James Bloodworth, editor of the Left Foot Forward blog and previously a member of Workers' Liberty, has written an article arguing against the left supporting Jeremy Corbyn. Sacha Ismail replies.
James Bloodworth makes the only possible left-wing case against support for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership campaign – and is still wrong.
Bloodworth cites Corbyn’s softness on various reactionary anti-Western movements and governments (Hamas, Hesbollah, the former Gaddaffi regime) as something which “ought to make Corbyn persona non grata for any principled person on the left”.
It’s not that there isn’t an issue. There is, as we discuss here. Rather it’s that James Bloodworth has got everything dramatically skewed and out of proportion.
Corbyn’s view of international issues seems to have become increasingly shaped by the idea that opposing Western imperialism and wars requires diplomatic soft-soaping of the West’s enemies. The roots of that approach are clearly in Stalinism, but Corbyn is no more an enthusiastic supporter of anti-Western reactionaries, like say George Galloway, than he is a Stalinist.
It is necessary to maintain perspective. Being soft on the Cuban government is bad, but in practice it isn’t the same thing as being an out-and-out apologist for Stalin’s gulags.
Corbyn’s closest ally in Parliament, who organised his campaign to get on the leadership ballot, is John McDonnell, who has a better stance on international politics, closer to an independent working-class line. For instance he strongly supports the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign.
I couldn’t help noticing that James Bloodworth doesn’t say who he is supporting for Labour leader. This is hardly a small omission.
It is not as if the other three candidates have a good record on international issues. On the contrary, they have all been complicit in New Labour’s appalling record.
And there is an important difference: Corbyn’s view of peace and international human rights is flawed, but he has one. The approaches the others take are decisively shaped by what they judge politically acceptable for a careerist bourgeois politician.
To explain what I mean, a story. Last year, when Workers’ Liberty and others were collecting signatures for the campaign to free jailed Iranian trade unionists Shahrokh Zamani and Reza Shahabi, there was a week in which I grabbed two Labour MPs at meetings and asked them to sign. One was Alison McGovern (now supporting Liz Kendall), who looked irritated and said she’d have to look into it. The other was Corbyn, who signed without hesitation and told me to contact his office for more help. He also went on to be one of the main sponsors of the Parliamentary Early Day Motion in support of Shahrokh and Reza put down by John McDonnell.
Elect Burnham, Cooper or Kendall and the crawling to Saudi Arabia will continue! So will the sucking up to the US government – which, whether or not it is “enemy number one” as Bloodworth queries, is certainly an enemy of democracy and human rights and the left.
Corbyn made some wrong and politically harmful comments about Hamas, but he also says he supports the Palestinians, supports a two-state solution in Israel-Palestine and opposes a general boycott of Israel. Meanwhile the other candidates say they will carry on selling arms to Netanyahu.
While criticising Corbyn on important issues, we should keep perspective and look at the big picture. That picture not only includes Corbyn's admirable positions and record on most issues, but also his campaign's huge potential for helping to renew and strengthen the class-struggle left.
There is no principle against commenting in the mainstream press, but if James Bloodworth seriously wants to change the politics of the labour movement left, he should do it from within the movement – and preferably from within the movement supporting Corbyn's candidacy. If he was really engaged, he might find it harder to pretend that Corbyn’s limitations cancel out the huge possibilities his campaign offers for breaking the Blairite blockade of working-class politics.