Starmer’s purge of Jeremy Corbyn

Starmer and Corbyn on Labour front bench

At the end of March, Keir Starmer did what he obviously had been planning to do for a long time, and rammed a motion through the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee definitively ruling that Jeremy Corbyn will not be allowed to stand as a Labour candidate in the next General Election. This is due in Britain before December 2024, but will probably take place in May 2024. Unless the somewhat fragile Tory regime splits and collapses before then.

It was always obvious that Starmer would do this, as his entire project always was to sabotage the left-reformist, social democratic leadership of Corbyn in the period from 2015-2020, covering two General Elections (2017 and 2019). He was the prime cadre in the background who the neoliberal political cliques that dominate Labour’s sizeable apparatus and officialdom, came to regard as their standard-bearer after Corbyn was unexpectedly elected leader in a political mass upsurge after the neoliberal Labourites’ substantial election defeat in 2015. Put on the defensive by two damaging election defeats, the prior one in 2010 after the miserable end of 13 years of privatising, warmongering ‘Labour’ rule, the working class, or at least social-democratic, pole of this bourgeois labour party found the political space to reassert itself and win the leadership for a brief period.

The entire project of the British ruling class since the 1970s has been to defeat the trade unions, and to find a way to deprive the working class of political representation and the chance to even preserve and defend previously achieved social gains, such as the National Health Service and a half-decent social welfare system. These have been massively mangled by 40 years of a bosses’ offensive under the banner of neoliberalism, under both Tory and Labour governments. But however briefly, the mass movement behind Corbyn struck blows against that, conquered the Labour leadership, and even came close to winning political office on such a social democratic programme. In the 2017 General Election Corbyn’s Labour deprived then Tory Prime Minister Theresa May of the overall parliamentary majority the Tories had won in 2015 and forced them into two years of fragile minority government, where they depended on the votes of the Protestant-sectarian Democratic Unionist Party in the Northern Ireland statelet to get their measures through parliament.

This was a substantial shock to the British ruling class, who thought it had succeeded over the years of Thatcher and Blair in marginalising any kind of working-class politics. So, their response was that the Tories and the Labour neoliberals worked together to destroy Corbyn’s leadership. After some false starts, they settled on the tactic of using of fake allegations of anti-Semitism against the Labour left as personified by Corbyn, who had been a long-time defender of Palestinian rights. The Tory/billionaire media, including ostensibly liberal outfits like the Guardian and Independent, worked together with the Labour right-wing internally to vilify the left in Labour as supposedly suffused with hatred of Jews.

In addition to this, the issue of Brexit (British exit from the European Union), and nationalism, was used as a weapon to defeat Labour by the right-wing, again exploiting the issue – which also massively divided the Conservatives – to divide and discredit Labour under Corbyn’s leadership. A UK referendum in 2016 saw Britain vote narrowly to leave the European Union on a basis that was as least partly driven by populist anti-immigration sentiment in part of the working class, and resentment at the loss of living standards under neoliberalism, which right-populists such as the UK Independence Party, as well as a key part of the Tories led by Boris Johnson, exploited to try to win power on the basis of the same populist nationalist demagogy.

Right-wing conspire to destroy Corbyn’s leadership.

In 2017, Corbyn stood on a platform of, among other things, accepting the result of the Brexit referendum and attempting to use it to escape some of the EU’s own neoliberal rules in pursuit of his social-democratic programme. This brought him close to victory in 2017. But after this, the Labour right under Starmer fought tooth and nail to commit Labour to another Brexit referendum, and the immediate reversal of the Brexit mandate. At the same time the ‘anti-Semitism’ smear campaign was raging in the media and Corbyn retreated before the ferocity of it, Zionists complaining that disrespect for their racist programme equalled some kind of racist, anti-Semitic campaign against them.

Mendacious accusations of anti-Jewish racism were formulated against several leading figures on the Labour left, including well known figures like Ken Livingstone and Chris Williamson, a host of less well known but fairly mainstream leftists such as Marc Wadsworth, Pete Willsman and Jackie Walker, as well as Stan Keable, Tony Greenstein and Socialist Fight’s Gerry Downing, who obviously were part of a Corbyn-supporting far left. Several of these were actually Jewish, but the ferocious mendacity in the media did not care about that. It was a pseudonymous campaign against socialism, nothing to do with any ‘racism’. Ideological confusion about Zionism ran deep in the Labour left, and both Corbyn, and a considerable layer of the official ‘left’ around him, such as Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and the Corbyn-supporting Momentum movement, capitulated, refused to stand up for those so vilified, and threw them under the bus.

