Corbyn’s Dilemma by William Bowles

Protesting Osborne's Budget - Jeremy Corbyn - 3

Image by Jasn via Flickr

by William Bowles
Writer, Dandelion Salad
September 18, 2015, revised Sept. 19, 2015

‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions.’

I’m really torn writing this, for on the one hand, Jeremy Corbyn’s (JC) sudden materialisation in the midst of a rampant, Victorian-style imperialist England, like Doctor Who landing in the Tardis, it’s difficult  not to join in the euphoria currently sweeping through what’s left of the left in England  (the current Media Lens has an excellent description of this) and bow down before JC, an almost Christ-like apparition right in the middle of the gangster capitalists in Armani suits who rule us.

However, whilst not wanting to rain on the party,

“I cannot conclude without an earnest appeal to those Socialists, of whatever section, who may be drawn towards the vortex of Parliamentarism, to think better of it while there is yet time. If we ally ourselves to any of the presen[t] parties they will only use us as a cat’s-paw; and on the other hand, if by any chance a Socialist slips through into Parliament, he will do so at the expense of leaving his principles behind him; he will certainly not be returned as a Socialist, but as something else; what else is hard to say… Whatever concessions may be necessary to the progress of the Revolution can be wrung out of them at least as easily by extra-Parliamentary pressure, which can be exercised without losing one particle of those principles which are the treasure and hope of Revolutionary Socialists.” — William Morris, The Commonweal, Volume 1, Number 10, November 1885, p. 93.[1]

And on the other, as William Morris avers, the road to Parliament is also paved with good intentions and JC has been plodding along that road for thirty or so years with no more impact on the ‘democratic process’ than the rest of us have had (though a cynic would suggest that the perks and the pension plan might have something to do with it).

Thus whilst it’s admirable, heart-warming even, to see JC echo at least some of the left’s hopes and aspirations and for them to surface in the sea of misery that is, once more, reactionary and backward-looking Tory England, what is actually possible without an active, organised extra-Parliamentary opposition? In fact, things have gone into reverse during JC’s 30-year stint in the House of Commons. His has been a lone voice in the wilderness of parliamentary procedureness.

This is JC’s dilemma, his ‘Syriza’ moment if you like; Reformism versus Revolution and JC long ago chose Reform as did the Labour Movement over one hundred years ago when the Labour Party was born at the instigation of the trade union movement, to represent their interests in a capitalist Parliament (women still didn’t have the vote then), the hope being that capitalism could be reformed gradually through the democratic process and finally arrive at socialism (though that bit, the most important bit, hadn’t been worked out).

This is JC’s reality; he has to work within the ‘system’, a system created by capitalism, for capitalism. Okay, it (the capitalist state) has been forced to make some accommodation for the rest of us, well at least it used to during those thirty years, from 1945 to 1975, and this is the point: Does Jeremy Corbyn have the Parliamentary Labour Party behind him and what is it possible for him as an individual, to do about what is now a transnational ruling class as events in Greece so tragically demonstrate?

Corbyn’s dilemma is revealed first and foremost in the choices he has made for his Shadow Cabinet. Its composition reflects the compromises of all kinds Corbyn must make in order to accommodate a Parliamentary Party pretty much opposed to his views on just about everything.

According to Labour List, an ‘inside the Labour Party’ source, JC commands only 7% support within the Parliamentary Labour Party, that’s the one the Labour MPs belong to. Don’t forget, there are two Labour Parties, the Constituency Labour Party that in theory anyway, anybody can join, and the Parliamentary Labour Party, though obviously the two are connected at the hip (as the song and dance about ‘infiltrators’ during the election process, shows). It’s worth noting that the Labour Party has long practiced what my folks called a policy of ‘Bans and Proscriptions’, whereby not only were lefties left of the Labour Party banned from joining said Labour Party, but there was to be no connection at all to anything left of the Labour Party, like we had a communicable disease. I well remember what seemed to be a yearly event; the Labour Party disbanding the Labour Party Young Socialists because it got too socialist! It had been infected with the disease of socialism, well at least Trotskyism.

