Class War Corbynism, No Fucks Given
by Archie Woodrow on December 11, 2019



We can win this election, but if we lose, we’ll have lost to a rigged system.

It has always been the case, since its foundation, that the Labour Party has faced an uphill struggle. Bitter resistance from across the establishment and double standards from the media are almost to be taken for granted, and since Jeremy Corbyn’s accession to the leadership of the Labour Party, this hostility has been more intense than ever.

But this election feels different.

In the 2017 general election, while it was clear that Corbyn was the outsider with the establishment overwhelmingly united against him, there was at least the semblance of a fair, democratic contest. In particular, when the rules on broadcast impartiality and equal coverage of parties kicked in, the difference was obvious. Almost overnight, there was a sea-change in the quality of Labour’s television coverage, and this was widely regarded as a turning point for Labour’s fortunes and instrumental in Labour’s shock electoral comeback. This time, there has been nothing of the sort, and to many of us, despite coming in with extremely low expectations, the conduct of this election has been absolutely shocking.

Print media in this country has long been wildly partisan, overwhelmingly conservative, and increasingly monopolistic, with ownership concentrated among a handful of right-wing billionaires, but this election again represents a new low. With a Telegraph columnist and former editor of the Spectator serving as Tory Prime Minister, a former Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer as editor of the Evening Standard, and one of the few remaining centre-left newspapers being bought by the owner of the Daily Mail during the course of the campaign, the incestuous relationship between the Conservative Party and the print media is more extreme than ever, in what Will Davies describes as the “Berlusconification” of British public life.

The conduct of the BBC, and in particular its senior political reporters and editorial staff, has been absolutely appalling. As Tom Mills observes, the idea of the BBC as an impartial public service broadcaster seems increasingly ludicrous, with constant double standards, Boris Johnson being allowed to avoid serious scrutiny, senior journalists credulously tweeting provably false claims from anonymous Conservative sources, and senior staff refusing to take any public criticisms seriously. And despite all of this, the Conservatives are still threatening Channel 4 and the BBC with privatisation and the abolition of all media impartiality rules.

In an election where the Conservatives are led by a notorious liar and running perhaps the most flagrantly dishonest political campaign in decades, Labour is still routinely dismissed as promoting fake news and disinformation.

Though it is the Conservative Party which oversaw the Windrush scandal, the hostile environment, and the racist ‘Go Home’ vans—and which is currently led by a man whose voluminous journalistic and literary career constitutes a litany of on-the-record racist remarks—it’s somehow the Labour Party which is denounced by centrist commentators as racist, antisemitic, and, most bizarrely, as prejudiced against Hindus. All this despite being led by a man with decades of experience in all manner of campaigns against racism, xenophobia, and apartheid, and having probably one of the most progressive anti-racist manifestos in British political history
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We’ve seen irresponsible and dangerous attempts by cynical commentators and politicians to use issues like antisemitism to stir up inter-communal tensions and bigotry, setting Jews against Muslims and Muslims against Hindus, in the interests of narrow electoralism or sensationalist journalism. We’ve had former heads of the security services publicly intervening to label Corbyn as a threat to national security, and major news stories smearing Corbyn by insinuation as a mouthpiece for Russian subterfuge on the basis of vacuous allegations from the likes of Ben Nimmo, working in publicly funded institutions closely linked to the security state, such as the Atlantic Council and the Institute for Statecraft.

Corbyn, one of the most consistent civil libertarians in modern British politics, is monstered as an authoritarian and a Stalinist by the supporters of draconian counter-terror laws, mass surveillance, militarised policing, and all the worst authoritarian excesses of British society. We see him denounced as a terrorist sympathiser, and Labour activists are constantly demonised as thugs, cultists, and dangerous extremists, when the only documented cases of political violence in this election have involved Labour canvassers facing threats, intimidation, and physical assault— including a pensioner who was hospitalised. Yet these attacks barely register in mainstream narratives, despite it being just three years since a Labour MP was assassinated by a fascist.
And all the while, far right conspiracist sites like Guido Fawkes are further incorporated into the mainstream media, and Britain’s biggest newspaper has republished fascist conspiracy theories allegedly compiled by former intelligence operatives, and provably linked to neo-Nazi websites.

This is not the liberal democracy we were sold.

This is not a normal election, and this is not how things are supposed to work.

