Labour has a new leader to replace Jeremy Corbyn; Keir Starmer won with 53% without the need for a run-off. Corbyn’s choice, Rebecca Long-Bailey, got 31% and Lisa Nandy 16%. Angela Rayner is deputy leader she got 52.6% and defeated four other candidates including Richard Burgon, who was backed by Corbyn and got 21.3%. 

International Socialist League

A new Knight for Labour

Who is Sir Keir Starmer, KCB, and what on earth is a KCB? It stands for Knight Commander of the Bath; this ‘award’ goes back to the middle ages. It represents the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (formerly the Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath). It is a British order of chivalry founded by George I on 18 May 1725 (which had everything to do with a rising colonial power rather than medieval chivalry).

The name derives from the elaborate medieval ceremony for appointing a knight, which involved bathing (as a symbol of purification) as one of its elements. These knights were known as “Knights of the Bath”. Starmer was given the award in the 2014 New Year Honours by under the then Tory-Lib Dem coalition government. Socialist Voice does not know if Starmer followed the tradition of purification.

In 2008, prior to his election as an MP he served as Director of Public Prosecutions and Head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), holding the role until 2013. On 6 October 2016, he was appointed as shadow Brexit secretary in Corbyn and McDonnell’s shadow cabinet. The Tory government then swore him in as a Privy Councillor in 2017.

Having, therefore, rubbed shoulders, in the Privy Council, with the high command of military, police, state civil servants, royalty and senior Tory, Labour and Lib Dem leaders he is well accustomed to working with those in power. Starmer will be a loyal opposition (sic) and a servant of British capitalism and imperialism, even if he does occasionally call himself a “socialist” and state a preference that one does not address him as ‘Sir’. He is, one might say, a safe pair of hands for the British establishment and the money bags capitalists that rule.

What happened to Corbynism?

It is true many young and older people formed a surge, of some hundreds of thousands, to support Corbyn in his bid, against the odds, to become Labour leader, and because of that support, all attempts to oust him over four years did not succeed.

Corbyn stood on some picket-lines and highlighted the attacks of austerity, but he never called for strikes. The Labour Party leadership shudders at the thought for calling for a mass strike or any strikes.

Labour is an anti-Marxist party; they do not believe that it is necessary to lead workers in open struggle against capital and to overturn the power of capital. For them, reforms are the way, but even if they got a few they would be insufficient.

We should not forget that many Labour lefts thought that Corbyn and Labour’s Broad Church could lead a mass movement for socialism through parliament. The Socialist and Socialist Workers Party fawned after Corbyn, and Peter Taaffe (leader of the SP) used to write about the “Corbyn revolution” although that disappeared from view more recently. Both parties thought Corbyn could bring about a fundamental change in Britain and lead a road to socialism.

They never explained, and nor did anyone else, why types like Starmer entered Corbyn’s cabinet? How did Starmer match the ‘dream’ that Corbyn and the likes of the SWP talked about after the general election defeat?

The retreats from previously held positions by Corbyn started in 2016 when he instructed all Labour council groups to implement or support a cuts budget that could only implement Tory austerity. They adopted a ‘neutral’ position over Brexit and refused to honour the result of the referendum.

They allowed anti-racist and Jewish members to be suspended and expelled. They adopted as Labour Party policy the IHRA definitions and examples such as “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” and therefore bowed to Zionism – the ideology on which the State of Israeli was founded and ignore the Israeli army siege and occupations of Gaza, its annexations and its discriminatory laws and practices within Israel.

Throughout Corbyn’s tenure as Labour leader, the International Socialist League (ISL) maintained that Corbyn could not and would not lead a struggle for socialism. We were called sectarians. As we said, the right-wing of the Party bided their time and used every concession to strengthen their attacks on Corbyn. The inability and unwillingness of the left-wing of the Party to fight back allowed them to rebuild.

It meant that ‘left-wing’ councillors were allowed to continue voting for cuts without challenge. In ten years of austerity, about four councillors voted against cuts. They were expelled. There was no drive to organise mass action against capitalist attacks, no calling of workers to strike to take to the streets against May, or Johnson. Everything was aimed at winning a general election.

The vast number of the left who joined Labour abandoned the fight against austerity except in words. Many anti-cuts groups folded, the demonstrations and protests outside council meetings dropped, in the many cities, to nothing.

Meanwhile, Shadow Chancellor McDonnell endlessly repeated to the top hats that he would be happy working with big money in the city of London. The Corbynistas never complained. The SP and SWP said some critical words but continued proselytising for Corbyn.

Labour’s election manifesto never promised to repeal all the anti-trade union laws, although some Labour speakers promised they would. They only said they would repeal the most recent legislation leaving the rest until the election of a second term Labour government.

