Socialist Worker

Can Jeremy Corbyn defeat the ‘powerful interests’?

We need a wider social movement to truly transform society, writes Nick Clark

Issue No. 2571

Jeremy Corbyn spoke to thousands at mass rallies during the election campaign

Jeremy Corbyn spoke to thousands at mass rallies during the election campaign (Pic: Geoff Dexter)

After decades of competing with the Tories for the “centre ground”, it’s still astonishing that Labour has a leadership that talks seriously of radically transforming society.

The general election this year shows the left wing polices of Jeremy Corbyn are more popular than ever.

The Tories’ crisis adds to the sense that Corbyn could be the next prime minister.

That’s incredibly exciting—but it raises new challenges that the left has to be ready for.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell will speak to hundreds of people on “governing from the radical left” at the World Transformed festival in Brighton on Monday.

The session will tackle the crucial question, “What happens if Labour wins the next election?”

A lot rests on what changes a left wing Labour government will try to make.

Labour’s general election manifesto was a good starting point—but it had limitations imposed on it by the right and some union leaders. Labour could go much further with bold plans to transform society.

The renewal of Trident nuclear weapons divides the Parliamentary Labour Party. But instead of avoiding

the argument in the interests of “party unity” Corbyn should try and win others to his position of scrapping Trident.

Who really rules Britain?
Who really rules Britain?
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Yet the more far-reaching reforms a left Labour government tries to make, the more it will face resistance from powerful, unelected forces determined to destroy it.

McDonnell will speak alongside Theano Fotiou, a Greek government minister from Syriza, the party elected as an anti-austerity force in 2015.

Syriza was elected to bring radical change to Greece.

It tried to negotiate its way out of austerity with its powerful creditors in the European Union and the Eurozone. Instead it collapsed into implementing even worse cuts.

Plenty of people on Labour’s left know the dangers.

Author Alex Nunns acknowledges a Corbyn government would run up against “powerful interests”.

Defeating those forces would take a mass movement mobilised on the streets.

In fact, building that kind of movement now is the most important job for anyone on the left who wants a radically transformed society.

What happened to Syriza shows that the bankers, the bosses, and the unelected state bureaucrats can’t be defeated through the institutions that prop up their system.

Their power isn’t just in parliament. It’s also in their ability to use their control of wealth and the state machinery to crush anyone who challenges them.

Our power depends on whether we have a movement in the streets and workplaces strong enough to take that control away from them.

That means building resistance that doesn’t just support a left wing government in parliament—but ultimately looks towards smashing that system entirely.

It takes more than just persuasive conversation to finish the Tories off

How Labour can get elected is still a live argument between the right wing of the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters.

After the general election the right has made a show of accepting it was wrong. But it still argues that Labour has to move to the right again to pick up the votes it needs to win office.

This is a pessimistic and patronising view that sees most working class people as basically conservative.

Fortunately most of the left has a more optimistic vision that says the best way for Labour to win is with a radical message.

Momentum has organised training sessions on having “persuasive conversations”—how to win people to supporting Labour’s left wing policies.

Unlike the pessimists who think Labour can only win by adapting to right wing arguments, the left say it’s possible for people’s ideas to change.

Yet to understand why people change their ideas, you have to look beyond the conversations you have on the doorstep to the bigger changes in society.

Workers’ ideas—changing through struggle
Workers’ ideas—changing through struggle
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People can be angry at low wages, high rents or a lack of jobs, but also believe nothing can change. People’s ideas about the world can be contradictory.

People can start to believe in and want radical change when something happens in society to make that seem possible.

Labour’s election campaign was successful because Corbyn was persuasive. But it was anger at years of austerity, the Tories’ crisis and the offer of an alternative that made radical change seem possible to millions of people.

Crucially, the mass rallies at the heart of Labour’s campaign gave it a sense of struggle that involved ordinary people fighting for that change themselves.

Convincing more people that change is possible means drawing them in to that battle and finding ways for them to fight the Tories.

Until recently not many people would have believed that McDonald’s workers could strike for £10 an hour, including the workers themselves.

And millions of public sector workers have put up with year after year of effective pay cuts.

Yet McDonald’s workers have struck—and public sector trade unionists are talking about fighting for a pay rise that beats inflation.

The strength and energy in these movements can make people feel that winning a pay rise is realistic.

Now it’s up to everyone to build that struggle, and others like it, which convince people that change is possible—if we fight for it.

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