After a year’s hiatus, Labour’s annual conference begins this weekend. The event is set to be a showdown between Starmer, on one side, and grassroots members and left unions, on the other. The left must boldly take the fight to the right.
“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.” ― George Orwell, 1984
This year’s Labour Party conference in Brighton, which starts tomorrow, is taking place with Keir Starmer’s counter-revolution in full swing.
Many left delegates have been targeted and blocked, with comrades receiving letters in advance of conference threatening ‘auto-exclusion’ from the party – a blatant bureaucratic move, designed to shift the balance in favour of the right wing.
In particular, the Blairites hope to use this year’s conference to abolish the current ‘One Member, One Vote’ setup for leadership elections. In its place, they want to restore the old electoral system, giving the right-wing dominated PLP more power to block any left challenge in future contests.
But the aim of this counter-revolution is not simply to win votes at the conference, but to obliterate Corbynism and destroy the left. This is the right wing’s retribution for the Corbyn years, where they and the capitalist establishment lost control over the party.
In the Royalist counter-revolution that restored Charles II to the throne, all memory of the English revolution of the Cromwellian period had to be eradicated. Charles marked his ascendency not from 1660, but from 1649 – the day of his father’s execution. As part of this, Oliver Cromwell’s corpse was vengefully dug up and publicly hanged.
Likewise, the right wing has hung Corbyn out to dry, suspending the former leader from being a Labour MP. The task now facing Starmer and the Blairites is the complete eradication of Corbynism – even if it means the destruction of the Labour Party as we know it.
Join Rob Sewell and other comrades in Brighton tomorrow at the Socialist Appeal fringe meeting: Why are they really banning us?
Saturday 25 September, 7pm
Dorset Gardens Methodist Church
Socialist Appeal Labour Conference Fringe Meeting: Why Are They Really Banning Us?
Come and meet the Marxists Starmer hates at this year’s Labour Party Conference!
— Socialist Appeal (@socialist_app) September 2, 2021
Behind Labour’s right-wing purge stands the ruling class, who were horrified with Corbyn’s victory and the leftward transformation of the party. They were aghast at how well the party had done in the 2017 general election, which Labour could have won, had it not been for the sabotage by traitors inside the PLP and party HQ.
The ruling class was afraid – not so much of Jeremy Corbyn, but of the mass forces that were unleashed by his election as leader.
“Never again!” they snarled. It was they who launched the conspiracy to overthrow him, involving the bulk of the Parliamentary Labour Party and all the powers of the establishment, including the state.
As Marxists, we ask: What else would you expect from a ruling class that has ruthlessly defended its power and interests over centuries? They were never going to allow the Labour Party to remain in the hands of the left without a massive fight, no holds barred.
Starmer and the right wing are simply agents or tools of the ruling class, who are keen to do the bidding of their masters. The struggle in the party is therefore a reflection of opposing class interests.
The issue of anti-semitism was cynically used as a weapon in the witch-hunt against the left. This also suited the Israeli lobby, since the oppressed Palestinian people were thrown to the wolves. Nothing would be spared to crush the left.
Suspensions, expulsions, and ‘auto-exclusions’; gerrymandering; suppression of democratic rights; abolition of free speech: all of these methods have been used to silence and drive out the left / Image: Socialist Appeal
Although abolished in 1973, bans and proscriptions are again being reintroduced. The right wing are turning the party into “an ideological concentration camp”, to quote the words of Nye Bevan, who was also hounded by the establishment.
“The Bevanites were accused of every form of machination,” wrote Michael Foot. “It was the nearest the Britain of the 1950s saw to a McCarthyite essay in character assassination.”
Well history is repeating itself: first time as tragedy; second time as a farce, to quote Marx. Today’s farce is that there is no pretense to justifying the purge. The right wing are judge, jury, and executioner, with members given no right of appeal.
The NEC has banned three groups in the Labour Party, including ourselves: Socialist Appeal, the Marxist voice for Labour and youth.
We should recall the words of Michael Foot when the right wing threatened to ban Tribune: “First suppress the left-wing press, then forbid us all to speak, and you will get the sort of monolithic party which some people want.”
This is only the beginning of Starmer’s purge. They have set up a special – euphemistically named – witch-hunting unit to gather information and expel people. Similarly, in Orwell’s 1984, the Ministry of Peace was the ministry of war, the Ministry of Truth was the ministry of propaganda, and the Ministry of Love was the security forces.
Other bans and proscriptions will inevitably follow, including against Momentum. The idea that all will be well if only we somehow keep our head down is fanciful to say the least.
The right wing has tasted blood. They sense the timidity of the left and are emboldened by it. Having already expelled Socialist Appeal supporters and others, they will simply wait for the right moment to strike against the rest of the left, when morale has reached its low point.
