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.
Labour are now on the verge of utter irrelevance and the thread by which they hang is Jeremy Corbyn – a man they nominated for leadership as a kind of art exhibit. That he has broke out of the confines is energizing for the left, but irrelevant – as even if he were to win the leadership – Labour is dead.
We know now due to the rumblings of the week that if Corbyn were to win, it would split Labour. The career politicians of Labour who think that by running the market-state they somehow determine its trajectory and therefore can do something for the destitute, are at a loss. Why have we not got it yet?
The problem for the political leadership of Labour is that the electorate hasn’t given up on the idea of a welfare state. Britain’s restructuring into the global economy may have rendered the boundaries of the nation-state progressively more meaningless, but within the body politic a spirit for strong public services, accessible to all at the point of need, still runs deep. So does care for those unable to work. But the conditions of Labour have changed and no matter how much moral or political sense it makes, it’s not politically achievable due to the economics that structure modern Britain.
The press use euphemism with this nonsense term to describe the right-wing of Labour – “modernisers” – hardly a derogatory term. What they mean by this is that the likes of Kendall – and as we’ve seen with the welfare bill Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham – are willing to accept and implement the diktats of the markets. This is neo-liberal polity and Britain is a paradigmatic example of it.
Corbyn rails against neo-liberal orthodoxy in almost all areas, but does so on the basis of bringing back the Labour of the post-WWII economic and political consensus. That time is over. Britain’s economy is now reliant upon financial services and speculation, to reorganise it takes a radicality that requires a party he does not have the support of who will likely never be convinced. All of that, assuming of course, that he is up to the task.
The long and short of the history of Labour and the labour movement more generally is that it was a product of industrial economies. As industrialism has globalised and the world economy has financialised, Britain’s political class have responded. The reality on the ground is that the condition of the working class is of less political importance. In an age of global workforces, it’s the assets that matter, not the material conditions of the workers.
Very radical steps are needed to organise society back in the interests of the majority. Labour is no longer the vessel of the worker pushing for higher wages and better working conditions. Labour is no longer the party that is willing to stand strong on welfare. In order to avoid “Osborne’s trap,” Labour have victimized the welfare dependent.
The saddest thing about all of this is that the poison of the neo-economy is being sold to us on the basis of our own wants. Apparently, it is the average worker who demands action to slice the welfare state to bits. It’s got nothing to do with the global economy and got everything to do about the shift-worker coming home from his night to see the scrounger sleeping!
The Labour leadership’s understanding of the working class comes from a mimicry of Channel 4 depictions. These patronizing wankers are not only lying, like true snakes, they are saying what they are doing is for the interests of the average Brit and not to bankers and financiers they are beholden to.
The greatest sell a Labour politican can make – and this includes Corbyn – is that they’d be a more humane technocrat of neo-liberal malevolence. They’d wince as the cut the support for homeless youths and cry when benefit sanctions led to the suicide of a parent. We only have to look to Greece to understand that you can be a true leftie, with the track record of a radical and still become the harbinger of doom. To escape from the pits of this stage of capitalism requires far more than one man, but good people are needed. What is of greater importance is the development of political project that is globally connected, but locally effective. That is not Labour, we all know this, it’s far better we accept its demise and organise.