Labour party conference - fine words but no challenge to the system

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30 September 2015

After Jeremy Corbyn's landslide victory in the Labour leadership contest, the Labour party conference was an anti-climax. Gone was the "radical" language of his leadership campaign. Gone too was the feeling of some supporters that his election could be heralding a new era in Labour's policies, not just in words, but in deeds.

Of course, both Corbyn's and McDonnell's speeches were packed with fine words. They advocated "doing things differently", "kinder politics and a caring society", "fair play", etc.. which did not commit them to much.

Both also stated that Labour would "fight Tory cuts" - but only in the Commons, of course. As if anyone could forget that, last July, three quarters of the very same Labour MPs on whose "fighting" spirit Corbyn is relying, failed to oppose the cuts included in Osborne's latest welfare bill!

Past policies swept under the carpet

There is a logic to all of this. Corbyn has not made any secret of the fact that his only perspective is to wait until the 2020 election and a possible return of Labour to office. And ever since his election, he has been going out of his way to proclaim his determination to maintain what he calls "party unity", even to the point of wooing those in the party who are nostalgic for the Blair era.

This is why neither Corbyn nor McDonnell said a word in criticism of Labour's past policies in office. They had nothing to say about Blair's attacks against the unemployed and promotion of casualisation. Nor about the way in which Gordon Brown's government mortgaged public finances in order to bail out the banking fat cats, before launching the wave of cuts which provided the starting point for Cameron's own attacks.

Likewise, neither Corbyn nor McDonnell dared to criticise Blair for his role in the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq - which both of them opposed from the backbenches! Worse, even, McDonnell went on record arguing that Labour MPs should be given a free vote "on the basis of conscience" over Cameron's likely attempt to bomb Syria.

Then Corbyn, the erstwhile pacifist, swallowed his own beliefs by stating that "Britain does need strong, modern military and security forces to keep us safe" - as if the army's main function over the past 70 years hadn't been to attack others! And when it came to the issue of Trident - a central theme in his election campaign - Corbyn didn't even protest against the bureaucratic stitch-up used by the party machinery to stop it from being debated and voted upon by the conference delegates!

As if "doing things differently" could be achieved by sweeping the past failures of the Labour party under the carpet in the name of "unity", instead of subjecting them to ruthless scrutiny - or by preventing delegates from having a frank debate!

No perspective for the working class

As to McDonnell, he emphasized that "austerity is not an economic necessity, it's a political choice".

True, "austerity" is not an economic necessity, but it is a necessity for the capitalists, who are so scared of their crisis-ridden system that they speculate, rather than invest in production. To boost their profits they need an increasing part of the value created in society and of the resources of the state. This is the real cause of "austerity" and means that it cannot be opposed without fighting the capitalist stranglehold over the economy.

But, of course, this is not what McDonnell proposed to do when he added that "Labour will... tackle the deficit but... we will not tackle the deficit on the backs of middle and low earners and especially by attacking the poorest in our society... We will force people like Starbucks... and all the others to pay their fair share of taxes."

But this "deficit" is nothing but the black hole created by the banks' bailout, which would be repaid to the very same banks. And why should it be? As to getting the likes of Starbucks to pay their "fair share of taxes", it would not begin to address the fact that the capitalist class is robbing society of the value produced by tens of millions of us - and that it is this parasitism that cripples the economy.

This was illustrated by the announced closure of the Redcar steel mill, with an estimated 5,000 job losses for the area. Brian Dennis, a union official from this plant spoke, focusing on a plea for Cameron to intervene. But he stopped short of exposing a system in which workers' incomes come last and private profits first, nor did he suggest that workers could do anything about it.

Yet it is in the here and now that the working class needs to stand up to the attacks of the bosses and their politicians and to fight back. And for this it cannot rely on the Corbyns and McDonnells, but only on its own collective strength.