Jeremy Corbyn won the battle, but now there is the war

Corbyn’s Cabinet

Despite a full month of cheap character assassination attempts (from right and the alleged left), Jeremy Corbyn blew away the ‘competition’ to take the Labour leadership. That’s the big news and there isn’t much left to do, but speculate because Corbyn has been pretty much tight-lipped since his victory. In a world of rolling 24-hour news this is a disaster and so as usual the television ‘journalists’ have been on one of the biggest speculation benders since September 11. They really have no idea what is going on and so they continue wheeling out crapshoot analysis and soundbites to pad out the thin reports and fill up airtime. It’s painful to watch and yet also infuriating. Every report is bathed in the same cynical, ‘realpolitik’ that proclaims: ‘Only the paradigm of post-Thatcher neo-liberalism is real, everything else is extremism and illusory’.

The newspapers have been doing the same and the most notable observation to be made is that  a portion of the mainstream left-liberal press now contains more of the worst shower of opportunistic bullshitters than the average PR boardroom. The Blairite acolytes are really foaming at the mouth. Their candidates were trounced and Nu Labour is being dropped into its long overdue grave. In the pages of the newspapers the spew of vitriol has congealed the Tory hacks and the Blairism hacks into one unsightly gob of phlegm. The Guardian in particular has shown its true colours. Its commentators may as well be leader writers for the Murdoch papers and yet they are being paid to write their garbage for an alleged social democratic newspaper. The Guardian is now a pathetic gravy train of middle-class chancers and must be regarded as such by all those whose political interests lie outside of the decayed paradigm that has dominated politics and economic policy for the last 35-40 years.

Perhaps the only remark worthy of consideration is that Corbyn’s leadership victory does not mean he is poised for national victory, perhaps not even easy victory within the party he now leads. The Labour Party at its top is no longer the Party of Clem Attlee; it’s not even that of Neil Kinnock. The parliamentary party is shot through with passive acceptance of Nu Labour Neo-Liberalism. There is a reason why many of those faces we’ve seen on the Labour front benches, over the last decade or so, have resigned. They thought socialism had died and now it has come back in the form of the new leader it makes them look too much like members of the Tory Party. Perhaps they are going to sit back and wait, hoping that ‘Corbynism’ will flounder and collapse, so they can eventually re-assume their positions, with a told-you-so smile upon their smug faces.

As Corbyn named his cabinet yesterday and today made his first appearance on the front benches in the Commons, the same old newspeak rubbish has been employed in every report. All his appointments are ‘left-wingers’ (a phrase heaped with pejorative implications) and they have ‘far left’ ideas and policies (as opposed to the obvious policies sensible people would have); mention of his shadow chancellor has to include that he ‘once vowed to overthrow capitalism’. In the Tory press the Labour Party now forms a ‘danger’ to the economy and society! The political orthodoxy, and most of the country, has now been dragged very far down the path of believing in a twisted ideology. One informing us that corporate capitalism, austerity, a free-for all in housing prices (with soaring rents and housing shortages); low wages, job insecurity, child poverty, gutted public services etc etc, is the new political norm. That it is inevitable and unavoidable and the politics that administers this poison is ‘good governance’. On Saturday a large portion of the Labour Party elbowed the Blairist usurpers aside and said no. They are not the entire country and certainly not the people voting Tory, Lib Dem or UKIP, but it is a seed that may grow, if it is nurtured.

Corbyn’s cabinet choices are far more diverse than the media hacks are pretending. At least two of the women in the top jobs did not back the new leader, yet he appointed them. There are in fact very few so-called ‘hard left Corbynites’ in this new cabinet. The media is, as usual, making a sensation out of something that merely contrasts with the usual grey cesspool of politics.  They can’t fight the fact that Corbyn is authentic and likeable as a person. He is not an expenses thief (his are fact amongst the lowest, if not the lowest) and his message is not wrapped in the usual clichéd political phraseology that seems to affect every major politician whose face appears in public. Corbyn’s real challenge will be convincing enough people that his democratic-socialist alternative – for the economy, for essential public services, for society as a whole – is a better, fairer and more progressive prospect than the politics of pandering to the super-rich and operating as an arm of the corporate boardroom (which is probably in a tax haven). If the ‘ordinary voter’, the people who really ‘feel the pinch’ and live from salary to salary as it is claimed a majority of people do, seek an alternative, then they have another choice. Convincing people to undo the cultural habits that have developed under neo-liberalism (debt-fuelled lifestyles, consumption greed), something which is also a necessity for such an alternative, is a tall order indeed.

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The core problem

‘In the various e-newsletters I receive from several left-wing organisations there is often a tone of desperation. There is also the familiar ‘call to arms’, the ‘arms’ in question being petitions, ignored peaceful marches and the get-togethers that hope to spread new roots and deepen the already-existing ones.  I’ve attended my fair share of the latter over the years and disappointment has never been very far behind.

