Going into overdrive

On the one hand, the Morning Star is supporting Jeremy Corbyn completely uncritically, writes Peter Manson. On the other, it claims the real action is ‘on the streets’

Ben Chacko: turning SWP

The Morning Star and its Communist Party of Britain seems to have become a little disorientated by the success of Jeremy Corbyn. While the Star has always tended to big up Labour’s more radical-sounding policies, even under rightwing leaders, its support for Corbyn - including his many compromises - is now wholly and completely uncritical.

To give a few examples from last week’s coverage of Labour’s Liverpool conference, on September 26 the Star’s front-page lead was: “Labour sets our radical housing plan”. In other words, as the following article explained, “Labour will ban the sale of council homes until there is adequate provision of social housing.” On the next page the main story was “Labour supports public ownership” - in relation to the rail network only, since, in the words of Labour Party treasurer and Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland, “Transport is just too important to be left to the market alone.”

The following day the front-page headline read: “Labour’s Britain: bosses will pay real living wage” (September 27). This referred, of course, to John McDonnell’s commitment to a magnificent £10 an hour living wage - as opposed to the Tories’ plans for a mere £9 by 2020. The Star’s editorial that day was headed “A breath of fresh air” - it praised not only McDonnell’s living wage plans, but his “commitments on public investment”, his pledges to “create a national investment bank” and promise to repeal the Tories’ Trade Union Act.

By September 29, following Corbyn’s keynote speech, the Star was in overdrive. Its front-page lead was: “Socialism of the 21st century in our reach”. Of course, the Labour leader himself had used the words, “socialism of the 21st century”, but for so-called communists to confuse his mildly leftwing proposals for actual working class power is unforgivable. The article itself reported that, despite his rhetoric, Corbyn was merely promising that “Labour would end arms sales to murderous regimes and allow councils to borrow to build social housing”; and under Labour there would also be “in-sourcing” of council services and “beefed-up rights for self-employed workers”.

But that day’s editorial continued the theme: “Liverpool 2016 might be remembered as the conference which marked the revival of socialism in the Labour Party,” it read. This “revival of socialism” amounted to:

Policies for full employment, decent homes for all, job security, a first-class NHS, an education service that values children equally, public ownership of vital public services, no more ‘gross inequality’ in income and wealth, and a foreign policy centred on peace and justice.

Admittedly, that “does not constitute a programme for socialism”. Nevertheless, the Star concludes, all this represents “the vision of the first sincerely socialist leader of Labour since Michael Foot”.

So Michael Foot was a “sincerely socialist leader”, was he? While Star editor Ben Chacko is rather too young to remember the 1980 Labour leadership contest which saw Foot elected - it was the last to be decided by MPs only - one might have thought some of the old hands around him would have put him right.

Certainly Foot had been a member of Tribune, the main Labour left grouping, but by 1980 he was presenting himself as a ‘moderate socialist’ - someone able to beat the main rightwing candidate, Denis Healey. At that time the left, led by Tony Benn, was very much on the rise, demanding action against those who had cooperated with the disastrous policies of prime minister Jim Callaghan under the 1974-79 Labour government, which resulted in the ‘winter of discontent’ strike wave in 1978-79.

Foot had served in that government as secretary of state for employment before becoming leader of the house - his task was to try to hold together the Callaghan government with its ever shrinking majority. But, unsurprisingly, Labour was soundly beaten in the 1979 general election and now the Bennites were on the move. Tony Benn himself did not stand in the November 1980 leadership contest following Callaghan’s resignation - in addition to Healey and Foot, the other two candidates were Peter Shore, who based his campaign on the call for a British withdrawal from the European Economic Community, predecessor of today’s European Union; and John Silkin - another Tribunite, who was actually supported against Foot by sections of the left.

But, with Shore and Silkin eliminated in the first round, Foot was supported in the run-off against Healey not only by the left, but by MPs of the centre and even the right - he was thought by many to be best placed as a ‘compromise candidate’ able to finally see off the Bennite rebellion and leave the right in control. He was narrowly elected with the support of 139 Labour MPs, as against 129 for Healey.

So, no, comrades, by the time of his election Foot was far from being a “sincerely socialist leader”. The fact that - unlike Jeremy Corbyn - he was supported by so many rightwing MPs speaks for itself.

But this merging of the left and right in the minds of Chacko and co is not limited to the days of Michael Foot. The Star really seems to believe that Labour will now be able to unite behind Corbyn and win the next general election. Its September 26 editorial optimistically declared: “It’s curtains for the right”! True, the Star is aware that the right still dominates the Parliamentary Labour Party, but the PLP should now consider its position following Corbyn’s “resounding re-election”. The editorial naively asks whether the “vast majority” of MPs will “prefer party democracy” and disassociate themselves from “the Blairite minority that prefers Tory success over Labour victory from a left perspective”. The Star is hopeful that most will now “understand that ‘divided parties lose elections’ is a truism backed by a welter of empirical evidence”.

But, in any case, we should not get too distracted by what is going on in the Labour Party - surely everyone on the left realises that we ought to focus on defeating our main enemy. The editorial in the October 1-2 edition - the weekend immediately following the Labour conference - was headlined: “Tackling Tories is top priority”. Comrade Chacko explained:

It can be hard not to get bogged down in internal battles, and sometimes it’s necessary - the challenge to Corbyn’s leadership, once launched, had to be beaten. But - despite spectacular growth over the past year - most British people are not Labour members; most do not care who picks the shadow cabinet or sits on the NEC.

And who can blame them? After all, the Star now seems to share the opinion of the Socialist Workers Party, that the main task is to mobilise ‘on the streets’. So now it is time to “look beyond the wreckers” in the Labour Party: we must “start addressing the crippling problems faced by working people” and begin “challenging a government making them worse”.

The editorial goes on to explain:

The social movement we need to build rests on the sort of engagement we will see from members of the Labour Party and National Union of Teachers on street stalls this weekend, as it rests on the street activism trade unionists and activists of the People’s Assembly will demonstrate.

It’s become a cliché to say the left must unite and take on the Tories. But this weekend should be seen as our chance to do just that.

This is so pathetic, it is almost beyond words. While, of course, we welcome events like the October 2 People’s Assembly demonstration in Birmingham, you have to be really dim-witted to believe that a few thousand marchers outside the Conservative Party conference is an example of the left ‘uniting’ to “take on the Tories”.

Demonstrations can help build morale, but, of course, they are largely symbolic - and afterwards everyone goes back home, in this case leaving the Tories to continue rallying the troops undisturbed. In what way has the left ‘united’ in any meaningful sense? Have steps been taken to bring us together politically - critically within a single, principled Marxist party? Are we any nearer transforming Labour into a united front of exclusively working class organisations, with the pro-capitalist right soon to be a thing of the past?

The battle to transform Labour is a far higher, more concentrated form of the class struggle than any ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ demonstration.

peter.manson@weeklyworker.co.uk