Corbyn’s election captured the people’s imagination and movement for change. However, there was no chance that the cartel parties would tolerate any space being used for the independent program of the working class | PAULINE EASTON
The Need to Settle Scores with Britain’s Decrepit Anachronistic Institutions
On October 29, the leader of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, was suspended from the party because he refused to retract his reaction to a recent report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). This report alleged that the Labour Party under Corbyn’s leadership had breached the 2010 Equality Act through a combination of “inappropriate involvement” and harassment in complaints procedures relating to “anti-Semitism,” and an “inadequate training provision for those handling the complaints.” Corbyn was suspended, it was said, for refusing to accept all the EHRC report’s conclusions and for claiming that “the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents.” In response, Corbyn declared his intention to “strongly contest the political intervention to suspend” him.
The uproar over Corbyn’s suspension from the Labour Party’s base was such that his suspension from the party was lifted on November 17 by a disciplinary panel of the Party’s National Executive Committee. Despite this, the present Labour Party leader, Keir Starmer, ordered that the Labour whip be withheld from Corbyn. In the British party system, “whips” are the party’s “enforcers” whose role is to ensure that their fellow political party legislators attend voting sessions and vote according to their party’s official policy. Members who vote against party policy may “lose the whip,” effectively expelling them from the parliamentary party benches. This means that formally Corbyn remains an independent rather than a Labour Party MP (i.e., he is not in the caucus).
This too has provoked widespread condemnation from within the Labour Party and the trade union movement. Executive bodies of a number of unions have passed motions demanding Corbyn’s reinstatement. Quite a few Constituency Labour Parties – the equivalent of local party branches – have passed motions supporting Corbyn and expressing no confidence in the present leadership, actions which themselves have led to suspensions from the party.
A joint statement made on October 31 by the general secretaries of the Labour-affiliated unions – Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen; Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union; Communication Workers Union; Fire Brigades Union; National Union of Mineworkers; Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association; and Unite – condemned the suspension as “ill-advised and unjust.”
Jeremy Corbyn himself has started a formal legal claim against the Labour Party for suspending the whip.
Corbyn’s suspension from the Labour Party by its General Secretary David Evans and current proceedings against him underscore how reactionary and backward the cartel parties are, not only in Britain but all over the world. Who sets the party line that all party members in office have to toe is a matter of grave concern when it is not the party members or the people of the country of its alleged constituency. How party discipline is enforced is also thoroughly outmoded and anti-democratic. All of it underscores the urgent need for democratic renewal so as to achieve people’s empowerment.
The entire affair brings clearly to public attention how decision-making and proceedings in the cartel parties take place in secret to enforce decisions also taken behind the people’s backs. Reports indicate that Corbyn has been told the Party whip will be suspended for three months while an investigation is carried out, and that he has been told by the chief whip, Nick Brown, to “unequivocally, unambiguously and without reservation” apologize for his claims made in the aftermath of the EHRC report.
Corbyn’s response to the report read: “Anyone claiming there is no anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is wrong… Jewish members of our party and the wider community were right to expect us to deal with it, and I regret that it took longer to deliver that change than it should. One anti-Semite is one too many, but the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media. That combination hurt Jewish people and must never be repeated. My sincere hope is that relations with Jewish communities can be rebuilt and those fears overcome. While I do not accept all of its findings, I trust its recommendations will be swiftly implemented to help move on from this period.”
Aiming at Corbyn, current Labour Party leader Starmer stated: “If you’re anti-Semitic, you should be nowhere near this party… And if after all the pain, all the grief, and all the evidence in this report, there are still those who think… it’s all exaggerated, or a factional attack… you are part of the problem too. And you should be nowhere near the Labour Party either.”
This shows that he is in utter denial that his party is indeed wracked with factions, with the old establishment guard trying to impose its positions and decisions on the rank and file, represented by Corbyn, through mostly foul means. All righteous talk about “whips” merely reveals the decrepitude of the system, not its vibrancy or relevance today. Ever since Corbyn was first elected by a groundswell of support from the base, the establishment forces – which according to the party system must swear allegiance to the preservation of decrepit institutions – did not want a Corbyn government. No matter what the cost, they have plotted, connived and besmirched themselves to make sure it does not happen. It has been an experience of treachery and betrayal all down the line.
