The "Marxists" who call Jeremy Corbyn "ultra-left"

Submitted by AWL on 29 September, 2015 - 6:01 Author: Colin Foster

Jeremy Corbyn has joined many demonstrations and protests over the years, and all to his credit.

When there have been conflicts within the left, however, Corbyn has tended to shy away, or go with whatever looks most like a broad consensus.

Yet on 11 February 1991, Jeremy Corbyn joined another left Labour MP, the late Bernie Grant; ourselves, then grouped round the weekly Socialist Organiser; and some people now round Socialist Resistance, in a protest sit-in against the manipulation by another left faction of the movement against the Gulf War.

The driving force in the manipulation was a group called Socialist Action. Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait. The USA responded by assembling planes and troops to blast him out of Kuwait, slaughter the retreating Iraqi troops, and drive into Iraq.

We and those now around Socialist Resistance organised the first protests and set up an anti-war campaign. Socialist Action, using influence in the corridors of CND, formed a rival committee, drew in the SWP and many union officials, and tried to exclude us.

Now Tory smear-sheets are describing Socialist Action as the secret group behind Corbyn! (Andrew Gilligan, Sunday Telegraph, 26 September)!

Just reading what Socialist Action says now about Corbyn will set you right.

They accuse Corbyn of ultra-left tendencies! In a display of mock-dialectics, they complain that "parliamentary reformists commit not only rightist errors but also ultra-left ones".

They cite Syriza as an example (and a baffling one: what have Syriza done "ultra-left"?), but the only British "parliamentary reformist" under discussion is Corbyn.

The bit about "rightist errors" seems to be there only to give a show of balance. Their shepherding of Corbyn and the Labour left is all away from "ultra-left errors".

Corbyn must accept Osborne's budget-balancing charter, they say! Sadly, John McDonnell has gone along with this line. There's nothing specially left-wing about deficits, and Osborne's fomulation has enough let-out clauses to mean not much; but as Simon Wren-Lewis, one of McDonnell's new panel of economic advisers, has pointed out: "First, [Osborne's new formulation of the 'fiscal charter'] is for the total deficit rather than the current balance, so it puts a squeeze on investment just at a time that investment should be high... Second, even with the get-out clause... the new rule is likely to make the deficit much less of a shock absorber, and so lead to unnecessary volatility in taxes or spending".

Corbyn must be seen as a champion of people like "university professors and lawyers", who are "just as much workers as those who work in steel mills"! The left should indeed try to win over university professors and lawyers. We can't do it by claims that they are as proletarian as furnacemen.

Corbyn must not go for British withdrawal from NATO! This is a typical Socialist Action twist. In 1991, their private slogan was "victory to Saddam Hussein". But in manipulating the anti-war committee, their line was to exclude people who called plainly for the US and its allies to stop their war, and to insist we all make our demand: ceasefire and UN negotiations. Privately Socialist Action demonise NATO as the source of all the world's ills. Their article dismisses complaints against Putin's (or Brezhnev's, or even Stalin's) Russia, or against political Islam, as "lies". Publicly they oppose NATO withdrawal.

The one policy not too "ultra-left" for Socialist Action is increasing state economic investment. Their model for this is China.

I think that their off-hand references to ending austerity mean that Socialist Action is also for trade union rights, restoring the NHS, and so on, but they definitely regard the absence of trade union rights in China, and the fact you have to pay for health care, and usually to bribe on top of that, as minor blemishes compared to its wonderful state economic investment.

They say that increased state investment would boost the whole economy and thus create the growth to "fund social programmes", presumably without having to cut into profits. They do not say what they would recommend if a left Labour government, making that extra state investment, was met by a private "investment strike" or flight of capital.

The zany style of the article suggests it was written by John Ross, long the leader of the group, who is now a university professor in China.

Before going to China, Ross was director of economic policy for Ken Livingstone as mayor of London. That is Socialist Action's way.

You never see them selling literature, or distributing leaflets, or even identifying themselves as Socialist Action, in public. For three decades now, their members have gained influence (less of it now, thankfully, than in 1991) by worming their way into jobs as advisers and assistants for MPs and mayors and in large offices like CND's.

Jeremy Corbyn is right to want to take the time and make the space to change Labour policy by patient and democratic debate, rather than by decree. But it must be open debate, not behind-the-scenes manipulation.

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