Taking Labour to the left

JEREMY Corbyn’s first speech as Labour leader was a triumph that not even the right-wing media could deny. But the process of the conference revealed the enormity of the task he faces to rescue the party from the grip of the right-wing Blairites inside the structure of the party and in the Parliamentary Labour Party — and inside some of the union leaderships.

It started with a decision of conference not to debate the issue of scrapping Trident and revealed an uncomfortable number of top Labour people who support the renewal of the Trident submarine based nuclear weapons system.

These included his deputy leader Tom Watson and union leaders Len McCluskey and Paul Kenny who opposed having a debate on Trident. This will have come as a shock and surprise to many who thought these people were part of the left-wing — and on other issues they do take left positions.

Corbyn himself, although he had pushed hard for a debate on Trident, did not seem too deterred. Clearly this is a very big issue and one that will provoke the interest of major forces in Washington who will be pulling all the hidden levers they can to prevent this country ever having a government opposed to Trident renewal.

Corbyn put transforming the party into a much more democratic structure, actively involving all members and supporters at all levels and in the long run this will strengthen his position and undermine the hidden lever-pullers, whether in Washington or in the Blairite Progress faction that still has a large presence in the parliamentary party.

For the time being Corbyn needs to consolidate his leadership by democratising the party structure and allowing open debate on everything. And this is why MPs will be given a free vote on the issue of bombing Syria. Corbyn made it very clear he is opposed to this but a free vote will let the rank and file members know where their MP stands on a proposal that will turn even more Syrians into desperate refugees.

In the meantime Corbyn must do the political work of persuading MPs and union leaders that rejecting involvement in imperialist wars and spending billions on nuclear weapons is the wrong thing to do — and that scrapping Trident will not cause a tide of job losses because the money saved can be invested to create many more good jobs. He cannot do this job alone but there are thousands of new or returned activists ready to help this battle in every possible arena: in meetings, in the media, in online social networks and on the streets.

This is a dialectical process and there will be collisions along the way. The important thing is to isolate the right-wingers — as they formerly isolated the left-wingers. Some threaten to leave the party but most will not; their corporate sponsors want them to fight to the end. It is far easier in a communist democratic centralist party to present a united front, to debate and vote on contentious issues and then stick to a clear political line. But the Labour Party is a broad mass party and there will always be debate and even after votes there will be factions challenging the votes.

And eventually the party will have to adopt clear policies. Before the next election Corbyn will have to work hard to get a sound majority of the party on all the key issues. Local constituency members and rank and file union members will have to sort out those right wing leaders who try to sabotage the party’s chances in the run-up to an election — by defeating them in argument and voting them out at a local level. They will not go until they are pushed.

There is clearly a vitally important role for communists in these debates and struggles — understanding the dialectical process that is going on and isolating the right wingers while keeping the majority, who may be confused, in support of Corbyn. This will take patience and endless effort.

And at the same time we have to get across the message that a Corbyn government will be a big advance but it is not socialism. The ruling class will hit such a government with a mighty backlash and an economic war possibly followed by a real war.

But if we do our job well we will be in a position among the masses of the organised working class to educate and mobilise workers to defend themselves and take the next step towards real socialism.