The appeal to me (see below) of Corbyn’s socialism lay in its moral, as opposed to scientific-critical, character.
Why was the appeal so forceful at that moment? Firstly, it was during a general election, when party loyalty gets you behind the leader, the one who leads opposition to the callousness of the Conservative Party. Second, there had been two terror attacks. I warmed to his response to these attacks: calling for a less war-like engagement in the Middle East; urging peaceful unity in English cities. Furthermore, he mounted a disarmingly unapologetic rejection of nuclear weapons in the TV debates.
Looking back, the confluence of the final two points was particularly affective: he was unabashedly re-employing the concept of peace, and pacifism came on my moral horizon.
Corbyn does not fully espouse pacifism, but it seems intrinsic to moral socialism to me. Yet, if we consider “the state” as being represented by the sword, why should “moral socialism” (i.e. Christianity) concern itself with attaining the power of the state, be it through an election or any other means? It mustn’t: rather “the state” (sword) must concern itself with attaining the power of the ploughshare (“the worker”). That is the central question for moral socialism.
So my enthusiasm for Corbyn – “moral socialism” – ebbs again, because it is indeed the power of the state which he, which socialism, seeks, and so lapses, in the end, into contradiction, if not hypocrisy.
1. Brits don’t like being told what to do.
2. Brits back the underdog.
3. ‘Scaremongering on the economy’ doesn’t work anymore.
4. Brits like candidates who say what they believe.
In one: He could duck the issue of Brexit.
It has been joyous to watch Jeremy Corbyn campaigning. He believes in a peaceful and fair world, free of oppression and exploitation. He really does! And he thinks the way to get there is by listening and by discussion! He is where he is by hard work and chance. He got his seat, by all accounts, by working hard; he became leader of the Labour Party by chance – he didn’t really want to put his name forward, but it was “his turn”. His supporters can be very aggressive and unreasonable, but he isn’t. Unlike Tony Benn, he is not vain; or a smarty-pants, like Michael Foot. And that is important, because he is running a moral campaign for socialism. Corbyn’s socialism is a credo before it is a crusade or a programme.
I repent of all the disparaging remarks I have made about him. It is thanks to Jeremy Corbyn that I can clearly see again that socialism represents above everything else a moral politics.
Letter to the LRB 18. May 2017
The articles What will be left? and Brexitism are pretty pessimistic, for many good reasons.
Asked by Alastair Campbell the other day whether he was the same man as the one first elected Prime Minister twenty years ago, Tony Blair answered that he still had the same values, he was still “basically” an optimist. Blair later persistently and cheerfully resisted Campbell’s urging of him to slag off Trump, Theresa May, Corbyn and the rest. He wouldn’t: he disagrees with them; he thinks history will show his analysis to be the right one… he even thinks history will show Iraq was the right thing to do. Whatever: the point is that the task and the temperament of the left, “basically”, is to see the seeds of a better future in the social changes and technological developments of the day, and to think about how to see them come to fruition.
In different ways Brexit and Corbyn point backwards – to the perennial 50s, to the time before Blair. But the Brexit vote also expresses a wish for a new sense of society, a wish which can be addressed optimistically, cheerfully and with confidence in our approach.
I gave up on Labour Party meetings because it was more important to go to tai chi on Wednesdays.
However, I had received emails, a phone call and a request from a colleague-friend urging me to participate in this meeting, to vote for changes to standing orders, delegates to conference and committe members. If the Labour Party (and hence social democracy in the UK) was to be turned around, people like me had to turn up.
The first 45 minutes – 15 had been planned – were spent arguing the toss about the proposed changes to standing orders and their legality. In the end, the opposition deviously moved a vote not to vote on the standing orders. They won by 29-18. Surely, I thought, the ensuing votes for delegates etc. would go the same way. I was annoyed at the torpedoing of the vote for which I had sacrificed the evening – but also heightened in my sense of heroic self-sacrifice, and confirmed in my shrewd judgment as to the hopelessness of the Party’s situation. So I decided to stick it out – one last time.
There followed a presentation and Q&A by a chap from “Healthwatch Richond” for 45 minutes. 90 minutes gone.
Finally came the votes which really counted, for our local delegates to conference. It was business-like: each side had been informed of the names to vote for. Without much hope we filled out ballot sheets, or raised our hands, and… we won, all three votes, 24-23. Brilliant.
Letter to the Guardian regarding doping in (Russian) athletics:
Lord Coe’s 800m world record, set at the height of “cold war doping”, stood for 25 years. It was broken by a Kenyan. Kenyan athletes – who in great numbers from childhood on run long distances competitively, at altitude – are widely suspected of doping. The Kenyans have tried everything to beat Mo Farah for five years and not come near; and in ten years, none has come within three minutes of Paula Radcliffe’s marathon world record. Amazing! Now, the Russians. With a state-run doping programme and a population nearly three times Great Britain’s, they came 4th in the 2012 Olympics medals table. Britain was 3rd. Astonishing! How Great Britain is!
And what if one takes the notion seriously for a moment? That politics can embody the endeavour of a people to organise itself with “a yes, a no, a straight line and a goal”… and to run towards it, a new collective effort to overcome destructive forces, to realise human existence as artistic, to become a people who will live and die joyfully.
We are born to run, and to run long distances; we do have a sense of direction, and we can run straight. The issue is establishing the collective sense of direction. See the 100 yards for people with no sense of direction: there is a sense of direction, but it is not a collective sense of direction.