Updated: May 7
By Claire Laker-Mansfield, Socialist Alternative Political Committee
Keir Starmer’s victory – achieved, in part, by him adopting a left pose to appeal to a layer of Corbyn supporters – has been swiftly followed by a series of dramatic and deeply revealing events.
First came his victory speech, in which he indicated that Labour under his leadership would essentially act as a loyal shield for Johnson’s government during the Covid-19 crisis. Among his first promises as leader was a pledge to ‘work with the Tories’, despite their dramatic and deadly failings on testing, PPE, NHS cuts and so on.
Next came the exposure of the leaked Labour report, which dramatically revealed the real role of the party’s Blairite right. At the party’s highest levels, high-paid top officials worked hand-in-hand with the then general secretary Ian McNicol to actively and consistently sabotage the possibility of a Labour victory under Corbyn’s leadership. They celebrated setbacks and mourned advances. And not only that, they did so within a rotten context of what appears to have been a culture of racism and abuse.
Scandalously, the report also exposes the right’s role in what seems like the deliberate frustrating of investigations into alleged anti-semitism, all with the aim of weaponising the issue against the leadership.
Last came the much-anticipated publication of Starmer’s list of financial backers. This ties everything together. It demonstrates absolutely that his most fundamental commitments are to this same Blairite right that worked consistently to undermine the possibility of an anti-austerity Labour government for the last five years. He shares with Liz Kendall, the ultra-Blairite’s ‘candidate of the 4%’, his most generous financial backers.
No wonder then, that the shadow cabinet has been stuffed with right-wing relics. At a time of mass lay-offs Starmer hands top jobs to the likes of Rachel Reeves – most well known for her infamous pronouncement that ‘Labour is not the party for those who are out of work’. Blair’s big buddy Charles Falconer is also back from the dead. He is most well-known for his attempts to ‘legalise’ the disastrous Iraq war. Starmer stood to reverse Corbynism. To turn Labour into a reliable ‘second eleven’ for the capitalist class. This is now crystal clear to thousands.
So the question posed is what next? What should those who support Corbyn’s anti-austerity anti-war stand do now?
Socialist Alternative argues that the most basic answer to this question is that we must organise. What’s more, we say that working-class people must organise independently. Attempts to appease and placate the right have only strengthened them. No such ‘generosity’ will ever be shown in return. Indeed, Starmer’s initial response to the leaked report shows a willingness to perversely use this issue to carry out a renewed witch-hunt against the left, with his ‘independent’ investigation essentially tasked with targeting the whistleblowers.
So working-class people, trade unionists, socialists and anti-cuts fighters need to be organised around a political programme that represents the interests of our class. That means fighting for socialism. And it requires us to unite both those still remaining in Labour who are seeking to fight the right there and, crucially, the thousands who have already torn up their cards in disgust, not to mention the millions more who had not been mobilised by Corbynism, but who can be won to socialist ideas.
Our first task is to organise a mass struggle against the Tory government and its disastrous handling of the Covid crisis. That means stepping up the fight now for PPE and testing to protect frontline workers, as well as organising to fight lay-offs and prevent workers being forced back before it is safe. But once the lockdown finishes, there will be even more scope to mobilise mass struggle – perhaps starting with an almighty demonstration to fight for our NHS – demanding an end to more than a decade of cuts and privatisation which paved the way for this crisis. At the same time, as the global economic depression we are at the beginning of deepens, the question of who is asked to pay for the crisis will come to the fore. We must demand that it is those responsible for the disaster that foot the bill – the capitalist class – not ordinary people.
But we also need to fight for such struggles to have a political voice. Socialist ideas – of public ownership of the major banks and monopolies and democratic planning of the economy to meet people’s needs without destroying the planet – can articulate the demands of working-class people and point towards the transformation of society that is necessary.
There should be no fetish made of the exact organisational form political representation for workers takes. It is right to continue to demand mandatory reselection of Labour MPs for example, and to fight to push back against the right as they attempt to reassert control at every level. But it would be wrong to argue that Labour is the only vehicle through which political representation can be achieved. Nor would it be right for those on the left to commit to loyal opposition to Starmer’s new right-wing leadership, potentially over a period of years. Political representation for working-class people is an urgent necessity, not a distant aspiration.
New parties and formations can also emerge in the next period – perhaps coming out of the struggles that will inevitably develop in response to this crisis and perhaps building upon the core of people previously mobilised around Corbyn. But crucial in the ultimate success of any such venture will be that it is built around a clear set of socialist ideas.
Socialist Alternative is appealing to Corbyn supporters to join us in the wake of Starmer’s victory. Because we believe that crucial is the building up of a core of people who understand the necessity of breaking with the broken and crisis-ridden capitalist system and the transformation of society along socialist lines. We are not what you would call a ‘rival’ or ‘alternative’ party to Labour in that sense. Rather, we represent a strand of thought which has been part of the workers’ movement throughout its history.
Our starting point is that there can be no ‘unity of interests’ between working-class people and the capitalists whose profits come from the exploitation of labour. We therefore do not simply stand to reform capitalism in an attempt to make it ‘kinder’ or ‘fairer’. Instead, while we fight for and in defence of every improvement that workers can achieve, we understand that, under this rotten system, what we gain can always come under attack and be taken away at a later stage.
So as well as playing our part in building for mass struggle to defend working-class people, we always seek to put forward what is necessary to win real and lasting change – to point in the direction of socialism and build around these ideas.
To that end, we want to build an organisation made up of the best and the most audacious campaigners and working-class fighters. We want to build a genuinely democratic organisation, so that the best insights of those from all walks of life can be brought together to help us formulate our demands and ideas in a way that speaks to working-class people and points a way forward. We want to build an organisation that learns from history and which draws on the experiences of all those who have gone before us in the fight against capitalism. And we want to build an organisation that can ultimately play a decisive role in bringing about the transformation of society along socialist lines – both in Britain and internationally.
We are proud to be part of a global organisation – International Socialist Alternative – which is building around these ideas in over 30 countries worldwide. We base ourselves on revolutionary Marxist ideas.
So if you agree with us, and want to be part of building Socialist Alternative, we urge you to join us. If you’re not sure yet, but you want to find out more and discuss, we urge you to get in touch. Because now is the time to step up the fight for a socialist world.