An historic moment in British politics
Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader is without exaggeration historic. It represents an unprecedented situation in British politics. The Labour government of 1945 passed progressive domestic reforms but it was a supine tool of the US internationally – Ernest Bevin and Attlee played a key role in setting up NATO. At that time both the British capitalist class and the US perfectly understood that the shattering effect of World War II and its outcomes necessarily required partial concessions – acceptance of the temporary building of a welfare state which therefore the first post-war Tory governments initially made no attempt to reverse. At that time the US and West European economies were also undergoing rapid growth which gave them economic room for manoeuvre.
Utilising the classic military strategy of a tactical retreat to gain time, capitalism understood that provided its main international and domestic positions could be maintained a counterattack could be launched at a future date to take back any temporary concessions. This duly arrived with Thatcher and Reagan. The process underway since has been to attempt to take away the concessions, such as on the welfare state, that were made after 1945.
Jeremy Corbyn’s situation is quite different to 1945. The US and Western European economies have passed through the ‘Great Recession’ into the ‘Great Stagnation.’ They have no room to make concessions even to their own populations without seeing capitalism’s strategic resources reduced still further. In the semi-colonial world the situation is worse. In Latin America, for over a decade, a shift to the left in the overwhelming majority of countries has taken place. In the Middle East US military intervention suffered a huge and expensive defeat in Iraq. In a number of African countries radical social dislocation has been created with unpredictable consequences. Attempts to threaten Russia by expanding the EU and NATO into Ukraine were met first by a Communist led popular uprising in culturally Russian Eastern Ukraine and then an unexpectedly strong reaction by the Russian government while simultaneously, despite false claims of crisis in the press, China’s economy continues to grow far more rapidly than the US – to the benefit not only of China’s people but Africa and Latin America through mutually beneficial trade and investment.
Given these circumstances US and European capitalisms have little or no ability to attempt to deal with the situation by concessions either domestically or internationally. They are forced to rely internationally on military force and domestically to attack their own populations.
To attempt to justify this reactionary policy one of the most bare-faced lies of capitalism has been invented – that the principle danger facing the world is an aggressive and deadly threat of ‘Islamic jihadism.’ Internationally this is used to justify military attacks on the population of Islamic and other developing countries, domestically it used to attempt to divide the population by virulent Islamophobic racism.
This lie is particularly blatant, in addition to its other reactionary features, as the balance sheet is that by far the most effective force spreading ‘Islamic jihadism’ has been the wars and military actions by the US/UK. In Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, whatever its other features, ‘jihadism’ was an insignificant force – now the repellent ISIS control large parts of Iraq. Similarly ‘Islamic terrorists’ were insignificant in Gadaffi’s Libya, while after US and European military action to overthrow Gadaffi they control most of the country. The same process is unfolding in Syria with the US campaign to overthrow Assad leading to ISIS and Al Qaeda forces now controlling large parts of the country.
It is the reaction against these simultaneously despicable and unsuccessful policies by the US and European governments which led initially to creation of small left wing parties in Europe (die Linke, Front de Gauche), then Syriza, and now Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the Labour Party.
It is because Jeremy Corbyn opposed austerity, opposed war, and opposed racism that he won. He opposed them not as a route to personal advancement but because he thought such policies were against the interests of humanity – and therefore fought them even when it was unpopular at the time. It is precisely because Jeremy Corbyn was prepared to support such positions even when they were unpopular that capitalism recognises him as a determined opponent of its reactionary policies – a deeply principled socialist. Doubtless the usual blandishments attempting to corrupt Labour leaders will be offered but capital does not believe Corbyn will accept them.
The attempt to stage a coup against Corbyn
This situation means that Jeremy Corbyn, and what he represents, is in contradiction to both the domestic and international drives of capitalism – a sharp difference to 1945. The conclusion capitalism draws from this is that a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Party is completely and absolutely unacceptable. Forget bravado about Tories ‘welcoming’ Corbyn’s election as isolating Labour. Capitalism understands perfectly well that every day Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters control the Labour Party their support may become more entrenched. Furthermore the capitalist class, given their present policies, do not know what economic crisis, military disaster or new scandal revealing the moral rottenness that goes to the core of the British establishment may erupt making a Labour and Corbyn led government inescapable. Therefore for capitalism Jeremy Corbyn must be removed as Labour leader as rapidly as is practically possible.
