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Proletarian issue 74 (October 2016)
Jeremy Corbyn re-elected – Labour’s war set to continue
Turmoil is set to continue in the Labour party for some time as the imperialist-backed right wing refuses to back down, despite the clear wishes of party members.
As has been widely reported, left social democrat Jeremy Corbyn trounced his rightist challenger in the latest Labour leadership election, securing 313,209 votes to Owen Smith’s 193,229. With 61.8 percent of the vote, Mr Corbyn emerged from the contest with an even larger majority than he secured when he was unexpectedly elected as leader a year ago.

What makes this result even more noteworthy is the fact that the overwhelming majority of the corporate media were promoting Smith as the ‘sensible’ candidate, while portraying Corbyn as some kind of ‘hard-left’ nutter. Moreover, a good quarter of Corbyn’s supporters among the party’s members and registered supporters were disenfranchised before the vote took place. Shehab Khan, political columnist for the Independent, estimates that Labour could have banned more than 200,000 members or supporters from voting or joining on very spurious grounds. (See Jeremy Corbyn makes his move over claims the leadership contest is being rigged by James Wright, The Canary, 6 September 2016)

What is at play here is not simply the power of Mr Corbyn’s charisma, charm and adherence to principle – after all, most of those who now so vehemently support him had never heard of him before last year. Rather, it is the burning desire of British workers to find a sane alternative to the hideously flawed and murderous system under which we live.

It is unfortunate that presently so many workers believe that social democracy – albeit of the ‘left’ variety – could be the means of securing this change, but that will surely change as life exposes all the misleading ideas that are presently being foisted upon the working class. As the crisis escalates, we are sure to be presented with ample proof of the simple impossibility of securing fundamental change via a mere change in the faces that administer the capitalist state – no matter how good the intentions of this or that seemingly ‘nice’ or ‘pro-worker’ bourgeois politician.

Labour’s war likely to continue

At the time of writing, the response to Mr Corbyn’s victory has been somewhat muted from enemies and supporters alike. While the battle lines for the next stage of the war are not yet fully drawn up, it is already crystal clear that the defeated group of rightist plotters are not going to throw in the towel. Owen Smith, Yvette Cooper, Hilary Benn and Chuka Umunna are among the prominent Labour MPs who have said quite categorically that they would not be prepared to join a shadow cabinet led by Corbyn. Several of them, meanwhile, are seeking to become chairs of prominent parliamentary select committees – supposedly to ‘resist the Tories’, of course, not their own leader!

Just days before the election result was announced, Clive Betts MP successfully moved a motion at a Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting proposing the return to the system whereby the PLP elects the majority of the shadow cabinet. This resolution was carried by 169 MPs, with just 34 opposing and one active abstention (26 MPs did not vote at all). The motion will now be passed on as a request that the National Executive Committee (NEC) bring forward a rule change proposal at next year’s annual conference.

Previous Labour leader Ed Miliband had ended the practice of electing the shadow cabinet in 2011, arguing that a leader should be free to pick his own team, and he was supported at the time by 196 votes to 41 in the PLP. Betts has claimed that his proposal to revert to the old rule is aimed at “promoting party unity”, but clearly the aim is to constrain Corbyn’s ability to take actions that are in line with the wishes of those who elected him. Elections by the present PLP would undoubtedly remove his supporters from the shadow cabinet. (See Labour MP Clive Betts calls for return of shadow cabinet elections, Daily Mail, 2 September 2016)

Corbyn, for his part, is floating the idea that the entire party membership could be involved in the process of shadow cabinet selection – an idea that not unnaturally terrifies the majority Labour MPs, since it would mean that they would become more accountable to their constituency parties and the wider membership than hitherto.

Another potential battleground is the proposal being put forward by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell for the Labour party conference to change the rules on leadership elections so that MPs would only need nominations from 5 percent of the PLP to stand for the leadership – a position clearly not to the liking of the right social democrats, who, should they succeed in getting rid of Corbyn, certainly don’t want another ‘lefty’ coming along in his place.

Who’s afraid of Jeremy Corbyn?