In the current case, the establishment has attempted to use its Zionist position which equates support for the just cause of the Palestinian people for the recognition of their rights and an end to their criminalization and persecution, with anti-Semitism. However, any attempts to implicate Jeremy Corbyn with anti-Semitism turns truth on its head and falls flat with the people. Of all people, Jeremy Corbyn is known for his stands in favour of the rights of all, from anti-fascist organizer in the seventies to prominent anti-war campaigner in the present. Before emerging as the leader of the Labour Party, Corbyn was particularly well-known in the anti-war movement – not least as chair of the Stop the War Coalition from 2011 to 2015 during which the anti-war movement and Corbyn himself were known for upholding the right to be of the Palestinian people against Zionist war crimes.
Because he clearly stood against the neo-liberal austerity and war agenda of the British ruling class, he enjoyed widespread support among the Labour Party’s rank and file, especially youth and working people. Furthermore, his election as Labour Party leader also represented the growing demand for a new kind of politics. His own campaign stressed the need for a fundamental change of approach to politics. His campaign slogan for a new “people-powered politics” expressed the need to build a social movement consistent with the right of the electorate to participate in political affairs, to elect and be elected and for their will to be transformed into the legal will through a political system that serves their interests.
Consistent with these features of Corbyn’s platform was his characteristic readiness to take a stand on the important problems facing society, rather than follow the path of expediency or the outlook that the ends justify the means that characterizes the neo-liberal “consensus.”
Corbyn’s election captured the people’s imagination and movement for change. The Labour Party experienced a growth in membership unprecedented in recent times, particularly amongst young people, and democratic, peace-loving and anti-racist people, who joined the party in the hope of occupying the space that had opened up for discussion on serious issues facing the polity and turning things around.
When elected on the first ballot with 59.5 per cent of the vote, he said: “We are a party organically linked together between the unions and party membership and all the affiliated organizations. That is where we get our strength from.”
However, there was no chance that the cartel parties would tolerate any space being used for the independent program of the working class. Such a development was to be foiled, no matter what.
In that context, constant allegations associating Corbyn with anti-Semitism have been propagated, when nothing could be further from the truth. The progressive movements of which Corbyn is a part and which his leadership of the Labour Party represented have always upheld the rights of all, without exception. The manipulation of the issue of anti-Semitism to divert and disorient these forces, and wrecking public opinion to block people from forming an independent outlook, is itself abhorrent.
Jewish Voice for Labour, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Jewish Socialists’ Group, Jewdas and Independent Jewish Voices have all rejected the charge of anti-Semitism, and in February last year, 200 Jewish Labour Party members and supporters praised Corbyn’s consistent support for “initiatives against anti-Semitism.”
Settling Scores with the Past
The issue goes beyond Corbyn and the Labour Party. The Hitlerite “Big Lie” technique is in operation to paint any dissenting voices which represent the working people, and the political and social forces which represent them as extremist “hard left.” This is equivalent to the fiction they have erected, with state support, which they call the “far right.” This “hard left” and “far right” are equated in every way by their fiction of what constitutes “anti-Semitism.” The “centre ground,” meanwhile, is equated with “security,” “the national interest,” “balance” and “prosperity,” all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.
A major problem the forces of the status quo face is that the real conditions of life defy their fictional account of their rule and what it stands for. This official “centre ground” touts adherence to liberal democratic institutions which are in total crisis precisely because they are incapable of persuading the people to toe the line and support, overtly or passively, the neo-liberal agenda and its use of force to sort out problems both domestically and internationally. While the use of police powers has always been at the heart of the civil society the neo-liberal forces are trying to defend, today attempts to keep things under control reveal an increasingly overt dictatorial regime which is reorganizing the state around rule via police powers, governed by a small clique wielding those powers, and criminalizing all thought that is opposed to official dogma.
Allegations such as the ones thrown at Corbyn to defame and criminalize him seek to generate an atmosphere of hysteria in a generalized campaign to discredit and sow division amongst the people so that they cannot organize in a manner which favours them. Attempts to cover up the reality that the so-called centre is itself in essence the extreme right, where everything is put in the service of the most powerful monopolies, are futile. Yet far from giving up this nefarious path, measures to make sure no organized independent workers’ opposition emerges become as increasingly reactionary as they are unaccountable.
Who does not understand that the burden of the economic crisis is shifted onto the working population through austerity measures which have as their mainstay the deprivation of rights? An article on Corbyn’s suspension in Workers’ Weekly published by the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) clearly points out that people are denied a say in the most important matters that affect their lives, such as the direction of the economy, while the polity is destroyed.
“Political problems are made problems of law and order. Police are given further powers to act with impunity under the spurious theory of balancing rights against security, as opposed to the modern conception that security lies in the defence of the rights of all. Legislation is passed that violates the right to conscience and attempts to establish an official set of ‘British values’ around the notion that all should line up behind national-chauvinistic aims, aims which are increasingly pursued through intervention and war.
