LABOUR’S SHATTERING DEFEAT at the hands of Boris Johnson is a bitter day for millions of class conscious workers and most young people. Their hopes of reversing the ravages of austerity, of seriously addressing climate change, of breaking the shackles on the unions, have been cruelly dashed. Armed with a huge Commons majority, with a blank cheque of a manifesto, we must prepare for a Johnson cabinet of Thatcher disciples that will launch a vicious series of economically and socially reactionary policies.
Britain will leave Europe on January 31, 2020 with a government determined to make a bonfire of workers’ rights and environmental regulations and to open the country’s economy to Trump’s “massive” trade deal. The carnival of reaction that internationalist socialists warned of in 2016 will become even worse as our fellow workers from the continent are pressured to leave.
In short, a cold, dark decade is dawning – one whose challenges will include the chaos of Brexit, an approaching severe recession, the onset of climate change and the threat of war as Trump seeks to make America great again. All this points to the inevitability of hard class struggles ahead.
Both the Labour party and the trades unions need urgently to draw the lessons of this defeat if they are to be made fit for those struggles. They will not be won on social media or by electioneering and business as usual, they will have to be fought out on the streets and in the workplaces. For that we need a fighting party and Labour has shown itself to be anything but that.
Though the Corbyn movement more than doubled the size of the party it did not put its MPs and councillors under democratic control, it did not give the youth who campaigned for him any real say in party policy. Worse, for three years it kept half a million members immobilised except for electioneering.
Defeat on such a scale points to a fundamental failure of strategy. Of course, there was a press campaign of vilification. Of course, the right wing of the party connived at the accusations of antisemitism and terrorism and that contributed to the defeat. Of course, the media vilified Corbyn himself, aided by the attempt to build a personality cult around him it has to be said. But all of this was to be expected and a worthwhile strategy would have to counter that, not keep apologising not just for its principles but even for entirely untrue, fabricated charges.
The fundamental errors were twofold. First was appeasement of the right wing of the party, then of the Zionists and then, the crucial error, of the “Lexiteers”. Second was the failure, for three whole years, to turn Labour into a party that fought the austerity measures of the Tories and didn’t just wait for an election.
The unwillingness, indeed the refusal, to lead an open fight against the right lay behind the refusal to allow the wave of new recruits to the party to become an independently minded political current within the party. The mechanism for this was support for Lansman’s coup in Momentum, which turned a promising initiative into first a diversion and then a barrier.
Appeasement of the right turned Jeremy Corbyn’s principled record of support for workers’ movements at home and anti-imperialist movements abroad, which attracted hundreds of thousands to join the party, into the principal weapon against him.
If that weakened him, and the movement behind him, the other side of his politics, the Left Labour fantasy of a parliamentary road to socialism led to his, and its, defeat. That “strategy” made leaving the EU a pre-condition for socialist advance and thus put Corbyn and company on the same side of the Brexit debate as Farage, Bannon, Trump and Johnson.
The commitment to this strategy reinforced the opposition to democratisation of the party and its relationship to the trade unions. At the last conference, hundreds of CLPs, clearly a majority of the membership, submitted motions supporting “Remain”. Faced with this, the Lexiteers in the Leader’s Office and the trade union bureaucracy insisted on Brexit but added a referendum, producing surely the least convincing campaign strategy of all time.
To insist that the election was “really” about the NHS, homelessness and education, when the whole world knew it was about Brexit, was the cancer at the heart of the Labour Party campaign. For Corbyn to only recognise that after the defeat is a measure of just how wrong his strategy was.
From the very morrow of the referendum, in which Labour stood for Remain, Corbyn demanded immediate implementation of Article 50 – his own “Get It Done” slogan, which disarmed the party.
Instead of a concerted campaign to explain what Brexit will mean, why it was backed and financed by the US Alt-Right and why, despite the referendum, Labour remained opposed to it, the Corbyn leadership and its allies committed the party to the ludicrous idea that a Labour government (what Labour government?) would negotiate a deal that would maintain all the benefits and standards of EU membership – at the same time as leaving it!
Results and prospects
The scale of Labour’s defeat, it wasn’t just beaten, it was whipped, is historic. Friday 13th will be remembered as a turning point, not only for the party but for the country. But a turn in which direction? There has to be a reckoning and there should be a parting of the ways.
The Blairites have been waiting for this, and sharpening their knives while they waited. They will insist that the party should have been openly pro-EU and never have adopted a radical programme. The Lexiteers, ever ready to pander to patriotism and the most backward sections of the class, will equally insist that the party should have been openly anti-EU and given greater emphasis to Corbyn’s own opposition to free movement.
Socialist Internationalists in the party will oppose both these false strategies, both these excuses for failure. Our internationalism is not that of the pro-EU right wing whose purpose is to ensure British capital has easy access to the biggest and wealthiest trading bloc in the world. Our socialism is not that of the Lexiteers who foolishly believe that, unlike EU capital, British capital will meekly accept wholesale nationalisation and planning if Labour were ever to win a parliamentary majority.
Our internationalism is based on the accuracy of Marx’s proposition that the working class has no fatherland. That was no mere rhetorical flourish, it was a profound insight into reality; capitalism is an international economic system in which capital exploits labour all over the world but is owned by ruling classes rooted in the soil of nation states. The working class, by contrast, sells its ability to work to capitalists who may be based anywhere in the world. As a class, therefore, it is international although, of course, it lives and works in particular countries.
Because of their national character, the capitalists of Europe can never peacefully integrate Europe into one, multinational state. The workers of Europe, however, already work for corporations that straddle not just the national frontiers within the EU but all the continents of the world. Those corporations themselves are subordinated to financial institutions who direct investment to where they expect the highest profits. Thus, all Europe’s workers, indeed all the world’s workers, are exploited by the international capitalist system – and have a common interest in ending that exploitation.
In the aftermath of such a resounding defeat, there will rightly be an intense internal fight within the Labour party. In that fight, socialist internationalists need to regroup themselves around a strategy drawn from this understanding of the world, a strategy that promotes the common interests of all workers and proposes the organisations and objectives that can advance those interests.
Johnson’s Brexit will guarantee an offensive against workers’ rights, jobs and working conditions, as well as what is left of the welfare state. The likelihood of an international economic downturn, even another financial collapse, will deepen the crisis in this country. No doubt the Tories, and probably the Lexiteers, will blame “Europe” for their woes. No doubt, either, that the far right will be emboldened to blame, and attack, immigrants and the Left.
These are the conditions the Left must face. This is the reality a revolutionary strategy has to counter. Red Flag has its own proposal, an action programme, which seeks to chart a way forward, against all attempts to water down the existing Labour programme or foist a collaborationist leader on the party. We offer it not as any kind of ultimatum but as a proposal for discussion and amendment by all those, in the Labour party or not, who see the need to learn the lessons of “Corbynism” and regroup socialist internationalists for the battles to come.
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