Britain is trapped in a series of interlocking crises. We have a seemingly permanent state of economic crisis and stagnation. The roots of this go back decades but, put simply, our economic model has never recovered from the 2008 financial crisis. We have a deep social crisis. Everything from austerity to homelessness, food banks, Grenfell, mental health and more—social conditions have simply become intolerable and unsustainable for the bulk of the population. And as we all know, there is a mounting ecological crisis of literally apocalyptic scale.

The Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, and the Labour right and ‘soft left’ are all completely incapable of offering any kind of solutions to these crises. The only political force with any serious answer—the far left of the Labour Party—is regarded as illegitimate by the entire British establishment. So we have a deep political crisis as well, with the whole of the establishment and all the state’s ideological apparatuses in complete meltdown.

Britain’s relative historical stability, as well as its status as a major imperial power, has made it much easier to maintain certain illusions about liberal democracy (at least within ‘mainland’ Britain itself; that is, outside of the North of Ireland), such as the idea that we have impartial institutions, an independent media, a lively civil society independent of state influence, and genuinely free political choice. There’s also the myth of stability and continuity—that Britain’s liberal democratic institutions have functioned smoothly and fairly over the centuries, and that the kinds of chaos, instability and polarisation that are taken for granted in other parts of the world couldn’t possibly happen here.

These myths are breaking down.

To some extent, these ideas have always been myths (see the proposed coup against Harold Wilson for one of the more extreme demonstrations). In other cases, there has been a long erosion of our democratic institutions and civil liberties—from Thatcher crushing the trade union movement to New Labour’s draconian counter-terror laws, or the long decline of our news media. But it’s only very recently that these long-term shifts have come together with the intensified social and economic crises and the political crises represented by Corbynism and by Brexit to produce what looks more and more like an undeniable and irreversible qualitative shift.

The political atmosphere in Britain looks nothing like what we’re used to thinking of as democratic politics, but it’s hardly without precedent. The combination of media-led moral panic, political institutions ridden with crisis, an establishment united in its horrified opposition to a movement led by radical socialists advancing quite modest social democratic demands, increasingly naked interventions by the deep state or by foreign powers—it all starts to look horrifyingly familiar to any observer of Latin American politics. Whether it’s Chile in the early 1970s, or Venezuela, Brazil or Bolivia today, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see Britain approaching the kind of polarised and unstable society characterised by open class warfare, naked disregard for democratic conventions or civil liberties, and even the looming threat of some kind of anti-democratic coup d’état.

And for anyone who thinks this kind of thing just doesn’t happen in Western Europe, it’s worth thinking about Italy. Just a few decades ago, its politics was dominated by an establishment united in trying at all costs to keep the Communist Party out of power through all kinds of subterfuge, and often violent collusion with the deep state, NATO, the CIA, and fascist terrorists. This is the kind of political reality we need to start taking seriously.

After the election, the real struggle begins.

No matter the result of the election, the genie is not going back in the bottle. There can be no return to politics-as-usual.

Winning the election will be the easy part. If Labour forms a government, it will be immediately faced with a relentless campaign of destabilisation from every side. There will be leaks, obstruction, delaying tactics and worse from the civil service, the state apparatus, and the security services. There will be continued rabid hostility from across the media—it will be vicious enough from liberal outlets like the Guardian, but practically fascistic and insurrectionary from parts of the conservative press. We will be inheriting an already stagnant and dysfunctional economy, but the potential for investment strikes, capital flight, and economic sabotage is real. It’s difficult to speculate exactly what the reaction to a Corbyn government will be from the European Union or from a USA still led by Donald Trump, but it is unlikely to be positive. And we will be trying to govern with a parliamentary party that remains intensely divided and disloyal. There will be huge pressure at every turn for Labour to capitulate and to compromise on all of its key demands.

If Labour attains anything less than an overwhelming majority, there will be an immediate battle over the meaning of the result. There will be demands for Corbyn and McDonnell to resign immediately. It will be pronounced as obvious that we lost for being insufficiently pro-Europe at the same time as being insufficiently racist and anti-immigrant. There will be demands to abandon or to moderate our left-wing economic policies and to drop our anti-imperialist commitments. And most dangerously, there will be immediate attempts to impose a supposed ‘Corbynism without Corbyn’. Right-wing ‘unity candidates’ like Keir Starmer, Emily Thornberry or Angela Rayner will be dishonestly mislabeled as equally radical but free of Corbyn’s baggage, in the same way that Kinnock was promoted as offering ‘Bennism without Benn’ before going on to destroy the Labour left and pave the way for Blairism.

