Corbyn’s left politics sweep British Labour election

Jeremy Corbyn is poised to take the leadership of the British Labour Party, with thousands turning out to hear the veteran “hard left” MP speak at meetings up and down the country.

Corbyn summarises the surge in interest in him as, “A wider global surge from the left that has seen momentum grow for the socialist Vermont senator Bernie Sanders’s US presidential bid, Syriza’s success in Greece and the rapid growth in support for Podemos in Spain”. And he’s right.

This is the latest expression of the desire for an alternative to the political mainstream across the Western world. People are flocking to Corbyn’s meetings because his views, like rail re-nationalisation, rent controls and taxing the rich, are widely popular. This represents a desire for a break with the pro-austerity consensus that has dominated British politics.

His campaign cuts against Labour’s rightward trajectory over recent decades. Tony Blair Blair’s “New Labor”, which carried Labor to power in 1997, weakened links with unions, embraced privatisation and vicious attacks on welfare and championed imperialist slaughter abroad. This saw working class voters turn away in disgust. By 2010 “New Labour” had chased away five million votes and membership had crashed from 405,000 to 180,000. In many ways this parallels the disastrous path taken by Australian Labor.

The fact Corbyn doesn’t just talk Left is helping him successfully channel this discontent. He’s been on protests and picket lines for more than 40 years. This sets him apart from the three other template candidates.

Rage of the Right

The uncomprehending rage of the Labour right, as it sinks in that Corbyn may well win the leadership, is a delight to behold.

The Labor Party machine and the media have responded with vitriolic attacks in an effort to crush him. War criminal and former PM Tony Blair told anyone whose heart told them to go with Corbyn to “get a transplant”.

For the first time, the leadership election is being decided by a vote of all party members and members of affiliated unions. Registered supporters can sign up to vote for just £3.

The new voting system was brought in to undercut the ability of trade unions to influence the outcome, after they tipped the balance to elect Ed Miliband as the last leader.

But now the right are denouncing it as it looks like allowing Corybn to win. There has been a frenzy about the danger of “entryists” who voted for other parties in the past. So the party has moved to exclude thousands of people who have recently joined from voting.

Illusions in Labour

But for all the hope Corbyn offers, Labor can’t be reclaimed as an institution. It has two great oligarchic centres of power—the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and the trade union bureaucracy.

Corbyn will face an overwhelmingly hostile PLP. The Socialist Campaign Group to which he belongs has just nine of Labor’s 232 MPs. As he gets closer to winning his opponents, including fellow leadership candidate Andy Burnham, have begun indicating they would agree to sit in his shadow cabinet—with the aim of undermining his left-wing policies.

Surprisingly, most trade union leaders are backing him. This reflects their impatience with the refusal of the parliamentary Labour leadership to fight for working people.

It’s absolutely right that the unions should back Corbyn. But the trade union leaders are unreliable allies.
They have repeatedly squandered opportunities to resist, allowing the Tories to run rampant destroying social welfare and jobs. Their instincts are always to compromise with the system rather than consistently fight it.

Labor’s project is based on compromise with capitalism and parliament, so even a Left leader faces enormous pressure.

The state structures of the police, army, and the legal system are wholly insulated from democracy. They exist to thwart change, not enable it.

The mainstream media, so central to limiting public debate under capitalism, would be on the alert to seize on any slip up from Corbyn.

So if Corbyn does win, he will have powerful grassroots support but also powerful restraint. The most likely outcome is that he tones down his policies in order to maintain “party unity”.

However, the landslide to the Scottish National Party at the general election shows the way Corbyn’s challenge to the Labour establishment could boost the fight against the Tories.

The SNP channelled anger and disillusionment with Labour off the referendum on Scottish Independence. The spirit of mass defiance has created opportunities for a stronger grassroots fight against the austerity and racism.

Given Labour’s limitations, there is a danger that the rebellion giving Corbyn oxygen could turn to disillusionment if it is limited to a fight to reclaim the party.

But the enthusiasm around Corbyn could bounce into a stronger fight in the streets and workplaces if the Left outside Labour provides a strong lead.

By Tom Orsag


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