22/11/2019 by Ian
Labour’s election manifesto in 2019 is radical to a degree. It certainly represents a major change of direction for British capitalism compared to the overt neo-liberalism we have been subjected to since the capitulation of the Wilson/Callaghan Labour government in 1976 to the dictates of the IMF, going through the overt class war against the trade unions under the 18 years of Thatcher and Major, the Blair/Brown years of barely pale-pink ‘New Labour’ neoliberalism that Thatcher hailed as her ‘greatest achievement’, and then the all-out war against the poor and migrants under the 2010-15 Con-Dem Coalition and the Tory governments that succeeded it.
The context in which it is written is not so auspicious, however. While Labour appears united for the election, unity is fragile and skin-deep. Just below the surface, acute contradictions manifest themselves, which will inevitably burst into the open almost irrespective of the result of the election. These have been symbolised by two events that happened at the beginning of the election campaign.
One is the exclusion of Chris Williamson, Labour’s most radical MP, from standing as an official Labour candidate in Derby North, and his decision to stand anyway as an independent, opposed by a stooge Labour candidate from ‘Labour First’ who would like to be rid of both Williamson and Jeremy Corbyn.
The other is the resignation of Tom Watson, the arch enemy of the left, from both the Deputy Leadership of Labour and as an MP, announced just as the campaign was beginning to get underway. It was self-evident that Watson waited to announce his departure until he was sure that Williamson had been excluded from running on the Labour ticket. Such is the fear of the right-wing that Williamson, who is to the left of Corbyn, might be the choice of the left-wing membership to succeed Watson as Deputy. But Watson was so hated by the membership that there was no way he could stay on, only the manner of his going had to be finessed to try to hand the old right-wing some sort of compensatory advantage. It is not clear that this was achieved.
Witch-hunts are attempted sabotage
The whole point of the right-wing and Zionist activism in Labour has been to try to deprive Corbyn of this opportunity to take on the Tories in what, as he says is the most important election for generations. The New Labour leftovers were shocked to their bones by the result of the 2017 General Election. Coming from a string of electoral disasters under Gordon Brown in 2010 and the phoney left Ed Miliband in 2015, when Labour struggled to achieve 30% of the vote, under Corbyn in 2017 under a more radical, but hardly revolutionary, manifesto containing some basic working class demands, Labour’s share of the vote jumped to over 40% and deprived the Tories under Theresa May of the majority David Cameron had unexpectedly won in 2015.
The right-wing and the Zionists who have ferociously witchhunted the left over the past four years since Corbyn’s winning the Labour leadership in 2015, did not want this election. They fear a Corbyn government like the plague itself. Not because it would be a revolutionary event. The manifesto contains ‘only’ some serious reforms and promises of real gains for the working class. But because it would be a fatal blow to the idea, that has weighed on the working class on this island for decades, that ‘there is no alternative’ to neo-liberalism and accepting attacks on workers, and that any attempt to resist this is political suicide.
This idea, that the working class movement is incapable of effective political action, was born in the 1983 election, in the aftermath of Thatcher’s Falklands/Malvinas war and a wave of chauvinist sentiment, when Michael Foot’s Labour, having capitulated to Thatcher’s militarism, stood on a manifesto stuffed full of left-wing conference policies and was defeated by a landslide. This was dubbed ‘the longest suicide note in history’, a major defeat for Labour, and prefigured the decisive Tory attack on the miners’ union within a few months of Thatcher’s victory.
Corbyn’s near miss against May in 2017 partially exorcised that spectre; a Labour victory in 2019 would drive a stake through its heart. This is what the neo-liberal right in Labour fear most of all. It will be the end of them if that happens. Such is the panic of the old right at this that the advent of the General Election has led to a whole layer of the old right abandoning ship and either joining the Lib Dems, or abandoning parliamentary politics itself, Watson being the most prominent.
The prolonged witchhunt against numerous supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, waged particularly by those in Labour loyal to the state of Israel, was aimed at stopping this eventuality. Such is the discredit that traditional Labourite social-imperialist militarism suffered in the Iraq war that the only chauvinist political weapon the right-wing have found to be at least partially effective against the left has been a mendacious campaign to portray them as Jew-haters.
The response of the left leadership behind Corbyn has been catastrophically weak, with the adoption of the IHRA fake definition of ‘anti-Semitism’ as the crowning point of their opportunism and ineptitude. But at the base of the party, the continual flood of Orwellian smears denouncing lifelong opponents of racism and fascism as akin to Nazis, has produced a real radicalisation.
Chris Williamson’s view that Labour has been ‘too defensive’ in the face of phoney allegations, which got him victimised and driven out of the party, is widely shared by the membership. This is something that will inevitably find political expression at some point. Chris’s independent candidacy in Derby North has a great deal of sympathy among rank-and-file Labour activists, with only some of the more long-established (and small-c conservative) lefts objecting.
