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Perspectives for Britain 2017

Socialist Party documents

Perspectives for Britain 2017

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Perspectives for the two parties in one

24. The current situation in the Labour Party - two parties within one - cannot continue indefinitely. The attempt of the representatives of capitalism to depose Corbyn in the immediate aftermath of the referendum was an abject failure. However, in the immediate aftermath of his victory Corbyn and his supporters once again attempted to conciliate the right. There is a real and growing danger that defeat will be snatched from the jaws of victory. The right's strategy is one of surrounding and systematically undermining Corbyn. At some stage, either the right will succeed in defeating Corbyn on the basis of continued retreats by the left, or the movement around Corbyn will be forced onto the offensive and succeed in driving out the pro-capitalist elements that dominate the Labour machine. The timescale for this process is uncertain, but what is ruled out is the right accepting Jeremy Corbyn remaining in place until 2020, unless he is their complete prisoner. The idea of some on the left that they will be able to gradually transform Labour by combining cohabitation with the right with 'incrementally' building support for the left in CLPs is utopian. From the civil war within the Labour Party a significant new left reformist party could develop, whether or not it is under the Labour banner.

25. We are not, as we have made crystal clear over the last year, neutral observers in this process, but campaign trenchantly in support of the movement around Corbyn and against the pro-capitalist wing of the Labour Party. We put forward a programme for victory. We campaign to push the movement further to the left and clearly criticise retreats and mistakes by the leadership of Momentum and also Corbyn and McDonnell. Throughout this process we have demonstrated our willingness to do all we can to aid the battle against the right, including joining the Labour Party as part of its transformation into a democratic, federal party. Our request for readmission of 75 socialists previously expelled has met a brick wall. This while the right have ruthlessly used their position on the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Labour Party to consolidate their grip.

26. There is no doubt that a defeat for Corbyn, especially if it comes about not after a battle but as a result of endless retreats, would act to demoralise many of those who have been enthused by his leadership of the Labour Party, and would therefore be a step back for the workers' movement. Many of those that had been enthused by Corbyn could return to inactivity. Others, particularly the younger and more middle class, could drift back to the Greens. Even in this scenario, however, we have to fight for a new formation to come out of the process. This cannot be excluded even in the short term, particularly given our role and if key figures in the trade union movement are prepared to fight for it.

27. By whatever means it came about, and whether or not it has the name Labour, a new mass party of the working class, or a serious step towards one, would be an enormous step forward for the workers' movement in Britain. Of course such a party, at least initially, would have far fewer MPs than Labour currently does. However, as we have repeatedly explained, a smaller parliamentary party which actually opposed austerity and defended workers' interests would have a far bigger effect than a bigger parliamentary party where the majority support the interests of the capitalist class.

28. It is still possible, however, that Corbyn's leadership could be pushed further to the left. Jeremy has been almost invisible in recent months, but the current attempt at a relaunch emphasising the 'anti-establishment' character of the Labour leadership might be a step in the right direction if it is followed through including campaigning for a 'workers' Brexit'. But if Corbyn pursues a persistent and determined campaign to show that Labour is genuinely anti-establishment he will face frenzied opposition from the Labour right. Wherever he turns Corbyn faces a choice between retreating before the right's demands or following the struggle through to its conclusion. By taking a turn towards a consistent left stance Corbyn would be able to consolidate his position and prepare for a general election. However, it is clear that Corbyn's 'advisors' in the leadership of Momentum will urge him once again to retreat. The current crisis in Momentum is the inevitable result of the role its leadership has tried to play in policing and holding back the left in order to aid compromise with the right. As we predicted Momentum is increasingly an empty shell, which is not likely to play a central role in future struggles.

29. A successful struggle against the right is only possible on the basis of both standing firm on policy and launching a struggle to organisationally transform the party into an open, democratic and federal formation. Mandatory reselection has to be a central plank of any such struggle. Yet the leadership of Momentum have repeatedly opposed a battle for mandatory reselection of MPs, insisting that they have no intention of trying to remove the 172 traitorous MPs who tried to remove Corbyn. The press reports of the Labour Party NEC discussions on the possibility of a snap general election state that, if this was to happen, they would appeal to the candidates who stood in 2015 to stand again. In other words there is no prospect of even making use of the very limited 'trigger ballot' mechanism, which only comes into effect when the NEC sets a procedure for candidate selection, to remove Blairite MPs in the short term.

