On Thursday, Labour leader Keir Starmer did the unthinkable and suspended his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, from the Labour Party, in response to his comments on the ruling of the Equality and Human Rights Commission on Labour’s longstanding antisemitism problem. As of now he will continue to sit as the MP for Islington North, carrying on in his duties as an independent politician, but unless his membership his reinstated, but when the next election comes it is unlikely that he will survive re-election in what is essentially a safe Labour seat. In other words, with a single stroke Keir Starmer has effectively killed Corbyn’s decades-long political career.
This decision has obviously been very polarising, and indeed there are two sides to the reaction. One is the bourgeois side (the rightists and liberals alike), who hailed Starmer’s decision as a risky yet brave move which shows once and for all that Labour has broken from the past, and that Keir Starmer is fit for the job of Prime Minister. The other is the progressive side, or as we should perhaps call it, the Labour left (in reference to the left wing of the Labour Party), were furious in their condemnation of it. They see it as final proof that the new leadership is not remotely interested in party unity, and seeks only to attack the left. They deny furiously the notion that antisemitism was a significant problem in the Labour Party (even though not even Corbyn himself denied it, and nor did the highly touted Work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit report), dismissing it as a conspiracy theory even as there is clear proof of the extent of antisemitism that had been lurking under Corbyn’s watch. For some, like Tribune editor Ronan Burtenshaw, the reason Corbyn was suspended is that he intends to keep the civil war within Labour going. To quote his article:
Corbyn’s suspension is entirely consistent with Starmer’s approach to leadership since his victory earlier this year. He has sought at every turn to marginalise the Left, and this offered the latest opportunity. Starmer saw a chance to receive a slap on the back from the Murdoch press for his statesmanship, to demonstrate his own power within the party, and to provide a public display of the degree to which Labour was “under new leadership.” And in order to do this, he only needed to ensure that the party’s civil war would continue in perpetuity, its mass membership would depart in their thousands, its trade union affiliates would feel betrayed and the very promises of unity he was elected upon would be rendered meaningless. That is the trade-off he has made — and everyone inside the Labour Party should know it.
What Burtenshaw doesn’t get, because he is simply a Corbynite hack with no real instincts or critical faculties of his own, is that in fact Corbyn’s suspension represents the opposite of what he implies. It actually represents Starmer decisively ending the civil war in Labour. Let’s not mince words here: if there was still a civil war in the party, the Labour left has unequivocally lost. They lost the leadership contest, they are outnumbered in the NEC, the general public thinks Starmer is much better as leader of the party, and to top it off, the leader of the Labour left faction has just been kicked out of the party. What Starmer intends to do by doing this is to show the public that he is getting Labour’s house in order, and this requires that he aggressively asserts himself over the Corbynite faction. Given that 58% of the public thinks his decision was the right thing to do, it was certainly a well-calculated move.
And yet in spite of this something curious is happening. Instead of the Labour left unanimously calling for a left exodus from Labour, they are still calling for leftists to remain in Labour, repeating the hackneyed mantra “stay and fight”. Burtenshaw tweeted “Most of today’s Labour members joined under Corbyn, inspired by his vision. A majority of the affiliated unions are on the Left. They aren’t inclined to abandon pro-worker policies for Blairism. This is the deepest well of socialist politics around. Stay in, organise, fight.”. He is not alone in his calls. Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite the Union who is also a prominent Corbyn ally, appealed to Labour members upset by Corbyn’s suspension “not to leave the party but to support moves to find a better way through. Working people are under fire like never before and ill-served by the worst government of our lifetimes. More than ever, they need a strong, united Labour party to stand up for them, ready to govern.”.
This display is honestly rather pathetic. Here you have clear evidence that the leadership of the Labour Party is against you, actively seeks to court bourgeois approval, and by your own admission will do everything in its power to marginalise you, and your response is to encourage people to continue working in the party that has declared you its enemy? There is only one word for this: cuckoldry. The Labour left has a peculiar fetish for being cuckolded and dommed by the party whose leadership they claim to oppose, and indeed they suffer the exact same problem that the progressive Democrats suffer in America. They campaigned against their party’s establishment, and against the figurehead of this establishment (in this case Keir Starmer), correctly identifying him as the candidate whose sole purpose is to restore the preeminence of the Labour right, but after he won leadership of the party and became the only alternative to the Tories, they surrendered and to this day continue to prop up a party that they know is in the hands of their hated enemies.
If nothing else, this is the pathetic desperation of a dead movement, and there is no question that Corbynism is a dead political force. It has been humiliatingly defeated at the ballot box, a number of its policies were already pirated by the Tories during the first lockdown, it failed to secure leadership of the party (and is unlikely to regain control of the party), and to top it off they’ve lost their leader. We can indeed pronounce it dead. The outrage over Corbyn’s suspension is their death agony, and the calls to remain in Labour are their desperate attempts to cling to life in a party that has declared them vestigial at best, and carcinogenic at worst.
That’s not the only thing that this whole farce demonstrates. It stands as further proof that the only function of the Labour left, such as it may be called, is to be the left cheerleaders of the Labour Party, to encourage left-wingers, progressives and working class voters to support what remains a thoroughly bourgeois party, and which will undoubtedly pursue right-wing policies when returned to power (I say when rather than if because after ten years the Tories cannot remain in power forever, and they’ve been shooting themselves in the foot a lot recently). They will tell you that they want you to “stay and fight” because supposedly it’s the only way to fight for any kind of left-wing policy agenda in the party, but we know that’s nonsensical because there is no conceivable way that this is possible with a leadership that is openly contemptuous of the Labour left, and these people know it and admit it.
The only reason they’re even doing the “stay and fight” routine is because it is an expression of their awareness of their true role: that is to persuade leftists to support a bourgeois party that is committed to opposing them and their interests. They will tell you that this time, Labour will actually run a government for the working class, that they’ll save the NHS or repeal anti-trade union laws and so on and so forth, but time and again they will be proven wrong, and yet they will insist that we need a Labour government nonetheless because, much like American progressives, they ultimately default to lesser-of-two-evilism when pressure is applied.
Even as the Labour left defies the party leadership in various parliamentary votes (such as recently refusing to abstain on a vote against a bill that would effectively give additional powers to government agents), they cannot escape the fact that they are joined to the hip of the Labour Party. Hence, they will encourage you to vote for or organise within Labour no matter what they do. The results of such folly are entirely predictable. Keir Starmer sees absolutely no need to appease the Labour left because they are mounting no real resistance against him, have no leverage over him, and are indeed encouraging support for his party against the Tories. At best, Unite the Union cut some of their funding, but that appears not to have changed his tune at all if he is still willing to kick Corbyn out of the party.
So long as this sort of relationship exists as is, the Labour left is doomed to precisely this trap. They will always defend the party that has declared them their enemy, because their entire function as the left wing of the Labour Party is to get more left wing voters to return a Labour government to power. As long as you understand this, it will be clear that the Labour left are incapable of resisting the new leadership in any meaningful fashion that may even extract political concessions, and indeed was never meant to hold political power in the first place.