Among Britain’s working class, opposition to the European Union was – rightly – quite high, especially in the old industrial cities of the north, thanks in part to the influence of people like Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and others on the left wing of the party. Until they became the leaders of Labour, Corbyn and his friends opposed the European Union and demanded Britain��s withdrawal from the bloc. In the end, it was their indecisive attitude toward the bloc that lost them the 12 December vote, as Labour’s left wing chose not to go to the polls
Jeremy Corbyn is a democratic politician and old union leader that is well-known among socialists who live in north London. Years ago, he joined a parliamentary group that came to observe the Fatsa and Revolutionary Path (Devrimci Yol) trials in Turkey, wrote articles about the cases and participated in solidarity campaigns with socialists from Turkey to oppose the fascist 1980 coup. Corbyn, moreover, has steadfastly opposed all of the wars launched by the British state (including its actions in Northern Ireland).
Nevertheless, Corbyn and his friends suffered a heavy defeat in the 12 December elections. (One close Corbyn ally, former miner Dennis Skinner, had held his seat for 49 years, but was soundly beaten in this month’s elections.) Just two years ago, Labour grabbed 40% of the vote in general elections, but this time around, it lost around 2.5 million votes to score just 32% of the vote.
Voter turnout, in part, explains some of this rout. Just a month before elections in 2017, Labour was polling at just 26%, but Corbyn dragged them to 40% of the popular vote, finishing with close to 13 million votes. On 12 December, however, the Tories only increased their vote count by 330,000 votes. What does this show? Not that Labour voters switched their allegiance to the Tories, but that they protested their traditional party by avoiding the polls. Ultimately, the traditional working class, which forms the Labour Party’s base in northern England and which has long opposed the European Union, punished the party’s leadership for its hesitation on Brexit and promises to hold a second referendum.
Labour’s left wing: 40 years of opposition to the EU
Corbyn and the other leading lights of Labour’s left wing have opposed the EU since the 1970s. And as a result of their work with the grassroots, workers, particularly those in former industrial towns, also oppose the bloc. For one, the way the imperialist union operates is not democratic; while Britain’s parliament is of great importance, the EU Parliament is a largely ineffectual institution devoid of the authority to create laws. Instead, a commission of appointed bureaucrats rules the EU. Worse, the Maastricht and Lisbon treaties have restricted the sovereignty of the legislatures and governments of the member states. The EU, for instance, rejected the Italian budget a few months ago; before that, it also appointed, in effect, trustees from the banking world to rule Italy and Greece. Try as it might to project the opposite image, the EU is an anti-democratic institution restricting parliamentary democracy both at a national and European level.
Part of the reason for Corbyn’s waffling on the EU is Labour’s Blairite liberal wing. While Tony Blair was prime minister from 1997 to 2007, this wing supported all his policies – including his wars, fee-based education, privatization and more; when Corbyn became Labour leader, this wing turned its guns on him. First they sought to unseat Corbyn; when that failed, they exerted pressure on the party leadership on certain policies in an effort to force it to surrender. On the question of nuclear weapons and the EU, they succeeded. And while Corbyn had spent a lifetime opposing the EU, he voted “remain” in the 2016 Brexit referendum. Still, he said afterwards that he would respect the people’s decision – something that allowed him to increase Labour’s share of the vote to 40% in the chaotic buildup to the 2017 election.
Corbyn the “national security threat”
In opposing Corbyn, the bourgeoisie attacked the Labour leader from a number of directions – none of which were on the economy, given the popular support this plank of the party’s platform had. The media, however, gave little coverage to statements from Corbyn’s team. What’s more, the intelligence service and the army leaked hundreds of fabricated documents to the media about Corbyn, while MI6’s former chief personally went to the press to discuss Corbyn. (As an aside, Turkey’s liberals have long contended that the armies and secret services of EU countries are at the command of civilians and never interfere in politics, but the situation with Corbyn shows how false this view is.) Mark Curtis, who has previously written about this topic, has identified 34 instances in which the secret services leaked documents pertaining to Corbyn’s ostensible threat to national security that were subsequently printed by the national press. Among these leaks are statements from the Home Office and the former head of MI6. In all these leaks, the secret services accused Corbyn of being an enemy of the country and of collaborating with terrorists, adding that the army and the intelligence services would not share secrets with the Labour leader if he came to power. Just step back and think about it: the head of the secret service and top generals are accusing the head of the main opposition of being a threat to national security – and in history’s oldest democracy to boot!
