British left-winger Jeremy Corbyn has won a landslide victory to be re-elected as Labour Party leader. He actually increased his share of the vote to 62 per cent despite a campaign by the right-wing that blocked 130,000 members from voting, most of whom were pro-Corbyn.
He was forced into the contest only 12 months after winning the job because right-wing Blairite MPs staged a mass resignation from his cabinet and denounced him as unelectable in a general election.
At Labour’s conference Corbyn supporters were able to pass motions committing Labour to a “massive increase in the supply of council housing”, as well as ending NHS privatisation. But the left also lost a number of key votes, which revealed the power the Blairites continue to wield inside the formal structures of the party.
They were able to push through changes to the National Executive of the party meaning two anti-Corbyn people will be added, tilting the balance marginally in favour of the anti-Corbyn forces.
And the right-wing GMB union drove through a motion—with little opposition—saying Labour should not abandon gas or nuclear energy. This completely contradicted the energy secretary of the party who had announced a day earlier that Labour would ban fracking. Deputy leader Tom Watson humiliated Corbyn at the conference by lavishly praising the Blair years. The vast majority of MPs are still bitterly opposed to Corbyn’s agenda and no amount of wooing them with offers of cabinet posts will secure their loyalty.
Focussing on the internal fights within the party machine will mean left-wing activists face tiring, bureaucratic disputes that are likely to demoralise them. The key question is whether Corbyn’s support group Momentum continues to focus the fight on winning control of Labour party structures or whether they build the struggles outside.
It is crucial that all Corbyn supporters make the demonstrations against racism and workplace struggles such as the junior doctors’ strike, the absolute focus of their efforts. Ultimately, this empowers Corbyn much more than winning votes at conferences and in committees.
There are clear battlelines between not just Corbyn supporters and the Blairites, but also amongst Corbyn supporters themselves. Two of the important ones are the question of immigration controls and the removal of Britain’s nuclear weapon arsenal, Trident.
Some Corbyn supporters and sympathetic media commentators have advised compromise with the right-wing on these issues, so the debates can be avoided and the party can get back to opposing austerity.
The problem with this approach is that war, racism and austerity are all tightly linked, and you can’t simply hive off one from the other. Capitalism produces devastating wars because of the competition between nation states, supporting their own capitalists. Those wars, like the destruction of Syria, produce millions of refugees who flee to countries where there are more jobs and opportunities for their families.
That’s why Corbyn is absolutely right to support a foreign policy focussed on peace, scrapping funding for Trident and redirecting the money into socially useful things like housing, healthcare and education.
But Corbyn has not won this argument within the party and Labour remains committed to renewing Trident. Blairites and even soft-left MPs believe they need to be hard-nosed on questions of national security in order to win elections. There’s also huge pressure to maintain the status quo from the union bosses who have members in the military industries.
There is also a lot of pressure on Corbyn from right-wing MPs and some union leaders to support a policy of immigration controls. They claim this reflects the views of workers as expressed in the Brexit vote.
Corbyn’s main ally John McDonnell also said the party should be open to immigration controls. So far Corbyn has resisted this and said in his speech that it is not migrants that bring down wages, but greedy bosses. But his introduction of a Migrant Impact Fund in communities “affected by immigration” is a dangerous compromise that links the deterioration of public services to the arrival of migrants.
As Corbyn said in his speech, it is not migrants that put a strain on the health service—it is successive governments refusing to invest in hospitals and introducing privatisation. And it’s not migrants who strain housing but the parasitic developers who build luxury apartments and push poorer people out of neighbourhoods, or governments that refuse to build social housing.
These pressures will continue to weigh on Corbyn because Labour is a party committed to winning elections and being seen to be “respectable”. The right wing will exploit this. Real transformation cannot come via the parliament, it has to be built through workers’ struggles in the streets and in the workplaces.
By Miro Sandev