The best way to understand what happened in the recent Labour Party conference is to bear in mind some basic facts about the General Election of 2017, recounted by UNITE’s recently retired former General Secretary here:
“Labour won 40 per cent of the vote. Since 1970, only two Labour leaders have achieved that: Jeremy Corbyn and Tony Blair. Bar the latter’s 1997 landslide, more people voted Labour in 2017 than in any election since 1966. In England the party won its second highest number of votes ever. Such statistics would usually mean an election victory. The reason that wasn’t so was because—contrary to popular perception and despite a terrible campaign—the Tories actually did extremely well, securing their biggest vote since 1992. The smaller parties were squeezed out of the picture. The British media and political class prefer to forget that 12.9 million people voted for a radical manifesto fronted by a left-wing leader in 2017.”Len McCluskey. Always Red . OR Books. Kindle Edition.
It is quite clear what the conference signified for the ruling class. They do not want and will not tolerate any ‘radical manifesto’ from Jeremy Corbyn or the Labour Party. They are in no mood to make concessions to the working class, even the modest ones Corbyn was proposing. They demand a tame, utterly fake ‘Labour’ leadership to act as an alternative Tory/Neoliberal government for when the actual Conservative Party ceases to be viable as a ‘party of government’.
That is evidently not true at the moment, but the Conservatives under Johnson are skating on very thin ice, with both the disaster of the Covid death toll and Brexit now resulting in considerable and growing hardship. It’s obvious that the ruling class is trying to groom Starmer as a possible successor to stand in for Johnson at some point. The friendly reception he has received by the broadcast media, particularly the BBC, which unceasingly vilified Corbyn, is very noticeable, as is the fact that he recently wrote an Editorial (!) for the Sun (!)
Starmer, having gained office in the Labour Party through a set of 10 ‘pledges’ to maintain many of Corbyn’s popular left-wing policies that self-evidently was not worth the paper they were written on, became an echo-chamber particularly for Johnson’s appalling and murderous handling of the pandemic (“whatever the government decides to do, we will support it”) while running an all-out war on the left-wing pro-Corbyn membership. In the run up to this conference, his clique consolidated their hammerlock on the Labour apparatus. First Starmer floated a trial balloon of abolishing Ed Miliband’s One Member, One Vote (OMOV) system of electing the Labour leader, and restoring the Electoral College outright, giving MP’s the decisive say in who in future becomes leader.
This was not designed to actually get through, but as a negotiating position with the right-wing of the trade union bureaucracy, particularly that of UNISON, who then voted with Starmer to abolish registered supporters, and raise the threshold for nominations to stand as leader to 20% of the Parliamentary Labour Party. This is basically what they wanted: to ensure that never again could another left candidate like Corbyn be able to stand. If these rules had operated in early 2020 Starmer would have been ‘elected’ unopposed: i.e., appointed by the self-perpetuating Blairite PLP clique. The corruption is so blatant, without even a fig leaf, as to make Labour very publicly into an anti-democratic sick joke.
But Blair’s right-hand man, Peter Mandelson, who is also now Starmer’s mentor and right-hand man once again, told a rather feeble and transparent lie on the BBC’s Today programme about the objective of the changes:
“Jeremy Corbyn built on the rules that Ed Miliband introduced, which allowed hundreds of thousands of people to apply to vote for our future leader without actually caring about the Labour party, knowing about the Labour party and in many cases not even becoming a member of the Labour party.”
What these rule changes mean, and this is perhaps absolutely fundamental for people out in the country, when they’re asked to vote for Keir Starmer as their next prime minister, they can know with almost complete certainty that they’re not going to wake up one day and find Jeremy Corbyn there instead.”
Feeble mendacity as in 2015 and 2016 Corbyn won quite openly after neoliberal Labour leaders Brown and Miliband heavily lost two elections in a row. Without Corbyn Labour could well have become a minor party after 2015. But Mandelson and co are rigging future elections to prevent a revival of Labour’s mass base. This flirting with electoral suicide by Mandelson reflects his role as a faithful servant of billionaire oligarchs. That is what they demand. Such blatant corruption from a man who had to resign twice from Blair’s government for his own involvement in corrupt practices appears like a big ‘fuck you’ to anyone who has the slightest concern about honesty in politics. Thus, Labour has openly embraced the Trump-Johnson paradigm of blatantly lying in public.