The national media also printed at least 440 articles that painted Corbyn as a threat to national security over the same period. For a reader from Turkey without much knowledge of Britain, such stories could come as a surprise, but the British press and the secret services actually enjoy close ties. Former MI6 Chief John Scarlett, for instance, joined the Times’ Board of Directors as soon as he left the intelligence agency. At the same time, revelations have emerged that soldiers were using Corbyn’s picture for target practice up until a year ago. Ultimately, these types of stories were designed to prevent more nationalist elements of the Tory base from switching to Labour – something that they were partially successful in doing.
A witch hunt complete with propaganda worthy of Goebbels
In its second mode of attack, the bourgeoisie attempted to portray Corbyn as a racist. Such allegations against the Labour leader go back to the 1970s, although no one has ever managed to find a single instance of Corbyn uttering anything racist. There are even statistics regarding this trend: Until Corbyn became Labour leader, there were just 18 stories in 32 years (1983 to 2015) regarding the politician and anti-Semitism – none of which accused Corbyn himself of being a racist. But after 2015, the media printed a total of 12,251 stories on the subject, almost all of which portrayed Corbyn as a racist. As part of this campaign, liberal and right-wing newspapers like the Times and The Sun, Blair supporters, as well as right-wing and fundamentalist Jewish organizations, all lined up to declare Corbyn and his colleagues as racist, particularly against Jews, publishing numerous pieces that alleged that life for Jews would become intolerable if Labour won the elections. Despite these accusations, Corbyn displayed an exceedingly passive, even meek, attitude, in part because of the pressure from the party’s liberal wing. As part of this witch hunt, the media portrayed the party’s working-class, anti-EU grassroots as racist, equating opposition to the EU with racism. In so doing, the media both alienated the party’s grassroots and attempted to force Corbyn to surrender on the EU. In the end, this campaign was successful: Corbyn resisted for some time, remaining ambivalent, but with one month to go until the 12 December elections, he agreed to go to a second referendum on Brexit.
As part of this Goebbels-like witch hunt, former London Mayor Ken Livingston, himself a Jew; socialist writer and long-time anti-racist Jackie Walker (herself a black Jew whose only crime was a message to a friend in which she noted that some Jewish businessman had participated in the African slave trade); as well as former stonemason, socialist and Derby MP Chris Williamson were either expelled by the Labour Party or forced to quit the party. Williamson’s only crime in this was to call for a more active struggle against this witch hunt.
The racists accusing Corbyn of racism
Last year, Corbyn met with young Jews in his neighborhood who were celebrating a Jewish festival for four hours, bringing them a gift of vegetables from his own garden. Some of those at the festival were party activists who personally knew Corbyn. Despite this, some groups, including some right-wing Jewish organizations, even accused Corbyn of racism and anti-Semitism, prompting some of the Jewish youth who attended the festival to write an article defending the Labour leader.
And some of Corbyn’s liberal opponents who accused the Labour leader of racism are racists themselves. MP Angela Smith, for one, left Labour because of racist comments for which she had to apologize. The press, however, had little to say about Smith.
One fundamentalist, a Jewish rabbi, wrote a piece in the right-wing Times calling for Jews to avoid voting for Labour – implying that they should vote for the Tories. Such people couldn’t point to a single racist comment by Corbyn, even as there isn’t a minority Prime Minister Boris Johnson hasn’t belittled; indeed, at various times, Johnson has attacked members of the LGBT community, Muslims, impoverished women and their children, poor men, Jews and more. The Tories are one of the most racist parties in the country, yet right-wing and fundamentalist Jewish organizations chose to ignore this.
Corbyn forced onto the back foot
This witch hunt grew so large that it even reached Turkey. Journalist Nevşin Mengü, for instance, tweeted that Corbyn lost because he wanted to implement a wealth tax and that he saluted Hamas. But rather than consider taxing minorities, Corbyn emphasized that he was planning to tax banks and international monopolies. Corbyn, moreover, has never supported Hamas’ terrorist acts, but he does support the people of Palestine. Corbyn and his colleagues, however, remained passive in their defense on these attacks.
Worse, however, they ultimately adopted the liberal position on the EU, costing them their connection with the party’s working-class supporters, especially in the north. Understandably, this segment hated how the liberal wing of the party equated their opposition to the EU with racism. What’s more, the leadership’s passivity in the face of the expulsion of democrats and anti-fascists like Williamson and Walker made the situation even worse.
By way of conclusion, consider the results in Derby North, which provided a microcosm of what happened to Labour. In 2017, Williamson was elected with 48 percent of the vote, while the Tories came in second with 21,600 votes. This time around, the Tories’ Amanda Solloway won almost 500 fewer votes in the constituency, but still won the seat – all because Labour’s traditional voters chose to sit out the polls.
 For more on the statements by the home secretary and the former MI6 chief about Corbyn, see
The following article also provides more information about the campaign by the secret services, police and army against Corbyn: