It will not have failed to grab the attention of anyone who has even a vague interest in politics that on 12th September Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North was elected leader of the Labour Party in England. The left has declared this a great victory for the working class and for socialism, indeed the run up to the ‘primary’ style of election for Labour’s leader saw a frenzy of activity by the left in England from diverse tendencies as Workers Power to the Communist Party of Britain, they have all united to sign up as Labour Party ‘supporters’ and vote for Corbyn. Yet Corbyn was elected despite this mobilisation of the left and not because of it, there were many people, especially trade union members and the youth who signed up and voted for him, and guaranteed his victory. Many people wish to see a change in the moribund and stale political landscape in Britain, they want an end to austerity and greater democracy and civil rights, which the Tories are hell bent on eroding. This is all well and good, but the left are presenting this as some kind of advancement toward socialism, even revolutionary socialism, they are however seriously mistaken.
To be sure the British ruling class is angered by the promotion of Corbyn to leader of Her Majesties Opposition because it will raise certain demands which Corbyn himself is putting forward and raises calls for greater democracy. The reactionary press has gone into Corbyn baiting override the past week. The ruling class is not at all united on everything though, and the very capitalist crisis we are living through creates divisions within the ruling class. Sections of the ruling class are not as irrational and stupid as the Tories and Blairites, they see the danger of a fight back from the working class, the poor and unemployed youth, and they have not forgotten the uprisings of 2011. They also fear a mass movement emerging against austerity, such as has been occurring in Spain, Ireland and Greece. Indeed even right wing media mogul Rupert Murdoch gave some endorsement to Corbyn claiming that he ‘Seems only candidate who believes anything, right or wrong’1. The Labour Party led by Corbyn represents an opportunity to divert any mass activity or anger into impotent parliamentary protest just as the Union bureaucrats currently divert anger away from any activity which could undermine the system. Corbyn’s candidature was not a decision of the masses or a mass movement, it was from Labour MPs who are pretty reactionary and support British imperialism. Margaret Beckett the former Foreign Secretary said her decision to nominate Corbyn was because they needed a ‘field of candidates’ to ‘widen the debate’.2 So they were prepared to run the risk of a Corbyn victory, of course to many of these reactionaries it is not the choice they wanted but for certain sections it will be an important tool to keep the working class in its place, leaving politics to the politicians, in this case more progressive and honest ones.
Many people have now joined the Labour Party as a result of Corbyn’s election to leader, 67,000 by the end of September and some are saying it represents the beginning of a mass party of the working class. This is not anything new though, its membership is now 380,000 in 1997 under Blair it rose to 400.000, and in the 1950’s it was over 1 million3, in both cases the Labour Party was still reactionary. Earlier this year in the run up to the general election the Green Party saw a surge in membership, which by January had surpassed UKIP and the Liberal Democrats for no doubt the reasons Labour is now seeing a surge.4 The Greens had an anti-austerity reformist programme which appealed to many people, as Corbyn is now, in fact many of the same people may be joining who joined the Greens and indeed many former Labour members who were disillusioned by Blair and the invasion of Iraq. These political trends of the Greens and Corbynism are left liberalism and do not propose to transform the property relations and production relations of capitalism and end the parasitic imperialist system, even if they vaguely expressed such desires they would not be able to grant such changes through the capitalist state. Just because a mass party takes shape does not mean it can wield power or be revolutionary as the Trotskyites are currently promoting. The Labour Party up until the current changes which came about through the Colin’s Review had a large Trade Union affiliated membership, this did not make it a party of the working class. The argument that it does is economism and rejects the need to build political consciousness in the working class so that the working class becomes a class for itself. The Trotskyites dogmatically argue that working in the Labour Party is necessary because Lenin called the Labour Party a bourgeois workers party and in his polemic against the ultra-left Left Wing Communism: An infantile disorder he called for work in the Labour Party to expose its leaders. That was in 1920! Then Labour had not yet formed a government to expose its illusions and was not organised with individual membership as it is now, Communists could attend General Committee Labour Party meetings if they were delegates from a Trades council. The need to expose Labour has long passed and its membership structure was created to exclude Communists and revolutionary workers. Note that Lenin called it a bourgeois workers party i.e. it is bourgeois with an appeal to workers, but bourgeois all the same. Its history of governance has been one of broken promises, racism, war and colonial exploitation. It could not be anything else, and under Corbyn it will not fundamentally change.
