100 days that shook Britain. That should be the name historians give to this summer’s Labour leadership campaign, if not for the fact that the next 100 days, in which Corbyn will most likely be leader of the party, will shake Britain much more still.
It was fitting then that Corbyn’s closing rally in Islington should be his 99th meeting (tomorrow’s rally after the result’s announcement will be the 100th) and a homecoming for this local MP. In a moving touch, local activists of Corbyn’s CLP, who have worked tirelessly for decades, ignored and derided by the Labour establishment like so many others, were given time to address the 1,000+ crowd packed into Tufnell Park’s Rocktower venue. Many of them seemed on the verge of tears, incredulous that their local champion and parliamentary rebel could tomorrow be leader of the biggest party in the UK. It felt like the world has been turned upside down.
History in the making
The event felt more like a massive rock concert than a political meeting. In keeping with that theme, the crowd was made to wait with baited breath before anything happened. Then suddenly, half an hour after the scheduled start, the lights dimmed to black. Screens all over the venue switched on to show the now legendary 1984 footage of Corbyn defending his scruffy appearance against a Tory MP. Clearly the explosive popularity of this man is due in no small part to his scruffy appearance, which sums up his status as an outsider to Westminster and an ordinary person.
As the video went up, a ripple of anticipation and laughter spread throughout the audience. You could feel in the room the confidence of a mass movement which knows it is making history.
After Kat Fletcher’s introduction, Len McCluskey from Unite was the first speaker. He attacked the British establishment which has been so thoroughly shaken by this campaign. However, it has to be said that his speech failed to anticipate the militancy of the mood in the hall, as well as the well-founded understanding expressed by many other speakers of the need for clear and concrete policies in the coming fight against the right wing of the party. Instead he spoke in vague terms about how Corbyn has given us all ‘hope’, and that ‘hope is the most powerful of human emotions’. It was then revealed afterwards that McCluskey has been whispering to Corbyn that he should make defeated right-winger Burnham his shadow chancellor.
A number of the speakers were newly elected Labour MPs who had nominated Corbyn: Clive Lewis (Norwich South), Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood), Richard Burgon (Leeds East), Kate Osamor (Edmonton) and Rebecca Long Bailey (Salford and Eccles). It is clear that the newest influx of MPs is more to the left than those from the past period, and this reflects the change in consciousness that has taken place since 2008.
The speeches of Richard Burgon and Rebecca Long Bailey were notable for stressing a couple of points in sharp contradiction with the ‘consensus’ that has dominated the party for 30 years - that leadership is the opposite of toadying to the bourgeois media. In Long Bailey’s words “the British public want to hear what you think - not what you think they think. They want a strong leader who openly fights for what they believe in. We need to show that the Labour party will change your life, not just tinker around the edges. Consensus is not an option. We need forge our own destinies.”
These words are very good. It is a gust of fresh air to find this kind of talk from a movement on the cusp of securing leadership of the Labour party. Indeed many of the speakers talked of half-expecting to wake up from a dream.
The need for socialism
But there is a missing word, or idea, from the above quoted speech. What exactly is this firm conviction we must be courageous enough to campaign for in the teeth of virulent attacks from the media? How exactly can we change working people’s lives rather than just tinker around the edges?
That unsaid belief is the ideas of socialism - the alternative to the capitalist system. The idea of a society based on mass public ownership of the means of production is implicit in the whole campaign and success of Corbyn, but even this campaign has found it hard to have the conviction to say this openly.
On the night, John McDonnell stood out for his speech, not least because he openly made the call for socialism. And his speech was the most militant and clear for this. He more than any other speaker spoke of concrete policies, not just a style. He said,
“If people need housing, we'll build council housing. We’ll scrap tuition fees, we’ll end all privatisation and bring services back. The Labour party will be the party of peace. No more invasions. I am proud to stand by my friend as a lifelong socialist. Whatever happens on Saturday we've delivered a victory already: Saturday is the beginning of a new anti-austerity movement based on the socialist ideas that will mobilise the movement. We have to stand firm.“
All of his bold policy announcements, and every mention of socialism, received a loud and long lasting applause and many fists in the air. He, along with Owen Jones in his later speech, also correctly said that the real fight begins after Saturday. This must become a real mass movement, mobilising millions of workers in committees in workplaces, trade unions and community organisations throughout the country. Absolutely correct. If such a movement is created - which for the first time will be a movement not in contradiction with the leader of the official labour movement, but for that leader - it will have revolutionary implications. And the basis for the movement has already been laid. Such a movement will be absolutely necessary if Corbyn is to survive as leader of the party. But such a movement has to be built on clear ideas - the working class must be mobilised to fight clearly and consciously for their own interests, for a socialist society.
Something has profoundly changed in British society. The cat is out of the bag now. The latest survey from Lord Ashcroft’s highly respected polling company has “found that of all voters, 52 per cent believed a radical socialist alternative would be a force for good and change Britain for the better were it in power...People who voted Labour in 2010 but Ukip in 2015 were even more keen on a radical Labour party than the general population, with 59 per cent saying that it would be a good thing.”
This gives the lie to the empty mantra from the right wing that the left can never win an election. Their only slither of evidence for this is the 1983 defeat, which they never bother to analyse. They never mention that the very same right wing stabbed the party in the back at that time by splitting to form a rival party. But aside from that, it is obvious that society has changed massively. The crisis of 2008 has been the biggest in capitalism’s history, and it is ongoing. Inequality is, and has been for decades, rising to obscene levels. Debt is out of control, and young people have no hope of finding a home to buy. None of this was true in 1983, nor in 1997. The historical background was utterly different.
Everyone knows this. All this explains Corbyn’s phenomenal success, which is hard evidence for the ‘electability’ of his politics. The crisis of capitalism is set to worsen, not get better. The debt has not been paid off, but has piled up. China may enter crisis. Osborne has announced a further 40% of cuts to public spending - on top of what has already happened and before before another likely financial crisis hits. In these conditions, a left Labour party under Corbyn would easily win in 2020.
Defend Corbyn! Fight for Socialism!
Corbyn of course closed the rally with the night’s longest speech to rapturous applause. He emphasised that the argument that must now be taken to the Tories is that the “crisis was not caused by lavishly paid street sweepers but by an out of control backing system.” Attacking privatisation, he said it will be discouraged by his policy whilst in opposition of a “windfall tax on excessive profits for those that buy public assets at knock-down prices.” This is a good step forward from the dominance of pro-privatisation politics, but nowhere near enough. The way to stop privatisation is through renationalisation!
He finished by saying that “fundamentally the very rich have gotten very much richer and the poor very much poorer - that is Tory Britain.” He pointed out that we are in truth richer than ever: “technology is developing by leaps and bounds. So it's a question of attitude. People say this generation is going to be worse off, next one even worse etc. Clearly that doesn’t have to be the case.”
This again is correct - but begs the question: why do we keep getting poorer then? Corbyn believes it is a question of attitude. That also is what Tsipras espoused. He found out very quickly that this bad attitude was very powerful and had strong objective interests to back it up.
That is why we stress the need for clarity, for a clear socialist understanding that the crisis of capitalism causes austerity. Corbyn says all this will be paid for by a national investment bank funded by quantitative easing. Unfortunately, that is not economically credible and many voters will see through it. If Corbyn’s success is based on his ‘straight talking, honest politics’, we should be straight on this point also - the only way to pay for new social housing, free university education, and jobs for everyone, is by nationalising big business so that the working class can democratically plan production.
Corbyn’s campaign has raised these ideas and proven they are popular. It is the very beginning of a massive change in society and a long-term upturn in the class struggle. We have a world to win.