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Monday, January 21, 2019


During my time in Paris, I watched a good deal of coverage on several English language news stations of the controversy over Brexit, including live coverage of the several votes in Parliament.. Although most of the discussion focused on the Prime Minister's disastrous defeat, a wide variety of commentators had very negative and dismissive things to say about Jeremy Corbyn.  This made me very suspicious, but I simply lacked the background to form an independent opinion.  Could someone who knows the British political scene clue me in about Corbyn?


Anonymous said...

Well, Corbyn has been a lifelong proponent of Lexit - Left wing Exit from the EU. Basically he believes that certain projects such as a state development agency, re-nationalization of privatized industries and greater leeway for industrial action by workers would be easier with Britain out of the EU. The general legal verdict is that this is probably not correct in most cases (e.g nationalization could be accommodated by EU rules). More broadly I think Lexit has a political economy argument that Britain out of the EU would see currency devaluation which would benefit Northern manufacturing over London service sectors, and certainly Lexit advocates can point to the regressive aspects of the Euro (of which GB is not part) in serving the interests of German industrial capital.
Obviously the bigger problem with all the Lexit stuff is that Britain outside the EU would most likely be subject to domination of London based financial capital even more than Britain inside the EU. For example, a US-UK trade treaty might allow US companies to buy up parts of the NHS. I believe Corbyn has failed to look realistically at the balance of social forces in the UK and unfortunately is a rather stubborn and narrowly focused individual ill suited to leadership. (a mirror image of the equally narrow and stubborn May).

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Well, that told me, in two paragraphs, vastly more than I knew already. Thank you.

Michael S said...

If I can add another couple of things:

1 - the press in the U.K. is, notwithstanding the above reasonable remarks (with which I agree), are, on average, anti-corbyn, since they're owned, more often than not, by the right-wing rich. The 'establishment' is, naturally, very against either previously-stated or current views of his, especially his anti-nuclear stance.

2 - Jeremy Corbyn, himself, is a half-inept politician, when it comes to the politics-as-a-vocation stuff, of delegation, persuasion, faction-forming, etc. And, not without reason, lots of press-types (and voters) infer from this that he is unfit to be prime minister.

3 - As well as being stubborn, and (IMO) vain, and dogmatic, he's also a genuine socialist, (like, actually), who does a great deal more than most politicians to retain some sense of principle while bending to the realities of politics; and is therefore a prime target for discomfited cynicism.

4 - He is in a mess on Brexit since, aside from the above, he's stuck between (1) his previous/current Lexit stance (2) most Labour members and MPs who want to Remain and (3) the referendum result, which he's stated repeatedly he will respect, and which not doing so would make it - the estimation is - less likely he'll ever become prime minister. And so he's been exceptionally vague, evasive, and ambiguous (the Labour frontbench have), over the last year or so, trying to play both sides.

5 - there's also been allegations of anti-semitism against him, and some of his supporters, but to not threaten the relative quiet in the comments section herein of late, over this I will pass in silence.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

. That is enormously helpful. It sounds to me from you two say and what I observed that Britain is in seriously bad shape. Are there good arguments for some sort of brexit?

Matt said...

This won't help that much on Corbyn, but is funny (or seemed so to me): there was a highly amusing closed-captioning error that got passed around during the debate on the no confidence vote, when a Tory MP pointed at Corbyn and said, "That man must never be Prime Minister", but it came up on the screen as "Batman must never be Prime Minister". It made me chuckle a bit.

ZV said...

Corbyn is a person of integrity. Historically anti EU, for the reasons that you could argue that it unfavorably impacted the working classes. There are some policies such as renatinoalisation of railways and a land value tax (which would help normalise property prices) which have support among the younger demographic. If a no deal brexit results in an economic slowdown he may well be able to become prime minister.

James Camien McGuiggan said...

All that's been said is basically right, but I'd like to add a few more subtleties, points of fact and emphases.

1. Corbyn, though a lifelong Lexiter, became officially a Remainer for the referendum (the first time he'd been forced to really take into consideration the real-world consequences of the position he adopted), but he alienated a lot of the internationalist left by backing the campaign decidedly half-heartedly. (Left internationalism in the UK is generally a good thing because they've had a lot of bad rightwing governance. The neo-liberal centrist protectionism of the EU genuinely is better.)

2. As well as being a man of genuine principle, Corbyn has a long history of putting himself on the frontline of social justice issues. He was on the far left of the Labour party and was never going to get anywhere really except for an entirely unforeseen upswell of rage against the fallout of the finanical crash.

