Corbyn, Labour, and the path forward for the Left

After languishing in the polls, down 24%, suffering tremendous amounts of negative press, even from supposedly left-wing outlets, Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party pulled off an improbable (moral) victory on June 8, garnering 40% of the vote, Labour’s highest vote share since the late, great Clement Attlee in 1945. How did Corbyn defy the odds? The short answer is: by being Corbyn. Corbyn is a straight talker, an anti-establishment politician who doesn’t mince words and who is happy to break taboos and overturn conventional wisdom. He sticks to his principles, rather than swaying in the wind of political expediency. His style matches his substance.

And substantive, Corbyn and Labour have provided a forthright program of social democracy that tackles the real issues which affect the lives of the working class and poor and afflict all of British society with a sense of anxiety. The Labour manifesto also supports broader steps towards worker ownership and the democratization of the British economy – see this Jacobin article for more. Corbyn called for fully funding the British healthcare system, social care, and social housing; enacting a living wage; re-nationalizing the horrifically run railway system, the energy sector, and the Royal Mail (which, despite its name, has been in private hands for years now); making universities tuition-free; and taking steps to combat global warming, homelessness, and economic inequality. Corbyn and Labour resonated most with the youth, but Labour’s program had something for everyone in society, from university students to pensioners.

The youth vote surged in response, and overall turnout was up, because when people feel they have something to vote for, they – surprise, surprise! – actually vote. Labour defied the odds because people chose the politics of hope. They refused to believe that an unjust and unequal status quo that condemns millions to lives of quiet misery is the best that we can get. And now, as the Tories consort with the homophobic, creationist, climate-denying, terrorist-sympathizing DUP, Labour is on the doorstep of power.

There are obvious lessons here for the American Left, lessons that I hardly need to spell out. Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders are essentially peas in a pod. Momentum and Bernie’s “political revolution” (as institutionalized in Our Revolution and other groups which are trying to democratize the Democratic Party) are nearly perfect parallels. As a persuasive ideology, Blairism is dead in the UK, just as Clintonism is effectively dead in the US. If the Democrats had run Bernie in 2016, if neoliberals hadn’t demonized his approach to politics and antagonized the many millions of Americans who desperately want genuine left-wing populism, and if the American mainstream media had actually done their job and covered Sanders properly, Bernie and the Democrats would have won. Likewise, if neoliberals and the soft left within the Labour Party hadn’t spent so much time tearing Corbyn down and challenging his approach and leadership, and if the UK mainstream media hadn’t been pretty much uniformly hostile to Corbyn and the renaissance of genuine leftism, Labour might have won outright on June 8.

In the UK, Corbyn and the politics he represents are in the ascendant. In the US, Bernie, Elizabeth Warren, and the politics they represent are still struggling to escape the dead weight of Clintonite neoliberalism. But what Labour’s incredible showing clearly demonstrates is that in 2018 and 2020, the Democrats would be wise to promote left-wing populism and genuinely left-wing candidates. Bernie and Jeremy represent the path forward for the Left, on both sides of the Atlantic.