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Editorial: Corbyn's suspension: class politics and the Labour Party

WHILE a panel of Labour’s national executive committee met to look at Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension from the party, which it lifted this evening, much attention focused on the exact phrasing of a clarification issued by the former leader.

Too much attention. 

Because the ex-leader’s suspension was not the result of a misunderstanding. 

Nor was the decision to lift his suspension anything other than a political reflection of the left’s advance in the NEC elections.

That doesn’t mean Corbyn’s clarification was pointless. His enemies and their media amplifiers routinely distort and misreport anything said on this question.

Once a false impression has taken root, too little is done to counter it, so the tedious but necessary task of maintaining an accurate record falls to the left. Corbyn’s clarification falls into this category. He never minimised the seriousness of anti-semitism. 

Instead he was taking issue with the picture painted by his political opponents of a Labour Party riddled with anti-semites — a slander not just on Corbyn but on hundreds of thousands of Labour members.

Countering that narrative is not a “numbers game” implying a lack of vigilance against racists, but an important part of defending the legacy of the biggest socialist movement this country has seen in decades. 

The Labour right’s determination to trash that legacy explains its extraordinarily authoritarian approach to any discussion of these questions within the party. 

Oxford and District Labour Party’s adoption of a resolution opposing the machine’s bid to suppress dissent — after branch motions opposing Corbyn’s suspension itself were ruled out of order — marks a step forward: “Saying that a ruling is mistaken in some way is not equivalent to disobeying it, and to prevent the expression of such opinions is contrary to democratic rights.”

The argument that we should accept contentious rulings and “move on” has surely been exploded by the entire history of anti-semitism attacks on the Corbyn leadership: the goal of the right is not victory on this or that issue, but total victory — the reduction of the Labour left to impotence. 

That is because Labour is led — as again it has been for most of its history — by people committed to upholding the capitalist order and the imperialist British state, while the best of the Labour left are committed to fighting for the interests of ordinary people. 

These are not by and large compatible goals. The right’s primary loyalty to the status quo was demonstrated repeatedly over its five-year campaign to sabotage the Corbyn leadership. 

Talk of unity against the Tories may be appropriate in particular contexts, such as elections in which the ruling-class offensive against working-class communities might be blunted, but cannot mask the reality of a class struggle in which the Labour right and the Tories are on one side and the working class is on the other.

This is why Labour turncoats like Ian Austin and John Woodcock have been ennobled by a Conservative government, and why the latter, having moved himself to tears with a speech praising his own contribution to Labour’s defeat last year, was saluted by Lord Rooker (another Labour peer) as having “performed a national service” by working to make sure his own party lost.

Labour, with its roots in the trade union movement and its left-leaning mass membership, is a complex beast. Writing it off permanently as a vehicle for progressive change now is no more justified than the starry-eyed faith that it was about to deliver socialism a few years ago. 

But socialist advance does depend on an accurate assessment of class forces, and a battle for left unity, not Labour unity: common cause and united action by socialists in and out of Labour to build a militant trade union movement and a class-conscious political left. 

That is not served by a make-believe in which Labour’s right and left have an equal interest in patching up their differences.

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