• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

SPRING FUNDRAISER

Is it time for our Spring fundraiser already? If you enjoy what we offer, and have the means, please consider donating. The sooner we reach our modest goal, the faster we can get back to business as (un)usual. Please, stay safe and we’ll see you down the road.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Demonization of Jeremy Corbyn

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

For years, under the glitzy brand of ‘New Labour’ and its facile slogans of ‘modernisation’, the British Labour Party had been moving to the right. Encouraging people to get ‘filthy rich’, systematically reducing corporation tax, courting powerful press barons like Rupert Murdoch and committing to the type of bellicose foreign policy which would facilitate the death of hundreds of thousands in the bloody mire of Iraq.  Inevitably, inexorably, Labour ceased to be ‘the party of dissent’ as its policies shaded seamlessly into the politics of the ruling elite more generally.

The process reached its apogee in 2013 when the then Labour Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, made a particularly significant pledge.  Although in opposition, he committed his party to the economic policy of the government, the ‘austerity’ measures which the Conservatives had introduced in 2010 and would perpetuate throughout the decade.  ‘Austerity’ was an economic response to the 2008 financial crisis, and though the crisis had resulted from the profligacy and disregard of high finance, nevertheless ‘austerity’ was the means by which those at the bottom would be penalized, made to pay for the £1.3 trillion used to bail out the banks.

It was, to put it simply, ‘socialism for the rich’.  It represented the single largest transfer of public funds to the most wealthy layers which had ever taken place (for those aficionados of British social history – the second largest transfer of funds from the bottom to the top occurred in 1834 when the British government paid vast amounts of compensation to the wealthy for their losses in human cargo when the slave trade was declared illegal. No doubts a good number of their descendants were the beneficiaries of ‘austerity economics’ almost two centuries later).

But austerity was not simply about hard and fast finance policy. It crystallised the cruellest forms of economic individualism with a palpable loathing for those at the bottom.  And in a way this was inevitable.  If one refuses to acknowledge that the economic crisis was the responsibility of a financial elite and the product of a particularly volatile brand of casino capitalism, then one inevitably locates the fundamental economic problems of the age with those at the bottom.  The poor immigrant, the single mother on benefits, the homeless person lying in the street, the foreigner living next door; these people were pilloried and demonised by a mainstream press which fortified the economics of austerity by providing its necessary ideological veneer.

The Labour Party could have enunciated the facts, soberly and conscientiously.  On the question of immigration, for example, they might have pointed out that immigrants from the eight countries which joined the EU in 2004 (all poorer countries of eastern and central Europe) – contributed £4.96 billion more in taxes to the UK than they took out in public services in the period up to 2011.  But they didn’t choose to do so.  Instead Labour’s movers and shakers hit upon a far more adroit and punchy concept – they issued a cup which proclaimed ‘Controls on Immigrants – I’m voting Labour’. (On the plus side, every crank and immigration obsessive nationwide now has something from which to sup.)

It is, therefore, vital to understand how, by 2015, the two main political parties in Westminster had reached a form of consensus both in terms of ideology and economics, and how both elements were fused in the politics of austerity.  It is vital to recognise this because the political event of Jeremy Corbyn can only be understood from such a context.  Since becoming Labour leader, Corbyn has shattered that consensus.  He has endeavoured to shift the focus from those at the bottom to those at the top, arguing that the crisis was the responsibility of a rich elite and that they should be the ones to bare the financial brunt for it.

On the question of immigration he has consistently argued that it is anything but ‘a problem’, rather we should celebrate the ‘enormous contribution to our society’ that immigrants make.  As a backbencher he had refused to march to the drums of patriotism and war, opposing the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan at every turn. As leader of the Labour Party, he has opposed any military intervention in Syria, while condemning the government and the UK weapons industry for supplying weapons to countries such as Saudi Arabia and Israel facilitating the ongoing decimation of the Yemeni and Palestinian populations.

So much of this had hitherto fallen beneath the radar, had been smothered by the mainstream consensus. But the Corbyn phenomenon was now amplifying these simple and human truths in the most public of forums. Exposing the grotty and illicit machinations of much of the political class as grounded in elite self-interest hitched to ever more vicious forms of economic exploitation on the domestic front – while at the same time shedding light on the illicit interconnections between government, a booming arms industry and the series of never-ending wars abroad.  The Corbyn movement, therefore, emerged as a living, grass-roots critique of elite politics as business-as-usual (with no small emphasis on the word ‘business’).

