Workers Vanguard No. 1108
24 March 2017
Shame on Corbyn for Opposing Brexit
Britain Out of the European Union Now!
The following article is reprinted from Workers Hammer (No. 238, Spring 2017), newspaper of the Spartacist League/Britain, section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist).
In last year’s Brexit referendum, [Labour Party leader] Jeremy Corbyn carried the baton for the City of London and trampled on his working-class and minority supporters by campaigning to remain in the EU. Crime hasn’t paid. Corbyn may have capitulated, but the Blairites [right wing of the Labour Party] will be satisfied by nothing short of his political annihilation. As New Labour’s prince of darkness Lord Peter Mandelson ranted at a 20 February Jewish Chronicle event: “Why do you want to just walk away and pass the title deeds of this great party over to someone like Jeremy Corbyn? I don’t want to, I resent it, and I work every single day in some small way to bring forward the end of his tenure in office.”
The bourgeoisie and its Blairite agents despise Corbyn for his talk of socialism, his support to trade union rights and his stated support for unilateral nuclear disarmament. In the eyes of the imperialist rulers, Corbyn’s opposition to the Trident nuclear missile system in particular makes him unfit to govern. On Remembrance Sunday [British equivalent of Veterans Day] in 2015, the head of the armed forces, General Sir Nicholas Houghton, made that view clear in a thinly veiled coup threat during an appearance on the Andrew Marr show.
Mandelson and the rest of the cabal led by Tony Blair spent two decades trying to transform Labour into an outright capitalist party. They abandoned even lip-service to socialism, abolished Clause IV [of the party constitution—nominal commitment to “common ownership of the means of production”] and attempted to cut Labour’s ties to the unions. Corbyn’s election as Labour leader in September 2015, and his resounding re-election a year later, called the Blairite project into question. Driving the Blairites out of the Labour Party would constitute a step towards the political independence of the working class, despite the bankruptcy of Corbyn’s parliamentary reformist programme. For Marxists, it would offer an opportunity to expose the pretentions of the Labour lefts to speak for the working class. It would also further the struggle to win the most advanced workers and youth to the perspective of building a revolutionary workers party.
Corbyn continues to accommodate the Blairite agents of capital within Labour. Despite having the support of the majority of the party’s hundreds of thousands of members, Corbyn has not insisted on mandatory reselection of the despised Blairite MPs [forcing sitting MPs to seek the endorsement of party activists], or the removal of witch-hunting general secretary Iain McNicol. To avoid a split in the Parliamentary Labour Party last November, Corbyn and his allies John McDonnell and Diane Abbott absented themselves from Parliament during the vote on a motion by the Scottish National Party (SNP) calling for Blair to be held to account over the Iraq war. This unrequited peace offering was an offence against the hundreds of thousands of members who flooded into the Labour Party to support Corbyn, in large part driven by justified hatred for Tony Blair’s crimes.
The class war in the Labour Party poses the question: what type of party is needed to represent the interests of working people and the oppressed? The old Labour Party that is Corbyn’s model prided itself on being a “broad church,” meaning that it had room for a wide spectrum of political currents and opinions. Bloc affiliation of the trade unions to Labour ensured that the pro-capitalist union bureaucrats called the shots. In practice, such a “party of the whole class” necessarily submerges the most advanced layers of the working class into the most backward ones, with the result that the right wing dominates and the left bends to it for the sake of unity. Such parties are inevitably chauvinist, based on the dominant ethnic grouping and tied to the defence of the imperialist interests of their own ruling class. Corbyn’s leadership of Labour illustrates what that kind of party means in action—subordinating the needs of workers, immigrants and the oppressed to the likes of Tony Blair and his bourgeois cronies.
A Leninist vanguard party, in contrast, consists of the most politically advanced layers of the working class and oppressed, as well as elements of the petty bourgeoisie who have been won to the cause of proletarian revolution. A vanguard party would not tolerate the existence of pro-capitalist elements and English chauvinists in its ranks. It would champion the defence of immigrants, women and minorities, whose liberation must be tied to the proletariat’s struggle against capitalist class rule. Actually fulfilling the burning needs of working people and the oppressed cannot be achieved through a Labour majority in Parliament—it requires breaking the power of the capitalist exploiters through socialist revolution. To that end, the workers need their own steeled and tested combat party, modelled on the Bolshevik party of V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky, which led the working class to power in the Russian October Revolution of 1917.
