Labour Party  •  UK

Open Letter: We need a united fight against Starmer’s purge

22 December 2020

The Labour leadership is attempting to drive the left out of the party. In the past few weeks, over 100 elected branch and constituency officers have been suspended, including 54 on 19 December alone.

In November, General Secretary David Evans issued a ban on CLPs discussing his suspension of Jeremy Corbyn. This attack on the legitimate right of members to discuss the actions of party officials was a provocation calculated to provide a pretext to decapitate the left leadership at the grassroots in advance of upcoming AGMs.

Many elected officers have been ‘pre-emptively’ suspended, i.e. with no reason given. Others have been suspended for circulating motions opposing Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension from the party. Still more have been suspended for chairing meetings at which motions criticising the gagging orders were passed. In at least one case, the suspension of a suite of officers has led to regional officials postponing an AGM.

CLPs are now banned from discussing any motion that the General Secretary or regional boards judge might provide “a flashpoint for the expression of views that undermine the Labour Party’s ability to provide a safe and welcoming space for all members, in particular our Jewish members”.

This blanket injunction has been immediately exploited by activists on the right, who have organised ‘walkouts’ on the basis that any expression of solidarity with Corbyn, or defence of democratic rights, is ipso facto creating an ‘unsafe space’, or worse actually antisemitic. The corrosive consequence of this has been to pit Jewish members against each other and other members, with a flurry of suspensions issued automatically in response to any alleged breach of this policy.

This purge is unprecedented in the scope of its attack on party democracy, and the fact that it is a general attack on the Labour left as a whole. Its aim is to intimidate the grassroots into silence – and drive out those who refuse to be silenced. Keir Starmer, under the whip of the Tory press, intends to prove to the establishment that under his ‘management’ the Labour Party in general, and any future Labour government in particular, will not be a safe space for socialists.

Angela Rayner’s threat to “suspend thousands and thousands of members” leaves no room for doubt about the leadership’s commitment to ending the unwelcome interruption of the masses into the cosy bureaucratic machine politics of British Labourism.

The official Labour left has so far trailed behind the spirited grassroots resistance to the purge. Criticism from Momentum, the Socialist Campaign Group, and some trade unions has been limited to open letters and doomed and misdirected appeals for “unity”, but there remains no coordinated, national campaign to resist the purge.

While around 100 branches and CLPs have defied the bureaucracy’s threats, the policy of compliance advocated by the CLPD and the misnamed Don’t Leave – Organise campaign works to silence the grassroots on behalf of the General Secretary.

In response to the suspensions, Momentum has set up a ‘Support Unit’ providing legal advice, and Jeremy Corbyn is threatening to sue the party. The appeals to Keir Starmer’s pledge to unite the party, and the absence of a coordinated campaign among the grassroots are expressions of the fundamental contradiction in the official left’s strategy.

Because the Labour left has historically been committed to the tactic of winning a general election, it is dependent on organisational unity with the right. This strategic commitment to unity means the right can periodically attack the left in the knowledge that the left leaders, determined above all to avoid a split with the right, will subordinate their ‘socialist’ principles to ‘pragmatic’ unity with the right. Unity in the Labour Party is always unity on terms the right is willing to accept.

That is what is happening today.  

If we don’t want to be driven out of our own party, we need to break with the policy of compromise with the right and organise for the victory of the left. That means convening a conference of delegates from CLPs, the SCG, trade unions and socialist organisations to agree a programme of action to stop the purge, reverse the suspensions, and fight for a genuinely democratic Labour Party in which policy, the bureaucracy, and the PLP are subordinated to a sovereign and democratic conference.

As a minimum basis for common action by the left, socialists should organise in every branch, CLP and affiliated union to call for:

From the moment he was elected, Keir Starmer has moved to renege on his cynical ‘ten pledges’ and rehabilitate the party’s reputation as a responsible steward of the British state. That is why he backs the Tories against the teaching unions over unsafe schools. That is why he backed the £16 billion hike to the military budget, and why he abstained on the Tory laws granting immunity for war crimes and legalising the security services covert war on the labour movement and campaigning organisations.

The leadership of the Labour Party is the primary obstacle to a working class fightback against the Tories’ disastrous handling of the pandemic, its attendant economic crisis, and the wider climate emergency and collapsing living standards.

The key task now is for the Labour left, including unjustly suspended members, to continue organising at every level of the party and unions to resist the purge and fight the Tories; if our leaders won’t fight, we will fight without them. To organise a working class resistance, we need a working class party, not one shared with the representatives of the liberal ruling class like Starmer, Mandelson and the majority of the PLP. We appeal to the whole Labour left to support the call for a fighting conference to plan the fightback.


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