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Editorial: The leaked report is important – but it was not sabotage that defeated the Corbyn project

SUBMISSIONS to the inquiry into Labour’s leaked report on the handling of anti-semitism complaints are now closed.

Some of those whose sabotage of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership is detailed in the report want the inquiry itself shut down — saying they are taking Labour to court for misuse of data and libel.

As MPs including Diane Abbott, Jon Trickett and Claudia Webbe point out, if the former staff members believe WhatsApp conversations have been taken out of context — conversations in which they discussed the diversion of party funds to an account unknown to the leadership to be used to protect their own allies and lamented the party’s strong performance in the 2017 election — they should welcome an inquiry that allows those conversations to be considered in full.

Actually the leaked report is exhaustive, and leaves no room for doubt. The legal niceties are secondary: the political lessons are what matters.

The first is that the Corbyn leadership faced deliberate, planned obstruction from the Labour Party machinery from the beginning. 

Evidence of this is not confined to the report, which was not a bolt from the blue. The suspension and expulsion of thousands of members during the leadership elections of 2015 and 2016 on the most trivial pretexts — an 82-year-old was expelled for having retweeted a demand that the Green Party be included in election debates — was very obviously an effort by the party bureaucracy to stop Corbyn winning.

Nor was the attempt to bar Corbyn, the incumbent leader, from standing for re-election in 2016 a secret.

Supporters of the Corbyn project had not spent four-and-a-half years watching the Labour leader being briefed against, slandered and undermined without clocking that he faced an unusual degree of internal opposition. 

Indeed, these attacks were often directed at the supporters themselves.

The report’s power was down to spelling out in black and white over hundreds of pages what activists suspected anyway: that Corbyn’s internal enemies were actively working for the party’s defeat.

To understand why, we need to look at the reality of class power in Britain. The socialist movement Corbyn led was a real threat to the ruling class. It could have redistributed wealth, ended the privatisation and outsourcing gravy train and challenged corporate power. 

For five years the political front line of class struggle in Britain was not between the two main parties but inside one of them — between those Labour forces invested (often literally) in the status quo, and those who wanted socialist change.

In the end, in the sense that Corbyn’s successor is not building on the socialist project but reversing it, the former won. Or rather, the latter lost.

Because the second key lesson is easily forgotten amid justified outrage over the leaked report. The socialist project was able to advance despite their sabotage. As one of the saboteurs put it on election night 2017, “they [Corbyn’s team] are celebrating and we are silent and grey faced.”

The relentless attacks did tremendous damage. But it was only when the Labour leadership allowed its own radicalism to be blunted, subordinating its socialist message to the liberal cause of a second EU referendum and prioritising parliamentary manoeuvres over mass mobilisation, that the wheels came off.

Any movement for fundamental change will meet vicious Establishment resistance. If it involves an organisation like the Labour Party, tied to the Establishment in myriad ways, much of that resistance will be internal, though no-one should imagine that a movement that did not involve Labour would have an easier time. 

If we attribute our failure to the strength of ruling-class opposition, we may as well give up on socialism: it will never go away.

The important thing is to develop strategies to overcome it. The left did not grapple seriously enough with its enemies in Labour, but it was when it ceased to speak to the whole working class that it stopped being heard.

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