Former leader Jeremy Corbyn has been kicked out of the British Labour Party’s parliamentary caucus, despite backing down on comments that saw him suspended from the party.
The new Labour leadership has declared war on the left of the party, determined to move to the right and either drive out or silence Corbyn and his supporters.
Corbyn had responded to a report into the party’s handling of anti-semitism accusations, arguing correctly that the scale of anti-semitism inside Labour had been, “dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party”.
Corbyn and other left MPs have faced accusations of anti-semitism ever since he was elected leader in 2015, based on their support for the Palestinians.
Last year Labour suspended MP Chris Williamson for telling a party meeting that Labour had been “too apologetic” in the face of anti-semitism smears from the right, and then blocked him from running as a candidate. In June, left-wing MP Rebecca Long-Bailey was sacked from the shadow cabinet for tweeting in praise of an article that contained a passing accusation of racism and brutality against Israel.
Corbyn is not an anti-semite. He has actively opposed racism all his political life—unlike many of his tormentors on the Labour right. He is right to stand for Palestinian rights and against imperialist war.
The right claim that Corbyn’s support for Palestine encouraged anti-semites to join Labour. They claim left-wing politics is inherently anti-semitic because of its opposition to Israel, and that solidarity with Palestine is motivated by hatred of Jews.
Anti-semitism is a real threat because of the rise of fascism and the far right in many countries. It infests the QAnon conspiracy movement who cluster around Donald Trump. A Jewish cemetery in Grand Rapids, Michigan was vandalised with “Make America Great Again” graffiti just hours before Trump delivered a campaign rally across town.
But Labour Party leader Keir Starmer is not interested in opposing racism. He has distanced himself from Black Lives Matter protests, dismissing them as a “moment” rather than a movement. Another Labour Party report has detailed a campaign of racism targeting left-wing MP Diane Abbott, a Corbyn ally. But Starmer has not lifted a finger to hold those responsible to account.
The continuing attacks on Corbyn show Starmer is firmly set on a right-wing trajectory. They are intended as an assault on the movement for Palestinian rights, and to demonstrate that a Labour government will be a reliable choice to maintain the system and pro-corporate policies.
An intense campaign by the right forced the Labour Party to adopt a definition of anti-semitism last year that restricts legitimate criticism of Israel. It restricts the right to point out that Israel was founded on the ethnic cleansing of some 850,000 Palestinians, or to compare Israel to apartheid South Africa. It also makes it harder to point out that Israel’s founding ideology of Zionism is racist against Arabs.
Yet rather than defending the right to criticise Israel, Corbyn and influential sections of the Labour left conceded ground. They hoped that by showing they were listening to the right’s accusations the criticism would stop and Corbyn would be allowed to continue as leader. Instead, they created space for more smears and accusations.
Because Labour is fixated upon parliament and elections, the left of the party see it as necessary to unite with the right. The Labour left always conciliates with the right and puts the unity of the party above its principles, whereas the Labour right values loyalty to the political establishment rather than to the labour movement.
Both Labour left and right are united in their view that struggle outside parliament must be subordinated to struggle within parliament. All this has seen Labour repeatedly collaborate on everything from neo-liberalism, strike breaking, and scapegoating of migrants and refugees, to support for nuclear weapons and war.
Corbyn’s left-wing leadership generated enormous excitement and hope, before he stepped down after losing last year’s election. He has a record of decades of principled anti-racist, anti-war and socialist politics. It is essential to organise to defend Corbyn—but making apologies or concessions will not achieve this. If the right’s anti-semitism smears had been fought from the beginning the left would not be in this position.
Many left-wing Labour members argue to remain within Labour and fight. But it is precisely Corbyn and the Labour left’s commitment to the party, and to its reformist aim of winning government through parliament, that has seen them make concession after concession.
All this should prove that Labour and electoralism are a dead end for those seeking the radical change that is so urgently required. Fundamental change can only come through struggle in the workplaces and in the streets. We need to build a socialist party that looks to these struggles, and not to parliament, to bring change.
By Michael Douglas