The Labour Party is, in every sense a creature born of the Establishment. In that sense, the Labour Party is as imperialist as the Tory Party with its history of promoting imperialism-colonialism abroad (to the marginal benefit of its organised working class support, ie the trade unions) attests. This is an embarrassing history for the left of today, and the left of the past, my past. To my mind, this issue is central to the paradox that is the Western left generally, but those of the imperialist states in particular. But it does go some way to explaining the following bizarre behaviour by someone who calls himself a socialist:

Tariq Ali, doyen of the intellectual left here, at the very beginning of the (current) imperialist assault on Assad’s Syria in 2011, called for “Assad to go”, he revealed exactly how the Western left is trapped in an imperialist worldview. We, along with everyone else here are forever telling the rest of the world what to do and how to it – or else, including Tariq Ali.

Yet JC has clearly touched a nerve, especially it would seem, amongst the young who have better sense than to have anything to do with our corrupt and moribund political class and its equally moribund so-called democratic system. But this is not even the first step on the long road to socialism. Whilst the existing left is quick to exploit every opportunity that comes its way, it either never knows what to do with it or, it behaves opportunistically. But this is not to say that if JC reached out to the formerly voiceless that something significant couldn’t be built and in quite a short time.

But not if it develops within the Labour Party. Again, I aver to William Morris on this score. If Jeremy Corbyn is to have any chance at all in mobilising the voiceless, who after all, are almost 30% of the population, and build an alliance with progressive sections of the ‘middle class’ who are already active through such issues as climate change, consumerism, tax evasion or whatever, as well as the few remaining progressive trade unions, gathers these ‘issues’ together and links them all to their common cause – capitalism.

Can Jeremy Corbyn do this? Is this what he wants to do (or something like it)? But on the one hand he bypasses the established institutions in favour of ‘alternative’ media, social networks and so forth. He reaches out to his constituency and speaks their language but on the other he heads a party whose institutions he has to work with. Can he change the party he now heads that much?

But assuming JC makes all the right calls, could it, a reborn Labour Party lead to a new call for an end to the madness of capitalism and exactly 130 years after Morris made his plea?

from the archives:

Could A Reborn Labour Party Lead To A New Call For An End To The Madness Of Capitalism? by William Bowles

Chris Hedges on Corbyn VS Sanders: Two Different Political Animals + Hedges: US’ Ongoing Assault on Iraq Coughed Up Groups Like ISIS

Congratulations Jeremy Corbyn, a Real Peace Activist to Lead the Labour Party by David Swanson

Bernie Sanders Again Insists That Saudi Arabia Should Kill More People by David Swanson

Is Bernie Sanders Making A “Political Revolution”? by Todd Chretien

20 thoughts on “Corbyn’s Dilemma by William Bowles

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  7. All these ‘experts’ coming out from under the woodwork. Annoying, to say the least. Even Rome wasn’t built in one day…for crying out loud, give the guy a chance. The writer of this article…could he do better? Has he attempted?

  8. Jeremy Corbyn does indeed have a monumental task of working within the framework, conventions and language of “a system created by capitalism, for capitalism.” How can he adhere to the principles which underpins his fight against the dysfunctional capitalism which prevails today? There are precedents for entering a system, speaking its language, learning the dynamic interplay of its components whilst retaining a degree of objectivity and one’s own ethical standpoint. One of these is put forward by Brett Scott who worked as a financial derivatives broker in London and, by looking at the system from an anthropological perspective, was able to pinpoint its vulnerabilities and learn how to ‘hack’ (in its broadest sense) into it in a constructive way His book The Heretic’s Guide to Global Finance is “a book about personal empowerment in the face of that system, providing a gateway
    Through which a single person may gain access to it, combat the power asymmetries built into it, and use it for positive,heretical, ends.”
    Corbyn’s advisers might well take some tips from Scott’s approach. His blog here-

    Another consideration arises from David’s observation
    “I’m inclined to suggest we need to shift the emphasis away from party and partisan carousels or committee deadlock, back to the responsibility of the individual to demonstrate the necessary backbone to make it all meaningful, an ethical exercise of pure intent.”

    Indeed. A shining example was portrayed on Channel4 News on Thursday of a British family helping thousands of refugees arriving daily on the shores of Lesbos.
    The contrast with the deadlock and endless prevarication on the part of European politicians could not be greater.

