Britain: after Labour conference – where next?

This year’s Labour conference has ended in a victory for the right wing. The left must learn the lessons from the rise and fall of the Corbyn movement. The only way forward is to build the forces of Marxism. Join us in this vital task.


The Labour Party conference has ended. It is likely to be regarded as a defining moment for the party. The right wing is clearly cock-a-hoop with the result. The left, meanwhile, despite winning some votes, are very much on the retreat. In many ways, this conference marks the end of Corbynism.

Together with the right wing, Labour leader Keir Starmer came to the conference with one thing in mind: to introduce rule changes that would prevent the left from ever taking control of the party again.

The Corbyn years were a shock to the ruling class and their right-wing agents. As far as they are concerned, this is an experience that must never be repeated.

The right wing worked for five years under Corbyn to destroy him. This Fifth Column inside Labour deliberately weaponised antisemitism to attack and silence the left, and then finally to suspend Jeremy Corbyn. It was a genuine conspiracy to take back the Labour Party on behalf of big business.

Fast forward to today, and the Tory government is facing an acute crisis, with petrol pumps running dry across the country and energy companies dropping like flies. But for ‘Sir’ Keir Starmer, addressing this dire situation is less important than pursuing his counter-revolution inside the party.

Behind this counter-revolution stands the ruling class and big business. Starmer is merely a puppet of the establishment, and is more than keen to do their bidding.

This was aptly demonstrated by the Labour leader’s recent 12,000 word essay, where he fawns over big business. “Business is a force for good in society, providing jobs, prosperity and wealth,” Starmer asserts.

Tellingly, the document mentions ‘business’ 29 times, but does not mention the words ‘socialism’, ‘socialist’, ‘nationalisation’, or ‘public ownership’ even once.

Blocking the left

At the recent Labour conference, Starmer’s counter-revolutionary task was largely accomplished, with the help of the right-wing trade union leaders.

Although he was forced to retreat on the electoral college proposal, his other changes served the same end: to block the left.

labour conference papers Image Socialist AppealKeir Starmer has no interest in unity, despite his past promises / Image : Socialist Appeal

These included: raising the nominations threshold for future leadership candidates from 10% of Labour MPs to 20%; abolishing the registered members status; and introducing a minimum period of six months for new members before they can vote.

All these changes were designed to keep the party in the hands of the right wing. Never again would MPs ‘lend their vote’ to allow a left-winger to get onto the ballot. Lord Mandelson expressly said that the rule changes were designed to “keep out another Corbyn”.

This was Starmer’s priority. When he was explicitly asked if he wanted unity or to win elections, he said winning elections. He has no interest in unity, despite his past promises. It also means that the war against the left will continue, with the aim of demoralising grassroots activists and driving them out.

Back to Blairism

The reason for the victory of the Labour right at the conference was the use of industrial-scale suspensions, widespread gerrymandering, and the ‘auto-exclusion’ of members and delegates. Party democracy was trashed by Starmer’s apparatchiks and his faithful general secretary, David Evans. Already, around 150,000 party members have been pushed out or resigned in disgust.

Starmer’s intention is to restore Blairism. “He entered Labour’s annual conference determined to shred the legacy of his predecessor,” wrote the Financial Times, with great satisfaction. “Starmer’s pro-business stance, emphasis on fiscal discipline and embrace of patriotism is reminiscent of Tony Blair.”

“Now we’ve got control again,” said a shadow cabinet member, “and yes it feels good”. This accurately sums up the glee within the party’s right wing.

Starmer could not hide his jubilation when he welcomed back Louise Ellman, a right-wing former Labour MP, who had resigned as part of the attack against Corbyn. No doubt, this will be the start of the return of a gaggle of right-wing traitors who sabotaged the party under Corbyn.

The return of the sharp suits was also evident in Brighton, attracted by the scent of careerism. This riff-raff will grow in numbers in the years ahead, hoping to further their careers.

In complete contrast, the bakers’ union took the decision to disaffiliate from the party after more than 100 years of Labour membership, following moves to expel its president.

Sabotage and appeasement

In July, the right wing proscribed Socialist Appeal and three other groups. But this is only the opening shot. Others will now be banned, including Momentum.

The task of the right wing is not simply to boot out Corbyn, who will never again be allowed to stand as a Labour MP, but to destroy all vestiges of Corbynism.

This will mean proscribing Momentum, despite their hopes that they might survive if they keep their heads down. They are sadly mistaken, however.

Frankly, this approach reveals the whole bankruptcy of the left. They have run away from a fight with the right. They had the power to completely transform the Labour Party under Corbyn, but they instead preferred ‘unity’ with the right wing in a so-called ‘broad church’.

