by Nick Wright
Jeremy Corbyn had little trouble in knocking out his three opponents but his bruising first days in office illustrate with brutal simplicity just how fiercely the bourgeois state reacts when the vital interests of its dominant classes are threatened and how interconnected are the elements of bourgeois policy.
Corbyn’s sin was in failing to sing the verses of a national anthem that in its original form, of a battle cry against the Scots, demonstrated just how disunited this kingdom was at its inception.
That obedience to the sovereign is a critical element in the system of class rule was shown when an anonymous general let it be known — via the Murdoch media — that in the event of Corbyn winning an election the military would act to prevent him assuming office. So much for democracy.
Corbyn’s tardy undertaking to in future intone the dreary dirge, is of little lasting significance but the whole interlude shows how effectively the monopoly media moves. Of course, had he lustily sung each of the verses he would have been pilloried as a hypocrite given his well known republicanism and atheism.
On the question of the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union the earlier hint that Corbyn placed employment rights and social protection high enough on his policy agenda to make Labour support for Britain’s membership conditional on Cameron returning from the negotiations without completely abandoning the remaining protections touched a raw nerve. Media, big business, US pressure and a cross-party chorus compelled a retreat. Crucial in the pressure exerted on him was the trade union wing of Britain’s own military industrial complex which finds human form in his own deputy.
It is just conceivable that Corbyn’s well known opposition to renewing Britain’s franchise on the US-controlled Trident missile system is well enough supported, and divisions within the ruling class and the military sufficiently developed, that a Labour government could be returned to office with this as a policy pledge.
Britain’s membership of NATO is a different question. While there is revulsion enough at NATO’s wars — and widespread worries about its eastwards projection — this is such a vital prop in the system that a challenge to Britain’s imperial partnership with the USA will always carry the threat of a coup whether this takes a ‘constitutional’ form or the more brutal shape favoured by the USA when all else fails.
When one trade union leader ruefully questioned at the TUC whether he alone was thinking ‘Either Jeremy Corbyn will betray us or we will all be in gaol’ he was voicing that the second scenario is improbable in present circumstances but not impossible in others.
Although the usual suspects on the self righteous and ultra left are already rehearsing their lines Jeremy Corbyn gives no sign of betrayal. In contrast to these voices, he lives in a real world populated by powerful people who have no intention of permitting the popular will to prevail and the new Labour leader has to proceed by winning such fights that he can.
The knockout blow administered to his three hapless and hopeless New Labour opponents does not mean that the political and ideological tendencies that they represent have been defeated. Wounded yes but still powerfully entrenched in a parliamentary party that is increasingly out of touch with the Labour renaissance.
The North American economist Paul Krugman made the point that the reason why Corbyn won was that he was the only candidate that opposed government policy. But Corbyn now finds himself facing this government with a demoralised, angry, rebellious and profoundly disloyal phalanx sat alongside and behind him. A mutinous crowd whose politics put them, in many cases, closer to the Government front bench than to him or the vast bulk of Labour Party members and supporters and out of touch with Labour voters throughout the country.
The innovative Prime Minister’s Question Time tactic played well and compelled this most pompous of premiers to shift his style.
It is interesting that the only time Cameron laid a glove on Corbyn was when the opposition benches forgot the ‘new politics’ injunction and started jeering.
Jeremy Corbyn has played some strong strokes. Sticking by John McDonnell, who acquitted himself well on BBC Question Time, drew a line in the sand and signals Team Corbyn’s intention to make austerity the deciding issue. His labelling of the Tories and their media outriders as the ‘poverty deniers’ begins the long overdue task of challenging Osbourne’s narrative on debt and deficit and should help rally Labour opinion that has long felt that the Shadow Treasury team under Ed Balls had surrendered vital ground.
After a shaky start this welcome focus on policy gives coherence to Labour’s media operation. Rail renationalisation policy converges powerfully with the national consensus and support for it reaches well beyond loyal Labour. Cameron’s careful positioning of the highly expendable Justine Greening as transport minister suggests that the Tories have little hope of winning this battle of ideas any time soon.
Things have moved on and perhaps a coupling of Corbyn’s civilised style with the premier’s perception that our collective imagination henceforth irretrievably links him with the central component of a Full English will further diminish his arrogance.
The forthcoming ‘festival of the oppressed’ at the Manchester Tory conference — organised by the People’s Assembly – will renew the ‘austerity’ narrative. A new and principled opposition to the Tory Welfare Bill is helping change the climate as is the foregrounding of housing as an issue.
Those voices in Labour that plan to cloak military action in Syria with a humanitarian garb but with the main intention of undermining the al-Assad government need to be confronted, put under mass pressure and made aware of their probationary status as MPs.
Trade union opposition to Tory plans to curb political and industrial action, choke off union funds and outlaw ballots which support strike action needs to move from protesting words to demonstrative action. Success on this front is bound up with the prospects for a genuinely progressive Labour government in 2020, or earlier if the Tories fragile parliamentary majority can be diminished and overturned.
Critical for this is the strength and militancy of the extra parliamentary opposition.
A partnership in struggle between the forces mobilised by the trade unions and the Peoples’ Assembly on one hand and Labour’s new reserves of activists and supporters has the potential to radical change the national political climate and alter the configuration of forces inside Labour.
The new progressive current on refugees and migration signals something of a change in the way these issues are debated while a renewed peace movement needs to act swiftly to marginalise those parliamentary elements who would side with the Tories on the bombing of Syria.
Success in these efforts means that for the first time in several generations a government that would present a genuine alternative to capitalist crisis and imperial war would be within our grasp and that the issue of who rules and in whose interests is contested territory.