It’s hard to think of a better parliamentary member than Jeremy Corbyn to rally behind. That he has polled so well and campaigned so inclusively has turned many a head, and for good reason. Those of us used to disappointment are hard to instil hope in, especially in a country as trapped by finance as Britain is. But Corbyn is now one of the strongest rallying points of the left in my generation.
For those who are joining Labour to vote for him, something I cannot bring myself to do, it is important to consider your action as being a long-term commitment. In order for Corbyn to hold power and for the party to be rebuilt, a mass mobilisation is required. There is no way the establishment want Corbyn leading the country’s opposition party, especially if momentum continues to build. In simply holding his position, he sheds light on the continued credibility of the radical alternative that has been cloaked in Labour’s basement.
Corbyn entered parliament as Labour were obliterated in an election presenting the radical alternative to Thatcherism. Labour bitterly fought amongst itself, as much as with the Tories, before yielding to the onslaught of neo-liberalism as a consequence. That election determined both Corbyn’s trajectory and the Labour Party’s leadership. They cut radically different paths. Whereas for Labour the 1983 manifesto was the “longest suicide note in history,” necessitating Blairism, for Corbyn it was his mandate.
Over 30 years of time as an MP and Corbyn has campaigned consistently as an internationalist and a socialist. He has supported the rights of workers against finance and capital, been one of Labour’s most rebellious MPs and taken admirable positions on Palestine, Iraq, Venezuela, Mexico and Ireland (to name just a few). If Labour were filled with Corbyns, I’d be a paid up member already. However, the reality is that since 1983 the likes of Corbyn would never have been selected to hold a parliamentary seat.
Labour are no longer a left-wing party. Since scrapping clause IV (committing Labour “to secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service”), Labour have given up on the idea of piece-meal reform towards socialism. Labour are a party ensnared by the City of London, they are beholden to their whims and play by their rules. This, we are told, is a political reality that must be acknowledged. To modernise is to continue to push through reforms that destroy the welfare-state, to create the market state. A state where, as Arun Kundnani puts it,
“The well-being of social groups is no longer the responsibility of the state; its responsibility is to maximise the choices available to individuals. Market-states engage in a Dutch auction for foreign investment, offering ever-worsening protections for their populations in the name of ‘competitiveness’. Public services shift from welfare provision to a focus on ‘enabling’ individuals to re-enter the labour market, through ‘welfare to work’ programmes, such as those pioneered by Bill Clinton and imported to Britain in the mid-1990s. Welfare rights are diminished while the responsibiiity of welfare recipients to adapt themselves to market demands is increased. And if markets cannot find a use for an individual, then neither can society.” (2007, 57)
We are living in this political moment. We like to think of history as repeating, hence the references to neo-Victorianism, but things are very different now. For economies such as Britain, it is services (particularly financial) that predominate. Industry is offshored – globalised – and the political reality is shaped by the processes of financialisation. A reversal of these processes takes a hell of a lot. And yet, the struggle gets deeper. Labour are not just a party that implemented neo-liberal economic policies, they are a party that was on the front-line of modern imperialism, engaging in the warfare that is now ripping West Asia (the Middle East in colonial terminology) to pieces. Labour institutionalised Islamophobia. Corbyn was a rebellious MP amongst this, but to believe the politicians that fill Labour’s ranks will simply switch their allegiances is not just naïve, it is dangerous.
A Corbyn victory for Labour requires a radical move from below. If pressure is not applied in all areas, the fist of socialism will become a limp hand. Merely joining for the vote is not enough. Getting the voice of the radical alternative into the mainstream is hard. For the last two years, Britain’s populist leftism has found Russell Brand the centre piece; his inconsistency and embarrassingly naïve positions on key issues pushed him to the point of ridicule. Corbyn could be the real deal, but his party are not behind him. For Corbyn to achieve the ideal, a lot more is required than an online vote.
The position of Corbyn is not the position of Labour. The key unions back Corbyn, as, it seems, do the majority of Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs). The mood of the nation is ripe for a leftist push. Yet, with UKIP polling at 12.7% in the General Election, there is no time for complacency. The battle of finance against the interests of the nation favours the populist right, especially with the powerlessness felt as TTIP is implemented.
Corbyn’s power will be determined not only by the mobilisation of social movements in Britain, but across the continent. A push against neo-liberalism can only be made if an economic alternative can be practiced and implemented. The struggle is how to achieve social goals without driving the boot into the neck of the systematically underdeveloped countries. Freeing them is part of freeing ourselves. Corbyn knows this. To convince his electorate of it takes far more than £3 and an active social media account. If Labour be the vessel, it needs to be stripped, internationalised and re-energised. If that doesn’t happen, a split in the ranks will undermine Corbyn or a challenge from below will put another dent in the fight for a more egalitarian existence in Babylon. If this is seriously our greatest push, let us not engage in faith-based politics. If social justice can be realised in Britain, without mass exploitation domestically or in its periphery, wholly new political realities are needed and no one man can conjure them.