Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
Richard Seymour (Verso)
IT WASN'T SO LONG AGO that film maker Ken Loach announced the arrival of Left Unity, a new political project that aimed to eventually supplant a Labour Party that had long abandoned any pretence to be a party of the left. It was dead and buried as a progressive political force within British society. All that it represented was a roadblock in the way of developing a new left politics. That was 2014.
But in a remarkable turn of events, the seemingly iron-grip that the Blairites had on Labour was loosened, but not liberated, by the election of veteran left wing MP Jeremy Corbyn as its leader in 2015. He didn't just win the leadership, he was propelled into it by a movement that swept the Labour right aside.
Late last year Left Unity was considering joining Labour, such was the optimism expressed about its prospects, but eventually it decided to remain a supportive grouping outside of Labour. Which was the right move in the circumstances since Corbyn's leadership is by no means secure.
For the Labour right, which has long had things its own way, the very idea that Corbyn should remain leader and move the party to the left, is entirely unacceptable. This is also unacceptable to, of course, the British ruling class and its allies in the media.
In Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics, Richard Seymour discusses the origins of 'Corbynism' and prospects for Labour under Corbyn. This is no dry academic tome. Seymour, who blogs at Lenin's Tomb, is a supporter of Corbyn and the book is an attempt to grapple with the character of the Labour Party under Corbyn and its implications for the British left. That said, this book isn't some mindless cheerleading exercise and Seymour is honest and realistic in his assessments.
Unlike the New Zealand Labour Party, which remains an unreconstructed right wing party loyal to neoliberalism, the Corbyn project is an attempt not only to rebuild Labour as a left wing party but one that simply doesn't try to re-invent it as some kind of warmed over social democratic party. That project failed comprehensively. Eduard Bernstein was completely wrong. Rosa Luxemburg was comprehensively right.
But, as Seymour observes, Corbyn's Labour remains largely an electoralist project. While Corbyn recognises the need for the party to ally itself with movements in civil society, in the end he will still be judged on whether he can deliver an election victory. While the Labour right, with its all its talk about 'moderation' and 'pragmatism' has consistently failed to make any headway against the Tories and got away with its failures, there won't be any wiggle room for Jeremy Corbyn.
The stakes couldn't be higher, observes Seymour. If Labour can't win a general election under Corbyn then his enemies will be quick to denounce his socialist agenda as electorally unviable. He will be vulnerable to a challenge from the Labour right, which will have the added backing of a corporate media also eager to see the back of Corbyn.
Seymour writes convincingly about the concerted efforts of the British media to undermine Corbyn's bid for the Labour leadership. To his credit, Seymour is evenhanded in his appraisal and publications that he sometimes writes for aren't spared deserved criticism. Of The Guardian he writes: " The centre-left press had its own lines of attack. The Guardian, a long-standing ally of the Labour Right, played a particularly shoddy role, both in its journalism and its comment pages. Its comment pages were filled with condescension toward Corbyn and his supporters..."
Of course the election is some four years away, in 2020, and who knows what twists and turns might occur before then. Seymour. I think, tries to operate on Lenin's maxim of the 'concrete analysis of the concrete situation' but this particular situation remains fluid. Still, although he's only got eight months of Corbyn's leadership to look back on, Seymour has made a good fist of providing an intelligent analysis of Labour. There are some good thoughtful insights here. He writes well and the excess verbiage (and really long paragraphs) that can sometimes hinder his work on Lenin's Tomb is absent; his editors at Verso have been at work, clearly.