Ideological formlessness and Labour’s Disaster; Corbyn’s Failure of Leadership

3

27/01/2020 by socialistfight

By Gerry Downing 27-2-19

Daily Express, Wed, Jul 18, 2018, Labour crisis: Hodge faces disciplinary action ‘for calling Corbyn an anti-semite’, LABOUR has warned Dame Margaret Hodge faces disciplinary action after allegedly calling leader Jeremy Corbyn an ‘anti-semite and racist’ as the veteran MP declared she stands by her statement as the anti-semitism row engulfs the party.
Of course no such disciplinary action took place. Corbyn grovelled again.

As Marxists we say that the fate of the working class depends on its leadership. The disastrous election result of the 12th December was the responsibility of Jeremy Corbyn’s pusillanimous and indecisive leadership. As ostensively the most left wing leader ever of the Labour party he was totally unable to give any leadership because of his own ideological political backwardness.

On 7 January 1926, just four months before the disaster of the General Strike, Leon Trotsky explained why this was:

“The extreme rights continue to control the party … with them stands tradition, experience and routine and, most important, with them stands bourgeois society as a whole which slips them ready-made solutions. For MacDonald has only to translate Baldwin’s and Lloyd George’s suggestions into Fabian language. The rights win despite the fact that the lefts are more numerous. The weakness of the lefts arises from their disorder and their disorder from their ideological formlessness. In order to marshal their ranks, the lefts have first of all to rally their ideas. The best of them will only be capable of doing so under the fire of the most ruthless criticism based upon the everyday experience of the masses.” (our emphasis) [1]

It is our task today to supply that ruthless criticism, not to apologise for Corbyn, ask what could he do? Or assert that he really is a decent gentleman in a very difficult situation. Parliamentary defeats or victories do not decide the class struggle. But they are a barometer of the moods of the masses, to whom the reformist misleaders are determined never to give a revolutionary leadership, or even a true militant leadership lest the masses turn revolutionary themselves and they will be unable to pursue the illusory parliamentary road to socialism.

No Parliamentary Road to Socialism

It is impossible to replace capitalism via parliament by means of an enabling act or in any other way. That is a revolutionary task and for that we need a revolutionary party; the Labour party will ne3ver become that but we must fight within it as long as there is political space for that understanding in order to begin to build that revolutionary party via the Leninist theory of the united front and its development; the Trotskyist Transitional method.

The parliamentary road is impossible because in the first place the City of London would create a run on the pound and transfer all their capital abroad. In November 2017, on the back of the excellent general election result, John McDonnell broadly hinted at capital controls: “when and if they [the City] come for us”, a Labour Government would be ready”, he said. Capital controls stop money leaving the country and place severe restrictions on converting to foreign currencies. But by January 2019 the tune was very different: “In each of the various discussions I have had, because it keeps coming up in the media, I get asked what happens with capital controls,” he told the Financial Times. “I want to make it explicit that we will not introduce capital controls.” [2] And several more times McDonnell assured the City of London that he would never attempt any capital controls. He had accepted the boot of global finance capital on his neck.

This is before we get to the full hostility of the mass media. This time it was worse than ever; the ‘liberal’ the Guardian and the ‘impartial’ BBC weighed in on behalf of the Tories, but there was no strategy to deal with this expected onslaught.  As the apogee of this cesspit came the bogus antisemitic lies of the Zionists and their allies in Labour, the mass media and the entire capitalist establishment. This culminated in the excretable attack of the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and the archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby who referred to the “deep sense of insecurity and fear felt by many British Jews”.

November 28, The Archbishop recognized that the Chief Rabbi’s public post represented an “insecurity and fear felt by many British Jews.” in a direct intervention to assist Boris Johnson and the Tories.