The Labour Party is a party of British Imperialism and serves its interests as does the Conservatives and Lib Dems, it is a bureaucratic fortress which is geared up to supporting Parliament and the British state. Revolutionaries need to approach the Labour Party in this way and not on the basis of leftist rhetoric spoken by some of their leaders, the party apparatus itself and the capitalist state will always ensure that it remain rhetoric. Corbyn and the other leftist MP’s do not believe in revolution, they believe that either reforms can give power to ordinary people or that capitalism can be managed fairly and more efficiently. They will never seriously question the existence of the British state and its instruments of repression, these leftists will therefore never oppose imperialism. The history of the revolutionary working class movement in the twentieth century is testament to the impossibility of even those who thought they were revolutionary being able to take on the capitalist state through the electoral process. The mass Communist Parties of France and Italy in their quest to reach out for electoral success abandoned every revolutionary principle and eventually any pretence at wishing to achieve a socialist transformation of society after they had become comfortably incorporated into the parliamentary imperialist state. Any party even Communist will degenerate if it basis its work on electoral support, the ideological hegemony of the ruling class through their control of media and culture means at most times the majority of the population of an imperialist country will support right wing ideology and backwardness and then the Party will have to tailor itself to such ideology to win votes. If revolutionaries can become incorporated into the system it is a sure thing that radical liberals and reformists will pose no threat.
The left including revisionists around The Morning Star and an assortment of Trotskyite sects are playing straight into the hands of the capitalist class as they enthusiastically sign up to Labour and reformism. This was not unforeseen for these so called ‘revolutionaries’ have always pandered to the Labourites and made demands which were either reformist or could not possibly be implemented under capitalism, those groups who were on the outside of Labour such as the Communist Party of Britain or the Socialist Party (formerly Militant Tendency) had their own reformist agendas via TUSC (Trade union and socialist coalition) and No 2 EU, appealing to old Labour style voters, and harking back to the days when some of them were part of Labour’s local government ‘jobs for the boys’ gravy train in Liverpool, now they have all simply returned to where they politically belong. Back to Labourite reformism!
Many of those now attracted to the Keynesianism of Corbyn and McDonnell will be looking back to a more stable era of capitalism and one in which life was easier for them, this is not revolutionary though and the job of Communists must be to educate the working class, oppressed and exploited layers of the masses of their own role in changing society of taking power and consciously master the productive forces and nature for the benefit all humanity. We cannot sew illusions the masses hold in reforms or a more efficient capitalism. Reforms have only been possible in the past through the ruthless oppression and super exploitation of the former colonial nations. After the Second World War the Labour government, which Corbyn and his followers hold up as a model, began extensive social programmes and introduction of trade union rights in Britain while in the colonies they mercilessly crushed national liberation struggles, outlawed trade union activity, butchered and starved peasants. This repression meant they could exploit the colonies as never before and give some of the spoils to the British working class via social welfare reforms. The left of Labour are the left of imperialism, steeped in Eurocentrism. The social strata they represent, mainly the middle strata and better off workers, have benefited from imperialism and therefore consciously or not identify with imperialism and will not challenge it. This was most evident in the run up to the invasion of Iraq when there was such widespread opposition and the largest demonstration in British history, yet the Stop the War coalition leadership (which can count Corbyn as its former Chair) did nothing except march everyone up to Hyde Park and march them down again! It appealed to left Labour MPs to try to force Parliament to wait for UN approval. No serious challenge was mounted at all, even against the war if it was ‘legal’. The left Labour leaders play the same role now.
The imperialist system must be defeated and overthrown, otherwise there cannot be a socialist transformation. Most of the Labour left do not see this and from Ukraine to Syria have supported imperialism in the name of ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’ the old colonial ‘civilising the natives’ mentality. Those of the Trotskyites who do try to oppose imperialism do their opposition complete disservice by burrowing away in Labour Party wards at which they are ignored and appealing to Labour and Trade Union leaders or campaigning for the election of any Labour government. The ideology of social democracy must be challenged in the working class and not encouraged. The actual Labour Party itself represents mainly the professional middle strata and union bosses. The most progressive sections of these people must be won over but not via Labour. The sections of the working class bearing the brunt of the crisis are not involved. It is these people who have the power to transform society and the oppressed peoples fighting imperialist domination of their nations. Revolutionaries fight to educate all workers whether or not they support Labour, when material conditions change so does consciousness, there is nothing to say a Labour supporter or voter will more likely become revolutionary than a worker who voted Tory or does not vote, is a member of a union or not.