“Jeremy Corbyn was seen to represent opposition to this direction.
“Under the banner of returning Labour to electability and making it a ‘broad church,’ Keir Starmer represents cartel-party politics. To this end, it is not enough that Corbyn be defeated. Corbyn was never to be permitted to assume the role of Prime Minister, and all he upheld was blocked at every turn. No alternative is permitted within the present arrangements. Now that he has been removed, all vestiges of his legacy are to be eradicated, and his character itself is to be slandered, all with the aim of preventing such a phenomenon as Corbyn from ever appearing again. The ultimately futile aim is to wipe thought of an alternative from the minds of the party and the public at large.
“The forces of the establishment would seek to expunge the Labour Party of all elements that strive for the New. It is to remain a party firmly of the Old, a cartel party that acts as part of the arrangements of state, as a gatekeeper barring people from decision-making power.
“Further, the clearing out of the Labour Party is part of clearing out the opposition in parliament, ensuring that there are no representatives of the people in parliament.
“These attacks on Corbyn and his supporters expose the whole party system. They serve to underline how people cannot put their faith in some other force, but must rely on building their own forms of organization to enable them to speak and act in their own name, that confers authority to themselves directly as they strive for empowerment and democratic renewal. Try as it might, the ruling elite cannot kill off this vision.”
In brief, what Corbyn represents is an aspiration to break from the cartel-party system, which the establishment forces will not tolerate. Moreover, they will commit any infamy against “outsiders” to retain power in their hands. Implicit in Corbyn’s vision is that people, not parties, should capture political power. The conditions in which Corbyn has had to operate with a rapidly reactionary establishment wing of the Labour Party viciously and overtly opposing him every step of the way, has meant that even the slightest hint of that vision expressing itself in the Official Opposition was never going to be accepted by the ruling elite.
This entire experience merely confirms that having the working people occupy the space for change is anathema to the ruling class and their system of governance. They stand ready to commit any infamy to protect their rule. This has been one of the main attributes of their system since it was established in the 1660s following the English Civil War, perfected in the mid-19th century through the imposition of the European nation-state on the peoples of the world in the name of “peace, order and good government.” Peace in this parlance signifies the means by which the anti-colonial rebellions can be suppressed. Order refers to the system of crime and punishment used to keep the working class and its demands for rights in check. Good government refers to the so-called democratic institutions maintained by the system of party rule which pledges loyalty to uphold the prerogative powers that concentrate decision-making in the hands of the party executive which serves the ruling class. This system of rule intended to keep power in the hands of a corrupt ruling elite was enforced after World War II on the basis of Cold War ideology and preoccupations aimed at dividing the world’s people into two camps and defeating the Soviet Union. Today, at a time this elitist rule has no consent of the governed whatsoever, treacherous attempts are made to provide it with justifications called humanitarianism, peace, democracy, opposition to anti-Semitism and the like.
What the working class, youth, women and anti-war movement in Britain will do next is sure to reveal itself sooner rather than later as they tackle the situation from their own vantage point, in a manner which favours their interests. The conditions the working people face within Britain and which the peoples of the world face as a whole are so dire, there is no alternative but to settle scores with British imperialism and its rotten, elitist institutions whose decrepitude places a huge burden on society.
Canadian working people have full confidence that the working peoples of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales will reckon with what has been done and is being done to Jeremy Corbyn in a profound manner. The working class in these countries is international in its make-up. It is settling scores with all the old arrangements of this most reactionary monstrous machine that comprises the British ruling class, which the rulers go so far as to call the “cradle of civilization.” The working people of Britain will yet show the world what they are made of!
1. What Corbyn represents is a matter of public record. He was active in the 1970s when he organized a demonstration against a National Front march through Wood Green. He spoke on the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street, noting that his mother was a protester at that time who signed numerous early day motions condemning anti-Semitism. In 1987, he campaigned to reverse Islington Council’s decision to grant the planning application to destroy a Jewish cemetery; and in 2010, he called on the UK government to facilitate the settlement of Yemeni Jews in Britain. He also took part in a ceremony in his Islington constituency to commemorate the original site of the North London Synagogue and visited the Theresienstadt concentration camp, calling it a reminder of the dangers of far-right politics, anti-Semitism and racism. Theresienstadt was a ghetto-labour camp. It served as a transit camp for Czech Jews whom the Germans deported to killing centres, concentration camps, and forced-labour camps in German-occupied Poland, Belorussia and the Baltic States.
(With files from Workers’ Weekly, Wikipedia and encyclopedia.ushmm.org.)
TML Weekly, November 28, 2020 – No. 46