Now build austerity fightback
The result of the Labour leadership election has not been announced. But one thing is clear, the wave of support forJeremy Corbyn marks a pivotal change in British politics.
For years the establishment parties, including Labour, have spoken with one voice: ’there is no alternative toausterity.’ But the voice of those who have suffered attacks on their living standards in order to boost the wealth of the super-rich has not been heard in the main political arena.
The richest 1,000 families have doubled their wealth since 2009, while millions of families have ballooning debt because they can’t afford to live on their incomes.
Tony Blair, architect of ’New Labour’, says he doesn’t understand what is happening. The likes of him, Baron Kinnock and Peter "Intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich" Mandelson are totally removed from the lives of working class people.
They have all intervened to try to stop Jeremy Corbyn, but it is their policies of cuts and privatisation that have been rejected. Cameron only built on and extended these when he came to power. Blair’s imperialist wars are also seen to bear a big responsibility for the growth of Isis and instability in the Middle East, leading to the horrors of the refugee crisis today.
Whatever happens in the Labour election vote, an opportunity for a real fightback against austerity now exists. We need to build a mass movement for change and create an organised voice for the working class.
On Saturday 12 September, after this issue of theSocialist goes to print, the Labour leadership winner will be declared. Jeremy Corbyn has been predicted as winner by the polls. But whatever the result, his huge support and the surge in people signing up to vote reflect a mood of opposition to austerity.
The wide support that anti-austerity ideas can get was shown by the interactive poll involving 10,000 people held during Sky TV’s leadership debate. Jeremy Corbyn began with 66% support and by the end was on 81%. His nearest rival, Liz Kendall, finished on a mere 8%!
Before his entry into the contest, the other three candidates were claiming Labour lost the general election because it was too left wing or insufficiently pro-big business. The opposite is true. New Labour, with its neoliberal policies, lost five million votes between 1997 and 2010, most of which never returned.
The Socialist has pointed out that there have been a number of glimpses over the last year of the massive desire for an alternative to the austerity consensus. This mood was expressed during and after the Scottish independence referendum campaign. It is the reason for the virtual wipeout of Labour in Scotland during the subsequent general election. We also saw it in the growth of the Green Party and, in a distorted way, in some of the protest votes obtained by Ukip.
Massive battles ahead
Unintended consequences play a big part in politics. Jeremy Corbyn only scraped on to the ballot because some MPs, while not supporting him, wanted to give the impression of a wide choice. But once on, he caught the anti-austerity mood. The voting method, designed by the right-wing leadership to prevent trade union and left-wing influence, actually provided an opportunity for this mood to be expressed.
The same mood has been demonstrated internationally. In a number of cases new anti-austerity forces have been created such as Podemos in Spain and Die Linke in Germany. Syriza in Greece for example was elected on an anti-austerity programme but betrayed the hopes of the Greek people and could now pay for it in the general election as it may not get a majority. This is a warning to all similar movements against remaining in the framework of capitalism, including to the forces around Corbyn.
If Jeremy Corbyn wins it will be a big step forward in the battle against austerity and, by implication, capitalism. It will also be despite the purge of recently signed up voters (likely to be Corbyn supporters) deemed by the right as not having Labour "values", or even for not being on the electoral register. This is a taste of what is to come.
He, and the forces around him, will face a massive battle inside the Labour Party. Much, perhaps the majority, of his support will have come from the ’outside’ – new members and registered supporters who were attracted by the hope of something new. This is a new party in the process of formation. Many of those are a new generation of young people, alongside some returning former members.
But he has only 20 real supporters among Labour’s right-wing dominated group of MPs, and faces a Labour machine that has been divorced from democratic working class influence for many years.
Some of the right considered splitting away, but former members of the Social Democratic Party, who split from Labour in the 1980s, advised against it because they fear it couldn’t be immediately successful in the current situation. It seems unlikely at this stage.
The suggestion has been made that there could be a legal challenge on the basis of insufficient checks on so called "infiltration" by voters from other parties, perhaps if it is a close vote.