The bubble burst. Labour lost the election because many workers had turned against Labour especially in the hardest-hit areas of the country that had remained mired in poverty after the Miners’ strike.

Right-wing in control

Labour will now return to Blairism while denying it – it’s not so good to be seen rubbing shoulders with what many workers see as a war criminal.

Corbyn’s “saving” of the Labour party has saved Labour for its right-wing. Blair’s desire to integrate further into the running of a capitalist state in decay and move further away from any workers’ influence will resume.

Many on Labour’s left will call for unity and a coming together to get Labour re-elected and will, no doubt, say any concerns on Labour’s program can be thrashed out once the Tories are out. But Labour are no answer for the working class and oppressed people; reformism is no answer and parliamentarianism cannot bring socialism.

The Labour Party is back in the hands of the right-wing – in truth their control of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Labour-controlled councils, council Labour groups and much of the apparatus were never overturned.

An attempt at a revival after the election defeat came through the newish Labour Left Alliance which held a February national meeting in Sheffield. The average age of attendees was over 60 years of age, and they agreed that only Labour members could join the LLA.

Through all the Corbyn years the trade unions such as Unite and Unison shovelled money into Labour. They helped Labour to keep on implementing Tory austerity. The trade union leaders never mobilised to fight as services and thousands of jobs were destroyed.

Not a new question

These events echo Trotsky’s thoughts on the Labour left,

The left muddle heads are incapable of power; but if through the turn of events it fell into their hands, they would hasten to pass it over to their elder brothers on the right. They would do the same with the state as they are now doing in the party.

We recommend readers to study these writings of Trotsky on the Labour Party, where he discusses the balance of forces between the right and left in Labour. Labour lefts will never lead a struggle for socialist power, that is, workers’ power. Trotsky says in this letter that,

The ideological and organisational formation of a genuinely revolutionary, that is of a communist, party on the basis of the movement of the masses is conceivable only under the condition of a perpetual, systematic, inflexible, untiring and irreconcilable unmasking of the quasi-left leaders of every hue, of their confusion, of their compromises and of their reticence.

This reasoning of Trotsky not only applies to left Labour leaders but to all those muddle-headed leaders of left parties who supported Corbynism. 

Workers’ struggle the only answer to the crises of capitalism

Austerity and its effects, Grenfell Tower life-threatening living conditions, brought on by the brutality of zero-hour contracts, the attacks on benefits, the abuse of migrants, women and all oppressed people. We now face a deep economic recession. It is never-ending for the working class.

Austerity not only killed workers; it has created a graveyard with COVID-19. Capitalism did not prepare, has not enough PPE and there is no mass testing programme despite many recent warnings by scientists. Only a mass struggle based on class independence and militant workers’ organisations can answer the COVID-19 crisis and prepare for future outbreaks.

For a new independent class struggle workers’ party

In this struggle, workers will not advance by creating a new reformist party. There is a need for a new workers’ party with the guiding line that what is won will only be won on the streets with mass mobilisations and action. Such a party cannot look towards parliament for working-class victories. Parliament can be used to expose capitalist parties, the anti-worker functioning of capitalism and call for support for all workers’ struggle. But it is not a means of achieving socialism.

There have been many failed attempts like Syriza (Greece), Podemos (Spain) and Bloco de Esquerda (Portugal). All these parties turned the tactical question of elections into a strategy – a capitalist strategy; Bloco just signed a COVID-19 agreement with the government to ban strikes in the national interest! Podemos accepted positions in a capitalist government; Syriza betrayed the struggle against the EU’s poverty programme for Greece.

The French NPA (New Anti-Capitalist Party) is not a successful electoral party but do workers need a party that was never able to help the militant yellow vest movement in France?

The real workers’ party must be in the frontline of workers struggle and will be tested by that struggle, it has to support and fight for the self-organisation of workers, always seeking the unity in struggle between the militant unions and social struggles. It must help renew the leadership of the old unions and help build new ones like the United Voices of the World and the Independent Workers GB. The ISL will intervene in organisations that emerge to fight for our position.

Build the ISL

We also need a different type of party to Labour to lead the working class to overthrow capitalism. Only a revolution led by workers with the oppressed people united by a revolutionary program and a revolutionary party can stop the destruction of humanity and our planet.

We call on those youth and workers who were cruelly deceived and want to fight for socialism to study Marxism and Trotsky and begin the fight for a genuine party, a revolutionary party to overthrow capitalism. Nothing else will save us.

That is why we say fight for your future – join the International Socialist League, a workers’, Marxist and internationalist group and part of the International Workers League- Fourth International.