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Blog, Theory & Analysis

This Is Not Our Victory

Today saw the election of North Islington MP Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the UK Labour Party. His remarkable leadership campaign attracted a storm of near-hysterical criticism from both established Labour figures and the right-wing press, but gained considerable support from across the UK left. From major trade-unions to Trotskyist sects, Corbyn succeeded in uniting a broad swathe of the established left, as well as many ordinary Labour Party members and supporters, behind his bid to lead the party following its worst election defeat in 30 years. In spite of a vicious propaganda campaign from right-wing papers like the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, and the Express, alongside former Labour Prime Ministers and other high-ranking members of the Labour establishment (not to mention an attempted purge of his supporters by the current Labour leadership) Corbyn now looks set to lead the Labour Party into the next UK general election in 2020. For most of the British left, this will doubtless be a cause for considerable celebration.

We’re not celebrating.

In spite of the hype surrounding his ascension, we find precious little cause for optimism in his victory. It isn’t simply that he’s unelectable, as those on the right of the Labour Party claim, though it’s true the prospect of him actually becoming Prime Minister in 2020 seems pretty remote without seismic changes to the political landscape of the UK. It isn’t that his left leaning policies don’t go far enough, though it’s true that by the standards of the pre-1990s Labour Party he’s really more of a centrist. It’s not even that the party he leads has a track record of warmongering, austerity, and strike-breaking going back to 1945. Rather, our scepticism of Corbyn’s politics comes from the fact that his vision of an end to austerity, of an end to wars and bloodshed abroad, of well funded state-run public services, of a more just and equal society, is based on a lie: that if we elect better politicians, they will build us a better world without us having to do the hard work of struggling together to improve our lives. The truth is that if we want to see meaningful change, we have to fight for it ourselves.

The strategy of electing left wing and socialist politicians to fight our battles for us has failed time and time again. Corbyn is just the latest in a long line of failures, inside and outside the Labour Party. Just a few months ago, leftists across Europe and beyond were singing the praises of SYRIZA, a coalition of socialists and revolutionaries who rose to power in Greece in January this year, claiming they would put an end to the misery doled out to the Greek people by years of savage public spending cuts. Today their promises are in tatters, their supporters disappointed in yet another Greek government capitulating in the face of international pressure to implement still more austerity. Three years earlier another socialist party in France rose to power offering similar promises of an end to austerity and a fairer society. Three years on, their promises remain unfulfilled. The list goes on.

From an anarchist perspective, none of this is surprising. It is not just that left-wing politicians are liars, cowards and sell-outs, although of course they often are. Nor is it simply that forces outside of and beyond the reach of national parliaments, from international bureaucracies like the EU to centres of financial power like the City of London, make the aspirations of socialist governments impossible. The real issue is more fundamental. Governments, of any political stripe, can act only by wielding the power of the state. To maintain a powerful state, governments need a strong economy, and that means managing capitalism and maintaining a capitalist social order. Different governments can try to do this in different ways, but they’re all bound by the same basic logic, and none of them offer any real hope of a way out of the cycle of capitalist domination and human misery. That’s why left wing and socialist governments routinely disappoint us.

Nonetheless, the allure of Corbyn’s politics is easy to understand. He offers hope when other politicians offer only different flavours of despair, different degrees of capitulation in the face of the self-destructive forces of 21st century capitalism. And hope is important. For those of us who still dream of a better world, who still believe we can overcome the myriad forces of oppression and exploitation and build a more humane society, it sometimes feels like hope is all we have. But if we want to see real change, if we want to make our dreams come to life, we need more than hope: we need power. Not in parliament, but in the streets, in the workplace, in our neighbourhoods, in every aspect of our daily lives. That power can only come from self-organisation and direct action, working together cooperatively to use our own collective strength against those who profit from the current state of things.