Ballot-fraud and Institutionalised Racist Discrimination By Design
In the conference the election rigging was equally blatant. Large numbers of left-wing delegates were suspended, on an industrial scale, over many weeks as branches were preparing their delegations. A leading member of Jewish Voice for Labour, Leah Levane, was expelled when she arrived to attend the conference as a delegate on the second day, having been seated legitimately as a delegate when the conference opened. It is blatantly obvious that the purpose of all this was to fix votes. In particular to ‘elect’ David Evans, the blatantly crooked General Secretary, and the passage of new rules that allow him and Starmer to veto the membership of anyone seeking to join Labour.
Every fig leaf of labour movement democracy that was present in Labour was systematically unpicked by rule changes that were passed at the conference, which are so draconian that even the feeble Momentum leadership felt compelled to oppose it. Labour democracy is being replaced by a Zionist police state lawfare model, which replaces elected representatives with supposedly ‘independent’ legal eagles appointed by the General Secretary. The patter from the Blairites is that this was supposedly ‘legally mandated’ by the EHRC. If that were clearly true it would amount to a serious attack on freedom of association in British politics, though in fact the EHRC did not dare to go so far as Momentum correctly noted. The core of the changes are as follows:
“Labour’s national constitutional committee (NCC) will not hear disciplinary cases involving protected characteristics after the end of 2021;
“An independent review board (IRB) of lawyers is introduced to review disciplinary decisions involving protected characteristics;
“An independent complaints board (ICB) is introduced to adjudicate cases involving protected characteristics, made up of four lawyers, four Human Resources or other regulatory expert professionals and four members who have been in the party for at least five consecutive years. These board members will be picked by a ‘standing recruitment committee’, the members of which will in turn be picked by the general secretary.”https://labourlist.org/2021/09/exclusive-new-party-rule-changes-criticised-as-bureaucratic-power-grab/
The General Secretary was appointed by the leader who swore loyalty to the racist, Zionist BOD. This was in practice a condition of being allowed to stand for the leadership itself without being suspended and barred by the already bought Labour Party apparatus (he was then ratified in a crooked conference vote in which he determined who was able to vote through numerous crooked suspensions of elected and mandated delegates). The GS appoints the “standard recruitment committee’ which in turn appoints the Independent Complaints Board (ICB) which will relieve the elected National Constitutional Committee (NCC) of responsibility for disciplinary cases involving ‘protected characteristics’. In other words, cases involving ‘anti-Semitism’ allegations will be decided by a puppet ‘Independent’ Committee of composed of ardent Zionists and lawfare specialists appointed by another committee appointed by the party leadership. The decisions of this committee of lawfare specialists will in turn be reviewed by another committee of similar lawfare specialists directly appointed by the party leadership. And this will operate within the framework of the IHRA pseudo-definition of ‘anti-Semitism’, endorsing Zionism as amounting to Jews’ supposed “right to self-determination” through the mass expulsion of the oppressed Arab population, and says that it is ‘anti-Semitic’ to deny this ‘right’ or to say that this is a “racist endeavour”. This defines Palestinian Arabs as inferior human beings with inferior rights: it is Labour’s Nuremburg Law. This apparatus is nothing to do with opposing oppression or discrimination: its purpose is to institutionalise Zionist racism. It is consciously designed for this purpose.
Nothing about it is independent at all. It is completely totalitarian in intent and its complexity is simply camouflage to disguise that a committee (the NCC) elected by the Labour Party membership, has been replaced duopoly of Zionist lawfare bodies for waging war against anti-racists, to maintain a racist hierarchy in Labour. Both committees are appointed by the Zionist leadership, the higher one directly, the other through an intermediary committee. Both are puppets, therefore. Zionist Jews and allied racists are to rule the roost over black people through this system. The allied racists are actually white supremacists whose real nature is actually obscured by their bloc with Zionists in a particularly perfidious form of mutual camouflage. This will wage inner-party lawfare against ‘uppity’ blacks, Muslims and anyone else lower down the racist hierarchy sanctioned by Starmer and the party leadership, which mirrors the racial hierarchy the bourgeoisie itself seeks to enforce.
