The Struggle against the fifth column

The leaked report into the workings of Labour’s headquarters has confirmed everything that had to be garnered from partial information, rumour and tentative analysis based on past behaviour and material interest. The right wing of the party, centred in a conspiracy ‘behind enemy lines’, has been working day and night to sabotage the Labour party in order to prevent a party led by the left wing from winning a general election. Not only does the report put this beyond doubt, it also confirms for almost the entire party membership what was believed, or felt, but not known as fact. Blairism is dead. This report is its epitaph. What more fitting testament to the legacy of this fifth column in the labour movement is there than a litany of playground insults and vicious abuse of both BAME members and those struggling with their mental health.

Basing themselves entirely on the growth of the finance sector and the fairy-tale power of the market to distribute an ever upward living standard, the Blairites were caught dumbfounded and flatfooted by the crisis of 2008. When the bankruptcy of this approach was demonstrated by the ‘credit crunch’ they were left facing the resulting recession devoid of ideas, unable to take the party forward, but unwilling to abandon their free market catechisms. After the election defeat of 2010, the Blairites lost control of the party, initially only partially, with the election of Ed Miliband as leader. Miliband had begun to break with this Blairite outlook during the election of 2010, but found himself hopelessly outnumbered in the PLP which had lined up behind his brother David Miliband. Still far from the old left in the party, he became a hostage to the right wing’s devotion to the ideas of free marketism. His plight forced him to resort to introducing many of the key mechanisms that would facilitate the later election of Corbyn, in particular, the abolition of the electoral college and the introduction of one member one vote. The right wing’s losses almost became total with Corbyn’s election and the sweeping defeat of all challengers. However, the right still refused to accept this loss. Their parliamentary seats and jobs in the machinery of the party, neither of which are subject to democratic scrutiny and are owed far more to patronage and nepotism, enabled them to defy gravity and resist the pull to the left that the influx of new members to the party attempted to exert.

Historically speaking, this represented a blow – by the working class -against the aristocracy of labour. The entire reason this caste exists is to find some compromise between the working class and the bosses – a happy enough task when there are crumbs to be brushed of the table of the capitalist class. In the current period, after a decade of austerity and no end in sight to the stagnation of the capitalist system, the labour aristocracy can offer the working class nothing. Equally, if they are unable to hold on to the reins guiding the workers, they have nothing to offer the capitalist class either. In this situation, the labour aristocracy faces the possibility of liquidation as a caste – at least in their eyes – and they enter on the road of conspiracy and intrigue.

Equally, as their ideas can offer nothing – are in fact obviously completely out of touch with the current reality – they cannot attract to their side the best from amongst the workers or the petit bourgeoisie. In the main, the better elements can see through their charlatanism and have their stomach churned by their racism and self-service. Instead, they are drawn to the ideas of Bennism, anarchism or Marxism, amongst others. Blairism is left to make do with the least able human material. This helps to explain the staggeringly infantile slurs, the racism and the pettiness of the messages and emails contained in the report. It also helps us understand how, according to Novara Media’s Aron Bastani, one of their group was idiotic enough to download the entire cache of messages to a computer owned by the party (therefore making it property of the party), probably in case this individual needed some material to use as blackmail against their co-conspirators. It seems our little group of spies had not learnt an elementary lesson of spycraft – don’t leave evidence in the lap of your opponent. Any worker who has taken on the task of unionising a workplace can tell us the importance not only of discretion, but also of not leaving a trail of breadcrumbs management can follow. It’s enough to witness the effect of blacklisting on our brothers and sisters to drive this lesson home. Had this group done even the most basic of trade union work as part of the class, they might have had the skills to get away with their sabotage. Alas, they’ve spent their lives working up through the labour movement bureaucracy and it was not to be.

Unable to mobilise support on the basis of ideas and policy, and threatened with losing their grasp on the party machinery, conspiracy was – and still is – effectively the only route left open to them. The impact of this sabotage was enormous, this is true. But their tactics reveal the fundamental weakness of the right wing in the party, not strength. We must bear in mind that although the right wing have successfully regained control of the leader’s office this was not on the basis of their ideas or their Through Starmer, they had no choice but to promise to defend the policies of the Corbyn era – that is again to enter into a conspiracy, to use lies and deception rather than openly declare their policies and ideas. Moreover, they had to throw aside all those MPs tainted by Blairism, combined with a massive propaganda siege in the press, in order for the ruse to succeed. Again, this will all be for nothing. As we wrote before the ballot result “The storm and strife in CLPs over the coming years is set to become far worse, whether it is Starmer or Long-Bailey elected, as the right-wing will never respect any left-wing leader, and views the membership as no more than cheap labour for their election campaigns.” The only criticism of this, perhaps, is that we could not have anticipated the existence of this report, nor that it would have been leaked so early into Starmer’s term as leader.