So rather than place our faith in politicians to make things better for us, we choose instead to find hope in one another. It is not grand speeches by would-be leaders that inspire us, but the words and actions of ordinary people coming together, whether in the form of strikes and occupations or the many smaller acts of resistance and solidarity that make our day-to-day lives bearable. The false hope offered by Jeremy Corbyn and the like leads only to disappointment, disillusionment and despair. Real hope is sometimes hard to find, and real change is harder still, but we have to be honest with ourselves and one another, and face up to the realities of our collective situation. We have a long way to go to bring about revolutionary change, but the struggle starts in the here and now.

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About jolasmo

Anarchist-communist, antifascist and general layabout. Hobbies include video games, drinking heavily and cross dressing.

Discussion

12 thoughts on “This Is Not Our Victory

  1. An excellent post giving much to ponder. I take your point about the centres of financial power and their dominant role but, as a step to progress, shouldn’t we ‘hope’ that a left UK government reveals the complexity of these structures and brings them into the political discourse? Exposing ‘secrecy jurisdictions’ and the city of london to the people can only aid us.

    Like

    Posted by Peter Smith | 09/13/2015, 15:34
  2. Whilst this is better than the position proposed by Class War – it’s got some content, it ignores the concerns of ordinary working class people. When you do that, you lose them (as Class War are finding out). Anarchists have been in the wilderness now for approaching a century – not because they are anarchists, but because they are dogmatists. Only wankers would tell working class people not to be happy when Blair et al get kicked in the balls big style. But guess what? The anarchists, they are queuing up to do it!

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    Posted by richard marshall | 09/14/2015, 21:57
    • In the first place I’d dispute that this ignores the concerns of ‘ordinary working class people,’ as if the concerns raised above are by definition not those of ordinary or working class people, as if as anarchists we are automatically excluded from these categories. Ours may be a minority opinion within the working class as a whole, but it is not therefore automatically less valid an expression of the wants and desires of working class people. The reality is that ‘ordinary working class people’ are not one homogeneous thing but a diverse collection of people with a broad range of grievances, concerns, ideas, political beliefs, and attitudes. Appealing to some stereotypical average working class person whose primary concern is apparently to see “Blair et al get kicked in the balls big style” (not a concern I can recall ever being expressed by workmates, family, friends, “blokes down the pub” etc. but maybe that’s just me) doesn’t discredit the arguments and concerns raised above, any more than pointing out the widespread xenophobia of the British working class invalidates other working class peoples concerns about the plight of refugees.

      It was not my intention with this article to speak on behalf of the working class as a whole, but to offer a specifically anarchist perspective on Corbyn’s remarkable rise to become Leader of the Opposition. Nor did I intend to tell anyone not to be happy, far from it. What I don’t want people to do is to invest hope, time and effort in another left wing politician when the track record of left wing politicians is as dismal as it undoubtedly is. If you ask me, the real wankers are the ones who tell working class people that the same failed strategies that have delivered nothing but disappointment and betrayal time and time again are definitely going to work out for them this time around because Corbyn’s just such a great guy.

      ~J.

      Like

      Posted by jolasmo | 09/14/2015, 23:47
  3. Thanks for replying so promptly and with detail. Of course we are not a homogeneous group. And anarchists are one of the more marginal – e.g. Class War achieved less votes than the Monster Raving Looney Party in the recent general election (I know you’re not Class War, I mention them because they currently entertain more support than any other ‘anarchist’ group) . That’s why galvanising people, in the way that recent political developments have, could be very important and I don’t mean important because it moves the left wing of capital one step closer to political power, I mean it is important because it shows people that change can happen, even against what seems to be all of the odds. OK ‘challenging people’s achievements’ as opposed to ‘telling people not to be happy’ as a first communicative step, is not going to result in them engaging with your/our ideas. I think that anarchists need to continue to be part of the movement that has led to Corbyn’s appointment so that we encourage it to develop as a strong and autonomous movement, not one which is controlled by people who will inevitably let us down.

