Seán Manuel writes about the empty rhetoric within Keir Starmer’s so-called fight for a ‘new’ Labour Party, arguing that all Starmer aims to appease is right-wing opportunism
The Labour Party, the parliamentary front of the labour movement, is officially under a ‘new leadership’. Since Starmer assumed leadership in April 2020, he has relentlessly sought to sweep away Corbyn’s legacy.
The representatives of capitalist business and media now know that the Labour Party is ‘sensible’ again — which is to say that it is harmless to capital, imperialism and the status quo.
This is the work of right-wing opportunists residing in the party, who now sit at the helm.
To keep it this way, to consolidate this ‘new leadership’, Starmer has launched a sustained offensive against the socialists remaining in the party. Since Labour’s disastrous result at the 2019 General Election, these socialists have been on the backfoot — but now their position is more precarious than ever.
The remaining socialist MPs have been herded into a corner, with the Socialist Campaign Group (SCG) currently seeking to simply survive, to obstruct right-wing opportunism from engulfing the party entirely.
But it’s attempting to do this via appeasement, by playing nicely with the reactionaries and opportunists. They forget that this strategy was already tried-and-tested by Corbyn himself — and it failed spectacularly.
In 2015, Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party. For the first time, arguably since the formation of the party, socialists were in control. But no substantive action was taken while socialists had this advantage.
Not a blink after that, in 2016, Owen Smith launched a leadership challenge — an attempted coup. It failed, spectacularly. This was a strong mandate for Corbyn to remove right-wing opportunists from the party, but he didn’t.
In the 2017 General Election, Labour’s former general secretary, Iain McNicol, was a ringleader in electoral sabotage. Campaign funds were maliciously redistributed from swing seats to safe seats, alongside other nefarious means used to prevent a Labour victory. Despite damaging the interests of the party altogether, there were still no repercussions for the right-wing.
Then, finally, the People’s Vote campaign was manufactured to pressure Corbyn into adopting a second referendum Brexit policy. This hazy plan dashed any remaining hope for a Labour victory in the 2019 General Election. This was the end of the socialist leadership.
Despite all of these instances, the right-wing opportunists so dedicated to destroying Corbyn’s leadership still found themselves with jobs in the Shadow Cabinet or Labour HQ. They were always given second chances.
But, no matter how nicely Corbyn dealt with the right, they continued to conspire against him. And, every time the chance came about, they rallied to butcher his chances of electoral victory.
At the end of 2019, the ultimate opportunity arose — Corbyn announced his resignation as leader following the 2019 General Election loss.
While Rebecca Long-Bailey released a full list of all campaign donations more than £1,500, her right-wing opponent, Starmer, controversially refused to reveal whose pockets into which he was nestling.
After his crushing victory, a corresponding plethora of financial support was finally revealed. This included a £50,000 donation from Trevor Chinn, a lobbyist whose fortune was accumulated through Israeli arms manufacture. It is clear whose interests Starmer does and does not represent.
This is in spite of the “ten pledges” that Starmer put forward, a series of lies in which he promised to keep the party’s radical agenda, fooling many on the Labour left.
The ‘new leadership’ is nothing more than the shameless penetration of capital into the Labour Party, and socialists should treat it as such.
|“The Labour Party is a thoroughly bourgeois party, because, although made up of workers, it is led by reactionaries, and the worst kind of reactionaries at that, who act quite in the spirit of the bourgeoisie. It is an organisation of the bourgeoisie, which exists to systematically dupe the workers” – Vladimir Lenin|
Come October, having consolidated its power in the ‘new leadership’, the right-wing chased Corbyn out of the party altogether. It was testing just how much it could prize from the fists of Labour’s socialists.
And, yet, all that the SCG mobilised was a lazy letter — an inconsequential complaint. Embarrassingly, too, initially only 18 of the 34 MPs were brave enough to be actual signatories to this letter. All bark but no bite.
Unsurprisingly, this letter was ignored. To this day, Corbyn remains suspended from the parliamentary party.
Clearly, appeasement is a completely ineffective strategy against the brutality and cunning political maneuvering of Labour’s right-wing — and its new consolidated organ, the ‘New Leadership’.
