Why Corbyn Lost and Why Bernie Might Win

The Labour party is facing annihilation; everyone seems to agree on this, but few have truly internalised it.  Much of the Left have almost immediately relapsed into the banal optimism of the Corbyn project and the Right have reacted as expected. The argument that we should pivot to the centre made by the Jess Phillips’ of this world is so facile and has been so roundly disproven so many times I am not going to address it here. Instead, this article is targeted at those on the Left of the Labour party who, though doubtless in good faith, have yet to truly comprehend the scale of our defeat and accordingly adjust their analysis. 

There are two competing narratives for the Labour defeat. Although, in their misplaced optimism, both seem to miss the point entirely. We were either too radical – a cynical and myopic claim easily disproved – or our stance on Brexit alienated our core constituency – an argument with more explanatory value, though still one that misses the point. We lost because we were attempting mass politics in a world where masses no longer exist. Technological “advancement” and the triumph of Neoliberalism have over the last forty years smashed almost all notions of collective solidarity or even the idea of common experience. Unions only seem capable of effectively representing the more precarious members of the Professional Managerial Class, with the majority of people left to  fend for themselves working in new age jobs that instil a mentality of competition and fear. 

Our situation is comparable to that of the French small-holding peasants Marx describes in “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.” The majority of the British public “form an enormous mass whose members live in similar conditions without entering into manifold relations with each other” we are “potatoes in a sack” and in this sense “do not constitute a class” and are “therefore incapable of asserting their class interest”.  Many people have acknowledged that Brexit merely sped up an ongoing process of dislocation with Labours traditional base though few have seemed to comprehend the consequences of this phenomenon. The real gambit of the Corbyn project was that a politician so clearly unelectable and personally unpopular when measured by any traditional criterion could win purely on the strength and presumptive popularity of his policy agenda and the “mass movement” it engendered.

Notably, this so called “mass movement”, as pointed out many times though most clearly in John Cruddas’s “ The Left’s New Urbanism”, was overwhelmingly made up of the educated middle classes: people like me. We were going to win by refusing to play their petty game of media spin and triviality. After all Clement Atlee was famously uncharismatic and in many ways a dull politician that was still brought to power on the tides of a genuine mass movement. This strategy was a catastrophic failure and the most emancipatory and progressive manifesto of a generation was almost violently rejected by the public. Finding a solution to this problem may be an impossible task but it must be attempted. 

MP’S Alex Sobel and Ian Lavery have come out with some interesting ideas though I’ve still yet to come across any strategy sufficiently original to address fundamentally address these problems. If we hope to win political power in the next ten years we must first recognise we are doing so within the realm of traditional electoral politics with all its obfuscation and triviality. In this endeavour we should look to emulate the campaign of Bernie Sanders who, for all is talk of a “political revolution” is essentially just running a successful electoral campaign. 

It’s true Sanders is benefiting from a very favourable set of circumstances: an ineffective and disorganised reaction, as well as a much shorter period of sustained attack from the media. However, his personal charisma and like-ability, as well as the identification of a tangible goal – Medicare for all – and a clearly understood enemy – “the 1%” –  are somewhat replicable in the UK.

Image: The New York Post