Corbyn and British airstrikes on Syria

On 2 December, the British parliament voted to support airstrikes on Syria by 397 votes to 223. The decision followed the terrorist attacks in Paris on 13 November and the unanimous agreement of the UN Security Council calling on UN member states to ‘redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts’ committed by Islamic State. Under the guise of fighting Islamic State (ISIS), British imperialism is undertaking its 50th military intervention in the Middle East and North Africa since 1945. The British ruling class has no interest in the fate of the Syrian people: its abominable treatment of Syrian refugees is testimony to its complete inhumanity. It is more than willing to ally itself with fascist Turkey, which is waging war on the Kurdish people, and brushes aside the crimes of the savage monarchy of Saudi Arabia, a leading sponsor of ISIS, in the interests of lucrative defence contracts. The destruction of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in those countries show that imperialism can only offer barbarism as its solution to a deepening world crisis.

66 Labour MPs led by Shadow Foreign Minister Hilary Benn joined the Tories in voting for airstrikes. Benn’s speech at the end of the debate in parliament was applauded by Tory MPs and praised to the sky in the ruling class media. It was a reactionary piece of deceit. Dressing up the fight against ISIS as a fight against fascism, he declared that the Labour Party should follow its tradition of fighting fascism as it did in the International Brigades in the 1930s which went to fight against fascist forces in Spain. But the truth is that the Labour Party leadership of the time did its best to stifle working class support for the Brigades under the guise of fighting communism and then supported the National Government’s non-intervention policy which effectively handed Spain over to General Franco. His appeal to the ‘internationalist’ tradition of the Labour Party and his claim that Labour had always stood ‘against the denial of human rights and for justice’ were even more dishonest: this was the party which in government viciously fought to defend the British empire against liberation struggles in India, Palestine, Greece, Malaya, Vietnam, Aden and Ireland to name but a few. This is the party that consistently failed to defend human rights and liberation struggles throughout Africa.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn presented Prime Minister Cameron with the near-certainty of winning the motion on airstrikes once he had decided on a free vote for Labour MPs. In justifying this, Corbyn’s main ally, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, spoke of the decision being ‘above party politics’ – a refrain used over the decades to justify support for British imperialism’s foreign policy or colonial interests. As for his suggestion that the way Labour MPs voted should be driven by their ‘moral conscience’ – this was just laughable. What moral conscience is there in a party that has consistently failed to fight against state racism, supported imperialist war, tolerated and championed austerity inflicted on the poorest and most vulnerable people in Britain?

Some on the ‘left’ of Labour are demanding the de-selection of MPs who voted for war, but this is another fraud. No change of personnel will alter Labour’s essential character. It is a bourgeois imperialist party. Corbyn may have more radical policies than his predecessors and his leadership may give expression to widespread anti-austerity and anti-war views. Critically, however, any movement will be tied to the continued existence of the Labour Party. Momentum, the organisation set up by Corbyn supporters to defend his leadership, Stop the War, and the People’s Assembly will all rally round to protect the Labour Party from real opposition.

Labour always has been, and always will be, a racist, imperialist anti-working class party, no matter who leads it. Its general election defeat precipitated a crisis which Corbyn’s election as leader has intensified (see article below). There is no future with it: you can either stand with the Labour Party, or with the millions suffering from racism, imperialism and austerity. You cannot do both. Our job is to mobilise those millions to stand against imperialism, against its apologists, and against those who make concessions to the apologists. We demand that imperialism gets out of the Middle East, and we will show practical solidarity with those who are fighting back – the Kurdish and Palestinian people.

Hands off Syria!


Murderous British Imperialism - 50 British military interventions in the Middle East and North Africa since 1945:

136 British military interventions overseas since 1945: 

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 248 December 2015/January 2016

Labour Party in crisis: Momentum taking us nowhere

The crisis in the Labour Party, the depth of which was exposed by its abject defeat at the general election and by Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the subsequent leadership election, shows no sign of abating. While the media pore over every word Corbyn utters and minutely scrutinise his behaviour, members of his shadow cabinet openly undermine him. The ruling class onslaught is, as expected, relentless: the aim is not just to crush Corbyn but also the very notion of fighting austerity. In response, pro-Corbyn MPs led by Clive Lewis have set up Momentum as ‘a grassroots network arising out of, and following on from the Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leader campaign’. However, its purpose will be to ensure that any movement against austerity, racism or war will be tied arm and leg to the Labour Party. Robert Clough reports.

