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Corbynism: What Went Wrong? Martin Thomas. A Review.

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Corbynism cover

A balance sheet of “Corbynism”

Solidarity, from the Workers’ Liberty site. 7th of September.

 Author: Andrew Coates

Just over a year after Jeremy Corbyn was elected, in September 2016, the new Labour Leader addressed the Burston Strike Rally in Norfolk. Reminded of this by a “social media snippet” I wonder how many people remember what the Islington MP actually said. The Internet informs us that he spoke of social justice, workers’ rights and opposed austerity.

By contrast it is not hard at all to recall the enthusiasm and warmth with which Corbyn was greeted by East Anglian trade unionists, pensioners, socialists. Or the new, often, young, people who came on our coach from Suffolk. That backing was reflected during the General Election in 2017 when people would speak to campaigners about their support for Labour. Sandy Martin was elected Labour MP for Ipswich, taking the seat back from the Tories with a majority of 831.

Bringing us down to earth Martin Thomas, observes, “In the 2017 manifesto, the words ‘socialist’ or ‘socialism’ were not used at all; in the 2019 manifesto, ‘socialism’ appeared once, and not to state an aim, rather to describe what already exists in the NHS”.

Early on in What Went Wrong Thomas further notes, “Corbyn rarely uses the word ‘socialist’, but he has commented on Chavez’s Venezuela, Evo Morales’s Bolivia, and Castro’s Cuba as if they are, more or less, models of a future society. That model of a future society is one to which workers in a country like Britain could never be won.”

This is a criticism of the “foreign policy” Corbyn project that was made by some on the left already wary of these countries’ socialist claims. It could be said to be a reflection on 1960s/70s “third worldism” which backed a variety of post-colonial states, in Africa, aligned at the time with the Soviet Union, as well as Communist Party led countries such as Vietnam, which have not created any form of socialist society.

Drawing up a balance sheet of “Corbynism”, the years when Jeremy Corbyn was the leader of the Labour Party, is an important task.

Martin Thomas offers a clear and valuable insight into the workings of the bodies that sustained the Corbyn project. This includes a detailed account of the workings, and the democratic deficit, of Momentum, which became a Corbyn “defence guard”. This he states was a ‘virtual’ (web-based) centrally run structure axed around supporting a ‘charismatic’ Leader. In this respect it reminds this reviewer of some European political organisations, such as the ‘movement’ La France Insoumise (LFI) of Jean-luc Mélenchon. All that seems to remain of the British ‘left populism’ and ‘social movement’ is a loathing, shared by many others on the Corbyn left, of a new ‘enemy’, Keir Starmer.

The more widely known influence of key Labour advisers, the “Stalinist-heritage” Seamus Milne, Andrew Milne and Steve Howell, all from the Communist Party, Straight Left background, and very pro-Brexit. If there was trade union influence it was from “top officials” and leaders, such as Len McCluskey of Unite.

With these figures at the centre Labour had no “interaction” with “workplace struggle”. Still less did he help with “rebuilding of the labour movement at the base, both ideologically and in organisation in workplaces and neighbourhoods.” It is, nevertheless, hard to see how Labour on is own could recreate a powerful union movement when economic change has underlined the basis for mass trade union struggles outside of the public sector.

What Went Wrong agrees with many commentators that Labour make a mess of Brexit. Since the Leader and key parts of his Office (LOTO) were glad that Britain voted Leave it was hardly likely that they would do otherwise. Conference manoeuvring blocked any clear call to oppose the Hard Right Brexit and fight for a new referendum.

Corbyn was unable to deal with antisemitism, and responded with “passive aggression” to any charges. “He himself had been ‘an anti-racist all his life’. Ergo, no real problem. He was unable, or more likely unwilling, to recognise that some of the “political antisemites” considered themselves the best anti-racists and anti-fascists….” That this response is awry had fed the present impasse on the issue. There are those, out of bad faith, only too willing to tar all critics of Israel with the “antisemitic” brush. The present purge of Labour, with its multiple injustices, is a shabby and counterproductive response to these political problems.

