Jeremy Corbyn's new project and the "grassroots people"

Submitted by martin on 5 January, 2021 - 6:18 Author: Rhodri Evans
Grass and trees

Former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is launching a new "Peace and Justice Project". Sadly, its basis is no defined policies, but rather that it is "founded by Jeremy Corbyn".

Its website is not named after policies or even general ideals, but thecorbynproject.com.

The Labour left surely needs to remobilise, after the disarray created by Labour's erratic floundering over Brexit and antisemitism, the December 2019 election defeat, and the (only weakly-resisted) shutting down of local Labour Party life in March-July 2020 on the pretext of virus precautions.

Solidarity has argued for the priority of regrouping the internationalist left (anti-Brexit, pro-free-movement, anti-antisemitic) by structuring and strengthening groups like Momentum Internationalists. From that basis useful alliances can be made on a variety of issues, sometimes with the more old-fashioned sections of the left, sometimes with "centre" groupings like Open Labour which are better on many internationalist issues but weaker on economic questions.

It is good that Corbyn wants to organise, but his choice of a top-down project organised around a personality rather than policies or ideas is a poor one for mobilising.

In a launch interview, Corbyn explained that: "This isn’t a new political party [or even, it appears, a defined membership grouping within the Labour Party], but a space in which people can come together. On January 17 we’ll be holding a big virtual global seminar. There’ll be speakers from the US, Latin America, South Asia, as well as from communities in Britain that have suffered grievously from job losses and deindustrialisation".

"Virtual seminars" are the thing. The project explains: "We bring together academics and researchers, leaders and campaigners, and grassroots people and organisations to highlight injustices and solve problems together". So, dear reader, you and we, mere "grassroots people", may have a part here, but mostly of listening to the "academics", "leaders", those whom I suppose we must think of as the "tree people" above us.

The project goes with moves by Corbyn back to more explicit association with the Morning Star, for whom he wrote a weekly column before he became Labour leader in 2015.

On Wednesday 16 December he was top of the bill at the Morning Star's Christmas rally. The event was promoted by the Unite union, and another billed speaker was Unite's chief of staff Andrew Murray (who was a heavyweight part-time adviser in Corbyn's Leader's Office).

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey is a billed speaker at the "Corbyn Project" launch on 17 January.

The new Corbyn project stresses old "peacenik" and liberal themes, but the alliances indicate problems with translating those into clear ideas and policies.

In his introductory interview, Corbyn spoke about the plight of refugees. Yet his ally in this project, Len McCluskey, was the chief voice in the Labour Party to argue that the leadership should defy and reject the 2019 Labour Party conference's vote to defend and extend free movement.

"I don’t think [what conference voted for] is a sensible approach and I will be expressing that view".

McCluskey's Unite leadership was also a main force in the Labour Party under Corbyn's leadership to keep Labour supporting Trident replacement and British nuclear weapons.

The Morning Star called for a "no-deal" Brexit, with borders raised high.

Another problem is this. Peace and justice must include Jews facing growing antisemitism, and the Palestinians. Yet, presumably because Corbyn fears burning his fingers again as he has over antisemitism within Labour over recent years, the project says nothing about antisemitism, or about the right of the Palestinians to a real independent state alongside Israel.

It must also include the Uyghurs, and the people of Belarus. That requires solidarity with them against the Chinese and Russian states.

In his interview, Corbyn says: "I have many criticisms of the Russian government — I’m realistic about the situation there". Good. But the "I'm realistic" reads more like "yes, I know it's not perfect" than "I stand in solidarity with the workers, democrats, and oppressed nationalities against Putin".

And he follows that sentence by saying: "There is no secure future for anybody if we get into a war of rhetoric between the US and Russia or China". Which is a way of pouring cold water on the much-needed "rhetoric" against Xi Jinping and Putin which the left should be voicing, while sounding as if he is advising peace and diplomacy between states in place of war.

One Solidarity reader has called the new Corbyn project a "Woodcraft Folk for the elderly" (the Woodcraft Folk being a leftish version of Scouts and Guides set up in 1924-5, still active, but long heavily influenced by the Communist Party). That is unfair to the Woodcraft Folk: for all its shortcomings, it does help children learn how to work together, run meetings, discuss, sing, do drama, cook, do crafts, camp. Elderly people are unlikely to learn such skills from the Corbyn project.

In that, the Corbyn project sadly resembles dozens of "projects" launched in and around the Labour left since 2015, which offer employment for website designers, occasional webinars, but not really organisation. John McDonnell's "Claim the Future" is more left-wing and feisty than the new Corbyn project, but still a long way from the democratic organising we need.

Let's work at that democratic organising.

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