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I just want to make three points about Jeremy Corbyn and his re-election. I want to argue the following: (1) Ultimately, we should analyse Corbyn’s role in terms of its significance as part of a growing counter-hegemonic war of manoeuvre against capital – a role that has ensured nothing less, in my view, than the ideological death of neo-liberalism; (2) I am deeply sadden by those espousing socialist views and values who express feelings of cynicism and fear towards Corbyn. I will suggest that we should be able to empathise with such feelings, but will argue that they are misplaced and self-defeating; (3) I will emphasize that we must always remember that we are committed to struggling not for Corbyn, but for socialism. Therefore, our commitment to Corbyn should remain steadfast for as long as he and his team prove principled and, yes, competent leaders. But, based on its achievements so far, I’m convinced that Corbyn’s Labour can win an election.
(1) The Corbyn movement’s historical achievement – the death of neo-liberalism
The first thing to say is that surely we are blind if we cannot see what remarkable things have been achieved since Jeremy Corbyn’s initial election. We must not forget that, prior to the summer of 2015, people like Jeremy Corbyn were not just on the political margins; they were beyond the pale! For over three decades, social democrats like Corbyn, let alone socialists, were hardly ever allowed on the TV or radio. For example, after the riots of 2011, the BBC readily gave a platform for the overt racism of people like historian David Starkey and the tough repression of conservatives, but barely allowed social critiques grounded in class and racial analysis. Consequently, socialist ideas were easily ridiculed and their proponents demonised. Everything changed once a group of Labour MPs voted to include Jeremy Corbyn on the Party’s leadership election list – a move most of them only made to give the election a veneer of ideological breadth. The move backfired most spectacularly when Corbyn won the largest leadership victory in UK history, voted in by hundreds of thousands of new members and cheered on by huge crowds nationwide.
But, what explains this remarkable victory? It cannot be understood without recognising the depth of the economic crisis that capital and we are still mired in; the depth of the contempt with which vast swathes of British people hold its morally bankrupt political class; and the corresponding depth of the ongoing ideological crisis whose expression is taking its most concentrated form within the Labour Party. As articulation of ideological crisis, Corbyn’s victory expressed a negative feeling and move – the rejection of neo-liberalism and its proponents. Yet, it also expressed the rebirth of socialist, truly democratic, politics, hopes, and imaginaries in Britain. In short, Corbyn’s victory heralded both the ideological death of neo-liberalism and rebirth of socialism as a legitimate and viable ideology and potential organising function of society.
By ideological death, I refer to an ideology’s ability to perform its central function of legitimating the social order or, to put it in Gramscian terms, securing hegemony. Neo-liberalism cannot do this any longer, i.e. it can no longer secure widespread consent for the status quo. Here are two major pieces of evidence to support this claim. First, while Corbyn’s internal Labour opponents have tried to attack him wherever and whenever possible, their attacks have focused far less on policy and overwhelmingly on personal and strategic grounds. Indeed, Corbyn’s adversary in the recent second leadership election, Owen Smith, conceded pretty much all policy ground to Corbyn, choosing instead to reinvent himself as a radical, critiquing only Corbyn’s leadership and ability to win power. A second piece of evidence comes from Teresa May’s inaugural speech as Prime Minister. If neo-liberalism were still a functioning ideology, May’s speech would have been founded on the usual sanctification of the market, the insistence on its socially just and moral mechanisms, and a call for working people to work harder in order to succeed. Instead, in stunning fashion, May delivered a speech so focused on social injustice that, had Corbyn made it, he would have been savaged as a dangerous socialist. May argued that black people faced discrimination, that women faced discrimination, and that even people working as hard as they possibly can are failing to make ends meet due to low wages and high rents. And, all along, the media rallied around May and even supported ‘Citizen’ Smith in his failed attempt to dethrone Corbyn.
So, if you believe that: the NHS should be properly funded; that rich people and companies should pay tax; that we need to move to a renewable energy-powered society asap; that we need to build loads of social housing and to impose rent controls; that students should not be crippled by debt; that transport and energy should be renationalised and run by and for the people; that people should have far more power in their local communities and municipalities; that the UK state should not spend £200billion on nuclear weapons and prosecute murderous foreign wars; that people should be paid a living wage for their labour; and that workers should have more ownership and control of businesses, then you owe a debt of gratitude to Jeremy Corbyn and the movement that brought him to power. Before any criticism begins, we must all recognise that this list of, frankly, self-evident ideas and policies are once again on our TVs and radios, in our newspapers, in our community and family discussions – in short, back within ideological reality and political possibility – thanks to the Corbyn movement.