Alongside booting Nadia Whittome and Rebecca Long-Bailey from the Shadow Cabinet, this ‘New Leadership’ also targeted rank-and-file members who protested Corbyn’s suspension.
During this time, Jewish suffering was weaponised to justify this all-out assault on Labour’s socialists. Antisemitism was used as a false pretense to suspend threats to the ‘New Leadership’ — including Corbyn.
Stretching this tactic to unbelieveable lengths, Jewish activist, Naomi Wombone-Idrissi, was also suspended by the ‘New Leadership’ on grounds of antisemitism.
This coordinated attack on Labour’s remaining socialists culminated in a mass exodus. Throughout November, over 57,000 members (around 10% of the total) scrambled all at once to leave the party.
Today’s result is a diaspora of Britain’s socialists. With a compromised Labour party, it is felt that all avenues of action have been exhausted.
There has, therefore, been simmering talk of a ‘new Party’, a ‘new Labour’, another social democratic party.
Some dream that — with the help of Momentum, Unite and the SCG — a new, fresh-faced Labour party can emerge from the pieces of the old one.
Until recently, many socialists have also shared this mistaken view — that a new social democratic party would be a great and readily welcome force for the British labour movement.
It must now be made clear, however, that this is not the answer. Why? Well, bluntly—
|“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein|
Let’s assume that these fronts — Momentum, Unite and the SCG — have the courage to take this risk (which they clearly do not). Such a project would inevitably meet one of two ends.
It would either, first, immediately trip and fall flat on its face or, second, persist long enough to reproduce the same exact problems as the Labour Party.
The thinking behind a ‘new Party’ stems from a fundamental unfamiliarity with British parliamentary politics or, alternatively, a wilful exercise of mental gymnastics to ignore the realities of that system.
Britain is trapped in a two-party system. Through various means, including first-past-the-post voting, the country’s institutions are structured to reproduce the conditions of this dynamic. Every historic attempt to change the two-party system — left-wing or right-wing — has been completely thwarted.
It is possible to get second-hand embarrassment from the Liberal Democrats’ experience of this.
Despite creeping into coalition in 2010, the party was dominated by the Tories and, as a result, its reputation was utterly destroyed in the aftermath. Its parliamentary representation has been pitiful ever since.
Clinging to a single MP, the Greens also fail miserably to keep up with the electoral competition.
In fact, the only marginally successful attempts at third-party power have been UKIP and the SNP, but these are both single-issue parties — and, therefore, they still did not challenge the two-party system. Furthermore, a single-issue strategy is incompatible with the broad palette of proletarian interests which must be represented.
It is clear, therefore, that no third-party can contend with Labour or the Tories in the campaign fund competition to govern Britain. Any other conclusion is a departure from the facts on the ground.
To satisfy the critics, let’s completely ignore this first and most impenetrable obstacle — the two-party state. Let’s imagine that this ‘new Party’ is resoundingly successful, that it totally replaces Labour as Britain’s social democratic party overnight.
|“Reformism is bourgeois deception of the workers, who, despite individual improvements, will always remain wage slaves, as long as there is the domination of capital.” – Vladimir Lenin|
Despite this, let’s say this ‘new Party’ is resoundingly successful—that it completely replaces Labour as a mass social democratic party (which, again, it wouldn’t).
Even if it managed this impossible feat, a new social democratic party will run into the exact same problems that Labour has done.
To understand why, it is necessary to address the Labour party’s fundamental problem—the same problem possessed by social democratic parties in every country—class collaborationism.
Class interests are fundamentally opposed to each other. This means class interests are irreconcilable. To understand why, it is necessary to address the Labour party’s fundamental problem—the same problem possessed by social democratic parties in every country—class collaborationism.
Class struggle is the driving factor in history, and remains the dominant feature of our society today. Lenin correctly stated that classes were defined by “the place they occupy in social production and, consequently, the relation in which they stand to the means of production”.
To elaborate – capitalist production relies on the existence of two main classes. The first is the capitalist class who own the means of production. The second is the working-class, who own no means of production and instead work on the means of production owned by the capitalists, generating wealth for the capitalists in the process. Other classes exist, but in terms of production they play a peripheral role.
The working-class has everything to gain from the overthrow of capitalism. In a socialist society, the workers could control their own labour and collectively own the means of production. They could raise their own living standards, invest in science and medicine, increase the rate of technological progress and reduce working hours whilst increasing luxury.
