Stop the purge of the Labour left

11 December 2021

By Alex Rutherford

The ongoing witch-hunt against socialists and pro-Palestinian activists within the Labour Party has jumped up another gear. Now Keir Starmer has left wing councillors and MPs from the Corbyn years in his sights.

Jo Bird, a Wirral councillor and member of Jewish Voice for Labour, has been expelled from the party for attending a Labour Against the Witchhunt (LAW) meeting in 2018 and signing one of their petitions in 2020, both incidents prior to LAW’s proscription in 2021. Similarly, Harrow Labour councillor Pamela Fitzpatrick has been expelled for writing a 2020 article in Socialist Appeal (again, only proscribed in 2021).

Even MPs are not being spared. Zarah Sultana and Apsana Begum, both young, female, Muslim MPs, are facing an orchestrated campaign to deselect them. Zarah and Apsana have been consistently demonised by the press, subject to endless racist and Islamophobic attacks on social media and have received no support from the leadership. These are clearly political attacks aimed at the remnants of the Corbyn leadership. Shamefully, all are women, most from oppressed minorities.

Now Starmer has upped the ante, saying Corbyn may not be able to stand as a Labour MP in the next General Election, despite the National Executive Committee (NEC) disciplinary panel lifting his suspension more than a year ago.

Cowards flinch

For years the Corbynite group Momentum has stood by passively while pro-Palestine groupings were proscribed and their supporters expelled. Momentum’s ex-leader Jon Lansman went so far as to concede the Labour right’s demagogic line of attack, that there was a genuine antisemitism crisis within the party.

Momentum and the Socialist Campaign Group argued ‘Don’t leave, organise’, hoping to keep their positions in the party, council chambers and parliament by keeping their heads down and biding their time.

This cowardly policy is now shown up as not just unprincipled but self-defeating, simply encouraging Starmer to move on to bigger fish, aiming to replace the pro-Corbyn elected councillors and MPs with those loyal to British capital and its imperialist foreign policy.

Corbyn’s faith in the possibility of winning control of the Labour Party and using it as a vehicle to achieve ‘socialism’ through electoral victories and parliamentary reform could never work. It always relied on compromise with the union bureaucracy and the Labour right to hold the party together at all costs so as to win a majority at elections.

So in the name of unity, the Corbyn leadership dumped democratic reform and reined in the left membership, reaping the consequences in the 2019 election defeat. The right of course, in its scorched-earth campaign against Corbyn, never showed any concern for unity, even willing to lose an election rather than allow the left to advance.

The left in Labour needs to fight against every expulsion, deselection and policy move to the right. The Communication Workers Union and Unite have decided to maintain affiliation but cut funding to rightwing Labour candidates. This is a useful tactic to build on.

But there is only one strategy that can stop the Labour left’s rout: putting the class struggle for socialism above the unity of the Labour Party, even if that means expulsion. Left MPs, councillors and members should denounce Labour’s compromises, break the whip, challenge Starmer for leadership. Rather than leaving in dribs and drabs, they should force the right to expel them en masse and then turn to the unions, already in semi-rebellion, to demand they break from Labour and form a new party.

Such a party, basing itself on the class struggle and aiming to lead it all the way to the overthrow of capitalism, would not grant the leadership carte blanche to expel members for political convenience, but place its leaders under the control of the rank and file and by extension the working class itself.

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