Thursday, April 6, 2017

Riding for a fall (2017)

Book Review from the April 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

'Corbyn. The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics'.  By Richard Seymour. (Verso. 2016. 248 pages)

Although written early last year and so missing developments since – Corbyn's re-election, the Brexit vote, Labour's victory in London mayor elections – this book still has some relevant things to say.

Seymour explains Corbyn's election as Labour Leader as a reaction to Tony Blair's New Labour project of turning the Labour Party into an openly pro-capitalist party with no other ambition than to win elections to run capitalism more or less as it is. This uninspiring project had no appeal to young people outside the party who wanted change, and who were able to join under new rules for electing the Leader, but neither to many existing Labour Party members.

Despite the almost unanimous and merciless opposition from the media, Corbyn and his supporters were able to use instead social media to rally support for meetings. So, his election was one in the eye for the mainstream media as well as for the unprincipled career politicians that most Labour MPs are. Seymour refutes the idea that Corbyn won because of Trotskyist infiltration (if only because there are not that many of them), seeing most as the sort of people who would otherwise support the Green Party. In fact, the Labour Party bureaucracy excluded many on the grounds that they had previously openly supported the Greens.

Seymour, a former SWP member, has no illusions about the Labour Party which he sees as having always been a non-socialist party out to manage capitalism – his dissection of the Labour Party is the best part of the book – and so doesn't hold out much hope of Corbyn being able to achieve much. He doesn't think he will be able to democratise the Labour Party or is likely to win the 2020 general election or, if he did, that he would be able to change capitalism.

He is not unsympathetic to Corbyn, seeing him as a socialist (even though he admits that Corbyn's programme is no more radical than Harold Wilson's) leading a non-socialist party and for that reason doomed to fail. If true, that would be what the classical continental Social Democratic parties were and why they failed. Reverting to his Trotskyist roots, Seymour sees this predictable failure as positive in that Corbyn's supporters will thereby come to see the Labour Party as useless as a vehicle for socialism and so turn elsewhere but, now as an ex-Trotskyist, not to a vanguard party but to some grass-roots extra-parliamentary anti-capitalist social movement.
Adam Buick