The Left is still in the game

The Left is still in the game

Younger generation of idealists feel that economic fairness has a place on the political agenda.

The story of the moment is Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s stunning recovery in the British elections. Corbyn, written off even by his own MPs as fundamentally a flawed candidate, was trailing in the polls by double digits when Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election that seemed sure to bolster her majority in parliament and secure her favoured deal for the UK in Brexit negotiations.

This gamble, that seemed to be a sure shot, however, backfired badly on Theresa with a late surge in support for principled anti-imperialist politics amongst the youth, and the UKIP (the British nationalist party’s) collapse.

Corbyn’s recovery and Bernie Sanders’ close second place in the Democratic nomination for the US presidency shows that the Left, in this age of post-ideological politics, still has appeal and that the reversal to an Old Left politics is still possible.

This possibility has been held out primarily due to the participation of the younger generation of idealists who feel that economic fairness has a place on the political agenda and that capitalism will have to reign in its excesses; the neoliberal orthodoxy is not the only game in town.

Corbyn and Sanders were fringe players on the Left, shunned by the mainstream for all intents and purposes, languishing it seemed, but in hindsight just biding their time that would come, with Corbyn sometimes holding the more radical beliefs than the self-avowed “Socialist” Sanders. For example, Corbyn is a pacifist who can name but a handful of conflicts that he supported, and called for Tony Blair to be investigated for war crimes during the Iraq War.

More strikingly, he places the blame on the United States for numerous international crises, including the Russian annexation of Crimea, saying Russia’s actions were “not unprovoked.” And he has called for Britain to leave the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato), a position that would find few supporters across the political spectrum.

Sanders, on the other hand, left it open as to how he would conduct foreign policy (apart from a blanket opposition to free trade agreements) and focused his campaign primarily on domestic issues such as healthcare, campaign finance reform, income inequality and Wall Street regulation.

No doubt they may share some similarities, such as the opposition to the Iraq War, though Sanders has no record of being a unilateral nuclear disarmamist and a Russian apologist like Corbyn, and is more mainstream in his views on the Cold War.

Principled politicians

Still, the trend is there for all to see. Young people in the United Kingdom and the United States are voting for principled politicians over tired cliched Right-wingers, and that does give some hope for the future. It is true that Theresa ran a disastrous campaign and Corbyn excelled himself. However, the fact that so many young people have voted for Corbyn is the newsworthy take of the hour. Participation in the election among young people skyrocketed this election, from 43% in 2015 to 72% in 2017, with a majority voting for Corbyn.

The fact, however, remains that both Sanders and Corbyn lost while exceeding very low expectations. This shows that while their brand of politics is popular and possibilities of a Left-wing politics is alive in the Anglo-Saxon world, winning is something they have come tantalisingly close to but have not achieved. And, to paraphrase Marx from the Theses on Feuerbach, the point is not to come close to changing the world, the point is to win.

Having shown the way, but not actually have changed the world is a place the Left has not been in, in a long while. If, then, the Left cannot pick up from where Sanders and Corbyn have left off and mount a serious winning challenge against the neoliberals, then surely they will have only themselves to blame, for the Left is no longer the unproven political force that it used to be in politics. It’s possible, it just needs someone to do it.

Perhaps the problem or hitch will come from the fact that Sanders and Corbyn were relative outsiders, unconventional outsiders at that, in the political spectrum of their respective countries.

The take away that I see from this is the fact that the Left has popular appeal amongst the population. Its just that no one apart from fringe politicians such as Sanders and Corbyn in the political class seems to agree with its principles and are willing to campaign on such a platform. Will that change, with Sanders and Corbyn showing the way? It remains to be seen.