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Britain: Why Jeremy Corbyn's Labour leadership bid panics the right

Jeremy Corbyn joins Pride in London, alongside some of the activists backing his campaign. Photo: Steve Eason.

The surprising support for Jeremy Corbyn in the race for the leadership of the British Labour Party has electrified the left and is terrifiying the right. Below a number of articles from the British left explain why.

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Left Unity Newsletter, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal on July 28, 2015-- The movement in support of Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leader has set politics alight – and got the media in a panic. Corbyn’s candidacy is demonstrating the mass support that exists in society for the policies he stands for, and Left Unity has also supported since its foundation: an end to austerity and war, a different society based on peace and equality.

This unexpected movement is an expression of the same sentiment that is seeing a new left rise across Europe – with the difference in expression perhaps down to Britain’s archaic electoral system.

Left Unity wishes the campaign all the best. This is an opportunity for the Labour Party to become the party it was founded to be, defending and extending its great achievements of the welfare state – the party that millions want.

Who are the infiltrators?

Unfortunately the Labour right are already planning a coup if Jeremy Corbyn wins. As part of their plot to unseat him, Labour MPs are winding up the right wing press by saying that the “hard left” is “infiltrating” the Labour Party.

But it is Labour that decided to allow anyone to sign up as a supporter for £3 and get a vote. Left Unity does not encourage its members to sign up. Nevertheless we ask: in a week where the vast majority of Labour MPs abstained on the brutal cuts in the welfare bill, who are the real infiltrators?

Is it the people who are signing up to vote in the hope of turning Labour back to its roots? Or is it the MPs who, when they are asked whether the poor should be made to pay, failed to vote against it?

Hilary Wainwright: Support for Corbyn is about much more than ‘reclaiming Labour’

July 2015 -- Red Pepper, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Wherever you turn, democracy is being closed down: the EU/IMF trying to crush the elected Greek government; New Labour picking apart Ed Miliband’s leadership while closing wider debate on the party’s future by trying to ensure a new leader of their ilk; concerted Tory attacks on trade union rights and social security.

I felt trapped. And a Labour leadership election that made the choice of washing powder look like competition seemed only to mock my predicament. But then I’m not in the Labour Party, so maybe, I’d been thinking until recently, I could just close my eyes and turn off the radio.

Then, to my delight, I heard that Jeremy Corbyn was going to try to get on the ballot paper (followed soon after by Alexis Tsipras’s equally heartening call for a referendum). It’s not that I look to Corbyn (or Tsipras for that matter) as knights in shining armour coming to the rescue. No, Jeremy Corbyn is just one of a modest band of Labour MPs, building on the tradition of Tony Benn and Ken Livingstone, who don’t ask to see your party card before joining struggles and debates beyond the walls of Westminster.

Then he made it into the contest. Without a moment’s hesistation, I clicked on the link that, at the cost of three quid, would enable me to vote for him. The cost of two pensioner swims at the London Fields lido! To be honest, the Labour Party isn’t worth that valuable three quid. But a platform for someone who not only insists that there is an alternative, but stretches himself to support everyone who is fighting for it, is beyond anything that money can buy.

Transitional demand

It might sound perverse, but I believe Jeremy Corbyn should be supported not as an attempt to "reclaim the Labour Party" but as a transition to a political organisation beyond the Labour Party and beyond parliamentary politics.

In this sense his campaign is not of the same order as Tony Benn’s campaigns for the deputy leadership in 1981 (against Denis Healey) and the leadership in 1988 (against Neil Kinnock). These were campaigns that were part of concerted attempts to turn the Labour Party into a genuinely socialist party, just at the moment when neoliberalism was gaining its pervasive, octopoid grip on British politics. Though I was collaborating with Tony Benn on issues of industrial democracy at the time, I did not support his leadership campaigns. I believed – and continue to believe – too strongly that there were deep structural limits to the possibility of turning the Labour Party into a truly socialist body.

Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign is taking place in a context where a thoroughgoing neoliberal politics has taken over the UK state – and much of the Labour Party apparatus with it – and hollowed them out of all live forms of democracy. Moreover, through destroying the welfare state and any legitimacy for a progressive tax system, neoliberal economics has destroyed all material bases of a public good or even moderately just national economy.

