Monday 14 December 2020

On the Corbyn Project

When my friend Lewis Bassett tweeted earlier about how he thought the left "might fare better if it tried to get over Jeremy Corbyn a bit", I winced. Because I knew he was setting himself up for a world of pain. Some of the replies inevitably cast him into darkened recesses from where they hope he may never emerge. Others pointed out that as Corbyn is central to moves against the left, it was foolish and wrong to talk about abandoning him. And others suggested he's not the real target at all - the person of Corbyn is the focal point of a movement he (inadvertently) condensed and gave direction to. Get him, get us. There were also folks saying Corbyn helped represent the unrepresented and for four brief years their concerns forced their way into the mainstream of British politics. All right and true points, undoubtedly.

Just to underline Lewis's intent, he wasn't advocating for the abandonment of Corbyn but his tweet touched a nerve about the British left currenly constituted. That it is still dependent on the personality of one man speaks to weakness. In Corbynism's period of advance it drew plenty in but did little to consolidate the movement around the interests it intersected with and articulated, a point reinforced by the character of much new media that blew up in the movement's wake. And then in the period of retreat and siege from Spring 2018 to the final denouement, there was little political room but for the left to rally round in Corbyn's defence. We often like to say the party or the movement is bigger than any individual, but given the rapid composition of our new left after 2015 this is demonstrably not the case. It remains relatively fragile and precarious.

And you know who agrees with this assessment? Why, Jeremy Corbyn does. This ultimately lies behind the launch of his new Peace and Justice Project. Corbyn's legacy, as will be seen in the fullness of time, was not just about shifting politics to the left, but also building a new base for Labour and, in the 2017 election, pointing to the path the party must travel if it wants to stand a chance of winning. But this will become a monument without a movement, and this means turning outwards toward community, workplace, and street politics - something we can do whether we're (still) Labour Party members or not. Understandably, in his announcement Jeremy kept the details vague beyond issuing an invitation for everyone interested to participate on 17 January, but it's worth hazarding a guess what we're going to be seeing.

Readers will know about the community organising units set up over the last few years. The idea was to draw together the cohesiveness of our communities by initiating or assisting existing campaigns around key local issues. For example, prior to last year's election Labour's Stoke South candidate Mark McDonald in conjunction with Labour's community organiser assisted residents in campaigns to save a local beauty spot from housing plans, and fight the corner of council tenants who were missold and effectively strong armed into a solar energy scheme. This sort of activity was sneered at by the usual suspects, and declared a waste of time after the results of a year ago. Which, of course, is wrong. We need to take a longer view. Just perhaps the long-term disengagement of former core working class constituencies from Labour had, among other things, something to do with the shrivelling up of the labour movement and therefore the irrelevance of the party to and estrangement from day-to-day life. The only thing keeping many of these folks Labour was habit, until enough of them died and with them the obligation to carry on voting this way. Perhaps what we need to see is not a quick fix or patriotic virtue signalling no one ever notices to win them back, but a concerted effort to re-root the party among the people it was set up to represent. Just a thought because, after all, working class people to begin with didn't vote Labour spontaneously - the mantle of being their party had to be earned.

It seems to me the Peace and Justice Project would do well to continue the work of the community organisers (not that the scheme was perfect, by any means), especially if Keir Starmer downgrades or abolishes them once the pandemic is over. This way, Jeremy is using his personal standing to divert the energy of activists dissipating their energies on angry internet polemic and whatnot into something entirely positive that the entirety of the left can orientate towards. By working to root the movement as a counterveiling force against atomisation and the privatised lives we've grown accustomed to, there is a possibility of growing ourselves and realising the ambition of making Corbynism more than the works of Corbyn between 2015 and 2019.

There is also a useful byproduct of PJP. It ensures the people lost to the Labour Party aren't lost altogether, but are kept active in and around the wider labour movement. It's far more positive for recent leavers to get stuck in here than wasting their time and burning themselves out trying to build a clutch of non-starter projects who, at best, would cost Labour a handful of seats without winning anything for themselves.