And even if he had got past all that Corbyn still faced the threat from the army and the police. In September 2015, just after getting elected Labour leader, the Sunday Times reported “a senior unnamed serving general” threatening Corbyn; his government could face “a mutiny” and “members of the armed forces would begin directly and publicly challenging the Labour leader if he tried to scrap Trident, pull out of Nato” or announce “any plans to emasculate and shrink the size of the armed forces. The Army just wouldn’t stand for it. The general staff would not allow a prime minister to jeopardise the security of this country and I think people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul to prevent that. You can’t put a maverick in charge of a country’s security.”

He was never investigated for this crime and Corbyn meekly accepted this outright criminal threat without any attempt to bring the culprit or the Sunday Times to justice.

Corbyn and even the most left of the reformist had no strategy to appeal to their mass base to fight this. Thus, they were obliged to serve capitalism and protect its institution from the masses because of their ideological formlessness and backwardness.

Corbyn: A Man of Straw

Corbyn almost immediately showed himself to be far to the right of the half a million mass membership who had mobilised to get him elected in September 2015. In December he sent a letter to all Labour councils instructing them not to set illegal budget in response to Tory/LibDem local government cuts. There would be no repeat of the struggles of the 1980s against cuts, he demanded of the right wing council leaders, who were only too eager to accept his advice. This targeted his own social base who became increasing demoralised and unable to see the fine distinction between Tory cuts and Labour cuts. This was only the first of a series of retreats and apologies for his own former leftism.

Corbyn capitulated on Brexit, on antisemitism, on Ireland’s right to self-determination (no border down the Irish sea where it should be), on immigration controls and British imperialism itself. An Opinium poll shows that of the entre electorate 43% saw Corbyn as the problem, only 17% cited Brexit and 12% the economy. Of course, Corbyn was the problem because of his pusillanimous stance on Brexit, anti-Semitism and everything else on which he grovelled to the establishment. He grovelled and apologised for every element of leftism that won him the leadership in the first place.

He showed great determination to protect his Blairite MPs, opposing and defeating moves at two conferences to impose mandatory reselection on all his MPs. He grovelled to right wing MPs like Margaret Hodge who was not expelled or even disciplined for saying to him, “You’re a fucking anti-Semite and a racist,” on 17 July 2018. He strongly defended Tom Watson who did everything as deputy leader to destroy him. In contrast, he acquiesced to the victimisation, suspension and expulsion of his strongest supporters; he knifed Jackie Walker, Tony Greenstein, Marc Wadsworth, Chris Williamson and numerous others, including Socialist Fight’s Gerry Downing. You must conclude he was far more opposed to the strongest of his own supporters than he was to capitalism itself. And we reject the alternative explanation that this was all the fault of Jon Lansman and Len McCluskey. The buck stope at Corbyn

No left version of Brexit; it is English nationalism

We reject with contempt the claim that Labour should have adopted an all-out Brexit position to win back Brexit supporting workers in the North of England and South Wales. The notion being that if Labour pitched its propaganda further right than the right wing Tory Boris Johnson, become more English nationalist than far rightist Brexit party man Nigel Farage and love the fascist Tommy Robinson then the backward workers will vote for Labour again.

This is pathetic electoralism; if Labour was to stoop as low as Tony Blair again all will be well. Thatcher praised Blair as her proudest achievement. This is an opportunistic view: tell the workers what they want to hear, support the nationalist backwardness within the working class and you win the election. One might also ask, in this case, why does the working class need a Labour party with the Tories’ politics?

Those former Labour supporters who voted for Brexit and who now voted Tory and blamed immigrants were older and at best semi-racist, some of whom came back in 2017 because of hope he would fight capitalism and not just immigrants.  As Phil Herse of Socialist Resistance observes:

“younger people often move away from these (run down) towns, many have more over 65s than 18-25-year olds. There are just 5.5 million 18-24 year olds in the UK, and less than half voted. By contrast, there are 11.8 million over-65s and 74% of them voted. The Tory victory was delivered by pensioners. Only 17% of over-65s voted Labour, and this in the age group most dependent on the NHS, Labour’s key campaign issue.” [3]

By 12th December it was very clear Corbyn would not fight austerity. English nationalism is poison to the workers’ movement, but racist workers can be won back because theirs is a mood and not a hardened reaction. As Trotsky says, “there are revolutionary masses, there are passive masses and there are reactionary masses. The same masses are reactionary at one point and revolutionary at another.” Everything depends on the leadership of the class in times of crisis.