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    Posted by richard marshall | 09/15/2015, 10:06
    • The question is, what movement are we talking about here? If we’re simply talking about the current movement to drag the Labour Party to the left, then I’d say that by its very nature it can’t develop as a strong and autonomous movement because its internal logic ties it to parliamentary actors who must curtail the strength and autonomy of that movement in order to channel its efforts into electoralism and prevent it from undermining their own position as official representatives of the working class. If by “the movement” we mean something more general, for example “the anti-austerity movement,” then I’d say that yes, anarchists need to continue being a part of that, but not at the expense of shelving our critique of political parties and politicians as a means for fighting austerity. Anarchists have been vocally critical of many aspects of the anti-austerity movement for years, whilst continuing to struggle alongside other workers for an end to austerity. If voicing criticism of Corbyn and the Labour Party automatically excludes us from this movement, then it’s probably not a movement we want to be a part of anyway.

      Now, the question of how we can best communicate that criticism and get people to engage with our ideas is certainly an important one. After all, we are as you say a marginal group within the working class as a whole, and we need to be conscious of that when putting across our ideas. It’s important not to be dismissive of the hopes and aspirations people attach to parliamentary politics, and I hope I’ve managed to avoid that in my piece here. But that doesn’t mean we must accept the politics of Corbynism simply because they are currently popular, or that those who currently subscribe to his ideas are not interested in or capable of engaging with criticism.

      Ultimately, if there is any potential for the groundswell of support for Corbyn to transform into a more combative and autonomous movement with real potential for winning meaningful change, that isn’t going to happen as a result of anarchists simply going along with the movement’s current political direction until it runs up against its inevitable limits. We need to encourage a healthy level of scepticism towards the claims of would-be saviours like Corbyn, and that means articulating some sort of criticism of the way parliamentary movements operate. That’s all I was trying to achieve with this piece.

      ~J.

      Liked by 1 person

      Posted by jolasmo | 09/15/2015, 12:16
      • I’m not a fan of these kinds of articles. While their critiques are often necessary in the end they just make us look out of touch and provide little in terms of guidance or insight.

        I understand that as anarchists we are committed to a critique of the state but such a dogmatic approach to electoral politics is both wrongheaded and factually incorrect. Things like welfarism and the NHS have tangibly improved the lives of the working class: granted our ruling classes were loathed to grant them but it wasn’t the anarchists who ultimately made the provisions.

        This is worth acknowledging: left wing candidates can sometimes be elected and produce policies that will help working class people. It may not be the promised land of libertarian socialism but the shelter of Corbyn’s cosy socially-democratic cottage is much more preferable to eeking out an existence against the walls of Cameron’s austerity castle. The long term strategy should be anarchism but for many working class people, as it currently stands, the choice between Corbyn and the anarchists is a choice between a political candidate who’ll make it easier to put food on the table and people who achieve little else than periodic kettling.

        Until we develop an actual working response to austerity (something that consists of more than just another call to arms) we should eschew presenting ourselves as the tactical choice.

        On a more constructive note: Corbyn’s win, and its importance to anarchists, shouldn’t be cast aside so quickly. His very presence in the media may get portions of the public to reconsider their ideological commitments. It’s much easier to convince someone of libertarian socialism once they have entertained the thought that neo-liberalism isn’t the be all and end all.

        I personally would like to hear more thoughts on how anarchists can take advantage of the kinds of conversations that Corbyn has opened up. Or perhaps a more rigorous critique of his economic and social policies than just “he’s a politician”. For instance, “Why hasn’t Corbyn pushed for collectivisation instead of nationalisation?” If the former provides all the benefits of the latter – and more – then why don’t we criticise him from that angle? That way we can provide a critique of him that actually provides a solid alternative that working class people can campaign and work for.

        Jolasmo, your scepticism of government officials is well warranted but I think we need to come up with a more constructive response. The most left wing candidate on the Labour ballot has been elected in a landslide; surely we can contribute something other than another prophecy of doom?