The desire for the new Labour leadership to oppose the movement for independence in Scotland is proof of their commitment to the British imperialist state. They have also been silent about the latest British bombing of Syria. Despite their humanitarian stance on the Syrian refugees they have failed to clearly expose that it is Anglo-American imperialism and NATO who is responsible for their plight and who are responsible for the war. We need only look at the shadow cabinet to see how pro imperialist it will be. The shadow Home Secretary is Andy Burnham who was desperate to bomb Syria, the Shadow leader of the House of Commons is arch imperialist Chris Bryant who publicly spouted Russiaphobic racism on TV programme ‘Question Time’ and called for war against Russia over Ukraine. The shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn when questioned about Corbyn commitment to scrapping Trident and leaving NATO said ‘I don’t think that is going to happen’.5 Now Corbyn cannot say whether he will insist on voting against the government’s plans to bomb Syria on the basis of maintaining unity behind his leadership. Even moderate leftism is kept in check by the right, such is the ruling class’s fear of allowing any concessions which may harm their plans. Corbyn had within days capitulated on singing the national anthem at future events and British membership of the EU. That is nothing new and we have seen it with Syriza in Greece. There is also now a host of Liberal Democrats defecting to Labours ranks, a councillor in Richmond and a Baroness in the House of Lords,6 these people are not socialists but probably have a desire to relieve the suffering of the poorest victims of austerity and can also recognise when the system needs to appease the working class otherwise there may be trouble.
The reactionary press is giving the new Labour leader a thorough goading, which will no doubt make him more compliant to their current needs. If however this fails then the old methods of control are never far to hand for the ruling class. Reports appeared in the press on the 20th September from an unnamed British General in which he threatened mutiny by the armed forces if Corbyn became Prime Minister. Imperialist states generally don’t like to resort to naked dictatorship they rely on ideological hegemony and exploitation of oppressed nations, however the possibility of a coup is never ruled out. So any government threatening the state of affairs the ruling class wishes to prevail must either back down or face the gun! Like Syriza, Corbyn, Labour and the Trade Union movement will never prepare the working class to defend itself in such circumstances. Communists should of course always defend progressive sections of the ruling class and politicians who support democratic rights against the reactionary media and Generals but this does not mean we support them politically.
The fact that there is a moderate opposition to austerity in parliament is a reflection at growing opposition to the crisis and the wars and poverty it is producing. Labour and the left can try and divert the stream but it will increasingly become a torrent. Faced with this the Labour Party will probably split and fragment. Either Corbyn will stick to his Keynesian policies and the right will break away or he will be forced out with the left tailing behind. This could of course expose social democracy to the many workers and activists who have recently rallied to Corbyn’s anti austerity image and present an opportunity for revolutionary Communists to build a genuine resistance to imperialism and its crisis. Revolutionary Communists have always and will always fight for reforms in order to make it easier for the working class and oppressed to be able to organise, educate, and defend ourselves against capitalism, but these reforms are temporary and will be turned to benefit the ruling class, they will not allow the working class to ever get the upper hand whichever ruling class party is in power. Corbyn’s policies of state ownership with participation and greater freedom for unions could easily become a means of incorporating the workers and employees into the management of the global capitalist market for the benefit of imperialism as was the case in the 70s throughout Western Europe. We fight for reforms to benefit our struggle against capitalism and not to pretend it will lead to socialism as the Trotskyites do. Labour and the Tory Parties are two wings of the same bird of prey – imperialism- and the working class must be prepared to fight the British imperialist state whichever of these two parties is in power.
1 Rupert Murdoch comes out in support of Jeremy Corbyn, The Spectator, 20th August 2015, http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/steerpike/2015/08/rupert-murdoch-comes-out-in-support-of-jeremy-corbyn/
2 Margaret Beckett: I’m a ‘moron’ for nominating Jeremy Corbyn, The Spectator, 22 July 2015, http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/steerpike/2015/07/margaret-beckett-im-a-moron-for-nominating-jeremy-corbyn/
3 More People joined Labour since Jeremy Corbyn became leader than are Lib Dems, John Stone, The Independent, 22nd September 2015
4 Green membership surge takes Party past Lib Dems and UKIP, Rowena Mason, The Guardian, 15th January 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jan/15/green-party-membership-surge-leaders-debates
5 Quoted from ‘British Army could stage mutiny under Corbyn’,The Independent on Sunday, 20th September 2015
6 Teddington councillor Jennifer Churchill defects from Lib Dems to Jeremey Corbyn’s Labour, Your Local Guardian, 22 September 2015