In Momentumland, Jeremy Corbyn won the election

Photo: Craig Maclean

Book review: The Corbyn Effect, edited by Mark Perryman. Published by Lawrence & Wishart • by Colin Fox • Had you not known better before reading this book you would have thought Jeremy Corbyn had won the 2017 General Election for The Corbyn Effect is shot through with claims of his ‘spectacular success’.

We are told by a succession of authors that the result was “the most positive development in British politics for 25 years,”, that “the tectonic plates of British politics shifted and we felt a little giddy,” that “we are in a new historical movement” and “the Conservative government’s prospects now depend on what Corbyn does.”

“This is not a book with a single unified viewpoint,” insists its Editor Mark Perryman. But, it is.

The Momentum ‘party line’ is that Jeremy Corbyn actually ‘triumphed’ in June 2017, leads a unified party with a far reaching socialist programme and is set to sweep into 10 Downing Street any day now. No, I didn’t believe it either.

You might have expected the Editor of these commissioned chapters to have reined in the hyperbole. But not a bit of it.

In his ‘final word of thanks for Jeremy Corbyn’ the former Euro-communist presents the most obsequious dish of all. “It is not personality cultist to say,” he insists “that without Corbyn, none of this would be possible. Thank you, and I hope to see you outside Number Ten with the flag-waving crowds, prime minister [sic] Corbyn, sometime soon.” That I’m afraid is typical of the view pedalled throughout this book.

I admire Jeremy Corbyn. I like much of his politics and I have shared many a platform with him over the years. But whilst he may be ‘authentic socialist’, Labour is not.

This book is insufferably London-centric, deluded about what was achieved in June and oblivious to the bitter divisions in the Labour Party between Corbyn and those Tariq Ali describes as “the extreme centre.”

It also ignores the fact Corbyn is paralysed by the Right-wing of his party, led by his Deputy Tom Watson and supported by hundreds of other Labour MPs, Mayors and Lords.

Last November’s BBC documentary The Summer that Changed Everything showed again the deep enmity in Labour’s ranks towards Corbyn. And it has not gone away. Rather as their Manifesto, For the Many not the Few, shows the Right has been accommodated.

Concessions have been made on Brexit, on immigration (the Right wanted a commitment to “prohibit migrants recourse to public funds” included), austerity, public ownership, Syria, the House of Lords, the monarchy, ‘no cuts budgets’, tuition fees, Trident, NATO, taxing the rich and NHS prescription charges in England to name but a few.

I admire Jeremy Corbyn. I like much of his politics and I have shared many a platform with him over the years. But whilst he may be ‘authentic socialist’, Labour is not.

You’d think reading the contributions in this compendium that Labour’s 2017 manifesto was a radical departure from all the others published over the past 25 years. But you’d be wrong. The picture painted is of a party conflicted and irresolute.

Whilst it would be churlish not to acknowledge that Corbyn defied the odds and escaped, for the time being at least, ‘the hangman’s noose’, his Parliamentary Labour colleagues have prepared for him, his leadership continues to be blighted by an ongoing civil war and the existential crisis facing both his party and social democracy worldwide.

That crisis arises in a philosophy fundamentally based on securing concessions for working people from the capitalist class.

In this counter-reformist period however the gains won by previous generations are being taken back as the crisis of world capitalism and the rate of exploitation of labour worsens. That reality undermines the attraction of social democracy and its ‘class compromise’ message.

This book refers to an ideological solution called ‘Corbynism’ but never reveals what it is. It praises its “authenticity,” its “youthful support” and “new radicalism.”

Corbyn’s intrinsic message however is to ‘Wait for a Labour Government’. In that regard he is no different from all other Labour leaders. There is no challenge to capital, no mobilisation of the masses to action, no organised defiance, no “extra-Parliamentary activity,” just Corbynmania.

Antonio Gramsci’s warnings about this ‘cult of personality’ are apposite here. This ‘leave it to the great leader’ sentiment, which looks particularly absurd on Corbyn, does not work. It encourages passivity and Nietzschean individualism not collective action.

As Gramsci astutely pointed out, it is a sign of weakness in our movement, not strength. This book misses that warning completely and perpetuates this tendency toward complacency.

The working class cannot afford to wait. All experience shows Labour governments are not worth waiting for. Working people need more than a short-lived cult. Corbyn needs to mobilise mass support, not just an internal Labour Party pressure group, around an unambiguous socialist programme.

And yet he cannot do so because he is hamstrung by his party, its programme and a passivity that belies low levels of class consciousness and class combativity. That dilemma is one this book and these academics could have focused upon far more valuably.

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