Sunday, September 13, 2015
Raising Monuments -- How Corbyn may yet turn the tide
What is it that they say about an old dog?
Growing up in the context of neo-liberalism, I have sadly become accustomed to the quiet, unspoken despair that is its calling card. The menial, insultingly low-paying work. The slashing and burning of public services and spaces. The frequent and fruitless attempts to secure a better future for one's self by pushing others down. We have all been forced into these soul-destroying roles, only to watch as schools, hospitals and libraries are destroyed at the behest of private interests. It is not every day, then, that I find myself energized and hopeful for the future – in a real way; a tangible way.
By now, you’ve likely read about Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide victory in the British Labour Party’s leadership race. In the space of three months, the socialist candidate went from 100-to-1 odds to lead the party that was once at the helm of some of the greatest social programs in history – nationalized railways and electrical grids, the NHS, and so on. Labour has (or had) long since abandoned any sort of meaningful social goals, instead choosing to kowtow to the neo-liberal consensus that still grips much of the world. Corbyn cuts a figure not unlike that of Bernie Sanders. Both are older, gruff political outsiders. Both are outspoken (albeit greatly imperfect, especially in the case of Sanders) in the cause of justice for the most marginalized among us. And both have surged to unprecedented success in their respective nations. Corbyn, however, has won a real, meaningful victory in his assumption of the Labour leadership.
And what is that victory? First, and most obviously, we can say with certainty that “socialism” is not the dirty, unspeakable idea that so many Sunday-morning talking heads assume it to be. Americans, Brits and Canadians alike; all are relatively well-acquainted with and friendly to the idea and practice of socialism. Corbyn has put to rest, beyond any reasonable doubt, that human beings naturally crave austerity, racism, destruction of the commons, and so on. He has put the lie to the “common sense” doctrine of competition, marketization and institutionalized selfishness.
Corbyn has also presented some very concrete and clear proposals for building the new society. He has pledged to work towards the re-nationalization of railways, electrical grids and the NHS. He has spoken of opening the UK’s doors to refugees, from Syria and around the world. He has even talked – the horror! - of consulting women’s groups on instituting female-only trains on public transit. The most striking part of so much of Corrbyn’s so-called “radical leftism” (and he is radical, at least as compared to mainstream British politicians) is that it is all so utterly rational, and quite frankly, a little obvious. Who in their right mind, outside of the political establishment, doesn’t want to abolish tuition fees; house and the feed the poor; protect the oldest and youngest among us?
It would seem that Corbyn represents a very obvious and unmistakeable break with the past – in the Labour party, British politics generally and, perhaps, political narratives the world over.
What might this mean in the Canadian context? As I write this, I am masochistically re-watching a video of NDP leader Tom Mulcair praising Margaret Thatcher. It is sad, and frankly a little Twilight Zone-esque, when the leader of what was once Canada’s rough equivalent to the British Labour Party – a proud and principled party, the ”conscience of Parliament,” as it were – proudly affirms his support for the most successful and vicious right-wing politician in history. And at a time when her home country, Britain, is finally in the process of purging her legacy!
Strange times, indeed.
As a Canadian socialist, I am often consumed with thoughts of the old Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. The CCF, with its corny fight song and comics, which ran the single most successful socialist government in North American history. The CCF, which rejected the politics of inertia, refusing to accept what was then a very racist and almost insurmountably oppressive time for working Canadians. The CCF, which kept the dream of universal healthcare alive for three decades, finally achieving the passage of the Canada Health Act. The CCF with its pledge to eliminate capitalism and establish a truly co-operative society.
Not known for biting his tongue, Tommy Douglas remarked of the House of Commons, “So this is Parliament? Pardon me, I thought this was a kindergarten!” Though he was utilizing his typical Prairie humour, his point was deadly serious. As the world burns, the purveyors of power sit on their hands. They do nothing and scream about how “nothing could be done.” The most powerful among us, more clearly than ever, are not on our side. While I am not one to worship the powerful (even Tommy Douglas), I cannot help but see a little of the so-called “Prairie Giant” in the new Labour leader.
At the very least, perhaps his victory can inspire us to build new monuments. A better world is just around the corner, comrades and friends. It won’t be easy, and it will not happen overnight. The weapons of the greatest armies; the money of the wealthiest citizens; the machinery of state and media – it will be arrayed against us, as it always has. But perhaps we can find a better way forward. Perhaps there is hope. Real, lasting, meaningful hope. It seems that the old dogs might be the ones teaching us some new tricks!
Let’s get to work.
A.M. is a writer in Toronto.
See also: As "Third Way" politics suffers a huge defeat in the UK, in Canada it has now triumphed
See also: It appears the NDP strategists are stuck in the 90’s – again
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