I had a mildly sticky phone convo yesterday, apropos my last post, Corbyn: the first five days, with someone I’ve known a very long time. An intelligent man, highly so in fact, he had two beefs. One (tacitly informed by my comment on a billionaire press cheering yet more bombing raids on Muslim countries) is that the driver of Islamic State’s ascendance is religious fanaticism: not the Iraq invasion, arming of jihadists in Cold War Afghanistan or more recent make-it-up-as-you-go ‘policy’ in Libya and Syria. Nor, he would argue, should we blame the west’s long record of meddling in the middle east – for instance its Faustian deal with the autocrat usurpers in Ryadh.
(We never even got to that festering injustice, Palestine, which casts its malign shadow on every part of the region.)
His other beef is that Britain isn’t about to overthrow capitalism and even if it was, and did, it would be isolated internationally. Those aren’t his precise words but that’s the gist.
Re the first, I’ve a track record of dissing religion in general and Islam in particular. It’s got me into hot water with liberal friends unable to disentangle uncritical defence of a faith from unconditional defence of its adherents. All the same, I call it naive to the point of wilful obtuseness to go looking – as Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens do – to the Hadiths for an explanation of how ISIS got so big so fast. All creeds breed fanatics and a case can be made for singling out Islam (with the other two Abrahamic faiths close behind) as having exceeded its quota. But could ISIS or Al Qaeda have flourished under Saddam, Gaddafi or Assad? To cut to the chase, having bombed ISIS into existence – just as, forty years ago, Nixon bombed the Khmer Rouge into existence – why are we so quick to think we can bomb them back out again? For that matter, if our leaders are serious about draining this sac of pus, why aren’t they openly talking to those best placed to make it happen: Assad, Putin and the funny hats in Teheran?
Re the second, I haven’t made myself sufficiently clear. I’m sure – as sure as it’s safe to be about anything – that capitalism is not in the interests of the vast majority of people on this planet. Truth be told I’d say it threatens the continuity of the human race. (I doubt I’ll be around for the worst but I’ve two daughters and that gives me a stake.) I’m also sure that we in the west don’t get it; don’t get the appalling truth that those who benefit most from a system which subordinates everything to profit will do anything to keep it in place.
But that’s not where I’ve been unclear. It’s a huge leap from saying capitalism is the Big Issue to saying only its eradication can improve matters. I haven’t made that leap but my friend seemed to believe I have. And if he believes that, why not others? So here, in neat bullet points, is my view of the context of Corbynia.
- For reasons I’ll explore in future essays, capital must chase the highest rate of return and cannot tolerate, except as temporary expediency, any obstacle to its need to monetise every aspect of our lives and flow into every corner of the globe. Such obstacles as have existed – Soviet Union, statified economies of the middle east, nationalised industries and welfarism in Europe – have been or are now being eliminated. The fall of the Soviet Union ended a Cold War, kept on ice by fear of mutual annihilation, in which capital was obliged to make concessions it need no longer make.
- New Labour in Britain, and technocrat led centrist parties elsewhere in the west, have collaborated heavily in clawing back labour gains of the Cold War. Libraries and dental care, employment law and university fees, legal aid and public loos, quiet surveillance and zero hour contracts: on every front living standards and the means of defending them are pushed back as capital uses even its mistakes – like 2008 – to pursue an ideological agenda which, anchored in truly vulgar economics, serves the interests of the few.
- Such an offensive cannot but produce discontent and, where it is given leadership and direction, resistance. Hence Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece, Sanders in the USA, Die Linke in Germany and Corbyn in the UK. But in none of these countries, with the possible exception of Greece, is there anything close to a revolutionary situation.
- These movements nevertheless present opportunities: not for the overthrow of capitalism but for checking its greed. Brits show no appetite for revolution – too few of us have suffered enough, and most of us have too much to lose – but that does not oblige us to accept every encroachment in the name of austerity and interests of profit. Enter Corbynia, and a decisive moment – the most pivotal, I’d say, since 1926 – for the UK.
- Every effort is now being made, by both right wing and ‘liberal’ media, to isolate Corbyn. The apologies last week (Shadow Chancellor McDonnell for having once failed to fall in line with mandatory vilifications of the IRA; Corbyn for the even greater crime of not singing a so-called national anthem) must have been music to their ears. Since there are no skeletons in the Jezza closet – else we’d have heard of them by now – they do the next best thing: make him and those around him figures of ridicule. To this end, his and McDonnell’s dithering and lamentable contrition were own-goals far worse than the original “offences”. This is not to blame either man; both have been thrust at bewildering speed into roles they never expected to occupy. But the only way forward from here is to mobilise support outside that Westminster village. And that, my friends, means me and thee.