17 December 2020
Dave Kellaway looks at a new initiative launched last week.
For a while many on the left have been asking, “What is Jeremy going to do?” The response of the Labour left to the disciplinary action against him and others has been uneven. The 30 strong Socialist Campaign Group of MPs have been defensive and disunited. Nearly all centred their defence of Corbyn on his anti-racist credentials and complained that Starmer was harming some sort of party unity, undermining the path back to power. Hardly any criticised the ECHR report on anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. To their shame, MPs elected on the crest of the Corbyn surge—such as Nadia Whittome—openly called on him to apologise.
The general mood was to try and work out a compromise so we can move on to the ‘policy fight’ and the defence of the positions the left gained. Starmer reneged, or never intended to accept,a union brokered NEC deal and Corbyn has been left to stew. The leadership moved to clamp down on constituency parties that discussed anything connected to Corbyn’s suspension and started large scale suspensions. It is hoping to contain the rising opposition to a hard core of around 100 CLPs. Perhaps they thought a diehard Labour man like Jeremy would not rock the boat beyond a certain point.
Instead, Jeremy has not recanted his position that the scale of anti-Semitism was deliberately exaggerated by the right-wing media and establishment forces.He has not remained silent or retired to his allotment. Rather, he and a group of his supporters have set up the Peace and Justice project. Here is the mission statement:
Our areas of focus will be poverty, inequality and corporate power; global co-operation and international peace; colonialism and self-determination; democracy and human rights; and climate justice.
The Peace and Justice Project will combine analysis, campaigning and networking. It will shine a light on injustices, offer space and hope to those driving change, and generate ideas for a future that works for the many, not the few.
He has called on people from inside and outside the Labour Party to sign up and a global conference is set for January 17th. It is a call for action:
We’re building a community of campaigners for peace and justice. Join our network and you’ll get access to news and new research, invitations to our events and campaigns, and opportunities to connect with leading campaigners across the world.
Jacobin magazine was given an interview to help the launch and a four minute video with Corbyn looking unusually dapper has been produced. Nearly 18,000 people have ‘liked’ its Facebook page and 19,000 are following it. One Facebook source has indicated that 30,000 have signed up. In the interview Corbyn directly criticises the Labour Front Bench for backing increased military spending, regrets his suspension and urges people to fight back against the suspensions. He insists he is not setting up a new party and he is certainly sincere on that. Peace and Justice is described, instead, as a public platform for people to continue to support the policies he championed while leader.
An opportunity for the left
At this point, before the conference, it is certainly something the left should support. Why?
a) Many of us have been saying that we need a home for those activists or supporters who joined Labour because of Corbyn, but have left in disgust at Starmer’s rapid move against nearly everything that he stood for. Most of these people will not join the left groups outside and there is a risk many will drift out of any organised politics. This project could win them back.
b) We need structures that can weld together class struggle activity and socialist culture across the boundaries of the Labour Party. Given the undemocratic first past the post electoral system and the organic links between Labour and the unions, it is wrong to pretend that building a socialist alternative will not pass to some extent through Labour. At the same time, leftists who think you can seamlessly take over the Labour Party without a major split are wrong to also claim that building anything outside Labour is a waste of time. We need a twin track strategy.
c) A strength of this project is its internationalism, which has always been the heartbeat of Corbyn’s activism. At a time when Starmer is consciously conceding to the Blue Labour arguments for family, ‘traditional’(that is, white) community and nation, this is a healthy alternative.
d) The project also supplements the current battle by members to defend free speech inside the party and fight the purge. It may provide another space for this to be sustained and extends the battle to the defence of the policy gains of Corbynism. Inevitably a battle about internal discipline and procedures can become narrow and even bogged down in legal processes. The false choice between ‘moving on’, leaving behind what some soft left people see as an unwinnable toxic debate on anti-semitism,and a principled support of free speech and the Palestinian people, could be overcome.
e) Corbyn’s reach and popularity could make this a broader, bigger platform than a re-launched Momentum or John McDonnell’s Claim the Future project.
f) In the event Starmer decides he wants Corbyn out, which is the only way someone like Jeremy will ever leave Labour, the existence of such a platform might give him more options for forming a base outside the party. Since this project is a sign that Corbyn is not recanting or walking away, it may end up in his expulsion.
Some possible weaknesses
We should not be blind to possible weaknesses with this project. It is not explicitly a campaign to structure a fight against the expulsions, suspensions and clampdown on free speech. Like he did on Brexit to some degree, is Corbyn just displacing the necessary fight to a terrain he is more comfortable with? His inclination is to campaign on global issues rather than a knuckle to knuckle internal fight with Starmer over control of the Labour Party. Avoiding personal disputes and a conviction in the power of ideas and good intentions has always marked his politics. You could also argue that this politics looks very vague.
There is also a hint of a glorified sort of Stop the War Coalition about it, which is reflected a little in the Jacobin interview that at times is uncritical on forces like the Brazilian PT or Allende. It will be interesting to see how far the cadre and ideology of the project is filled by forces that broadly support the politics of the Morning Star. It is interesting to speculate how far John McDonnell, Corbyn’s historic comrade in arms, has been involved. He has his own Claim the Future project and it is common knowledge he came into conflict, particularly over Brexit, with the Morning Star people, such as Milne, Murray and Murphy from Corbyn’s leadership team. Having two separate platforms is not helpful. Another issue will be how far it becomes a democratic organisation rather than a top-down campaign, on with only well-known leaders making critical decisions.
Some more sectarian outfits like the Labour Left Alliance appear only to look at the possible weaknesses, which is overly negative and premature. Did groups like these not realise the fundamental nature of Corbynism? It was a political project that was unacceptable for British capitalism at this time, but remained a left social democratic one. It is unfair to expect Corbyn to change his spots so that it fits in with an ultra-left schema. Let’s not build our politics on a simplistic anticipation of failures hardwired into anything that is proposed by broader forces than ourselves.
We should be supportive of the project, participate in the conference and help steer it in a positive direction.
Dave Kellaway is a supporter of Socialist Resistance, Hackney and Stoke Newington Labour Party, contributor to International Viewpoint and Europe Solidaire Sans Frontieres.