The sheer scale of Corbyn’s victory may buy a few relative days of quiet within the Labour Party – although even that is not certain. But that is a false calm. Everyone knows the right is already plotting within Labour to remove Corbyn by any means. And the capitalist media will not even wait for missteps by Corbyn’s team – it will, as usual, merely fabricate them. A Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Party is therefore in a fight with the capitalist class and its agents that will take place literally every second of every day and night.
This situation means that the left in Britain, the force which Jeremy Corbyn relied on for his hard fought and well-earned victory, faces a responsibility on a scale it has never faced before. It does not simply have to make propaganda for socialism. It has to lead a minute by minute struggle that has major implications not only for Britain but internationally. What, therefore, are the main parameters of that struggle?
Some key issues
Simply having Jeremy Corbyn as leader will yield some immediate quick wins for Labour. There will be no more of the degrading campaigns for Labour to ‘crack down on immigrants,’ attempts to place itself to the right of the Tories on civil liberties etc which were not merely repellent in content but whose effect was usually to lead to Labour losing percentage points in the opinion polls.
Labour has also immediately regained a strategic position in Scotland from which it can begin to dig itself out the deep hole it created for itself with its campaigning with the Tories in the lead up to and during the independence referendum. The SNP is an amalgam of those with genuinely left wing views and de facto right wingers whose dream is a ‘free market’ Scotland. But right wing Labour could never crack apart that alliance. Jeremy Corbyn can do so, by beginning to be attractive to the genuine left wingers who voted SNP and driving a wedge between them and the SNP ‘free market capitalists’.
Unashamed Labour opposition to the Tory’s anti-union legislation, which is criticised not only by Labour but by the Liberal Democrats and even in some features by a number of Tories, instead of shame-faced Labour ‘apologising’ for the unions, will also immediately help reenergise the labour movement.
But there will also be tough issues which cannot be dodged. Therefore it is necessary to have a clear compass.
Most fundamentally a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Party must defend the interests of all working people and their families – in the famous words of Karl Marx it needs to have no interests separate and apart from those of the working class as a whole. A Jeremy Corbyn led Labour therefore must include but cannot be just a movement of the poor – although it is delightful to hear a Labour leader speaking up unashamedly for the most underprivileged members of society. It is vital for Labour to defend the rights of ethnic minorities, who not only suffer racism but are among the most economically deprived in society, it is vital for Labour to support disabled people, women, the LGBT community and all who suffer discrimination. But highly skilled computer workers, scientists, lawyers, university professors are also just as much workers as those who work in steel mills. All these workers and their families cannot solve their problems by private provision – they rely on a publicly funded health service, they need well funded and run schools to educate their children, they need reasonable interest rates to pay their mortgages, women workers and members of ethnic and religious groups have special concerns, all workers and their families want environmentally protected places to live in, they need proper pensions. A Jeremy Corbyn led Labour must make clear it is the party of the average person, of the working class and their families as a whole, including but not just the poorest.
Second, regrettably, the objective conditions to create socialism do not exist in Britain today – in the sense of taking out of private hands all the key parts of the economy. Such objective conditions for socialism would require a truly huge crisis of capitalism which does exist in some semi-colonial countries but not in Britain. Also for that reason the working class of Britain today, again regrettably, does not understand the need for or as yet want socialism. Any proposal for a Corbyn government that it should attempt to introduce socialism in the proper sense in Britain won’t succeed and would simply lead to losing contact with its own supporters. What the working class does want, and what is possible for a Corbyn government, is an end to austerity, an end to promoting wars, an end to official promotion of racism and sexism, an end to despoiling the environment, and an end to numerous other such evils – in short what is required for a Corbyn government is a left reforming platform.