EU: Enemy of
Attempting to undermine the Brexit vote, Remoaners [supporters of remaining in the EU] have been waging a dirty smear campaign to brand all leave voters as anti-immigrant racists and UKIP [UK Independence Party] supporters. In fact, the driving force behind the leave vote was seething discontent over workers’ plunging living standards, chronic unemployment, privatisations and benefit cuts, which have been brought about by the City of London fat cats in collaboration with the EU. The lie that the EU is a defender of immigrants is graphically refuted by the many thousands of dark-skinned people trapped behind razor wire and armed checkpoints in refugee camps and detention centres for seeking entrance to racist Fortress Europe. To combat the poisonous racism the bosses whip up against refugees and immigrants and to advance proletarian unity, it is necessary to take up the fight against all deportations and for full citizenship rights for all those who make it to this country, whether from the EU or outside of it. In order to defend the livelihoods of all workers in Britain, the trade unions must fight to organise the unorganised, including bringing immigrant workers into the unions and ensuring they receive equal pay and conditions.
The EU is a reactionary bloc between European bourgeoisies. The European imperialist powers—centrally Germany, Britain and France—have used it as a means to plunder dependent countries such as Greece and Ireland, including through the German-controlled euro currency. From its inception, the EU has been a weapon to increase the exploitation of the working class across Europe. The “economic miracle” that has made Germany the dominant imperialist power in Europe was built on the backs of the German proletariat. To replenish their coffers following the financial meltdown of 2007-08, the London, Frankfurt and Paris banks used the EU institutions to bleed white the smaller nations of Europe, most starkly destroying the very fabric of Greek society.
The Brexit referendum result was a blow against the EU capitalist cartel and a defeat for the bankers and bosses—no thanks to Jeremy Corbyn. After repeatedly voting against EU treaties from Labour’s backbenches [where MPs who are not party leaders sit], Corbyn campaigned for remain, while trying to sugarcoat his betrayal with the qualifier that he was “only 70 to 75 per cent” in favour of the EU. Corbyn hasn’t gone so far as to spit in the face of voters by trying to overturn the referendum results like Tony Blair & Co have. He has however underscored his loyalty to British capital by pushing for the British bourgeoisie to maintain tariff-free access to the European single market—that is, to maintain its position in the European consortium.
The consequences of Corbyn’s continued support for the EU were amply demonstrated in the 23 February by-elections in Copeland and Stoke. Both of these long-time Labour constituencies had registered massive leave votes in the referendum, but Labour put forward two staunchly pro-remain candidates in the by-elections. In Stoke, the Labour candidate, Gareth Snell, insulted the millions of workers who voted to quit the EU by calling Brexit a “massive pile of shit.” The result of Labour trying to shove remain candidates down the throats of voters was a Tory victory in Copeland and a sharp drop in Labour votes in Stoke.
Corbyn and the EU:
Following the Blairites’ attempted coup against Corbyn last summer, our own newspaper accommodated to Corbyn by prettifying his line on the reactionary EU. The lead article in Workers Hammer No. 236 (Autumn 2016) [reprinted in WV No. 1096, 23 September 2016] falsely stated that “there is a clear class difference” between Corbyn and Blairite leadership contender Owen Smith over the EU because: “Corbyn pledges to honour the vote for a British exit; Smith is committed to keeping Britain in the EU despite the vote and has even called for another referendum to reverse the verdict.” In fact, there is no class difference between Smith and Corbyn over the EU. Although Smith oozes contempt for the working people who voted leave, Corbyn betrayed when it mattered by crossing the class line and serving the bourgeoisie in campaigning for the EU.
In the front-page article of our following issue, “Down With the EU—For a Workers Europe!” (WH No. 237, Winter 2016-2017), we buried Corbyn’s support for the remain vote while focusing our fire almost exclusively on the Blairites as the “heavy battalions of the anti-Brexit backlash.” The task of revolutionaries is to raise, not degrade, the consciousness of the working class. By covering for Corbyn’s betrayal on the EU, we helped to reinforce illusions in a Corbyn-led Labour Party. This ran counter to the otherwise correct thrust of our propaganda: to defend Corbyn against the bourgeoisie and their Blairite agents while exposing the bankruptcy of his old Labour reformism.
