Importance of the Rise of Jeremy Corbyn
Amid confident expectations, Theresa May's Conservative Party won the 2017 UK general election. Yet, it lost its majority thanks in part to Labour's performance. This snap election saw the release of its progressive manifesto. Additionally, a youth surge supported its firebrand leader in the polls. As a result, Jeremy Corbyn's Labour enjoyed a 30 seat boost to secure 262 of 650 seats in the British House of Commons.
Labour's success rests on the mass rejection of a seven-year long austerity process. That discontent broke through in the ballot box. It challenged efforts within and without the party to block any centre-left programme. Such a programme would raise taxes on top earners and companies for welfare and stimulus. Specifically, early childhood care, school lunches and tuition would be free. It would nationalise the water industry and key firms with compensation. Welfare benefits would be unfrozen and the pension age would not slide above 66. It would confront the housing crisis with 100,000 new public houses every year, on top of an abolition of the bedroom tax - a penalty against under-occupancy in public housing schemes. However, with the British exit from the European Union, Labour is in a limited position to legislate for anything more than moderate immigration controls. It will not work towards free movement of people.
Meanwhile, to meet some confidence, the Conservatives are forced to turn to the seats of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Being a regional party of Northern Ireland, the DUP will not take ministry positions. It will supply votes to the Conservative minority government when necessary. But, that deal is on shaky ground. Sinn Féin, the main regional opposition party to the DUP, claim that it violates the Good Friday Agreement. The 1998 framework brought relative peace, ending the Troubles - three decades of communal violence over Irish-Catholic liberation in Northern Ireland. Still, the Irish national question remains. The DUP, an outgrowth of the movement opposing that liberation, are in a position to stop it. So now, Theresa May must turn to the most reactionary elements of British politics to continue business as usual. Austerity and repression at home, imperialism and war abroad.
Unfortunately, bourgeois elements within British Labour would rather have business as usual. They would rather see suffering and death. The alternative is tantamount to challenging capitalism at this present historical stage. Accordingly, Jeremy Corbyn's leadership has contended with the constant challenge of New Labour - represented by the likes of Tony Blair - since his ascent in 2015. Given the limits of parliamentary politics, it is telling that it only takes Corbyn and his faction to frighten them.
What makes Corbyn unique in Labour's history is his committed frustration of the worst British imperialism has to offer.
British Labour has a history of repressing anti-colonial movements within its own empire, from Nigeria to Myanmar to Palestine. Yet, Corbyn himself stands on the side of oppressed nations. When his own country entertained Israeli politicians in 2013, he condemned them as criminals. He demanded an answer to the Gaza blockade and West Bank settlements. Two years later, as Labour leader, Corbyn opposed the racist rhetoric of former British Prime Minister David Cameron. Instead of offering Jamaica prisons and pleading for us to 'move on' from slavery, Corbyn threw his support to discussions on reparations. He defended the policies of Venezuela's PSUV, Bolivia's MAS, and Brazil's Workers' Party. In doing so, he made a clear delineation between their mass support and their neoliberal opposition, who represent minority capitalist interests backed up by American and British imperialists alike.
This perspective extends to foreign policy as a whole. The New Labour movement operates under the doctrine of humanitarian intervention, which, in practice, means the violation of sovereignty for the purposes of Western liberal interests. In contrast, Jeremy Corbyn opposed British operations in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. No total wars have been fought on Jamaican soil, but for us, humanitarian intervention came in the form of US armament of the JLP against supporters of the PNP and Michael Manley, and the 2010 Tivoli incursion.
Additionally, he admonishes the US and the UK for sanctions against North Korea and Syria. Sanctions generally don't hurt governments imperialists abhor the most, but the masses of a country. For Corbyn, opposing humanitarian intervention does not mean supporting repression in the periphery. In fact, it means stopping repression coming from the core countries. He holds fast to national defence, but proposes an actual ethics of war, and seeks multilateral nuclear disarmament. These gestures work toward shortening the gap between the great military states and the rest of the world.
The ambitious movement with representation in the left wing of British Labour would face certain complications if Jeremy Corbyn were to be Prime Minister of the UK. Besides internal struggle, Labour would be forced to oversee the management of British capital, and negotiate with its bourgeois agents, lest the party suffer political obstruction or economic isolation. Short of a mass uprising, this politics is always the kind of two steps forward, one step back. This is an inherent limit to be met and overcome. Labour has SYRIZA in Greece and PODEMOS in Spain to learn from, as well as the numerous Pink Tide governments. Workers the world over, especially in the UK, would do well to learn as much as they can about the struggles in these countries.
But, on the whole, Labour's shift to the left under Jeremy Corbyn is a sign of potential positive developments for movements against austerity, war and capitalism. Renationalisation, solidarity with the Global South, and scaling back of humanitarian intervention all have benefits for the working classes in the United Kingdom, its empire, and the world. Neoliberals gathering forces to oppose these movements means they have material effects. Only time will tell what Corbyn and Labour can and will do in the future, but we in the periphery must understand his success as a mandate to move forward.
Unlike his American counterpart, Bernie Sanders, Corbyn is a big deal for the Global South. Under a hypothetical Corbyn government, the UK would not longer be the USA's reliable partner in war crimes as we saw with a Blair-led Labour Party. Under a hypothetical Corbyn government, if he would be able to keep Labour MPs in line, Caribbean leaders would be in a position to make serious demands for reparations from the British government. His anti-austerity stances would make him even more empathetic to the situation of Jamaica. Our reliance on the IMF to solve our debt crisis has forced us to accept harsh austerity measures, including funding cuts and wage freezes in certain areas.
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