In what could be called a digression Martin Thomas criticises the Editor of Chartist magazine for his observations on the Trotskyist “obsession with the Russian Revolution”. Mike Davis has argued that building revolutionary parties is unimportant when radical left objectives might be achieved through existing left mass parties. Perhaps the AWL could show examples of mass revolutionary parties in the present day that indicate that Davis has placed his wager on the wrong horse. If Corbynism, JC4PM, did not win, surely a serious reform minded Labour government was worth campaigning for?

To get an idea of our present difficulties, hard right Tory Tom Hunt won Ipswich in 2021 with a majority of 5,479.

(Slightly sub-edited by the writer)


See also,

The failings of Corbynism were more than the failings of Corbyn

Solidarity, AWL. 30th of August.

Author: David Osland

Corbynism isn’t over yet

Solidarity, AWL, 27th of August, Richard Price

Written by Andrew Coates

September 8, 2021 at 9:39 am

25 Responses

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  1. Reblogged this on Tory Britain! .


    September 8, 2021 at 9:44 am

  2. I think the ‘digression’ Cde Coates refers to in this review of Thomas’s pamphlet vis-a-vis ‘Leninist’ groups and broader socialist current to be noteworthy given the congruence between the pamphlet’s publication and the very under-reported death of the last person to seek a ‘Castroite” approach to social transformation in a advanced society, Portugal’s “Red Brigadier” of 1974, Otelo de Carvalho. Whilst, in 1970 at the funeral of Portugal’s longstanding facist dictator António Salazar, Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho was photographed weeping over his coffin, by 1974 Carvalho had become a proponent Workers and Soldiers Councils, and declared that “it was now impossible to make a socialist revolution by peaceful means” and if he had his way he would put “all the leaders of the Socialist party in the Bullring”, that is to say, have them shot. There are big questions here. His one Guardian obituary – of a death seemingly un-noticed by today’s European and Hispanic left, it seems – is here; Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho obituary | Portugal | The Guardian

    David Walsh

    September 8, 2021 at 11:17 am

    • The Carnation Revolution, 1974, as it developed, after the initial overthrow of the Caetano dictatorship, was indeed the most recent European stab at a working class revolution, based on some workers’ councils and the occupation of the land by peasants (I visited, in the 1980s, the areas affected the rural land occupations, co-oepratives still existed but the revolution was by then a ghost, though farming co-ops were still there, The Marxist-Leninists still had an office, but it was deserted most of the time.)

      This is the area we were at, ” Struggles in Alentejo”

      “Evora is at the heart of the Alentejo, and the Alentejo is the heartland of the agrarian revolution. The latifundia are vast and for decades have been neglected. The soil is dry and hard, and upon it grow olives and cork. Wheat and maize would also grow readily if it were ploughed and watered. But this would interfere with the joys of hunting,”


      During the period I (as a – part-time – A level student in nearby Soho) was sent by the IMG to help this group: Portuguese Workers Coordinating Committee / Comissão Coordenadora dos Trabalhadores Portugueses em Inglaterra), whose offices were in Little Newport Street (still have copies of their duplicated publication, Our Common Struggle).

      I do indeed remember Carvalho.

      Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho obituary
      Army officer who masterminded the 1974 coup that sparked Portugal’s Carnation Revolution

      telo needed a base, an army in addition to Copcon, and came to favour more and more the notion of workers’ and soldiers’ councils. He said in a radio interview: “I see no danger at all in these congresses or councils. I consider them, like neighbourhood committees, to be the essence of the Portuguese Revolution. I consider them similar to the Russian Soviets of 1917.”

      In the summer of 1975, supported by the MFA, many assemblies emerged and were seen as the highest political expression of popular power. In June, the first such assembly was held at Pontinha, the same barracks from which Otelo had organised the coup. This brought together more than 50 neighbourhood and 26 workplace committees. Possibly 100 such assemblies were convoked.

      Dependence on Otelo and the MFA was to become one of the fatal flaws in the workers’ movement. A demonstration in defence of Radio Renascença and the República newspaper, both under workers’ control, illustrates an aspect of this. Several thousand helmeted workers from the Lisnave shipyard attended, having been promised that Otelo would be there..


