Friday, September 18, 2015

The Assault on Corbyn

The Assault on Corbyn

The assault on Jeremy Corbyn by the establishment and their media is clearly a coordinated attempt to destroy him. It is to be hoped that people will see through it and it will backfire.

Many of the attacks will be gutter journalism at its worst and many will be easy for the left to rebut with sarcasm and humour on social media. But the ruling class are not fools; they have long experience and a killer instinct in these matters. We on the left need to understand what they are doing.

The issues of will Corbyn sing the national anthem or wear a red poppy or kiss the Queen’s hand  may seem trivial but they chime with Cameron’s tweet that Labour’s new leader is a ‘threat to national security’. What the ruling class are saying to Corbyn is ‘Are you loyal to the British State?’ And they are daring him to say he is not and demanding that he prove he is.

But if he IS loyal to British state lots of things go along with this. Not just the monarchy and innumerable ceremonies ( which are not there just for decoration but as important symbols of loyalty and subordination) but also ‘support for our boys’ in war, ‘defence of the realm’ via the armed forces – including MI5, MI6 etc, support for ‘our’ police and ‘our’ justice system, backing ‘British’ business and so on.

A number of things make this difficult for Corbyn. First, the issue will not go away. Even if the current feeding frenzy fades, it will always be there in the background to resurface in new tabloid headlines in the future. Second, he will be surrounded by Ministers, MPs, trade union leaders and ‘advisers’ telling him he HAS to go along with this stuff to be ‘electable’ and they are likely to back their advice with threats of resignation etc., because many of them really are loyal to the British state – a lot more loyal to it than they are to Corbyn or the Labour Party come to that.

Then there is the deeper problem that this is probably an issue which Jeremy Corbyn has not through himself. Certainly this is the case with the Labour Left historically and with left reformists generally (and internationally). Their whole project, their whole strategy, is based on the idea of USING the existing state to transform society. It is on this basis that they achieve their popularity, saying to working people ‘Support us and we will form a government that will run the country more in your interests’. They don’t say to working class people you should rise up, overthrow the existing state and create your own state. They say vote for us.

History shows that this is a question on which the Labour Party has repeatedly fallen down, ranging from support for the First World War, to the Attlee government’s manufacture of Britain first nuclear bombs and backing for the US side in the Cold War. Michael Foot (a lifelong member of CND) was repeatedly crucified on this issue – and I don’t mean his ‘donkey jacket’ at the Cenotaph, I mean nuclear weapons. As Labour leader he was never able to give a clear answer to the question, ‘Will a Labour government get rid of Britain’s nuclear deterrent?’ and as a consequence was reduced to incoherence.

Of course it is possible that Corbyn could come out fighting and say I reject any allegiance to the Royal Family, the Armed Forces and the State as a whole – they are instruments for holding down and oppressing the working class. But this seems unlikely. And if he does try to prove his loyalty to the British state he is likely to be trapped in an endless series of damaging concessions which will gradually eviscerate a lot of his radicalism.

I know this is a grim scenario when everyone on our side is rightly delighted with Corbyn’s stunning victory which has undoubtedly opened up a huge space for political debate and given an impetus to struggle from below. But the historical experience on which it is based is also grim. And if Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party prove me wrong it will be wonderful.