30. Of course, fighting for mandatory reselection and all the other measures necessary to create a workers' party from within the shell of Labour requires a determined struggle. Some leading Corbyn supporters argue that this is not possible because the fresh layers who have been mobilised in support of Corbyn are too passive, capable of casting a vote for Corbyn but not participating in a sustained struggle to transform the Labour Party. This is a cowardly and groundless excuse. Firstly it downplays the real undemocratic changes to the structures of the Labour Party that were part of its transformation into a bourgeois party, making the possibility for democratic participation more limited than in the past. Secondly, it is clear that many more would get active as part of a serious and thorough-going struggle to transform the Labour Party. Opinion polls have shown that Corbyn's supporters stand well to the left of the so-called leaders of Momentum. In a YouGov poll conducted in August, a massive 69% of Corbyn supporters said that they supported mandatory reselection of MPs. Of course this does not mean that they would all be prepared to fight for it at constituency level, but a significant number - hundreds of thousands strong - would have done. And, if they were given a lead, many would be prepared to follow such a struggle through to its conclusion, regardless of whether that meant breaking with Labour. In the same poll 54% of Corbyn supporters and 49% of all union affiliate voters said that if Corbyn lost the leadership election and split to form a new party they would go with him.

31. Twice the force that has put and kept Corbyn as Labour leader has not been Corbyn, Momentum or any part of the organised Labour left, but an elemental movement from below determined to defend Corbyn against the Blairites. It is possible that this could happen in response to a new stage of the battle with the Blairites, which in turn could push Corbyn further to the left, but this is not guaranteed. At a certain stage, if the retreats continue, disillusionment would set in among Corbyn's supporters. Some indications of this are already there. This in turn would open the road to Corbyn's removal by the right.

32. One road to this outcome could be via the calling of a snap general election by Theresa May. This is a possibility, although there are difficulties with it for the capitalist class and therefore May. The problems are not primarily constitutional, as the Labour right would support the calling of a general election, seeing it as a means to ditch Corbyn. However, it would be very difficult for May to fight a general election without expanding on her current Delphic silence about the government's plans for Brexit. In all likelihood any policy she did put forward would split the Tory party. At the same time, in order to be sure of winning a general election, it is likely that she would have to emphasise fighting for a 'hard' Brexit, particularly on the question of immigration. An election victory won on that basis, however, would further limit the government's room for manoeuvre in the Brexit negotiations, making a deal in the interests of the capitalist class more difficult to achieve. An added difficulty for the Tories is that it would be fought on the existing boundaries. Last, but not least, despite Labour's current poll ratings and the doom-mongering from the Fabian Society (a Labour affiliate!), it is not ruled out that - if Labour was to fight on a left programme - it could win a general election particularly if it is fought against the background of a new economic downturn; a nightmare scenario for the capitalist class. Only by adopting a left programme, combined with support for self-determination, would Corbyn be able to begin to overcome the collapse of Labour's support in Scotland.

33. Despite all of these reasons to avoid a snap general election, it is not precluded that the Tories could be forced to call one. If May faces deadlock in parliament over the question of Brexit, in order to try and gain a more stable majority and therefore room to manoeuvre, a general election may be her only way forward. If, as a result of a failure to put forward a clear programme, Labour was to suffer a major defeat it is likely that this could be successfully used to remove Corbyn.

34. A major obstacle the right faces in removing Corbyn is the support he has received from the leadership of the biggest affiliated trade union; Unite. It is very clear that Gerard Coyne, the right candidate in the current leadership election has the backing not only of the Labour right wing but, behind them, the capitalist class. It cannot be ruled out that, on the basis of claiming to be 'non-political' and attacking Corbyn on the question of immigration, Coyne could succeed in defeating the incumbent Len McCluskey. This would be a setback for the workers' movement industrially and particularly politically. For some on the left to stand against McCluskey in this circumstance is a serious mistake. All forces on the left should recognise the character of this leadership election and give support for McCluskey's campaign, while as we do, putting forward an independent position including criticising McCluskey where necessary. The developments in Unite give an indication of how the process towards the formation of a new workers' party can also deepen divisions in the trade union movement between the more fighting unions and those with the most conservative, right-wing leaderships. Even a split in the TUC could be posed at a certain point.

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