The economic and political conditions for social democracy no longer exist. The prevarications of both Ed Miliband and [contender] Andy Burnham are indications of this. Their goals are social democratic but the world of a mixed economy, where the profits of a productive capitalist sector could be taxed and redistributed to provide universal welfare, social security and a public infrastructure for the benefit of all, no longer exists. It has been replaced by a financialised global capitalism, where financial flows shape politics rather than politics intervening in a productive economy tied to territory and geographic markets. In the face of such global monsters that have already weakened the organisations of labour, social democracy as we have known it is visibly too weak to be an effective champion of social justice.

Reflecting on the fate of once powerful and popular social-democratic parties, from the Greek PASOK, through the Italian Communist Party to the German SPD, the French Socialists and British Labour, it is clear that social democracy depended on the normalisation of a Keynesian macro-economy – productive capital, the aspiration of full employment, decent wages and social security (hence a strong market for the goods produced), taxable profits and a nationally regulated currency and trade.

Many of us from the generations born and socialised in the years before neoliberalism became hegemonic have tended almost unconsciously to treat some version of Keynesianism as the orthodoxy and the norm. Our arguments against neoliberal austerity measures are often that "It doesn’t make economic sense", meaning that they cut demand and destroy markets, leading to a vicious circle of unemployment, lower demand, the closing down of production and a lower tax base, leading to a weaker welfare state.

All true in Keynesian terms. But the Keynesian consensus is no more. It has been killed, not simply replaced, by neoliberalism and capital’s shift from production to finance, from making profits out of producing things to making money out of money. Indeed neoliberals sought political power, with the backing of financial interests, exactly because Keynesianism was leading to the erosion of profits. That is, Keynesian economics favoured the growth of a strong labour movement with its bargaining power massively strengthened by full employment and social security. This, in neoliberal and corporate eyes, was unacceptable and had to be destroyed.

Campaigning for Corbyn

So what does all this have to do with Labour Party leadership elections and campaigning for Jeremy Corbyn?

In the past, social democracy’s symbiotic relation with Keynesian macroeconomics worldwide provided the context shaping internal debate in the Labour Party and other social democratic parties. For social democracy went with the grain of the Keynesian mixed economy. Internal debates were about how far social democratic governments should push the mix towards a greater or lesser state component. Neither option posed a problem for existing parliamentary institutions or the moderating division of responsibilities between the unions (industrial matters minus politics) and the Labour Party (politics minus any active alliance with the unions).

This context began to change as the post-war economy hit problems – the 1973 oil price rise; a combination of inflation with recession; an intensification of global competition; the rise of financial speculation and financial instability. This had direct consequences for working-class communities – factory closures, cuts and so on. And this in turn unleashed a radical extra-parliamentary politics, in the unions as well as coming from the radical social movements that had been incubating in the cities, especially since 1968 – the women’s liberation, student, housing and community movements. All with an increasingly transnational orientation – observing, as they did, the increasing power of global capital.

This created the politics that both Tony Benn and, in a different way, Ken Livingstone tried, against ruling class outrage, to put into practice. This involved "the labour movement" becoming less a cautiously constrained alliance between trade union leaders and a professional caste of parliamentarians and more a matter of radical, activist politicians strengthening their assault on capital with support from highly politicised workplace leaders. These were often closely allied, through trades councils, cultural and research collectives and the like, with social movements of a socialist bent (socialist feminism, left gay politics, radical tenant and community groups).

This in turn, along with the generalised increase in the power of labour, provoked a rabid response from economic elites, who had long been champing at the bit of the Keynesian consensus. This became the basis of the neoliberal class war on labour led by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

We still have much thinking to do about the ramificatons of the left’s defeat in that class war. One implication, becoming clear in the Euro-elite’s treatment of Greece and [British Conservative PM] David Cameron’s continued austerity and privatising measures, is that there is definitively no return to the compromises of the Keynesian consensus. Victories – for example, against water privatisation or for protective legislation – can be won here and there but only through strong extra-paliamentary movements gaining support from sympathetic politicians.

