04/07/2016 by Ian
Defeat the anti-Corbyn coup:
Drive Blairite and Brownite reactionaries out of Labour
by Ian Donovan
“Anarchy in the UK, its coming some time maybe…” Sex Pistols, 1976.
Well, we are not in the middle of a total collapse. The Sex Pistols’ prophesy has not been borne out. But in some ways it feels like an attenuated version of that ‘anarchy’. What has happened is a spectacular shock to the political system that overlays British capitalism. Whether it becomes an overt threat to capitalism itself is not clear. This is possible. It is also possible that out of this situation you could see a barbaric, reactionary resolution. Or the bourgeoisie could find a way to resolve their own governmental crisis, and kick the can down the road again. But at the moment, that looks problematic. There are aspects of this situation that are quite omimous and frightening, and urgently need a political fightback.
The UK is fractured, we see a wave of racist attacks on minorities in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit referendum victory. Scottish national sentiments have been outraged by the narrow Brexit vote overall including England and Wales being contrary the will of the Scottish people to remain in the EU, a vote that at 62% was considerably greater than the 54% to remain in the UK two years ago.
The six-county statelet in the North of Ireland also voted, more narrowly but clearly, to remain in the EU. Since the Good Friday agreement that produced the current peace settlement in the North was heavily dependent on EU backing and common EU membership with the Irish Republic to bolster its stability, this could be destabilising, particularly since it is evident that the nationalist community is more strongly pro-EU than the Unionists. However, this is not without its contradictions for the Unionists, as even Protestant supremacists like Ian Paisley Jr have been apparently advising their own community to exercise their constitutional rights in the Republic to get Irish citizenship and thus maintain EU citizenship.
The outcome of all this depends on whether the working class can cohere itself as a political class, or not. This is why in the fight to preserve Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party is so important. Corbyn’s election in 2015 represented a re-assertion of a flawed, but real, strain of working class-based left social-democratic politics within Labour for the first time since a Labour-tinged version of Thatcherism conquered the leadership of the Labour Party after the defeat of the miners’ strike in 1984-5, personified by Kinnock. Though Kinnock never won an election for Labour, Blair, as a more capable and slick practitioner of neo-liberalism won three, and managed to for a while to make New Labour aspire to be the hegemonic party of British capitalism. That was the dream; something like it still inspires the coup-plotters today, whose standard-bearer may be Angela Eagle. They still basically dream of freeing the Labour Party from its awkward need to pay heed to the discontent against capital of its working class base, and becoming the preferred, ‘modern’ and liberal choice of the ruling class.
Reasons for Corbyn’s rise
This layer of reactionary agents of neo-liberalism have now finally overreached themselves. An historical opportunity has arisen to drive them out of what is still, despite serious attrition particularly in Scotland, the party that has the political loyalty of the British working class.
Jeremy Corbyn’s victory last year appeared at first glance to be an accident; the product of a mistake by the Labour leadership under Ed Miliband that let the left in by creating a ‘one-person, one vote’ electoral system for the Labour leadership allowing individual union members who declared as supporters of Labour equal votes with actual party members. In also trying to ‘broaden’ Labour’s base by allowing ‘registered supporters’ to vote for a payment of £3, Miliband’s leadership, which had half-heartedly distanced itself from some of New Labour’s worst aspects, was trying desperately to ape the US Primary system and re-generate itself a less class-conscious mass base after Blarism had alienated millions of working class Labour supporters. At least that was the plan. But what happened instead is that many thousands of young working class people, anxious to fight neo-liberalism, and also veterans and victims of New Labour’s purging and driving away of members with socialist or left wing views, saw this as an opportunity to hit back.
So one calamitous event for the working class, Cameron’s election victory in May 2015 when the Tories achieved a narrow working majority after five years of austerity coalition and attacks on the working class jointly with the Liberal Democrats, created a counter-reaction to the left in a political sense. It did so by allowing working class and left wing discontent to be massively channelled into the bourgeois workers party, Labour, that is also the party that the bulk of class conscious working class people in England and Wales (and no doubt in a weaker sense also in Scotland despite recent defeats) still look to as their party.
Roots and contradictions of Brexit
Brexit is a more complex and problematic event for the working class. Rather than a political setback for the working class per se, it is a product of the contradictions of the process of capitalist globalisation. These are expressed particularly sharply by the UK’s geographical position as an imperialist power on the Westernmost fringe of Europe: its imperial history and arrogance coupled with its steep decline; its usually subordinate relationship with the United States; and not least the class consciousness of the British working class. Our class has been economically hammered by neo-liberalism over several decades, however as has been true through much of modern history, class sentiments in Britain have been distorted and diluted by social-imperialist chauvinism.
