Teaching an Old Sheepdog New Tricks

An Outsider's View of Jeremy Corbyn

When I wrote this piece—on a Saturday and my day off—I had the fortune of waking up at six-thirty in the morning. So I did what I always do when I wake up, and checked my Twitter, only to discover that it was nearly time to announce the UK Labour Party’s leadership election results.

Now, I am not British, and the only British people I know are people I have met online. I don’t particularly have any material reason to care about politics outside of the countries where I hold citizenship, the United States and Brazil (the latter of which is where I live).

However, I was oddly drawn to Jeremy Corbyn, the favorite to win. I have seen many comparing him to US “socialist” Bernie Sanders, usually to moan about how both are equally fake leftists trying to take hold of imperialist first-world parties for the sake of their own careers. Normally, I would agree with such a statement, especially when dealing with Labour. However, something about Corbyn seemed genuine—well, more than something, really.

At first glance Corbyn appears to be some kind of populist front the Labour party threw into the forefront in order to attract younger, more liberal voters. It soon became clear that Labour was doing everything in its power to actually discourage Corbyn’s progress, going so far as to purge the left wing of the party. Corbyn himself was perhaps corralling the left back into Labour, but the party certainly did not want to budge from its deeply entrenched right-wing politics.

This is curious, because the US Democrats have historically put out more left-wing politicians as a sort of bait (“sheepdogging” is the term most often used for this tactic). And it has been incredibly effective—Dennis Kucinich played this role during the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections with such radical-sounding quotes as “Everyone should have health insurance? I say everyone should have health care. I’m not selling insurance,” and “Poverty is a weapon of mass destruction,” and “I believe health care is a civil right.”

Except despite the fact that Kucinich actually does have a decent voting record on left-wing issues (the one glaring exception is his initial support for the war in Afghanistan), he has always ended up throwing his support behind presidential frontrunners like Obama in 2008 and Kerry in 2004. Hence, no matter how radical his politics appeared to left-liberals, he was and will always be nothing more than a lone liberal voice in a party dedicated to war, imperialism, capitalism, and racism.

The Democrats have made this sort of left-liberal candidate into a feature of the electoral machine. Give the youth and left-liberals a lefty sort of candidate to cheer for, and when the time for presidential nominations draw near, have that candidate support the true party favorite. In 2016, it appears that Bernie Sanders is this election’s Kucinich, and the party favorite to win the nod is Hillary Clinton. Sanders somehow manages to be even less progressive than Kucinich despite claiming to be a socialist, but because Clinton lacks the star quality Obama had in 2008, it appears as though Sanders is a radically better option for the role.

With Corbyn, I don’t believe this is the case. Unlike Sanders, he has been consistently anti-apartheid and anti-war, even as a politician within Labour. Sanders keeps bleating about how he marched with black people once so he has the right to tell Black Lives Matters activists (the only truly progressive activist group in the United States at the moment) that in fact All Lives Matter. His track record on Israel says he won’t exactly lead the way against apartheid any time soon.

Corbyn isn’t perfect, but I have honestly never seen a first-world politician with such mainstream success be so openly left-wing. In fact, my only problem with Corbyn is that he seems to think he can turn Labour, a party that has led the UK into war and effectively destroyed the welfare and healthcare system in the past twenty five years, into a progressive party. He will not be able to push the party towards the center-left on his own.

But what leaves me hopeful is the possibility that the conversation in the UK will perhaps turn leftwards. Perhaps now Labour will have to answer to an increasingly left-wing constituency. And perhaps when they inevitably lose and/or purge a substantial part of their membership, they will be forced to the left anyway to compete with the overall left-wing political climate.

What is more likely is that Labour will continue being Labour (i.e. utter shit) and Corbyn will continue to appeal to leftists from his new position. He now has an enviable reach, and I believe he won’t turn his back on his politics like his so-called counterpart, Sanders, in the US. Naturally, I don’t support Labour, but I do support Corbyn and I support the people who voted for him. Perhaps this is the beginning of something. It will certainly be interesting.

Art by Rilo Harris. 


Neymarxist is a Brazilian librarianship student living in Rio. He enjoys Joseph Stalin, thinking about twinks, and panicking at students eating in the library. You can usually find him chain smoking while crying.

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