        Like

        Posted by Fin | 09/19/2015, 20:11
  4. It wasn’t really my intention here to pose “the choice between Corbyn and the anarchists.” There is plenty to criticise in the theory and practice of anarchism today. Indeed, we need to ask ourselves hard questions about why the political alternatives we favour still haven’t found mass appeal, whilst Corbyn’s rewarmed social democracy has succeeded in capturing the energy of the movements many of us spent so long toiling to build. But this was not really the specific point I wanted to make. I just wanted to outline why the current wave of enthusiasm for parliamentary leftism a la Corbyn is at odds with core anarchist ideas about how we should organise as a class, and what sorts of ideas and actions further that process. I don’t think having a fully worked out programme for ending austerity in five years time is a prerequisite for making this point. What I would say is that if we resign ourselves to left-wing Labourism as the only workable solution in the immediate term, and take it as a given than anarchist practice in the here and now will be limited to “periodic kettling” as Fin puts it, then we will never get anywhere. We need an anarchist politics based not only around long term visions of a utopian future, but also around fulfilling people’s immediate needs, wants and desires in the context of 21st century capitalism.

    That said, I’m actually deeply unconvinced by claims that Jeremy Corbyn offers a practical alternative that will “help people put food on the table” at all. It seems unlikely, given the number of enemies he has within the Labour Party, the media, and apparently the upper echelons of the British army, that he’ll make it to 2020 as Labour Leader, much less make it to PM, and even if he wins the election, he’ll still face all of the structural and systematic obstacles I’ve discussed above. If, like Fin, you agree with the critique, you have to acknowledge that it means it’s actually very difficult to see how Corbyn can make good on his promises. And when you consider the amount of person-hours that would have to be invested by Labour Party activists and supporters to actually make such a victory even remotely possible, you have to ask yourself whether that represents a good use of peoples time given the at best questionable gains that are going to come out of it. I’m not trying to be depressing here, but we need to be realistic about what is and isn’t worth putting effort into given that the fight against austerity is a life or death struggle for a lot of people.

    I absolutely agree that what we need is practical, workable ways to make a difference to peoples lives in the here and now. As anarchists, as working class people who are ourselves on the front lines of this stuff, we can’t afford to leave it up to Corbyn and co. to take care of our immediate situation whilst we plot the long term downfall of the global capitalist system from the illusory comfort of his “cosy social democratic cottage”. We need to take that struggle into our own hands.

    ~J.

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    Posted by jolasmo | 09/21/2015, 20:27
  5. Everything you say is spot on. The only thing I would add, is that the election of Corbyn is an opportunity. We know Corbyn will manage capitalism, and that if the IMF etc told him to jump, he’d say how high! But for the first time in a very long time, there are a lot of people who seem open to Left politics. I know Corbyn is at best left of centre in a Right wing party, but we have to be saying to his supporters, yes renationalisation of rail is good, but have you thought about what it would be like if we renationalise the banks! We can’t expect Corbyn converts to storm the Bastille Fin is right, we have to engage with the anger that has put Corbyn in power! If we can’t do that then the opportunity will again be lost. If we can’t/won’t engage, it says more about our lack of politics, rather than theirs.

    Like

    Posted by lenscatz | 09/28/2015, 12:49
  6. Dear God. He is just ‘doing his bit’ so what if it’s not ‘your’ idea of a victory? He is just bothering to do something he believes in – who cares if it’s not up to your political standards? I’m not a labour/voting supporter i – probably along with a lot of others, think it’s refreshing to have someone openly challenge David Cameron on his own territory – that being the mainstream media. For too long we’ve been presented with a two party system that was obviously flawed – one of the many criticisms of the voting system has been the parties are practically identical, one set of upperclass twats or another. Now we are faced with some genuine opposition, and the tory agenda is being fought against with the type of views, rhetoric and politics that haven’t been allowed on mainstream media since some time in the 80’s. I don’t personally feel corbyn will win the next election – i dont know or CARE, but i think it’s a good thing that he’s somehow slipped through the cracks, and is in this position. It’s an amazing thing that he’s labour leader, and that it’s opened up a wider political discussion that one previously allowed by the propaganda machine. and who know’s maybe people will find out about other ideas and start questioning stuff, stuff like whether there should be a state.
    My mind is BLOWN that you are so unimaginative, narrow minded and dull to think that this has no positive points.
    Its really indicative of the boring anarchist cliquey mindset.