Taking everything into consideration, PJP - please stop calling it the Corbyn Project - has the potential to do good. If anyone reading this falls into the category of cheesed off ex-Labour member but looking for something to get their teeth into, why not join the big meeting early in the New Year?


Anonymous said...

Don't let Lansman anywhere ear it.

Pete said...

This is likely to achieve very little except create a pointless talking shop for those who already support JC and his policies.

He should have started a new party so that all the disenfranchised Left Wingers would have some sort of representation.

Anything that isn't taking votes away will simply be ignored by the Right Wingers.

david walsh said...

You say "This way, Jeremy is using his personal standing to divert the energy of activists dissipating their energies on angry internet polemic and whatnot" Alas, I feel they are now immoveably and irretrievably wedded to their keyboards for eternity.

Jim Denham said...

It's the Woodcraft Folk for old people.

Mick Kennedy said...

What a jolly useful and progressive set of replies for moving forwards in hope.

Jim Denham said...

Jeremy Corbyn does interview with the Canary - the social media outlet which claims that all the antisemitism allegations are just a smear.

If he is not a complete idiot, then it looks that he is going for broke.

Anonymous said...

Jim Denham,

Does it not tell you something when the current leadership of the Labour Party has suspended at least one Jewish member and activist of the party, presumably on the grounds of suspected anti-semitism by at least two removes of guilt by asosociation? This situation is fucking ludicrous. I think it's pretty clear that the real issue here is not dealing with anti-semitism, either specifically on the left or more generally, but tarring the whole left with the stain of anti-semitism in order to delegitimise us.

Anytime people on the left criticise the governemnt of Israel for discriminating against or even slaughtering Palestinians, we'll be dismissed becauae we're supposedly "anti-semites" or (if we happen to be Jewish) "self-hating". That isn't a fascistic worldview? Where people of a given ethnicity are assumed to all have the same political views or else to be traitors? It's absolute bullshit.

Jim Denham said...

Anonymous: what you say about criticism of Israel being branded "antisemitic" is simply wrong. Otherwise, Lisa Nandy, Emily Thornberry ... and myself, would all be facing charges of being "antisemitic". And, of course, people of Jewish backgrounds *can* peddle antisemitism - eg (to differing degrees) Gilad Atzmon, Tony Greenstein and the late Tong Cliff.

Anonymous said...

@Jim Denham.

No he really is a complete idiot.


Boffy said...

"Otherwise, Lisa Nandy, Emily Thornberry ... and myself, would all be facing charges of being "antisemitic"."

Give it time! Once the right and their soft left allies have expelled the real left, then they will come for you, and there will be no one left to defend you, even if they wanted to.

Moreover, what you criticise is not Israel, and the fundamental nature of the Israeli State, but the actions of Israeli governments. As seen with the racist woman who rang in to Keir Starmer earlier this week to defend her husband who had booed Millwall players for taking the knee you and Starmer have a fundamental contradiction that you cannot deal with. This racist explictly referred to the example of the Israeli State, saying if Israel can have a state explicitly for Jews, when can't Britain have a state explicitly for the indigenous British?

So, given that you say that you want Israel to be treated other same as any other class state how can you logically disagree with this racist. If you argue for a Jewish state (whether you define Jews as a religious group or an ethnic group) rather than a non-sectarian Israeli State, then how can you disagree with this racists call for Britain to similarly be a state for indigenous British, i.e. white Angle Saxons, in which non-WASPS are systematically discriminated against, as non-Jews are in Israel, and in which immigration controls keep out or limit the influx of non-WASPS, in the words of this racist to prevent the WASPS being overrun, which is the argument of Zionists, and which you support in relation to Israel?

