The Masses against the Classes
I went on a demonstration yesterday. In support of refugees. Nothing unusual about that, I must have been on hundreds of demonstrations in my life. Apart from yesterday's march was addressed at a packed Parliament Square by the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn.
It seems to me that maybe something is changing in the political life of Britain.
For just about all my political life, and certainly since the defeat of the miners in 1985, those advocating a better world have been told that we are unrealistic, idealists, dreamers. Or worse: weirdos, extremists, dangers to national security. Instead 'our side' has foisted on us pragmatism, compromise, and retreat; new realism, new labour, moderation and other names for dressing up surrender and sell out. These strategies have lead a few into plush careers as politicians and diplomats and soulless celebrities, and the rest of us into defeat and demoralisation. We've been told to accept that people are naturally selfish, that Britain is naturally conservative (with a small and big C), that racism, poverty, inequality and war are all part the human condition, that housing, education and even healthcare inevitably have to be run for profit by the market, and that, of course, the mad inhumane boom and bust of capitalism is the natural order, the way things have to be.
For sure, there's always been an active, vociferous minority who have rejected such a-historical nonsense, and we have continued to bloody-mindedly insist that another world is possible. We've marched and campaigned and struck and written and occupied against war, racism, and austerity, against privatisation, cut backs and closed mines and closed minds. We may have been a minority, but we have always been loud, articulate, organised and (of course!) right.
One person who has been consistently campaigning with us over the years has been Jeremy Corbyn. Thoughtful, quietly spoken, principled and apparently completely without ego, he has been a huge asset to most of the campaigns I have been involved in over the past 30 years, as a speaker, committee member or organiser.
And now, here he is, the leader of Her Majesty's Opposition.
You can imagine how incredible that feels, and why so many lefties will be waking up this morning with sore heads but happy hearts. It seems that our ideas are suddenly right there in the mainstream, and no longer isolated on the 'loony' left. Witness the size of yesterday's pro refugee demonstration: just back in May we were told that UKIP's toxic anti migrant agenda was here to stay, as ordinary people are naturally prejudiced and resentful of incomers. Barely three months later and those same ordinary people are shaming the government with their financial, practical and political solidarity with refugees.
In fact, over the summer there has been a sea change in the political life of this country. No longer are the three horsemen of austerity, war and racism the only Premier League team in town suddenly alternatives to the Tory nightmare are discussed and guess what, look like being incredibly popular. They might even win a match or two! Huge swathes of young people, disenfranchised by the political process, are suddenly eager to become active so much so that some school kids in Manchester tried to break into an over-stuffed Corbyn meeting through a window, so desperate were they take part. Similarly, those disillusioned by New Labour's incessant lurches to the right, the seedy love affairs with focus groups, media tycoons and dodgy wars sparked by even more dodgy dossiers, have abruptly and delightedly felt re-empowered. Suddenly, it's OK to have principles again, and guess what? If you argue them, many people will come to agree with you!
The past 30 years is not how things have to be another world is possible!
However, as I am sure Jeremy would be the first to admit, the battle has only just begun. The Labour Party is now stuffed with time serving careerists, who see the rise of a man of Socialist principal as a threat to their privileged way of life. The immediate exit of the most gutless wonders from the shadow cabinet will be followed by weeks and months and years of attempts to undermine the new leader. In this they will be helped by the constant smears, suggestions and downright lies put out by the national media. There will be subtle and not so subtle attempts to get Corbyn to conform to the establishment monolith. It doesn't take a long look in Labour's history to see examples of Socialists who have been incorporated and castrated by compromise; just look at left wing hero George Lansbury. Already, decent people such as Owen Jones, are suggesting Jeremy should down play policies such as renationalisation and opposition to nuclear weapons, yet these are the very things that have highlighted him as being different to the rest of the political consensus, and so powered his campaign.
If he manages to resist the efforts to tame and neuter him, and the media's efforts to demonise him, and succeeds in becoming prime minister, the battle will still be in its early skirmishes. The British establishment will not allow him to overthrow their power they will do everything they can, legal and illegal, to subvert the will of a democratically elected leader. While listening to the Manics play 'If You Tolerate This...' after the demo yesterday, I started to think that what happened in Spain (and inspired the song) could very easily happen here: an elected government overthrown by the subterfuge of the rich and powerful. Those who think that's fanciful just need to look at what happened in Greece a few months ago where Syriza's vastly popular programme was thwarted by the IMF and the European Union, and an admired left leader very quickly discredited and broken. And anyone who thinks it wouldn't happen here just needs to look at the record of the security services, the lengths the establishment will go to to hold onto their power, and to watch 'Yes Minister' (Thatcher's favourite programme) or to read Chris Mullin's 'A Very British Coup'.
If they can't manage smears, bribery, integration and persuasion, they will use force.
Which is why demonstrations like the one we went on yesterday are so important, and why what happens in the Labour Party is actually of secondary importance (that's why I won't be joining). For the ideals and aspirations we now know are possible to be realised, what happens outside parliament is central. Marches, strikes, boycotts, meetings now all become more, not less, important. To give Jeremy Corbyn the confidence to stick to his guns, despite the assaults that will certainly come, he needs the support of a strong, vibrant, confident, articulate movement. To resist the far stronger subversion of a future left wing government by the rich and powerful, not willing to hand over their riches and power without a fight, we will need combative, independent and resilient organisation which understands that most real power resides outside parliament.
Jeremy Corbyn's overwhelming victory shows us that we don't have to accept the same old crap for generation after generation. It reminds us that we have a world to win; however, if we are to lose our chains, we will need to snap them ourselves.
Time to prepare the bolt cutters.
Rosey R*E*P*E*A*T, 13.9.,15
Unite Against Fascism
Stand Up To Racism
The People's Assembly
Stop the War Coalition
A perhaps more articulate article making the same points as I have tried to express can be found in Socialist Worker editor Charlie Kimber's Letter to a Corbyn Supporter here http://socialistworker.co.uk/art/41267/Letter+to+a+Jeremy+Corbyn+supporter