“Austerity is used as a cover to reconfigure society and increase inequality and injustice. Labor needs to offer a coherent economic alternative.”
During the primaries leading up to the 2016 U.S. presidential contest, many people were introduced to Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) for the first time. His blunt, no-nonsense approach to discussing the issues and single minded focus on policy over platitudes, won over many working people and galvanized the left wing of the Democratic Party. In the process, he was continually attacked from the right, including by the current American president, as a ‘communist’.
Rather than dismissing this smear, his main Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, with the help of the most corporate media, expanded on the ‘communist’ narrative over the course of the primaries.
It was quite rich to watch Sanders scolded for the faint praise he gave to what he had more than 30 years before called Cuba’s “revolution of values”, referring to that country’s vast strides in education and healthcare, by Hillary “We came, We saw, He died” Clinton during one of the debates.
“You know, if your values are that you oppress people, you disappear people, imprison people or even kill people for expressing their opinions, for expressing freedom of speech, that is not the kind of revolution of values that I ever want to see anywhere,” the former junior Senator from New York opined.
This from a politician who once called Egypt’s murderous dictator Hosni Mubarak, “a close family friend” and gave tacit support to a right-wing coup in Honduras just a few years before, while she was serving as Secretary of State. This helped provoke an ongoing crisis in that small Central American country that’s taken many lives, including that of Berta Caceres, a heroic human rights and environmental campaigner, murdered in her home as she slept.
The corporatist Democrats, including the Clintons, Al Gore and Joe Biden, came to the forefront of the party in opposition to it’s traditional post-war New Deal liberalism, originally selling themselves as ‘New Democrats’, tacking right on criminal justice issues, introducing permanent austerity and busily selling out their voters in order to secure funds from wealthy donors.
The saddest thing about American politics today is the fact that citizens of the country are left with very little choice but to vote for the lesser of two evils and, because of the country’s archaic electoral system, they often get the greater evil anyway (Bush 2000, the current president).
They always come for the left
Across the pond, in the United Kingdom, a somewhat similar leadership scenario worked out very differently.when, after a disappointing showing by then Labor leader, the centrist Ed Miliband, in the 2015 parliamentary election, perennial back-bencher Jeremy Corbyn, under a new system allowing citizens to become voting members of the party for around $4.25 U.S., was unexpectedly elevated to the party’s top spot.
A BBC profile, published after Corbyn won the leadership of his party, shows just how different from most politicians Corbyn is, noting that he usually has the lowest expenses of any member of parliament and quoting him as saying, “Well, I don’t spend a lot of money, I lead a very normal life, I ride a bicycle and I don’t have a car.”
The same profile noted that Jeremy Corbyn has been consistently on the right side of history on a whole host of issues, from Apartheid to LGBTQ rights, noting that his 1983 platform was “No socialism without gay liberation”.
His history of frugality points to the falsity of the most recent charges being made against him in the right-wing press and even some liberal outlets, a subject we’ll return to shortly. First, we’ll address some of the many attacks made on him over the past two years and change
As a Huffington Post story reporting on a London School of Economics study about coverage of the Labor leader in the media shows, there’s been unprecedented negative, even antagonistic reporting about Corbyn since he was elevated by Labor members to his current position, “It found that 74% of newspaper articles on Corbyn did not include his views, or represented his views out of context, with media coverage generally de-legitimizing him as a political actor.”
Looking at the LSE report itself, we see examples of this bias, with headlines like: “Corb Snubs the Queen”, “Loony Left Sweeps to Power” and “Why Labor’s Jeremy Corbyn is a Danger to Britain”.
A well-researched piece by Nicola Bartlett, the political correspondent for the left leaning Daily Mirror, lists eleven attacks against Corbyn since he took over the party. They run the gamut from spurious to libelous, accusing him of not supporting the national soccer team (he said he didn’t think they’d win) to saying he stole sandwiches from veterans (everyone at the event honoring veterans received food) to the cardinal sin of referring to Hamas and Hezbollah collectively as ‘friends’, a statement he later admitted he regretted.
