'For the many, not the few': Corbyn's lesson for Australian Labor

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The British Labour vote rose in great number i response to Corbyn's coherent message of hope (Image via @rsmedero)

The stunning election results of Jeremy Corbyn's UK Labour Party blazes a trail for the Australian Labor Party to follow, writes John Passant.

WHO WOULD have guessed it? Seven weeks ago, the UK’s Conservative Party Prime Minister, Theresa May, called an election three years earlier than she had to. This was supposedly to give her a strong mandate to negotiate Brexit from the European Union.

She was, according to the bourgeois press and commentators, a shoo-in. The polls at the time seemed to agree, with the Tories have a greater than 20% lead over the British Labour Party.

As for the Labour Party, well they were divided and led by Jeremy Corbyn, a man according to the UK press who was a loser, mad, pathetic, a jihadist, a terrorist supporter, the new Stalin, Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, you name it….

We in Australia would be familiar with the Murdoch media approach of lie, lie and lie. It is the same, only worse, in the UK.

The 17 seat Tory majority supposedly was on track to become 100 seats, some commentators argued, when the election was called on 18 April. Even three days before the election, on 8 June, some journalists were still arguing that it would be a cakewalk for the Tories, with a majority of about 74.

It was all bullshit. Worse, the bourgeoisie and their paid popinjays, by and large, believed their own bullshit. None of them doubted that the Conservatives would smash Labour. Why? Because, under Jeremy Corbyn, British Labour had the most left wing set of policies since 1945. Obviously no one was going to vote for Corbyn and his loony left policies. It was self-evident.

Most readers would be unfamiliar with what happened back in 1945. Two months after Germany’s surrender, the centrist Labour Leader Clement Attlee thrashed Winston Churchill.

Labour’s policies then appealed to workers who had suffered physically and economically during the war. These policies included promises to create full employment and to set up a universal National Health Service. Labour had a Keynesian tax and spend economic program, coupled with providing a welfare state and nationalisations of key sectors of the economy like the railways, which happened in 1948.  The Labour Government nationalised the coal industry in 1946 and the steel industry, for the first time, in 1949.

In essence, Jeremy Corbyn’s policies are a return to post war Clement Attlee Labour: a social democratic program aimed at making capitalism work for the benefit of all — workers, the poor, the unemployed, the sick, the old, the young, students, the disabled… Whether the economic basis under capitalism for such a program now exists now is another question altogether.

The neoliberal era, dismantling Labour’s post war legacy in Britain, began with Margaret Thatcher’s election in 1979. Tony Blair and his right-wing dominated "New" Labour, when they came to power in 1997, reinforced this austerity and war approach with their Third Way — a fancy name for disguised and not so disguised neoliberalism.

Jeremy Corbyn was a constant critic and opponent of Blairism and consistently argued for social democratic policies. He has time and again been on the correct side of history, opposing apartheid, war, racism, austerity ...

For example, in opposing the invasion of Iraq in 2003, he said, among many other things, that the invasion would:

"... set off a spiral of conflict, of hate, of misery, of desperation that will fuel the wars, the conflict, the terrorism, the depression, and the misery of future generations ... the way to free us from the scourge of war is to free ourselves from the scourge of injustice, of poverty, and of misery."

Corbyn won the leadership of the British Labour Party because it has more democratic rules than, for example, the Australian Labor Party. Unlike Australia, in the British Labour Party, ordinary members and trade union and registered supporters determine the outcome.  

Although the Blairites, the overwhelming majority of the parliamentary party, vehemently opposed Corbyn by about 210 to 20, in 2015 he won the leadership with 59.5% of the membership and supporters’ votes. The Blairites then bagged him publicly as leader for a year and moved against him last year. 172 of the Parliamentary Party voted no confidence in his leadership, with 40 voting for him.

This triggered the 2016 leadership vote. Corbyn retained the leadership with an even bigger vote from a rapidly growing and rejuvenated membership, supporter and union base.

It should come as no surprise that the man whose defends the National Health System, public education, public transport and opposes war won the biggest swing to Labour – almost 10% – since the 12% swing to Clement Attlee’s Labour in 1945.

The Conservatives, far from increasing their majority, lost it. They can now only govern with the support of the homophobic, anti-abortion, racist, climate change denying Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) — a party with links to Ulster Unionist terrorists.

The bubble of neoliberalism has burst for many ordinary voters around the globe. It is not just Corbyn; Syriza in Greece, Bernie Sanders in the U.S. and Podemos in Spain are all expressions of a deep dissatisfaction with neoliberal policies — policies whose main aim is to shift wealth from labour to capital.

Corbyn’s success shows that a left-wing program can win mass support. Corbyn inspired millions – especially millions of young people – to vote. Not only that, but Corbyn understands that a mobilised supporter base and working class prepared to fight to defend public services, wages and the jobs is the real weapon against austerity.

In this he goes well beyond Bernie Sanders, Syriza and others. It is in the mass struggles of ordinary working people for a better life and for peace that their dreams can become a reality. Corbyn understands that the real battles are on the streets and in the workplaces, and that when workers and others lead, Parliament can be forced to follow.

The situation in Great Britain is extremely volatile. The May-DUP coalition cannot survive for very long and neither can the Prime Minister. 

As well as the possibility of a complete surrender to the European ruling class on Brexit, a possibility given May’s personal and political weaknesses, or the collapse of the peace "settlement" in Ireland, always possible if you have to depend on the DUP to govern, major strikes or protests could drive the Tories out and see Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party in power within six to 12 months.

In fact, as news comes through of Boris Johnson scheming, of the possible disaster that Brexit will be, of deep dissatisfaction within Tory ranks (especially in Scotland) over any deal with the DUP, that six to 12 months I mention might be six to 12 days, or even six to 12 hours, such is the rapidity with which events are moving in the UK. Corbyn’s politics of resistance from below might speed up the process.

In his last election campaign speech, Corbyn finished off by quoting Shelley.

He said:

Rise, like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number!
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you:
Ye are many — they are few!

Labour’s slogan – "For the many, not the few" – captures this and the spirit of the times perfectly.

Can you imagine Bill Shorten, Anthony Albanese, Tanya Plibersek or Penny Wong quoting Shelly and proposing to nationalise anything, let alone proposing any other truly radical policies?

The ALP’s 34 years of neoliberalism cannot survive long term. Their voter and membership base, with ups and downs, has been trending down for some time. The anti-democratic leadership election process, and the putrid neoliberal pool of parliamentary candidates and potential candidates prevents a Corbyn arising within Labor, but that just condemns the party to a slow death rattle, future irrelevance and continuing first preference vote decline. The ghost of PASOK in Greece haunts the Australian Labor Party and other social democratic groupings.

Of course, the ALP parliamentarians can and now do mouth platitudes about resisting or even addressing inequality. However, when in power Labor’s systemic pro-capitalist policies set in train the very rise in inequality we are now "enjoying",  Labor’s words remain just that — mere words.  

In Australia, the best chance of a social democratic revival lies not in the moribund Parliamentary Labor Party but outside it — perhaps in the likes of (IA contributor) Sally McManus and the trade union movement. 

Historically, it is certainly true that the left outside the Labor Party in Australia has been much stronger than the left outside the British Labour Party.

The last 30 years in Australia, with the collapse of the left both inside and outside the ALP, may be the exception that proves the rule, as the natural audience for radical social democratic ideas and policies is given voice. Perhaps that voice might be Sally McManus and the trade union movement. 

A call from the ACTU leader for workers to strike to defend penalty rates, or against the ABCC, or in defence of jobs, or to win real wage increases, or all of the above, has the potential to light the flame of resistance in the tinder dry undergrowth of working class anger with current economic and social conditions.

For socialists like me, Corbyn’s success on 8 June and his undoubted successes to come confirm what we have known all along. Socialism is not a dirty word. Real mass resistance – strikes and big protests – are the way forward.

In the fight for a better world a new future can open up — a society in which we who produce the wealth decide democratically what is to be produced to satisfy human need rather than make a profit.  

We are many, they are few.

John Passant is considering running for the Senate in the A.C.T. in 2019 as an independent socialist. 

Read more by John Passant on his website En Passant or follow him on Twitter @JohnPassantSigned copies of John Passant’s first book of poetry, Songs for the Band Unformed (Ginninderra Press 2016) are available for purchase from the IA store HERE.

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