3. It cannot be underestimated how much he came out of nowhere. He was lightyears to the left of the Overton window when first elected. This has made it very difficult to get the measure of him. The only people in a position to speak about him were the incredulous Fox News-esque mainstream media, his fanatical devotees (mostly socialists and old union types who had been dormant since the '70s), and a few leftwing newspapers whose whole claim to attention--pressure on the mainstream from the left--was suddenly pulled from under them by their finding themselves now to the right of the Opposition.

4. Now that the confusion has died away a bit, we're finally getting the sense of him; as other commentors have said, he's just not very good as a politician; he is getting caught up in the very airtight but cannabilistic political logic (cf. Michael S's point 4) that he was elected to free us from.

5. The anti-Semitism charge is plausibly made against some Corbynites, but not against Corbyn himself. As a far-leftist, he attracted some global Jewish conspiracy-type nutjobs.

James Camien McGuiggan said...

Oh: and no, there are no good arguments for Brexit. When Corbyn was a backbencher, he could moan all he liked about the EU, and complain about how it's fundamentally undemocratic and we'd be better off without it, but no matter how invidious it is--and it's about as invidious as you'd expect a well-meaning, intelligent, but short-term-self-interested ex-colonial bloc to be, which is to say very--as is acknowledged by absolutely everyone, by far and away the best way to do something about this is as one of its most powerful and influential members. Even Corbyn acknowledged this when push came to shove during the referendum.

Matthew Arnold said...

Well the UK centrists have spoken. All these "internationalist" pseudo-leftists crying about leaving a neo-liberal cartel which has being responsible for the immiseration of an entire generation of European youth and that's before one even talks about Greece, which as we have seen constituted serious criminal activity that should see those responsible in a jail cell...

Sinead H said...

I think it's important when talking about Jeremy Corbyn to also talk about John McDonnell - his right-hand-man and Shadow Chancellor, generally perceived to be the real intellectual power in Corbyn's faction. He also has an even more pronounced tendency to speak as an open communist; he has likened his and Corbyn's time in Parliament to Rudi Dutschke's "long march through the institutions", and spoken of the need for political education to turn Labour Party members into "real cadres". Some more about McDonnell:

The other member of the triumvirate is Diane Abbott, the first black woman to become an MP and a stalwart of civil rights and left-wing policy in the UK. These three are really co-leaders of the Labour Party, I think, although it's Corbyn who has the star power among the membership (which, like James McGuiggan says, really did appear out of nowhere).

I really think that we might have had a turnaround in British politics were it not for Brexit. Corbyn was well positioned to lead the anti-austerity, anti-neoliberal sentiment against Cameron's Tories and I genuinely think he would have won a parliamentary majority at the next election - then that stupid, awful referendum happened, and both parties have had to spend the following years trying to hold together, in an enormous waste of time and effort.

Ecrasez L’Infame said...

There are leftwing intellectual heavyweights who support Brexit: Susan Watkins in the NLR and the Australian Economist William Mitchell spring to mind. Their arguments are good, but not to me convincing, tending to be based in the opportunities for a left-wing government to introduce socialist measures once outside the EU. (The counter-argument is that we’re not going to get a left-wing government: once the Ultras’ have remoulded Britain as a low-tax, zero-regulation, low-tariff, low-wage and high-profit tax haven, we’ll be stuck with that for a century).

Left Brexit mass support, on the other hand, tends to come from the northern working-class poor and their champions. These people have been disenfranchised, impoverished, and ignored for a decade. They are angry but are outnumbered in general elections. In the referendum, however, they combined with nationalists, racists, the very old, and a certain type of shire-tory to win. It’s these left behind that some of us on the left feel we should support - even if what they want will harm them in the long run, as Brexit will. This is Corbyn’s dilemma!

My observation of Corbyn is that he is an honest and clever man. He may be one of the few politicians in the world who realises that sometimes you lose by winning. Whichever side gains victory in the next few months, it is indisputable that this is only the beginning: the passions and divisions the whole issue has openned up will split Britain for a generation. I think Corbyn realises this but is paralysed by indecision. Still, he’s a Churchill compared to May.

Just about the only good thing to come out of the whole mess is that the Conservatives have wasted two years of their government. They haven’t had the energy or time or authority to carry out the destructive policies we normally get when it’s their turn. A small consolation.

David Palmeter said...

Does anyone know what Corbyn's views on the Irish border problem are?

