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Where does Corbyn’s Putinophilia spring from? The best guide to understanding those around the Corbyn leadership are Tony Benn’s diaries, especially the volume dealing with the 1980s, The End of an Era. Corbyn frequently appears as a parliamentary foot soldier championing the cause of Benn and the Bennites. An instructive entry in Benn’s diary is that for July 3, 1986. A 16-year-old Edward Miliband, son of Marxist academic and Bennite theorist Ralph Miliband, had just finished his O Levels and was starting what we would now call an internship in Benn’s office. Benn received two visitors that day. The first was Joe Slovo, the last white general secretary of the South African Communist Party and chief of staff of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the ANC. Benn says, “I asked him about Russia, and he said he thought Stalin and Mao Tse Tung had seriously set back the cause of socialism.” An unexceptional conclusion, one may have thought, even for someone so reliant as Slovo on the Soviet Union — both for supplying weapons to the ANC and supporting him personally in exile from apartheid South Africa. After all, his wife Ruth First had been murdered by South African intelligence four years previously. But in Benn’s view, it is “a rather harsh judgment”.

Later that day — in preparation for a visit to communist Poland — Benn received the London representative of Solidarity. What did Benn make of the independent trade unionists fighting for a free Poland? “I have had a lot of suspicions about Solidarity . . . There is no question whatever that the Labour Party and the TUC, in supporting Solidarity, are actually supporting Polish Thatcherism.” Over the subsequent days during his visit to Poland he only has good things to say about the Polish Communist Party representatives he meets, while depicting the Catholic Church as a victim not of the state but of Solidarity’s pro-Americanism. The best he can say of Solidarity’s representatives is that they are well-meaning but naive.

Benn’s two meetings that day do much to sum up his world view: on every issue he took the Soviet line. What the Diaries also make clear is that, while obviously never a member of the Communist Party, Benn took a great interest and partisan position in its internal struggles. The boundaries between the Communist Party and the Labour Party have long been much more porous than is often acknowledged. They are certainly much more permeable — whatever some on the Left might imagine — than the boundaries between the Conservative Party and the far Right. During the 1980s the Communist Party was torn apart between a reformist Eurocommunist faction centred around its monthly magazine, Marxism Today, and traditionalist anti-reformers around its daily paper, the Morning Star. Benn does not have a good word to say about the reformers, or the “Marxism Today clique” as he calls them,  and again and again he praises the hardliners.

Corbyn, a columnist for the Morning Star until he became Labour leader, took the Bennite position in these struggles. Corbyn’s two closest confidantes since becoming party leader, Milne and Murray, were partisans in these struggles on the anti-reformist side. Corbyn’s takeover of Labour represents not merely a victory for the Labour Left, but a triumph for those associated with the Morning Star and its anti-revisionism. The Morning Star brigade have simply exchanged support for the Soviet Union with Putinophilia.
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