For this reason, the reaction of the political establishment to the Corbyn and the politics of ‘anti-austerity’ was inflamed to baying, hysterical proportions, but more significantly it was the type of response which once again demonstrated how the mainstream media, the state broadcaster, the politicians and political pundits were functioning almost as one – a seamless, coordinated political entity with a uniform voice.

In another lifetime it might almost have been satirical.  Corbyn, a social democrat of a reformist bent, something of a pacifist, a genuine but at times muddled speaker, the type of earnest community-minded activist who had his own allotment and made his own jam – this same figure was transfigured by a rabid establishment into successive manifestations of the purest evil; he was a terrorist sympathiser, a threat to national security, a communist spya misogynist and a dyed-in-the-wool anti-Semite.

The allegations were all false, based on the flimsiest of claims; his commitment to terrorism was gleaned from photos where he appeared shaking hands with Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams, but the latter had shaken hands with other politicians such as Bill Clinton and Tony Blair as part of negotiations toward a peace settlement.   Most absurdly of all, the threat Corbyn posed to national security was demonstrated by the fact that he had not bowed sufficiently low at a remembrance ceremony for those killed in war.

It was as though the establishment was trying one smear after the other in order to see which would best stick.  In the event, the allegations of anti-Semitism proved most effective.  Perhaps because there is a fringe element on the left which does have a problem with anti-Semitism, something that has become more pronounced with the rise in conspiracy theories which followed the events of September 11th and decades of working class defeat. As August Bebel once remarked, ‘anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools’. Perhaps because the Corbyn administration was not quick enough to act effectively against some of the cases of genuine anti-Semitism which had emerged within the party.  But the facts were still clear.  The party received 673 allegations of anti-Semitism toward Labour members from April 2018 to January 2019, which amounted to around 0.1% of the overall party membership (a membership which stood at around 500,000).   But reportage which gave a dry and sober account of the statistical facts was simply replaced with the yowling, furious but utterly dogmatic assertion that Corbyn’s party was institutionally anti-Semitic and represented an existential threat to the safety of Jews living in the UK.

In the run up to the election of 12 December, the organised, orchestrated attempt to torpedo the Corbyn campaign has once again reached a shrieking crescendo with the most privileged layers unleashing a coordinated and continued barrage of slander. At the most opportune moment, as the election campaigns for both the Conservative and Labour opened up, chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, reignited the anti-Semitism controversy (even though no new allegations had been aired) by once again describing Labour in terms of an institutional anti-Semitism – ‘a poison has taken root’.

This was an explicitly political intervention, a tacit endorsement of the Conservative Party whose leader the wealthy Rabbi is on kind terms with, and completely out-of-kilter with the supposed impartiality of religious institutions.  The press, the BBC, the newspapers and the radio stations were at once flooded by the Rabbi’s words, words which were again treated as the gospel of established fact.

At the same time, a very different attitude is displayed toward the Prime Minster Boris Johnson.   Whereas you will never find a sexist, Islamophobic or anti-Semitic statement uttered by Jeremy Corbyn, Johnson, on the other hand, seems to have ‘Tourette’s for bigots’ syndrome, and over the years has gone on to describe black people as ‘piccaninnies with water melon smiles’ Muslim women as looking like ‘bank robbers’ and ‘letterboxes’, working class men as ‘drunk, criminal and feckless’, working mothers as having children more likely to ‘mug you on the street corner’, single mothers as ‘irresponsible’, and a host of other such charming epithets too numerous to mention.

If Corbyn had made any one of these comments, of course, it would have been purveyed ad-infinitum, but the press, papers and TV channels gave Johnson an easy ride, allowing these things to disappear before the image of the bumbling, benevolent, gaff-prone but essentially goodhearted persona Johnson has so cynically and effectively contrived.  Perhaps most sinisterly of all, when the Prime Minster was being questioned about honesty (given his public record of prolific lying) the audience en masse broke into laughter as Johnson began speechifying on how important the truth was to him.  But in the evening addition of the same programme, the BBC edited out the laughter, something which brought the state funded broadcaster and supposed bastion of impartiality closer to the type of propaganda technique employed by the various totalitarian regimes Corbyn is always, and quite unfairly, characterised as supporting.

