What has the Corbyn project meant – as a model, an inspiration, or otherwise – to you and people in the milieu(x) in which you organize?
By 2015, when Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party, I had already moved out of the UK after living there for 10 years. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I was forced out by a series of expensive, exhausting and emotionally draining visa extension processes. So, as a non-EU migrant, I had already experienced institutional xenophobia long before the Brexit saga brought it into the mainstream. Residence status strongly affects one’s relationship to the polity – it disenfranchises migrants and refugees from political participation and alienates us from the right and ability to hold the state and political system into account. The movement behind Corbyn’s Labour started to break this barrier, with many people from diverse backgrounds getting involved on various levels. It demonstrated in practice not only how a radical left-wing politics can appeal to groups that had previously been excluded from political processes, but that this is in fact the only way to do so. A crucial element in this process was of course the merging of an anti-austerity, anti-neoliberal socialist platform with one that is anti-imperialist, anti-war and internationalist. This combination demonstrated the mobilizing potential of such platforms, and I think itexceeded the expectations of all those who are aware of the power imbalance vis-á-vis the material and ideological hegemony of neoliberalism and its multidimensional penetration.
In relation to my current milieu, from the perspective of a country on the periphery of “EUrope,” where the political imagination of the mainstream doesn’t extend beyond achieving EU membership, the Lexit campaign offered novel and relevant arguments regarding the neoliberal character of the EU itself, although it is yet to be seen if such debates will have any practical relevance in relation to specific positioning and praxis on the left. In my opinion, ultimately, it was the inability (as a result of a combination of factors) to uphold the referendum result and the promise to achieve an exit which would protect worker rights and freedom of movement, which doomed Labour in the general election. The moment the decision to support a second referendum was announced, Labour backtracked on Brexit and lost the election. This moment was the equivalent of Syriza’s betrayal of the Greek people’s vote to reject the EU’s extortionate ‘bailout’ three days after the referendum was held in July 2015. In a way, the response to the challenge posed by the ‘EU conundrum’ was the source of undoing for both Corbyn’s Labour and Tsipras’ Syriza.
What is your perspective on the recent electoral defeat in the UK? What critical lessons should your milieu, and the left in general, learn from this defeat?
The lessons from the Greek tragedy have made their way into political debates in the UK through the Lexit campaign (one example is Costas Lapavitsas’ “The Left Case Against the EU”) and through different figures in Corbyn’s circle. These lessons were vocally present long before Corbyn conceded to a second referendum, so I don’t think the problem is the lessons – they are usually there. The main problem is acting on them, securing the power necessary to convert lessons into actions: this is where Corbyn and his leadership failed. This is not to discount the extent of the challenges faced. Hostile media was one factor. Although those on the left have somewhat acknowledged the role of this factor, it is a cause of my constant amazement that nominally “left-wing” but essentially neoliberal media, such as the Guardian, still manage to manufacture consent among radical leftists on a range of other issues. The failure to consolidate power internally in the party was another factor, and the objective condition of the consciousness and organization of the working class is yet another.
However, there is also another problem, and I think this is the key, because it happens in different contexts, in different forms, though the essence is the same. The anti-capitalist left faces political opponents and political enemies. Its political opponents are usually external: these are the political parties that are openly ideologically different – i.e the Conservative Party in the UK are the ideological opponents of the radical left. But the left’s political enemies are internal: they come from the neoliberal “left” which, at key historical moments, neutralizes the ability of the radical left to make advances and secure pockets of power that can be enlarged in the future. The left faces similar contradictions across contexts: either it can act ‘moderately’, and succumb to the pressures of the neoliberal “left” out of fear of stigma, or it can trust its own analysis, the lessons from theory and praxis across contexts and act on it. The cases of Corbyn’s Labour and Tsipras’ Syriza have demonstrated the outcomes of the first alternative. What we are yet to see is how the second alternative can be articulated and played out and what outcomes it can bring.
Adela Gjorgjioska is a researcher based in Skopje. She has a PhD in Social Representations and Communications, with a dissertation on the ideological functions of positivist social psychology. Her research interests include international political economy in the context of the Belt and Road Initiative, social representations of China and the BRI amongst the Western left and critical (social) psychology.