By Mark Buckley
There is now a concerted ruling class offensive to completely discredit Jeremy Corbyn as part of an overall project of burying Corbynism. Corbyn is the most left-wing leader Labour has ever had, opposed to imperialist wars, to racism and discrimination, and opposed to austerity. The period we have entered is one of general crisis for the capitalist economies, so all of these attacks on the working class and oppressed are back on the agenda. The left needs to defend the positive legacy of Corbyn on all these fronts in order to mount any defence now or be able to advance in the future.
The attack on Corbyn is an all-round one. It involves attacking each of the three key elements of Corbynism. Opposition to war is replaced with stealing Venezuela’s gold, interfering in China and talk of sending aircraft carriers to help the US in the South China Sea. Opposing racism is replaced with increased stop and search, complete disregard for the hugely disproportionate number of Black and Asian deaths in the pandemic, and attacks on leading Black Labour politicians such as Diane Abbott and Dawn Butler. Corbyn’s opposition to austerity and advocacy of investment is substituted with the drive to get people back to work whatever the consequences, the early ending of furlough payments and promoting the stupid idea that ‘the Tories are implementing Corbyn’s policies’. It was never a Corbyn economic policy to hand over £300 billion to the banks and threaten to starve people back to work.
In all of this the new Labour leadership is at least complicit. On occasion it criticises the Tories from the right, arguing for an early return to work, demanding sanctions against China, echoing the Tories in arguing that ‘criminals should be afraid of the police’, or in its own treatment of its Black MPs.
The next likely weapon used against Corbyn will be the EHRC (Equalities and Human Rights Commission) report into Labour antisemitism. The left needs to understand clearly that EHRC is an arm of government. It does not combat racism in any form, as the dropping of its only two Black or Asian members highlighted. The EHRC reports to the ‘Government Equalities Office’. Its role is to act as a cover for the racism that is actively promoted by the Cabinet. Of course, it could not resist the opportunity to attack Corbyn.
There is a twofold reason for these attacks, despite the fact that Corbyn is now just a backbencher and the parliamentary left is significantly diminished. The first is strategic. There has never before been a socialist leading the Labour Party. Comparing Corbyn to Attlee is foolish. After the defeat of fascism in World War II a welfare state was established across most of Western Europe and is not unique to Britain. Labour lost the 1951 election because it had been faced with the choice either of ending austerity or maintaining a very large military budget and fighting for the US in Korea. It chose the latter.
Corbynism runs counter to the entire history of British imperialist politics. From the perspective of the ruling class, it must be ended for that reason alone. But there is a serious immediate question. The government has let the coronavirus rip, doing enormous damage to public health and accounting for tens of thousands of avoidable deaths. Far from preserving ‘the economy’, it has so damaged it and the profitability of many firms that even some large employers are keeping workers working from home. At the same time, Brexit is a project to subordinate a much-reduced British imperialism to the direct interests of the United States. This will be true whoever wins the Presidency in November.
This is a high-risk situation in which the ruling class has already faced important opposition from Black Lives Matter on the issue of racism and Black liberation as well as from workers against the premature return to work, led by the teachers’ union NEU. It cannot allow that opposition to crystallise around a political leadership, or even allow a political leadership that gives it voice. That is why Rebecca Long-Bailey had to go and why the attacks on Diane Abbott and others beside Corbyn have increased.
Yet there seems to be a growing awareness in some sections of the labour movement that the attacks on Corbyn and his allies have a wider political agenda. So, one of the attacks on Corbyn is that he is threatened with being sued by John Ware, who was responsible for the Panorama programme alleging antisemitism in Labour. At the time of writing the crowdfunding for Corbyn’s defence is well over £300,000, versus an initial target of £20,000. This is an excellent development!
This defence needs to be broadened politically. Now that local Labour Parties are allowed to meet again, they should pass motions where they can in defence of the Corbyn policy legacy, hold political discussions about it applying it to the current crisis, and link up with Black Lives Matter, the teaching unions and all those who fight to oppose the government’s offensive. At the same time, there is a change in the leadership in many of the major unions. Socialists can try to use their influence in these contests to unite all those who oppose burying Corbynism.
A large-scale fight will be needed in the next period to oppose this government’s callous inaction in combating COVID-19, its efforts to double down on austerity, its sabre-rattling against China and the wave of racism it will unleash in order to deflect their own responsibility for all these aspects of the crisis. Opposing the attacks on Corbyn is an important part of that.