We have to be honest, the reason why the right wing are in the ascendency and getting away with murder is due to the failures of the left.
The left should have acted when it had the chance under Corbyn to rid the party of this Fifth Column. As a starter, they should have brought in mandatory reselection (open selection) of MPs.
But the left leadership were seeking ‘unity’ with the right – seeking to appease them at every step, hoping this would pacify them. This simply invited further aggression, and encouraged Corbyn’s opponents to step up their sabotage.
The left-wing membership was prepared for this struggle, but were let down by the leadership, including the trade union leadership.
Those who talk of Labour being a ‘broad church’ are deceiving themselves and others. The party has never been a broad church. The right were prepared to tolerate the left as long as they were firmly in control. That all changed with Corbyn, which terrified them out of their wits.
We must tell the truth: You can never appease the right wing, as behind them lies the forces of capitalism. Instead, the left must organise to drive them out.
This weakness of the left arises from their reformist politics – the attempt to look for a solution to the problems of the working class under capitalism.
But there is no solution on this basis. Capitalism – especially British capitalism – is in its deepest ever crisis. Unlike in the past, it cannot afford reforms. It promises only austerity and attacks.
The idea that this is simply the result of ‘neo-liberalism’ is false. There isn’t a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ capitalism. The capitalist system everywhere is in crisis and attacking the working class.
There has never been a better time to fight for bold socialist policies.
Socialist Appeal supporters were in the forefront of the campaign to bring back the original Clause IV. There was a great grassroots response to this campaign, although much of the ‘official’ left ignored it.
As a result, at the 2019 Labour conference, 62% of local party delegates voted against the NEC and in favour of bringing back Clause IV. The left leaders were opposed to it, saying it was not the time.
When it was being discussed earlier in the year at the Unite policy conference, Corbyn’s office put pressure for it to be remitted or voted down. Come the Labour conference, the unions voted against the motion to restore Clause IV, with the NEC promising a review. But the review never came. That opportunity has now been lost by their timidity.
It is about time the left grew a backbone and came out fighting / Image: Socialist Appeal
It is about time the left grew a backbone and came out fighting.
Socialist Appeal raised the idea of a vote of no confidence in Starmer. We proposed a change to the constitution that would guarantee a leadership election if such a vote was passed at conference. The left failed to take up this idea, however, which could have been a real game changer if passed.
Now the left are on the back foot. Members have become increasingly disillusioned. Over 120,000 have left in despair, and more will no doubt follow suit.
It is great news that the Unite NEC has unanimously supported the call not to endorse David Evans, the general secretary. We also support this demand.
This is a case of attacking the monkey and not the organ grinder, however. There should have been a motion of no confidence in Starmer. There are such motions from different CLPs. But without the full backing from the left – including Momentum and the unions – they are likely to be sidelined.
In a war, you need to understand your enemy and how to defeat them. It is fundamentally a class question. The right wing represents an alien class interest – the interests of capitalism.
If we are to transform the Labour Party into a weapon to further the emancipation of the working class, then we need an all-out, knock ‘em down, drag ‘em out fight. Nothing more, nothing less. If such a fight is not undertaken, then the war is lost.
The attitude of Momentum and the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs, who have been extremely cautious to say the least, doesn’t auger too well for the future.
Some lefts have talked about ‘reducing the disunity’ in the party and ‘healing divisions’. These are absurd suggestions in the midst of this one-sided civil war being carried out by the Starmerites.
Any illusions about coexisting with the right wing should be burned out with a red hot iron. The left must completely abandon the idea of the ‘broad church’. After all, the right wing certainly has no compunction in destroying this myth.
Any talk of ‘unity’ with Starmer must be rejected. The left needs to come out fighting, or all will be lost.
The attacks of the right wing will hopefully concentrate the mind and galvanise a fighting spirit. If not, the left leaders will be responsible for the outcome. They would have squandered an opportunity to really take the fight to the right.
This begs the question: If the left fails to remove Starmer and go on the offensive, what is the perspective for the Labour Party?
Starmer will no doubt continue to pursue his purge of the left. Blair made it clear a few years ago that, in order to ‘restore’ the Labour Party to sanity, some 300,000 members would have to be removed. That remains the right wing’s aim.
However, even if the right wing re-establishes firm control over the party, reverts to the electoral college system, and drives tens of thousands more out of the party, this is not the 1950s, or even the 1990s, when the right were able to consolidate their grip.
Those were periods either of world economic upswing or relative boom. Today, by contrast, the situation for world capitalism is dire.