It has always been a mistake to rely on the assumption that the next person’s understanding of something you think you share, is the same as your understanding of it. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a socialist gathering where everyone has been asked why they say they are socialist, or what they hope to achieve with it? Since the total triumph of Neo-liberal economic policy much of the left has taken the position of pressure group. Pressuring for what? That is the question. It appears to be the regular agenda of issues anyone calling themselves “left-wing” engages with alongside the core problem.

The ‘core problem’ refers to the problem of the plutocratically-owned capitalist economy. Not just a selection of its worst activities and the deleterious effects, but the problems arising from its very existence as the dominant underlying cause of social misery. It always stood to reason that the solution was its removal. Well, not quite. The second rung of socialism, the non-revolutionary path, has been satisfied with keeping capitalism on, but making sure it is safely chained-up and under strict supervision. From this we got the entire circus of sideshows including: reform socialism; social democracy; market socialism; capitalism with a ‘human face’. It has led here. To the universal triumph of capitalist markets presided over by powerful vested interests. Its products are the ugly transformation of work into profitable stupidity. To the unemployed wasteland of hundreds of years of human skills that are ‘no longer required’; forced into obsolescance in an economy that values a narrow ideas of ‘skills’ and yet dresses it up as the last word in skill diversity. It has led to housing scarcity; more poverty; chronic debt; economic catastrophe; more pollution; more reckless consumption.

It failed. Capitalism hasn’t been harnessed for the best outcome for all. People in all age ranges: the under-25s, the over 40s, the over 50s, a great mass of people, are with the programme. Some might be upset with various bits of ‘the programme’, some little result of it that complicates and adds uncertainty to their lives, but ‘the programme’ of neo-liberal economic dominance is perceived as simply the way of the world. It has failed dismally, beyond creating a consumption Mecca and replacing human skill with automation, and yet the greatest PR exercise ever has been in presenting this dismal failure as the greatest success story in the history of humankind.

In the Netherlands – which is a rather right-wing country within Western Europe – the socialist parties are neutered. The clearest sign that they have had to kneel down and kiss the ring of triumphant neo-liberalist ideology is the moderated language now used in reference to capitalist economics. The SP (socialistisch partij) is a decent organisation. It is critical of the governments of the day (which are invariably either centre-right or right-wing and all neo-liberal), but its critique always falls short of condemning the core of the problem. They are not averse to wheeling out the populist line of ‘getting small businesses working’; the sort of stuff appealing to the popular idea that capitalism, being essentially morally neutral, is merely hijacked by crooks and corporatism. The same basic idea feeding into the sub-normal fantasies of libertarians and followers of the Smith religion. Most importantly, they have no counter-offensive, no clear informational antidote to the all-pervasive neo-liberal ideology impregnated deep into general culture.

To express fundamental opposition to neo-liberalism (essentially extreme capitalist rationalisation) is considered equal to opposing empirical reality. An explosion of different and disparate ideas clouds the problem. Since the rise of ‘new atheism’ in the U.S. and the theatre of ‘birthers’ and ‘911 conspiracies’, an entire swath of people keen to disassociate themselves from flat-earth thinking likes to stick closer to what is regarded as the ‘rational truth’. Capitalist economics, in all its forms and guises, has the rather enviable position of being considered ‘normal reality’. To most of the world it is not so much an economic system among many as it is just something that ‘is’, like the weather or the sea. Capitalism is not considered as a ‘way’ of running an economy, it is thought of as ‘the’ economy. That is a powerful position to occupy and renders everything else as mere alternatives.

The current left (and even the left of the past) has concentrated too much on criticism and too little on portraying itself as legitimate. Walking the streets in crowds shouting ‘socialism now!’ instantly makes you into a sideline critic rather than someone playing equally on the field. Where is the magazine of heterodox economics that can counter the dominance of ‘The Economist’ as a mainstream discussion of economics? Current socialist thought is not far from the position of ‘alternative’ medicine compared to medical science; the latter seen as the rational truth, the former as a pretender with some crank adherents. One major failing is that the ‘core problem’, the economy, is focused upon less and less as socialist movements – especially the Netherlands International Socialists – busies itself with popular sociology and a never-ending series of anti-racism marches. Too often it is students who move up through the ranks and become academics making their careers as ‘theorists’ within these organisations. The small faithful applauds and the rest of society remains oblivious and carries on living under the ‘normality’ of the corporate-capitalist economy, sometimes happy, sometimes disgruntled.

By getting sidetracked from the ‘core problem’ socialist organisations are going nowhere apart from the next ignored and contained march and the next forgotten ‘conference’.