    “We should trust the citizenry to act according to their own lights” suggests David.
    Trust and galvanize as Owen Jones (Guardian columnist and author of The Establishment and How they Get Away With It) exhorts:
    “It is a grassroots movement that catapulted Corbyn to the top. If you backed him, you now have a responsibility. Get active, build a movement in your own community and start organising to win over those who are unconvinced. ”

    • I agree whole heartedly. Three points strike me as acutely relevant ~ the issue of reclaiming a free press; the criminal hypocrisy of British support for murderous Saudi fascists and their kindred alliances; and the fundamental issue of “labour” ~ the plight and rights of workers generally.

      I’d like to add a brief “coda” to that question, as it is so central to all progressive, radical and revolutionary discourse.

      We all work, except those who have inherited privilege and wealth of course. Altho’ it does not necessarily follow. Anyone can choose their path in life who has the freedom to choose. It is all those not enjoying that basic right who most need our support and solidarity.

      My complaint is that politicians are not the ones best placed to address this perennial question. It is innovative entrepreneurs, Silicone Valley systems analysts and ecologists who have the potential solutions and forward thinking ideas we need to debate. So I would say that the real deal these days is access to that information, that reverts back to the freedom of the press & methods of education ~ all of which are profoundly inflected by the expansion & openness of the Internet.

      What politicians can do, is fight for that openness, and flatly refuse to patronise oppressive regimes. In fact we should demand our representatives divest and sanction criminal governments in ways that affect those in power rather than punish the populace.

      How people organize and how they operate their community transactions is a job for local banks and individual initiative, leadership. How institutions of governance and business function ethically is the task of international law.

      I think we must totally reconfigure our notions of due process and “duty of care” to reflect the needs of this evolving contemporary society, in a globally connected and dynamically emergent, interactive reality.

      Corporate industry must be restricted in its activities, regulated robustly and fairly (ie ecologically) and all public servants held fully accountable. Until we stop corruption in its tracks, jam the revolving door, break the glass ceiling for good & get our biosphere politics sorted out and our aim straight, I see no likelihood of improving the lot of humanity generally.

      The most revolutionary act is to think for oneself ~ and then to share those ideas & experiences, intelligently and coherently.

  9. The key to Corbyn’s progress is galvanising the British people to take an interest in their own welfare.

    It was William Hague who required the dismissal of democratic accountability by him and his mates in ordering petitions to the representatives to have one hundred thousand signatures before he or they would consider them. He used to be amusing but has long passed his sell-by date.

    Under these new Hague Rules democracy is suppressed and the people must support the few grassroots organisationas that have sprung up to confront the tendency to fascism – Avaaz, Positive Money, Unlock Democracy. This is how we provide daily evidence that Corbyn has our support until we are again enabled by a free press to know the issues and personally give our opinions.

  10. From a marxian perspective talk about Corbyn’s making revolution is absurd. What’s missing from the conversation is a question of what Corbyn’s political victory means for the real makers of revolution, those with the real power to throw a wrench into the gears of capital — those who produce the surplus wealth that capitalism is absolutely addicted to and depends on for its continued existence — that is the class of exploited workers. Focus on this question is much more meaningful and will bring us closer to the first step in replacing capitalism with socialism.

  11. Just as I thought we are now in the dark ages a light appears, Corbyn, why is their 7% labor for this man? is as you know the labor party is just a extension of the Conservatives? the cowardice of the two main parties revealed.
    Always the enlightened have a problem with the lower classes? have they been so inbred to think in a way often called programmed who no longer have a moral aptitude to of a description of aspiration I had to go back to Davids commentary to say it the word noblest of aspirations? in this world always a danger to speak words as such, as being idealist you must not be idealistic? so what are we to be realistic? what is realistic? the killing of hundreds of thousands in the Middle East? the supply of militaristic equipment to Saudi Arabia for a despot government a country notable for human abuse, no less than a billion dollar industry for Britain? is this what the herd wants as a voting public? nevertheless we have a duty to the herd to attempt to enlighten that they have been programmed with centuries of propaganda, by the controlling elite and this is where we must give credit to our enemy within that is to control and manipulate the masses mind for so long is a admirable feat to accomplish, the fact that leaders such as Cameron, Blair and so on can manipulate so many against their better judgement is amazing and what is even more amazing is some one such as Corbyn should become a light for so many who only deserve slavery rather than a man of outstanding character.