In the Spanish Civil War, Madrid was held for most of the war by Republican Spain and defended by the socialist, communist and internationalist brigades. Besieging the city were four columns of Franco’s soldiers, brutal men who thought nothing of committing the worst atrocities against men, women and children alike. Inside the city, the Nationalists claimed to have widespread support amongst Spanish ‘patriots’ who were ready to sabotage the defence of the city from the inside – their ‘quinta columna’, a fifth column. In the end, it was a Republican officer right at the center of the Republican forces – Casado – who sabotaged the defence of the city, sent his soldiers against the same socialists and communists who had defended the city for long bitter months, executed their leaders and effectively handed the city over to the Nationalists. Similar to the fate of Madrid in the Spanish civil war, four columns besieged the Labour party from the outside in Corbyn’s era; the media which lead an hourly campaign of vilification and slander against Labour; the capitalists who funded and supported every enemy of Labour; the Tory party which lead a grotesquely chaotic government through one disaster to the next only to pin blame on Labour with the help of their tame media; and the fourth, the other political parties concentrating their fire on Labour rather than the government. Within the party was a fifth column working relentlessly from the inside of the parliamentary Labour party (PLP) and the party machine to thwart the democratically elected leadership and the members at every turn. The report clearly lays out the evidence against those who had burrowed into the party machinery. As for those in the PLP, their horror at the result of the 2017 election, and their glee at the result in 2019, are sufficient to condemn them.

At the moment, Starmer is buying time for the right wing to circle their wagons. In doing so he is forced to balance between left and right in the party. In the recent National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting, he apparently made clear that there is no reason to hold back on any disciplinary measures – a different tune to that played for the capitalist media. This was in the same meeting which, according to Lara McNeil (Young Labour’s representative on the NEC), some on the right defended the abuse and racism in the report as ‘just politics’ and not worthy of the attention of the party’s disciplinary body. Such is the character of some of those on the NEC; the sooner they are removed and replaced the better.

All this aside, we must learn from this debacle. First and foremost, the same lesson the right wing have been trying to teach the left in the party for many years now – they will not compromise. The right wing of the party must be defeated politically and driven out of their positions at every level of the party. It is simply not sufficient to elect a left-wing leader (no matter how decent and principled as an individual they might be) and leave them isolated way at the top of the party, faced by a party machinery both in the centre and in the regions hostile to the leader and the members.

Second, a critical error in the last five years has been the failure to clear out the rot and corruption in which these conspirators were able to find connections and pockets of support. A large part of the blame for this lies with the Momentum ‘leaders’ and Jon Lansman. From the moment Lansman carried out his coup, the left within the party has been disoriented, lacking any centralised direction or leadership. This must be rectified, and can only be done by members pulling together caucuses and groups at the rank and file level. Moreover, the study of history and theory is as critical as ever. Without a serious study of both these aspects of the workers’ movement we will, as individuals and as groups, be endlessly blown off course by events and unable to build or orient our movement. It should go without saying that we advocate a study of the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky.

Finally, in addition to the desperate need for a complete tearing up and overhaul of MP selection procedures, Labour party headquarters must be subjected to ruthless democratisation. Under Blair and his successors, it was run as if it were the centre of an NGO, with paid executives organising charitable works. The result is an apparatus not only totally unsuitable for a fighting organisation of the working class, it has enabled this conspiracy by leaving elements hostile to the working class at the control levers of key components of the party – primarily, the finances. The exact form can be decided on later, but it is clear that these are political positions, and must be both electable and recallable. It may be that conference elects people to these positions, or that the general secretary proposes a slate for the scrutiny of members, or another form. What is vital is that they are accountable to the members at every turn, that their activity is transparent and can be scrutinised, and if necessary they can be recalled from their positions by the members and replaced.

The white-hot fury of members – both on the left of the party and self-described ‘moderates’ – in response to the content of the report, the sabotage of their work, the slander, the racism, the sexism, will not dissipate any time soon. The stubborn refusal of the most right-wing members of the party to even recognise the vile racism of the conspirators for what it is, instead portraying the conspirators as the victims, coupled with the delay tactics from the leadership will leave this wound to fester. Even on the NEC, the reports are that the right wing representatives attempted to pass off the abuse evidenced in the report as ‘normal politics’ and not worth disciplinary action. We can see here the hypocrisy of the right wing in their public observance of the strictest political correctness but when they think they are in private ‘amongst friends’ letting fly with the worst slander and abuse. Much the same goes for their recognition in public of the party’s left wing policies, but ‘amongst friends’ they despise every last letter of the policies put forward by the members. The reckoning for the right wing and the conspirators will come in time. In the meantime, we must reorganise and arm ourselves with the theory and ideas needed to prepare for a new offensive against the right wing, and to fully democratise the party and its structures.

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