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After Donald Trump, Corbynism?

7_scary_realities_for_americans_with_donald_trumYou know that dark cloud shading into fascist brown accumulating above the White House? It’s pretty frightening, so it’s entirely normal and expected for some to (desperately?) discern a silver tinge its edges. One of them is superstar economist Yanis Varoufakis, who suggests Trump’s election signals a new wave of change. Coming from a similar, but decidedly non-Marxist standpoint, Robert Skidlesky reckons there is some progressive potential in ‘Trumpism’. A Keynesian kernel in a racist, bigoted shell, one might say. Another variant of comment looking for a hint of sunnier times to come, leap on the discrediting of the opinion polls and the mess our politics and economics are in. And that is the line of argument suggesting the Labour Party could well sweep to power at the next general election.

You should look to the future with optimism, but always temper it with intellect. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work out. Liam Young, writing for the Indy puts forward quite a simple thesis. Economic dislocation gave us Trump (though, as with most things, it’s complex), therefore it could help the left too. Because people are fed up with established politics, an insurgency from the left can be just as successful. Stated baldly like that, yes it can. Though, no doubt due to reasons of space, Liam doesn’t offer any deeper analysis. Just an exhortation for us to ride the wave or get swamped by it.

There are a few things worth remembering. The rising tide of populism has two legs. The first, which the left are more familiar with seeing as they’re increasingly drawn from it, is the growing mass of networked workers. Long atomised and repelled by an establishment politics of technocratic managerialism, Jeremy Corbyn’s rise to the summit of Labour is an outcome of them moving into the party in large numbers. Considering membership was stubbornly stuck and the activist base wasn’t getting any younger, the surge of new members and support has already saved the party from PASOK-style oblivion. Not that Jeremy will ever get any thanks for it. As argued previously, our hope lies in continually recruiting from and encouraging the many millions of networked workers to get involved in politics, deepening the alliance between the existent labour movement and the emergent layers. Hence the importance of the Corbynist party/social movement conception that’s got a few knickers in a twist.

That, however, isn’t all there is. The processes that have created this layer of workers and are lifting them to prominence is the same that has cut a swathe of deindustrialisation through the advanced nations. For every newly integrated and networked worker, there are others that have been discarded and left to fend for themselves – the so-called left-behinds of many a hand-wringing op-ed. Meanwhile, the uncertainty this results disproportionately excites and antagonises middling layers who, by virtue of their class locations, feel keenly the cutting wind of status anxiety as it buffets our economies. UKIP, as the party condensing, displacing, sublimating these fears is the opposite expression of the same dynamics underpinning Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. UKIP definitely is not a working class party, but in many Labour-held constituencies it has become the default choice for the anti-Labour sections of our people. Though that could all change thanks to Theresa May’s One Nation turn.

The key to making inroads here, and also into Tory-supporting working class and middling voters elsewhere is the sense of self-security. Despite Tory politics having exactly the opposite effect, Dave well knew this was his best bet of pulling off a governing majority. It was embarrassing, but the ad nauseum repetitions of strong leadership, the long-term economic plan, the Conservatives’ five-point plan for sorting out your local council, and talking up Labour/SNP coalition chaos, the abolition of Trident, and so on worked. Contrary to the self-serving diagnoses of the time, it had sod all to do with “aspiration”. To win, this is the nut Labour has to crack. Perversely, the messier it gets, the more it may favour the Tories. We failed in 2015 because Labour wasn’t interested in occupying this ground, and so looked unconvincing as it danced around it with pledges for more housing and controls on immigration. In one sense, our current leadership understands this where economics are concerned and, reluctantly, they are right that Labour cannot be seen to be thwarting the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. Yet the emerging economic programme, which takes a tough line of deficit spending but has something to offer the new working class and the old, and the self-employed, and therefore makes a good fist at offering security-in-work is undercut by the leader’s well-known views on pacifism and unilateral nuclear disarmament. If anxiety and ontological insecurity is powering the populism that has so far found expression on the right, this is a problem for the forging of an insurgent coalition from the left.

