Saturday, July 1, 2017

Momentum, Corbyn and the Labor Party. Opportunity for British Workers

Thousands turn out for Corbyn in LIverpool
By Roger Silverman
Newham Momentum and Workers’ International Network

After an election called in the hope of strengthening their mandate, it is the Tories who find themselves humiliated, entangled in a "coalition of chaos" with the most bigoted and reactionary of allies.

The ruling class are desperate to stave off the election of a Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn. The question is: how? It's true that in normal periods, by and large it gets the government it wants - that's why the system is known as bourgeois democracy. In 1997, for instance, it actively wanted a New Labour government. So the Tories may manage to cling on to office for a while. But at times of rapidly rising expectations, times even of impending revolution (and surely that's a fair characterisation of the period now opening up in Britain), then it simply has no option but to give way for a time… meanwhile quietly preparing to resort to other measures.

It has been suggested that the establishment might try to maintain its grip a little longer by enticing enough Labour MPs to defect, thus enabling it to impose a "coalition" National Government. Under current circumstances, this would be futile. It would mean stitching on to the head of, say, George Osborne a rump of renegade Labour MPs, to put together a pantomime horse. It would be a laughing stock.

Holding a pathetically weak hand, its strongest card at the moment is the relics of New Labour within the Parliamentary Labour Party. It is trying to woo a section of these Labour MPs, with some limited success. This includes those MPs who recently defied the Labour whip to vote for continued membership of the single market. After all, now that the Tory party has taken over UKIP's programme of blind bigotry, there is a yawning political vacuum to be filled; a need for a party representing the true interests of big business, which has no wish to give up the lucrative markets and the ready supply of cheap labour offered by membership of the EU. Outright New Labour dinosaurs like Blair and Mandelson have already all but defected; by their own admission, they are actively plotting to undermine the democratically elected leadership of the Labour Party.

But most of those Labour MPs who had spent the last two years rubbishing Corbyn are now tripping over each other in their haste to ingratiate themselves with him (and with their own constituency parties). Some of these are no doubt sincere; cocooned in their Westminster bubble, they had disastrously misread the new mood in society, and genuinely allowed themselves to be persuaded that Corbyn was an electoral liability.  Others are simply preoccupied with their prestige and privileges; they now feel reassured by the election result that their parliamentary careers are safe if they stay with Labour for the time being - at least until the threat of being unseated by a wave of reselections.

Sometimes the ruling class has no option but to accept a temporary relinquishing of direct power. Wasn't the the European oligarchy just as desperate to avoid a SYRIZA government in Greece? It had already tried a National Government (a coalition of New Democracy with PASOK) and seen it fall apart ignominiously. It had no option but to concede SYRIZA ministerial office, while preparing the necessary instruments of financial torture to undermine and humiliate it. A tidal wave of revolt is gathering pace; to try to resist it head-on would be a colossal blunder: if anything, more like the fiasco of the Greek colonels' coup in 1967, which staggered from crisis to crisis, collapsed in disgrace, and ended up pushing the whole country to the left. Of course we can't rule out the possibility that the establishment will make a disastrous mistake. If so, all the better. However, we have to proceed on the assumption that it will act in its own best interests.

True, Ramsay McDonald's National Government was initially very popular. In the 1931 general election it decimated the Labour Party. But at that time the population had already endured the experience of a thoroughly tamed Labour government which had disastrously betrayed their expectations. It's inconceivable that that could work under current circumstances. To impose a similar cross-class coalition in advance of a popular Labour government would only further swell the growing tide of support for Labour and risk provoking fury, resistance, and even a full-scale uprising. It is after the election of a left Labour government that treachery by a handful of ex-Labour quislings   could prove a deadly danger by undermining the government, conspiring, sabotaging, and ultimately defecting.

A Corbyn government would of course start from a position far to the left of McDonald in 1929. It would be a government of genuine and radical reforms, more like Allende's Popular Unity government in Chile. And as we saw under that government, every dirty trick imaginable would be brought into play to overthrow it. When a Labour government was elected in 1964 on a programme of very mild reforms, Harold Wilson accused big business of conducting a "strike of capital", and his economics minister George Brown denounced "the gnomes of Zurich". In today's far more critical conditions of chronic stagnation, investment is already at a standstill, and the value of the pound has already fallen sharply. The consequences of Brexit will almost certainly be further devaluation and disinvestment.  

This would be only the very start. A Corbyn government would be undermined from the very beginning by economic sabotage, fabricated scandals, royal diversions, racist hysteria, foreign wars, assassinations and terrorist outrages (both by racist and Islamist fascists, each of which plays into the others' hands, committed as the security services look the other way, or even if necessary as fully-fledged false flag operations).

And when the time comes, we can't rule out outright military conspiracies. A coup would only be the very last resort of the ruling class. However, in 1966, even under the mildly reformist government of Harold Wilson, a serious conspiracy was underfoot to impose a royalist coup d'etat under Earl Mountbatten. More seriously, under the subsequent Labour government in the 1970s (swept to power by the miners' strike after an election called by the outgoing Tory prime minister over the question: "who rules Britain?"), there was a mushrooming of "private armies", military manoeuvres were staged on the streets, and the media were openly debating the viability of a full-scale military coup along the lines of Pinochet's in Chile. In that crucial and decisive period of turmoil, Labour must be prepared theoretically, politically, and practically.

