Corbyn’s Loss: What It Means for Sanders And Where The Left Goes From Here
On December 12, Jeremy Corbyn, head of the Labour Party in the United Kingdom, suffered a great defeat as the conservative Boris Johnson became the new prime minister with a gain of 47 new seats. Labour lost 59 seats. After years of austerity, including cuts to the National Health Service, Corbyn offered a strong manifesto outlining his program for change. We speak with Dr. Leo Panitch, a professor who has studied the Labour Party and left politics since the 1970s. Panitch explains what happened in the UK election and what it potentially means for Senator Sanders’ run for president in the United States. He also speaks more broadly about what the left needs to do to build power to the point of having the capability of instituting a progressive platform.
Dr. Leo Panitch is Canada Research Chair in Comparative Political Economy and Distinguished Research Professor of Political Science at York University. Editor of The Socialist Register for 25 years, his many books include Working Class Politics in Crisis, A Different Kind of State, The End of Parliamentary Socialism, and American Empire and The Political Economy of Global Finance.
Margaret Flowers (MF): You’re listening to Clearing the FOG, speaking truth to expose the forces of greed with Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese. Clearing the FOG is a project of popular resistance dot o– r– g. You can subscribe to us on iTunes, SoundCloud, Mixcloud, Stitcher and Google Play. You can also find us at PopularResistance.org and while you’re there, check out the store where you’ll find Clearing the FOG t-shirts, bumper stickers, water bottles, and tote bags. So today we interviewed Leo Panitch. He’s a professor of political science and he’s been studying and following the Labour party and Left movements for a long time.
Kevin Zeese (KZ): It’s such an interesting election in the UK, both the impact on the Brexit issue, on the future of the Labour party, on whether Scotland will be independent, whether Ireland will become a united country. Lots of issues really in play in that last election.
MF: That’s right. And we talk about their implications for the upcoming presidential election in the United States as well as what the Left needs to be doing around the world. So stick around for that interview with Dr. Panitch. Let’s start out with some things that are in the news. This past weekend, there was the 12th annual meeting of the American Muslims for Palestine in Chicago. They’re pushing members of Congress to make Palestine a priority issue.
KZ: Palestine deserves to be a priority issue. It has a major impact on US foreign policy in the Middle East and around the world. Our relationship with Israel is critical, not just for people in Israel, not just for the Palestinians who are devastated by Israeli policy, but also for foreign policy of the United States.
MF: And they pointed to, you know, real concerns over the recent bombings in Gaza and now the United States designating that Israeli settlements are not illegal anymore. So this is really time to address the rights of Palestinian peoples and the US, as you said, is largely responsible for enabling Israel to do what they do. Another important conference that took place recently was the first Making and Unmaking Mass Incarceration at the University of Mississippi. This is a group that is starting to organize around prisoners rights to an education and the way that sometimes they’re able to start getting a college education while they’re in prison, but then once they get out, they’re not able to continue their studies because they’ve been in prison. And also starting to do real campus organizing across the country.
KZ: Well, with mass incarceration totaling more than a million people in the United States behind bars, five percent of the world’s population here, but 25% of the world’s prisoners, it creates all sorts of problems. We have a punitive mass incarceration system, not one that helps people develop, and so this issue they’re focusing on is one of many important issues that need to be focused on to deal with this incredible mess of mass incarceration.
MF: So if you’re interested in this issue, check out the Making and Unmaking Mass Incarceration project. Also, this past weekend was the end to the climate talks, the COP 25 talks in Madrid Spain. Those didn’t turn out so well.
KZ: They ended in complete and utter failure. They were supposed to put the details on the agreement from the Paris COP meeting. Of course, the United States is withdrawing from the Paris agreement and that causes some confusion but there was just an inability of countries to come together to really come up with real limits on climate pollution.
MF: Yes, but that was really the rich countries that were problematic and I saw a Finnish environmental, I’m not sure if he was a minister or what, on Twitter talking about that it was really the United States, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Australia that were leading, you know, the undermining of the COP conference. Many of the countries around the world were hoping that they would get dedicated funding from the wealthy countries to help them deal with the climate crisis. They’re anticipating increases of 300 to 700 billion dollars a year of expenses because of the climate crisis. That didn’t happen. Rich countries refused to increase funding.
KZ: And that funding is the essence of climate justice. Sometimes people confused. What is climate justice? Climate Justice is when the poorest countries in the world suffer the greatest consequences from the climate crisis and the wealthiest country that caused the greenhouse gas pollution, they are not suffering greatly as these poor countries and not providing the funds for these poorest countries. That’s the essence of what climate justice is.
MF: And there was a big push, as we’ve seen for many years at these COP meetings, for market solutions. Corporations looking for ways that they can profit off of the climate crisis. These solutions have not been proven to deal with the real crisis. And then also this is the United States last year of being a participant in the COP meetings. By the time of the meetings next year, unless something changes, the US will be fully withdrawn from the COP process. The United States had the nerve to be asking for a waiver so that it couldn’t be held accountable for its climate pollution.
