Pavle Ilic: The Labour Campaign- A Sign of Times To Come?

I’m pretty much sure that all of the people from the UK on my friends’ list will cast their vote for Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party today at the UK GE2017, so this is not really a call to action directed at them.

However, I would like to write a couple of words about the implications of the direct correlation between the Labour election result and the development of the left continent-wide (perhaps even wider):

The all-wise self-fulfilling-prophecy-making philistines of the left shared a crucial bit of political analysis with the EU ruling elites, i. e. they both viewed Syriza as a doomed-to-begin-with project that had no chance of challenging the status quo and the power dynamic in Europe. On top of that, upon Syriza’s capitulation to the Troika, the world-wide microscopic ultra-left demonstrated a schadenfreude of a far larger intensity than that of the banksters or the fascists – unleashing a torrent of “hate to say I told you so” tirades that utterly failed to resonate with any significant layer of the activist or popular resources which were drawn into (supporting) the Syriza project and to offer them any strategic way forward and out of the political depression and disorientation that the collapse of Syriza pushed them into.

It must be said, that the position of “Syriza will eventually betray the people of Greece” was neither revolutionary nor a difficult one to hold. It allowed its proponents to distance themselves from the focal point of Greek left politics and to “predict” [GASP!] that a reformist (predominantly euro-communist) political front would fail to overcome the contradiction of the social situation and to deliver a programme of a change of direction of the European austerity trends.

The confusion which these forces demonstrated after their “prediction” had come true clearly shows that their position about Syriza was not part of a strategic outlook which hinged on the idea of an inevitable Syriza capitulation and the incompatibility of anti-capitalist strategic goals with a wide, radical, reformist platform, which could be put into action at the moment of the awaited capitulation, so much as an expression of political nearsightedness and the incapability of a significant section of the Greek left to strategically tackle the prospect of political power.

The words of Tony Cliff, to whose ideas some among them subscribe, “Power corrupts, lack of power corrupts absolutely” were left echoing through the desolation left by a simultaneous collapse of a reformist project with a strategy that willingly excluded the only trump card it had (namely Grexit) and the revolutionary naysayers who have, through unprincipled sectarianism, narrowed the opportunity for politically profiting from “being proven right by history”.

For those of us who critically supported Syriza, the scale and method of its leaders’ betrayal and weakness was shocking and disorienting. However, the subsequent successes of the left in countries such as Portugal, Ireland, Britain (Corbyn became Labour leader in under two months after Syriza capitulated), or even France (where Mélenchon had significant surge in polls in the run-up to the election now recreated by Labour), seemed to prove that Syriza was not a freak accident, nor the last of the death-throes of the left, but rather the first, severely contradictory and somewhat tragic, sign of a renaissance of radical left politics in the global context of the crisis of legitimacy of extreme centre politics, of financial uncertainty and of the deconstruction of welfare state and similar “safety-net” structures around the world.

The level of enthusiasm for Corbyn mirrors the lessons he himself seems to have learned from Syriza. The concerns around his programme would be much more useful politically if they were aimed at the fact that he finds himself at the helm of a deeply divided party with a vicious, powerful and belligerent (in more than one meaning of the word) right wing which was made to toe the line (or, maybe even to reserve their most treacherous criticism of it) by their own devotion to electoral politics as the only existing type of politics, rather than by a reconciliation with Corbyn and the Labour left.

Are we supposed to be happy that Corbyn is calling for more police? Of course not. Neither are we supposed to support Labour’s stance on controlled immigration. However, on the so many issues where our strategic goals overlap with the ones made by Labour under Corbyn we should work together and build connections and experiences of trust that would allow us to exert more pressure and to pull to the left populations and numbers of people significantly stronger in number and quality than the handfuls of intellectuals bitter at the world for ignoring their “brilliant” insights which always seem prepared to nitpick and seldom to do any actual legwork.

Ultra-leftism is a symptom of a lack of clear strategic perspectives and its predominance on the extra-parliamentary left all over the world is the indicator of the distance – both real and perceived (or imagined) – that it finds between itself and significant prospects of growth and intervention into real, mass politics, let alone of positions of actual political and social power. The masses will not wait for us to snap out of it, and other currents presenting themselves as anti-system would delight at the fact that they don’t have to struggle with a revitalised and motivated left for the minds and hearts of the disenfranchised, the exploited and the oppressed. Corbyn is an opportunity to learn, and engaging in contradictory political projects such as his electoral campaign is an exercise in political practice, confidence and skill building of the scale and quality that the revolutionary left could find nowhere else.

For those of us watching from the sidelines and the periphery, the fault lines in the system and the pressure on them that will correspond directly with the level of Labour’s success might present opportunities for a developmental leap, allowing us to create political alternatives in our countries for which we have so long been struggling and advocating.

So, keep in mind, a vote for Corbyn just might turn out to be a vote for “Britain for the many and not the few” and also a further step down the road of the awakening of the radical – and, dare we dream it, revolutionary – left in Europe and beyond. A different world was always possible. Now its outlines are starting to reemerge from the fog and the sludge of the neo-liberal “End of History”.

By Pavle Ilic

Pavle Ilić is a graduate student of sociology in the University of Belgrade. He is a member of the revolutionary socialist group Marks21, and a supporter and activist in the Left Summit of Serbia.

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