The Brexit vote of the Northern and South Wales was racist and blamed the immigrants not capitalism. The so-called Lexit campaign was ideologically led by the Stalinists of the CPB Morning Star and is based on the theories of capitalism in a single country leading to socialism in a single country via the parliamentary road to socialism as in the 1951 British road to socialism penned by Joseph Stalin himself. Corbyn’s abject capitulation to the capitalist establishment lost the election.

The existing leaders of the working class, both right and left, are bureaucrats who have everywhere accommodated to capitalism itself and pursue only their own careers and pension pots. It was Corbyn’s abject reformist capitulation to the capitalist establishment that lost the British general election of 12th December and not those who sought the internationalist socialist road to revolution by remaining in the EU.

The failure of working class parties to fight capitalism has demoralized older and unemployed sections of the working class internationally; it has endured major attacks on its unions and standard of living worldwide. These backward sections of the workers are turning to right-wing and outright fascist parties for solutions. Donald Trump, who declared he wanted “Brexit plus, plus, plus” in the US won the votes of racist workers in the Rust Belt states from Central New York through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and parts of Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin.

The inspiration of the Gilets Jaunes

We must take inspiration from the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) of France, [4] and the global fightback it sparked from Algeria to Sudan and now more recently to countries like Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Chile, Ecuador, Colombia, and Haiti.

Added to the unyielding struggles of the Palestinian masses in Gaza and the West Bank which is an ongoing inspiration to the working class, poor and oppressed of the planet. The working class have begun to realise that they must organise to fight for their own rights and future now, that no one will do it for them.

The importance of the French events cannot be overemphasised. When the working class in a small or semi-colonial country wins a partial victory over imperialism a great problem presents itself. Sanctions, if not direct intervention, mass bombings by the USAF or EU air forces or invasion or attacks by proxy forces looms.

And we assert here an iron law of the class struggle: the monster can only finally be slain at its head, only the U.S., British, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, i.e. the metropolitan imperialist working class, can ultimately slay this monster.

Imperialism can reverse partial victories as in Tunisia and Egypt in the Arab Spring of 2011. But it took more than 70 years to finally overthrow the last gains of the working class in the USSR, degenerate though it was since 1928. And those of us who lived through May-June 1968 in France know what an inspiration it was to see that great imperialist power visibly rocking on its heels under the impact of the revolutionary onslaught of the working class and to see de Gaulle fleeing to the French Army on the Rhein, convinced imperialist France was about to fall to the socialist revolution.

The uprising by the Gilets Jaunes, the Yellow Vests, that began on 17 November 2018, was an elementary upsurge from the bottom of French society and its quickly spread internationally and now it has returned home again now at a higher level of struggle. Now the Gilet Jaunes are inspiring the organised trade union strike wave sweeping France, and directly threatening those conservative bureaucracies. [2][5]

Marcon was forced to cancel the planned tax in a few weeks but every weekend for several months the Gilets Jaunes rallied and fought the state and the conservative trade union, Socialist party and Communist bureaucracies on every issue of their own oppression. And now the initiative for these strikes is from the bottom, the French trade unions are slipping out of the control of their bureaucracies – now they must begin the struggle to replace those leaders with new militant ones.

The other element that indicates a revived militancy of the oppressed and the working class is the Climate Change youth and Extinction Rebellion global protests. They were internationalists from the start and understood that Agreements in Paris and everywhere else amongst capitalist states would produce nothing. The UN Climate Summit (COP25) ended on Sunday 15 December in Madrid with no deal on carbon markets, postponed until next year in Glasgow. The fight must come from below and must be on the streets.