What role can Momentum play in promoting and defending a Labour government? It has earned credit for the surge of Labour support in the election, using the social media to stunning effect, bombarding it with articles, quotes and videos exposing the Tories and promoting Labour's manifesto. It mobilised thousands of activists, directing volunteer canvassers to their nearest marginal constituencies. Local Labour parties often found they had more helpers than they knew what to do with - sometimes 100-plus at a time. This is a phenomenon unprecedented in previous elections. It helped gain Labour three million extra votes compared to the previous election, held less than two years previously.

However, on a political level Momentum has had little impact, other than to form a passive base for Corbyn and McDonnell. The official national leadership has gone to drastic lengths to avoid holding national conferences or establishing an elected leadership; while the so-called "grassroots" alternative is an ineffective jumble of various left factions competing for influence. As a result, Momentum is still a loose network of virtually autonomous left clubs - a loose federation of active militants without any national structure.

But that creates unprecedented opportunities. The most active local Momentum groups participate in all the local demonstrations, strike picket lines, lobbies and protests which in this new era of struggle are now multiple daily events. And as these largely fresh forces learn, debate, and grow in stature, experience and authority, they can start to build a far stronger and more substantial base than have the relics of the dying left cliques. The weakening influence of the fringe sectarian groups routinely denouncing "reformism" and warning of "betrayal" is to be welcomed. The most serious campaigners in the active Momentum branches around the country have come fresh to the cause and are immersed every day in local and national struggles, mostly free from the accumulated debris of the failed and disintegrating left groups and untainted by past defeats. Their arguments should be calm, comradely, objective and rational. If so, they can have a decisive influence.

Roger Silverman can be reached at:


Anonymous said...

A Corbyn led government will no doubt face huge resistance from the capitalist class as outlined. However one problem such a Left government won't face is a shortage of sterling. Britain is the money issuer of a floating currency and therefore faces no financial constraint within that currency. The UK doesn't need to tax or borrow in order to obtain it's own currency. It spends sterling into existence and then taxes it back out of circulation in a continuous process of money creation and destruction. And the UK issues government bonds as mechanism to control the interbank interest rate, not becasuse it needs to borrow it's own currency from private sources. At a macro currency issuer level the currency is simply a tool to measure and allocate the real resources produced by the working class through its labour.

Brenner said...

I think the comment above misunderstands the conditions affecting sterling - not constraints on supply but risk that the price falls - against other currencies and against other commodities, hampering imports and causing inflation. That's where index fixed wages, popular engagement in calculating real cost of living rises and where necessary price controls might come in

Brenner said...

But no, there can still be a run on it. The issue is not sterling supply but price.

Anonymous said...

But there is no linear relationship between monetary expansion and Fx depreciation. If there was, then monetary expansion would result in predictable Fx movements which it doesn’t. For example, the monetary expansion under the BoE QE program was announced in advance and yet there was no predictable change in the sterling Fx rate . There is in fact no data showing that monetary expansion results in Fx depreciation.

In any event, imports are generally paid for in the currency of the importing nations so it’s the seller who largely takes the hit on Fx depreciation of the currency they receive in payment. And the currency issuer can always afford anything which is for sale in the currency it issues including imports, regardless of the Fx rate.

stone said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
stone said...

I think we really need to be calm and sensible about shifts in currency exchange rates. They aren't about shadowy conspiracies to destroy democratically elected governments. They are simply a market assessment that the UK may become less of an ideal place to store wealth. If we get a shift in the exchange rate then we need to take it on the chin and see it as an oportunity to rebalance our economy towards exporting goods and services to buy the imports we need rather than using capital inflows to fund our imports. Afterall countries such as Japan and Switzerland actively depress their currency exchange rates because they value jobs and building expertise.

Jim Butler-Daulby said...

One issue I take is the definition of 'The Establishment'. As far as I see it, a Corbyn led social democratic government is not a real threat to the 'Establishment' as was. (I.e. royalty, the aristocracy, church and judiciary.) The threat is posed to what has replaced it - corporates.

Northern European, or Scandinavian countries have succeeded with social democratic governments and, without the constraints of our imperial controls, we could be equally as successful!

The issue is the Nuevo Imperialists, multinational corporations, who have no national allegencies. The bourgeoisie of old have been subsumed into the neoliberal ideology having had it forced upon them, just as it has the rest of us!

Corporatism is the new name for fascism! And it's all cloaked in 'trade deals'.

Since Thatcher thrust Hayek's book onto the cabinet table and declared that "this is what we believe!", the doors opened to the demise of democracy. The crushing of unions, deskilling of our labourforce, haemorrhaging industries and the fragmenting of society, not to mention the revocation of the post-war agreement through the dismantling of the NHS and the welfare state, the goal of neoliberalism was to end democracy!

Our struggle is to reign in the power of the corporates. Make democracy count again. And yes, it is almost like starting again from scratch!