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British Labour party: A fight to the death

The right launch desperate attempt to control party

4 March 2019

If we take a step back from the hullabaloo around Brexit the bigger picture shows something else - the ongoing disintegration of Britain's political system.

One would think that the governing Tory party would be the focus of attention, but the suspension of key Corbyn ally Chris Williamson from the Labour party exposes in lurid detail the divisions in that movement.

The media reported that Williamson had said that the party was too apologetic about anti-semitism.  That's not what he said. Rather he said that the party were too apologetic about allegations of anti-semitism, given it's anti-racist history, new disciplinary procedures and the results of enquiries showing a very low level of complaints about party members.

This statement of fact was followed by a forced apology and almost immediately by suspension. At the same time a showing of the film “Witch Hunt“ about the persecution of noted labour anti-racist campaigner Jackie Walker was barred from the house of commons on the grounds that it too was anti-semitic.

The departure of the ”insignificant seven,” all under threat of deselection, has forced the Blairite wing into accelerated action. The definition of antisemitism has now expanded to mean almost anything and deputy leader Tom Watson hopes to use control of parts of the party apparatus to expel Corbyn supporters and protect right wing MPs. Alongside this strategy he is willing to step outside the party structures altogether to act as witch finder general, stacking up fake allegations to discredit Labour.

Both the labour right and the media ignore close links between a number of labour MPs and the Israeli government and overwhelming evidence of intervention into British political parties by Mossad, the Israeli secret service. Genocide in Palestine goes without comment.

Right wing Labour MP Siobhan McDonagh gave the game away in a radio interview: “I’m not sure that some people in the Labour party can, because it's very much part of their politics – of hard left politics – to be against capitalists, and to see Jewish people as the financiers of capital”

The Blairites want to smash any socialist views and the Zionists want any criticism of Israel suppressed. So keen are they on this alliance that McDonagh voicing one of the most basic anti-Semitic slurs - that Jews are the financiers of capital - goes unremarked. No question of her being suspended from the Labour party!

The Blairites are supported by much of old Labour, with its history of defence of imperialism and accommodation of racism.

Corbynism has been badly damaged. He keeps throwing things under the bus to placate the right: Palestine, accepting that criticism of Israel is anti-semitism, defending the place of "Northern Ireland” in the U.K. placating the Democratic Unionist Party and sacrificing his own friends and supporters. His goal, and that of the trade union leaders who support him, is to preserve the unity of the party in the expectation that he can form a government and implement a left social democratic programme. This strategy is rendered meaningless by the clear willingness of the right to split the party at a time of their choosing.

The divisions are particularly acute around Brexit. The Blairites are unconditional supporters of a capitalist Europe and ongoing austerity. Many old Labour are for Brexit. Corbyn has tried to dance in the cracks, giving way to racist sentiment and accepting an end of freedom of movement. He has consistently ignored the majority of Labour party members, who are both for remain and for a determined fight against austerity.

That doesn't mean that the fight in the Labour party is over. In fact it has barely begun. There are many young people who have been let down by the pressure group momentum, by the trade union bureaucracy and by Corbyn himself. They are fighting in their local branches, displacing the right wing and removing corrupt MPs. It is the success of that movement that forced the insignificant seven to jump before they were pushed and precipitated the current crisis. Socialists should support them and call for mobilisations to force Watson and his supporters out of the party.

What does this mean? Immediately it means that the Theresa May’s Brexit plan, although widely unpopular, is much more likely to succeed given a willingness of the new grouping and other sections of the Labour right to vote with the Tories for what they will present as the least worst option. This will represent a victory for the right- wing forces behind Brexit, but not one that will satisfy them. The assault on workers rights will continue.

The Blairites dream of a new ”centrist” alliance with sections of the Tory party. They have no idea of the hatred among workers for Blair and his associates. However their departure and the endless capitulation to them will leave Corbyn’s goal of electoral victory and a left government out of reach. Socialists dream of a short cut. A successful left labour movement would boost the popularity of socialism and mobilise young people and for many the Corbyn movement seemed to promise this.  Now the task is to lead a fightback inside the Labour party while also organising outside the party against racism and in defence of workers rights.

Yet the British socialist groups seem poorly placed to intervene in this struggle. Some sectists are leading the charge in support of the anti-semitism witch hunt. Many do not recognise the nature of the threat, counterpoising an imaginary Lexit to the very real reactionary Brexit. They point to the exploitative nature of the European Union but believe that workers, trapped in the bounds of the British state controlled by their ancient enemies, will be better placed to resist that exploitation. This reflects the national chauvinism at the heart of the British state. It is remarkable that few on the left or right look outwards at the class struggle in Europe whose consequences will so profoundly affect British workers.

Here in Ireland the British left are only surpassed in wishful thinking by Irish political groups. Sinn Fein claim that the process will lead to a United Ireland, ignoring the collapse of their last scheme and
the restoration of direct British rule in the North. Left and republican groups proclaim “Irext” - an idea so fanciful that it never goes beyond bombastic proclamation. In reality the main political sentiment is
support for the Eurozone, with no consideration of the constant attacks on living standards directed by the Troika and the European Central Bank. Irish socialism has yet to open any serious debate because the trigger element in Britain, the division in Labour, has yet to be matched by a corresponding collapse in Sinn Fein and the trade union bureaucracy, both barricades on the path to independent action by the working class.

In Britain left groups such as Socialist Resistance and others have turned towards the Corbyn supporters in Labour and have put put forward pan-european solidarity against austerity as an alternative to Brexit. While moving in the right direction, unfortunately these movements are based around social democratic politicians, union bureaucrats and NGOs, resulting in the unconvincing argument that “another Europe is possible” - that European capitalism is ready to be reformed. The audience and the policy go together. The British working class has been on the defensive for decades. The socialist movement is fragmented and each fragment is influenced by its own social base, distorting its political programme.

There is a way out of this vicious cycle. Working with the young Corbyn supporters in the Labour party, advancing issues of solidarity in Europe and across the globe, adjusting to the advances and retreats of a mayor political struggle - this will provide the struggles and experiences that will define the new socialist movement in Britain. Events in Ireland await a definitive break from the pro imperialist politics of Sinn Fein and of the trade union leaderships.

However In each of these struggles the socialists cannot afford to be passengers. They must bring to the struggle central elements of policy:

  • The need for an independent workers movement.
  • The need for a socialist revolution.
  • The call for a United Socialist States of Europe.
To many these will seem abstractions, but they will take immediate and concrete form as the struggle advances.

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