Defend Corbyn where it really matters

Why do sections of the left refuse to call for people join the Labour Party? Peter Manson looks at the contradictions of the SWP and SPEW

This paper has been amongst those campaigning to defend Jeremy Corbyn against the right’s coup as part of the struggle to transform the Labour Party into a genuine instrument of the working class, one to which all working class organisations and left groups can affiliate.

Not only should all trade unions - to start with, the National Union of Teachers, Public and Commercial Services, and Rail, Maritime and Transport unions - be won to affiliate, but the party must be opened up to the participation of left groups, through the removal of all bans and proscriptions.

Labour must be thoroughly democratised. The Parliamentary Labour Party must be made answerable to conference and to the leadership of an accountable national executive committee. We must prepare to deselect the coup-makers and the Blairite pro-capitalists.

Of course, there are left groups mobilising within the Labour Party to defend Corbyn: the media have picked up on the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and Labour Party Marxists, for instance. But, rather ludicrously, mainstream commentators and Labour rightwingers also talk about the current role within Labour of the Socialist Workers Party and even the “Militant Tendency” - a group that ceased to exist more than 20 years ago and whose comrades went on to form today’s Socialist Party in England and Wales. But ironically both the SWP and SPEW have refused to call upon people to join the pro-Corbyn fight where it really matters - within the party.

For example, this week’s Party Notes, the SWP’s internal bulletin, states:

Corbyn himself seems to be prepared to stand his ground. Why shouldn’t he, with Labour’s membership standing at 600,000 - the highest figure in modern times? And despite today’s Guardian report this isn’t because the SWP is secretly entering the Labour Party (ho ho)!1

In fact, like SPEW, the SWP’s position is for people to ‘Defend Corbyn from the outside’. Absurdly the SWP seems to believe that the internal Labour fight is not a concentrated form of the class struggle - instead we should ‘build the movement’ where it really counts - ie, ‘on the streets’, by striking, demonstrating, marching, etc. And, as everyone knows, while winning votes at NEC and Constituency Labour Party meetings, deselecting MPs, etc, is all very well and good, events like this weekend’s London demonstration, called jointly by the People’s Assembly and the SWP’s very own Stand Up To Racism, are where real politics is played out.

The latest Socialist Worker even carries a short report of a Momentum rally headed: ‘It’s crucial to build outside of Labour’. Apparently, according to the report, “Corbyn is Labour leader because of support from social movements.” Yet groups like Momentum believe that “the only struggle that really matters is inside the Labour Party. Concretely that meant not a single speaker mentioned this Saturday’s People’s Assembly and Stand Up to Racism demonstrations.”2

A senior SWP figure, Karen Reissman, stated bluntly at last week’s Marxism school: “The real battles are outside the Labour Party” and so the most important job for the SWP is to “build resistance against austerity”.3 And this week’s Party Notes explained:

That’s why the ‘No to austerity, no to racism’ demos this Saturday … are so important. We have to go all out to bring everyone who opposes austerity and racism onto the streets, whatever way they voted in the referendum. Mass mobilisations can help to shift the mood and give confidence to all those who want to see greater resistance. They can also give a boost to those who support Corbyn in the face of the assault from the Labour right.4

So, although Socialist Worker’s lead article this week is ‘Defend Jeremy Corbyn from the right wing in the Labour Party’, readers are left in no doubt as to where the real action must take place. True, “Corbyn has the resounding support of the vast majority of Labour’s members and supporters” and “Labour’s membership has more than doubled since Corbyn was elected, and more than 130,000 people have joined the party since June 23 - most of them to support him against the right.” But among them you will not find those following the lead of the SWP.

Socialist Worker urges: “Trade unionists need to step up pressure on their union leaders to keep backing Corbyn.” Quite right, but for the SWP this is a highly contradictory statement: it actually mobilises within unions like PCS against affiliation to the Labour Party. Presumably “backing Corbyn” means that the likes of Mark Serwotka should issue the occasional statement in his support - the concrete impact that the affiliation of PCS and its 200,000 members would have is of no concern to the SWP.

No, stick to rallies and demonstrations: “… the support for Corbyn on the streets has to feed into a movement against austerity and racism that can strengthen him and the left more broadly.”

Bourgeois party?

In a sense the position of SPEW is even more contradictory. That is because for many years it was marked out by a dogged commitment to doing exclusively Labour Party work. Militant Tendency, aka the Revolutionary Socialist League, refused to admit it was anything other than a group of Labour Party supporters. Added to which was a ludicrous dismissal of all non-Labour groups as a sectarian irrelevance (eg, the Communist Party, SWP, etc).

Indeed SPEW still tries to gain credibility by reliving its so-called glory days. Eg, the editorial in this week’s The Socialist boasts: “In the 1980s, we, as the Militant Tendency in the Labour Party, led the successful mass struggle of Liverpool council against the Thatcher government’s funding cuts.” Leaving aside the fact that the struggle in Liverpool ended in an unmitigated disaster, the editorial goes on: “To those who today fear that Corbyn could be ‘unelectable’ in a general election, we draw attention to the soaring of votes for Liverpool Labour Party during that struggle, illustrating the huge popularity of a serious anti-cuts fight.”5

So what is stopping the comrades from making the call for working class activists to join the Labour Party?

The editorial, headed ‘Step up the campaign to back Corbyn’s fight’, makes a number of OK points:

[The NEC vote] is a victory, reflecting the enormous pressure from Labour Party members and trade unionists, to allow Corbyn on the ballot paper; that this completely undemocratic attempt to remove him from standing has been defeated.

It goes on:

With justification, most supporters of Jeremy Corbyn in the labour and trade union movement believe that unity in the Labour Party on the basis of democratic decision-making and an opening up of the party’s structures would be the best way forward. But the political fault-lines are increasingly irreconcilable - this is fundamentally a battle between those in the party who represent big business interests and those who want to represent the 99%.

And importantly there are growing calls from the party’s rank and file for the right to deselect MPs who don’t reflect the views of party members

What is ironic about all this is the fact that, ever since Militant abandoned its work within Labour a quarter of a century ago, the leadership around Peter Taaffe has insisted that the party had ceased being a bourgeois workers’ party and, under Neil Kinnock and Tony Blair, was transformed into a bourgeois party pure and simple. So what is this about Labour’s current “political fault-lines” between “those in the party who represent big business interests and those who want to represent the 99%”? Ignoring the “99%” popular frontist gibberish, that sounds rather like a bourgeois workers’ party to me.

So is SPEW now admitting that its previous position had been disastrously wrong? That Labour had actually been a bourgeois workers’ party even under Blair? Or is it saying that it has somehow been re-transformed? Either way, for the moment, SPEW’s position remains one of trade unionists, working class militants and socialists defending Corbyn from the outside.

We, on the other hand make the call for all trade unionists, working class militants and socialists to defend Corbyn where it really matters ... in the leadership vote, on the NEC, in CLPs, in selecting and reselecting MPs and councillors. Join the Labour Party!



1. Party Notes July 11 2016.

2. Socialist Worker July 12 2016.

3. See ‘Parroting the “party” line’ Weekly Worker July 7 2016.

4. Party Notes July 11 2016.

5. The Socialist July 12 2016.