It was only a year ago that Britain voted to stay out of the European Union. The Far Left and the Far Right welcomed the move, albeit for completely different reasons. The former against exploitation and the latter in pursuit of regressive nativism. In fact it was the Far Right, the nativist ideology that paved the way for creating the ground work for the shock decision by the British. Trump, Le Pen, Wilders and Hansen followed suit. The public were told that right wing populism was here and here to stay. In Sri Lanka, ultra right nationalists rejoiced at this specter. Finally, we were told, that the West had learnt from its “progressive” mistakes. Inclusivity, was an imposed ideal, equality was as utopian an ideal as the Garden of Eden was. Throughout all this, the progressive, the intellectual, the young and the hopeful were fed with the narrative: nativism was here to stay. All the while however, ignoring the movements which were symbolized by Bernie Sanders, Melenchlon in France and Jeremy Corbyn in Britain. Movements which were usurped and shut down by the centrist liberal, to whom the socialist/Marxist platform under which those movements were galvanized were “too extreme”. The centrist liberal in the west, like in Sri Lanka sought the ‘middle ground’. Clinton, Owen Smith and Macron were their picks, just like the United National Party (UNP) is in Sri Lanka. Ignoring that the commoner had had enough of the neo liberal exploitation and the continued enrichment of a privileged few.
Gramsci wrote that the first step to power for the progressive, is to disrupt and defy common sense. Corbyn did just that
I was first introduced to Jeremy Corbyn after having watched George Galloways scathing attack at the US senate, when he was questioned regarding the Oil for Food scandal in May 2005. “ It was you who manufactured the mother of all smokescreens” he bellowed at the Senators in reference to the Iraq War. Introduction to this great British leftist tradition symbolized by Tony Benn, Michael Foot and Dennis Skinner fondly dubbed the Beast of Bolsover was the natural outcome. Jeremy Corbyn of course remained in the shadow, as the head of the anti-war movement.
Late 2015 when the Labour leadership election was held, following the resignation of Ed Miliband, the interest rekindled. Corbyn was a last minute nominee, scrambling to meet the threshold of votes by the Parliamentary Labour party in order to be on the ballot. He met it with minutes to spare, and the rest is history. Having thwarted coup after coup by the Blairite centrists, represented by Hillary Benn, the son of the great Tony Benn and Sadiq Khan who wrote Corbyn and his ideals off, for being “too extreme” and his personality off for not being able to “lead”, Corbyn stood tall.
Chauvinism is not the ‘new in thing’ as hounded on and on by the Far Right. Gunarathnam can be the ‘new in thing’
His policies intact. His values unvaried. His ideals uncompromised. He remained a communist at heart. Against the monarch, against austerity, against hate, against fear, against the privileged few and against war. Calmly insisting that the world can do better. The people can hope for better. Unflinchingly. Despite the onslaught by the Right Wing press, who at each turn sprouted venom. The fact that he failed to sing the national anthem or bow his head at the fallen soldiers, following his first election as Labour leader, became front page news.
The rest as we are told is history. Corbyn rekindled the flame. Four weeks ago, Labour was told that they would suffer the worst defeat in its history. Corbyn cannot lead and the people wont rally around him. His message too extreme, and too naïve. Polls suggested a complete whitewash. Theresa May and the conservatives called for the election in the belief that this was the best chance to strike. When the iron was hot. When Labour had no hope. The gap, according to Polls was over 20 points. A landslide was inevitable.
And what happened made history. The voice of equality, inclusivity, hope and progress remained. Corbyn lost the election but won it. Theresa May won the election but lost it. Pollsters today suggest that had the election been held now, Labour would win with a six point lead. That remains the story of what was termed as “naïve idealism”. Corbyns movement made the greatest gains by Labour since 1945, thwarted a Tory majority resulting in a hung parliament, and most importantly rekindled interest in politics for the better. 72% of the youth voted Labour. “ We saw a genuine man, with a genuine policy” remained the cry. Labour did not win yes. But nativism lost. UKIP, did not win a single seat. Chauvinism is not the ‘new in thing’ as hounded on and on by the Far Right. Gunarathnam can be the ‘new in thing’.
Gramsci wrote that the first step to power for the progressive, is to disrupt and defy common sense. Corbyn did just that. I was in Heathrow on June 9th, the day of the results and the newspapers including the Ultra Right Daily Mail told its readers they were in shock. The front pages were screaming headlines of loss. The Sun, which only the day before shamlessly insulted Corbyn read “ Mayhem”. June was indeed the end of May, and with it the dawn of a new “July”.
There was many a time I wanted to pen thoughts on Corbyn since his first victory as Labour leader back in 2015. The regret of not being able to say “I told you so” is profound. My Facebook page stands witness however, to the fact that we saw this coming then . The media, the pundits, the right winger and the centrist liberal did not. In the same manner we saw Trump coming, only owing to the centrist liberal hypocrisy of choosing Clinton over Sanders, we saw this revolution. The push back against nativism, exploitation and inequality commenced at the heart of the British Empire as ironic as it may seem. At the heart of where the narrative of western nativism commenced following Brexit.
The centrist liberal in Sri Lanka could take note of this phenomenon, a phenomenon which was pushed down by their own loud voices in conjunction with that of the nativist Right. For as Corbyn so eoloquently reminded us at his final rally, the masses must be aware that they must and that they can,
“Rise like Lions after slumber. In unvanquishable number--
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you--
Ye are many -- they are few.”-