Many of us invested heavily in Corbyn. Against my better judgment, I was one of them. The betrayals, disingenuous attack lines, and internal sabotage from within the Labour party robbed many people of reforms which could certainly have improved working class people’s lives. On top of that, it showed us that there is no route to power for working class people through Parliament.
Even as somebody about 400 miles to the left of Jeremy Corbyn – a man who I like very much, by the way – I banged on doors and argued the case and actively helped his comms team out with veterans-related matters.
I did this because because while I’m on the radical and anti-state end of the Left, I’m not a weird spiky separatist or poseur when it comes to getting things which might help people. I backed Corbs’ mild reformist agenda while also arguing that it wouldn’t resolve real human needs. I’d spent too much time broke, hungry and homeless myself to do anything else.
People were traumatised by the defeat. Though we should put it in context: the result for most of us wasn’t Stalin- or Franco-esque gulags (excepting migrants and so on). That’s real defeat. We just got more time being governed by Tory wankers. I note also that many people for whom that period was their first political experience were then duped by Keir Starmer. We all remember his explicitly left-wing election video right? Before he emerged as a conniving Tory.
This all grieves me as much as the next recovering Corbynista, no doubt. Surely though, it’s time to move the fuck on. Look no further than the tone of row about new film about that period, The Big Lie, being pulled from Glastonbury.
I haven’t seen the film yet. Maybe it makes some good points. And it is certainly cowardly of Glasto not to show it. Though I note the excellent Reel News did stealth in a screening:
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Reel News defying Glastonbury festival’s ban on the Jeremy Corbyn film and showing it right now to a packed Speakers Forum tent in Green Futures pic.twitter.com/teYmSwejGh
— Reel News (@ReelNewsLondon) June 22, 2023
My issue is the tone of debate around the film. Or rather some of people attached to it
There’s a group of people who insist on reliving the Corbyn years and spend their energy mired in its memories. This credo can be slightly indistinct but is evidently quite real. I term this Provisional Corbynism. Of course, I do this to take the piss out of it because I think it is silly. But also because of its rudderless and cranky militancy.
The politics of these 2015-2019 nostalgists sometimes seem verge on the manically conspiracist. I’ve seen it up close on several occasions from a range of individuals. Ask anyone who worked at the pre-revolutionary Canary what it was like.
Ultimately, this is a politics of endless re-litigation, of ‘Jeremy should start his own party’, and of urging anyone remotely left-wing who gets a platform to do the same.
Yes, Corbyn was treated badly. But this band of Corbyn’s fandom are keeping themselves looking back at the heady days of 2018 to the detriment of building any meaningful resistance here in 2023. Instead, they’d rather lament the Corbyn days gone by, and urge anyone remotely left-wing to become Corbyn 2.0. Case in point – every time Mick Lynch appears on TV.
Moving on from Corbyn
But, Provisional Corbyn people miss the big points. First, that people like Lynch (and militant union members) are far better positioned to practically improve their own lives than any political party or politician ever could be. Parliament is where the ruling class goes to manage its affairs. It’s where radicalism goes to die. Formulating a progressive politics around elections is a failure of imagination and analysis.
Secondly, that this is a zombie politics. It shambles on long after the moment has passed with just an echo of the energy which animated the Corbyn movement.
The question needs to stop being how do we re-litigate that defeat. It needs to be how we build working class confidence and power in new ways, outside ruling class institutions like Parliament – or, indeed, the film tent at Glasto.
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