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Non-fiction: The Candidate - Jeremy Corbyn's improbable path to power
Engaging book about Corbyn's rise doesn't provide answers on how to change Labour
Paul Callanan, London Socialist Party
'The Candidate - Jeremy Corbyn's improbable path to power' is among the first full works on the Corbyn phenomenon written from a wholly sympathetic standpoint.
Nunns had access to those around the Labour leadership and the interviews reveal the thoughts and emotions - mainly surprise at their own success - of those in Corbyn's team. This makes for an engaging and sometimes interesting read.
But for those looking to understand the social forces behind Corbyn's meteoric rise and how that might be built into a movement that can challenge capitalism, this work is of limited use.
As with many commentaries of Corbyn and the Labour Party the main weakness in Nunns's analysis is what it fails to say rather than what it does.
In talking about the social forces that drove Corbyn, almost against his own will, into the leadership, Nunns quite rightly points to the mass anger and burgeoning movements against austerity within communities, as well as to the trade union movement.
Though he doesn't go as far as talk in terms of working-class political representation, it is true that - in Corbyn's anti-austerity rhetoric and programme - the anti-austerity movement did find a political expression.
Nunns then claims: "The defining characteristic of the Corbyn phenomenon was that it was participative... The campaign encouraged this shared sense of endeavour by incorporating an element of crowdsourcing into its policy development and emphasising the restoration of internal party democracy as an objective". And: "Paradoxically, the grassroots vibe came right from the top".
But unfortunately the experience of those who have subsequently joined Labour and Momentum to fight for a Corbyn government will have been very different to the picture Nunns paints.
Momentum has adopted a completely top-down structure. Its main strategy is to mobilise working-class and young people to go out canvassing for elections or attend rallies during election and leadership fights.
But within Momentum they are given no real opportunity to debate the way forward, make democratic decisions or organise the crucial struggle against the right wing that remains dominant both in the parliamentary Labour Party and many local Labour Parties.
Indeed, there has been no attempt to mobilise this potential in the fight for a democratic, working-class and socialist party.
The major shortcoming of Nunns's analysis is his failure to join the dots. He gropes at some of the correct conclusions but never quite gets there.
Speaking of the 2017 general election he writes: "Despite being leader, Corbyn had never been in control of the party. His efforts to chart a new course had been met with continuous internal obstruction".
He goes on to point out that: "Labour effectively ran two campaigns in parallel", one around the anti-austerity leadership of Corbyn and John McDonnell, which cost the Tories their majority, and one around the Blairite MPs who attempted to stymie and water down the radical aspects of that programme.
Nunns here doesn't draw the obvious conclusion - that the Labour Party is two parties in one: a nucleus of a new anti-austerity workers' party around Corbyn and McDonnell and a Blairite one that holds a majority in parliament, local councils and party machinery. The right will stop at nothing to ensure that is safe for capitalism.
It is the failure of the leadership around Corbyn to build a genuinely "participative" movement within Labour, and to mobilise this force against the Blairites who continue to work to undermine and obstruct him.
If he were to win an election, they would undoubtedly continue this campaign potentially even seeking to prevent him from becoming prime minister and certainly attempting to block him from implementing a radical programme in favour of the working class.
Since Corbyn became Labour leader in 2015, the hundreds of thousands of people who have joined also have, in the main, not become actively involved in the party.
There has been no real attempt to engage people by leading the fight that is needed for mandatory reselection of MPs and for the opening up of the Labour Party to all anti-austerity forces on a federal, democratic basis.
That fight against the forces of capitalism inside and outside of Labour for a socialist programme will be key to all those want to see Corbyn in Number Ten and his policies implemented.
- Available from Left Books at leftbooks.org.uk, 020 8988 8789, email [email protected] or write to Left Books, PO Box 24697, London, E11 1YD 020
In The Socialist 14 November 2018:
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