When everything else is stripped away, what we are really witnessing is the ruthless, organised and systematic response on the part of the privileged to the possibility of an ‘anti-austerity’ form of politics which threatens their domination of the political machine and their ability to expand their economic power unfettered by any consideration for the society at large and any social good.  It is an election which truly exposes the fault lines between wealth and poverty, elite power and grassroots democracy, neoliberalism and a dying welfare state, the interests of the many, and those of the few.  It exposes these fundamental divisions…if only you are prepared to look.

 

More articles by:

Tony McKenna’s journalism has been featured by Al Jazeera, The Huffington Post, ABC Australia, New Internationalist, The Progressive, New Statesman and New Humanist. His books include Art, Literature and Culture from a Marxist Perspective (Macmillan), The Dictator, the Revolution, the Machine: A Political Account of Joseph Stalin (Sussex Academic Press) a novel, The Dying Light (New Haven Publishing) and Toward Forever: Radical Refletions on History and Art  (Zero Books).

Weekend Edition
May 29, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Nick Pemberton
White Supremacy is the Virus; Police are the Vector
T.J. Coles
What’s NATO Up to These Days? Provoking Russia, Draining Healthcare Budgets and Protecting Its Own from COVID
Benjamin Dangl
Bibles at the Barricades: How the Right Seized Power in Bolivia
Kevin Alexander Gray - Jeffrey St. Clair - JoAnn Wypijewski
There is No Peace: an Incitement to Justice
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Few Good Sadists
David Schultz
Trump isn’t the Pope and This Ain’t the Middle Ages
Joshua Frank
In Search of a Lost Socialism
Charles Pierson
Who are the “Wrong Hands” in Yemen?
Andrew Levine
Trump Is Unbeatable in the Race to the Bottom and So Is the GOP
Ramzy Baroud
Political Ambiguity or a Doomsday Weapon: Why Abbas Abandoned Oslo
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
A Growing Wave of Bankruptcies Threatens U.S. Recovery
Joseph Natoli
Conditions Close at Hand
N.D. Jayaprakash
No Lessons Learned From Bhopal: the Toxic Chemical Leak at LG Polymers India 
Ron Jacobs
The Odyssey of Elias Demetracopoulos
J.P. Linstroth
Arundhati Roy on Indian Migrant-Worker Oppression and India’s Fateful COVID Crisis
Melvin Goodman
Goodness Gracious, David Ignatius!!
Roger Harris
Blaming the COVID-19 Pandemic on Too Many Humans:  a Critique of Overpopulation Ideology
Sonali Kolhatkar
For America’s Wealthiest, the Pandemic is a Time to Profit
Prabir Purkayastha
U.S. Declares a Vaccine War on the World
David Rosen
Coronavirus and the Telecom Crisis
Paul Buhle
Why Does W.E.B. Du Bois Matter Today?
Mike Bader
The Only Way to Save Grizzlies: Connect Their Habitats
Dave Lindorff
Pandemic Crisis and Recession Can Spark a Fight for Real Change in the US
Nyla Ali Khan
The Sociopolitical and Historical Context That Shaped Kashmiri Women Like My Grandmother in the 1940s
Louis Proyect
Does Neo-Feudalism Define Our Current Epoch?
Ralph Nader
S. David Freeman: Seven Decades of Participating in Power for All of Us
Norman Solomon
Amy Klobuchar, Minneapolis Police and Her VP Quest
Maria Paez Victor
Venezuela in the 2020 Pandemic
Ron Mitchell
Defending Our Public Lands: One Man’s Legacy
Nomi Prins 
The Great Depression, Coronavirus Style: Crashes, Then and Now
Richard C. Gross
About That City on A Hill
Kathleen Wallace
An Oath for Hypocrites
Eve Ottenberg
Common Preservation or Extinction?
Graham Peebles
Air Pollution Mental Illness and Covid-19
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Unearned Income for All
Evan Jones
The Machine Stops
Nicky Reid
Proudhon v. Facebook: A Mutualist Solution to Cyber Tyranny
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What is a “Native” Plant in a Changing World?
Shailly Gupta Barnes
Why are Our Leaders Still Putting Their Faith in the Rich?
John Kendall Hawkins
In Search of the Chosŏn People of Lost Korea
Nick Licata
How Hydroxychloroquine Could Help Trump…Politically
Jill Richardson
Tens of Millions of Are Out of Work, Why on Earth is Trump Trying to Cut Food Aid?
Susan Block
Incel Terrorism
Mitchel Cohen
Masks and COVID-19: an Open Letter to Robert Kennedy Jr and Children’s Health Defense
May 28, 2020
Melvin Goodman
Trump’s War on Arms Control and Disarmament
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail