angrysampoetry

the foundations of oppression can't be plucked up without the anger of a multitude

Why a Corbyn-led Labour Government would be better for nearly everyone, even the radical left. (INTRO)

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Finally we have found a topic about which it is as hard to have a sensible, reasoned debate as the issue of Israel-Palestine. Over Christmas, I spent two weeks with my good friends Becca and Joey in Cape Town. On most topics – artistic, emotional, political – we are in broad agreement and differences are amiable and argued out constructively. This remained true for my whole trip until, during an hour’s drive to their friends’ place for Christmas lunch, we started talking about Jeremy Corbyn. Voices were raised, conversation was heated and turn-taking went out of the window and into the blue of the Southern Atlantic.

Over lunch, our hosts, having been informed of my Corbyn sympathies, mocked me as a crazy radical. Corbyn seemed to them to be some madcap, far-left maverick. These were people who were kicked out of the ANC in the 1980s for being too communist. And it is not only they who see Corbyn as a symbol of crackpot leftism, witness also Barack Obama’sCorbyn on a bike message of support for Bernie Sanders in December last year:

“I think people like the passion that Bernie brought, but Bernie Sanders is a pretty centrist politician relative to … Corbyn or relative to some of the republicans.”[1]

The intent of his intervention was not really to make a point about Corbyn, but rather to show that Sanders is a moderate and the Republicans are dangerous. That he did so by positing Corbyn at the left pole of opposing extremes shows that this veteran, jam-making peacenik MP for Islington has become an international symbol of left-wing radicalism.

This is rather strange given his actual political position. Let us compare it with the 19th and early 20th century radicals. Communist Vladmir Lenin wrote in 1920: “In Western Europe and America, parliament has become most odious to the revolutionary vanguard of the working class.”[2] Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht considered Leibknecht and Luxemburgparliamentarianism “politically obsolete” in 1919. The anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin, declared in 1870, “The whole system of representative government is an immense fraud resting on this fiction: that the executive and legislative bodies elected by universal suffrage of the people must or even can possibly represent the will of the people.”[3]

Unlike anarchists or communists, who generally follow these kind of views, Corbyn is a strong believer in parliamentary politics. Judging by his manifesto and voting record, he is pro-nationalisation of the railways, anti-war and anti-NHS privatisation. He wants to invest  in the arts, social housing and to create state-funded jobs in renewable energy sector, breaking up the monopoly of the ‘Big Six’ energy companies. He wants to increase female representation in parliament, to clamp down on tax avoidance and to introduce rent controls. These policies are broadly popular with the majority of the British population and mainly make things better for most people, apart from buy-to-let landlords, arms industry executives, David Cameron’s father and the CEO of British Gas. There is plenty of room to the left of Corbyn. Forget Lenin, Bakunin and Luxemburg, his policies sit on a level with those of most previous Labour leaders, even one as recent as John Smith.

Smith, whose heart attack in 1994 must count as one of the most unfortunately timed deaths in British history, called himself a “democratic socialist”. He had a vision of “an infrastructure of freedom that would require collective provision of basic needs through an enabling state.”[4] This, like Corbyn’s platform, is socialism-lite. Some state intervention to make things little bit more equal. Before Blair, every leader of the Labour party had to call themselves some kind of socialist. Today, Corbyn would not dare openly use the ‘s-word’ in public. Smith spoke against “severe reductions in social spending and austerity measureSmith and Margaret Beckett letting their hair downs applied regardless of the political consequences”. He was talking about IMF-enforced structural adjustment in Eastern Europe after the fall of Communism. But what was once reserved for the poorest nations in Europe is today the political reality for the populations of the West. What was once politically ‘moderate’ and ‘reformist’ in the Labour Party, is now seen as ‘back-to-the-70s’ radicalism.

A Corbyn spokesperson said in response to Obama’s comments, “For most people in Britain, [his policies] are common sense and grounded in reality.” Common sense, however, will not change anything. People are partisan in politics and objections to him are not ‘grounded’ in anything as practical as reality

I would classify the anti-Corbyn arguments as falling into either a discourse of race and nationalism (he is not going to reduce immigration) or strategy and pragmatism (his policies are sound but we need a different kind of leader). There have also emerged during the course of this election, objections based on the mystique-heavy and badly understood word, ‘economics’, and a liberal voice that says he was not pro-EU enough. As I see it, in at least three-and-a-half of these four discourses, his detractors are actually on the wrong side of their own arguments.

The soul searching and loss of direction for the Left after the fall of Really Existing Socialism combined with the triumphant capture of public and political space by the neo-liberal Right led to a near-freezing of political movements. In recent years the brief sunshine, first seen in the Arab world, has led to something of a thaw, and the currents of renewed grassroots movements have thrust forward parliamentary parties like Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, Jean-Luc Melanchon’s La France Insoumise and Corbyn to the Labour Party leadership. For those who want to see a world of peace and equality, which increases creativity and care, maximises human potential and respects the planet’s ecology, Jeremy Corbyn’s election victory is not the basket in which one should store your entire egg supply. Not least because you will need to keep some to throw in the bigger conflicts to come. However, it seems clear to me that a tempered and qualified pro-Corbyn position is in fact less naïve and more strategic than its converse. It is, even, ‘better for the Jews’.

Over the course of the next few blog posts, I will attempt to prove this.

 

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/dec/27/corbyn-hits-back-obama-suggests-labour-disintegrating-grounded-fact-reality

[2] Should We Participate in Bourgeois Parliaments? Lenin; 1920/ https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/lwc/ch07.htm

[3] On Representative Government and Universal Suffrage; Bakunin; 1870 https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/b

[4] http://www.johnsmithmemorialtrust.org/media/63970/Reclaiming-the-Ground.pdfakunin/works/1870/on-elections.htm

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Written by angrysampoetry

May 21, 2017 at 4:33 pm

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