In the build-up to this year’s conference, the rightists were playing up their assertions that Corbyn supporters are some type of violent revolutionaries (if only!) and that they, as his opponents, live in fear of being set upon. Labour MP and anti-Corbyn warrior Ruth Smeeth claimed that she would be bringing a bodyguard to the party conference after receiving “thousands” of death threats on social media. And why wouldn’t we take these fears seriously? After all, there are rumours that windows near to two Labour MPs’ offices were broken by unknown brick throwers in the run-up to the leadership election. Quel horreur!

The great and good of Labour who have issued such dire warnings (and been duly ignored by the mass of Labour members and supporters) are now waiting for (some might say drooling at the thought of) an electoral disaster for their party so that they can once again ramp up their sanctimonious lectures on the evils of allowing lefties into the leadership.

Writing in the New Statesman, previously defeated leadership candidate David Miliband recently warned against “the critique that everyone who disagrees with Jeremy Corbyn is in fact a closet Tory – or ‘Tory lite’”. He asserted that Corbyn’s supporters had failed to accept that government entails compromise and accused them of embracing “the sectarianism that leads to the dead end of permanent opposition”. (David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back, 21 September 2016)

While they do everything in their power to be rid of him, Corbyn himself is bending over backwards to keep all these rightists in the party, speaking of his desire to offer them olive branches and to make compromises. After back-tracking on nuclear weapons, Nato membership and Brexit (to name but three of the concessions made so far in the hope of keeping these snakes and their ruling-class backers on board), one might wonder whether he could afford to be seen giving way on many more of the dearly-held principles that have made him so popular among the Labour rank and file – but that is a question for Mr Corbyn and his allies to ponder.

Meanwhile, those who have worked so hard to undermine Corbyn’s leadership will continue to do so, while those who have followed him this far, affording him near-messiah status, may not have to wait very long to start becoming disillusioned and to begin drifting away. The left social democrats, revisionists and Trotskyites in his fan club will doubtless declare every Corbyn climb-down to be a statesman-like victory, but the truth will be there for all who are prepared to use their eyes to see.

In the name of ‘unity’ and ‘for the sake of the Labour party’, there may be nothing that Corbyn will not throw overboard, and yet there is a unity already among the social democrats of all hues: it is the unity of those who are terrified of the working class and of working-class state power; of those who seek only a ‘nicer’ shade of capitalist exploitation and oppression; of those who believe that in a world upon which various imperialist entities squat and squabble and try to stifle any independence or working-class movement in their thirst for maximum profits, there really can be ‘peace’ just because we wish for it.

It might seem somewhat baffling to some of our more class-conscious readers that the bourgeoisie, knowing and understanding the real programme of left social democracy, should seem to be so scared of the mild-mannered Mr Corbyn and the extremely modest aims of the movement that is forming around him. But their fear is less to do with the man himself and his reformist ideals, than with the timing of his arrival on the scene. It is not scary to the ruling class that Corbyn and co believe that capitalism can be made nicer, but only that they are presenting such a vision at a time of deepening capitalist crisis, when the means for delivering a better life for workers within the confines of the capitalist system are drying up fast.

At a time when the working class is required by the ruling class to be totally cowed and bereft of any hope of freeing itself from the dead hold of imperialism, when workers are being primed to expect nothing but more austerity, insecurity, inequality and war, hopes have arisen and resistance is fomenting. Suddenly, workers and young people are looking for alternative ideologies. They are becoming more prepared to believe in themselves and a significant, though not yet nearly big enough, number are starting to seek out the teachings of Marxism Leninism as a guide by which to live, work and fight.

This is the threat that the Corbyn phenomenon represents to the capitalists: the growing sense that somewhere there is an answer to the question ‘How can we build a better world’ that workers are not being offered by the bourgeois parties, and a growing awareness of the possibility and even necessity of working people making demands in their interests and organising themselves to achieve them. As the limitations of the Labour party as a vehicle for achieving any meaningful change for workers exposes itself more and more, so ever-increasing numbers of those sincere folk who have jumped onto the Momentum bandwagon will turn away.

Our party is ready to offer a home to all those who are ready to accept that only a genuine struggle for socialist revolution will bring about the bright and secure future to which all workers aspire.
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