AFTER weeks of speculation, seven right-wing Labour MPs announced yesterday that they are resigning from the Labour Party, citing ‘institutional anti-Semitism’ and the ‘shameful’ leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and his handling of Brexit.
The seven MPs proclaimed that the Labour Party had been ‘hijacked by the politics of the hard left’, that they would from now on be sitting as ‘independents,’ and they appealed for Tory MPs to defect to them and help develop a new party.
Immediately, parallels were drawn between this split and the one that took place in 1981 when four former Labour ministers – Shirley Williams, Roy Jenkins, David Owen and Bill Rodgers – left the party and formed the ill-fated SDP.
The justification for that split was also that Labour had been captured by the ‘hard-left’, when it elected Michael Foot as leader and passed a conference motion that reduced the absolute power enjoyed by MPs in electing party leaders. This split came at a time when the Tories had just formed a new government under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher.
Thatcher was deeply unpopular at the time, in fact, she was reviled when she made it clear that she would cut public spending and benefits, famously declaring that ‘there is no such thing as society’.
The split in 1981 threw a lifeline to Thatcher by splitting the Labour Party, but any parallels with today are extremely superficial and misleading. Thatcher was starting her attack on the working class when British capitalism was strengthened by the discovery of North Sea oil.
It was this oil boom that allowed her government to survive the economic crisis of the 1970s. Crucially, the oil wealth bankrolled Thatcher’s war against the working class.
The Tories were still reeling after the government of Edward Heath was brought down by the miners strike in 1973-74 and they had devised a strategy (the Ridley plan) to ensure that never again would a Tory government be brought down by the working class.
Their plan was for the Tories to prepare for taking on the most powerful union, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), and smash it by carefully building up stocks of coal throughout Britain and Europe, a massive campaign to recruit scab drivers to deliver this coal, and by cutting off all money to striking miners.
This carefully devised plan was only possible because of the riches from North Sea oil, and the prize which made squandering this wealth worthwhile was to completely smash up the unions and leave the working class defenceless and open to the most extreme exploitation by capitalism.
Thatcher never succeeded in smashing the working class. The miners’ strike of 1984-85 was betrayed by the TUC but the Tories never managed to destroy trade unions, instead, Thatcher herself was brought down over the Poll Tax.
These were the conditions that existed in the Labour split in 1981 and they couldn’t be more different from today where British capitalism is bankrupt and the Tories themselves are crushed by splits.
The fear of the ruling class, exposed by this desperate split, is that the Corbyn leadership can’t be trusted to buckle under to rescue British capitalism and will be forced by an insurgent working class to break with the EU and stand by the socialist policies that Labour fought the last election on – policies that won the support of millions of workers and young people and destroyed May’s parliamentary majority.
This attempt by the right-wing to keep May and the Tories in power must be answered by the working class coming forward and telling Corbyn to end all his treacherous attempts at collaboration with May and, instead, honour the Labour manifesto pledge to leave Europe on March 29 without a deal, and for a socialist Brexit.
Those bosses and bankers who threaten to leave Britain must be shown the door, with all their assets and industries left behind and expropriated and placed under the control of the working class.
Above all, this is the period for building the revolutionary leadership of the WRP and Young Socialists to lead the working class to take the power – a revolution that will ignite socialist revolution across Europe and open the way to establishing the United Socialist States of Europe.