I listened to the victory speech of Jeremy Corbyn this morning.
Corbyn is, of course, the left wing candidate that came out of nowhere to win the leadership of the British Labour Party – one of the two main parties in that country. The Labour Party is unlike in the US, where the structures of the two main parties are so obscure that it is much easier for shadowy, “influential” figures to really control things from behind the curtain. Also, the unions are organically linked to Labour in a way that they are not to the Democrats. All this means that Labour and the Democrats are fundamentally different, and winning the official leadership position of Labour really means something. In fact, there was a national campaign all around the country, with registered party members casting their votes for the official leader. The only thing that is remotely similar is the US presidential primary campaign, and even that has huge differences.
So Corbyn came out of “nowhere” to stun the party officialdom and massively win the leadership position. His campaign was based on opposition to inequality, homelessness, and poverty. He opposes the “austerity” that has been such a disaster for so many millions. But this appeal directly conflicts with the policies of Labour for decades. Just like the Social Democratic parties of Europe, they have joined in helping keep “their” capitalists afloat by attacking the social services and wages of workers in Britain. They have become so unpopular that they have totally lost support in Scotland, their traditional stronghold.
As the Financial Times wrote, “The images flashed around the world, an inspiration for
those who see Mr Corbyn as the embodiment of a socialist revival, a two-fingered salute (the same as the “one fingered” salute in the US) to the old order with its embrace of austerity and complicity with big finance.” Corbyn’s campaign has been likened to the campaign of Syriza in Greece, and with good reason.
And most certainly, whether it be the one or the two fingered salute to Corporate World, that salute is welcome, not only as an act of defiance, but more important because it shows that workers and young people are starting to move into action. But as this happens, the pitfalls that might lie ahead have to be recognized.
Will Corbyn be able to produce?
That’s the question of the hour, and that’s where his victory speech comes in.
He spent the first half of that victory speech thanking all the Labour Party bigwigs as well as the party staff – the party bureaucracy. These were the same elements that pulled all sorts of dirty tricks against his campaign, including sending thousands of party members off the books in an effort to eliminate his internal support. The same ones who have been capitulating to austerity for so many years. So why did he thank them?
When out of power, one of the main roles of the Labour Party leader is to select a “shadow cabinet” if Labour is out of power. This is the group that takes up the policies of the in-power party. He, Corbyn, cannot function without them. This is just the most glaring example of the fact that he can only work within and through his party. (The same as in the US, by the way.)
So Corbyn has a choice: Either he can really organize and spark a revolt from within the
ranks of the Labour Party, resting mainly on those who have newly joined it to vote for him, or he will have to compromise on all the most serious issues with the party establishment. His victory speech was the first warning sign of which direction he is liable to take.
In a previous article on this site, Roger Silverman predicted a split in the Labour Party whatever the outcome. “Two classes cannot occupy the same party,” he wrote. It may come to that, but if it does, it won’t without a vicious internal battle. That battle will actually be healthy. It will help define the issues and who stands where. Along with the activity on the streets and in the work places, it is a necessary and inevitable part of the process of the revival of the working class movement.