Thursday, 2 July 2015

Vote Corbyn?

If this were five years ago, I would basically be agreeing with the Labour left about Jeremy Corbyn. The party has some good people; they have got the infrastructure; and the public largely identifies the party with social justice. Plus, the Left that exists outside of Labour shows few signs of life, so why not start a fight within the Labour Party?

What's changed? We now live at a time when the breaking of the Left's subalternity or, in other cases, the end of its subordination to social democracy becomes imaginable. Or rather there is the possibility of imagining such a break if, collectively, the left puts its heads together. 

In cases where a regime crisis combines with a social crisis; where a crisis of confidence in the traditional parties and commitment to strong social movements appear together - that is, as two sides of the same coin - we have seen the Left rise to historic prominence (in both Greece and in Spain). This has not happened in the form of a revival of social democracy, but in the form of a national-specific left-populism. In Greece this is informed by the Left's historical association with opposition to invasion and colonisation and the readiness of a new party of the radical Left (Syriza) to oppose the social crisis in the name of the people. In Spain this has happened through a very modern, media-savvy organisation of the social movements under a populist banner (Podemos). 

In both cases, political groups have seized the social and popular initiative and opened a new kind of possibility for European politics, uniting popular-national struggles with social ones.

To be unashamedly idealistic about it, I believe the Left in Britain could - possibly - challenge social democracy by uniting a left-populism against the corruption of the state parties with the social movements' defence of social justice. The fight against corruption and decay in the state unites with the fight for social equality and the welfare state.

This would of course require unity from everyone to the Left of Labour and close contact with the sources of social unrest (namely, the widespread if diffuse anti-austerity movement). What makes such a strategy feasible is the historic electoral weakness of both the two main parties (now unable to score over 40% at elections respectively) and the slow fragmentation of the British state. In Greece, at the time of the crisis, social democracy was still highly politically successful, securing over 45% of the popular vote. Now it polls under 5%. The traditional parties were extremely strong. Not so in the UK today. 

Of course, you can argue that Greece and Spain are "special cases." Indeed, but what national situation isn't? However, some elements of their national situations are far from special. The rot of social democracy is by no means unique to any one European country. It is everywhere, and nowhere more advanced than in the country most committed to Third Wayism, Britain. The fragmentation of national power, the erosion of postwar welfare, and the dire conditions of society are not special to Greece or Spain either. 

The crisis of confidence in the regime of the British state, its geographical and constitutional borders, its worn-out, rusty modes of political representation, its decimated means of commanding social cohesion, its hysterical and elitist media are all powerful symptoms: if not quite "morbid" symptoms then certainly "sclerotic" ones.

The momentum for challenge cannot come from within the Labour, which still operates with a vicious "state" and "party logic" to neutralise its challengers in its quest for power. 


I propose two slogans for the Left: Socially, we should argue, "Not one sacrifice for the debt" and politically, "Defend democracy from state corruption!" These, I think, could get us further than support for Labour leftism ever could. They will, however, require a psychological break with the present form of the British state and its hollowed out parties.  

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