I don’t know how this can be overcome short of a hugely damaging exposure of Tory incompetence over Brexit (not beyond the realms of possibility) or May’s entanglement in an unpopular war, or something that destroys the perception of their governing credibility a la the 1992 ERM debacle, constant infighting, and the drip, drip of sleaze. Meanwhile we still have our own problems of disunity, albeit more restrained these days, and we have to repair the damage a summer of whingeing and shenanigans inflicted. Let there then be no illusions, if we want to make sure the next big upset after the election of Donald Trump is victory with an overall majority for Labour under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, a lot of hard work and hard thinking has to be done. Now is not the time for the comfort blankets.

24 Comments

  1. C MacMackin says:

    The basic message of this piece is fair. If an election were called tomorrow, Labour wouldn’t have a hope in hell of winning and pretending otherwise is self-destructive. I’m not convinced that the biggest problems are Corbyn’s anti-Trident and pacifist positions, however (not to deny that they are problems for the electorate). Rather it is that, contrary to what is implied here, Corbyn has no substantial economic plan to speak of! Beyond a few headline policies and some good intentions, there is nothing there! Many of the policies which have been proposed do not hold up under any scrutiny. Given that the media will be vastly more hostile to an incoherant left-wing manifesto than an incoherant right-wing one, there is no chance of winning like this. Workers will look at these economic proposals and say that they don’t believe Corbyn when he promises full employment, etc. Frankly, they’re right not to, as no details have been given as to how this will be acheived.

  2. C MacMackin says:

    Oh, also, this article implies that Trump is a fascist, which he is not. He may be a proto-fascist but, thankfully, he does not display the anti-democracy rhetoric or the paramilitary streat gangs which accompany actual fascism. The potential for the latter is definitely there but it hasn’t emerged in any coherant way yet.

  3. John Penney says:

    Sorry, Phil b-c, but this is empty waffle. Labour in the UK, and the radical reformist Left, across Europe desperately need to develop comprehensive “holistic” economic and social programmes of interconnected radical transformative policies, if we are to seriously challenge the deeply embedded neoliberal narrative, and its deeper , supporting, capitalist , narrative, if we are to win the mass of working people desperately looking for a way forward from the ever deepening austerity-led impovrrishment of the global capitalist crisis.

    Right populists like Trump, and UKIP, and even more radical , nominally , “anti globalist capitalism” ones like the National Front, can avoid detail policies with their rhetoric, because they can feed off a deeply embedded series of “dog whistle” reactionery tropes, like nationalism, racism, acceptance of the underlying inevitability of capitalist market relations, etc, without having to profoundly challenge the dominant capitalist narrative in the way a radical Left insurgeant policy offer has to do.

    Unfortunately, so far, all “Corbynism” has put forward is a series of “feelgood” outline isolated policy ideas, and John McDonnell’s “celebrity bourgeois economist’s roadshow” !

    1. Rob Green says:

      Go on then. You say what must be done but when people try to do it you are in the front line of the political police force trying to shut them down. You manage to be a sectarian and an opportunist at the same time. You bigged up Left Unity and when anybody put forward anything remotely socialist you organised the reaction against it.

      Today’s left are not remotely socialist. They are degenerate and Penney is the worst example. If you say full-employment or a People’s Bank or socialise the property and mega profits of the corporations idiots like him simply laugh but against the right wing he’s very good with the blather.

      1. John Penney says:

        Au contraire, I am all for a radical left Labour policy bundle and strategy which includes nationalising the major banks, establishing a National Investment Bank as a driver of regional development and restructuring our sectoral mix, and the aim of Full Employment must be a core policy for a Left Government, alongside controlled and planned labour supply. And , making the Big Corporations pay their taxes, and nationalising key players should also be a core policy.

        Not so keen on building the workers militia, or moving to the revolutionery insurrection next week though.