Individual mercenaries and dupes from other groups will be permitted to make themselves useful in helping to camouflage this arrangement, but this is not about them, it is about keeping the oppressed in line. Thus, Labour has now adopted a lawfare disciplinary structure whose purpose is to maintain the dominance of the Zionist and allied forces who threw Corbyn out of the leadership and now intend to hound his mass base out of political involvement in Labour, in the hope that this amounts to driving them out of politics altogether. This is about Zionist police-state politics taking control of Labour and putting in place a totalitarian structure to ensure that control can never be challenged.
Police State Zionist New Labour
Right in tune with this police-state ethos was the presence of armed police, within and without the conference. Armed cops openly carrying machine guns blatantly walked backwards and forwards through the protest outside of the conference on the Saturday organised by expelled and smeared members. It was just about within the realms of possibility that they were there by coincidence, to protect the conference against some potential armed threat, and not to intimidate those members protesting. But that was shown as untrue by what happened inside the conference, when during Starmer’s speech mace- and nightstick-wielding police stood at regular intervals down the gangway, an obvious threat to any dissenter or heckler. Some of these cops sported white supremacist tattoos. They obviously were working with the machine gunners and had such weapons available. These forces are enemies of the workers movement and should never have been allowed in a conference of a nominally working-class organization in the first place. It’s obvious that they were there to threaten the working class left.
Another outrageous manifestation of this is the announcement of ‘Labour Friends of the Police’ from the Blairites, which really does show their appreciation for police state repression against left-wing dissent. It should be recalled that Starmer abstained on the ‘Spy Cops’ bill which ‘regularised’ (i.e legalised) crimes such as rape, torture and murder by undercover cops. And Starmer planned to have Labour refuse to oppose the Policing and Crime Bill, which gives the government that power to ban ‘annoying’ protests. They only retreated from this after the grotesque scandal where women mourning and protesting for Sarah Everard, a young woman arrested by a serving cop, who then raped and murdered her, were themselves very publicly and violently attacked by the Metropolitan Police last summer using Covid regulations as a feeble excuse. Cops were photographed tearing masks off socially distanced, masked protesters who were clearly taking precautions against Covid, and throwing then into police vans maskless. Starmer clearly has more in common with these cops than with their victims.
Other means were employed also to intimidate dissidents. While bona-fide elected delegates were excluded, a whole layer of ‘visitors’ were bused in at key points to whip up a phoney semblance of ‘support’ for Starmer and his cronies. People who were inside related how these non-delegates demanded that people applaud at key points and tried to intimidate those inclined to heckle. They also led standing ovations, for Starmer and for the arch-Zionist and US asset/ smear merchant Ruth Smeeth.
Without the ballot rigging, corruption, and thuggery, it would have been a disastrous conference for Starmer. Discontent is still rampant at the base of Labour, though it is simply impossible for it to win out within the framework of the party – the party apparatus is simply irreformable and the party itself needs to be defeated. The sole remaining Corbynite in the Shadow Cabinet, Andy McDonald, resigned and denounced Starmer for trying to coerce him into opposing the demand for a £15 per hour minimum wage. The conference itself then defied Starmer and voted to support the same demand. Likewise, even after Smeeth’s raving, the conference showed the real feeling of the membership by voting by a large majority a motion that called Israel an apartheid state, condemned the “ongoing Nakba” and called for various kinds of selective bans and sanctions on arms and trade with Israeli settlements. Despite its limited demands, its denunciation was fairly sharp, and the Labour leadership made it very clear it fully intended to ignore it. Yet many tens of thousands have been purged for expressing the same views as most delegates. Labour’s membership on this crucial question is 180 degrees at odds with the leadership to such an extent that ultimately, one or other will have to go.
But there is no way the apparatus will allow the chance for another Corbyn to arise. Their objective is clear: to smash the left even if they must destroy all potential electoral appeal of the Labour Party itself. This is happening as Labour lags in popularity behind the most openly corrupt, extreme right-wing government in Britain since the days of “rotten boroughs” in the early 19th Century. The conference brought no bounce whatsoever in Labour’s ratings in opinion polls – still far below Johnson. In fact, one post-conference opinion poll showed Labour 13 points behind.
