Corbyn‘s cause could boost Europe‘s left
Thursday 20th August 2015
NATHANAEL UHL offers a French perspective on the Labour leftwinger’s rapid rise and what it means for progressives on the continent
WHATEVER the result of Labour’s leadership election is, Jeremy Corbyn has already won. The whole European left might be affected by the result of the election. What Corbyn is achieving is the last shovel of earth over Blairism’s dead body — at least, that is the view from France.
It is very rare from a French perspective to admit we might learn something from the other side of the Channel. We had a revolution and created human rights when you, our cousins, had only Magna Carta — even though you beheaded your king one century earlier than we did.
So why would we pay attention to what happens in Britain? Because Marx wrote to do so? We at political website Grey Britain are part of the few who monitor the effect of British politics on global ideological change, whether it comes from the right or further right. We remember Margaret Thatcher’s smiling response, “New Labour,” when she was asked about her greatest victory.
The Blairite agenda still stimulates most of the reformist left parties in Europe, from Greek Pasok in opposition to French Socialist Party in power. These political organisations have all surrendered to Thatcherite capitalist ideology. They were helped that way by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the words of political scientist Francis Fukuyama — an adviser to president George Bush snr — who said: “Communism has lost, capitalism has won, history is over.”
As modern as it pretended to be, the Blairite agenda was more than a resignation. It silenced any form of opposition to an all-financial capitalism. This is how we can also explain what happened to Greece this summer, when most of the leftish parties in Europe left Alexis Tsipras and Syriza alone with Merkel, the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund. Apart from minority groups, no important parties came to help the Greek people except the Scottish National Party which, led by Nicola Sturgeon, called for debt cancellation.
We were very surprised by the vivacity of Britain’s left just a few hours after David Cameron’s general election victory in May. Soon thousands of people filled the streets to say no to cuts and austerity, even if no-one could have the slightest idea of what was to come. Obviously the Conservatives left hidden most of what they would do once in power. On June 20, 250,000 people rallied in London with simultaneous rallies in Manchester and Glasgow.
We don’t think, here in France, that the left lost the election because of the credibility of its economics. In Scotland, the SNP stormed the constituencies with an anti-austerity agenda. Labour lost because it was unable to defy the cultural battle led by the neo-Thatcherites. Most Labour candidates ran with a manifesto that wasn’t clear about how they would end austerity and, most of all, that wasn’t clear about Labour’s will to end austerity. This explains how the Tories could win when most British people didn’t vote for them, and how Labour was unable to convince the five million voters who abandoned it.
Then Corbyn threw his hat in the ring, to open the necessary debate on Labour’s policies. The MP for Islington North led a mobile warfare, in the spirit of Marxist theorist Gramsci. He was the very first to credibly stand against the “there is no alternative” motto, because of his 500 times defying the Labour Party whip. Getting back to the party’s roots, he and his team rebuilt a modern agenda for the British left.
When we talk about mobile warfare, it’s because Blairite resignation to capitalism is paralysis for the entire left when so many people come to suffer from rising inequality in Britain. Paralysis is a strong word, but what other term could we use when we faced Harriet Harman’s resigned acceptance of welfare cuts? The whole shadow cabinet followed her in abstaining on what is described by everyone as the harshest assault on the welfare state — the most important conquest of the working class since the creation of trade unions. And Jeremy Corbyn faced, once again, the whip, with almost 50 other Labour MPs.
This was a turning point in the leadership contest, as the socialist MP was the only one amid the four candidates to speak loud and clear about austerity and the necessity of ending it.
The leadership ballot papers are out, but the battle still rages on. The veteran leftwinger runs the most active campaign, bringing fresh air into the party and playing a major role in increasing the number of members from 195,000 on May 7 to 299,000 now plus almost 200,000 affiliated union members back in the labour organisations.
Each attack Corbyn faced was answered by new proposals, and it is this that we need to call mobile warfare. Senior Blairites accused him of being unelectable, and Corbyn replied by setting up a programme for small business and independent entrepreneurs. The three other challengers united in an “anyone but Corbyn” front and he responded by going to Scotland, where Labour endured its worst defeat in decades to promote a programme for the whole nation.
His anti-austerity Keynes-inspired socialism runs far ahead in polls, as long as we can trust them, but also in social media. Most of all, it’s this alternative programme that gathers hundreds and thousands of people in rallies, everywhere the bearded one goes.
This is a major development for the European left, as Corbyn is not alone there. The only left that wins elections nowadays is the left that takes up opposition to austerity and promotes alternative ways to regain growth for the common good. Look at what happened in Greece before Tsipras got trapped by the European Commission. Look at what is growing in Spain around Podemos.
Philippe Marliere, in his book The Radical Left in Europe: An Outline, explains why Corbyn’s victory would do so much good to all progressive camps, as Britain has still a major role to play [in] Europe’s left renewal.
Nathanael Uhl co-runs the website www.grey-britain.net.