        You need to actually READ my stuff, David, not just imagine what you want you want my views to be.

  4. Karl Stewart says:

    Thanks for the article Phil.

    I agree that the unilateralism will be a big difficulty at the next election. It was a great pity that they moved Clive Lewis out of that role straight after he made an excellent conference speech and had both nuetralised and parked the whole issue.
    Big, big mistake in my opinion.

    On economics, I’d agree with some of the other commentators that Labour need to articulate a robust programme – a strong, interventionist and constructivist agenda can win big support, as well as being the right thing to do.

    As for the idea of a Trump connection or trend? Naaah. Trump lost the vote. He got around two million fewer votes than Clinton. There are zero political conclusions to draw from the freak outcome of a losing candidate being awarded the presidency because of a uniquely wierd system.

    1. Jim Denham says:

      I hope you’re right, Karl … but you do seem more than a little complacent. Perhaps, like Tim Montgomerie in the Times last week, unwilling to admit to any similarities between Trumpism and Brexit.

      1. Karl Stewart says:

        There are no similarities between our democratic vote to leave the EU and Trump losing the US vote to Clinton by two million votes.

        If the US had held a referendum on membership of say, NAFTA, and had voted against it, then there would have been some similarities between that and our vote to leave the EU.

        Or if Farage had managed to become leader of the Tory Party, and had campaigned using fascistic methods, and had gained fewer votes than Labour, but won a majority of seats, then there would have been some similarities between that and the US election.

        But no, there are zero similarities between Trump losing the vote in the US by two million votes and the UK voting, democratically by majority, to leave the neo-liberalist capitalist EU.

        Just some exceptionally lazy commentary.

        1. Jim Denham says:

          What you’re not dealing with, Karl, is the fact that the Brexit vote was the result of an anti-immigration campaign by all the anti-EU forces involved (including the shameful Gisla Stuart) and has resulted (as all of us with any political nous predicted) in an immediate and continuing rise in racist attacks and incidents (and also homophobic ones) … the so-called “left” cretins and/or opportunists who backed Brexit must never be allowed to forget this, and must forever be stigmatised for their pandering to racism and backwardness.

          1. Karl Stewart says:

            What you’re not dealing with JimD, is the fact that the EU is a neo-liberal, capitalist organisation, and the fact that our departure from it is an essential precondition for any move in a socialist direction.

            Sadly, for someone who claims to be a socialist, you remain wedded to a thoroughly neo-liberalist outlook.

          2. Jim Denham says:

            Eh: as a Marxist, I understand what capilalist development means (nonsense about “neoliberalism” is just that: nonsense); as a human being I also understand what racism means. Brexit unleashed and also vindicated racism on an unprecedented scale. Are you “left” Brexiters pound of yourselves?

      2. Karl Stewart says:

        Response to JimD at 8.10pm:

        Frankly, I’ve had enough now of pandering to pro-EU whiners like you, enough of trying to be sensitive to your disappointment of losing the EU vote and getting nothing but lies and insults in return. Sick and tired of it.

        It’s morons like you. Self-indulgent whining Blairites like you, who emboldened the racists. Any encouragement of racism has come from you and your fellow remoaners mate.

        Your constant lying about leave voters all being motivated by racism, gave the racists the impression that 52 per cent of the population agreed with them. It’s your fault if they felt in any way ‘vindicated’. Your fault JimD.

        We’ve had enough of your lies and your moaning, lying, and your being a dead weight dragging the rest of the left back.

        We’re working now to build a socialist alternative and a people’s Brexit strategy. Dry your tears, get over yourself and be part of that or keep on whining forever – no-one’s listening to you.

        1. Rob Bab says:

          @Karl
          16 Nov.
          “The “right-wing conservatives and white supremacists” description applies, in my opinion, to all Trump voters.”

          Nov 20.
          “Your constant lying about leave voters(Brexiters) all being motivated by racism, gave the racists the impression that 52 per cent of the population agreed with them.”

