HOT’s Sean O’Shea talks to activist Bryan Jobbins regarding Labour Party Leader, Jeremy Corbyn’s treatment by the media, globalisation and some of the challenges facing a national government that may seek to pursue socialist policies.
“The point of modernity is to live a life without illusions while not becoming disillusioned”
In a previous article A Midsummer Madness, (www.hastingsonlinetimes.co.uk/sos/a-midsummer-madness-2) regarding the Labour Leadership election I talked about the ‘democratic deficit.’ There I emphasised the importance of electoral reform and specifically the need for proportional representation so that people can vote for what they believe in and know that their vote will count.
Yet both of us recognise that this is insufficient. Democracy in the fuller sense would entail the capacity for ongoing direct participation by citizens in the decisions that affect their lives across a range of spheres including the workplace.
We are indebted to the Greeks for our concept of democracy but the Greek city state was founded on a division of labour i.e. the slaves did the bulk of the work, thus providing a male, property owning elite with the freedom to devote themselves to art, philosophy and most important for our present discussion – politics.
While the Greeks also involved themselves in commerce, agriculture and warfare, they recognised that a basic level of material well-being, leisure and access to educational resources were pre-requisites for active engagement in the public affairs of the community.
Indeed it was recognised that you could not become a fully developed citizen unless you had access to such means. And, as if to underline the point, the philosopher Aristotle declared that a life largely dedicated to work would make the pursuit of virtue or the ‘good life’ impossible.
Marx, who respected Aristotle, understood better than most the way in which persisting material inequalities of wealth, power and resources characteristic of class based societies, hindered citizens in the development of their potential and in the practical exercise of their freedom to participate in public affairs.
He spoke frequently about the limitations of purely formal political rights and emphasised the importance of distinguishing between political freedom and full economic or social emancipation.
In his view it was the historical destiny of the working class to become conscious of their oppressed situation vis-a-vis those who owned and controlled the means of production, and through collective struggle, abolish exploitative divisions of labour thereby creating a classless society.
With remarkable prescience Marx anticipated that workers might be reluctant to assume such a role and that many would be tempted to settle for the attainment of purely formal ‘political rights,’ and some improvement in their material circumstances within the confines of the prevailing class system and its associated structural inequalities.
There is continuing controversy within the left on these matters, not least in terms of identifying what conceivable constellation of forces might, in the modern period, be mobilised to meet the historical goal identified by Marx – of transforming society and creating the conditions for ‘full social emancipation’.
Ultimately this remains a practical question, and not one that can be resolved through philosophical speculation.
However we would probably both agree that the success of the seminal ‘social movement’ catalyzed by Corbyn will depend on its capacity, in collaboration with a wider socialist alliance, to creatively engage with these challenging issues. A big ask.
“The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.”
The German Ideology, Karl Marx
Let’s start with the media. Corbyn has got and continues to get quite a pasting for everything from his refusal to sing the national anthem to his dress style. What’s your take on this?
The media including the BBC have clearly got the knives out for Corbyn. The Observer for example was once a left of centre paper as under Will Hutton’s editorship (1996–1998) but it has shifted markedly towards the right. Under Roger Alton (1998 -2007) it supported Blair’s war in Iraq. What a falling off there has been. Under John Mulholand (2008 – ) the Observer’s increasingly lengthy editorials commonly embedded in Blairite code have been unabashed in their support of the neo-liberal consensus. Corbyn is caricatured and denigrated across the piece and this is likely to continue.
The liberal press likes to separate the economy from politics as an ideological move. Capitalism, globalisation, the multinational companies, major world institutions like the World Bank, IMF, and WTO – all need to be taken into account when considering political prospects in a particular country.
What about the unions? I note that less than half of union members voted in the Labour Leadership Election, but nonetheless Corbyn achieved a majority among those that did.
The TUC is a prerequisite of a socialist party but not sufficient. Think of the failure of union solidarity at the time of the nineteen twenty six strike, or the failure to wholeheartedly support the miner’s strike in the nineteen eighties. The failure of the affiliated unions Unite, Unison, GMB etc to robustly challenge Blair’s workforce reforms and the more recent pension reforms has been very disappointing. Such dismal disengagement has led activists like me to question the value of one day strikes, demonstrations or petitions.
What do you think are the key issues at this juncture politically?
For me the key issues are globalisation and America’s ‘ full spectrum dominance’ politically, military, culturally and economically which does not permit alternative non-capitalist national governments to function without direct or indirect interference, sanctions, media propaganda, or funding opposition parties – as in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador etc.
As Kissinger said of Allende’s left government in Chile, “we will make the economy scream”. Nineteen seventy three is one of those dates that are forever seared in my mind. Another date was the nineteen fifty six Suez Crisis. The US threat not to support the pound stopped the UK in its tracks – within twenty four hours. During this episode Great Britain and France were humiliated and Nasser was strengthened. More recently ferreting about in the archives I discovered that in nineteen forty seven the Atlee government was told by America to stop any further nationalization.
What about Corbyn’s ‘proposals’ to cancel Trident and exit NATO
I don’t anticipate that there will be any exit from NATO, cancelling of Trident or TTIP (The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which is a comprehensive free trade and investment treaty currently being negotiated – in secret – between the European Union and the USA).
Again, for me, there is the example of France which I have followed for thirty five years. Mitterrand was elected in nineteen eighty one on a radical socialist ticket. After nineteen eighty three he instituted full neo-liberal orthodoxy. And Hollande with a popularity rating of 13% is now little different from Sarkozy.
How many in the Parliamentary Labour Party would you consider left wing?
There are about forty eight Labour MPs that one might recognise as left wing. This was the total number of MPs who voted against the Cameron Welfare Bill and ignored Harman’s instruction to abstain.
The late Marxist revolutionary, Leon Trotsky, anticipated that the development of the world market would increase the interdependency of nation states and hence that socialism would not be likely to be achievable in a single nation. It had to be struggled for on an international basis. What’s your view?
I have always been anti-capitalist and have become increasingly critical of globalisation because effectively it means Americanization as Kissinger candidly admitted. National states remain significant actors. But national Parliaments or the European Parliament at a higher level are increasingly empty logos. And as far as Britain is concerned it was the nineteenth century battle/debate between Whig and Tory that saw the peak of genuine parliamentary power sharing and influence.
What did Bill Clinton say: “It’s the economy stupid.” If the dollar is the world’s reserve currency and if America is the biggest player in the World Bank, WTO and OECD and IMF – then any opposition by individual state or party can in Kissinger’s words, be made to ‘scream’.
Just as an illustration, some years ago Corbyn noted in The Morning Star that in his view the two thousand and three Iraq war was caused less by nine eleven but more because Sadam Hussein was considering withdrawing from the dollar currency in oil.
I take your point but you risk presenting yourself as unduly pessimistic. You have spoken previously of reconciling pessimism of the mind with an optimism of the heart. You have campaigned for social justice and been on many marches over the years, and you have stood up against oppression of whatever form for as long as I’ve known you and continue to do so.
I believe that it was the Italian Marxist theoretician and politician Antonio Gramsci who advocated pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will. Health permitting I will stick with that stance and continue to resist.
I think it was also Gramsci who characterised the crisis of our time as related to the fact that “the old is dying and the new cannot be born”.
I’m still glad for Corbyn. I’ve seen him on the various platforms I’ve attended on several issues over the years. I agree with your assessment of him as a man of maturity and committed responsibility. He is a big man in a personal and moral sense and people have responded to that. Of course I wish him well.
Also in: Politics« For the love of music
Claiming the space »