Starmer’s job is to protect the ruling class from any possible political challenge from the labour movement that could prove a social danger and a conduit for a working-class fightback. Conor McGinn expressed the view of the leadership when he said that those who joined the Labour Party to support Corbyn – the membership surge that made Labour into the biggest social-democratic party in Europe by a huge margin, and one of the biggest in the world — were “misguided or misled” though some were perhaps “not irretrievable” (for the ruling class, that is).
Stamping Out Reformism under Capitalist Neoliberalism
Jeremy Corbyn, contrary to the fantastic nonsense peddled by the entire neoliberal media, is not a Marxist, or a revolutionary, nor “hard left”. He is an ordinary social-democratic reformist, politically similar to leading Labour reformists of the past, the like of Attlee, Bevan, Wilson or Tony Benn. These were the kind of parliamentary reformists who created the National Health Service, the ‘crowning glory’ of British social democracy, and numerous other social gains such as social security, council housing, legalised abortion and homosexuality, which accompanied it.
These gains were conceded in an earlier period when the working-class movement was powerful, and the bourgeoisie had good reason to fear that the working class would be won to communist revolution if they did not make important concessions. The economies of the advanced countries at that stage were centrally based on manufacturing industry, and huge industrial armies of workers constituted the core of the workforce. Their organizations gave the labour movement, and the Labour Party in Britain, its social power and strength. Thus, the bosses had no choice, particularly in the three ‘Golden’ decades since the end of the Second World War, but to tolerate and work with that powerful labour movement and to resign themselves to the reforms that the labour movement had conquered.
The hegemony of neoliberalism over more than 40 years since the mid-1970s has changed that enormously. Neoliberalism is a strategy designed to counteract the inherent tendency within capitalism, which was analysed at length by Karl Marx in Capital, for profit rates to fall. This tendency, in a particularly pure form, undermined the long post-WWII boom over 30 years or so since WWII, and by the early 1970s had produced a major capitalist crisis. Neoliberalism was designed to counteract the fall in the rate of profit in the imperialist countries centrally by a major attack on the social power of the proletariat, in part through a major relocation of its most productive sectors to low wage countries, as part of an offensive against the whole working class. Mass unemployment was deliberately used as a weapon to weaken and crush workers organisations, which is not new, and was made permanent by sending jobs overseas on a massive scale, which is a newer tactic.
Large swathes of manufacturing industry in key advanced countries, Britain being a prime example, have been done away with, and many of the jobs formerly done by organized workers have either been mechanized out of existence, or when possible, outsourced to other, low wage countries where the labour movement must effectively start from scratch in conquering economic and social rights. The organized working class has been substantially weakened, in a way that is qualitatively worse than in previous defeats in the heyday of British imperialism, such as after the 1926 General Strike, when organization and politics suffered major setbacks, but the industrial workforces that underpinned the labour movement remained intact even if they were temporarily driven into severe hardship and unemployment, such as in the Great Depression of the 1930s. Those industries revived once the Depression came to an end. But that will not happen today as those strategic industries have largely moved overseas, as part of neoliberalism’s massive restructuring of the industrial proletariat.
This has led to a weakened, more fragmented labour movement in Britain. The large industrial battalions were a product of the strength of British imperialism; their decline mirrors its own decline. The growth of ‘services’ as a supposed replacement for formerly hegemonic manufacturing does not arrest that decline, as a great many service industries do not produce surplus value. Rather the financial sector appropriates, manipulates, and redistributes surplus value often produced by workers overseas, and employs a considerable number of highly paid ‘knowledge workers’, few of whom produce actual surplus value, but are essential to the process of manipulating it. This is not to say that no surplus value at all is produced in Britain today, but its production at home has been very much reduced, which is itself an index of British imperialism’s chronic decline.
The dominant sections of the labour movement today have shifted. In the old days of hegemonic manufacturing, they tended to be the large, often militant, unions of militant workers in manufacturing, extraction, and transport: miners, steelworkers, car workers and engineers, railworkers, dockers and lorry drivers. Now the extractive industries are tiny, and manufacturing has lost its mass militant element where it exists at all: engineering for example has become much more labour aristocratic as a result. Probably the most powerful groups of workers today are in transport, large scale retail (e.g., supermarkets) and the postal services, whose labour of transportation and distribution is an essential contribution to the production and realization of surplus value, most of which is produced in other industries. They maintain their social power therefore, and the bourgeoisie is looking to find ways to mechanise and do away with them to pocket the difference that their earnings make up.