          In hindsight do you think yours and Jimbo’s inaccurate flagrant use of the “racism card” is similar to the recent unfounded “anti-Semitic” accusations by the Zionist Blairites towards upstanding members of the Labour Party?

          1. Karl Stewart says:

            No, he and I are referring to different events.

            JimD is wrong to characterise all ‘Leave’ voters as racist. He’s also wrong to keep on whining about it. It was a fair vote and the ‘Leave’ side won a clear majority. Not overwhelming, but clear.

            I think I’m right to characterise all Trump voters as either right-wing conservatives or white supremacists.

            (Remember that white supremacism is by no means uncommon in the USA – it’s one of that nation’s foundation stones after all. What else, other than white supremacism can possibly be the motive for any white person in the USA complaining about immigration? Every white person there is either an immigrant or the descendant of an immigrant.)

            Also, it’s perfectly fair for anti-Trump people to keep on complaining about Trump having been awarded the presidency, because he lost the vote. He polled around two million fewer votes than Clinton – so complaining, moaning, etc about that is perfectly reasonable.

          2. Jim Denham says:

            “In hindsight do you think yours and Jimbo’s inaccurate flagrant use of the “racism card” is similar to the recent unfounded “anti-Semitic” accusations by the Zionist Blairites towards upstanding members of the Labour Party?”

            No: for the very simple reason tat anti-Semitism *is* a real problem on the Labour left: Livingstone should *never* be readmitted; Walker needs political education.

        2. Jim Denham says:

          Talking of LIES, Karl, how about “whining Blairites like you” when I am on record fighting Blair and all he stands for, since *before* the 1997 election; “leave voters all being motivated by racism”: I have never said this, and efy you to find any quote from me to justify your slander on this poiunt: my objection is to fake-leftists like you and the Morning Star, who pander to racism.

          As for a “left Brexit”:m dream on pal. While the racist attacks continue: proud of yourself, are you?

          In the light of the Trump victory, fake-“lefts” who tried to ride the ultra-right racist, populist bandwagon should now take pause for thought; but no, they’re to self-deluding and (in some cases) plain stupid. I’m reminded of the historian Robert Con quest (a Tory, but a good historian and an honest man), who in the 1970s wrote a book about the extent of Stalin’s mass murders and was denounced by much of the Stalinist-influenced liberal left for exaggeration. When, after the collapse of the UISSR, new material became available vindicating his conclusions, Conquest was asked by his publishers about a new title for a republished and updated versioof ,his book: he suggested “I Told You So, You Fucking Fools.”

      3. John P Reid says:

        The Brexit vote was the highest turn out in -4 years, Trump win, on one of the lowest turnouts

        Apart from seeing Hispsantic and people of color considering themselves more working class as a defining group, than Black and minority ethnic, as a reason they were voting Trump, in blue collar states, I popped down to Chicago ,the day after the election, and there was total apathy from the LGBT and BAME communities

        Of the many British BAME people I know who voted Brexit, some working class ,some middle class, the view they’ll be more commonwealth immigration, post. Brexit , was hardly mentioned, although in Essex,immigration didn’t come up, even from ukip, but that maybe an exception,
        and there wasn’t apathy in the EU election either,

        1. John P Reid says:

          24 years

  5. David Pavett says:

    I don’t think that there is a simple pendulum situation as this article seems to suggest such that out of the decay of the present political set up things could equally well lurch to the left or to the right. There are two principal reasons which this is not the case.

    (1) The far right is able to appeal to the underlying modes of thought which capitalism generates as a part of its self-reproduction. Those ideas do not even have to be clearly articulated they are there in the social ethos ready to be called on. The left on the other hand can only make headway through a critique of those ideas and helping itself and the rest of the population to see through and beyond them. That is a very different task.