Why do you insist on treating Israel differently to every other class state? Do you not realise tht your insistence on ytreating Israel differently to every other class state is itself inherently ant-Semitic, because it is necessarily particularist and exceptionalist in nature? What is more, as well as, thereby, being Anti-Semitic, by meaning that you view jews as different from every other ethnic group, it is also simultaneously racist, because it also discriminates against non-Jews.

Well done, you have managed to arrive at a position that is the worst of all worlds, and which acts to support the arguments of nationalists and racists everywhere!

George Carty said...

Don't a lot of people essentially view the Jewish ethnostate of Israel as compensation for the murder of millions of Jews in the Holocaust?

Boffy said...


Maybe they do, but there is no rationality in such an equation. It is not basis for a Marxist or even consistent democrat to justify the creation of such an exclusivist state, or to justify the continued racist and/or confessional nature of such a state if it already exists.

Would you, for example, justify the creation of the apartheid state in South Africa on the grounds of the murder of Boers by the British? Should we then advocate a state for Native American Indians in North America, or Aborigines in Australia, Maoris in new Zealand?

What is the calculus for such a state? Is it so many square miles of territory per 1,000 people killed in some previous genocide, for example? How do you determine, which other nation should give up territory for the establishment of such a state? perhaps, if its compensation, the Jewish state should actually have been carved out of German territory, rather than Palestinian territory. After all the first Zionists considered creating their state in Ethiopia/Abyssinia, so they had no specific attachment to Palestine per se, despite all the hokum about a Jewish state having existed there several thousand years earlier.

DFTM said...

"Don't a lot of people essentially view the Jewish ethnostate of Israel as compensation for the murder of millions of Jews in the Holocaust?"

Yeah, the logic is, the Nazi's wanted to drive the Jews out of Europe, what better way to honour the fight against Nazism then by sending off all the Jews to live in one place, somewhere already occupied incidentally! I somehow doubt this was the primary motive for the creation of the strategically vital plot of land at the end of the med!

The anti Semitism campaign is not a smear but a coordinated campaign to make the Palestinian solidarity movement illegal. It is a deliberate witch hunt designed to drive from civil society and public life the international struggle for the rights of the Palestinians and the fight against imperialist domination.

Metaphorically speaking the Zionist lobby have gone all Joffrey Baratheon and are cutting the tongues out of the supporters of the Palestinian cause.

It comes as no surprise that uber pro imperialist Denham should act as a propaganda shill for the Zionist witch hunters and Palestinian baiters. It is just what he does.

After all this is the character that during the destruction of Iraq posted a piece of propaganda showing an Iraqi girl at a piano saying she could now have music lessons in free Iraq!

Shiraz socialist use socialist in very much the same way the Nazi's used socialist, for purely decorative purposes!

Anonymous said...

The role of community organiser in Stoke on Trent was not one that initiated or assisted existing campaigns around local issues. A number of people were interviewed about what they were doing on the ground with campaigns as well a number of other local Labour Party issues by the post holder. Then the post holder left to work in other places in the West Midlands. I think the role of community organiser could be useful however and may well have been so in other places. Experience (community development and campaigns), skill and commitment needed.

Anonymous said...

As the author will know there are a lot of spurious claims made in politics about work allegedly undertaken by ambitious people. Ask Mark MacDonald or the Cllrs in Stoke South what help they got for these developments.

Anonymous said...

With reference to the campaigns mentioned in the above article (Stoke on Trent).

- Local beauty spot housing plans (Berryhill Fields)- those involved: Local residents; resident assoc. chairs; several councillors; as well as the late Terry Crowe and Mark McDonald.

- Miss sold solar energy scheme: Mark McDonald; local residents and councillors.

It is unfortunate when people take credit for work done by others.

Anonymous said...

Yes indeed. It was a couple of councillors working with residents, Mark MacDonald got involved as well as Terry Crowe from Stoke Central.

Anonymous said...

'Experience, skill and commitment ' That would be nice. But when did this matter in politics? Who you know is what counts and quite possibly all that counts.