Today I surprised myself. So far I have been horribly and deeply ambivalent about the Corbyn Surge. I loved the fact that the glass ceiling on austerity, public ownership and Trident have been shattered. The energy it has released has been a joy. But I worried deeply about a political project that might not be plural, carried at least traces of left elitism, didn’t understand our emerging network society and had little by way of an organisational or electoral strategy. I was going to abstain.
I still worry deeply about those things. But I voted for Jeremy Corbyn, with no illusions, although Compass, the organization I chair, has taken no formal position on the vote. For someone avowedly of the soft left to vote for the candidate of the hard left is a big step. But things change. There is no perfect wave, and Jeremy isn’t perfect. But this is not about the person but the moment and the wave the Corbyn candidacy has unleashed. I voted for the wave.
The question is one of political strategy and ambition. Should we largely stick to current orthodoxies, hope to fall over the line first at the next election and make a now rampant global capitalism slightly more humane, i.e. continue the New Labour project plus or minus a bit? Or do we need to radically reframe the debate in the search for a good society? Do we stick or twist?
Both options represent a huge gamble. But this is why I shifted. The Corbyn Wave is a window into what is possible. Its energy is breaking up the permafrosted soil that for 30 years has been too harsh for our dreams to grow in. Labour as a party and a movement cannot survive electorally or politically unless it holds out the hope of radically changing society. On this point time has caught up with New Labour. If the best it gets is to slow the pace at which the poor get poorer and the planet burns then its not enough to sustain us. A party needs high ideals and deep organic roots in society if it is to transform that society. This cannot be done from the top down, only when a party meets a ground swell from below.
Realistically none of the candidates look like they can win the next election – so who will change the terms of debate and allow the prospect of a movement for change to be built so that we can win again for a real purpose? One more heave – doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome – or going with the wave of enthusiasm and energy being unleashed around the party for the first time in two decades?
Of course, Corbynism, as yet, is too crude a project. It needs to open itself up to an array of voices, thoughts and ideas. It could start by reading Frederic Laloux on Reinventing Organisations and Paul Mason on Post Capitalism. But it holds the seeds of some hope. What those seeds grow into if it wins is then up to us – the wave.
And here we have to stop the wars, feuds and the vitriol. Labour must stop living each day like a rerun of the past. Whoever wins we can’t replay either 1945 nor 1997. The world has moved on – so must the party. And to get on with the country we have to first get on with each other.
This means entering the world of, as ‘reciprocal vulnerability’ (h/t Robert Phillips at Jericho Chambers) in which we recognise our weaknesses and those of others and build trust through our mutual interdependence. No one in Labour has all the answers. Right, center and left will have to negotiate a new settlement or the Tories win.
I watch in disappointment and some bewilderment as camps on either side call each other either Trot or Tory and then complain if they get back what they give. This cycle has to be broken. Socialism has to be about believing the best in each other and having empathy. If you want to be a rebel then be kind! So whoever wins, their leadership will have to be incredibly open, generous and humble.
But the tipping point for me was the realization that what is happening around Labour is metaphor for what we want for our society. For people to join, participate, debate and decide. Life as a democratic and collective endeavour. In the summer of 2015 Labour is starting to prefigure the world we want to make happen. Because there are no short cuts to a good society – no leader and no elite of the right or left is going to do it for us – we were always the people we have been waiting for. Jeremy Corbyn may or may not see that – but the wave is starting to feel it.
Antonio Gramsci, the brilliant Italian socialist strategist said ‘we must live without illusions without being disillusioned’. I think that is the sentiment that should carry us. The Corbyn Wave is a straw in the wind of a new way of being political. It isn’t perfect, it could fail, I have no illusions – but I must have hope.