Notes

[1] . Leon Trotsky’s Writings on Britain, Notes on the situation in Britain 1925-1926, Moscow, 19th May, 1926,

https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/britain/ch12.htm

[2] https://www.ft.com/content/fc5ae454-1f38-11e9-b2f7-97e4dbd3580d

[3] Phil Hearse, Socialist Resistance, 10 January 2020, Must Labour move right to secure its working-class base? https://tinyurl.com/sfvtc8j

[4] Around France with the Yellow Vests Sat. 15th December 2018, https://socialistfight.com/2018/12/16/around-france-with-the-yellow-vests-sat-15th/

[5] The Gilets Jaunes spirit penetrated the most conscious sectors of the French strikers, https://socialistfight.com/2019/12/15/the-gilets-jaunes-spirit-penetrated-the-most-conscious-sectors-of-the-french-strikers/

Comment by Gerry Downing:

The following paragraph from Graham Bash’s Briefing article is hopeless. It assumes that the only road to socialism is via parliament and rejects a revolutionary road based on the independent mobilisation of the masses.” Yes, Jeremy’s fudge didn’t work – but neither would either of the alternatives.”

“1. Beware simplistic explanations that blame it all on Jeremy’s Brexit fudge

Within an hour of the exit poll I received two messages. The first said we lost because Jeremy embraced the second referendum, the second that we lost because we were not sufficiently in the Remain camp. Both were wrong. Both underestimated how toxic Brexit was and is. There are material reasons for this – the weakening of class identity and how vulnerable therefore class is to the myth of national identity – to an English nationalism rooted in the imperial past. This loss of class identity is rooted in the defeats of the last 40 years, the breakdown of working class communities, the shrinking of public services. Yes, Jeremy’s fudge didn’t work – but neither would either of the alternatives.” Above is my alternative analysis: This is the central argument of the piece:

“Corbyn capitulated on Brexit, on antisemitism, on Ireland’s right to self-determination (no border down the Irish sea where it should be), on immigration controls and British imperialism itself. An Opinium poll shows that of the entre electorate 43% saw Corbyn as the problem, only 17% cited Brexit and 12% the economy. Of course, Corbyn was the problem because of his pusillanimous stance on Brexit, anti-Semitism and everything else on which he grovelled to the establishment. He grovelled and apologised for every element of leftism that won him the leadership in the first place.

He showed great determination to protect his Blairite MPs, opposing and defeating moves at two conferences to impose mandatory reselection on all his MPs. He grovelled to right wing MPs like Margaret Hodge who was not expelled or even disciplined for saying to him, “You’re a fucking anti-Semite and a racist,” on 17 July 2018. He strongly defended Tom Watson who did everything as deputy leader to destroy him. In contrast, he acquiesced to the victimisation, suspension and expulsion of his strongest supporters; he knifed Jackie Walker, Tony Greenstein, Marc Wadsworth, Chris Williamson and numerous others, including Socialist Fight’s Gerry Downing. You must conclude he was far more opposed to the strongest of his own supporters than he was to capitalism itself. And we reject the alternative explanation that this was all the fault of Jon Lansman and Len McCluskey. The buck stops at Corbyn.

MOURN – THEN ORGANISE! Graham Bash, January 19, 2020

WE NEED TIME TO MOURN Labour’s decisive defeat – as we do the death of anything precious to us. But then we need to re-emerge, reflect, assess, and organise – stay together and act collectively.zzz To change reality, we first need to understand what it is.

When Jeremy won the Labour leadership in September 2015, it was a shifting of the tectonic plates. It was in part historical accident – the outcome of the new electoral system for electing the Labour leader passed after Ed Miliband’s Collins Review. Something was also happening in the world outside. In Greece, the rise of Syriza, in Spain, Podemos, and in the United States, Bernie Sanders. The years of stability had been broken by the economic crisis of 2008. But the odds were always massively against us.

We were fighting:

» the state, with veiled threats by generals to overturn a democratically elected Labour government;

» the media, with relentless attacks and ridicule;

» the Tories, moving to the right;

» the undemocratic structures and rules of the Labour Party being used to suspend hundreds of Corbyn supporters;

» and all this in the context of a referendum vote on Brexit that put Labour between a rock and a hard place and the near death of Labour Scotland that would take years to recover from, whoever was Labour leader.