      Andrew Coates

      September 8, 2021 at 11:53 am

  3. Full text of the letter from a group of NEC members.

    Dear Margaret Beckett and David Evans,

    Members of the National Executive Committee feel deeply uncomfortable about the way in which the proscription of political organisations paper has been implemented subsequent to the decision of the meeting of the 20th July 2021. It is the view of those who have signed this letter that the true intent of the decision, as to how it would be applied to individuals, was concealed and/or misdescribed.

    We have been made aware that members of the Labour Party, said to be supporters of proscribed groups, have had notice of auto-exclusions applied retrospectively, in so far as it is alleged support prior to the decision of the NEC and that is being used as justification for auto-expulsion.

    At no point in the NEC discussion about proscription of political organisations, and nor within the officers papers, was it suggested or stated that members would be subject to suspensions or auto expulsions for past support given to any of the proscribed organisations. Such alleged support of an individual would of course have been given when the organisation in question was implicitly or expressly welcomed into Labour. The mere fact that Labour took no action to either proscribe the grouping or suspend an individual for giving alleged support to such grouping, is reflective of that fact that at that time neither the grouping in question, nor an individual’s support, was considered contrary to Labour values. This retrospective application is unfair, likely contrary to our rules and not something that the NEC should be taken to have agreed to without specific debate.

    If this retrospective application is to be applied consistently then anyone who has ever been a member of another political party (proscribed by Labour) can never become a member of Labour. An MP can never cross the floor to Labour.

    We are further alarmed at the definition of ‘support’ for the organisations now being applied by GLU. It is a definition that is not only all encompassing but one that’s application is subjective. It is a paid member of staff, not the NEC, who now decides what actions amount to ‘support’ of a proscribed organisation and subject to auto-expulsion.

    The examples given to the NEC of what amounted to support were clearly understood by the signatures to this correspondence, intended to be definitive. If the list of what constituted “support” was to be added to then this would be in consultation with the NEC. We accept the papers use the Latin “inter alia”, although the meaning of this Latin term was not explained to the NEC members, it does not mean that the authority for deciding the meaning of “support” would transfer from the NEC to paid staff. This is obviously of the utmost importance as members being accused of “support” are then being subject to auto expulsion and denied the opportunity to make their case to the NEC. This is against natural justice, contrary to the fairness principles that run through our Rule Book but also entirely contrary to the custom and practice of the application of the auto expulsion rule which until now has been precise as to the member’s conduct and not open to such a level of subjective analysis.

    Based on the discussion at the NEC and information contained in the the papers, it is our opinion that the Labour Party administration is current acting outside of the authority granted by the NEC.

    The officials must now recall the NEC to have a clear and transparent debate about whether the retrospective application is either fair or capable of consistent application. The recalled NEC must also clearly define what future actions will constitute “support” and confirm that it is for the NEC to consider any additions to the list of actions considered by the administration to be capable of constituting “support”. If the NEC is not recalled we wish to formally request to have this matter added to the agenda for our next meeting on 17th September.

    If the integrity of the NEC decision making process is to be upheld then the recall must happen without delay and before any further auto expulsions occur.

    Yours sincerely,

    Laura Pidcock
    Nadia Jama
    Gemma Bolton
    Lara McNeill
    Andi Fox
    Ian Murray
    Yasmine Dar
    Mish Rahman
    Mick Whelan
    Jayne Taylor
    Andy Kerr
    Ellen Morrison

    Andrew Coates

    September 8, 2021 at 11:30 am

  4. Does Martin Thomas mention the extraordinary amount of media bias against Jeremy Corbyn and the study that found him to be the most misrepresented politician in history?




    September 8, 2021 at 12:05 pm

    • Very ‘independent’ voices I’m sure. Harold Wilson was smeared as a KGB agent, Corbyn had it easy and in fact there was one big difference Corbyn has such a back story no need to make it up: he was paid to appear on Press TV, he did turn up at a memorial for a terrorist who was involved in killing Israeli athletes, he was a ‘little’ matey with the IRA, etc. None of this of course will prevent ‘independent voices’ fabricating one long whinge.


      September 9, 2021 at 2:32 am

      • The study/report was by Bart Cammaerts, an Associate Professor and PhD Director at the London School of Economics and Political Science, but I suppose you know better than him Dave.



