Monday, 18 February 2019

Splitting the Labour Party

William Morris was no stranger to the splitting of political parties, having broken away from the Social-Democratic Federation to found the Socialist League in late 1884.  But unlike the seven Labour MPs who have split from their party this morning, he was in the majority rather than a minority (which suggests that his decision was a mistake in the first place) and, crucially, he split to the Left, not like Chuka Umunna and colleagues to the Right.

There is always something utopianly appealing about the push towards a new centrist politics, whether with the ‘gang of four’ leaving Labour in 1981 or Emmanuel Macron in France much more recently.  Who could be immune to the rhetorical appeal of “leaving the old tired, tribal politics behind for a fresh start”?  Except, of course, that you never actually do get such a pure, disinterested new politics emerging.  To stick to the two English examples for the moment, the objective function of such splits from Labour (whatever the subjective intentions of their originators) is to secure Tory rule, to destroy a genuine challenge from the Left to capitalist hegemony.  And we have seen with Macron that the rhetoric of transcending the old politics just leads, inevitably, to ruthless neo-liberal policies against which, as I noted in an earlier blog post, the gilets jaunes are now welcomely rebelling.

Whether Luciana Berger, Umunna and friends can do as much damage to Corbyn’s Labour as the gang of four did to the Party in the early 1980s, we shall have to see.  We know in advance that they will get massive publicity from the British media of nearly every political stripe; they have the powerful rhetorical weapon of ‘anti-semitism’ at their disposal, and Labour is itself deeply divided over Brexit issues. So Project Corbyn remains as menaced today as it has been from the very day of his leadership victory, and needs every ounce of effort and support we Morrisians can give it.

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