The levers of national governmental power have either become useless in the face of global financial flows (for example, to tax corporations or combat tax avoidance) or, in the case of the EU, international treaties block state intervention in the market or use debt to prevent radical governments from using the powers they could have (as with Greece). Across the world, a new kind of politics of resistance to this is developing that seeks to mobilise all possible sources of counter-power. In particular, it doesn’t limit itself to gaining the power of being an elected government – it is simply not sufficient. It seeks rather to disrupt the day-to-day oppressions and injustices on which the neoliberal order depends and to create new transformative relationships of mutuality and democracy out of resistance.

Beyond, not against, the ballot

It is important, at this point, not to counterpose this grassroots transformative power to the distinct and, on its own, limited power of electoral politics. "Beyond the ballot box" does not equal "against the ballot box". While it has become clear in the past three or four decades that electoral politics is a blunt instrument for radical change against the global strength of the corporate market, it is equally clear that the full realisation of people’s transformative capacities will be enhanced if those organising and sharing these capacities gain support from state bodies, local and national, through legislation, redistribution and measures.

I need not say more on this, for this much is obvious to Red Pepper readers. What I would stress is the need to abandon purisms and single perspective politics – whether pure anarchism, pure parliamentarism, pure syndicalism or any one-track approach – and instead to urge a hybrid and experimental politics where collaboration is the guiding method. And where this collaboration is organised not through a single unifying centre but through networks of co-ordination, giving a priority to inter-communication and inter-connection as a means of developing shared values and a common sense of direction.

What is needed, then, is a different kind of political organisation from that which represented working people in the Keynesian age: one that is less about campaigning for government, more about developing and interconnecting people’s transformative capacities on a transnational scale – interconnecting from the local to the global – to challenge the monster that is global capitalism. But the notion of hybridity and the goal of a movement mobilising many different sources and levels of power can also recognise and value the organisations created historically and still of value but within a different framework.

Here I would argue that while the Labour Party nationally cannot be "reclaimed", local Labour parties have often been built out of local struggles. They cannot be discarded, nor corralled into a homogenous vanguard party. They can, however, be – and indeed in many localities are already becoming – part of alliances against austerity and for democratic alternatives.

These could be part of a new politics that is less about demands on government, more about grassroots transformation, and reflecting and generalising from exemplary cases – a politics that starts from a recognition that our only resource is people’s creative capacities and their willingness to realise these capacities for the benefit of all. Hence a movement as much about popular education and self-education as about winning elections; that is less about faction fights and more about welcoming diversity and creating space for reflection and debate, treating practice as experimental action from which to learn; an organisation, then, that is less of a central hierarchy and vanguard, more a platform connecting and supporting and interconnecting struggles.

A good kind of leader

Jeremy Corbyn is a good kind of leader, one among many, for this kind of plural and non-hierarchal organisation. He always makes himself available for the struggles of others and never over-estimates his own power. "I always try to encourage people in what they are trying to achieve", he says. "MPs can’t do everything themselves – we’re not gods – but if an MP says 'I will support you', that is probably a help to the campaign."

He is willing to say "I don’t know" and always "respects other people’s knowledge, whether they are academics or not". He welcomes diversity: "Surely we need to have a diversity of opinion around us? It’s good for us, is it not?" And he ventures into areas where the left doesn’t normally go, such as religion: "I find religion very interesting. I find the power of faith interesting. I think the faith community offers a great deal for people. There doesn’t have to be wars about religion; there has to be honesty about religion."

He supports an impressive range of struggles but he weaves a web of networks so they connect with each other, rather than going through him. At present, he can see that something new is going on, transcending traditional political allegiances. "At a local level", he says, "people who are supporters of Labour and the Green Party actually work together on a lot of issues – probably with a few Liberal Democrats as well as others. There is going to be a change in politics in the future – look, for instance, at the growth of organisations like UK Uncut. Essentially it is a moral force."

By supporting Jeremy Corbyn, we are not seeking to escape the problems that beset the left in the UK – disunity, sectarianism, parochialism, defeats by a supremely confident ruling class – through placing our faith in a charismatic leader. Contrast the dynamic that tended to lie behind rallying to Arthur Scargill, George Galloway and even, at times, Tony Benn. We are supporting someone who has no desire to be the leader but is willing to offer his energies and legitimacy as an MP as a resource for a movement that can self-consciously create a truly transformative politics, inside and outside the Labour Party and based on principles of self‑governing democracy.