    It’s like the student protests of a few years ago, personally i don’t care either way, i’ve never been a uni student –
    i personally don’t believe in campaigning in support of the education system, a system that holds no standing with my political beliefs. Whilst not ‘against’ this sort of thing, i see it as reformist.
    However the ‘anarchist activists’ (if there is more than five of you) would support these protests as ‘direct action’ and probably be in favor.
    Oh look, yeah a quick search and there is, indeed a article by the red and black wanking over the idea of a ‘student movement’.
    My point is the politics of the student protest a few years ago are largely the same of that as corbyn, (reformist) but are you whining about that? No you spaffing over it. Isn’t exciting how the student’s are ‘mobilizing’.
    Why is it not as important that maybe those same people and thousands more are mobilizing, organizing and taking action (local assemblies).
    The parameters are exactly the same – so what are basing your beliefs on?

    People get radicalized in all sorts of ways and it’s pitiful you don’t think this could have a knock on effect.

    Like

    Posted by Imabetteranarchistthanyou | 02/26/2016, 05:48
    • Well, I care if it’s “not up to my political standards,” more or less by definition. Given that this is the most widely read article on this site it appears someone else cares as well. If you don’t care about it, that’s fine, but you don’t actually have to comment on every article you read online that you don’t care about. May I suggest instead that you just close the tab and find something more productive to do with your time?

      On the off chance that you actually are interested in talking about the topics mentioned in the above article, I’d make the following points. Firstly, I don’t think simply challenging this or that mainstream political figure on a personal level is necessarily important or interesting. Sure, it can be entertaining to watch, but at the end of the day David Cameron’s just one man, and the system that put him in place will carry on ticking over happily enough no matter how many “peoples PMQs” Jeremy Corbyn trots out. Secondly, is Corbyn really challenging David Cameron “on his own territory – that being the mainstream media?” Because to me it looks Corbyn’s media strategy since becoming leader of the opposition has been pretty much non-existent. I mean you might very reasonably say that it’s not his fault, since the established media in the UK is so unremittingly hostile to him and his politics, but if he can’t make himself heard through the mainstream press it does kind of beg the question of what exactly is the point of him being there in the first place.

      Thirdly, I don’t really buy the idea that the presence of a left wing figurehead in Westminster makes a substantial difference to the overall breadth of political discussion in the UK, either directly amongst working class people or within the political or media establishment, but if it does, then that’s no reason to stop criticising the left. Keeping quiet about our lack of enthusiasm for Corbyn and his politics won’t broaden that discussion any further, exactly the opposite. If this is an opportunity, it’s an opportunity to encourage people to go further than merely voting for Corbyn and to take political change into their own hands. And to do that, we need to be able to explain why voting for Corbyn isn’t an adequate response to our problems. Hence, you know, the article.

      Finally, on the comparison to the student protests of 2010-11, or subsequently, I don’t really understand the point you’re making here. You say that both Corbyn and the student movement are “reformist,” whatever that means in this context, but that isn’t the point that I made in the above article. The problem with Corbyn’s politics isn’t that they’re not revolutionary enough. The problem is that the method of political change he advocates is a dead end. I really don’t give a fuck if his supporters have called some assemblies. Schools have assemblies. Real change requires not just that people assemble but that they take meaningful and effective collective action, to meet their own needs at the expense of the ruling class. The student movement, deeply flawed as it undoubtedly was and is, represents at its best an attempt to do just that, hence the favourable reporting on our blog. Basically, we’re not just interested in whether people are “mobilised,” but in what direction exactly they are heading. And in the case of Jeremy Corbyn and his lot, I’m sorry to say what they’re heading for is disappointment.

      Like

      Posted by jolasmo | 02/26/2016, 19:51

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