The gradual haemorrhage of the old Blair-Brown right from Labour, interacting with the Zionist witchhunt, has given rise to a new differentiation within the Corbynites themselves. There has arisen a nascent new right wing, whose leading figures are the UNITE leader Len McCluskey and Momuntum’s owner Jon Lansman, which imposed the IHRA on Labour from above without even a formal democratic process. Corbyn, McDonnell and Diane Abbot occupy the new centre, and Chris Williamson, even in exile, is the leader of the nascent new left.
Williamson’s denunciation of the ‘social imperialism’ of his opponents and purgers is apposite, and it is obligatory for socialists in the Labour Party to find some way to give solidarity to his campaign. Particularly those who have been purged have nothing to lose by openly supporting him. His seat is a marginal that has swung two ways in the last two general elections and he is unlikely to win it given the ‘Labour First’ official stooge splitting the vote, but even if defeated he is still laying down a marker for a new left.
Climate and left-reformism
As a programme of reforms, Labour’s 2019 Manifesto has much to recommend it. But it is nowhere near enough. Its decarbonisation targets, even though they are the most ambitious in history, do not go far enough in avoiding the commitment to a zero carbon economy by 2030. Banning fracking is only a start. The pressure against this target came from the most right-wing unions, to ‘defend jobs’. Even in its current form, it will be fiercely contested by much of the ruling class if Labour is elected.
It will take a mass, extra-parliamentary movement, part of a revolutionary global movement, to force through the necessary massive reordering of not just the UK, but also international economy to have a hope of dealing with the Climate Emergency the bourgeoisie has created. However, we cannot abstain on this: the election of a Labour government even on this inadequate basis will hugely raise expectations, and lay the basis for mass, working class led movements to push for much more, and creating the kind of planned economy we need through the tearing down of capitalism itself, through a revolutionary overturn of capitalist states themselves.
There are many more supportable reforms in the Labour manifesto, from universal fast free broadband to the renationalisation of the NHS, from the foundation of a National Education Service, ending tuition fees and replacing student loans with grants, to renationalisation of energy, the railways, a National Care Service and the merging of healthcare and social care, ending prescription charges, free basic dentistry (all of which were taken away by neo-liberalism since the 1970s), to a generalised end to austerity in local government and increased taxes on the wealthy.
This will be a significant rolling back of Thatcher’s ‘gains’ for the bosses if implemented. Though it is likely to open up new differentiations in local labour movements about the responsibility of many still-‘New Labour’ Councils collaborating willingly with Tory austerity.
An end to the ‘hostile environment’ for migrants is to be welcomed. One oversight is that while it correctly promises to end the minimum income requirement for family migration, there is no mention of extortionate visa and citizenship fees, which are also a facet of May’s attack on families with immigrant members and a racist measure. And the failure to uphold the Labour conference’s policy to uphold and extend free movement, irrespective of Brexit, is striking. This reflects the influence of the new right-wing around McCluskey.
On housing, we have the end of the ‘right to buy’, which despite some contra-indications was included in the manifesto, accompanying the building of around 100,000 council houses per year (and another 50,000 Housing Association homes), to the repeal of trade union laws. The passage about repealing these does appear to go further than the minimalist position argued for by some in the craven trade union bureaucracy:
“Repeal anti-trade union legislation including the Trade Union Act 2016 and create new rights and freedoms for trade unions to help them win a better deal for working people”
This is deliberately left vague so as to be able to be read different ways. Though the manifesto does commit to legalising workplace ballots, which would destroy the basis on which the Post Office strike was recently stopped by the courts, it contains no explicit legalisation of secondary industrial action. And it evades explicitly committing to repeal all of Thatcher’s anti-union laws.
Working people should not tolerate any retention of Thatcherite union busting by a Labour government. The working class must organise from below to insist that all the anti-union laws be torn down.
And of course, crucially in these circumstances, there is Brexit. The promise of a legally-binding referendum on a Labour deal vs ‘Remain’ is a reasonable tactic to transcend the divisions that Brexit, and decades of betrayal by neo-liberal ‘Labour’ leaders, helped bring about in the working class. The logic being to junk Brexit and take the battle for socialism into the EU working class.
All in all, there is a real opportunity to win this. Nothing can be certain, of course, and the circumstances of Brexit, and Johnson’s attempt to ‘Trump’ the Labour Party’s class appeal with right-wing populism, make this difficult to accurately predict. But right now the election of a Labour government, both to defeat neoliberal reaction as personified by Johnson’s Tories, and to put left Labourism and Corbyn to the test of office in front of the working class, is vital for the struggle for communism and the advance of the working class towards revolution. Therefore, Vote Labour! Vote Williamson! No coalition or ‘National Government’! Throw out Johnson and the Tories!