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To Overcome Despair, We Need to Build a Fighting Corbyn Movement

It has never been easy to be a Corbynista. From the moment Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour party in September 2015, the attacks on him and the membership have been both relentless and vicious. It often feels like the movement has lurched from crisis to crisis, punctuated by moments of optimism and energy that have just about sustained it.

So to say that we now face the most dangerous moment for the future of Corbynism will always risk sounding like hyperbole. Yet watching the soft coup of the last 18 months accelerate dramatically in recent weeks with the formation of the Independent Group (TIG) and Tom Watson’s ‘party within a party’, it’s clear that attempts to depose Corbyn are growing apace.

Many have dismissed TIG and Watson’s group as a bunch of out-of-touch, gaffe-prone nobodies, with few ideas and little purchase amongst the membership or wider electorate. Whilst not wrong, this analysis fundamentally misunderstands the function that both groups will attempt to play in the months ahead.

Far from reinvigorating a ‘new politics’ or brand of ‘social democracy’, both TIG and Watson’s group have a sole aim: to destroy Corbyn’s leadership, undermine the left ideas he represents and demoralise Labour’s 550,000-strong membership.

Yet as the personal attacks grow ever stronger against Corbyn himself, Labour’s mass membership remains a permanent thorn in the side of the Labour right. For all their insider media contacts and Westminster back-alley shenanigans, the Labour right know it is only the membership who could remove Corbyn, and ultimately choose any future replacement.

This is why the latest developments are so dangerous. Whilst in March 2017, shadow chancellor John McDonnell warned Labour party members about a soft coup being “waged not up front in public but strictly behind the scenes”, the same can not be said today.

Corbynism’s enemies are no longer quietly briefing the media, or meeting up for weekend rendez-vous of plotting in posh hotels. TIG and Watson are now leading organisations that will coordinate daily, well-resourced and public attacks, that will attempt to demoralise the Labour membership, and prepare the ground for a ‘soft left’ leadership replacement.

What has the response been so far to this threat? Many members have felt that too many concessions by the leadership have been made to the Labour right in the name of ‘party unity’. Not only that, but Labour’s strategy of dealing with antisemitism is increasingly showing that no amount of expulsions, apologies or changes to disciplinary rules will satisfy those who have weaponized the very real, deplorable cases of antisemitism that do exist.

As the soft coup continues to grind on in the mainstream media and the corridors of Westminster, members have been forced to watch from the sidelines in despair. With some notable exceptions, most would struggle to point to any serious attempts by the left leadership to mobilise the membership in the last 18 months. The energy and confidence generated in the 2017 general election has slowly withered away, and the membership has grown increasingly disorientated and paralysed.

Brexit has not helped this sense of paralysis. But the inspiring student climate strikes are a clear testament to the fact that radical, collective action on the streets can shape the national agenda in spite of the Brexit chaos. Corbynistas: take note.

If the movement is to overcome the current impasse, we cannot wait for the Tories to die on their swords and call a general election. With every day that passes, the confidence of the membership dwindles, the enemies of Corbynism grow stronger, and the Tories remain cruelly in government. We need a fighting left capable of taking on the establishment both inside and outside the Labour party, with all of the institutions of the left enlisted in the fight.

What might this look like? There are a number of tactics for a mass mobilisation strategy we need to employ.

1. When dealing with TIG and Watson, all appeals to ‘party unity’ must be abandoned. The Labour right clearly don’t share such concerns, and the ‘broad church’ narrative is only used to blackmail the left. For those who don’t go to their natural home in TIG, mandatory reselection must be advanced: Labour is a democratic socialist party, and its representatives should be committed to these values and ideas.

2. Momentum should use its resources to amplify existing social movement struggles. Alongside circulating political education videos ahead of protests, phone-banking should be organised to mobilise members to attend: confidence grows when we take united action on the streets.

3. Those working in policy should connect their ideas to the wider movement. Demands for the shorter working week or universal basic income should be turned into motions to be taken to constituency Labour parties and trade union branches: grassroots pressure will ensure they are included in the next manifesto.

4. The World Transformed (TWT) must develop an explicitly anti-capitalist programme of political education: we need a new cadre of activists who understand the link between theory and social movement struggles.

5. Labour’s Community Organising unit and Momentum should collaborate to initiate national campaigns on key demands from the 2017 manifesto, such as the £10 minimum wage: Labour should be visible fighting for left-behind communities.

6. Labour and Momentum members should be encouraged to become politically active in their trade unions: trade unions require grassroots renewal, and local and national workplace struggles must be amplified.

The struggle to elect a Corbyn government will not be easy; implementing a radical political agenda once there will be even harder. But if our mass membership engages in this fight for a socialist society, we can generate the confidence and resilience that will be required to win. This dangerous moment for the future of Corbynism requires nothing less.

Published 22nd March 2019

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