» We were also fighting the PLP, shamefully refusing to accept the party’s overwhelming verdict, briefing against Jeremy, forcing a second leadership contest, acting as a party within a party and fearing a Corbyn government more than another Tory government.

The only possible way to fight against such powerful opposition forces was to build an anti-establishment insurgency from below. That insurgency had to be a radical crusade against the establishment and an authentic voice for the dispossessed. It had to overturn the undemocratic procedures of the party and its right wing bureaucracy. And it had to transform the PLP to bring it in line with the new leadership.

But this was not the late ’60s, ’70s and early ’80s, when the working class in Britain was powerful. We have suffered decades of defeat since the miners’ strike. Although Jeremy’s victory reflected in part a genuine disaffection from below against austerity and neo-liberalism – part of an international movement – at the same time our movement was at a low ebb. That was a key contradiction – between the rise of the most left wing leadership in Labour’s history and the low ebb of class struggle. This despite Labour’s post-Corbyn transformation to a mass party of more than half a million.

There was a further problem. Unlike, say, Bernie Sanders in the US, Jeremy had to operate day-to-day in a parliamentary framework, putting together a parliamentary opposition within a hostile PLP. Corbyn and John McDonnell were embattled on the front line from the very start. But here was the conflict – how to achieve a root and branch transformation of the party while at the same time achieving some unity within the PLP and shadow cabinet sufficient to keep the parliamentary opposition on the road. There were two aims – parliamentary party unity and the building of a radical, democratic grassroots movement. How were these two opposites to be reconciled? Ultimately they couldn’t be. Our insurgency has to target the PLP itself if we are to take power.

This in the context of a witch-hunt in the Labour Party that was based on a lie – that the party was rife with antisemitism – the victims of which were primarily the anti-racist left, many of them Jewish or black. A witch-hunt that received support from some sections of the left – including the leadership of the 30,000+ strong Momentum group – that raises the need for an alternative Labour left.

And this in the context of growing attacks on black and Asian people, the embryo of a far right movement that we ignore at our peril and the silencing of independent black voices in our own movement. This too in the context of a global axis of evil – from Trump to Netanyahu, Bolsonaro, Modi, Victor Orban, Putin, now Boris Johnson. And in the context of looming climate catastrophe – the Arctic and the Amazon – and now Australia – on fire. The tasks are so urgent and there is so little time to lose.

And in this country till 12th December our best defence against these dangers – it seemed like our only defence – was a Corbyn-led Labour government.

1. Beware simplistic explanations that blame it all on Jeremy’s Brexit fudge

Within an hour of the exit poll I received two messages. The first said we lost because Jeremy embraced the second referendum, the second that we lost because we were not sufficiently in the Remain camp. Both were wrong. Both underestimated how toxic Brexit was and is. There are material reasons for this – the weakening of class identity and how vulnerable therefore class is to the myth of national identity – to an English nationalism rooted in the imperial past. This loss of class identity is rooted in the defeats of the last 40 years, the breakdown of working class communities, the shrinking of public services. Yes, Jeremy’s fudge didn’t work – but neither would either of the alternatives.

2. It wasn’t just Brexit. It was also about Jeremy

All of us canvassing heard the abuse all the time. It was a product of course of the establishment media but it was made far worse by the critical lack of solidarity and support, and treachery, of most of the PLP.

How Jeremy coped with that baying mob behind him in Parliament is beyond me. That took such strength. And also the failure of some of the left to defend him against the antisemitism slurs was shameful.

This is not new. The establishment always attacks its enemies. Remember Tony Benn was pathologised as a madman.

3. This was different from the 2017 election

Firstly personalities matter. We were lucky in 2017. We were against probably the most useless Tory leader – Theresa May – for years, and still we couldn’t win. And secondly, Johnson’s victory in Parliament on the Withdrawal Bill was a final straw, as he could claim he would get Brexit done. It was a victory won by Labour defections!