The economic core of this is clear. The requirement for Britain to ‘grow its way out of the crisis’, as Jeremy Corbyn has rightly put it, is to increase the level of investment – which is the most powerful force in economic growth. As the private sector has not delivered this investment the state must. The core economic aim of the Corbyn government must be to increase state investment by about 3-4% of GDP – this is sufficient to restart faster economic growth and therefore fund social programmes. This could be funded if required by People’s Quantitative Easing (PQE), that is money created by the Bank of England for infrastructure investment rather than bailing out bankers, but in the present ultra-low interest rate environment even that is not strictly necessary – the necessary funds could be cheaply borrowed. But ‘investment not cuts’ must be the economic core of Corbyn’s programme – delivered either by borrowing or if necessary by PQE. This is what will enable the economy to ‘grow out of the crisis.’
This also determines the question of the budget deficit. The hopelessly confused idea of so called ‘Keynesianism’, which does not even derive from Keynes, that the key economic policy to deal with recession is to run a budget deficit needs to be thrown out – errors on this help lower the credibility of left wing policies. John McDonnell is more correct than such pseudo-‘Keynesians’ in rejecting a strategy of budget deficits – or believing that a budget deficit is a touchstone of ‘left’ economic policies. It is necessary to distinguish, as both Marx and Keynes did, between consumption and investment. Consumption, such as welfare, should be funded through taxation – focussed on the rich. Investment, which unlike consumption yields a direct or indirect return, can be financed through borrowing. Over the course of a business cycle a Jeremy Corbyn led government should therefore aim to balance the budget on current expenditure while permitting borrowing for the state investment that will allow the economy to grow.
Another key point is that to effectively deal with capitalist attacks all possible issues must be dealt with not on the basis of abstract principle but insofar as they directly affect people. Jeremy Corbyn has, rightly, already made crystal clear he will oppose the bombing of Syria. This must be opposed not only for the death it deals out to the Syrian people but also because the entire factual record shows US and UK military interventions spread and strengthen, and do not weaken, reactionary Islamic terrorists such as ISIS and Al Qaeda.
A similar approach applies, for example, to NATO – a key question on which capital will attempt to ambush Corbyn. The population, mistakenly, believes NATO is a defensive alliance. This is meaningless as there never was, and is even less now, any Soviet or Russian threat to Europe. Precisely because it is meaningless while on principle socialists oppose NATO it is not urgent for Britain to leave. What does have to be opposed immediately, and on which popular support can be built,’ are the ‘out of area’ operations of NATO in the Middle East and elsewhere and the provocative and dangerous attempts to spread NATO eastwards.
On all issues attempts will of course be made by the media to drag up any out of context or unguarded remarks made in the past by Labour figures. They should be met by the correct response, which Jeremy Corbyn has rightly stressed, that Labour Policy is not made by individual’s statements, but by Labour Party conference. The era of dictats by individual party figures of the Blair era is ended.
Winning a majority for Labour
Another key issue is who has to be won over in order to win a majority for a Labour government at the next election – supposed inability to win an election will continue to be a main line of attack by the right. Labour does not have to win over a single Tory vote in order to win an election – there is is no necessity to appeal to Tories by adapting to them. Cameron received only 37% of the vote in 2015 – 63% of voters did not support the Tories and the rise in the Tory vote was insignificant. It was failure of Labour to regain the voters who deserted it under New Labour that was the key problem in 2015 – not Tory popularity. In terms of the electorate only a quarter voted for Cameron.
Labour has to primarily win over Lib Dems, SNP, UKIP it does not need to win Tories.
Block a right wing Labour coup
One extremely urgent issue, which must be addressed as rapidly as possible, is to change the rules for electing the Labour leader. After Jeremy Corbyn’s victory the right and centre will not make the mistake again of nominating a left winger. If the right and centre had not made this mistake the Labour Party membership would have been blocked from their clear desire to elect Jeremy Corbyn and British and Labour politics would be entirely different today.
