so much effort nationally into fighting one seat just to annoy Starmer, even if, as you argue, it is as much to do with organising around the politics of Jeremy Corbyn. If and when that seat is held by Starmer – which it will be with that massive majority and him being a public figure etc etc – those who came down to Holborn from far and wide will go home disillusioned and most will not be back. What will keep them together?

    You suggest that “Groups should be formed in constituencies across the country calling on Corbyn to stand in Islington North and offering to bring support to the constituency if needed. These groups, premised on the defence of Corbyn, would in fact be organisations in defence of the movement he brought into being and places of the socialist politics the ruling class and its allies in the labour movement have long sought to exorcise from the British body politic.”

    If the existing structures of the Labour Left – Momentum, Briefing etc – can not do that what hope is there for it to happen spontaneously or led by others without any organisational history? In addition, history tells us that out one-off electoral fights in one locality have no wider or long term dimension. When Dave Nellist first stood as a socialist in Coventry outside of the Labour Party, he held his Council seat for a number of elections. But his vote continually went down, as did the enthusiasm of many of his supporters, until he lost his seat. And that was a example of a Midland wide initiative which developed a national fervour, with comrades coming into Coventry from near and far, with an overall perspective as socialists and a determination to get Dave (re)elected.

    I wish OCISA every success in St Holborn and I will work tirelessly within TUSC to make sure we don’t oppose them even though there is a good potential local candidate we could back. But that will be the extent of it.

    What we need to do in my humble opinion is to learn the lessons of the last 30 years of left politics in Britain. We have had a number of opportunities to make that breakthrough as you yourself know. The most favourable was the original Socialist Alliance which had some 100 local branches up and down the country in its heyday, most of them meeting and campaigning regularly and building, leading to us standing 98 candidates in the 2001 General Election. Some 15 socialist, green socialist and anarchistic organisations were affiliated, and all had representation at the national Liaison Group.

    You know what happened next – the SWP took control, decided to put it on the back burner in order to back Galloway and Respect – and that went nowhere. The SWP then wouldn’t even allow the remnants of the SA to continue functioning, something I will never forgive them for even though I will still work with them. The SA could have been the answer in that it was large (over 2,000 members), nonsectarian, inclusive and bottom upwards – all vital aspects of any left formation in my opinion.

    Since then we have had various attempts to unite the left, the most obvious being Left Unity and TUSC. Left Unity had a high membership for a bit, but the leadership has been undemocratic and is choosy with whom it works with on the left. Left Unity doesn’t really believe in left unity. Its membership is down from 2,000 to nearer 200, and it is rarely in evidence. TUSC remains what it has always been – a socialist and trade union coalition to enable campaigners and activists to contest elections with a growing membership of independent socialists – around 400 now – but decreasing support from trade unions and other left groups. However, it still could be a stepping stone to a new mass socialist party, and has survived the defections to the Labour Party. In fact, increasing numbers of former Labour party member and ex Labour councillors are amongst those joining it. It is not the finished article by any means, but it does still have potential in my view.

    So we must learn how to remain together, act in real unity, not rush off towards a new promised land whenever one appears, and reach out to those not involved politically but are looking for the opportunity – especially young people and The Breakthrough Party could well assist here. Socialist organisation outside of heightened class struggle doesn’t just happen, it needs to be organised. As important as it is to relate to what is left of the left in the Labour Party – and that has always been important – putting all our energies for the next 18 months into building anti Starmer/pro-Corbyn grouplets will have very limited effect on the overall need to build a new socialist party to the left of Labour, and that is if Jeremy even agrees to stand! His reluctance to do so, and his love for the Labour Party despite how he has been treated by it, suggests it is sadly highly unlikely he will agree to become part of the movement for a new progressive and socialist force in this country!

    1. Hi Pete. I am glad you disgree with focusing energy on challenging Starmer – because I don’t agree with that either. I am not in favour of building anti-Starmer grouplets but building campaigns across the country to defend Corbyn’s democratic right to stand as I think my article clearly states. It is in those groups that the discussion about a new working class politicalproject might emerge. Starmer is a vessel for pro-capitalist forces and not really the point, as he can, as you state, be easily replaced.

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