4. Don’t blame the working class

I feel deeply uncomfortable when sections of the left blame the quotes ‘racist bigots’ of Blyth Valley or wherever for our defeats. This is a view that is both elitist and fails to understand the material roots of the problem.

5. Stop apologising

We have been weakened by the constant apologies before and after the election – whether apologies in response to the grossly distorted allegations of antisemitism or for the election campaign. Stop being on the defensive. That way we did not win and cannot win. This was a key difference. Boris Johnson sacked his internal political opponents. We apologised to ours!

6. Rebuild the left

There are those who proclaim that the deficiencies of the existing left were a critical reason for the ultimate failure of the Corbyn project. I’m not convinced these factors were decisive but they certainly were a factor – the combination of the bureaucratised trade union left around Unite and the top-down, unaccountable, Momentum leadership, at times supporting the witch-hunt and the false narratives about antisemitism in the party and staging a coup to abolish any democratic accountable structures.

Above all this left failed to defend Corbyn himself when under the greatest attack. All this despite Momentum’s undoubted achievement in mobilising members for general elections. Their methods were a product of the years when the left was marginalised, and were totally unsuited to the upsurge of the Labour left and the new vibrant membership of more than half a million.

How can we rebuild a left in the party, in the unions and in the wider movement that is both politically sharp enough to avoid incorporation into the bureaucracy and broad enough to reach the mass of our membership and avoid being just another small sect?

7. Continue to fight the witch-hunt

I have previously argued the antisemitism witch-hunt would not stop till Jeremy was removed. I was wrong. Jeremy will shortly go but the witch-hunt will probably continue – even accelerate – as a means of wiping out the left.

I fear that Jewish Voice for Labour still has a massive job on its hands. And to underline this threat, it is likely that the new Conservative government will make it illegal for public bodies to engage with BDS.

8. Keep our members

Stay in the Labour Party. Defend and extend the link with the trade unions. We must avoid at all costs a counterrevolution in the Labour Party. Never again can we allow our movement to be deprived of political representation. Do not leave in despair. That is what the right wing want. And build and strengthen the links with our unions and communities. We have Labour Party community organisers in place. Use them. 9. Organise the fight back.

The Tory government will be in crisis sooner rather than later. Their Brexit is undeliverable, their economy is in crisis.

But our public services, welfare benefits, employment and trade union rights, civil liberties and environment will be under attack from a government which has won an overwhelming victory. There is already a threat to make strikes in essential services like rail illegal. Only the labour movement, environmental groups and people in their communities and on the streets can stop the government.

We must build our resistance from below and empower our supporters. Back to our communities. From there find a route to the Labour Party. It won’t be easy. Our backs are to the wall. But we have no alternative but to fight. The future of our world depends on it.

 Graham Bash (Jan 2020)

3 thoughts on “Ideological formlessness and Labour’s Disaster; Corbyn’s Failure of Leadership

  1. The more the Labour party is destroyed and ripped apart by its lying pro-imperialist nature and capitalist crisis undermining reformism the better. Socialist REVOLUTION is needed and therefore the rebuilding of a Bolshevik party based on Marxism and Leninism. Trotskyism is diametrically opposed to Leninism in this. See Lenin’s “What is to be Done?” and particularly “Left-wing Communism – an infantile disorder” which, whatever the Trots say, is TOTALLY HOSTILE to social democracy and the Labour party.

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  2. Corbyn always was a parliamentary reformist cretin and charlatan. Pretending that “pushing” Labour “leftism” is the route to socialist revolution is ludicrous. It has to be critiqued NOT for not being “left” enough, but for being actively COUNTER-REVOLUTIONARY parliamentarianism. As monopoly-capitalist global “over-production” crisis and warmongering deepens, helping workers to BREAK with all such fake “leftism” and arguing openly for the socialist revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat is the only correct understanding, surely?

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