Our attitude towards a Corbyn government
With the Tory election campaign mired in difficulties, Jack Conrad considers what is still an outside possibility.
Opinion polls show the gap between the Tories and Labour rapidly narrowing. The failure to deliver the October 31 “do or die” Brexit, Jacob Rees-Mogg’s contemptible Grenfell Tower remarks and Labour’s “take on the vested interests” campaign launch - all have played a role. Ironically, it is though the Brexit Party which is the joker in the pack. Although the wheels appear to be coming off Nigel Farage’s tightly controlled operation - three registered members and 150,000 paying ‘registered’ supporters - his 600 hand-picked Brexit Party candidates could, conceivably, still rob the Tories of their general election victory.
Because he has “surrendered Ulster”, agreed a compromise with Donald Tusk and abandoned a “clean-break Brexit”, Boris Johnson could be forced to leave No10 Downing Street after serving just 141 days as prime minister - a record short time in office, ‘surpassed’ only by Frederick (Viscount Goderich) Robinson’s 130 days and George Canning’s 119 days - both in 1827.
Doubtless, the demise of Johnson as prime minister would send various sections of the opportunist left into delirious celebrations. The likes of the Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Party in England and Wales, the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain, Labour Representation Committee, etc, loyally shouted ‘David Cameron, out, out, out’ … and they got Theresa May. Then they shouted ‘Theresa May, out, out, out’ … and they got Boris Johnson. and they got Boris Johnson. And since August 2019 they have shouted ‘Boris Johnson, out, out, out’.
But to single out this or that prime minister and demand their dismissal is “a silly comedy” (Lenin).1 What matters, at least in so far as communists are concerned, is not the personality: it is class. Substituting one career politician for another career politician changes little or nothing. A Tory government is a Tory government. A government of the capitalist class is a government of the capitalist class.
What about replacing a Tory government with a Labour government … crucially a Labour government headed by Jeremy Corbyn? Due to the vagaries of the first-past-the-post system, there exists an outside possibility of Jeremy Corbyn being asked to form a government on nothing more than 30%-35% of the popular vote. Oddschecker gives Labour a 16:1 chance of winning an overall majority and 11:2 of winning the most seats.2 But would a Labour government with Corbyn as prime minister mark a change in class power? That is the crucial question. And the only honest answer must be an unequivocal ‘no’.
It is perfectly understandable that those trapped on universal credit, gig workers on ‘flexible hours’, students facing a lifetime of debt, patients trying to navigate a chronically underfunded health service, teachers exhausted by oversized classes, protestors wanting action on climate change, might well be enthused by the promise to champion the interests of the many, not the few. But for publications such as the Morning Star, The Socialist and Labour Briefing to laud, celebrate, commend Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign as the “most radical and exciting plan for real change ever put before the British electorate” is to provide a socialistic mask for capitalism - a system which by definition works for the few, not the many.
Whatever Boris Johnson, Jo Swinson, Chuka Umunna and the idiot rightwing press say, Corbyn is no Marxist. He is, in fact, a sincere, but weak, badly advised, dithering left reformist, who on occasion feels the need to pepper his tame proposals with talk about the “principles of socialism”. The same goes for shadow chancellor John McDonnell. In his Who’s who entry McDonnell includes amongst his hobbies “generally fermenting [sic] the overthrow of capitalism” and replacing capitalism with a “socialist society”. No spelling mistake. Intended as a joke, it should be treated as a joke. Brewers ferment barley and water to produce beer. Communists foment revolution to make socialism (the first stage of communist society).
To their credit Corbyn and his small circle of allies have a record of opposing imperialist wars and adventures, standing in solidarity with striking workers and voting against Tory attacks on migrants, democratic rights and public services. This is what sends the US state department, army generals, MI5 chiefs and Blairite MPs into a frenzy. A Corbyn government would increase popular expectations, would upset big business, would be soft on Russia, China, Iran and other such sworn enemies.
However, since his election as Labour leader it has become abundantly clear what the class character of a Corbyn government would be. We say this not to assure the ruling class - rather to warn the working class. Socialistic rhetoric will be used to cover an absolute commitment to the continuation of capitalism. True, team Corbyn promises to reverse austerity, marginally increase the economic role of the state, repeal some anti-trade union laws and introduce a few minor constitutional reforms. At best that amounts to a chimerical, left nationalist attempt to run British capitalism in the interests of British workers.
Meanwhile, wage-slavery goes unquestioned. Indeed class collaboration is the accepted ethos. Corbyn recently boasted to ITV’s Richard Madeley of cosy meetings with the Confederation of British Industry, the Chambers of Commerce and small business associations, and how “we’ve got a lot of agreement on how we manage things on investment strategy”, etc, etc.3 Similar boasts come from McDonnell. In turn Josh Hardie, CBI deputy director general, freely admits that he likes McDonnell’s proposals on infrastructure, “engaging” with workers and investing in skills. The CBI and other business organisations also prefer Labour’s version of Brexit - staying as close as possible to the European Union.4
Ann Pettifor, the Keynesian economist, can be called as a witness. Having served with Labour’s Economic Advisory Committee, she vouches that a Corbyn government would be “good for business”, because it would be “economically expansionary”. Moreover, the Corbyn leadership “will ultimately turn out to be pragmatic”, she promises. “You just have to look at past Labour governments. The party is prepared to work with business and the City of London.”5 Believe her. She is assuredly right.