The labour aristocracy has gained social weight in a much smaller labour movement and has been reinforced from the higher end of the service sector, which shades over into the financial sector and the essentially parasitic financial apparatus that it sustains. Union membership in Britain fell from 13.2 million at its peak in 1979 to 6.6 million today, which itself reflects a slow rise from an even lower trough over the past few years.
At the same time, the lower paid service sector workers have generally been neglected, under organized or indeed in many cases left unorganized. Health service workers are nominally organized by UNISON and the like which have many fine activists at the base but have been hammered by austerity along with other public sector workers even before the disaster of the Covid pandemic. An army of extremely badly paid workers provide essential services, from food to cleaning to care, again often under-organised or unorganised. Many work in the so-called ‘gig economy’ with appalling lack of rights, bad working conditions, zero hours contracts and the like, no job security and very little if any basic benefits such as annual leave and sick pay, which should be part and parcel of any half-decent employment contract.
Reformism is Utopian Today, For a Revolutionary Programme
This weakening of the Social Democratic-led labour movement in what was once, before WWI, and to a degree lingering up to WWII, the most powerful imperialist country, has produced a change that is not merely quantitative, but qualitative. The labour aristocracy and labour bureaucracy, has become yuppified and financialised, so that whereas much of it once had cozy and class-collaborationist relations with the large industrial employers or groups of employers in industries that are now decimated, much of today’s political bureaucracy in particular, and part of the union bureaucracy also, interpenetrates with financial sharks whose calling is not the production of surplus value in the old way, but scams and ruses involving financial chicanery, the creation of asset bubbles and the like. Which explains why New Labour, during the Blair/Brown government, presided over the most incredible, inflationary boom in property prices. Although the Thatcher government in the 1980s pioneered the housing inflation scam as an artificial means of generating an economic boom, it was Blair’s government that really ran with this and created the massive inflation both of house prices and rents that have led to the huge housing crisis in Britain today. The Tories since 2010 have just built on what the Blairites did.
This led to a ‘Labour’ party that was in practice no longer reformist in the old way that the British working class had become accustomed to. Every reform the 1997-2010 Blair government delivered was accompanied, and far outweighed, by a fusillade of reactionary attacks. This led to a situation where Labour’s mass base began to atrophy and dissipate, with the loss of millions of votes and a decisive collapse of Labour in Scotland adding to their woes. This manifested itself through the loss of the two General Elections in 2010 and 2015, where the Labour Party lost over 5 million votes in 2010 as compared with 1997 with its neoliberal campaigns.
In 2017 Corbyn’s social-democratic campaign recouped several million votes in the face of a much stronger Tory adversary, as in 1997 the Conservatives were in a catastrophic state and achieved only 30%. In 2017 Corbyn’s 40% was achieved in the face of a much stronger Tory vote of 43.6%. The 2015 campaign, where neoliberalism was slightly diluted by Ed Miliband’s soft leftism, gained Labour around 800,000 more votes, but in 2017 Corbyn advanced by over 4 million votes over Gordon Brown in 2010. They were different votes from those under Blair/Brown, as a key part of Blair’s project was to appeal to disillusioned Tory voters by the simple device of stealing many Tory poliices, whereas Corbyn did the opposite and gained votes – and many members – from working class people who had been so alienated by Tory-Blairism that they refrained from voting for New Labour.
