Truthdigger of the Week: Jeremy Corbyn, Fighter for Social Justice, Peace and Human Rights
Every week the Truthdig editorial staff selects a Truthdigger of the Week, a group or person worthy of recognition for speaking truth to power, breaking the story or blowing the whistle. It is not a lifetime achievement award. Rather, we’re looking for newsmakers whose actions in a given week are worth celebrating.
For almost a generation, the left wing of the British Labour Party has been a voice crying in a wilderness of neoliberalism. Defeated and marginalized by Labour’s Tony Blair, then vilified by his Tory successor, Prime Minister David Cameron, the “Socialist Campaign Group” has been routinely derided as an irrelevant “hard left” sect. Ed Miliband’s brief and disastrous leadership of the Labour Party, which ended with his defeat at the polls in May, was expected by political pundits to be followed by the so-called New Labour wing taking control of the party, albeit after a nasty quarrel over which of Blair’s descendants would become leader.
Few foresaw the possibility that Jeremy Corbyn, a member of Parliament and the Campaign Group—a politician the tabloid press has always depicted as the very incarnation of a “hard left” demon—would emerge triumphant and, what’s more, defiant from the Sept. 12 national voting.
“The Labour Party is now a threat to our national security, our economic security and your family’s security,” Cameron nervously tweeted after the electoral landslide for Corbyn. In a pre-emptive strike two weeks earlier, Blair, ever the virtuoso of spin, had taken to the pages of The Guardian to warn that “Jeremy Corbyn’s politics are fantasy—just like Alice in Wonderland.”
What better endorsement than for Corbyn, a man of principle, to receive the scathing disapproval of the twin henchmen of British social democracy?
If anything, the events of this year proved that Labour’s Miliband—often referred to as “Ed Moribund”—offered no real alternative to Tory policy. Now relegated to Westminster’s backbenches as well as the political ash heap of history, Miliband ran on a protracted betrayal of his party’s founding principles. The son of socialist refugees who fled the Holocaust, Miliband was perhaps nowhere more disappointing than in his campaign’s pandering to the anti-immigrant sentiment typical of the Tories and the far-right, nativist U.K. Independence Party.
Corbyn, a backbencher who has spent three decades shunning the limelight in favor of causes that included socialism in Latin American and opposition to austerity measures, won thousands of new supporters and nearly 59.5 percent of first-preference votes in this month’s national election.
Perhaps more unexpected than his sudden ascendancy to power is that Labour now has a leader in possession of that exceptionally rare commodity in politics—integrity. Not to say that Labour hasn’t had its fair share of heroes, from Aneurin Bevan, the chief architect of the National Health Service, to anti-war and workers rights advocate Tony Benn. As Leo Panitch explains, Corbyn fits into the tradition of Benn, through his commitment “to change the Labour Party into a vehicle for mobilization for socialist change in Britain.” This effort, Panitch observes, “goes back to the effects of the 1960s New Left, the anti-Vietnam activism, the beginning of the women’s movement, the general thrust for participatory democracy.” The new leader, he continues, “is very much carrying forward what was isolated, marginalized, and eventually defeated in the Labour Party—and in other social-democratic parties in Europe. And out of all those parties, this left insurgency only seems to have reappeared in the Labour Party and only in the last few months.”
Although his feet have barely touched the ground, Corbyn has already reinvigorated British politics. Whereas Prime Minister Cameron’s response to the current refugee crisis has been shameful, Corbyn’s first action as Labour leader was to address marchers at a refugee solidarity rally in central London. In his first week in party power, he created a shadow Cabinet, which for the first time ever has a majority of women and includes a dedicated minister for mental health—which has no counterpart in the Conservative Cabinet. In addition, during the prime minister’s question time in the House of Commons, Corbyn challenged Cameron on a range of questions submitted by the public, from the housing crisis to cuts in social welfare.
“Corbyn’s vision,” as a recent Guardian article says, “is for Labour to campaign for a radical upheaval of the economic system, not be a softer ‘Tory-lite’ party which also commits to spending cuts.” His economic commitments, it continues, “are popular with the young, he has promised to bring the railways into public ownership and abolish university tuition fees. He champions ‘People’s [Quantitative] Easing’, which would allow the Bank of England to print money for housing projects, energy, infrastructure and digital development.”
In his 32 years as a member of Parliament for London’s Islington North, Corbyn has fought tirelessly for social justice, peace and human rights. He was a well-known campaigner against apartheid in South Africa, serving on the national executive committee of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, and was arrested in 1984 while demonstrating outside London’s South Africa House. He has long agitated against British imperialism in Ireland, is a key figure for Palestinian rights and was an early pioneer of LGBT equality. A founder of the Stop the War Coalition, Corbyn was a vocal opponent of the war in Iraq and has opposed British military involvement in Syria. “He would scrap Britain’s Prevention of Terrorism Act, which, like the Patriot Act in the United States, has been used to target and harass Muslims,” Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges reminds us. “He wants the United Kingdom to withdraw from NATO. He cannot conceive of any situation, he has said, that would necessitate sending British troops abroad.”
Corbyn’s first key challenge involves establishing unity within his own party. Given his unwillingness to compromise on restoring Labour’s role in democracy, this will be no easy feat. But whatever his tenure may hold, we are witnessing a fundamental shift in which the grip of unchallenged neoliberalism has finally been broken. For bringing British politics back to life, Jeremy Corbyn is our Truthdigger of the Week.