The result was that Corbyn looked chronically weak, and his authority over Labour was somewhat weakened by the time of the 2019 General Election. As well as that, the stumbling Tory Prime Minister Theresa May had been replaced by the Trump-like populist Boris Johnson, and Starmer’s policy of demanding the immediate reversal of the Brexit vote through a second referendum, played right into his hands. As it was probably intended to do, particularly as since becoming leader Starmer has wrapped himself in the Union Jack and become an outspoken defender of Brexit. It was quite correct to oppose Brexit and defend those rights of migrants within Britain and Europe that existed before Brexit, but the tactical question of how to handle the right populists’ victory in the referendum required some finesse.

The result of the ‘anti-Semitism’ lie campaign and the cynical, right-wing manoeuvring over Brexit was a major defeat for Labour in the 2019 General Election, at the hands of Johnson whose demands to ‘Get Brexit Done’ were something of a trump card. Though there are some grounds to suspect that even this was exaggerated and more sinister machinations from the bourgeoisie, possibly even involving corruption of the electoral system, were in play to magnify Johnson’s electoral victory. Some elements of the bourgeoisie, including both former Prime Minister May, and Trump’s US Secretary of State Pompeo had made it clear that the ruling class was determined to defeat Corbyn at virtually any cost.

After Labour’s 2019 defeat, Corbyn resigned, and Starmer took over, mendaciously promising ‘unity’ and the continuation of Corbyn’s social democratic policies. But entirely predictably, this was the prelude to the biggest purge of the left in the Labour Party’s history. Not just targeting alleged ‘far left’ infiltrators, but the mainstream Labour left. Left-wing parliamentarians have been forbidden, on pain of exclusion from the party, to sign anti-war statements over Ukraine, or to criticise Israeli racism, or to stand on workers picket lines. And of course, Corbyn had the Labour whip withdrawn, for refusing to collude fully with the Tory-dominated state body, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, in its fatuous attempt to brand the Labour Party under his leadership as having ‘discriminated’ against Jews.

The purges have involved the proscription of pro-Corbyn left-wing groupings, and, on a massive scale, the expulsion of members of the party who supported those groupings even in many cases before they were proscribed. The claims about ‘anti-Semitism’ are exposed by the large scale purge of left-wing Jews, massively and disproportionately targeted as effectively ‘race-traitors’ by the racist Zionist thugs around Starmer who defend the dispossession and oppression of Palestinians and strong-arm those who dissent in classic far-right fashion.

Corbyn’s exclusion from standing in the overwhelmingly Labour-voting constituency, Islington North in North London, that he has represented since 1983, is the culmination of this purge. Its purpose is to ensure that nothing like Corbynism can even happen again, from within the Labour Party at least. It is entirely possible that this will finally resolve the class contradiction that Labour embodies, between its mass working-class base and the pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist bureaucracy that rules its apparatus. In the period where British imperialism still had some strength in the world, this bureaucracy demanded ‘socialism’ through greater state ownership to benefit workers. Now that British capitalism is in deep decline and desperate for each morsel of profit, particularly the political labour bureaucracy is inclined to follow the ruling class in financial scams, including even the privatisation of healthcare.

For a genuine workers party!

The logical conclusion of this is to break the working class from the bourgeois labour party and create a genuine working-class party. Many of those excluded from Labour have already drawn this conclusion – Chris Williamson founded the Resist Movement in 2020 after being driven out of Labour, which recently merged with the Socialist Labour Party, founded by the veteran miners’ union leader Arthur Scargill in 1996. The SLP, with Chris Williamson playing the leading role, is now involved in a joint campaign against NATO and its proxy war in Ukraine with George Galloway and his Workers Party of Britain. Comrade Galloway was thrown out of the Labour Party in 2003 for his militant defiance of Blair and imperialism over the war in Iraq. All these activities are the beginnings of the coming together of forces to create such a working-class party.

What will Jeremy Corbyn do now he is being driven out of the Labour Party by the vengeful supporters of Zionism, imperialism and neoliberalism? Will he break from Labour and play a constructive role in the break of the British working class movement from pro-imperialist Labourism? He has been very reticent about this – it is virtually a certainty that if he were to defy Starmer and defend his seat as an independent leftist, he would defeat the stooge that dared to stand against him. But that would itself require him to break from the chronic political softness and conciliationism that crippled his ability to fight against the ‘anti-Semitism’ witchhunt and the right-wing campaign of political assassination of not only himself, but the movement behind him. It is not clear at this point if he will capitulate or not.

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