The concrete manifestation of neo-liberalism is the deindustrialisation of much of Britain, and the impoverishment of much of the country outside the South East, which orbits around London as the financial centre. The migration of many well-paid manufacturing jobs formerly done for union-won wages by unskilled and semi-skilled workers, to countries in the Global South for much lower pay, together with the exploitation of many low-paid migrant workers, in the absence of any working class political alternative or collective struggle, has allowed reactionaries to gain a hearing. This has been maturing under the surface for many years, in fact decades.
Thus economic discontent against neo-liberalism and the political disenfranchisement of the working class produced a situation where the working class in the North East and Midlands, parts of the North West and South West, the Home Counties and even South Wales, were prepared to give a hearing to UKIP, the right-wing populist party pushing virulent anti-European British, and in its real logic, English nationalism.
This was driven by hostility to immigration of EU nationals, particularly from East European countries like Poland and Romania, though it has also rebounded against non-EU immigrants and even Britain’s long-established black and South Asian population to an extent. Forces further to the right have also capitalised on this opening up of parts of the working class to the populist right, as most notoriously shown by the assassination during the referendum campaign of the Labour MP Jo Cox by a white supremacist who had been politically active for the violent fascist Britain First group.
The class base of the Brexit movement is a composite of these disenfranchised sections of the ‘native’ traditional industrial working class, and also sections of petty and medium capital who don’t believe they benefit much from the EU but resent its pan-European regulations or ‘red tape’. Whereas larger capital, particularly financial capital and other sections that depend more on trade with the EU as the UK’s largest market, maintained support for the EU as being in their economic and class interests.
Such conflicts and resentments of small and medium capital for the EU, combined with working class discontent, are not confined to Britain. But they are particularly sharp here because of the peculiarities of Britain’s geographical position, and its history as the once predominant world imperialist power that maintains part of its economic power from a quid-pro-quo with the United States, which protects some of Britain’s former imperial income sources (its so-called ‘invisible earnings’, its tax havens and the like) in return for political cover in American imperial projects like the occupation of Iraq. This is further complicated these days by the vagaries of the relationship of all the imperialist powers with Israel particularly in recent wars in the wider Middle East, a factor that has led to chaos and the mass flight of refugees from neocon inspired wars.
In any case, the peculiarities of this situation, the populist agitation and the divisions in capital, produced a major, decades long rumbling feud in the Conservative Party, which played an important role in the undoing of two previous otherwise successful Conservative Prime Ministers, Thatcher and Major. And now it has claimed Cameron.
Labour movement tasks
The obvious points to be made about this situation are; the crying need of the workers movement to defend migrant workers and ethnic minorities in general, who are facing the worst racist backlash in Britain since the late 1970s. And linked to this is the need for independent class politics to be reborn on a mass scale in Britain, and furthermore, for such independent class formations to embrace internationalism, standing up for migrant workers and oppressed minorities, without quarter or compromise, as well as fighting against imperialism internationally.
There must be no support by working class organisations for any anti-migrant measures as part of reorienting the movement in the new situation caused by the Brexit vote. On the contrary, we should be demanding the abolition of all restrictions and repressive laws against migrants and refugees. Revolutionaries should also be advocating that the Labour Party and trade unions initiate a mass-based anti-racist campaign.
And more must be done … where communities are under attack from racists, there must be action from workers organisations to create defence groups that in an organised manner, would organised the physical defence of minorities, such as Poles and Romanians who have been targeted for particular abuse and attacks, to elements of the longer established Black and South Asian, and even in a few cases Jewish people, who have all come under attack and experienced abuse since the Brexit vote.
The fact is that, thanks to far right agitation and the mendacious and extremely powerful right-wing media in the UK, a section of lumpen elements and possibly even backward sections of the working class believe that they voted to get rid of ‘immigrants’, however defined. This is something that no pleas to the state, no new bourgeois laws against racism, are likely to be able to really defeat politically. Only independent working class politics can do that. But there can be no genuinely working class politics that does not stand firmly against the chauvinism and anti-migrant violence that the bourgeoisie and its neoliberal project have created.