An immediate attempt to unseat him cannot be ruled out, but the most likely tactic of the right will be a scorched earth policy of trying to ’contain’ Corbyn, attempt to discredit him and move to replace him at a later date – particularly if he wins by a large margin. Chuka Umuna for example, after organising a right-wing group of MPs to counter Corbyn, is now saying the party should unite around the new leader.
Others have been less conciliatory, like the MP quoted in the Guardian saying Corbyn supporters are "moving through the party like Isis in their jeeps in Iraq."
Tom Baldwin, former aide to Ed Miliband, bemoaned the influx saying "Labour is not the Party it was ten years ago, or even a few weeks ago." A new party is indeed needed – but of a different kind, and it remains to be seen if it is realised by this route. But it will have to be fought for.
Significantly, during the election campaign proposals were made to reinstate the election of the shadow cabinet by the big majority of right-wing Labour MPs, although they haven’t yet been acted on. This was designed to imprison Jeremy Corbyn. They will not give in without a fight, with the ruling class behind them. Making the Labour Party a secure and thoroughly capitalist party was a historic gain for the ruling class. After all, Margaret Thatcher bragged that her biggest achievement was the creation of New Labour.
Reverse the cuts
If Corbyn wins, the wider working class will be looking for a clear reversal of pro-austerity policies and a fighting strategy. Any hint of a retreat or any pro-capitalist collaboration would be fatal. Anti-austerity policies will need to be elaborated: a bold programme of improving the living standards of working class people linked to clear socialist policies such as the nationalisation of the banks and failing companies.
Jeremy Corbyn will need to build on his base of support. He said that any attempt by MPs to refuse to support party policies would be met with a "revolt from below." But this will also need to be organised.
Up to 50,000 people will have attended his rallies in the run up to the election. 15,000 signed up to his contact list. Activating those can then draw thousands more into the fight. The party should be opened up. Invite back in those who have been forced out or expelled in the past for fighting cuts and the Poll Tax and for socialist ideas.
Bringing back the idea of automatic reselection of MPs to allow democratic accountability of candidates would be an important step, although some of Jeremy Corbyn’s backers are saying that this is not his intention.
The Socialist Party has raised the idea that Jeremy could, win or lose, call a conference of all his supporters inside and outside the Labour Party to build the anti-austerity movement. He could invite trade unions, including those not Labour affiliated to take part. We would get involved and encourage others in the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) to do the same.
The immediate tests will include the fight against the new wave of cuts being proposed by the Tories in their November spending review. One of the sharpest attacks is on local council spending. Local councils are soon to begin their budget setting process. Jeremy has called on Labour councils to "stand together against the cuts." The Socialist Party and TUSC believe this means each authority refusing to pass on government cuts, setting budgets based on the needs of the area and then building a movement in support locally. Labour councils across the country carrying this through would be a powerful challenge to the government.
If Jeremy Corbyn is elected leader of the Labour Party then it would be a tremendous platform to begin this fight. However if the right succeed in their plan of containing him and the fight is not successful then the danger is that those drawn around Corbyn’s campaign will become disillusioned and leave. If he is removed at any stage it is vital that all the conclusions are drawn about the viability of Labour as a vehicle to continue the struggle against austerity.
A new mass working class party will need to be created. The route to this is not straightforward. But the support for Jeremy Corbyn and the blows to the establishment’s austerity mantra in this election show that the process has begun!
TUSC writing to Labour councillors
Dave Nellist, Chair, Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
People have been looking for something to latch onto to lead a fight against austerity, and Jeremy became that something. He represents a challenge to the establishment.
Austerity has meant wages have stagnated, pension costs have gone up, and essential services are disappearing. Labour, and many trade union leaders as well, have been completely absent in trying to resist it.
In November, Osborne will demand tens of billions of pounds of cuts. We need to begin the fightback against austerity. If Jeremy wins I hope he will call together Labour authorities from all round the country and make an immediate national response – no more cuts in services. If he did this he will inspire millions of people to join the battle.
TUSC aims to write to every Labour councillor and candidate standing in the elections in May 2016 to invite them to meet local trade unionists and campaigners to establish a no cuts budget approach. We want to base council budgets on what people need and involve local communities in the battle. If Labour councillors pledge to vote against cuts we will back them, but if they don’t, we will aim to stand a TUSC candidate against them. We will be putting Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity pledge into practice.