Now that the dust has settled, it is more obvious than ever that Corbyn’s left-wing leadership of the Labour Party has a very strong base of support, in spite of the relentless attacks from the media, his own MPs and even now some trade union leaders. Two divergent paths open up before us: either this right-wing clique in the Labour Party forces Corbyn out, or Corbyn and his supporters force them out.
Opinion polls and reports are showing that in the midst of all the sound and fury, Corbyn and the movement behind him are strengthening. According to a YouGov poll, “66 per cent of Labour party members believe that the new leader is doing “well” in his new job, a seven point increase on his his 59 per cent landslide.” Stephen Bush, writing in the New Statesman, concludes that this means Corbyn could come out on top in the civil war between left and right:
“Two-thirds of party members, and perhaps ten per cent of MPs believe that the party is headed for the sunlit uplands. The remaining third – and most of the parliamentary Labour party – thinks that the party is heading for a heavy defeat in 2020 at best and annihilation at worst. They can’t go on like this – someone is going home in an ambulance: either Corbyn, or his internal opponents. My instinct is that it will be Corbyn who triumphs.”
The same poll showed that Corbyn’s support amongst the general public is far from the disaster it is made out to be. One has to read these polls with a pinch of salt - to the question ‘Do you think that Corbyn is doing well as leader of the Labour Party’ (to which he got a respectable 30% ‘yes’ response among the general public), many answer ‘no’ not because they disagree with him but because they can see the endless attacks from within his own parliamentary party; so in a certain sense it is self-evident that he is not doing well. The real question, not asked by YouGov, is: who is to blame for that? Another recent poll showed Corbyn to be easily the most popular political leader in the UK.
A closer reading of the YouGov poll is more positive still for Corbyn:
“So, for example, while the number of Labour members who think Corbyn is doing well totals 66 per cent, isn’t it more interesting that 74 per cent of those polled, who didn’t vote Labour in the general election, also think he is doing well?
“Corbyn is unlikely to become prime minister, according to half of Labour members – but that opinion is reflected by only 40 per cent of people who didn’t vote Labour in the election. Does this indicate that “floating” voters are floating in Corbyn’s direction? Remember, it’s early days yet.
“Should Corbyn lead Labour into the next election? 56 per cent of Labour members said yes, alongside a whopping 76 per cent of those who didn’t vote Labour at the last election.” (Vox Political)
At the moment there is propaganda in the bourgeois press saying that Corbyn could lose a formerly safe seat in the upcoming Oldham West and Royton by-election; the conclusion invariably drawn is that this will be a harbinger of his coming doom. But when one reads past the headlines of these articles, we find that this is completely unfounded and is just as much an assumption as the previous claims that Corbyn is ‘unelectable’. We will have to wait to see what the voters of Oldham really think.
Corbyn’s hand is strong even in his apparently ‘controversial’ and ‘disastrous’ position against airstrikes in Syria, a position apparently so deluded and hippy-ish that a majority of his MPs will have “no choice” but to rebel in Parliament. And yet,
“only a minority of Labour members support airstrikes against ISIS in Syria. At the weekend, Corbyn suggested that Labour supporters could take part in indicative online ballots to help shape the party’s positions on a range of issues. That he could rely on members to back him on issues such as this would give him leverage in areas where he is at odds with his MPs.” (Labourlist.org)
Trade union stab in the back
Corbyn scored 58% amongst trade union affiliate voters in the leadership election, and it is likely that those in the unions not exercising their vote in the leadership contest were even more favourable to him. He is one of the most tireless MPs in defending the trade unions in parliament and on the picket line. He is one of the few Labour MPs to consistently support the same sort of anti-austerity policies as the unions. Undoubtedly, most trade unionists are delighted to finally have a Labour leader whom they are confident will campaign at the highest level for their interests.
One would therefore have assumed that the major trade union leaders would be doing everything in their power to strengthen Corbyn’s leadership, to defend him against the right wing and to give the appearance of unity so essential to winning elections. And yet, completely against the wishes of their own members, Dave Prentis and Len McCluskey, leaders of the two biggest unions and Labour affiliates, are subtly, and not so subtly, helping to stick the knife in.
Prentis, general secretary of Unison, told the Independent on Sunday that “divisive rows over Trident or shoot to kill are distractions no one needs. It’s got to stop. If it doesn’t, Labour stands little chance of winning back the millions who deserted the party in May.” And yet a majority of Britons are against the renewal of Trident and most Party members also back Corbyn on the other ‘security’ controversy, the bombing of Syria. What must stop is Prentis’ and others’ attempts to embarrass Corbyn and create an artificial atmosphere of division and weakness.
According to McCluskey, Unite’s general secretary, “The only way for Jeremy Corbyn to become prime minister is if he puts forward a credible economic alternative that the British people can sign up to.” This is obvious, and Corbyn and McDonnell would agree with it, so why emphasise it? Obviously, McCluskey is echoing the right-wing chorus that the only credible economic strategy is capitalist austerity, which allegedly McCluskey and his union oppose. Finally, Unite has a Labour leader that echoes its position on austerity; but rather than back this, McCluskey publicly undermines it.
McCluskey has also “warned him [Corbyn] that he cannot say the first thing that comes into his head.” McCluskey thinks it is far better to vet what comes into one’s head against the interests of the media, big business etc. to the point where one’s words are seen as meaningless. But once again, McCluskey is out of step not only with Corbyn but with the public:
“Only 32 per cent – less than a third – of everybody polled agreed [that Labour must put forward ‘electable’ policies]. 56 per cent said it is better for a major political party to put forward policies it really believes in – rising to 67 per cent of those who didn’t vote Labour in May.” (Vox Political)
The very last thing Corbyn needs is critical ‘advice’ such as this from the union leaders. In an irreconcilable struggle - and there is an irreconcilable struggle between the right and left in Labour - attacks echoing the right-wing can only ever put weight onto the right-wing’s side of the scales. This can only undermine Corbyn and embolden the right-wing in the party. Criticism can and must be levelled; but only to help Corbyn defeat the right wing, only to strengthen him and his movement. Criticism that comes from the right, that justifies the right’s ‘arguments’, is a criminal betrayal of this golden opportunity for the working class and the unions. It shows that Corbyn’s movement requires the wholesale transformation of the entire labour movement - that the leadership of the unions as well as Labour MPs and Councillors must be changed to reflect the living movement from below.
Kick out the Blairites! Kick out Capitalism!
This is well understood by the Labour membership, with over half of Labour members indicating that they are in favour mandatory reselection for MPs. The right-wing know this and are terrified of it. They are raising the issue themselves to scare Corbyn away from it. But reselection is not only a democratic right; it is implicit in a situation where there is such an unprecedented chasm between membership and MPs.
Corbyn very much resembles another political leader of modern times whom he supported - that is, Hugo Chavez. A genuine, honest and courageous leader like Corbyn, Chavez commanded immense natural respect from millions of his people; but he often had to fight against those around him just to get anything done. He was obliged to use national media to speak over the heads of other leaders and bureaucrats and to mobilise his rank-and-file.
As in Venezuela, this contradiction is at bottom a class one - the working masses have thrust forward a candidate who they feel really represents their interests, but have not yet attained the strength of organisation to repeat that feat up and down the party. Consequently this leader is something of a prisoner, surrounded by careerists who faithfully represent another class, the capitalists.
The careerists cannot yet get rid of this alien in their ranks; if they tried to, it would precipitate an almighty split along class lines that would leave many of these careerists without a career. But we, the working class, need to get rid of the aliens in our ranks - that is, the very same careerists itching to stab Corbyn and their own party in the back.
We cannot spend the next five years with 200 or so Labour MPs undermining our movement at every turn. Our party needs to be under our control so we can speak with our own voice, united against the Tories. Reselection of MPs is an absolutely essential and imminent task for our movement, a vital step on the road to transforming Labour into a clear socialist party that fights for the interests of the working class to change society and to end capitalism.