The sabotage of Corbyn’s leadership was achieved by two combined tactics: the ‘anti-Semitism’ smear campaign waged by Zionists, and mischief-making over Brexit designed to drive that part of the Labour-voting working class that voted for Brexit, towards the Tories. Starmer was central to both. In 2017 Corbyn tacitly accepted the result of the Brexit referendum but campaigned to make Brexit as soft as possible. In 2019 Starmer in effect unilaterally changed that policy shortly before the general election to one of stridently demanding a second referendum, without any serious political preparation. And Corbyn allowed him to do it. Though Corbyn did refuse to endorse Starmer’s call for a remain vote in such a referendum, publicly stating that his leadership would take a neutral stance in such an eventuality
There were dilemmas in this for socialists who defend the rights of migrants and oppose the anti-immigrant thrust and economic irrationality of Brexit. Given that sections of the working class had been taken in hand by reactionary populist demagogues and the Brexit referendum, however crooked, had already been lost, how to fight against these things is open to question and debate. There could be an argument for all-out war against the Brexiters by a stridently internationalist party, as advocated by Tony Greenstein among others. However, the Corbynites are left reformists who, though opposed in general to anti-migrant demagogy, were not and are not such strident internationalists. A tactical acceptance of a soft Brexit looked likely to be the best way to neutralise the issue, which is what succeeded in undercutting the right-wing populists in 2017. We would obviously give critical support to Labour in such circumstances without endorsing their programme, but on this question of how precisely to undermine the right-wing populists and win their working-class supporters to the side of Labour under Corbyn, which did have a class aspect to it, was a tactical question.
Starmer’s intervention in the election was not one of principle: his ‘tactic’ was simply to exploit these weaknesses to rile up the Brexit-supporting element of Labour’s base, alienate them, dissuade them from voting Labour, or even get the most backward elements to vote Tory. He worked hand in hand with the saboteurs in the Labour apparatus; this sabotage was extensively documented in the Spring 2020 leaked 851-page report on The work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in Relation to Antisemitism, 2014 – 2019, which Starmer attempted to suppress, amidst extremely damaging material documenting bigoted abuse of a racial and anti-disabled character from some elements involved in undermining Corbyn (see No Vote to Zionist New Labour!, https://www.consistent-democrats.org/uncategorized/no-vote-to-zionist-new-labour/, for a full analysis).
Trying to defuse the impact of these damaging revelations, Starmer set up a supposedly independent enquiry under Martin Forde QC to investigate the leaking, the circumstances of creation of the original report and the veracity of its findings. Laughably, but entirely predictably, it has been kicked into the long grass up till now with various excuses including one of supposedly intruding on the work of the Information Commissioner, and though it promised to report by ‘Early Autumn’, it still has not done so. As a result, it has become a standing joke and is obviously being suppressed as was the report it is supposed to be investigating as the material it is forced to examine is too damaging particularly to the Starmerites. However now Starmer has tried to divert attention from the non-publication of the Forde Report by publicly accusing five leading Corbynites of leaking the report despite admitting that it does not have any actual evidence of this and having admitted in court that it does not know who leaked the report.
All this blatant corruption and lies underlines that Starmer is simply an instrument in the hands of the ruling class to crush the mass base of Corbynism. They see no need to tolerate social democratic reformism, they want untramelled domination of capital. The period in the past when the bourgeoisie was prepared to tolerate, and accommodate to a degree, social democratic reformism was the period when it had good reason to fear that if it did not make concessions to ‘moderate’ social democracy the working class would abandon social reform and overthrow the ruling class through social revolution.
The existence of the USSR and other deformed workers states as the embodiment of the remaining gains of the Russian Revolution was a dagger pointed at the heart of the ruling class, forcing them to make concessions to maintain their class rule. The Stalinist betrayal and undermining and then destruction through capitalist restoration of most of the workers states has removed this dagger and given the bourgeoisie the confidence to ride roughshod over the working class in advanced countries as much as in backward ones. Working class ‘privilege’ expressed in a dominant labour aristocracy in advanced countries is dying away, and indeed it is that dying away that at this stage has produced reactionary excrescences like support for Trump and Brexit in the working class.
But in the longer term, this blowing away of reformism also signifies the blowing away of the safety mechanisms that protect the ruling class from the wrath of the masses, and thus from revolution. The ruling class do not live in fear of revolution emanating from the USSR these days, but they are creating conditions that logically point towards the need for revolution by their destruction of past social reforms. Socialists should not despair from the political death agony of reformism that we are witnessing. We should use it to develop something better: a genuinely revolutionary programme, parties and an international movement that can destroy capitalism and save humanity from the spectre of civilisational collapse and barbarism that capitalism is threatening us with today.