Neoliberal party politics in crisis
Over the last several years since the Great Recession and the financial crisis each of the main political parties of British capitalism has gone into major, historical crisis. The first to show signs was Labour, which in the post Thatcher period had not actually changed its class nature; it was and is still a bourgeois workers party; but the bourgeois political bureaucracy had achieved unparalleled strength, while the working class element had been pushed aside and marginalised. With the credit crunch financial meltdown, this gradually went into reverse, resulting firstly in the election in 2010 of the pale-pink Ed Miliband, who actually paid lip-service to ‘working class representation’ at times, to be succeeded in 2015 after Miliband’s failure by a mass upsurge of discontent in favour of the genuine old-left social democrat Corbyn.
But the forces around Corbyn were not politically or organisationally strong enough, despite their newly acquired but politically inexperienced mass base, to decisively defeat the neo-liberals who still held sway over the Parliamentary Labour Party. 10 months after Corbyn’s election, the long-expected mutiny of the neo-liberal parliamentarians has created the political basis, in terms of experience and anger at the base and possibly even at the top, for a decisive break with them, taking the trade union base of the Labour Party with the left and spitting out the neo-liberal excrescence of Blairism and Brownism.
That split is urgent, and everyone on the left must fight to complete it by driving the neo-liberals out of Labour: we need the mandatory re-selection of MPs. If Corbyn is, as legal advice and the likely balance of forces on the Labour NEC suggest, on the ballot despite the anti-democratic antics of the 172 MPs who tried to depose him, then defeating their electoral challenge should be a straightforward matter of mobilising our activists and our numbers.
Though no doubt there will be dirty tricks by the right-wing who still wield enormous influence in the Compliance Unit, and other parts of the Labour apparat who abused their position during Cobyn’s previous leadership election campaign and then initiated the fake ‘anti-semitism’ witchhunts which the leadership proved rather wobbly in the face of.
Momentum is extremely important, both as a vehicle for organising a new Corbyn leadership campaign, for providing an alternative focus of political organisation in case of a reversal on the issue of Corbyn being on the ballot, and not least as an organisational home for victims of the witchhunts thrown out of the party itself.
But Momentum needs much improvement, in particular it needs to replace its leading light Jon Lansman, whose response to the ‘anti-semitism’ witchhunt was to collapse before it, trying to stop the left from using the accurate term ‘Zionism’ to describe the politics of the racist settler state of Israel and its overseas supporters, as well as playing an important role in importing elements of the witchhunt into the left itself, being heavily implicated in a failed attempt to purge Gerry Downing of Socialist Fight from the Labour Representation Committee on the basis of phoney charges of ‘left anti-semitism’, originally levelled by Tory blogger Guido Fawkes and the Tory-Zionist Andrew Neil.
The damage to the Liberal Democrats, the junior partner of the Tories in the austerity coalition of 2010-15, was near terminal in terms of parliamentary representation, as they went from close to 60 MPs in 2010 to a mere 8 in 2015. Labour in Scotland, as a result of its own unity with the Tories in the “Better Together” joint campaign for the Union with England in the 2014 referendum, suffered a similar fate with a near wipe-out in the 2015 Election, being left with only 1 MP North of the Border. This was punishment by the working class for being associated with neo-liberalism and the Tories. The left-populist bourgeois Scottish National Party cleaned up on a programme that was to a large extent social-democratic.
Labour appear to have avoided a similar fate in England at the hands of UKIP, as Corbyn during the referendum campaign, refused to hold joint platforms and campaigns with the Tories, despite also calling for a Remain vote. This has not stopped the Blairite coup-plotters from smearing Corbyn as being responsible for the Leave victory for keeping his distance from the Tories, this justified distancing reflecting in part the traditional Labour Left position of outright hostility to the EU as a capitalist club.
Cross class Leave and Remain blocs: George Galloway with Farage, Sadiq Khan with Cameron. To his credit, Corbyn refused to campaign with Tories. Now under attack in part for this correct refusal.
Corbyn appeared to recognise the dangers of the nationalist element to today’s anti-EU agitation. Though his position was flawed, it did maintain a distinct Labour position centred on his leadership, which lays down a marker for class independence unlike Miliband’s Scottish fiasco. Indeed, that is what the coup plotters seem to be afraid of most of all; with the Tory Party near meltdown after Brexit, they fear that a Labour Party that retains its coherence could actually win out. Not to mention the likely impact of Corbyn still being in office when the Chilcott report into the Iraq war is published in early July, which leads to the danger of Labour’s neoliberal faction and Blair in particular being denounced as war criminals by the current Labour leadership when the report comes out.