And the working-class is the class which possesses the power in society, as the working-class is the class which generates the wealth in society. A united working-class could cease to generate this wealth, vital to the functioning of capitalism, at any time.
This is why class collaboration is impossible. It is clearly in the interests of the working-class to dismantle and replace capitalism, whilst it is in the interests of the capitalist-class to uphold it to retain their singular political and economic power. There is no reconciling this fundamental contradiction, wherein the proletariat seeks to abolish class and the bourgeoisie seeks to maintain class. This makes political collaboration between the working-class and the capitalist-class impossible.
This is how we end up in a situation where the Labour Party, formed to represent the workers and the trade union movement, is responsible for the formation of NATO, for invading Iraq under false pretenses in order to secure financial assets, and for rescuing British state-monopoly capitalism time and time again. It is because the Labour Party seeks to reconcile the workers’ movement and big business, and in the process consistently stabs the workers’ movement in the back.
History has shown this same story of Social Democratic parties routinely conceding to bourgeois interests over and over. This is the basis upon which all social democratic parties, sooner or later, no longer represent a significant threat to imperialism, to capitalism or to the status quo altogether.
The Labour Party is plagued with this problem, amongst many others, all of which could not fit into this article. But it is not unique to the Labour Party; it is a problem with social democracy, which is objectively the left-wing of capital, and it will be a problem with any ‘new Party’ of this kind.
This can be evidenced when looking across the world at Labour’s sister parties – the same process occurs time and time again. The SPD in Germany, the Socialist Party in France and in any social democratic party, anywhere in the world.
|“A Party is the vanguard of a class, and its duty is to lead the masses and not merely to reflect the average political level of the masses.” – Vladimir Lenin|
It is necessary, therefore, to build a party of another kind – a Communist Party. To put real change on the table, the working-class require new, revolutionary tactics. In place of social democracy, socialism; in place of a ‘mass’ party, a vanguard; and, in place of a thoroughly undemocratic party, democratic centralism.
Social democracy, which Labour advocates for, seeks to reconcile and soften the workers’ movement, and to give it concessions whilst retaining capitalist exploitation. Revolutionary socialism aims to tear apart the rotten system at its core, and replace it with a truly democratic workers’ state.
The vanguard party refers to the most advanced section of the working-class whose job is to educate, organise and raise the consciousness of the working-class, whilst working alongside the working-classes and relying upon their support.
To contrast the difference between the role of the vanguard party and the role of social democracy – when was the last time Labour offered leadership or education to working people?
Finally, democratic centralism is a self explanatory term; it is a decision-making method wherein there is full democratic discussion and debate on an issue (thus democratic), before there is unity on that democratic decision taken (thus centralism).
A vanguard party which correctly upholds revolutionary socialism and applies democratic centralism allows for correct and concrete class analysis in the struggle, it allows for unity in deed and unity in action, and it allows for socialism to be built in Britain.
In the program of the Communist Party, Britain’s Road to Socialism, the strategy for how to build this movement for socialism is laid out in clear terms. Proper emphasis is put on extra-parliamentary struggle—with unions, students and tenants— alongside the need to use Parliament as a means to advance ideological struggle within Labour and the class struggle more broadly.
Despite the limitations imposed by bourgeois democracy, the Labour Party must still play a critical role in the preliminary stages of the struggle. The Labour Party must be used to gain meaningful reforms (such as the NHS or the minimum wage) and to promote class consciousness in the workers’ movement, in spite of its trappings and shortcomings.
But the Labour Party will not bring about socialism, nor will any replication of it. The answer is communism, and the tactics and strategies of Marxism-Leninism.
Communists say no to the ‘new leadership’; no to another failed sect; no to ultra-leftism and inaction. Communists support the ceaseless ideological struggle on all fronts, inside and outside of the Labour Party, and encourage Labour members to agitate for Communism and for revolution openly and loudly, to join the Communist Party itself and help to build the vanguard.
Reject the calls for yet another doomed social democratic party, and focus on the class struggle.
|“The Labour party has never been a socialist party, although there have always been socialists in it — a bit like Christians in the Church of England.” – Tony Benn|