Waiting for Corbyn
Tens of thousands rallied to Saturday’s anti-Trident demonstration. Peter Manson reports
The February 27 demonstration against the renewal of Trident was a big success in terms of the numbers mobilised - the marchers took 45 minutes to pass a given point on the route, while Trafalgar Square was crammed for the subsequent rally. I would estimate that around 30,000 supported the event - a mixture of experienced old hands and a welcome contingent of new young supporters.
No doubt the main organisers, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, were very pleased not just by the numbers mobilised, but also the range of speakers who came together on the platform. They included three party leaders - the Scottish National Party’s Nicola Sturgeon, Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru and, of course, the star of the show, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn. The chair of the rally, Kate Hudson, who is both CND general secretary and national secretary of Left Unity, also introduced a couple of dozen others, including ex-Trotskyists Tariq Ali and Vanessa Redgrave, veteran anti-nuclear campaigner Bruce Kent and Green MP Caroline Lucas.
According to another of the participating groups, the Stop the War Coalition, whose very own Lindsey German was another platform speaker, “Tens of thousands attended the biggest anti-nuclear march in a generation, calling for a new, more civilised foreign policy” (my emphasis - statement, February 29). Unfortunately “more civilised” just about sums up the kind of pacifism, liberalism and welfarism on display: not one speaker put forward any kind of working class politics.
Yes, nuclear bombs are “weapons of mass destruction”, capable of destroying the world several times over. Yes, they could be triggered accidentally. Yes, if they are a deterrent for Britain, then shouldn’t that apply to all non-nuclear states too? Yes, the £160 billion spent on Trident renewal would be a monumental, criminal waste of resources. Yes, the money would be far better spent, especially in this time of austerity, on health, education, housing …
But, for most of the Trafalgar Square thousands, the two hours of repetitious oratory was well worth enduring - unlike other such rallies that last as long, there was no noticeable exit despite the bitterly cold weather. The sense of anticipation, as the time approached for Corbyn to mount the platform, was palpable and he got a huge cheer when he finally arrived.
But it has to be said that his speech was a disappointment, certainly in terms of Labour’s own politics. True, he said he had been a committed campaigner for nuclear disarmament and a CND supporter from the outset, and so of course he was always going to address this demonstration. But he did not refer directly to the manufactured outrage of the Labour right and their supporters in the bourgeois press - for instance, Labour had apparently agreed to campaign for an ‘in’ vote in the European Union referendum on the very day of the demonstration, yet there was the party leader making a 10-minute speech on something completely different!
Michael Dugher, former shadow culture secretary, claimed: “For Jeremy to share a platform with many of Labour’s political opponents and denounce what is still Labour policy is quite frankly barmy.” Of course, Labour will not “share a platform”, let alone campaign jointly, with its “political opponents” in the lead-up to the June 23 referendum, will it?
In fact, while officially Corbyn was putting forward a line that is against Labour policy, a ‘defence review’ has been commissioned under shadow defence secretary Emily Thornberry, with the clear aim of reversing Labour’s current disgraceful support for the British ‘nuclear deterrent’ and Trident renewal. In fact that is why Corbyn’s deputy leader, Labour centrist Tom Watson, has urged prime minister David Cameron to call the parliamentary vote on Trident renewal “as soon as possible” - ie, before Labour’s policy can be officially changed (hopefully at its 2016 conference in September).
Of course, those dedicated partisans of winning elections for the sake of winning elections, Neil Kinnock and Peter Mandelson, both claimed that such a change of policy would cost Labour in 2020 - it is only common sense that the ability to slaughter hundreds of thousands in a few seconds is something that must be retained.
Meanwhile, the GMB union did its best to undermine the impact of the demonstration by issuing several statements alleging that a failure to renew Trident would mean the loss of “tens of thousands of jobs”. Gary Smith, GMB secretary in Scotland, described Corbyn and his supporters as “armchair generals”. He added: “Whether the professional posers with their brand of student politics accept it or not, the people of this country do believe Trident makes us more secure.”
The type of politics represented by that last statement is in reality an afterthought. What matters to most union bureaucrats is workers’ current jobs - whether they manufacture genocidal weapons or guard prison camps, obviously. In fact, although he did not name the GMB, Mark Serwotka gave a useful reply to this sort of sectionalism from Saturday’s platform. The PCS general secretary pointed out that his union represents thousands of job centre workers, but, if unemployment were abolished tomorrow, no-one would be more pleased than himself. His members could be redeployed to “useful work”.
But, once again, comrade Corbyn himself did not stray into such controversial territory. Nor did he say anything about the “serving British general”, who warned just after Corbyn’s election as Labour leader that if he became prime minister there would be “mass resignations at all levels” and “the very real prospect of an event which would effectively be a mutiny”.
Similarly he did not say anything about the internal Labour Party battle, which was a great pity. Think what a fillip it would have been, had he given a commitment to the thousands who had waited so long to hear him speak that he would fight to ensure that Labour’s defence policy was radically changed, irrespective of the views of the bourgeois establishment, union bureaucrats and ‘serving British generals’.