Corbyn's surge exposes ALP failure and why a new left has to be built

June 17, 2017
Jeremy Corbyn.

The dramatic surge in support for Labour in the June 8 British election was a shot in the arm for progressive people around the world. Jeremy Corbyn — who had been roundly derided as “unelectable” — achieved the biggest swing of any Labour leader in Britain in more than 70 years.

The Tories have been left in disarray, losing seats and being reduced to trying to cobble together an alliance with the right-wing bigots of the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland in order to secure a working majority. If an election were held today, polls indicate that Corbyn-led Labour would win.

The most striking lesson to take home from the election is that left wing ideas can win popular support in an advanced capitalist country today. They said Socialism was dead but veteran socialist Corbyn is proving them wrong.

Conservatives and the full spectrum of the British establishment claimed Corbyn would be a “disaster for Britain”. This included the liberal media such as The Guardian and the vast majority of the parliamentary Labour Party.

Now, after the results are in, the more liberal components of the establishment are being forced (for the moment) to adjust their tactics.

The Guardian changed its editorial stance as polling day approached and the groundswell of support for Corbyn made the political cost of opposing his leadership too high.

Some conservative Labour figures were eating humble pie on election night, begrudgingly acknowledging Corbyn's success, but others still cast doubt on his ability to “govern” as opposed to simply “campaign”.

This trend is reflected in the Australian Labor Party as well.

When Corbyn was being unfairly maligned in Britain, Labor parliamentarians were silent. But now the election results are in, more than a few have attempted to bask in Corbyn’s reflected glory. Labor leader Bill Shorten even called Corbyn his “counterpart” — something that is true only in the most superficial of ways.

Commenting on the election, Shorten echoed Corbyn's slogan of “for the many, not the few”. Then he said: “I think Mr Turnbull should look carefully at that message and understand that perhaps Australians also want to see policy which looks after most people, not just the top end of town.”

However, this is just spin. Corbyn is a lifelong socialist and his message cannot be reduced to a slogan. The manifesto that Corbyn took to the election, despite some compromise positions such as support for the Trident nuclear program, represents a fundamental reversal of the neo-liberalism implemented by Tory and Labour governments alike.

Similarly in Australia, Labor is thoroughly tarnished by its unwavering support for neoliberal counter-reform. It was Labor that privatised Qantas and the Commonwealth Bank. It was Labor that weakened the union movement through the Accord and then brought in Enterprise Bargaining, necessary precursors to John Howard's WorkChoices.

Labor under Shorten went to the last election with a policy of implementing some of the budget cuts Tony Abbott had tried to pass but could not. Just this week, Labor voted with the Coalition to undermine Aboriginal Native Title rights in favour of the Adani mine. 

Perhaps the biggest lie told by Labor leaders to the Australian people is that refugees need to be locked up in offshore detention centres. The unrelenting campaign of demonising refugees is an essential piller on which the neoliberal attacks on ordinary people — “the many” — is built.

Corbyn's campaign has demonstrated that a genuine defence of ordinary people's interest against the big end of town can generate tremendous enthusiasm and support. Australian Labor lacks both the genuine defence of ordinary people and the enthusiasm and support that such a message engenders.

Perhaps Shorten and Labor’s front bench should be the ones to “look carefully” at Corbyn's message.

While we can all wish they would do so, it is utopian to think that they will. Those asking “who will be the Corbyn in Australia” have no reason to expect that she or he will emerge from Labor.

Even the Australian Greens are cultivating a more moderate image than the genuine boldness that Corbyn's socialism represents.

Australia needs a new left group that can bring together all of the left-of-Labor forces to mount a genuine challenge to the neoliberalism of Labor and the Coalition alike.

Socialist Alliance aims to contribute to the construction of a new political force that can organise and harness the power of people to take on the power of the corporations. We are open to uniting with all those who agree and to be part of any political formation than can bring this about.

Building the struggles today, against the attacks on the most vulnerable, on working people, on the environment, and for the rights of the oppressed and exploited, is essential to creating such a force and from which many Corbyn-like figures could emerge.

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