    (2) It is possible that in particular circumstances the revolt against what are seen as political elites may favour the left (as it did with Syriza in Greece) but if the left is swept to power on not much more than political disgust and frustration with the way things are then it will not succeed. As John Penny says above, if the left doesn’t have a clearly articulated critique of capitalism and a programme for moving beyond it then it will, even in government, be absorbed by that system for want of knowing what to do and how to deal with the extreme opposition and sabotage that it would face if it looked at all like undermining the power of the very wealthy.

    I will agree that the decay of the present political set up can open up new possibilities for the left but it will not be able to make anything out of those possibilities if it is not prepared to make vastly more effort to come to grips with the nature of the problems to be solved than it has so far shown itself willing to do.

  6. Peter Rowlands says:

    Karl is wrong on both his points.
    The similarity between the Trump vote and Brexit was that both were expressions in part of anger and frustration by those’left behind’ in the US and the UK.
    The US electoral system is not’uniquely weird’. It is like ours, first past the post, winner takes all. This resulted in Labour losing the 1951 election to the Tories by 26 seats, despite getting 230,000 votes more. The reverse happened in Feb. 1974.

    1. Karl Stewart says:

      No you’re completely wrong. The majority vote against the EU came from people across the political spectrum, including many on the left. The minority of US voters who voted for Trump came from the political right. Nobody on the US left voted for Trump.

      There is zero political similarity. Yes, the majority vote for leaving the EU was unexpected, as was the electoral college award of the presidency to Trump. But then Leicester Football Club’s 2016 championship win was also unexpected – and also not part of a general political trend.

      As to comparisons of the UK and US electoral systems, it is the congressional elections that are the US equivalent of our Parliamentary elections, not the US presidential election.

      In both the UK Parliamentary elections and the US congressional elections, candidates stand for election in a particular constituency – and the candidate who tops the poll wins.

      In 1951, the Conservative Party leader, Winston Churchill, did top the poll in the constituency in which he stood. And in 1974, the Labour Party leader, Harold Wilson, did top the poll in the constituency in which he stood.

      In the US presidential election, the constituency is the whole US – all of it. And there is no other election in the world where the candidate who tops the poll in the constituency bin which they’re standing does not win.

      1. Jim Denham says:

        The historian Robert Conquest (Ia Tory, but a good historian) wrote in the 1970’s, about the genocide committed by Stalin, and much of the liberal-left objected. When, after the collapse of the Soviet empire and the availability of soviet records proving Conquest to have been been correct, Conquest’s publishers contacted him about republishing his book witn a new introduction, they also asked about a new title: he suggested “I Told You So, You Fucking Fools”

        Exactly my thoughts about the fucking idiots of the pro-Brexit so-called “left”.

  7. Jim Denham says:

    The serious, politically educated working class left, hits back against the pro-Brexit idiots:

    The following resolution was passed by the last Unite EC:

    “On the back of the referendum vote to leave the European Union, the decisions taken by the British Government on the shape of Exit could have profound implications on this [union]’s members. Therefore we believe nationally and locally Unite should be campaigning on the following:
    – To ensure at the very least all workers rights currently in EU law come into force in UK law.
    – To ensure European works council structures are not affected and we continue and we continue to increase our co-operation and solidarity with our sister trade unionists in the EU.
    – To defend the free movement of people as it currently exists including our right to work in the EU and European workers rights to do the same here. The best guard against employers using Brexit as an excuse to attack pay and Ts and Cs not putting up new borders but strong trade unions organising all workers regardless of where they are from.”

    **

    JD comments:

    Given that Unite continues to fund the Morning Star, which advocates a withdrawal from the single market, perhaps the union should make its democratically decided view known a bit more clearly – especially to the CPB and the Morning Star: and if the paper and the party continue with their reactionary stance, Unite should cease spending members’ money supporting them.

  8. Karl Stewart says:

    Clinton’s lead now over two million. Current votes counted:

    Clinton: 64,223,958

    Trump: 62,206,395

    https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/133Eb4qQmOxNvtesw2hdVns073R68EZx4SfCnP4IGQf8/htmlview?sle=true#gid=19

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