Almost a year to the day since Labour’s general election defeat, we saw the beginning of what could be a significant political development. No longer a Labour MP, having been excluded from the PLP by Keir Starmer, Jeremy Corbyn has launched the Peace and Justice Project. This initiative brings the possibility of much needed change to British politics.
In his presentation of the project, Jeremy said,
‘We will be looking to analyze issues; to organize with, connect, and empower groups that exist already, and to support big campaigns for change. We want to cooperate, not compete, with others. For example, we’ve had messages of support for the launch so far from the Orgreave Truth and Justice campaign in Yorkshire as well as trade unionists in Bolivia and the USA. And connecting up those campaigns, seeing the big and small pictures at the same time, is so important.
We will work with unions and social movements to build a network of campaigners, grassroots activists, thinkers, and leaders, to share experiences and generate ideas about solutions to our common problems.
We will combine research and analysis with campaigning and organizing. And we can build on the popular socialist policies developed in the Labour Party over the past five years.’
There will be a global launch for the Peace and Justice Project in January. It is a new and exciting initiative and as Jeremy says, it is ‘unknown territory’ for us all. Some things are immediately clear. This will not be a project for Labour Party members alone but one which can unite countless thousands who share Corbyn’s vision of a better, fairer society – and who are willing to get active to make it happen. Many of us outside the Labour Party had hoped when Momentum was first formed that it would bring socialists together both inside and outside the party and play such a role. Those hopes proved illusory especially as the struggle inside the Labour Party to establish Jeremy’s leadership unfolded and the shutters came down on non-party members. The Peace and Justice Project will unite socialists inside and outside the Labour Party in a developing network.
It will also be an international project bringing together campaigners for peace, and social and economic justice across the world. There is often a parochialism to political campaigning in Britain which Peace and Justice has jettisoned. Rafael Correa, the former President of Ecuador, spoke on the launch video and other supporters include Yanis Varoufakis, Ronnie Kasrils, a leading member of the ANC and the SACP, and Daniele Obono, a member of the French National Assembly. Already the European Left Party has sent solidarity greetings and this internationalism will be at the heart of the new project.
Within a day of its launch it was clear that Peace and Justice had struck a chord in our political life. Tens of thousands of people joined up. Social media support groups appeared and local groups began to form.
We are seeing what Tariq Ali has called ‘a sniff of spring’. This new project appears at a time when the Labour Party leadership is intent on the complete eradication of the left from the party. The deputy Labour leader, Angela Rayner, has called for thousands of party members to be suspended. Corbyn himself was suspended from the party in an outrageous and apparently pre-planned attack on the whole left. A disciplinary panel readmitted him only for Starmer to unilaterally suspend him from the PLP by withdrawing the whip. When party members sought to challenge this through their CLPs they were suspended themselves. Starmer is driving the party sharply to the right and more than 50,000 members have already left in disgust.
With the Labour Party under Starmer’s leadership preoccupied with internal battles, it has done nothing to seriously challenge the criminal policies of the government which are blighting people’s lives on so many fronts. A coherent left alternative is urgently needed to break out of the political impasse that is preventing a popular radical left narrative emerging. The challenges we need to address are many and serious: the pandemic has already killed more than 1.6 million people worldwide and left the same number with debilitating illness; the global economy is on life support suffering not only from the disastrous economic effects of the virus but also from the fallout of the 2007/8 crash from which the western capitalist economies have yet to fully recover. We face a devastating ecological crisis, and in political life, despite the defeat of Donald Trump in the US elections, the far right retains huge support. In Britain this far right politics is expressed through the Brexit process and we see the rise of a poisonous nationalism which could grow in strength in 2021 as Britain adjusts to life outside the EU.
The Peace and Justice Project can be part of building a powerful alternative to both a right-wing Tory government and a failing centrist Labour Party. But it will do it on a different basis – not repeating the new party initiatives of previous times. There have been numerous calls for Jeremy to lead a breakaway from the Labour Party and he has been clear that he is determined to remain within the party – he has been a member for more than 50 years and has no intention of resigning. But he has also been clear that he will fight for his politics: he will do that inside the party as we have seen, and he has always done that outside the party too. That is the great strength of Jeremy and the reason for the massive support that brought him to the leadership of the Labour Party. Corbyn personified a deep desire for radical social change and this was expressed in the hundreds of thousands of new members who flooded into the party in 2015 and after. It is also the great strength of this initiative: campaigns, movements, members of parties, non-affiliated activists – all can come together, united with the political passion that was generated during Jeremy’s leadership.
The Peace and Justice Project is in many respects a continuation of that movement but it is also a fracture because Labour’s new leadership is in the process of driving out those who have shared Corbyn’s vision and supported his leadership. As the right straight-jackets the left within Labour, limiting its ability even to bring motions, radical left politics can find untrammelled expression – with the wider movement – in this new initiative. Under these conditions the appearance of the Peace and Justice Project constitutes an essential response – it is not a new political party but a determination to fight on the central political questions come what may. It represents a partial break with Labour in order to support the struggles of the working class.
We cannot say in advance how this project will unfold. But what we can say is that it is necessary given the situation we face. I urge socialist campaigners to constructively engage with the hope and the possibilities that are contained within this new movement. We should not prejudge its outcome. Yes there will be hurdles to cross and political weaknesses to be overcome but this is a real opportunity for the left to drive forward the politics of change in the interests of the many.
Let’s build something important together.