As the right are pseudo-democrats they will not rely on a campaign to win over the Labour party membership to their views but are fully prepared to stage a coup by having a Labour leadership election in which the left will this time be blocked from running. Very temporarily the right and centre cannot do this, because the party would revolt and change the rules, but their aim would be to seize the first opportunity to prevent the Labour Party membership expressing their wishes.
The Labour Party rules must be changed at the first opportunity to prevent this happening and to block a coup. It is not unreasonable to have a higher threshold to challenge a sitting leader, to prevent frivolous and destabilising challenges, but once a contest is occurring, due to a sitting leaders term ending or a successful threshold for a challenge being exceeded, then it should take only a nominator and seconder among MPs to enter the contest.
This rule change is vital to ensure the Labour Party membership can express its democratic views. Once this is done then the right and centre will know they cannot stage a coup but can only win by convincing the Labour Party membership – this will immediately stabilise the situation in the Party. The Labour Party leader proposing such a vital change would ensure it passed.
If the left does not pay attention to such vital details the entire dynamic created by Jeremy Corbyn’s victory could be overturned by an anti-democratic coup by the Labour right and centre.
The state of the left
Parliamentary reformists, by their very nature, underestimate the degree of ruthlessness of the capitalist class – if they understood it accurately they would abandon the perspective of parliamentary reformism. This means, paradoxically but logically, that parliamentary reformists commit not only rightest errors but also ultra-left ones – because they underestimate the degree of resistance the capitalist class will put up and its determination, ruthlessness and viciousness in doing so. Regretfully we have just seen such an example in Greece. The leadership of Syriza believed by rhetoric, demonstrations and some international solidarity they could persuade the European capitalist classes to relent on austerity – and Syriza prepared no alternative plan. This was a naïve illusion and when European capitalism refused to shift Syriza abandoned all its core pledges.
Instead of such illusions a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Party, for reasons already analysed, must be prepared for a minute by minute, hour by hour, and day by day confrontation with capital – and its media and other instruments. Any rightist errors, which demoralise supporters, or ultra-left ones, which create opportunities for effective attacks by capital, will be instantly punished by the media and capital. Day after day the correctness of the policies adopted by a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Party will be tested. And that process in turn will determine the development of the left.
It is vital that it is clearly understood that the main line of divide in British politics today is for or against a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Party. Everyone who supports a Corbyn led Labour Party is a friend, whatever the differences on individual issues, and everyone who opposes it is an enemy. Differences exist even among friends, but they have to be dealt with in a different way to enemies. The left supporting Corbyn now faces a tremendous responsibility. It cannot avoid differences but it can conduct them in a way that is calm, aimed at achieving clarity not heat, which aims to arrive at coordinated positions whenever possible as this will magnify the effectiveness of actions, and always understands that the main divide in society is for or against a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Party – not between different parts of the left supporting him.
The sheer intensity of the political process Britain is about to enter will also lead to rapid clarification of the left. Some figures who supported Corbyn will not be able to stand up to the pressure that is about to be applied to them by capital and will peel off to the right. Others will not be able to break with small group ultra-leftism and will propose courses of action that would lead to a Corbyn led Labour Party being defeated, or Corbyn removed. But provided the fundamentally correct course of a Corbyn led party is maintained none of that will alter its basic mass support and ability to widen its base. Those who fundamentally adopt the correct positions will necessarily have to cooperate to make their actions most effective. In short a relatively rapid process of clarification and development of the left is inevitable.
The goal is simple. Above all, in the face of the obstruction of capital and all its agents, to put into power a Jeremy Corbyn led government that can enact reforms that will make Britain and the world a more humane place. If, deeply regretfully this tremendous goal is derailed by any mistakes, then the aim must be to have clarified and consolidated the left for the further struggles that will then still come.
But the British left now has to raise itself up to the level of responsibilities it has never faced before. It has taken the leadership of a mass party at last. This was only possible because of the decades of work of innumerable people, some well-known but most unjustly not known, who together made it possible. For all working and oppressed people, for all those whose work over so many years made this victory possible, the left in Britain now faces unprecedented responsibilities. It has to conduct itself accordingly.