In his spirit of modesty, it’s an opportunity to get out of a political trap into a space for debate and new radical thinking. Let’s grasp it!

In Britain,if you’re not a Labour Party member you can still sign as a ''registered supporter" to vote for Jeremy for £3 – visit supporters.labour.org.uk or text LABOUR to 78555 before 12 noon on  August 12, 2015.

[Hilary Wainwright is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective and a fellow of the Transnational Institute.]

Project Fear versus Corbyn

By Richard Seymour

July 26, 2015 -- Lenin's Tomb, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- They can stop the pretence now, I think. For a long time, we've heard that Liz Kendall is the Labour leadership candidate that Conservatives most fear. The right-wing media and the Tories always claim to be scared of Labour choosing the most right-wing, Tory candidate -- the one the Conservatives and right-wing media fawn over and praise and grovel to -- as their leader.  It's part of a deep ideological strategy since, if it is repeated often enough, its premise -- that the electorate is fundamentally right wing and all political questions must be solved in a right-wing way -- will be taken for granted.

That claim won't stand now. Having patronising Corbyn, then laughing at him, they now offer a stream of constant panic and hate. Every day there is a new twist on the same basic theme. Corbyn's backers repent to their media inquisitors: they didn't actually mean him to stand a chance.

Labour right-wingers threaten to split if Corbyn wins. Labour MPs plot constitutional coup if Corbyn wins. Back to the SDP if Corbyn wins (please let that be true). Back to the 1970s if Corbyn wins. Back to the USSR if Corbyn wins. Sputnik triumphs again if Corbyn wins.   Commies plotting to steal the Labour Party, Harman urged to cancel the election.

And it isn't just the reactionary press: this is wall to wall, from populist right to centre-left. The liberal pundits, from Jonathan Freedland to Helen Lewis to Suzanne Moore to Anne Perkins, all offer much the same kind of vicious condescension: Corbyn supporters are either simple-minded, tribal thugs from the paleolithic era, or hysterics who think with their emotions and hormones, or sun-stroked hippies who think of little but rainbows and fluffy wuffy clouds.  

Even this relatively friendly piece can't restrain itself: "They don’t understand the nuanced messages and triangulations of the other candidates ... furrowing her brow to show incomprehension...". And so on.

So, let's be clear. The candidate the Conservatives are most frightened of is Jeremy Corbyn.

They know this isn't 1981, and they know that he isn't an erratic egomaniac. They know that in an unstable ideological climate in which the dominant parties have an increasingly shaky relationship with their traditional base, unexpected things can happen. It is precisely the opposite of what Tony Blair claimed: there is no guarantee of any "traditional result". They have no idea what the result would be if Corbyn actually won; because they had no idea that Corbyn even stood a chance.

And, remarkably, he does stand a chance. The Yougov poll putting him some 20 percentage points ahead of his nearest rival, Andy Burnham, and giving him a six points lead with second preferences, may be wrong, but it can't be that wrong. Even taking into account that the number of those who hadn't made up their mind yet was a fifth of respondents, he's certainly far from being as totally out of the running as I would have expected.  So, yes he can.

This is not say that he will: the right-wing of the Labour party is resourceful and well connected. The spew of Project Fear articles against Corbyn in the press -- including the liberal media -- denouncing Corbyn in the most infantile terms possible, could very well be effective. But let's hope they aren't. Let's hope that Labour Party members break out of that cycle of internalised defeat and hopelessness. Let's hope they're angry enough at being used, abused, mistreated and condescended to by the pundits, and above all by the scumbag Blair, that Project Fear backfires this time.

So, Corbyn could win. This does not mean that I am going to pay my £3 and join up as a "supporter" in order to vote for Corbyn. There's quite a lot of bandwagon-hopping at the moment -- it was the same with the Greens last year -- and joining the Labour Party just to have a vote and then leaving is pointless. Why vote for Corbyn if you're not going to hang around and try to support him and try to reconstitute the Labour Party? He'll be weak enough against the established power of the old right-wing bureaucracy, without a big chunk of his base fucking off the day after the polls close. Corbyn will not win by pulling in outside forces who have no interested in the Labour Party's long-term future, and no identification with it; he will win by shaking up the Labour Party, and drawing in new members who are just becoming politicised.