The last months have seen the tabloids pursue a range of apparently trivial gripes. Would Corbyn bow at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day (11 November)? Was the bow he did make deep enough? Would he kneel before the Queen when he was admitted into the Privy Council? Would he kiss the Queen’s hand? Yet these mask a far more fundamental concern: will a Corbyn-led Labour Party continue its slavish defence of Britain’s imperialist interests? The answer is yes. Whatever Corbyn thinks or says, the vast majority of the Shadow Cabinet and the Parliamentary Labour Party is determined to ensure it does. This is becoming clear on two key issues: replacing Trident and a forthcoming parliamentary vote to bomb Syria.

Labour backs Trident and its policy is to support its replacement which will cost more than £100bn, although Corbyn is opposed to it. Major unions also favour its replacement: both Unite and the GMB have come out in support because of the jobs it would create in the defence industry – the choice between having employment now and contributing to the potential annihilation of the human race is straightforward for the skilled workers these unions represent. When the Scottish Labour Party conference voted on 1 November to oppose a replacement, Shadow Defence Secretary Maria Eagle stamped it down: ‘This does not change UK Labour Party policy,’ she declared. As she had previously told the September Labour conference, ‘Our policy is quite clear: it is as it was at the general election. It is in favour of procuring the successive submarines.’

On its potential use Shadow Cabinet members had no doubt. When, at the end of September, Corbyn declared that he would not sanction the use of nuclear weapons, he was immediately attacked by Eagle who told the BBC that ‘I don’t think that a potential prime minister answering a question like that in the way he did is helpful.’ She was joined by Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham, Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn, Shadow Justice Secretary Lord Falconer, Shadow Health Secretary Heidi Alexander and Shadow Business Secretary Angela Eagle who said ‘I don’t think that anyone in their right mind would want to get into a situation where it would be used. But if you do get to that situation you have to be prepared to use it.’ What they all pointedly ignore is that its use is under US control anyway. Helpfully, the chief of the defence staff General Sir Nicholas Houghton weighed in on Remembrance Day to say that he would be ‘worried’ if Corbyn became Prime Minister given his position on nuclear weapons and their potential use. Not wishing to miss an opportunity to undermine Corbyn, Maria Eagle backed Houghton up when Corbyn criticised the General for speaking out in public on a political issue.

Shadow Cabinet members have also been active in engineering Labour parliamentary support for airstrikes on Syria with Benn in the lead. They received a major fillip when the UN Security Council voted unanimously on 20 November to support a motion that called on those countries ‘with the capacity to do so’ to ‘redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts’ committed by ISIS. While this did not invoke Chapter VII authorising the use of military force, it was soon being used by Prime Minister David Cameron to obtain parliamentary support for airstrikes on Syria.

The following day, Corbyn argued that ‘The experience of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya has convinced many of our own people that the elite’s enthusiasm for endless military interventions has only multiplied the threats to us – while leaving death and destabilisation in their wake… It is the conflict in Syria and the consequences of the Iraq war which have created the conditions for ISIS to thrive and spread its murderous rule.’ He said that he would not allow a free vote in favour of military action; however, deputy leader Tom Watson has joined Benn in saying that it will be for the Shadow Cabinet to decide, with plenty of backbench MPs itching to support airstrikes. Benn and Watson are both for airstrikes. Corbyn’s appeal to party members to support his position caused indignation among many MPs who immediately started to complain about threats and intimidation.

As part of their drive to oust him, a meeting of Labour MPs on 16 November asked Corbyn if he agreed with a Stop the War Coalition article which had said that Paris had ‘reaped the whirlwind of western support for extremist violence in the Middle East’. He was howled down when he refused to condemn it although he thought it ‘inappropriate’. The same meeting saw MPs attack him for opposing a ‘shoot to kill’ policy for alleged terrorists. What does it matter to them that Harry Stanley and Jean Charles de Menezes are among many victims of a ‘shoot to kill’ policy already operated by British police when they see it necessary? The overriding concern of these venal careerists is to polish up their ruling class credentials and prepare to topple Corbyn.

