Britain: Labour Party suspends its former left leader, Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn (photo Chatham House/CC)

Back at the start of 2020, in order to win the Labour leadership, Keir Starmer tried to dress up in some of former leader Jeremy Corbyn’s clothes, claiming he wanted ‘unity’ with all wings of the party. Six months later, he has suspended his predecessor from Labour membership.

MPs who vote for benefit cuts and war are welcome in the Labour Party. So are those who voted for privatisation of public services, or for the right of state agents to commit crimes while spying on trade unionists and socialists, as are those who campaigned for a ‘hostile environment’ for migrants. Jeremy Corbyn, who as Labour leader in 2017 achieved the biggest vote gain in a general election for any party since 1945, is not.

As the Socialist Party warned, Starmer’s victory was a conquest for the capitalist class’s campaign to make Labour once more into Blairite ‘New Labour’, a party that could be relied on to act in the interests of the billionaires.

Throughout the five years that Corbyn led the Labour Party, he was accused by the pro-capitalist right of the party as being too ‘factional’ and ‘divisive’. In reality, he and those around him made the opposite mistake, making endless concessions to the right-wing – who continued to dominate the Parliamentary Labour Party and the local council chambers – in the vain hope of pacifying them.

Even now, Jeremy Corbyn and his former deputy leader, John McDonnell, are pleading with Labour Party members to “stay calm”. The right, by contrast, is completely ruthless, only happy when they have annihilated every last vestige of Corbyn’s legacy.

The frenzy whipped up around the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report on antisemitism is completely synthetic, designed to bury Corbyn’s radical programme under a pile of slander. Antisemitism must, of course, be taken seriously and combated. This, however, is a cynical attempt to use false accusations of antisemitism to attack the left.

Incredibly, their investigation only claims to have found two examples of ‘unlawful harassment’ of an antisemitic character. These alleged incidents are by Pam Bromley, a Labour councillor, and Ken Livingstone, a former London mayor and MP. The quote by Bromley highlighted in the report summary consists of complaining that Corbyn hadn’t sufficiently challenged false accusations of antisemitism that were used by the right. This is Alice in Wonderland stuff – a 130-page report, being trumpeted by the capitalist media as proof of widespread antisemitism in the Labour Party – finds just two people guilty, in large part for criticising the behaviour of the Israeli government and asserting that the claims of antisemitism in the Labour Party are exaggerated.

From the moment of Starmer’s press conference this morning, Tory MPs have been demanding that he suspend Corbyn. Just hours later, he has done just that. Starmer is desperate to show that – should growing anger at the economic and health crisis force Johnson out – he is ready and waiting in the wings to take over as a reliable representative of big business.

By suspending Corbyn, Starmer has laid down a clear challenge to the workers’ movement. The choice is clear – accept having no party that represents the interests of the working-class majority, or stand up and fight!

Unions’ role

A month ago Unite, the biggest Labour-affiliated trade union, cut its funding of Labour by 10%, as a warning to Starmer not to move Labour to the right. What clearer indication could there be that Starmer has no intention of sticking by Corbyn’s manifesto promises on nationalisation, free education, or repeal of the anti-trade union laws? Starmer and the other pro-capitalist MPs will never represent the interests of the working class.

Unite’s leadership should now institute an immediate conference, to be a ‘council of war’ of the workers’ movement – inside and outside of the Labour Party – to fight this attack and to discuss how to ensure workers have a vehicle that does fight for their interests. In the midst of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s – with unemployment spiralling and children going hungry – a mass socialist voice, including at the ballot box, is desperately needed.

If this step is not taken from the top, there will be many workers and young people who will be prepared to do so. The Socialist Party is fighting for that, and appeals to all those who agree, to join us in that struggle. As a starting point, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), involving the transport workers’ union, the RMT, the Socialist Party and others, is back in action and preparing to stand in elections next May.

The rest of the labour movement – the left union leaders, in particular – must act. The determination of the right to make Labour safe for capitalism could not be clearer. If now is not the time for similar determination from the left to fight for a mass workers’ party – when is?

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October 2020