While the right-wing traitors were openly sabotaging the party, including Labour’s general election campaigns, the left tried to appease them at every opportunity.

When the right wing in the cesspit of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) carried a vote of no confidence in Corbyn in 2016, the left should have demanded that all these MPs faced reselection meetings in their local parties. But this was not done.

In 2018, when open selection (mandatory reselection) of MPs was raised at Labour conference, the Corbyn leadership vehemently opposed the move, due to concerns that this would lead to a split in the PLP. They were desperate to maintain ‘unity’. Meanwhile, the right wing were stabbing them in the back.

When the right wing spat in their face, the left leaders simply wiped it off. It was painful to see the right wing getting away with murder.

It was this failure to act decisively against the right wing’s sabotage – and to allow members to democratically choose their MPs – that sealed the fate of Corbyn. It was this failure that led to the mess we are in today, with the Blairites back in the saddle.

This may seem harsh to say, but it is true.

Civil war

Unlike the left, the right wing boldly went on the offensive. They have made it absolutely clear that they are not interested in unity. On the contrary, they are waging an all-out civil war against the left-wing membership, with the aim of driving them out. All we say is: it is a pity the left did not act with the same courage when they had the chance!

Even in the run up to this year’s Labour conference, despite everything, the left were afraid to challenge Starmer head on. They kept quiet when Socialist Appeal and others were proscribed. There was not a peep from the Socialist Campaign Group (SCG) or Momentum.

Keir Starmer Image Socialist AppealKeir Starmer and the Blairites have made it absolutely clear that they are not interested in unity / Image : Socialist Appeal

Rather than a bold campaign against the entire party leadership, they instead focused their attention on refusing to endorse David Evans, the general secretary. Instead of leading a campaign to force a vote of no confidence in Starmer, Momentum refused, saying they were in “for the long haul”. They completely misunderstood the nature of the counter-revolution pursued by the right wing, whose aim is to destroy the left.

When Starmer came forward with his proposal for an electoral college to give more power to the PLP, Momentum’s leaders warned him that to pursue this would “mark the start of a civil war in the party”. This at a time when a civil war had already been raging for over 18 months!

This weakness simply encouraged the right wing. As we know, weakness invites aggression. But even now, the left is playing down the seriousness of the situation.

It is true that although the right wing gained a victory in Brighton this week, it was quite narrow. The right were defeated on a number of policy resolutions, including on issues such as Palestine, a £15 minimum wage, the Green New Deal, and some international questions. Such resolutions, however, are just words on paper, since the leadership will simply ignore them.

Hot air

The right will now build on their success. They realise how weak the left are, and will step up their purge against socialists in the party. The apparatus is already in place to accelerate the witch-hunt.

These attacks will only add to the general demoralisation in the party. And tens of thousands will simply tear up their membership cards and leave in disgust. Even some delegates at the conference said they were on the verge of resigning.

RLB Image Socialist AppealThe right-wing realises how weak the left are, and will step up their purge against socialists in the party / Image: Socialist Appeal

They are being asked to stay and fight, but where is the fight? The vote at the bakers’ union conference to disaffiliate from the Labour Party sums up the mood of activists at the present time.

The Tribune fringe meeting on Monday night exemplified the plight of the Labour left.

The meeting, with an audience of a couple of hundred, was addressed by a range of leading figures from the Corbyn movement. It was evident that each speaker was going through the motions. All swore allegiance to the left policies of the past, which sounded very radical. But there was no strategy for any real fightback.

There was a lot of cheering for ‘Andy’ (Andy McDonald), for example, who had resigned from the shadow cabinet earlier that day. But to what end? None of the speakers offered any way forward, as they have no plans or perspective. It was, to be blunt, a lot of hot air.

Last gasp

It was the same story at the Socialist Campaign Group rally on Tuesday evening, hosted by The World Transformed fringe festival, which included a host of left-wing Labour MPs on the platform.

Where some kind of guidance was hinted at, however, it was – incredibly – the need to fight for party unity! In the middle of a civil war, the left calls for unity with the right wing!

McDonnell Image Socialist AppealNone of the lefts offered any way forward, as they have no plans or perspective / Image: Socialist Appeal

Of course, they pleaded for the whip to be restored to Corbyn. But it was only a plea, which they know will be completely ignored. They pleaded with the leadership to fight the Tories; to do their job, which is like demanding the Devil convert to Christianity.

There was absolutely no realisation that the right wing are the agents of capitalism, not party ‘comrades’. They constantly said the party would not win a general election if it was divided. The right wing are not interested in winning elections, however, but in purging the left from the party.