Sinead H said...

Labour's policy as I understand it is that a hard border with the Republic must be avoided to preserve the peace - hence Corbyn's demand that "no deal" be ruled out as a possibility.

More broadly I think Corbyn has always been sympathetic to the struggle for Irish independence. He was subject to controversy for his condemnation not only of republican violence but also of loyalist violence (it was often demanded that he condemn only republican violence without adding the cavil that he condemns the loyalists too).

David Palmeter said...

Sinead, Thanks.

RobinMcDugald said...

I’m not sure it’s correct to say that Corbyn appeared out of nowhere since that ignores the way in which the mainstream mass media systematically marginalizes and ignores a whole lot of people they deem to bepolitically dangerous. For an American audience: while Jeremy Corbyn has not, until recently, been in the same firmament as, say, Noam Chomsky, you can see what I’m getting at when you consider just how little attention Chomsky has been given in tthe USA over the years. (I suppose the NYT will eventually run a long obituary on him. They did run a lengthy one on some well-regarded social scientist this past weekend, but I don’t recall seeing one for Norman Birnbaum. There are those who are celebrated in life and death, and those who are pointedly ignored.)

As to the depiction of Corbyn in Britain, unless I’m overlooking it, I’m surprised to see that no one thought to mention the unrelieved hostility of the Blairites who are, I think, more closely connected to what for want of any other term I can immediately think of I’ll call the British Establishment.

Finally, though it is a bit beside the point so far as RPW’s query is concerned, and since, as some of the other Comments here mildly hint at, Brexit is a highly contentious issue which prompts very long, angry argument, it’s probably better not to raise it here. Still, to take a little bit of issue with what has already been said here, it’s not that there are no good arguments for Brexit—though there are some that are bad—but to say that there are none is just another feature of the Remainer way of dismissively defining their opponents. Anyway, while I think there is a whole lot more to be said, I’ll say thanks to Matthew Arnold for his remarks at 10:08 PM.

PS. It might be worth calling attention to the tv series, “A Very British Coup” from some years back (which wikipedia now informs me has been remade in 2012 as “Secret State”) which tells the story of what happens when a Corbyn-like man actually does become British Prime Minister.

RobinMcDugald said...

A further PS. It just so happens that there’s an interesting and relevant piece by Patrick Cockburn in today’s Counterpunch

As to the situation in France, there’s another interesting piece here (which I came upon via Leiter’s blog):

Together, I take them to be suggesting that there are very deep, even existential predicaments evidencing themselves in Britain, France, and elsewhere, which the political arrangements are seemingly incapable of handling. If that’s so, dwelling on good or bad arguments for e.g. Brexit or the “yellow vest” actions is maybe to look in the wrong place. If you’re not so presumptuous as to claim to know, almost certainly erroneously, what “ought to be done,” maybe—like Corbyn—waiting to see how things unfold is the better part of wisdom?

Ecrasez L’Infame said...

A further point not yet mentioned: there seems to be a loose alliance growing between superficially dissimilar groups including the alt-Right in America, the reformed Trots here in the UK, and the violent right throughout Western Europe. The Yellow Vests in the UK - and in France, to judge by RPW’s item on Le Pen - have been hijacked by the nasty right. UKIP (the party of Brexit) are starting to openly court the thuggish right (for example “Tommy Robinson”). Its former leader Farage is a friend of Trump and visited Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy. The Leave campaign is connected to Cambridge Analyticia - as was Trump’s campaign - and had help (how much is disputed) from Russia. Steve Bannon was one of their campaign advisors, and Bannon is now trying to form a Europe-wide anti-EU alliance. APT28 and 29 (Russian cyber-warfare) are almost universally claimed to be behind the Wikileaks leak of DNC material that helped to win Trump his election, and Putin is openly anti-EU. There’s a huge amount of libertarian (in the American sense) and “muscular-Left” disinformation - Spiked, the Off-Guardian, the Russian broadcasters RT - whose common theme is that Putin and Trump aren’t that bad, the Skripals were a UK false-flag operation by MI5, and Brexit will be fine unless it’s “betrayed”. Those are just the connections off the top of my head - there’s many others. In itself, all this proves nothing, but taken together it suggests that we should at least be ... cautiously concerned.

Unknown said...

Wow, let me add my thanks here. All extremely helpful. I have long loved RPW's writing on the blog and often begin my morning here. But comment threads like this show what a wonderful community discussion board it can be too. Thanks to all!

Richard Moran