Many will have sighed in disappointment and exasperation to see #LabourPurge2 trending on Twitter as ballot papers were sent out for the Labour leadership election. Tens of thousands of members and registered supporters are thought not to have received a vote because they have been ruled out by Labour officials. That’s on top of the 130,000 members who were excluded from voting because they joined after the arbitrary cut-off date of 12 January set by Labour’s NEC.
Among the most shocking stories of exclusions is a member from Wiltshire seemingly ruled out for a Facebook post saying that she was a fan of the band the Foo Fighters. Outrageously Ronnie Draper, general secretary of the Labour-affiliated bakers’ union BFAWU, has had his (40-year) membership of the Labour Party suspended. He was told that this was because of a Tweet he had put out - though not what it said. In a statement Ronnie responded:
"I believe this flies in the face of natural justice. I intend to challenge my suspension robustly and am currently taking legal advice... I passionately believe that all members should be allowed to be heard, and be given the opportunity to vote for the candidate of their choice. I am extremely concerned that suspensions and bans are being imposed in an arbitrary or politically motivated way in this election..."
Jeremy Corbyn himself and shadow chancellor John McDonnell have correctly also responded strongly criticising this desperation from the right-wing Labour machine. John has worked closely with Ronnie Draper and BFAWU, along with Socialist Party members, in the Fast Food Rights campaign and others. He contrasted what he said looked like a "rigged purge" of Corbyn supporters to the complete lack of action against the likes of Labour peer Lord Sainsbury, who has recently donated more than £2 million to the Liberal Democrats.
These bureaucratic attempts to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat for Owen Smith are not having the desired effect. They only act to make it clearer to more people that the right do not stand with the majority or have any interest in a real democratic process. In fact, as shadow defence minister Emily Thornberry said, they want to "put party members back in their box." Not only will these methods fail, but they fly in the face of all the best traditions of the labour movement from which theLabour Party came.
One of the most common reasons given to people as to why they have been denied a vote is that they have publicly supported, or even stood for, rival parties in the past. But of course, those elections took place with a Labour Party dominated by those now opposing Corbyn and his policies.
Millions of voters stopped voting Labour under Tony Blair because the party was no longer the one they had seen as their own. Many now see a chance to reverse the damage done by Blair and to go even further - it is this possibility, hope and fight that is bringing many thousands back towards Labour.
The purge is just the latest phase in this civil war in the Labour Party - which fundamentally is about what kind of party is needed. The Blairites on the one side are fighting for Labour to remain as another bland party ofbig business, bereft of any real activist base involved in political discussion - which they had largely achieved over the last two decades. The thousands of new joiners and others fighting hard for a second Corbyn victory represent the desire for a new kind of party - one that is truly democratic and draws millions of ordinary workers and young people into political activity and debate.
We have argued that the best way to achieve this would be a return to the federal structure on which the Labour Party was founded. Invite in all trade unions, campaign groups and political parties - including the Socialist Party - which agree with the basic programme of Corbyn’s Labour Party to participate with full democratic rights, while maintaining their own structures. This already exists, for example, for the Cooperative Party. Achieving this, as well as a thoroughgoing socialist programme, requires having politicians who support these moves. That means mandatory reselection to give rank-and-file Labour Party members and affiliated organisations a real say over who their public representatives are.
There have been reports that a handful of Labour MPs who abandoned shadow cabinet positions to undermine Corbyn after the EU referendum will ask to return to their posts if he wins. There can be no compromise with Blairites or others who are implacably opposed to the direction that Corbyn is taking the Labour Party in.
They will never willingly accept the kinds of democratic measures and fighting policies needed to really change the Labour Party into an anti-austerity, socialist force. Why? Because they would mean the end of the rule of the Labour Party by the right and their pro-capitalist policies - and of Labour as a vehicle for their political careers. They understand as much as the left do that a truly democratic party involving millions of working class people would simply not support the continued rule of the Blairites.
Their policies are not popular - Corbyn’s are. In an era of low pay, zero-hour contracts and brutal austerity ravaging our public services, people want radical policies like a £10 an hour minimum wage, nationalisation of key services and investment in the NHS. They don’t want so-called ’pragmatism’ and crocodile tears from ’Labour’ politicians who claim nothing can be done while carrying out Tory cuts.
In this way, the fight against bureaucratic methods like this purge is one important strand of the fight for a democratic, fighting, socialist Labour Party involving the mass of working class people. And that in turn is a vital part of the wider struggle against austerity, to kick out the Tories and to fight for a socialist society free from poverty and oppression.
All on the left must therefore play an active part in the movement supporting Jeremy Corbyn. We need real unity in action to achieve change. So it has been disappointing to see in some instances different elements of the Corbyn movement responding to attacks from the right by joining in attacks on the Socialist Party.
An article was recently published on the blog of South Birmingham Momentum criticising Socialist Party members for responding boldly in the press to attacks on us and Corbyn supporters for alleged ’Trotskyist entryism’ into the Labour Party.
As Birmingham Socialist Party said in their reply to this article: "What were the Socialist Party, who were bureaucratically expelled from the Labour Party for fighting the Tories, supposed to say? ’No comment’? Would that have called the media hyenas off? No of course it wouldn’t. It would have been tantamount to saying ’We know we’re villains, so we’re lying low’. Socialists must answer the attacks made by Britain’s elite, not hide when attacked."
What is this article really arguing? "That Marxists, ’Trots’ etc should not be allowed in the Labour Party? That Kinnock’s and Blair’s expulsions were right? That if anti-austerity Greens wanted to join Labour that that would be embarrassing or ’awkward’? All this to placate - and without any success - a right wing determined to destroy Jeremy’s leadership?" The response finished asking "please concentrate determined fire on the Blairite right wing, not on socialists."
This is a potentially historic time for the whole labour and socialist movement. An opportunity stands before us to create the kind of party so desperately needed in the struggle against austerity and capitalism. We must come together to fight for the right of all workers and young people who support those aims to have a democratic say in its leadership, structures and programme.