More importantly, I'm not convinced that even Corbyn, even with the luxury of an activist base consciously working to shake up the Labour Party from the grassroots up -- the "social movement" that Corbyn seeks to create -- can stop the rot known as "Pasokification".  I think Corbyn winning would open up serious opportunities for the left. It would put the austerians on the defensive. It would give confidence to trade unionists, National Health Service workers, campaigners against welfare cuts, anti-racists and every group that Labour presently shows utter contempt toward.

However, while the Labour right is ideologically weak, it is not politically weak. Its popular base is much narrower than it used to be, but its congealed institutional power is considerable, while the left is almost trying to rebuild a social base from scratch and hasn't had a dominant position in any part of the Labour Party for about 30 years.

The LabourParty's structural relationships with the state, with business and with the media, enhance the power of the right considerably. Corbyn, as leader, would be a sitting duck for right-wing attacks, and he would be under constant pressure to abandon left-wing positions. He would feel a responsibility to present a united opposition to the Tories, prevent his shadow cabinet from falling apart, limit the pressure from the civil service, the media, and inevitably the spooks.

He would be forced to compromise, continuously on what is currently a moderate left agenda. His leadership would be incredibly vulnerable. In short, the state of the Labour Party is not something that can be changed in one leadership race, as it is the accumulated result of decades of class struggles and their outcomes.

However, that tactical point doesn't change the overall situation, and it doesn't mean we don't have a responsibility to support Corbyn's bid, and undermine Project Fear, in whatever ways we can. It's not just the Labour left that is weak. It is the left as a whole.

Yes, Corbyn would be relatively isolated at the top, and top-heavy successes are extremely vulnerable. Yes, he will be trying to shift the balance of forces in favour of the left, in a situation in which our forces are incredibly depleted. But it is a structural aspect of today's situation that in the growing vacuum created by the breakdown of the old party-base relationship, individuals and groups can suddenly project influence well beyond their actual social basis, if what they say finds an ideological resonance in lived experience.

We don't get to change that just be force of will. So we have to work with the grain of our few advantages. Corbyn has made a breakthrough, and that presents opportunities that it would be stupid and irresponsible to opt out of.

Why Stop the War supports Jeremy Corbyn's campaign to be Labour leader

By Lindsay Germain

June 15, 2015 -- Stop the War (UK) -- Left Labour Party MP Jeremy Corbyn, who has been nominated to stand in the Labour leadership campaign, is also the chair of the Stop the War Coalition.

He has been a supporter since we began back in 2001, has spoken on virtually all of our demonstrations big and small, and has been a consistent anti-war voice in parliament.

He was part of the major Labour Party rebellion against the Iraq war in 2003, and was opposed to the intervention in Syria in 2013.

All of this is great news for Stop the War supporters who can now back him as a principled anti-war and anti-austerity candidate in a contest which was set, until the last minute, to be between three candidates who all espoused a similar message – none of it anti-war.

As well as central role in Stop the War, Jeremy is also involved in a wide range of other campaigns for peace and social justice, such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, of which he is vice-chair, and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

But Jeremy’s candidacy takes on a much wider significance, because it can be part of rebuilding a left committed to social movements which can provide the antidote to a government committed to pro-war policies and to cutting welfare, including the benefits of some of the poorest in society.

A mass campaign in support of Jeremy should involve meetings in every town and city which echo the policies which he has always followed: peace and justice for all, an end to widening inequality, and opposition to cuts in welfare, rather than warfare.

Such a campaign would galvanise large numbers of people who have previously been involved in anti-war and other campaigns, as well as many young people who have protested against austerity in recent weeks.

The Corbyn candidacy can have the effect of unifying many of the campaigns, and of inserting a clear left voice into the debate about how best to oppose government policies on these questions.

There is a new movement growing against austerity, determined to oppose the new government’s policies. Stop the War is part of the People's Assembly, which called the huge march against austerity on June 20 that brought 250,000 protesters on to London's streets.

We can all help to build Jeremy's campaign, to make sure that a strong alternative voice to war and austerity gets the hearing it deserves. His candidacy for the Labour leadership can only make the movements for peace and social justice stronger.

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