The previously impossible and unspeakable has become possible again. I mean, just pause and think for a minute! Jeremy Corbyn! Jeremy Corbyn!…is leader of the Labour Party! WTF! That, for people over a certain age, in itself feels like the world turned upside-down!…
(2) Understanding and transcending fear and cynicism
And so, yes, although the ideological power of the media, think tanks, and education system remains intimidating, there is no longer a stable hegemonic situation. The system cannot be reproduced through active consent and even passive consent is dissipating. Hence, the rise of violence – both physical and, above all, symbolic and semiotic violence – is used in an increasingly desperate attempt to maintain order. In layman’s terms, we’re seeing increasingly violent words and images to attack all identified enemies of the state, the nation, freedom, prosperity, etc.
Faced with the capitalist system’s inability to reproduce itself without increasingly desperate and intensifying monetary interventions, mercenary parasitism, and ecocidal assaults, what is our response? We respond with hope and we respond with fear. Many key recent elections reflect this schism. What saddens me most, but does not surprise me, is that many people who espouse socialist values and views are condemning Corbyn, insisting on his unelectability, and even arguing that his election has destroyed any hope for left-wing politics in the UK. Not only do such views betray a fundamental misunderstanding of the political situation, more significantly, they express a cynical worldview, a subjectivity driven not primarily by love and hope, but by fear. What I would suggest is that this is entirely understandable after more than three decades of T.I.N.A. and the purposive and relentless attacks on our belief in ourselves and each other. We should have empathy with those expressing this cynicism; it resides to some degree in all of us. It expresses both a social and a personal fear – that our dreams are futile, that we are pathetic and powerless. It also expresses a deep conservatism driven by insecurity – if I take a leap of faith and try to change the world and fail, I’ll look naïve and foolish and there may be repercussions, but if I simply denigrate anyone trying to change the world I can appear as a clever ‘realist’ from a safe distance. But, ultimately, living in fear is paralysing, and hope, as Paolo Freire pointed out, is an ontological and spiritual necessity for every human being. Humans are not really beings; they are becomings. Ultimately, a leap of faith needs to be taken – in each other and in oneself.
Gramsci’s famous prescription is to have ‘pessimism of the intellect’ but ‘optimism of the will’. Far too often, I see not even pessimism; I see cynicism, which is a pessimism of both intellect and will. We have to work on ending this together. But, neither is a blind optimism of use either…
(3) Offering active and critical support to Corbyn
While we can readily dismiss criticisms coming from Corbyn’s political and ideological sworn enemies from outside and within his Party, we should not close our ears to potentially sympathetic Labour MPs and others who claim to have experienced Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership as incompetent. There are sufficient mitigating factors until now to give him and his team the benefit of the doubt, but there are frustrations among his supporters concerning the audibility and clarity of his strategic message.
A year ago, I wrote an article comparing JC to Obi Wan Kenobi. I suggested that, ultimately, Corbyn’s fate may be similar to Obi Wan’s – he may initiate a counter-hegemonic movement and nurture that movement and new leaders, but he may be destined to give way to new, fresher leadership. The crucial point is that the goals are democracy and justice, not the election of Corbyn’s Labour per se. Consequently, I would suggest that those who want to promote the democratic and socialist cause, whether Labour members or not (I’m not), should offer critical (not cynical!) support to Corbyn and his team, while contributing to: growing the democratic movement, ensuring Corbyn’s team are competent in their communication and strategy, and pressuring them to be even more radical in their proposed policies for transforming our country.
Conclusion: he’s electable, our values and dreams are achievable
Jeremy Corbyn has faced and faced down the combined threat of the oligarchic media and biased BBC and the attacks and coups of the neo-liberal Labour factions. He has emerged with a larger mandate than before. Personally, I now want to see Corbyn not seeking compromise with those factions, but using his strong mandate to push for radical internal democratisation and to articulate a clear strategic and policy agenda beyond. The polls are rigged, as is the electoral system. He faces huge structural challenges and should quickly embrace a strategic cross-party anti-austerity pact with the SNP, Plaid Cymru, and the Greens, as recently proposed by Caroline Lucas. I’m not worried at all by the polls. When the election is called, because of his historic breakthrough, Corbyn’s Labour will have plenty of time and space to clearly articulate their manifesto.
Our future will be constructed fundamentally on either fear or hope. Corbyn categorically embodies and expresses hope. We have to overcome our fear and support him hopefully and, of course, critically. So, I say to anyone who wants to see a better world, that world needs you to build it, so get out there – talking, learning, working with others, building communities, movements, and parties – and let’s get behind JC so long as we deem, critically not cynically, that he’s the right guy to lead.
Thanks for reading!