Now the Tories themselves are in deep trouble. Cameron’s referendum gamble, which most halfway politically aware people recognise was aimed to resolve a conflict in the Conservative Party, failed. He immediately passed the buck of implementing Brexit and invoking the exit clause (article 50) of the Lisbon Treaty to his successor. Within a few days this manoeuvre prompted the dilettante adventurer Johnson to throw in the towel and give up his ambition to be PM, realising no doubt that his premiership would likely be doomed before it began.
The various Tories vying for Cameron’s job, from Gove to May to less lights like Vicky Morgan and Stephen Crabb, are looking to bat on a very sticky wicket – while the bourgeoisie could conceivably sort this mess out in time, the next PM is highly likely to be in for a torrid term in office and to be considered easily expendable if more than one option is to be tried by the ruling class.
Britain and globalisation
British capitalism is highly bound up economically with the EU, and an attempt to extricate it from the single market in particular could be very economically damaging. It could conceivably produce not only a recession in short order, but lower growth and even depression resulting from effective exclusion from important markets over a much longer term. It is not clear that the alternative strategy of the Brexiters – trade with the commonwealth, the USA, or even the ‘BRICS’ bloc, would compensate for that.
It is pretty obvious that large capital in Britain, in particular the financial centre of the City, regards access to the Single Market as vital to its economic interests. Which produces a major contradiction with the Brexiters, as a key condition of membership of the Single Market – which even non-EU members who are allowed access to it have to abide by (such as Norway and Switzerland) is free movement of labour. Exactly what the Brexit populists are most hostile to.
One key element in understanding both the need for and the nature of, independent class politics in this situation is to realise that this is a problem of division within the bourgeoisie over the contradictions of their globalisation project. Their contradictions are strategic, and stem, in the end, from the continuing contradictions of imperialist capitalism.
This being that even though the migration of much of manufacturing to low-wage, semi-colonial countries has significantly deepened the internationalisation of the productive forces from even what they were at the time of the beginning of the neo-liberal era in the 1970s, nevertheless the basis of imperialism is still the nation-state. There can therefore arise major differences within the bourgeoisie as to exactly how much international economic integration is in the interests of a given ‘national’ imperialist capital. Pan-imperialist blocs like the EU, which is not a European super-state, as the right-populists fear, but rather a halfway house without real economic union, can give birth to serious conflicts within the bourgeoisie, with one side willing to even mobilise populist mass opinion under a reactionary banner to try to get its way.
Tactics, strategy and class politics
For the working class, how to react to such conflicts within the bourgeoisie is a difficult tactical question. But since both sets of protagonists are representatives of the class enemy, it should not be treated as in itself necessarily strategic. True there are strategic questions involved, including defence of migrants and oppressed minorities, opposition to predatory imperialist blocs, as well as opposition to the imperialist nation-state.
There are also shades of reformist politics that take different stances on such divisive questions, from pro-EU types who accept to some extent the EU’s own ‘Fortress Europe’ mentality, to the national reformists who seek to enforce national migration restrictions etc. The Brexiters vs the Eurocrats who send Syrian refugees back to Turkey. Obviously Marxists have to oppose all these things. But exactly how to do so in a way that is coherent and principled is not easy and has proven divisive. The author of this piece believes that the correct position on the recent referendum was a ‘spoil your ballot’ boycott position, derived from the reactionary nature of both sides.
But it is important to note that there were and are powerful left-wing arguments for both a Leave and Remain position from a left-wing, ostensibly Marxist position. Both of these positions have the disadvantage that they put those taking them in a bloc with unsavoury forces on one side or another, but that cannot be a decisive argument in all ways. Sometimes you do have to take a position that is similar to other forces that in general you bitterly oppose. Politics would be much simpler if such occasions never arose, but they do. Fascists, for their own reasons, may oppose a war that it is correct for Marxists to oppose. That does not make opposition to the Iraq war, for instance, wrong for Marxists!
Class independence means that though strategic questions may be part of this in a many sided way, overall this is a divisive tactical question, that the workers movement should not in itself be splitting organisationally over. There is obviously a correct set of Marxist tactics to use to deal with these matters, but differences over what this is can only be resolved by a combination of practical activity, expanding our understanding of the world, and political debate. The need to unify the working class movement as a fighting force to provide a mass based alternative to deal with the likely consequences of this intra-bourgeois squabble and blowout is a matter of some considerable importance. Political clarification must be fought for within this framework.