The failure of Corbyn—like social democrats and trade union misleaders throughout Europe—to mobilise against the EU has ceded the oppositional ground to openly anti-immigrant reactionaries like UKIP, as well as outright fascists. The inveterate Labourites of the International Marxist Tendency (IMT) outrageously called for abstention in the referendum. They spent most of their time denouncing Brexit supporters as racist and backward and their honcho Alan Woods claimed: “There is not an atom of progressive content in either the Brexit campaign or the Remain campaign. They stand for the interests of two wings of the ruling class and the Tory Party. Neither has anything in common with the working class. We can have nothing to do with either” (socialist.net, 17 June 2016). In fact, as we noted in the leadup to the referendum: “A British exit would deal a real blow to this imperialist-dominated conglomerate, further destabilising it and creating more favourable conditions for working-class struggle across Europe—including against a weakened and discredited Tory government in Britain” (“EU: Enemy of Workers and Immigrants,” WH No. 234, Spring 2016) [reprinted in WV No. 1087, 8 April 2016].
For Working-Class Rule!
In Parliamentary Socialism (1972), his insightful history of the Labour Party, Ralph Miliband aptly observed: “Of political parties claiming socialism to be their aim, the Labour Party has always been one of the most dogmatic—not about socialism, but about the parliamentary system.” Parliamentary democracy is merely one form of the dictatorship of capital. The idea that socialism can be achieved through Parliament rests on the illusion that exploiter and exploited, rich and poor, oppressor and oppressed all have an equal vote in how society is run. How can there be equality between slave and slave owner? If the bourgeoisie’s attempts to inculcate obedience in the “unwashed masses” through the churches, schools and their kept media should fail, and the wage slaves begin to behave in a non-slavish manner, the exploiters have at their command all the force of the state—at its core the cops, courts, prisons and the military. All past experience of class struggle shows that fundamental change in the interests of the working class cannot be achieved by attaining a “socialist” majority in the “Mother of Parliaments” and leaving the capitalist state intact.
Against all the wealth and repressive force of the bourgeois exploiters, the proletariat has revolutionary potential deriving from its numbers, its organisation and its role in production. As the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution showed, a victorious realisation of that potential can only come about under the leadership of a revolutionary vanguard party. To construct such a party requires ruthless political combat against all purveyors of the snake-oil of class collaboration. That includes left Labour reformists like Corbyn, as well as the bureaucrats atop the trade unions who push the illusion of class peace with the bosses and thus obstruct effective working-class struggle.
Margaret Thatcher’s policies of privatisation and union-bashing were deepened by New Labour and reinforced and extended under the EU. Today, workers face chronic unemployment and low-wage precarious jobs; nearly a million people are working on zero-hours contracts [no guaranteed number of hours]. Over the last year there has been a series of limited strikes—station staff in the London Tube, drivers and guards on the railways, cabin crew at British Airways, junior doctors—with the potential to spark a broad fight against the bourgeoisie’s austerity offensive. Determined all-out strikes in the Underground, rail, the airports or the NHS [National Health Service] could turn the tide. Picket lines mean don’t cross! However, rather than waging such a fight, the labour lieutenants of capital at the heads of the trade unions have restricted the actions to sporadic strikes here and there, involving only part of the workforce. Rather than mobilise trade union power in struggle, the union misleaders acquiesce to bourgeois legality and push the illusion that workers’ interests can be advanced through Parliament. A new leadership of the unions must be forged in the crucible of class struggle and as part of the fight to win the working class from Labourite reformism.
Labourism is and has long been a major obstacle to revolutionary consciousness within the working class in Britain. Our strategic perspective is to break Labour’s working-class base from illusions in parliamentary reformism as part of building a party which can lead the working class to power. Trotsky argued for such a revolutionary perspective against the Labourites of his day:
“England, like all the other capitalist countries, needs an economic revolution, far exceeding in its historical significance the industrial revolution of the eighteenth century. But this new economic revolution, a reconstruction of the entire economy according to a single socialist plan—cannot be put through without a preceding political revolution. Private property in the means of production is now a much greater obstacle in the path of economic progress than were the guild privileges in their day, also a form of petty-bourgeois property. As the bourgeoisie will under no circumstance relinquish its property rights, it will be necessary to set in motion the use of an outright revolutionary force. History has not devised any other method. England will be no exception.”
—Where Is Britain Going? (1925)
The article “Britain Out of the European Union Now!” (WV No. 1108, 24 March) referred to recent strikes in Britain, including by “drivers and guards on the railways.” We would like to clarify that “guards” is a British term for train conductors. The strikers were not security guards.
(From WV No. 1110, 21 April 2017.)