But it is worth remembering that Kinnock was able to win and to do so much damage precisely because he was seen as being part of the left, having previously been a far more radical figure. Although already moving rightwards, he had a credibility with the left that figures more obviously on the right never did. What determined Kinnock’s direction was his relationship with the union bureaucracy as well as the general drift of politics to the right. Those factors don’t all hold in the same way today, but regardless of the outcome of the election, our wider movement must remain vigilant against the kinds of pressures that any left figure in a position of leadership will face.

Either way, there will be utter chaos, and we will have a hell of a fight on our hands.

Class War Corbynism

Corbyn has spent four years trying to play by the rules. We’ve made every effort to accommodate the broad church of the Parliamentary Labour Party. We’ve made enormous compromises, especially on foreign policy, defence, and criminal justice. And Corbyn has made every effort to act as a moderate, statesman-like figure—a respectable, unifying politician who plays the conventional media and parliamentary games.

He has been rewarded with relentless hostility, demonisation, and dishonesty from across our media and political classes in the dirtiest election campaign in decades. We’ve pushed this leg of the project as far as it can go and it’s forced our opponents to take off the mask. It’s time to shift gears. Time to fight fire with fire. Time for Class War Corbynism.

No more compromise. No more triangulation. No more pretending that Corbyn and Labour stand above the divides in our society. We aren’t here to smooth over those divisions and ‘rebuild a broken Britain’, but to unite the working class majority—and those progressive sections of the middle classes - and to turn the tables on the exploiters, the monopolists, and the ruling elites. Class conflict is inevitable in capitalist society—indeed it is constitutive of it—but our organic struggles need to be made conscious, coordinated, proactive. Turn the class struggle into a class war.

We have to recognise that we’re fighting a war on multiple fronts—that the electoral terrain is just one field of struggle, alongside those in our communities and in our workplaces, or the ideological struggle across the media, academia, even within our own party. Every issue needs to be seen strategically in that light—not just what does this mean for our polling, or for the headlines the next day, but what does it mean for the class war across society and how does it build into our long term strategies. Some encouraging steps have already been made in these directions—such as Labour’s community organising unit, or Momentum’s efforts to link up canvassers with trade union pickets—but these can only be a starting point.

Every policy, every announcement, every intervention needs to be weaponised like this. We’re used to thinking about policy in the simple terms of whether it will improve people’s lives and whether it will win us votes—obviously these considerations are vital, but they are not nearly enough. Does this raise class consciousness? Does it build class power? Does it mobilise our people? Does it increase their cohesion and their capacity for militancy and self-organisation? Does it strengthen our independent institutions or our ideological narrative? Does it weaken our enemies?

Particularly, we need to be much more willing to tackle the media head on. We’ve made every effort to appease them, and it’s gained us almost nothing. But crucially, we don’t need them. We have our own people, we’re building our own institutions, we have our own ways of getting the message out, and we know they’ll never be on our side. Corbyn has always been at his most compelling when he’s been able to go on the offensive, and we shouldn’t be afraid to take on the right-wing media directly and call them out for what they are. Let Corbyn off the leash.

Polarise relentlessly. Make everything into an issue of them versus us, class against class, exploiter versus exploited. One of the greatest obstacles Labour has faced in this campaign has been apathy, cynicism and hopelessness—people believing that all politicians are the same and that meaningful change is impossible. We can only break through this with shameless militancy. All the politicians were the same and meaningful change was impossible because the Tories, the bankers, the bosses, the Blairites, they made it impossible. But we’re going to fight them. Which side are you on?

But this kind of attitude and rhetorical strategy needs to be seriously reflected in our institutions and in the ways we organise. Efforts to reform and democratise the Labour Party must be redoubled. Constituency parties and local Momentum groups need to be reinvigorated as centres of activity, mobilisation, and coordination. Many of our unions, from the RMT and the CWU to the likes of CAIWU or IWGB, already embody this spirit of class-struggle militancy, but there are others where it needs urgently to be reignited. Great strides have been made already in building a new infrastructure for independent left media, but the scale of it is still woefully inadequate, massively under-resourced, and not taken seriously as a strategic priority by the institutional leadership of our movement.

And crucially, we need the spaces where ordinary members and activists can feed into a coordinated national strategy and where serious socialist politics and theory can inform practical action and be coordinated across our different institutions. Hopefully, Labour Transformed’s inaugural meeting, on Saturday the 14th of December at the University of Westminster, can be such a space—where, no matter the result of Thursday’s election, we can start to regroup and to build the project’s next step collectively.


author

Archie Woodrow

Archie is a Labour and Momentum activist in London.

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