The Labour Party, the one that raised expectations a few years ago, is now entangled in a profound crisis. The defeat in the 2019 election has been followed by the return with retaliation of the traditional right-wing leadership, after a short period of Jeremy Corbyn as a leader, whom they are trying to expel. Thousands of activists that have joined the party in the last period are bewildered about the perspective and to where to direct their efforts in the face of the battle between internal currents with administrative methods, away from the rank-and-file. For many, it is clear the Labour Party cannot be a tool of struggle. The illusions generated by Corbyn’s leadership are fading, and more and more activists realize the need to organize outside the LP.
For its history, the Labour Party is an odd party. At the end of the XIX century, it emerges as part of the great Social Democrats’ workers’ parties in Europe, being officially founded in 1900. In a development that in a way expects the evolution of the entire Second International, already at the time of its creation, it was a party that gave political expression mainly to the more affluent sectors of the working class, the working aristocracy, and especially its trade union leadership. Despite this, there were always minor currents of the left in the LP, and even the Third International under Lenin and Trotsky encouraged the British Communists to have tactics of critical electoral support for Labour as part of their political construction efforts. With twists and turns, the clear tendency over decades has been towards an increasingly right-wing stance, if its character as an imperialist bourgeois party was consolidated. This trend has its climax with the so-called “New Labour”, led by Tony Blair, whose false rhetoric of a “third way” between capitalism and socialism gave continuity to the neoliberal reforms of Thatcherism and subordinated itself to US imperialist warmongering, with the involvement of the United Kingdom in the genocidal invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Blair had to resign because of the scandal around the fabrication of evidence to justify the aggression against the Iraqi people, but his successor Gordon Brown roughly followed the same political line. But this extreme expression of decomposition and corruption was not a Blairist “betrayal” but a long-range organic development.
The contradiction between its working-class origin, and the current weight in the trade union movement, on one hand, and that condition of bourgeois and imperialist party on the other is expressed in tensions within the apparatus that would lead to the emergence of the Corbyn’s current. Corbyn was elected Labour leader in 2015, capitalizing a shift to the left of sectors of the youth, fueled by the rejection of the austerity policies imposed during the 2007-8 crisis and in the subsequent years. He had been an MP for 32 years so far. In the beginning, Corbyn was active in the anti-apartheid movement, in the campaign for the nuclear disarmament, denouncing fascism, advocating a united Ireland, and more recently he was a vocal opponent of the Iraq War, receiving awards from pacifist organizations.
There was a wave of hundreds of thousands of young people joining Labour because of the growing support to Corbyn. Labour became the largest party in Europe, just when traditional social democratic parties were stepping back, sometimes catastrophically, in France, Germany, Greece, the Spanish State and other European countries.
The shift to the left of young people was highly positive. Their illusions in turning Labour into a left party to stand up for workers’ interest, turning back the attack to social rights suffered for decades, resulted in deception. The turmoil this year only confirms the impossibility of changing the bourgeoisie and imperialist character of the party.
Corbyn tried to promote timid reforms through Parliament, never resorting to mass mobilization. His program included creating a matching national education service, with schools brought back into the public sector, nationalization of rail, water, electricity distribution and mail, a progressive taxing reform, a sweeping reform of tenant rights, a four-day working week, a universal basic income, introducing a few elements of worker-private co-administration, sharply increase of minimum wage, and building affordable social homes. However, there were some holes and ambiguities in his political positions in very important facts of the class struggle at an international level, for example, his refusal to energetically and categorically condemn the Assad fascist dictatorship in Syria. As regards Brexit, a significant political issue, Corbyn moved from timid and almost shameful support to Lexit (the campaign to leave the EU with a left-wing program and slogans) to vagueness and demanding a second referendum. He did not clearly and forcefully dispute the space of the right-wing’s rejection of the European Union, which was stirring up xenophobic, racist and chauvinist slogans, to the break with the European Union. In fact, he gave in to the anti-immigrant demagogy of the conservative right.
These weaknesses led to LP’s major electoral breakthrough in 2017 turning into a disastrous defeat in 2019 that ended Corbyn’s party leadership. ousted by the reactionary Sir Keir Starmer He never appealed to mobilisation, so he could not fight the maneuvers of the party’s right-wing, which after the defeat in 2019, attacked with a purge that included the indefinite suspension of Corbyn himself in October this year, under accusations of not dealing with anti-Semitism in the party, revenge of pro-Zionist Labour members for his criticism of Israeli policies and his support for the so-called two-state solution. The suspension was lifted, but he has lost the Labour whip in Parliament for at least three months.
Although anti-Semitism exists in all British bourgeois parties, not only in Labour, and must be fought, the fact is that the major and most virulent forms of racism in the UK are Islamophobia, anti-black racism, and widespread xenophobia against immigrants from Eastern Europe and peripheral countries. Beyond Corbyn and his milieu’s mistakes in dealing with the issue, he has been cynically scapegoating by sectors who could not care less about racism, committed themselves to justify the racist crimes of Israel and the British state itself.
While the struggles are going on in the quagmire of the Labour leadership, from below the bewilderment leads thousands to turn away from the party. Neither Corbyn nor the Momentum Coalition, which is dominated by social democrats and Stalinists of different stripes, has a strategy of breaking with the Labour apparatus and betting on building an independent workers’ organization. In this sense, their capitulation and call for “calm” to the rank and file who trusted in their leadership, has served, similarly to Sanders’ role in the Democratic Party, to obstruct the path towards the building of a political alternative, providing a “left” point of support to a bourgeois and imperialist apparatus that cannot be reformed or converted into an organizational tool of the working people. It is important to balance the experience with Corbyn as a leader, in the context of the bankruptcy of other attempts of the new reformism such as Syriza in Greece, Podemos in the Spanish State or the Italian 5-Star Movement. To learn the lessons and to regroup the honest and committed activism that is breaking with Labour to advance in the building of an independent party of the working class, the youth, the women and the oppressed communities.