I didn’t join Labour. I won’t, not in its current form and even if Corbyn kicks in the door and the radicals in the wilderness re-enter, I doubt I would.
My political position is quite simple. I used to be a social democrat who cleaved the political dynamics within Britain from the foreign policy of the state. I celebrated SureStart centres and new hospital wings and pushed the atrocities of Basra and Helmand to the back of my mind. Like I celebrated Atlee’s ‘New Jerusalem,’ and said nothing of chemical agents he was responsible for dropping on Malaya and the concentration camps set up in Kenya (the atrocities committed in which are sickening and belie any conception of an essential moral fortitude of the social democratic position). I stopped that division, realising it was founded on racism. I then began to see the inherent racism that operates in European social democracy, which – to put in a nutshell – shackles and beats the periphery for the good of the metropole.
Now Corbyn is undeniably different. His political stance on Iraq, Palestine, Mexico, Diego Garcia, Venezuela, etc. notable exceptions to the political mainstream which has kept the structures of colonialism in place, by hook or by crook.
Yet, despite the huge areas of positivity, let’s not get carried away. In his interview with Pink News Corbyn picked out Uganda as an area that requires more punitive foreign policy from Britain based on its treatment of LGBTQI communities (noting nothing of the colonial legacies that shaped said policy and the neo-colonialism of the Bush years). In a more revealing understanding of Corbyn’s international policy, he advocates in his BLINK interview with Middle East Eye that Britain become an ‘irritant’ in the global scene, pushing for human rights whenever and wherever and, in so doing, making the UK a bastion of human rights.
As lovely as this sounds, what does it mean? How does such a global outlook address the issues of colonialism and coloniality that structurally determine the humanitarian present?
I ask these questions because addressing the legacies of empire in Britain is fundamental to meaningful political progress. A racist division between us and them cannot re-emerge, nor can Britain acting as a global policeman before it has addressed its depraved inner-workings and the bestial legacies of its colonial past.
I’m all for this optimism, if we can lock it in the right direction. But the laziness in conceiving of the battle to be fought is irksome. Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn are world’s apart, with Corbyn by far the more progressive voice. Nonetheless, comparisons can be made. If a reparations campaigner in Britain interrupted one of the mass rallies of Corbyn, how many white faces in that crowd would scowl and shout incensed by the very suggestion that Corbyn isn’t doing enough to address the legacies of empire?
Maximum unity and all that, but let’s not make such simple errors. For too long, social justice achieved in Britain came at the expense of those outside of it. A Corbyn led Britain still flies the butcher’s apron above its head, so let’s be humble, be critical and make sure that the needs of the liberal-left for hope do not drown out the need for fundamental, global change. If Corbyn’s Labour isn’t the end point in that struggle, keep thinking.
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.