Corbyn’s leadership election victory has not changed and will not change the Labour Party. The entire apparatus – MPs and their allies among thousands of Labour councillors, with their supporting machinery in ward and constituency Labour Parties and the trade union leadership – will ensure this does not happen. Labour claims that 180,000 new members have joined since the general election, 120,000 since Corbyn’s victory. But ordinary members have been deliberately excluded for years from having any influence over Labour Party policy and they will be unable even to change the vicious reactionaries who serve as Labour MPs. Corbyn himself has made it clear that he is against mandatory re-selection of MPs: he is aware that this would inevitably split the Labour Party which is the opposite of what he wants.

In an effort to create a counter-weight to the appallingly reactionary character of the Parliamentary Labour Party, a group of Corbyn’s close supporters have set up Momentum. A further reason for its establishment is that there are hundreds of thousands of people who supported his leadership campaign and who need to be kept tied to the Labour Party even if they are denied an active role within it. Momentum’s ‘Interim Ethical Code’ claims that it ‘is outward-facing’; that it ‘seeks to reach out across the community and encourages the participation of people who may not have been involved in political activities before’; and that local groups ‘must be democratic in their nature and be organised around a spirit of collaboration, inclusion and respect.’ It says it will support ‘the aims of the Labour movement and a fairer and more decent society’ – hardly a radical, let alone socialist, perspective. Yet this is what is on offer from a left which has given up on the struggle for socialism. More ominously, Momentum is committed to ‘supporting the Labour Party winning elections and entering government in 2020’ and that individuals or groups who do not adhere to this among other principles ‘will not be considered to be part of, or associated with Momentum.’ Already bans and proscriptions are hard-wired into its set-up and anyone critical of Labour excluded.

Momentum is now organising meetings and conferences around the country: it aims to place itself at the head of any movement against austerity and impose strict limits on its aims. Corbyn’s senior policy adviser Andrew Fisher, who was for a period suspended from the Labour Party because he tweeted support for a Class War candidate against the Honourable Emily Benn in the last general election and subsequently apologised, is a leading light in Momentum. His book, The failed experiment, an account of the current crisis which says that its origins lie in what he calls the financialisation of the British economy which Margaret Thatcher initiated in 1981, argues as do many on the left that there is a need to ‘rebalance’ the economy and lessen its dependency on the financial sector through investment in high-tech and green industries. He advocates nationalising the banks and abolishing the Corporation of London. That would require a revolution: there is no way that the British ruling class is going to surrender the core of its class power. At one point he writes:

‘The tensions in the UK economy between industry and finance are not new – indeed they date back to the early days of empire when Britain’s imperial expansion led to investment in developing trading routes, infrastructure and industry abroad. So even at a time when Britain’s industrial position was globally dominant, investment was not sufficiently directed into the domestic economy’ (The failed experiment, p61).

This completely misses the point: the dominant and most dynamic sector of the British capitalist economy since the beginning of the 20th century has been banking and financial services to which manufacturing and industry has been economically and politically subordinate. It was how British imperialism chose to compete with growing US and German industrial power, utilising the control of its colonial empire and its monopoly position in the finance of world trade. So when Fisher calls for the ‘rebalancing’ of the economy he is living in a dream world, even more so when he imagines this can be achieved by a Labour government. The reality is that it would require an assault on the citadel of British ruling class power – and, no matter who leads it, no Labour government will do this. It would not be allowed to take office.

Local Momentum groups in some areas are urging local councils to refuse to implement the next round of council cuts. This is fine and should be supported: but this call has been made by similar forces every year for the past five years and has had not the slightest impact on any Labour council. What is the evidence that this will change, that Labour councils will stop hiding behind the Tories and come out fighting? Will Momentum support or oppose Labour councillors who vote for local cuts when it comes to the May 2016 local elections? Any serious movement has to be built on the ground, not within the confines of the Labour Party or indeed the trade unions. Momentum cannot have it both ways. You can either fight austerity or you can defend the Labour Party. You cannot do both.      


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