Jeremy Corbyn and Building a Social Movement

Registration as a Labour Party supporter in order to vote in the leadership contest ended on August 12, and the ballot of members and supporters began on August 14. The result of the ballot will be announced on September 12, which coincidentally is the day before the TUC Congress is due to begin in Brighton.

One of the chief causes of enthusiasm for the campaign of Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour Party leadership, and one Corbyn himself encourages, is the space opened up for discussion on serious issues facing the polity. It has broken the stranglehold of neo-liberal, pro-austerity assumptions on broad discussion. In itself, this also breaks from the pragmatic outlook that the cartel parties promote that the issue is, and can only be, to be elected.

What Jeremy Corbyn represents is widely perceived as being of the new, as opposed to the so-called “New Labour” of Tony Blair, which is profoundly of the old. Corbyn speaks of building a social movement. “It’s been fascinating – and exhilarating – watching this movement mushroom over the last few weeks,” Jeremy Corbyn said. “This campaign is about spreading a message of hope and change based on the central choice – five years or more of continued austerity, or a plan for investment and growth that stands up for the majority.”

Thus the issue of building a social movement is the key. It is consistent with the right of the electorate to participate in political affairs, to elect and be elected, for their will to be transformed into the legal will through a political system that serves their interests.

Thus in this respect Jeremy Corbyn hits the nail on the head, and the voices which speak of a Labour Party under his leadership being “unelectable”, condemning the Labour Party to years “in the wilderness”, are themselves the ones that are out of step with the times. Their philosophy of the end justifying the means is one that the electorate views with disgust and is rejecting. Furthermore, the indications not only from opinion polls but from within the workers’ and people’s movement, from those that put the needs of human beings in the first place, is to the contrary. Looked at from this point of view, Jeremy Corbyn is giving voice to those who have been denied a voice in Westminster.

What people see in Jeremy Corbyn is someone who is part of and comes out of the movement against war, against the neo-liberal agenda and for progress, the public good and new political arrangements. Just as the SNP in Scotland, standing for national rights and against austerity, swept all before it in the May general election, so Corbyn is capturing the public imagination, galvanising discussion on the problems facing society, and politically inspiring the people.

He has shone in the leadership debates precisely because, as he says, he “doesn’t do personal”, and strictly clarifies the issues and straightforwardly takes a stand. In this respect, the issue is not whether one agrees or disagrees with every last thing that Jeremy Corbyn says. It is that Corbyn is having the role of crystallising public opinion around a pro-social agenda, encouraging everyone to raise the level of political culture, and not surrender the initiative to those forces which vie for power for self-serving ends, or that conciliate with policies and programmes which are anti-social or harm the public interest.

Gone are the days when elections were “beauty contests” to sort out the lesser of two evils, or which champion of the ruling elite should come to power. The times demand that the people consciously participate in acts of finding out how problems pose themselves, consciously participate in taking decisions how to resolve these problems, and uniting in action to implement these decisions. This is true not only of political affairs but in the conduct of life as a whole.

Jeremy Corbyn has been around for a long time, and has been consistent in his stands and active in working to further the movements in which he has participated, and deserves great credit for this. But the political arrangements had ensured that in the affairs of state he could do little more than lend some credence to a moribund political system. Should Jeremy Corbyn win the Labour Party leadership election, then the opportunity presents itself to turn things around, consistent with the mood and demands of the times.

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