LAST night, Labour suffered a stunning election defeat, losing seats in its traditional heartlands and handing a substantial majority to a hard-right Tory government.
Cue the multitude of voices clamouring for Jeremy Corbyn to resign, holding him solely responsible for the result, calling for a shift to the back to the “centre ground” (for which read the dominant narrative that only neoliberal market solutions and mass privatisations can gain any traction with the electorate) and for a new leader from the liberal-right Remain wing of the party.
The problem with this analysis is that the facts of the election simply don’t support what effectively amounts to a call for more self-harm by the Labour Party.
Labour’s defeat was fundamentally about Brexit–and if you don’t believe me, just look at the seats Labour lost and the marginals it failed to gain in the Midlands, in Wales, in northern England. And for anyone arguing that there was a drop in the Labour vote in Remain-supporting constituencies as well, albeit a less pronounced one, yes, there are Leave voters in these constituencies too!
The fact is that working-class Leave voters (by no means all of the working class, as many also voted remain in 2016, but a significant section none the less) felt entirely ignored and betrayed by Labour’s position on the EU. These are people whose communities have been destroyed by 40 years of rampant neoliberalism, while for most of that time, the Labour Party simply stood by and said there was no alternative to the market and progress must run its driven course.
Rightly, they hold the European Union partly responsible for this, as an integral element of the neoliberal framework that enforced privatisation, the export of jobs and the financialisation of economy, which destroyed Britain’s mining and industrial sectors.
Finally presented with a Labour leadership which claimed to stand for the many, not the few, which put forward a radical programme to rebuild Britain in the interests of working people, they expected to be listened to. And they weren’t.
Many former MPs in Leave-voting constituencies argued that the gradual shift from respecting the result of the referendum to eventually calling for a second vote would cost the party dearly. They were proved right and, in a cruel twist of fate, many of them lost their seats as a result.
The blame for this lies squarely with the liberal-right of the party, who forced the left leadership, against their will, to adopt a stance closer and closer to Remain, culminating in the conference motion which tied Labour to a second referendum, and yet these are the very people now calling for Jeremy’s head. At the time, Jeremy and the left were criticised for being unwilling to adopt a Remain policy, for being out of step with the membership; now they are being blamed for the results of that policy.
This is not an accident, or merely a move to shift the blame for a misguided policy. It is a deliberate attempt to use the crisis to reverse Labour’s shift to the left, to undermine the radical programme put forward at this election.
It should be clear to all that the overt aim of the Remain campaign, led by Alastair Campbell and other remnants of Blair’s cronies, is a dead end, but it must not be allowed to succeed in its other objective–to smash the Labour left and return Labour to the centre-right policies of New Labour.
However, Brexit was clearly not the only factor in this election. From the moment Corbyn became leader, every element of the state, the media, and the entire political edifice has been involved in an unrelenting war to try to destroy “Corbynism” and the shift to the left in Labour.
We have had senior military personnel threatening “mutiny” in the event of a Corbyn victory, threats of foreign intervention by the U.S. government, anti-Corbyn briefings by civil servants, Labour MPs and Labour Party staff, and constant newspaper smears, including false accusations that Corbyn condones anti-semitism and/or supports terrorism.
Yet the scale of media manipulation and lies in the few weeks of the 2019 election has been unprecedented, from false websites and social media accounts spreading deliberate falsehoods to multiple cases of prime-time news footage being manipulated to advantage the Conservative Party.
This is an important reminder of the limited, distorted and precarious nature of our capitalist democracy. As Lenin argued almost 100 years ago to the day, how can freedom of assembly and freedom of the press truly be democratic rights when the capitalists, exploiters, landowners and profiteers own the meeting halls and the printing presses? “Freedom of assembly and of the press is false and hypocritical [under capitalist ‘democracy’], because in fact it is freedom for the rich to buy and bribe the press, freedom for the rich to befuddle the people with the venomous lies of the capitalist press, freedom for the rich to keep as their ‘property’ the landowners mansions, the best buildings etc.”
Our job, argues Lenin, is to “emancipate humanity from the oppression of capital, from the lies, falsehood and hypocrisy of capitalist democracy–democracy for the rich–and establish democracy for the poor, that is, make the blessings of democracy really accessible to the workers.”
So what conclusions can we draw for the future?
Firstly, the immediate battle within the Labour Party will be the battle to retain Labour’s transformative manifesto, which provides an alternative to the rule of the market and puts society before profit, whilst resisting an attempt to continue or deepen the Remain line within the party. If Labour is to re-engage working class voters, it needs to start by listening to them, by offering a transformative programme which they have ownership of and which takes account of their priorities, including the result of the 2016 referendum.
Secondly, we must acknowledge that the sustained attacks the party faced from the media and the state were not specific to Corbyn, they were not a reflection of a weakness of personality or an inability to lead.
Quite the opposite, they were a recognition of the danger a radical Labour programme posed to the status quo of neoliberal capitalism. Any leader of the Labour Party committed to a similar transformative programme would face the same.
The rich and powerful in our society think that, by attacking Corbyn, they can neutralise the movement but, as Jeremy himself has said, “It is not me they fear, it’s you!” We must prove that correct by defending the leftward shift in Labour and ensuring that any leadership transition is a managed process of succession, not a lurch to the right.
Finally, we need to recognise that the electoral arena is only one part of the class struggle. Engaging with working-class communities to build a transformative programme is not something that should simply be done by the Labour Party at election time. We need a much broader movement, with much deeper roots in our diverse communities, and the struggle needs to continue all year round.
We need to be building effective union and political groups in workplaces and communities right across Britain, led by workplace and community reps who see their role as bringing together workers to build power, both to win the defensive battles we will need to fight against the Tory onslaught, and to extend their rights and their control over their workplaces and their communities.
We need a return to whole worker organising, across workplaces and communities, to build an integrated movement, not based simply on a core of politicised activists but on deep roots within the class which can mobilise organised workers, in elections and on the streets, to defend their communities.