Like many a Leftist Brit who refuses to “pivot” (I hate that word) rightwards, I was outraged by the less than sly effort by leftover Blairites in the British Labour party to effectively charge people to vote for Jeremy Corbyn to remain as party leader. He was elected on September 12, 2015 so the fact that there is another leadership election already is suspicious enough.
But in a not too thinly veiled attempt to subvert democratic rights — specifically those of the multitude who have flocked to Corbyn since he was voted in as leader the first time— Labour party members who have been in the party for less than six months will be barred from taking part in the September 2016 leadership election unless they pay £25. That’s about $33 under the current post-Brexit exchange rate that decimated the value of the pound.
When I posted a home-made Keep Calm and Keep Corbyn poster on my Facebook page, I expected a “dislike” from any lingering Blairites out there —I think I have only one such “friend” — still clinging to “New Labour,” the disaster that handed us the Tories and Brexit. But the pushback came from a more surprising quarter.
“A Putin apologist with a 19th Century mindset leading a party that wants to relive the 1890, 1920 and 1970s? Britain needs at least two new progressive parties fit for the 21st Century. Labour is not it,” wrote R. Andreas Kraemer.
Kraemer is one of those Facebook friends I am not sure how I acquired but who I definitely respect. Founder of the Ecologic Institute, he is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Sustainability Studies in Potsdam, Germany; Senior Fellow at the Centre for International Governance in Waterloo, Ontario; and Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science and Adjunct Professor of German Studies at Duke University. He has credentials.
But I was thrown by this particular critique of Corbyn. Some of my best friends are Corbynites. Could this possibly be true?
Most of the “Putin apologist” accusations come from right wing rags like the Daily Mail, instantly undermining credibility (this is the paper, after all, that headlined Corbyn as a “Sexpot Trot.”)
Yet Corbyn’s stance doesn’t really seem to be about Putin personally, much though the Blairites would like to paint him as some sort of Stalinist throwback. It seems to be about the futility of war.
Maybe the humble Corbyn, who sits on the floor of packed trains and rides the bus to work, doesn’t believe in the cult of personality, either. Here is what Corbyn actually said about his preferred response if Russia invaded a NATO ally:
“I would want to avoid us getting involved militarily by building up the diplomatic relationships and not isolate any country in Europe.
“I don’t wish to go to war, what I want to do is achieve a world where we don’t need to go to war, where there is no need for it — that can be done.”
Does this stance exemplify the nostalgia my friend Andreas was scorning? Has the alternative really worked better? Or is Corbyn at worst guilty of not being very Three Musketeerish when it comes to NATO?
Corbyn does not want any more Aleppo Boys or Drowned Boys on the Beach. He does not share the American value of invade first, ask questions later, which leads to the destruction and collapse of countries with the poor and disenfranchised suffering the most. While U.S. Republicans are chafing at the bit to start a new Cold War with Russia, Corbyn would rather talk. This seems pragmatic to me, however villainous Putin almost certainly is.
I’ll admit though that I am guilty as charged when it comes to yearning for the Leftie Days of Yore. I miss the spectacular trades union banners, the candle-lit windows during the miners’ strike, the marches to restore democracies in Greece, Argentina, Chile. I have a whole collection of pins I can’t even remember how I acquired, including “MPLA for Angola,” “Chile Resists,” “Stop the Sackings,” and “Recognize the PRG.” I am glad that CND is still going and is still meaningful. Greenham Common women? Presente!
We should not repeat the mistakes of history and we should most definitely learn from them. But should we also perhaps replicate, rather than disavow, our successes?
Recently, during one of my nostalgia binges, I stumbled upon the archives of the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science, a collection of largely Marxist scientists intent on changing society, and thereby the role of science within it, to benefit working people. During my search, I came across a pamphlet entitled, “Nuclear Power — The Rigged Debate,” published in 1981 by the BSSRS’s Politics of Energy Group.
Early in the first section there were some telling observations that still ring true. Sadly.
“The anti-nuclear arguments have often been on the defensive against an industry possessing much of the key information and specialists (and virtually all of the money),” the unnamed authors wrote. “The ‘debate’ is reduced to a battle of plausibilities, which few people can be bothered to follow even when we take the trouble to decode the jargon.”
The authors argued that nuclear energy was developed, at least in the UK, because it was the easiest form of energy supply the state could control. It was an excellent way to destroy the coal miners’ union. It was also quite useful in suppressing Third World countries into submission as we plundered their uranium.
The “rigged” debate they refer to, is relished today even more eagerly than before, especially by the mainstream media. It is all about conflicting opinion.
But the authors wanted us to look deeper. For example, rather than just debate the so-called “safe” level of exposure to radiation, we should “at the same time understand how and why such a unit was devised in the first place, as a way of making the risks of deadly radiation more ‘acceptable’ to workers.”
There is not space here to do this pamphlet justice and it is a fascinating tract. It forces us to see that nuclear energy was chosen for political, not scientific reasons, for control of the workforce, not the benefit of humankind.
Is it a wonderful throwback written in language so rooted in Marxism as to be dismissed or even ridiculed by today’s modernists? Is reading it now symptomatic of an attempt to relive the past? Possibly. Or is it an important document that informs our present, a reminder that we in fact refused to learn the lessons it sought to teach us?
Yes, Britain does need progressive parties. Corbyn is well positioned to put the “you” back in Labour and restore it to working people. Blair destroyed that. The strongholds of Brexit in the working north are the most compelling evidence of this.
Those who labour need Corbyn. Messiah he is not. But, like far too few of us, age has not edged him toward the center. He has held fast to his principles and his integrity. He has not betrayed working people. If that makes him a Leftie of the 1970s or even the 1890s, then that’s fine with me.