Jeremy Corbyn's Resilience

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By Antonio Martins*

An opportunity to give new meaning to the popular uprisings that mark 2019 and the frustrations with traditional politics, which have traversed the world for years, was missed. Led by its right wing and boosted by Brexit, the Conservative Party won crucial elections and won a large majority in Parliament (365 out of 627 seats) – even reaching less than half (43,6%) of the votes.

The result frustrated, at least temporarily, a process that began four years ago and has great significance for the left across the world. Under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, achieved in a surprising way in 2015, the Labor Party transformed itself, multiplied its number of members and resumed the search for alternatives to capitalism.

His victory would have put into practice a program to boost public services and expand social rights; strengthening the common and combating the power of corporations and the financial oligarchy; redistribution of wealth combined with nature preservation. All this, in a country where political events have enormous international repercussions.

Now, the criticisms of Corbyn are on the rise. They accuse him of being uncharismatic; to indulge anti-Semitism; of having advanced to the left in an unrealistic way and, for all these reasons, withdrawn from the electorate. These are superficial analyses. With 32,2% of the votes, the Labour remains robust and popular (comparatively, the largest leftist parties obtained, in their last elections, 29,3% in Brazil, 19,58% in France, 20,5% in Germany, 28% in Spain, 22,9% in Italy). had a majority in todas age groups up to 44 years (reaching 57% in the group between 18 and 24).

Furthermore, his electoral defeat makes no strategic sense, because it does not make him incapable of intervening with protagonism in the new (difficult and certainly tumultuous) situation that will open up. Part of the attacks are aimed at burying an innovative experience capable of inspiring the left far beyond the UK. Therefore, examining these four years – their successes, the real causes of their failure at the polls, their prospects for the future – is essential.

Corbyn's Rise: Leftist Parties Can Also Be Reborn

Activist linked to labor causes, anti-imperialism and anti-colonial struggles in Latin America since his youth; close to British Marxist groups; A rebellious member of the British Parliament from 1983, Jeremy Corbyn was an unknown figure in the international arena until he became leader of the Labor Party in September 2015. His choice came as a huge surprise. The post was vacant with the resignation of Ed Miliband, after defeat in general elections. In England, it is completed through direct elections, where all members of each party vote. Corbyn, already 65 years old, judged that it would not be fair for the dispute to take place without the presence of a candidate clearly identified with the left wings of the Labor. In the absence of others, he applied.

His victory was so improbable that, at first, he did not even gather the necessary number of adhesions to enter the electoral ballot. He was able to participate because fellow parliamentarians endorsed him, at the last minute, in a condescending gesture. Once confirmed, Corbyn addressed the Labor base with a clear program, which combined clearly anti-neoliberal positions with democratic postures.

He announced that he would oppose the withdrawal of social security rights (backed at the time by the Labour) and all “austerity” policies (practiced by the party). He proposed State action to create a bank aimed at financing housing for the majority and improving infrastructure in impoverished areas. He declared himself against the British military alliance with the US, nuclear weapons and the country's own presence in NATO. He announced his intention to consult frequently with party members on central policy issues.

Considered unrealistic and ridiculed by all the media, this program nonetheless won over the majority of party members within a few weeks. Among three other candidates, all linked to the establishment Labor, Corbyn was elected with 59,5% of the votes. And he would not only prove himself capable of provoking – but also of building. His strength has never rested solely on the votes of groups on the left. His election, on the contrary, triggered a flood of party memberships, which doubled the number of members. The vast majority are young, in the initial process of politicization.

Corbyn's resilience, when challenged by party bureaucracy, came from there. Less than a year after being elected, he was overthrown, in a maneuver by his own parliamentary bench colleagues. The no-confidence motion that removed him from office in June 2016 was approved by 172 votes to just 40. But he returned in the arms of activists two months later. He obtained the right to contest the election again and won it – this time with 61,8% of the votes, in an election that had the turnout of a stunning 77,6% of those registered in the party.

The importance of this movement becomes even clearer when it is seen in its context. In Europe and North America, it is the time of equalization of the parties; of the supposed social democrats who are in charge of executing the neoliberal program. At the same time, in the wake of the 2011 revolts, there is a search for alternatives on the left. In Spain, Podemos was born out of the Indignados movement (in 2014). In the United States, Bernie Sanders is preparing to run for the White House. Corbyn's first political achievement was to demonstrate that, under certain conditions, parties that were thought to be dead can also be reborn. And this impression will become stronger soon after, in the 2017 British general election.

Success at the polls, in 2017, with a post-capitalist program

In February 2017, a collage in the London magazine The Economist – pro-capitalist and savage – exposed the sense of sarcasm of the establishment British and global in the face of the new left. A tombstone marks the tomb of the Labor Party, in an open field. A beret, identical to the one Corbyn often wears, sets the scene – along with withered red roses.

The text that the image illustrates is eloquent. Predicts the death of Labour in 2030, after a series of political follies, initiated by the then labor leader. The meaning is clear. Corbyn can excite Labor activists old and new, thinks Economist. But there's nothing to be afraid of: the more they get excited, the more they'll lock themselves in their bubble and distance themselves from ordinary citizens.

It is likely that Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May bought this fish. In April 2017, faced with difficulties in Parliament and opinion polls that gave her a 25 percentage point lead over Labor, she challenged them with a proposal to call early general elections. Contrary to what was expected, Corbyn and the Labour they were not intimidated: they voted in favor of the anticipation.

The campaign was extremely short: just five weeks. But it had a surprise element: an even more audacious and concrete Labor leader in formulating an alternative to neoliberalism. His program was provocative from the title: “For the many, not for the few”. But now, contrary to what he had done in the dispute for Labor leadership, Corbyn did not limit himself to listing scattered points, capable of signaling the rejection of “austerity” policies. He beckoned to the Commons.

Your The Manifest, as the British call it, was, even then, a coherent articulation of very clear proposals to reverse the course of State policies. There was a commitment to transforming public services (revitalizing the National Health System, eliminating tuition fees in British Universities, while bolstering them with adequate resource endowments). Strong redistributive measures emerged to finance this boldness (increased taxes on corporations, the richest, financial operations).

Structural measures came into play in the economy (renationalization of water supply, railroads, post offices). It dialogued with contemporary agendas (vast recognition of LGBTI rights, ban on advertising ultra-processed foods on TV, ban on oil exploration through rocky fragmentation). The end of British alignment with the US was announced (a ban on arms sales to Saudi Arabia, a promise of a turnaround in foreign policy).

The result, on June 8, was the frontal denial of the predictions of those who believed in the eternal moderation of the electorate. O Labour it did not win, but reached 40% of the votes, expanded its bench by 30 parliamentarians and demonstrated that there is room, in contemporary politics, for a new post-capitalist imaginary. On top of that, he threw the conservatives into a crisis from which they would only emerge two years later, at the price of losing their character and projecting the country into uncertainty.

Here comes the pro-Brexit bias.

* Antonio Martins, journalist, editor of the site Other words.

Originally published on the website Other words.

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