With the formation of Momentum, tasked with the job of defending and organising the Corbyn movement, there has been much shouting from the ranks of the establishment about the “dangers” of the Left “organising”, and in particular the possibility of the de-selection of Labour MPs taking place. Nothing seems to so enrage right-wing Labour MPs as the threat to their careers. Tom Watson, the deputy Labour leader, meanwhile, has raised a hue-and-a-cry about Trotskyists and "entryism".
This is apparently an “affront” to British democracy and something that must be fought against by all means necessary. In this context, the summer coup attempt against Corbyn by a majority of Labour MPs (using a plan leaked to the Telegraph several months earlier), and the enforced leadership election now taking place, shows where the priorities of these people really lies. If only these people were to put the same energy into fighting the Tories and their rotten policies.
In all their talk about the "dangers" of a growing Left movement, however, they somehow neglect to mention that the Labour right wing have themselves been well organised and financed not just in recent years, but over many decades. Capitalist entryism into the structures of the labour movement has been a long-established fact.
Anyone attending the last Labour Party conference would have been struck by the number of fringe meetings organised by various bodies such as the misnamed Progress, the Policy Network, and so on. All seemed to have the same motley crew of right-wing Labour MPs (past and present), journalists and assorted Blairite “experts” such as John McTernan speaking, all with the single aim of undermining and sniping at Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Interestingly enough, nearly all of these meetings enjoyed some form of financial support from companies and special interest organisations. Now we have a new wave of similarly shady right-wing groups - such as Labour First, Saving Labour, and Labour Tomorrow - being formed to lead the Blairite counter-reaction inside the Labour Party. In the PLP, we also have the fifth column of the "Labour For The Common Good" group.
Over the last few years, many questions have been asked about groups like Progress – "the party within a party" – and the role it and others have played in organising right-wing forces within Labour. Whereas the Left have traditionally been queasy if not down right naïve about organising in return, preferring instead to believe that we are all going in the same direction and have the best interests of Labour at heart, the truth is that the right-wing within Labour has been organised for decades, operating to a very different agenda.
With unlimited resources they have plotted and recruited to their ranks layers of the most careerist and ambitious, often from the field of student politics, in order to bolster their ideas within the movement. John Mann, Mike Gapes and Charles Clarke are just three of many names that spring to mind here. Blairite apologist Luke Akehurst let the cat out of the bag when, in a blog entry from 2011, he outlined how in 1996 he joined the right-wing Labour First group, “largely because John Spellar made the effort to reach out and recruit me...” Spellar is one of those who has been most vocal in recent months in attacking Corbyn.
Akehurst makes clear that his priorities were to support the right-wing in Labour on issues such as nuclear arms and NATO. He goes on to note that the real history of Labour’s right-wing should be remembered: “the heavy lifting had already been done by the Old Right around the MPs in Labour Solidarity, the union leaders and political officers in the St Ermin’s group and the newsletter Forward Labour.”
So what is the real history of the Labour right-wing? How were they organised, and who funded it? What side were (and are) they really on?
The people “we” support
Much of this story would have remained hidden from view for many years, had it not been for an article on the subject, commissioned by The Sunday Times in 1972, but rejected by editor Harold Evans because "...these are the people we support!"
The “banned” article, written by Richard Fletcher, would instead go on to be reproduced in a number of magazines, pamphlets and books, ironically achieving a far wider distribution as a result. In the article, Fletcher outlined how after decades of iron control inside the party by officials and trade union leaderships, fissures began to show themselves inside the party between Left and Right after the Second World War. The American establishment in general, and the CIA in particular, were already looking with concern at leftward movements in the mass organisations in Europe and started to take a particular interest in the British Labour Party. Labour’s right-wing had started to mobilise around an anti-Marxist publication called Socialist Commentary.
In 1947, a number of leading Labour right-wingers became contributors and the journal was turned towards targeting the Left within Labour. A number of Labour’s Right also became involved with the American-based anti-communist magazine New Leader. In 1950, the Congress of Cultural Freedom (CCF) was launched to “defend” the West and immediately attracted a number of Labour figures in Britain to its ranks.
One of those was Anthony Crosland, who under CCF guidance wrote the now-forgotten bible of reformism The Future Of Socialism, published in 1956, which sought to outline how class struggle was being replaced by never-ending plenty under which reforms would now be the only way forward. The CCF magazine Encounter started to attract around it a number of leading Labour figures, including Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell.
Oddly enough, no one sought to question how all this was being financed. The right wing felt in a strong position, armed with the might of the party machine. In 1955 they attacked Tribune and tried to expel Aneurin Bevan for disloyalty against Attlee. However, by one vote on the NEC, they were defeated on this.
The right wing bided their time and in 1960, straight after the general election defeat of 1959, they decided to move. The aim would be getting rid of Labour’s Clause IV – the historic commitment to public ownership. Well-funded surveys were produced “proving” that nationalisation was unpopular and a campaign by MPs was launched to move the party to the Right. Armed with a mysterious “windfall” of funds, a 25,000 print run of a manifesto outlining their position was produced and offices and staff were taken on for the “Campaign for Democratic Socialism.”
They failed over Clause IV, but another target was already in front of them, as Labour had moved towards a neutralist programme over nuclear weapons at the 1960 party conference. A massive campaign was launched, “without a single subscription paying member”, to reverse the decision – which indeed happened the following year – and re-establish the grip of the Right within the party.
In later years, it would become clear that these assorted campaigns and publications were being heavily funded by a variety of American conduits, all with the aim of ensuring that the Labour Party stayed on board for the aims of the US government and capitalism. Although the names of the various groups would change in the following decades, the general thrust of this “penetration” by US interests would not. In a speech made by Robin Ramsey in 1996 about this very subject, he notes that “...The US ran education programmes and freebie trips, for sympathetic Labour movement people. Hundreds, maybe thousands...had these freebies.” The links between the Right in Labour and the US establishment have remained so strong over the years that Ramsey suggests we should call them “the American Tendency”; and by American we don’t mean those millions of workers and youth who are daily fighting the system in the US.
For example, notes Ramsey, Peter Mandelson had by 1976 “become Chair of the British Youth Council (which) as the British section of the World Assembly of Youth (had been) set up and financed by MI6 and then taken over by the CIA in the 1950s” before later returning to MI6 control.
All manner of bodies have been brought into play to influence promising figures inside the Labour movement. For example, as journalist John Pilger noted in 2003: "Five members of Blair’s first cabinet, along with his Chief of Staff, Jonathan Powell, were members of the British American Project for a Successor Generation" – a body launched by Ronald Reagan and funded by right-wing oil baron J. Howard Pew, with the aim of ensuring that American foreign policy would be accepted by social-democratic parties abroad.
To give another example, Jim Murphy, Scottish Labour’s former leader and arch-Blairite, has been – along with 15 other Labour MPs – on the political council of the Henry Jackson Society. The HJS is a US-based right-wing, anti-Muslim organisation founded as a neo-conservative think-tank in 2005.
A thousand threads
Even if you ignore the American (and British) state influence over the actions of Labour’s right-wing, there is clear evidence that these people were already more than happy enough to continue to organise against the Left inside the movement over the years. They owed their allegiance to capitalism one-hundred percent.
Recent decades have seen a rise in funding of the Labour Right from British capitalists, looking for an alternative “safe” option to their natural allies, the Tories. Whereas in the past the right wing would recruit from Labour movement officialdoms, more recently they have been able, often via the student movement, to recruit from more class-friendly layers - people who are already tied by a thousand threads to the establishment. This has been reflected in a decline in numbers of Labour MPs and candidates from working class backgrounds - something that must now be reversed.
Above all else, the Right in Labour rested, in the post-war years, on the boom in the economy. When “normal service” was resumed from the 1960s onwards, crisis and cuts returned to the economic scene and that basis of support was removed. Reformism with reforms would be replaced by reformism without reforms. With a resultant shift to the Left inside the movement, the traditional Labour right-wing found themselves being pushed back.