Panic in Neoliberalia

24 September 2015

Panic in Neoliberalia

There’s something going on in the world’s most important bastions of neoliberalism. In the United States and Great Britain, socialists stand ready to take power in the Democratic and Labour Parties.

By Rob Janssen

‘The time is ripe for an answer to the constantly growing power of the multinationals.’ At first glance not particularly stunning words to read in Tribune, were it not for the fact that it was Bernie Sanders that wrote them, and that they appeared in our magazine as long ago as 1993. Twenty two years on, Sanders is having a shot, on the Democratic ticket, at the presidency of the United States. The 73-year-old senator from the State of Vermont was an independent for many years, but was always seen as sympathetic to Obama. Bernie Sanders styles himself a ‘democratic socialist’ and the main points of his platform include income inequality, fair wages, and reforms on Wall Street. If in the past he has said that the left is ‘for the time being condemned to wage a defensive struggle’, he has now evidently decided it’s time to go on the attack. SP leader at the time Jan Marijnissen met him in Washington in 1993. ‘Bernie Sanders is a stayer,’ was his judgement, ‘and it’s great to see how much attention and support he is getting for his ideas in the runup to the selection of the Democratic presidential candidate.’

Whether he has a serious chance against Hilary Clinton – and then against perhaps Jeb Bush or Donald Trump – is to be doubted. Analysts do estimate, however, that he is capable of winning votes from the Republican camp.

Not that Sanders is the first socially-minded presidential candidate in recent US history. From 1996 onwards, Ralph Nader entered the race a number of times, standing for the Green Party. Lacking any chance of victory as he did against Bush, Gore and Kerry, Nader - a champion of consumer rights and the interests of ordinary citizens, scourge of big corporations and critic of the unrestrained free trade promoted by the WTO – to this day he has been held ‘responsible’ for Al Gore’s narrow defeat at the hands of George Bush in 2000, the idea being that the small percentage of votes by which Gore fell short had been won by Nader. A stem for the left-wing Nader turned out to be a vote for the right-wing Bush, cynics contended. Four years later the Democrats did everything they could to keep Nader off the ballot.


A similar ‘social-as-party-pooper’ machination seems about to happen in Britain, where Jeremy Corbyn has presented himself as a candidate in the leadership election. According to the polls, he’s going to win. (Since the original article was published, Corbyn has of course won a landslide victory and is now leader of the Labour Party – translator’s note.) This is much to the horror of the party’s top people, who see great danger in this socialist. Ex-PM Tony Blair wrote in The Guardian that Labour would be written off for dead if Corbyn were elected. And just as in the US, the right are rubbing their hands. There are persistent rumours that Conservatives infiltrated Labour, which you could register as a supporter of and vote for Corbyn for only £3, in the hope of widening still further the divisions within Labour.

So who then is this dangerous man, this socialist who makes the party’s bigwigs so nervous.

Jeremy Corbyn has been an MP since 1983 and has attracted attention through repeated defiance of the party line. Steve McGiffen, former employee of the SP Euro-MP Erik Meijer and then of the United Left Group (GUE-NGL) to which our team in the European Parliament is affiliated, once met Corbyn. ‘It was in the 1980s, and I thought he seemed a decent bloke. I was at the time still a member of the Labour Party, which remained on the ground a solid, cosy club, a social thing really. Corbyn was already the most left wing of MPs. He’s an activist, gets out on the street and listens to people.’ Corbyn has captured a lot of hearts in the last few months with his stated ambition to bring the railways and the energy sector back into state hands, as well as repeatedly standing up for measures which would ensure that multinationals and top earners pay more in taxes. Whether with Corbyn as leader Labour will escape its electoral malaise, McGiffen says that he can’t hazard a guess. ‘The problem is that at the last election, Scotland left Labour in the lurch, and without Scotland Labour can’t save the situation. Still, within the party and beyond it there was great anger at the Tory victory. It’s very exciting.’

Is it a coincidence that in the year 2015 socialist protagonists are on the rise in the US and Britain, countries where neoliberalism was more or less invented and where it was most rapidly instituted? The fact is that both countries have an electoral system that invariably leads to a struggle between Republican and Democrat, and between Conservative and Labour. It is equally the fact that substantive political differences between these behemoths have all but disappeared. Differences seem only to concern the quick-wittedness and cleverness which Obama and Romney, Reagan and Dukakis or Cameron and Miliband manage to display during the televised election debates of the day. Mere squabbling that the media calls a ‘battle’, but the alleged fireworks haven’t exactly jacked up the dismal turnouts. On the contrary, in the US it’s normal for 40%-45% of eligible voters to stay at home.

Then there’s the matter of authenticity. The recently deceased PvdA (Dutch Labour Party) celebrity Bart Tromp told Tribune in 2004 that ‘at the beginning of the 1980s I was considered to be on the far right of the PvdA. The last ten years as on the far left. With more or less the same opinions.’ Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders have also held to almost the same positions over the years. And that turns out to be what an increasing number of people seem to value about them. Labour kingpin Yvette Cooper criticised Corbyn with the accusation that he would come up with ‘old solutions to old problems’. It says something about the profile and direction of what was once a people’s party of the left that the social path is brushed away, seen as a dead end. Looked at in this way, the panic in the Labour Party – and also the chuckling amongst Republicans – about a real left rumpus, is from their point of view an absolutely correct response.

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