Jeremy Corbyn on his surprising rise to the top of the Labour Party and the challenges he now faces.
By Jeremy Corbyn
Of political parties claiming socialism to be their aim, the Labour Party has always been one of the most dogmatic — not about socialism, but about the parliamentary system.” That’s how Ralph Milibandopened his classic 1961 text Parliamentary Socialism, a critical analysis of the party that most of the British left wanted to capture.
Miliband was skeptical of that plan. But during the great upsurges of the early 1980s — which saw the growth of a radical Labour left led by Tony Benn and others, as well as the miners’ strike of 1984–85 — he resisted the arguments of intellectuals and politicians alike, who viewed Trotskyists and “Bennites” as the source of Labour’s problems, rather than a staid leadership.
That supposed realism would win the day, paving the way for New Labour and the further rightward drift of the party. Sure, some stalwarts struggled from within, but most wrote off the Labour left, and when Tony Benn passed away at the age of eighty-eight in 2014, it seemed that the project to which he devoted his life had no future.
This was the backdrop for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership campaign last summer, and why his success was so stunning. Corbyn is a genuine radical and Labour’s most left-wing leader since at least George Lansbury in the 1930s. His victory was a testament to his tireless work in social movements and principled stances as a parliamentarian, but his intentions and those of the talented team around him can’t change the party alone.
Corbyn will need to contend with Labour’s conservative parliamentary group and find innovative ways to restore the party’s mass base. It’s a daunting test, to say the least.
In November 2015, Socialist Register co-editor Leo Panitch and Red Pepper’s Hilary Wainwright spoke with Corbyn on a train to London from Birmingham where he had been meeting with union shop stewards. They discussed what the leader has accomplished so far and the challenges ahead.