Building a Corbyn majority: interview with Richard Seymour

My podcast interview with Richard Seymour on the roots and prospects of Corbynism appeared in Jacobin last week.

While the United Kingdom has been reeling from political crisis to political crisis in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, Jeremy Corbyn has never looked stronger. He showed his principles in apologizing for a war he opposed from the very beginning, he has consistently made an argument for an anti-austerity, antiracist politics that can fight for all sections of the working class, and he so far appears to have survived a coup attempton his leadership.

In fact, Jeremy Corbyn, a survivor of “lifeboat socialism,” now finds himself at the helm of what is likely Europe’s largest social-democratic party. Several hundred thousand new members have joined Labour in the past two weeks, largely to support Corbyn against the on-again, off-again coup effort led by a powerful faction centered within Labour’s parliamentary caucus. Yet despite these efforts, Corbyn is one of the few party leaders left standing after the referendum.

I recently sat down with Richard Seymour to talk about his new book, Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics. Situating the acute short-term crisis, he provides both a background to the Corbyn phenomenon and looks at its long-term chances of success.

Michal Rozworski: I’ve been meaning to interview you about your new book on Jeremy Corbyn for a while and in the meantime, a lot has happened. Before we get to the latest news, quickly lay out the main argument of your book. How do you see the Corbyn phenomenon, and its chances for success?

Richard Seymour: Okay, well the question that the book starts out with is: how can it be that the Labour Party has, for the first time in its history, a radical socialist leader, when it has never had that before, even when the Left has been in a much stronger position.

Right now, the Left is historically weak. The labor movement is historically weak. Strike rates are at an all-time low and union density falls year by year. The membership of left-wing organizations has been falling for decades. The evidence for dramatically increased left-wing militancy is nil.

Yet Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership by attracting hundreds of thousands of new members to the Labour Party, both full members and supporters, by attracting the support of all the major union leaders, or at least most of them, by getting just enough nominations from the parliamentary party, and by attracting a raft of celebrity support.

When I talk about celebrity support, I’m not talking about the types of people who turn up at left-wing events. I’m talking about Daniel Radcliffe, the guy who played Harry Potter, people like that. It’s quite a strange range of people.

Basically, there was a unique kind of moment: a feeling that Labour had not done the job against the Conservatives, and it needed to do something radical and different. (more…)

Read More

The improbable rise of Jeremy Corbyn

So far this week, Jeremy Corbyn has caused over 100,000 new members to join the UK Labour Party he leads, has apologized for a war he opposed from the beginning and appears to have survived a coup attempt on his leadership. And despite his backstabbing MPs, he’s one of the few party leaders left standing after the Brexit referendum.

Given all this mayhem on the British political scene, I figured it would be a good time to speak with the writer Richard Seymour, author of the recently-released Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics. Richard regularly publishes in major UK and international media; his  previous books include Against Austerity, Unhitched, and The Liberal Defense of Murder. He’s long been one of the best voices on British politics on the left.

Our conversation focused on the roots of Corbyn’s sudden rise to power, both within the Labour Party and politics in the UK more broadly, the failure of today’s Blairite coup plotters and the prospects of a long-term shift in ideology effected by Corbynism.

Corbyn other 2

Read More

What is done: quick thoughts on Brexit

What is done is done regardless of where you were on the referendum—or like most of us, outside the UK. The two questions that grab me now are what lessons can be learned and how to salvage the moment for an anti-racist, anti-austerity coalition. Instead I’ve seen too many tears shed for the EU, which after all is no huge friend to migrants (see the mass graves under the Mediterranean or the camps in Greece) and a cudgel for neoliberal reforms, combined with too much smug condescension at the “stupid” Brits.

The choice between options represented by the upper class ninny Cameron and his upper class ninny foils Johnson and Farage was always a false one. It’s eerily similar to the choice between Clinton and Trump. Smug elitism gets us nowhere beyond the right’s version of internationalized neoliberalism or nationalist xenophobia. Only a strong alternative that looks the middle finger UK voters sent elites in the face can take ground away from the political reactionaries and xenophobes who have punched above their weight.

The referendum took place after four long decades of stagnant incomes, falling expectations and austerity from successive governments. It wasn’t just evil Tories, but New Labour as well, that gleefully transformed the UK economy away from the post-war class compromise (one breaking by the 1970s) towards today’s highly unequal version drunk on globalized finance. In many ways, this wasn’t a referendum on Europe—especially since the UK is out of the Euro, the biggest stick European elites can wield—but on UK elites and the damage they have done to working people.

The problem is that the most retrograde section of those same elites, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and the rest of their sniveling crew, took advantage of the vacuum and made their xenophobic program the political expression of this anger. Labour’s long foray into enforcing austerity and capping living standards for the many left a long window to build and spread reactionary forces. I hope Corbyn and those around him can push a genuine alternative and pull those who can be pulled away from this misdirected anger without talking down to them. This moment cannot belong to a racist gang of Etonians like Johnson and Farage who have no interest in reversing any of the attacks on regular people and will only pit people against one another, spreading racial hatred. But that will take real work.

Read More