Corbyn and Sanders Reigniting Democratic Socialism
Prof. Leo Panitch says Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn are opening up space for people who want economic democracy and socialism
SHARMINI PERIES, PRODUCER, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network, I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
Londoners have a new mayor. Sadiq Khan is the son of a bus driver. He grew up in the inner city in public housing. He became London’s first Muslim mayor, fighting off the conservatives challenger Zac Goldsmith, who attempted to link him to Muslim extremism. The victory is also a much needed victory for his opposition Labour Party in the UK, led by Jeremy Corbyn.
To address the results and significance we’re joined by Professor Leo Panitch. He’s the author of The Making of Global Capitalism, the book on the political economy of the American empire. It won the UK Deutscher Book Prize. Leo Panitch is also the Canada research chair in comparative political economy and a distinguished research professor of political science at York University, and he has many other books I could mention here as well, but among them is something that’s very significant to this interview, and that is the book titled “The End of Parliamentary Socialism: From New Left to New Labour,” renewing socialism, transforming democracy, strategy, and imagination.
PANITCH: Glad to be here with you again, Sharmini.
PERIES: So Leo, give us in a nut shell what the results were in the UK, and its significance.
PANITCH: Well, labor, as Corbyn put it, hung on, and that is they had done very well in the 2012 municipal elections, local elections, and after the defeat in the general election last year and especially after Corbyn’s remarkable victory, [inaud.] as a radical democratic socialist, it became the test that the right-wingers in the Labour Party and almost the whole of the British media, including the so-called left-wing Guardian, which is very anti-Corbyn, as they used to be anti-Tony Benn.
The test became first the by-election, in winter in Oldham, just part of Manchester, working class area, and then what would happen in the municipal elections. And as with standards, the line of the mainstream liberals as well as right wing social democrats, is that a socialist can win elections, and that yeah, there may be a few hundred thousand people who watch the Real News, but they’re a tiny minority in relation to the millions who determine the outcome of politics in any capitalist democracy. And first, the Oldham by-election which the Labour won and increased the majority in, and now in hanging on to the victory they’d held in 2012, and winning London as you say, one of the largest cities in the world, and I must say the mayor who won it was one of the people who nominated Corbyn for the leadership, although he distanced himself from Corbyn during his election campaign, not wanting to get tarnished by this terrible anti-media campaign.
They’ve done well. Sometimes in a municipal election when there is a Tory in place, you expect them even to do better. But they held on to all of their strongholds, and that’s not only in the North where the working class is concentrated, or where [inaud.] is concentrated, but also in the South and that’s not only London but all the way down to Southampton.
So it’s significant. It means that those who are itching to overthrow Corbyn, just as those who are itching to finally marginalize Sanders, are not going to be able to do so. He’s far from winning the 2020 election in Britain, just as Sanders has no chance of getting a nomination, I think, and winning the 2016 election in the States, but what it does show is that there is a very sizable constituency and arguably a growing one, not only for the radical right in the capitalist democracies, but, thank heaven, for the radical left.
PERIES: So Leo, the rise of the Labour Party and Corbyn as a socialist leader and with Bernie Sanders here in the United States talking about socialism and democracy, what gave rise to these kinds of movements, both in the UK and the US?
PANITCH: Well, you know there has been a hollowing out of the mainstream social democracy, you know we used to argue back in the ’50s and ’60s that you could have a humane capitalism, and you saw that the types of reforms they introduced by the ’70s had introduced all kinds of contradictions for capitalism, and as Corbyn as a young man and his mentor Tony Benn were arguing then inside the Labour Party, you needed to go beyond those reforms to take away the economic power of the big multinational corporations, the banks in the city of London, and so on. And unless you did, they would create the type of crisis for the economy that would undermine the reforms, and that’s what happened. And you saw the introduction to neoliberalism.
The Labour Party, led by Blair, then got on the bandwagon of Bill Clinton, following the third way, following his accommodation to Reaganism, to neoliberalism, you know, doing away with welfare, speaking [derisorily], this was the Labour leadership, of welfare recipients as scroungers, letting the banks really [inaud.] want, proclaiming that they were not at all disturbed by growing inequality if that inequality would lead people to invest and grow the economy.
And you know, through the financial boom it did, especially around London, although the north of England hardly benefitted, but with the crisis you could see the emptiness of this in Britain as in the United States, and moreover you could see it all over Europe. Part of what is problematic about Sanders is when he asked is he a socialist and he points to Denmark, is that the Danish social democrats are suffering in this way too, for having accommodated to neoliberal capitalism.
So that’s what’s producing this, now it’s not only producing it on the left, it’s producing it on the right and a lot of working class voters are in danger as some places are moving to the very radical life that Trump represents, and that is represented by UKIP in Britain and Alternative for Deutschland in Germany, and so on. And there is a great danger that if there isn’t room for the democratic socialism left to reject global neoliberalism, to offer an alternative to free trade and free capital movements, to talk about democratizing the economy really, so that what’s invested where it’s invested is decided in a democracy in a democratic planning way.
Then, the great danger is that those working class voters will turn to the right, and we’re seeing evidence of that as well. What’s important about this election is that Labour has held off the UKIP challenge. They won a few seats but no councils, and that’s very important and that’s one of the reasons that we shouldn’t allow any of [inaud.] to fall in with any of this fear-mongering, that a democratic socialist cannot appeal to the mass of working class voters. [crosstalk] I think they can, and I think–
PERIES: [interceding]–So Leo, in spite–
PERIES: Leo, in spite of this growing discontent and the gains that have been made both in the UK and by Labour, and the movement behind Bernie Sanders here, while they’re significant, they’re not making a breakthrough, and in spite of the growing inequities, and unemployment, as well as deteriorating environmental condition, in spite of all of this it’s not making a breakthrough. What is it going to take?
PANITCH: Well, you know, you can’t expect, I think, an easy rupture. What is happening however, is that the ground is being set for a breakthrough in the future. You know, what happened with Corbyn is that some four hundred thousand people, over a matter of months, associated themselves with the Labour Party. A hundred thousand of them were trade [inaud.] union-less. This is unheard of for a social democratic party in half a century.
That isn’t enough to cause the breakthrough, to bring the breakthrough above, but it is certainly a foundation for it. And with a mobilizing campaign of the type that has been created around momentum, to keep building support in communities so this isn’t just an electoral and parliamentary thing. The prospect would be good if that were to succeed.
Similarly, in the States, Sanders is accomplishing what he is accomplishing within the framework of the Democratic Party. Were he actually to have won, and he won’t, and try to carry through a socialist program, this would split the Democratic Party just as the right in the Labour Party is trying to undermine Corbyn.
You know, a lot of people who were supporting Sanders will support Clinton, because it doesn’t matter who’s the supporting Supreme Court, but in doing so they’ll be voting for arguably the most imperial president that we’ve seen in a long time, very close ties to the military and so on. She’ll be better than Trump, yes, she’ll introduce hopefully some significant domestic support for trade unions and so on, but in the end, either Corbyn will have to transform the Labour Party into a social Party, or people who are following him will have to create a new dynamic independent Party, and that will have to happen in the States as well.
It’s harder to see the transformation of the Democratic Party than the Labour Party, but we’ll have to see. The big question about Sanders is what foundation is this mobilization going to create, for continuing political mobilization and organization.
PERIES: All right, Leo, thank you so much for joining us, and we’ll have to get you in on a conversation on the Republican Party and Trump in the near future as well.
PANITCH: Would love to do that Sharmini.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us from the Real News Network.
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