As in 2008, only more so, the working class will be asked to pay for the crisis. Austerity will be intensified, and the employers will step up their offensive. Massive attacks will rain down on the working class, intensifying the class struggle on the industrial front. This is where the main battles will unfold.
What do Starmer and the right wing have to offer under such conditions? These ‘realists’ will cut their cloth according to what capitalism can afford. After all, they are loyal servants of capitalism.
They will offer ‘austerity lite’; reformism without reforms. Such a programme will not inspire the working class. On their present performance, they could easily lose the next general election, despite the mess created by the Tories.
It will be the deepening crisis of capitalism that will undermine the right wing – both in the Labour Party, and also in the trade unions, as we see in Unite and Unison. They will be shattered and ground down by the crisis.
There will be a massive backlash against the right wing. Their grip within the Labour Party will be undermined. Much will then depend upon the affiliated trade unions, which will become radicalised in the crisis. They could crush the right wing if they were prepared to lift their little finger.
The idea of a new left party, which has been raised, has little traction under these circumstances. After all, the trade unions themselves are opposed to the idea, which is key.
Events, events, events – this is what will turn things upside down in the years that lie ahead.
Socialist Appeal – representing the growing forces of Marxism in Britain – will play our part in the battles that impend / Image: Socialist Appeal
We are in a period of sharp and sudden changes. The right wing will be like King Canute, trying to hold back the sea of the class struggle. Their future is doomed. They will be swept away by the revolutionary wave that is being prepared by the deepening crisis of capitalism.
The left needs to learn the lessons of this whole experience, however. There can be no half measures. When the opportunity arises, the left must go the whole hog, and clear out the right-wing riff-raff and careerism that plagues the labour movement.
Marxism explains that capitalism cannot be reformed, but must be overthrown. We need a leadership that is prepared to carry this struggle through to the end.
Today, as Marx and Engels wrote in 1848 in the Communist Manifesto, the workers have nothing to lose but their chains.
Socialist Appeal – representing the growing forces of Marxism in Britain – will play our part in the battles that impend. Marxism is more relevant now than at any time in the past. You cannot stop an idea whose time has come.
We need to return to the aspirations of Clause IV: the expropriation of the capitalists and the eradication of capitalism, to bring about the socialist transformation of society. This must be our aim. This is the future that we must fight for. But we need to reach out and seize it.
Join us in this struggle! Fight the purge! Build the Marxist tendency!
Crowdfunder appeal: Help us fight the Labour right at conference!
It is clear that Starmer and the Labour right wing will not stop until socialists are entirely expunged from the Labour party.
From Jeremy Corbyn to Ian Hodson; from Ken Loach to Pamela Fitzpatrick – they are determined to clear the party of its left wing, from top to bottom, in order to secure their rule on behalf of big business and the establishment.
This is also why Starmer and the right wing have proscribed the most determined class fighters within the party: the Marxists of Socialist Appeal.
Already they have expelled a member of our editorial board and dedicated activist, Ben Gliniecki. No doubt more ‘auto-exclusions’ are on their way.
But we will not bury our heads in the sand. Now is not the time to lie low and hide our ideas. Starmer and the Blairites are completely out of step with the revolutionary mood developing in society.
The fact that they are launching this purge while workers are suffering and dying as a result of the Tory government’s criminal incompetence and corruption speaks volumes. Starmer and the right wing have no answer to the crisis of capitalism, in Britain and internationally. In fact, they are part of the problem.
From attacks on wages and conditions; to housing evictions; to NHS privatisation and pay justice: the working class needs a socialist Labour Party to fight back against the onslaught coming our way, as the bosses and Tories look to make us pay for their crisis.
Bold socialist policies – not meek reforms or attempts to patch up capitalism – are urgently needed. And they will be demanded by more and more workers and youth as the crisis truly begins to bite.
Starmer and the right wing can try to expel socialists and Marxists from the party, but they cannot stop an idea whose time has come. History is on our side, not theirs.
Nevertheless, we still need resources to fight this struggle. As Cicero said, finances are the sinews of war.
We therefore call on grassroots activists to help support us – with your pennies and pounds – to fight back against the right, and to struggle for socialism.
In order to fight the purge, we will need to bring legal challenges, which will likely incur costly fees.
We are also planning a big intervention at this year’s Labour conference in Brighton, where we will lead the charge against the Labour right wing and their shenanigans.
This means producing a daily newsletter; running public stalls across the city; and hosting a fringe meeting to spread the ideas of Marxism, and to let the bureaucrats and Blairites know: we’re not going away!
Big business are happy to pour funds into right-wing organisations and factions such as Labour To Win, Progress, and Renaissance. By contrast, we rely only on the support of our supporters in the labour movement – and we are proud to do so.