As he explained later, “I use (the word ‘friends’) in a collective way, saying our friends are prepared to talk. Does it mean I agree with Hamas and what it does? No. Does it mean I agree with Hezbollah and what they do? No.”
Similar to howler monkeys, the mild mannered Corbyn’s many enemies, in the opposition, in his own party and in the media, seem to believe that, rather than taking aim, if they throw enough feces, they’re bound to hit him eventually.
A politician’s integrity can to some extent be measured by those that oppose them and, in the case of Corbyn, it isn’t just the right wing that delights in pillorying him, but the Blairite neo-liberals in his own party, who have been working to depose him from the start. Blair himself, the Bill Clinton of Britain, who similarly has become a millionaire many times over since leaving office, has consistently weighed in with criticism, rather than support for his successor.
Jeremy Corbyn: Agent of Czechoslovakia?
On February 14th, the front page of the Rupert Murdoch owned U.K. Sun tabloid screamed out the headline, “Corbyn and the Commie Spy”. Other right-wing sources, including the Daily Telegraph, soon followed with breathless stories of their own, claiming that Corbyn had been working for the former Warsaw Pact power and, by association, the Soviet Union, during the 1980s. Even in The Guardian, long a bastion of liberal thinking, one commentator at first covered the story as if it had some credibility.
The tale revolves around recent claims made by Jan Sarkocy, who, during the 80s, was using the cover name of Lieutenant Jan Dymic and working as an operative of the Czechoslovakia’s foreign intelligence service, the Eshtebe. Sarkocy worked out of the country’s embassy in London using diplomatic credentials, a common practice in spy craft since at least the Renaissance.
Sarkocy claimed that Corbyn knowingly met with him on more than one occasion and had even taken money from him to do his masters’ bidding. Corbyn says he remembers meeting the man he thought was a diplomat once in the House of Commons and denies all the rest of Sarkocy’s claims. His views on the peace movement and the risks of nuclear war were well known then and haven’t changed in the decades since.
Why anyone would take someone like Sarkocy at his word is puzzling. Historically, there’s abundant evidence that those employed by intelligence agencies throughout the world haven’t been morally upright defenders of their nation’s interests but professional liars at worst and obfuscates at best.
Similar to the the ‘Red Scares’ in the United States during the 20th century, the British intelligence services themselves used smears and innuendos to go after the left in the country as Soviet sympathizers during the Cold War.
As the Socialist Worker recently explained, “In the 1970s MI5 [the UK equivalent to the FBI] ran a propaganda campaign, known as Clockwork Orange, to smear Irish Republicans and the Labor Party. It forged Labor leaflets and pamphlets, some calling for revolution.”
Further, as reported by The Independent newspaper on Wednesday, February 21st, Corbyn was in Derbyshire on one occasion when Sarkocy claims to have met him in London at the House of Commons, “[The October 1987 meeting] was the day after [Jeremy’s] mother died,” another Corbyn representative told the paper, “There is no possibility that he was at a meeting with a Czech diplomat, or someone posing as a Czech diplomat, in the House of Commons, on a Saturday, in London, at the same time.”
Adding further to the dubiousness of Sarkocy’s claims, he has also claimed that Czech intelligence was behind the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium in the summer of 1985, a star studded event broadcast throughout the world to raise money to provide aid during a terrible famine in Ethiopia.
One of the real problems with attacks like these is one that I’ve noted before under different contexts: although the story has been quickly unraveling, it’s the initial headlines that people will remember, especially those who were ambivalent about the Labor leader to begin with.
Having written about him a number of times since he won the leadership of his party, this writer has come to the conclusion that Corbyn is that rare bird in politics, an honest, plain spoken career politician who has never compromised his principles. This tendency has been his greatest weakness in terms of his opponents and, at the same time, his greatest selling point with voters, most of whom are vocally fed up with austerity and the privatization of formerly public services; situations that the Labor leader has promised to reverse.
If he can survive the many attacks to come, Jeremy Corbyn has a very good chance of becoming Prime Minister at some point in the future. If he does, he could be the first true leftist to lead a major western country in many years.