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Proletarian issue 67 (August 2015)
Jeremy Corbyn: ‘Left’ Labour’s great white elephant
All the wishes in the world cannot turn the imperialist Labour party into a vehicle for workers’ emancipation.
Jeremy Corbyn (JC) himself merely mouths Obama-like ‘yes we can’ platitudes that commit him to nothing much but please everyone who hopes for change, the entire ‘left-Labour’ machine has gone into overdrive, promising anything and everything to whoever will only sign themselves up as a Labour party supporter and vote ‘Jeremy for leader’ in the upcoming Labour leadership election.

Once again, we are being encouraged to believe that, with this election, workers have everything to win or lose, and that the surprise possibility of a ‘left-wing’ candidate taking over the second party of imperialism is some kind of incredible opportunity that we would be crazy to ignore. In fact, however, the entire Corbyn ‘phenomenon’ is nothing new. It basically boils down to the following oft-repeated piece of wishful thinking: “If we could just change the leader of the Labour party, we could push the party in a ‘left-wing’ direction and then our battle to [insert any and every campaign/dream here – ie, end war, end austerity, stop the blockade on Cuba, bring back free school milk, abolish the anti-trade-union laws, etc, etc] will finally be victorious.”

But this argument is not only a misguided way of understanding and presenting the question, it is fundamentally illogical and harmful for the working-class movement. Essentially, such a presentation reduces the entire political question to one of personalities and not classes, Moreover, it is the same argument that was used to get ‘Red’ Ed Miliband elected last time; it was even put forward by people who were desperate for Gordon Brown to replace Tony Blair (another great success story).

Essentially, the problem with the Labour party isn’t who’s in charge; it’s who the party actually serves. Corbyn, even if his intentions are good (and we are by no means convinced that they are, given his track record of subverting working-class movements and tying them to the coat tails of imperialism), cannot do anything about that. The Labour party has no intention of challenging the real institutions of power in this country, which are institutions of bourgeois state power; it has proven this throughout its history, including during periods when it had far more ‘radical’ members and leaders than the latest great ‘hopeful’, JC himself.

The fundamental problem is that the Labour party is firmly committed to capitalism and to the preservation of British imperialism. Over the course of its history, it has had many ‘left-wing’, ‘progressive’ members, and scores of leaders and senior MPs who have had what they referred to as ‘socialist’ politics (actually, social-democratic). Many of these were far more radical than Jeremy Corbyn – James Maxton, for example, who was a leader of the Clyde Workers Committee during the first world war in Glasgow.

But no matter who was in charge, the Labour party has never been a vehicle for socialism. If we can’t learn from the past 100 years’ experience, we are doomed to continually repeat our mistakes.

In its ‘glory days’ following the second world war, famous ‘socialist’ Prime Minister Clem Atlee introduced the NHS, took the mines and other vital industries into state ownership and so on, but he and his government did this in the context of a world emerging from the huge conflagration of 1939-45.

The various concessions that made up our ‘welfare state’ were made to people in Britain because other countries – socialist countries, like the USSR – had already provided, or were beginning to provide following their liberation, free health care, comprehensive education and decent housing to their people. British imperialism was forced to give these temporary concessions to British workers under pressure that they might follow the example of workers in the USSR and the emerging socialist countries and take what the rich would not give.

Our welfare gains were the result of the emergence of a strong socialist bloc internationally, and the pressure put upon the Labour party from the left at home by a relatively strong communist party and a militant trade-union movement. No such situation exists today.

What is also too often forgotten is that these concessions were given to the British workers for a price – and that price was paid in blood. Whilst the Labour party granted British workers these concessions, it continued to facilitate British imperialism’s extraction of vast superprofits from the enslaved, impoverished and wretched peoples who toiled in British colonies – in India, in Africa and in the Caribbean.

Whilst Clem Attlee gave British children a National Health Service to be proud of, he sanctioned the dispatch of British forces to visit death on men, women and children caught up in the brutal Korean war. As our mines were taken into public ownership, children were still being sent down African gold mines to dig and to die, and bonded labour eked out a wretched existence in the fields, farms and valleys of India and other British colonial possessions.

Malaya, whose rubber and tin were then the biggest single contributor to British imperial coffers at that time, was subject to a brutal colonial war, waged by the Labour government against the very forces who yesterday had been leading the local fight against the Japanese fascists.

And, as is now clear, all that was given to workers in this country was temporary. Successive governments have worked to privatise and claw back these sops, having done their job of buying social peace and allowing British imperialism to recover from the blows it had received during WW2.

Conservative and Labour governments in recent decades have both privatised industry and healthcare provision, have both introduced the market into education and have both waged brutal wars of aggression against weak countries for oil and for strategic reasons. Swapping Miliband for Corbyn will do nothing to stop this process.

We all want an end to austerity; we all want an end to war. The question is how to go about making these changes. The real fight the working class needs to wage is not clicking buttons online to register a vote for Jeremy. Communists, socialists and progressives need to organise our fellow workers; we need to sacrifice our time, resources and energies into developing and building a real alternative in our workplaces and communities to cuts, austerity and war.

The working class needs to project its own demands and to refuse to cooperate with the British imperialist agenda – both with the implementation of cuts and with the drive to war. It’s not an easy task, and it’s not going to be solved as easily as the Labour leadership election will be. We have a mountain to climb and time is against us.

We are faced with the deepest-ever economic crisis of the imperialist system, and with a drive to war that will end in World War 3 if our rulers are not stopped by revolution. Workers need secure homes, jobs, services and pensions, and the chance to live a decent and civilised life, free from poverty, exploitation and war, but imperialism is unable to meet these simple demands. Meanwhile, our very existence is under threat from climate change if the profit motive is not soon removed from global production.

In light of all this, our most urgent task is to build up a strong communist party, capable of training and organising working-class fighters who are ready to challenge British imperialism – whether it is represented in parliament by Tory or Labour hirelings. A hundred years of backing the Labour party has brought the working class in this country to its knees; we cannot continue to pander to the illusion that a change in that party’s leadership will bring about any of the transformations in society that our class so desperately needs.
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