        September 9, 2021 at 9:51 am

        • Just because someone is a Professor and a high-up at a leading higher education establishment, doesn’t mean socialists have to simply accept their political opinions (or “findings”) as authoritative. After all (to take just one example) Hugh Trevor-Roper who “authenticated” the fraudulent Hitler Diaries was Regus Professor of Modern History at the University of Oxford.

          Jim Denham

          September 9, 2021 at 1:56 pm

          • Bringing Hitler into the debate could be controversial, be careful you don’t get accused of antisemitism, or witchcraft….


            September 9, 2021 at 2:29 pm

            • Trev: I honesty do not understand what you’re on about when you suggest I might get “accused of antisemitism or witchcraft” by mentioning Hitler. What on earth are you one about?

              Jim Denham

              September 10, 2021 at 4:54 pm

        • I was questioning his independence and I see no reason to tug the forelock to some guy with a Phd on an issue of politics, we’re not talking about Coronavirus and epidemiology after all. So yeah I’m more than happy on what I know to challenge the man’s opinion. As you would be if he was attacking the Blessed Jeremy, yeah?


          September 9, 2021 at 2:57 pm

          • Cammaerts and every other learned professional may as well wipe their arses on their PhDs then.


            September 9, 2021 at 4:24 pm

            • Cammaerts has already wiped his arse with his PhD he needs no encouragement.


              September 9, 2021 at 6:31 pm

              • By the time Keir Stalin’s done there’ll be no one left in the Labour party.


                September 9, 2021 at 7:46 pm

                • Breaking news….human rights lawyer compared to one of the biggest mass murders of the 20th century. Aaaah cultism always resorts to insults with no purchase on reality.


                  September 9, 2021 at 7:56 pm

                  • Well I’m not a member of the Labour party, and so long as people like you are I never will be.


                    September 9, 2021 at 8:02 pm

              • And your ‘learned’ professor appears not to have heard of the Zinoviev letter which for most people would be the biggest ever smear against the Labour Party.


                September 9, 2021 at 7:53 pm

            • Trev: please try not to tug your forelock to people who are “learned professionals” – they’re often idiots, whereas working class autodidacts frequently have a better grasp of politics and socialist principles.

              Jim Denham

              September 10, 2021 at 4:57 pm

      • “a little matey with the IRA” is a biased remark, no more “matey” than Mo Mowlam. Corbyn spoke to paramilitaries on both sides. When I met the IRA in South Armagh during the 1994 ceasefire they didn’t mention Corbyn in person but spoke favourably of the Labour party in general, as well as expressing their hatred of the Tories, needless to say we got along famously!


        September 9, 2021 at 5:07 pm

        • Any examples of his meeting up with loyalist paramilitaries? Corbyn never met with loyalists to my knowledge. And I thought I was going easy. Are you now going to give me the bull about how a nondescript back bench Labour MP was instrumental in the peace process. Again I understood Jezza’s version of peace was victory to the IRA.


          September 9, 2021 at 6:28 pm

          • He was invited to talk to the paramilitaries by Mo Mowlam as part of the peace process, everyone knows that.


            September 9, 2021 at 7:16 pm

            • I don’t think ‘everyone’ does know it because he was never invited to take part in the peace process, pure fabrication. If Mo Mowlam had invited Corbyn to meet with loyalist paramilitaries it would have been with the expectation that the old sectarian would have rejected the invite so exposing more clearly his sectarianism. But Corbyn was not that significant, a grey rather insipid irrelevancy. She supported Blair in 96 when he threatened to expel Corbyn from the Labour Party for inviting Adam’s to Westminster. So I would guess that she despised Corbyn. He never invited any loyalist party leaders to Westminster for tea and buns and had previously invited Adams in 84 at the height of the troubles. As for your not being a member of the Labour Party, that doesn’t stop you being a member of the Corbyn cult.


              September 9, 2021 at 9:18 pm

  5. A very fair review, Andrew.

    Jim Denham

    September 8, 2021 at 12:15 pm

  6. Andrew Coates

    September 9, 2021 at 8:17 am

  7. All our thoughts are with Skwawkbox, Novara Media, the Morning Star, the Canary, and Rachael Swindon at this difficult time:

    Andrew Coates

    September 9, 2021 at 11:01 pm

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