  12. Indeed as the commentaries seem to indicate, both here and all over the place, we are in for a rocky ride. How should one translate principle into pragmatic policy?

    I’m inclined to suggest we need to shift the emphasis away from party and partisan carousels or committee deadlock, back to the responsibility of the individual to demonstrate the necessary backbone to make it all meaningful, an ethical exercise of pure intent.

    In other words, we should trust the citizenry to act according to their own lights, and desist from the follow-my-leader reflex that seeks salvation in personality and presence. That is a trick of the media to perpetuate and pursue profligate irrelevance in public life.

    Politicians are public servants. It is up to the public to stand for something worth serving. Those who cannot lead will follow, and those who cannot stand alone, willing to risk contempt in defiance of the herd mentality, should strive to serve or be willing to do so should they be fortunate enough to find the right context to express their noblest aspirations. They should choose well. Leadership really means being of independent mind; not (just) private means.

    Jeremy Corbyn’s great contribution is that he does not speak with a forked tongue, and so long as that is so, he will remain an enormous moral asset because he will encourage and indeed, demand more open, genuine debate and affirmation of mutually reciprocal strength of purpose.

    The values that barren consumerism has so callously denigrated, are what used to be understood as the qualities of virtue, intelligence, integrity, truthfulness, honesty, generosity of spirit, wholesome imagination, loyalty, courage and so forth.

    Mr Corbyn reminds us that these essential human faculties still exist, and moreover that we forego them at our peril.

    He is not a salesman, he is a man of conscience; and in this era of gross neglect and abject irresponsibility, he reminds us that it is indeed possible to be a human being and still act professionally, without fear of the consequences. Determination is splendid, but without a heart, the strongest will in the world is nothing but an impotent imposter.

  13. “But assuming JC makes all the right calls, could it, a reborn Labour Party lead to a new call for an end to the madness of capitalism and exactly 130 years after Morris made his plea?”

    Well, it could lead to a new call for an end to the madness, but it will be impotent to end the madness regardless of whether it is the official opposition or the party in power.


    Again, to reiterate something I’ve already written as a comment in response to the most recent Panitch interview: the “state” is not parliament but what parliament depends upon to execute its laws and policies. The “state,” where the real power of capitalist governance is vested, is the bureaucratic machinery itself, all of those government institutions designed so that the personnel on the lower rungs of its hierarchy obey those rungs above, and the key positions on the highest rungs, the people who sit at the apexes of these organizations, are beholden to the class interests of the uber rich because it is the uber rich themselves who either occupy these lofty heights of command and control or who select and carefully vet those who do.

    What, to take but one if extreme example, happened in Chile, under Salvador Allende’s radical left government? Sabotage from all sides from within the state apparatus itself for three years, until the bourgeois ‘generals’ decided that the time was finally ripe for its coup on behalf its class, that and the utter decimation of the working class movement.

    Of course, long before a coup might even be deemed a necessity by the ruling class, a parliamentary assembly could easily be paralyzed to the point of having to call a snap election in which it would loose — once those in the seats of real power, acting as one, managed to make life sufficiently intolerable for the majority while convincing them through an intense propaganda campaign that their woes were the direct result of the incompetence of their elected representatives.

    I think in this respect, the Trotskyites are mostly correct in their prognostications as to the most likely outcome of a reformist approach to ‘revolution.’ Unless the people who occupy all of the key bureaucratic positions in the state are somehow thrown overboard all at once, unless the principles of promotion to key decision making positions within state organizations are changed so that no one connected to ‘big money’ might be promoted into those positions, pretty much nothing changes.

    JC and his supporters will have to do more than make all the right calls if the madness of capitalism is to end. They may have to incite mutiny among the lower ranks of all state bureaucracies, especially among the security and military cadres.

    (I cannot and do not take credit for this line of argumentation, since I shamelessly borrow it from Chris Harman, an instantiation of which you can find here:

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