|Liverpool Rally for Corbyn|
The establishment campaign to undermine Corbyn is unprecedented, even by British standards. In the early 1980s, the mildly left Labour leader Michael Foot had been subjected to a barrage of mockery and ridicule by the press; and in 1924, a forged letter allegedly from Zinoviev had been used to forestall the re-election of a Labour government committed to diplomatic recognition of the USSR. But these skirmishes pale into insignificance beside what is happening now. The surprise election to the Labour leadership of the left MP Jeremy Corbyn last September on a landslide vote of a quarter of a million Labour Party members and newly-registered supporters - the product of a tidal wave of radicalisation in Britain and the beginning of a reclamation by the working class of its traditional political party - marked a turning-point.
There is a complete media black-out on Corbyn's policies and speeches, and the deployment of every possible device to discredit him. Foremost among the agents of this campaign have been the rump of Blairite Tory-lite "New Labour" MPs stranded in parliament, relics of a bygone era, who passed a vote of no confidence in Corbyn, forced a new leadership election, and discovered among their ranks a previously unheard-of obscure upstart challenger for the leadership who has belatedly assumed an improbably radical masquerade; and the bureaucratic machine of the Labour Party apparatus, who first tried brazenly to wipe Corbyn's name off the ballot, and then enforced draconic restrictions on the franchise, including the arbitrary withdrawal of voting rights from around 150,000 recently-recruited members, and the imposition of a £25 fee and a two-day registration deadline on new supporters.
The challenge was taken up with magnificent determination. 190,000 new supporters registered within the two-day deadline. However, there is no end to the dirty tricks practised by the bureaucracy, which has arbitrarily rejected 50,000 of these and closed down whole party branches. Nor is there any limit to the lies the press have peddled: the manufacture of cheap stories alleging hooligan tactics by Corbyn supporters, and the fiction that Corbyn - demonstrably the most popular Labour leader for decades - is "unelectable".
The fact is that there is a huge surge in support for Corbyn, who has been speaking at mass meetings up and down the country (to take the latest example, last night's meeting in Liverpool, which attracted an audience of 10,000). Not only have hundreds of thousands of people joined the Party to support Corbyn, but in a recent opinion poll a decisive majority of Labour voters have expressed a preference for him rather than his challenger Smith as leader. There are even reports from around the country of former UKIP voters expressing regret at their mistake and flocking back to Labour now that it has a radical new leader. Corbyn personally has 750,000 Facebook followers! A mass movement has sprung up to campaign for Corbyn: Momentum has tens of thousands of members actively mobilised, meeting, leafletting, and telephone canvassing up and down the country.
The latest weapon in the armoury of the right wing is to tempt prominent former allies to defect. One example is the former dissident Bank of England economist David Blanchflower. Another is the popular young newspaper columnist Owen Jones, who has recently denounced Corbyn's alleged neglect of media opportunities. These criticisms may or may not have some validity, though they take no account of the systematic suppression of Corbyn's arguments and programme. But whether or not, to raise them at this juncture, on the eve of the ballot, is a despicable stab in the back. If Jones is supporting Smith, let him say so clearly (as Blanchflower has done). If not, then he should wait to raise his objections later, once the battle is won.
There is a barrage of attacks and dirty tricks against Corbyn: bureaucratic sabotage by the LP machine, the unjustified exclusion of tens of thousands of bona fide voters, high-profile stabs in the back, a crescendo of media slanders, the challenger's newly-assumed mock radicalism, the universally peddled myth of Corbyn's alleged unpopularity… In spite of this, it is generally regarded as a foregone conclusion that Corbyn will win the contest. That is not guaranteed, though, and complacency could be fatal.
Momentum consists of largely autonomous local groups, and there is a wide variation between them. The national leadership is struggling to cope with the huge demands on its rickety apparatus, and is open to plausible charges of excessive caution and timidity. But there are enormous reserves of elan,optimism and audacity at rank-and-file level. The tens of thousands turning out at mass meetings up and down the country testify to this. And at local level, I can testify to the enthusiasm and determination in my own branch, which was set up at the spontaneous initiative of Labour and trade-union activists and youth. We hold meetings of at least 35-40 people every week - working-class women, trade union activists, ethnic minorities, students, disabled people, all highly vociferous and enthusiastic - at which everyone participates in a lively bubbling of ideas, opinions and practical suggestions.
Our ad hoc interim committee of six or seven people is in practically daily session either at meetings or by phone/e-mail contact. We recently held a successful public meeting of 120 people and are planning a mass rally in a couple of weeks. I personally have never witnessed in Britain, in 55 years of political activity, a comparable mood of political radicalisation. It would hardly be an exaggeration to say it offers just a faint foretaste of what a revolution would feel like.
Whatever happens now, a landmark has been reached. It is clear that Labour is on the precipice of a historic split. It is not a question of "calling for" a split in the Labour Party. The fact is, irrespective of my or anyone else's wishes on the question, that is what is going to happen. The rejected relics of yesterday's crypto-Tory "New Labour" hijack of the Labour Party are not waiting for permission; they are about to perpetrate their last betrayal, by claiming a spurious inheritance of the Labour name despite their overwhelming rejection by a newly replenished and reinvigorated membership.
Their defection is not just inevitable, but long overdue.
If anyone has an objection to the terms in which I have posed the question, then here are the same ideas, this time framed in a more academic style, in an extract from a recent article by Jeremy Gilbert, Professor of Cultural and Political Theory at the University of East London.
"It is abundantly clear that the vast majority of the current parliamentary party are just not personally, socially or intellectually suited to the task of representing even a moderately left-wing party or its key constituencies in the early 21st century. Almost all of them were selected as candidates and trained as politicians by the machinery established by Peter Mandelson in the 1990s, the key objective of which was to select and train parliamentary representatives who would never behave in any way likely to offend powerful financial interests or their agents.
This was a key element of the project to re-brand the Labour Party as ‘New Labour’, a novel type of political formation in which most of the traditional apparatus of party democracy would be bypassed, the authority of the leadership being guaranteed by its control of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and its exclusive access to key media channels. Predictions of a full split in the party seem well-founded, given that the political, social and psychological gulf between the majority of the PLP and the majority of the membership now seems unbridgeable."