A Corbyn-led Labour government would not only be committed to maintaining capitalism. It would be committed to maintaining the UK’s existing constitution and the UK’s system of international alliances. That means the monarchy, the standing army, judge-made law, the Anglophone Five Eyes intelligence agreement, Nato and nuclear missiles jointly controlled by the US. In other words a conservative agenda.
Today the main political parties are vying with each other over spending promises. More money for the NHS, schools, police, pensions, welfare benefits, etc. The age of austerity is officially over. In all likelihood Labour will outbid the Tories and Liberal Democrats, though this is far from certain. Either way, editorially the Financial Times worries about debt-fuelled spending, fiscal sustainability and financial problems.6 However, the biggest worry of the capitalist class is that a Corbyn-led government would trigger a crisis of expectations; ie, demands for big pay rises, climate change emergency measures, scrapping Trident, Irish unity, Scottish and Welsh self-determination, trade union freedom, taking over empty houses, abolishing the monarchy, disestablishing the Church of England, etc.
That explains why the still thoroughly entrenched Labour right in parliament would, in all probability, act to block the formation of a Corbyn-led government - and therefore the distinct possibility of the monarch calling another candidate for prime minister to Buckingham Palace.
Nonetheless, a Corbyn-led government cannot be discounted. If it happens, we should expect constitutional and anti-constitutional moves by the privy council, the courts, the army high command, the deep state, the US administration, etc. So-called leftwingers who downplay such threats - eg, the former Trotskyite, Paul Mason - whatever their subjective intentions, constitute themselves as agents of a criminal complacency.
Perhaps the ruling class could reconcile itself to a Corbyn-led government. But only if: firstly, it further denounces its own past; secondly, it waters down its already thin programme; and/or, thirdly, there is a dangerous upsurge in popular protests or a major downturn in the world economy, which temporarily necessitates a left Labour government to serve as the best means of mass deception.
The collapse before the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt is a bellwether. The real meaning of the alleged anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is an unwillingness to endorse Israeli settler-colonialism, the alliance with the US and imperialist wars in the Middle East. It has nothing to do with combating genuine anti-Semitism - which is very rare nowadays in British society and even rarer in the Labour Party.
The appeasement of the Labour right, the failure to challenge blatant lies, the willingness to see good socialists such as Marc Wadsworth, Tony Greenstein, Jackie Walker and Chris Williamson investigated, suspended, sacked, expelled and publicly traduced can in no way be excused. And, where Jeremy Corbyn has been largely silent, John McDonnell has actually given succour to the witch-hunt, praised the warmonger, Tony Blair, and even called for his loyal spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, to be readmitted into the Labour fold. That despite Campbell’s public declaration for the Lib Dems.
Then there is the truly appalling role played by Jon Lansman and his Momentum organisation - praised by the Zionist Jewish Labour Movement. To their everlasting shame, Corbyn, McDonnell and Diane Abbott actively supported Lansman’s anti-democratic coup in Momentum. Surely they will find themselves in the ninth circle of hell.
If the Labour leadership is unable to show elementary solidarity with those targeted by a totally cynical witch-hunt, if the Labour leadership calculates that the bigger cause is served by taking such a course, it has betrayed not only its past: it has betrayed its future. Therefore, giving them a platform in the left press, promoting them as speakers on mass demonstrations, treating them as prestigious sponsors, calling such people ‘comrades’ is no longer acceptable. Corbyn and McDonnell are on a well-trodden road - before them went erstwhile leftwingers such as Ramsay MacDonald, Stafford Cripps, Denis Healey, Barbara Castle, Harold Wilson, Neil Kinnock and Gordon Brown.
Despite that damning assessment, the Provisional Central Committee of the CPGB calls for a Labour vote throughout Britain … but with no illusions. Indeed our aim is to overcome illusions.
We want to open eyes as to the real nature of the Corbyn leadership, fully empower Labour’s mass membership and bring about the circumstances whereby Labour is thoroughly purged of the pro-capitalist right and the leadership is won by real, not supposed, Marxists.
It would be correct, of course, to defend a Corbyn government against the right-dominated Parliamentary Labour Party, the liberal and rightwing media, the Tories, army generals, the deep state, Mike Pompeo’s attempts at “push back”, EDL fascists, etc. By doing that we first and foremost defend the conditions which allow the working class to make progress - not just in the Labour Party, but towards the mass Communist Party which alone can successfully lead the struggle to replace capitalism with socialism.
VI Lenin CW Vol 24, Moscow 1977, p197.↩︎
Daily Express October 29 2019.↩︎
The Observer September 22 2019.↩︎
Financial Times December 7 2017.↩︎
Editorial Financial Times November 6 2019.↩︎