Some said the attacks on the left were ‘unfair’; others that we needed to ‘build the membership’, which is surreal given that tens of thousands are leaving.

One speaker quoted Harold Wilson, saying that the left needs to become a ‘moral crusade’, which is a reflection of the dead-end in which left reformism finds itself. With this outlook, the left will be completely crushed.

This meeting was not so much a council of war as a case of huddling together for warmth. It was, in reality, the last gasp of the Corbynite left in terminal decline.

Escalating attacks

To believe that the left can simply carry on as usual is the height of naivety. Following the conference, the right wing will step up their attacks and turn their attention to getting rid of the remaining left MPs, starting with Corbyn. They have already put the Liverpool Labour parties under special measures.

All MPs and councillors will be interviewed to see if they are suitable representatives, under the new management. Those deemed ‘unsuitable’ will be unceremoniously removed.

purge protest Image Socialist AppealThe right wing won many important victories at conference / Image: Socialist Appeal

In London, for example, Pamela Fitzpatrick – a left-wing Labour councillor and former parliamentary candidate – has already been interviewed and told she is ‘unsuitable’ to be a councillor. She is also threatened with expulsion.

This is just the beginning. “For all the credit due to Starmer, this is only a good start,” stated the Financial Times. “There are many more battles as Labour seeks to align its values with its voters and works through the consequences of hard fiscal choices.”

Class struggle

Drunk with success, the right wing think that they have everything sewn up. But they are sadly mistaken. The rule changes will not abolish the class struggle or the growing anger in society.

This is not the 1950s, or even the 1990s, where there was a world upswing and boom for capitalism, which provided the right wing with a material basis.

KS unison Image Socialist AppealLabour’s right wing will become increasingly unpopular as workers turn away from the party and look to the trade unions to fight for their interests / Image: Socialist Appeal

Back then, they were able to offer some concessions while operating on the basis of capitalism. Today, the world situation is radically different. There is a deep crisis and there is no basis for lasting reforms – only counter-reforms.

These apostles of capitalism have come to the head of the Labour Party at a time when capitalism is deeply unpopular. A Survation poll at Brighton showed that 69% of potential Labour voters agree that “the economy is rigged against ordinary people”, while 74% want more public ownership of assets. There has never been a greater hostility to big business and their system.

Labour’s right wing will become increasingly unpopular as workers turn away from the party and look to the trade unions to fight for their interests. We can already see a Winter of Discontent looming in the months ahead.

Workers will not stand by idly after sacrificing so much in the pandemic and see their living standards forced down. This will mean an intensification of the class struggle. Even the ruling class is fearful of a return to the militancy of the 1970s.

One thing is for sure, there will be no such thing as business as usual. The struggle will turn the trade unions upside down. There will be enormous pressure on the leaders to deliver on their promises. The shifts to the left in Unite and Unison are early tremors; an indication of the huge earthquakes that are still to come.

This will lead to an enormous radicalisation, especially amongst the youth. At a certain stage, given the lack of an alternative, this will spill back into the Labour Party. No amount of rules are going to stop the class struggle.

Splits and divisions will inevitably open up. The position of the right wing will be completely undermined. It cannot be ruled out that Starmer could be ditched for another right-winger.

“Today they are ringing the bells,” warned Sir Robert Walpole, the first British prime minister, “tomorrow they will be wringing their hands.”

Forces of Marxism

It is therefore vital that we do not bury our heads, but learn the lessons of the failure of the Labour left. In the words of the philosopher George Santayana: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Above all, this is a failure of left reformism. Calling for ‘unity’, the Labour left hangs onto the coat-tails of the right wing. But, in turn, the right wing is holding onto the coat-tails of the ruling class.

sa march Image Socialist AppealMarxism has never been more relevant. We therefore call on workers and youth to join us in the struggle for socialism / Image: Socialist Appeal

The left failed to fight and sweep away the right wing. This weakness is a political weakness. Despite paying occasional lip-service, they do not really believe in socialism or revolutionary change. They seek to reform capitalism; to bring about a nicer, kinder capitalism, without wars and bad employers. This is a utopian pipedream, and nothing more.

What is needed is a powerful Marxist tendency, to provide a genuine, bold strategy to defeat the right. Only the forces of Marxism can provide the necessary backbone for the left.

There can be no compromise with capitalism or their right-wing agents. We have no truck with patching up capitalism. We stand for revolutionary change in society; for the abolition of classes.

Given the deep crisis of capitalism, the deepest in history, this is the only way forward for the working class in Britain and internationally. Marxism has never been more relevant. We therefore call on workers and youth to join us in the struggle for socialism.

Originally published 01 Oct 2021 at socialist.net