Jeremy Corbyn's leadership campaign gives us all an opportunity to profile socialist ideas and rebuild popular left organisation on the ground argues Chris Nineham
Getting Jeremy Corbyn onto the Labour leadership ballot was a breakthrough which opens up a big opportunity for the left in Britain.
We now have the prospect of a summer of debate in which the case against austerity will be put eloquently and with a passion not seen in Labour politics for years. And all in front of a national audience. What's more, Jeremy will bring to the debate the ideas and the approaches of the mass movements of which he is an integral part.
An ambitious, high profile campaign for Jeremy which draws on the movements against austerity, war and racism, can project radical ideas to a huge audience and build the forces of the left in every area. In this situation too, if Corbyn sustains the initial momentum, his campaign can create a crisis for the Labour machine and even the wider establishment.
And how badly this voice is needed in the election. With various degrees of enthusiasm all the other candidates are signed up to the stifling pro-market consensus. They accept austerity as a given, buy into right wing immigration myths and wouldn't dream of questioning the special relationship with the US when it comes to foreign policy. It was failing to break out of this paradigm that lost Ed Miliband any hope of winning the general election.
It is instructive how Jeremy got on the ticket. Some colleagues on the left fought hard for him but it wasn't mainly a leftward shift in the Parliamentary Labour Party that swung it. A few centrist MPs came on board at the last moment but this was a result of grassroots pressure from within and without the party (look at the Facebook pages, Liz Kendall has 45 likes, Jeremy Corbyn has over 20,000!).
The Blairites around Liz Kendall are deeply hostile. Their plan was to use Kendall's candidacy to force the whole debate to the right. They are now on the back foot, and in a foul mood. Dan Hodges’ Telegraph diatribe is only the beginning of the backlash.
Ironically, recent changes to the voting procedure designed to minimise union power also limit the influence of the Parliamentary Labour Party and open up the possibility of non-member Labour supporters joining the ballot.
Searching for something new
The recent general election and the massive enthusiasm for the Saturday's demonstration shows that now there are hundreds of thousands of people who are alienated and angered by established politics and looking for something new and radical. Millions more hoped against hope that Ed Miliband would confront the Tories effectively enough to make Labour electable.
Jeremy's leadership campaign is already starting to restore some hope and provide a focus for the widespread discontent.
But there is another background element to all this. If you ignore the boosterism and look at the facts you find Britain remains a dangerously skewed and debt-ridden economy. It is overseen by an elite deeply committed to a neoliberal project at home and military intervention abroad. Jeremy's brand of principled left-wing politics is way beyond the pale for these people. They will resist it by any means possible. Corbyn's challenge puts him on a collision course with the right in Labour and the ruling class more generally, and already the right-wing press and some Labour MPs are moving into action against him.
The limits of Labour
Everything we know about Labour's past and particularly its recent trajectory tells us it cannot in it itself become a vehicle for fundamental change. The Labour bureaucracy is too closely tied to the establishment. Parliament anyway doesn't control the real levers of power. Socialists have to do two things. We need to continue to build the biggest, strongest mass movements outside parliament and, second, within that, we need to pull together the most radical activists in independent organisation committed to change from below.
But Jeremy Corbyn's leadership campaign can create the conditions that make both these things easier. It gives us all an opportunity to profile socialist ideas and rebuild popular left organisation on the ground. A challenge to the right in the Labour Party which links with the wider movements will shift the balance of the argument in Britain and could help to alter the balance of forces. We need to seize the chance it offers.
Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.
More articles from this author
- Conscious barbarism: Pompeo ramps up war on Yemen in final days of Trump administration
- The government will not deal with the Covid emergency. The labour movement must step up.
- ICC dropping investigation into Iraq war crimes is a scandal - video
- Is there life outside Labour?
- US foreign policy is unlikely to become less belligerent under Biden
- Starmer, Corbyn and the Labour whip: this is a war against the left
- The problem with the Shock Doctrine: Socialists and Crisis - video