KZ: Well, the US is certainly a climate criminal country and it’s not just been under Trump, it’s also been under President Obama. President Obama undermined both the Copenhagen and Paris agreements, not putting in place real limits on greenhouse gases and Trump, of course, has not only withdrawn from the climate accord, he’s also denied climate change is a problem. So now everything gets pushed to Boris Johnson in Glasgow next year at COP 26 and how will that go? You know, with Johnson is the host, we can’t expect much leadership from that part. And so it’s going to be a challenging to get things done in the next COP meeting.
MF: Well, there were lots of protests at this COP meeting, especially by indigenous and youth going into the COP meetings and doing sit-ins and really protesting the lack of action. They’re not giving up even though they’re preparing for next year. They’re going to keep pushing throughout the year for what’s necessary.
KZ: And that’s what has to happen, you know. The United States needs to lead on its own toward a clean energy economy and it’s going to take these kinds of protests. It’s going to take people pressuring all politicians across the board. It has to be made a priority issue and we can’t wait for the COP, international agreements to solve this problem. The US has to solve its own problems and become a leader. Right now, we’re an anchor. We are misleading on the world as opposed to leading the way we should be.
MF: Well, if we all do our work by the time of the COP 26 in Scotland, leaders will have no choice but to take real climate action. That’s our task for the next year. Let’s talk about the US Mexico Canada Agreement, the renegotiation of NAFTA or some people refer to it as NAFTA 2. Nancy Pelosi has finally gotten what she needs so that she can move ahead on this Trump-negotiated trade deal.
KZ: What did she need?
MF: Well, she needed approval from Richard Trumka, the head of the AFL-CIO, and so he gave his blessing. That means that so-called Progressive Democrats now have cover from labor to vote for this agreement. It really, when you read Nancy Pelosi, a lot of it is about the elections, her thinking that this is going to help the Democrats in the election.
KZ: It’s a very interesting line of political thinking that people have lots of doubt with but the real problem is this is not really any different from the previous agreement. I mean, there are different industries that benefit, different industries that lose, but it’s basically NAFTA, same basic formula of corporate trade putting corporate profits before the people’s necessities and the needs of the climate. And it’s not a fundamental shift in any way, and even though Trump ran against NAFTA, this is just NAFTA 2. He’s helping different industries, but it’s basically the same framework as NAFTA and what TPP was going to be that President Obama was pushing.
MF: That’s right. Well, this is really what, you know, the hypocrisy of it is that you know, President Trump ran on a platform complaining about what these trade agreements had done to the industrial, you know, workers in the United States and promising to renegotiate a better deal for them. But this is not actually going to be a better deal. The Economic Policy Institute looked at it and although we haven’t actually seen the full text of it yet, they’re estimating a very small increase in jobs and a really negligible impact on the Gross Domestic Product. And we understand, and we’ll have to see once we are able to see the text, that they were putting in a lot of the language from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This is language that’s going to protect patents of things like medications so that they’ll be more expensive, protecting the pharmaceutical company profits. It would be ways for polluting corporations to move to Mexico and continue to pollute. So I think a failure of the trade movement was thinking that they could get a deal that would actually, you know, be a step forward and instead of coming out strongly and saying this whole model is wrong and we need a different type of trade model.
KZ: And we tried to push that idea in our trade campaign Trade for People and Planet, which you can find on Popular Resistance dot org. We tried to push the idea but there was no traction in the trade movement for that. The groups also involved in trade just were going to push for a better deal. They thought that was the way to stop it or get something. And sadly I, two points: one is that Trumka’s approval of the deal came after Mexico supposedly agreed to inspections by the United States to ensure that labor standards are being met. The surprise was after Trumka gave his approval, Mexico said we never agreed to that and they’re pretty angry that that’s been written into the agreement unilaterally by the United States. And so I don’t know how that’s going to play out in the long run or in the short run even. The other thing is that the impeachment effort to remove Trump from office really seems to give cover to this corporate trade agreement. It allowed Nancy Pelosi, she felt she had a need to say we’re still doing work while we’re impeaching Trump. And so they need to pass this to show they were doing something and that they could still work with Trump while they were in trying to impeach him. This is a total corporate sellout. It’s a gift to Trump. I think he will benefit from this politically more than the Democrats will but that’s the leadership of Nancy Pelosi and this really failed impeachment process, which we could talk about some other time.
MF: So the USMCA, US Mexico Canada agreement, is supposed to be voted on before Christmas by the House and it will have to go to the Senate and then Trump will sign it after that. Let’s talk about another vote that happened, and this was a real victory for the people in the community of Burleigh County North Dakota. The County Council was moving to bar refugees from being able to come to Burleigh County and settle there. There was a very strong turnout of residents of that county, very strong push back against that and in the end, they voted 3-2 to allow 25 refugees in. This is, sadly, much lower than the hundreds who typically come there every year, but at least it prevented them from banning them outright.
KZ: Yeah, people stood up and said no and that’s a good thing and the refugee crisis right now is a record-setting refugee crisis with many reasons, a lot, coming from the United States: the Middle East Wars, especially the Syrian conflict that Obama escalated, and of course the Honduras coup that Obama completed has led to migration from Central America to the United States. And so while we’ve caused these mass migration problems, really a migration crisis, the US is restricting migration into the United States.
MF: Let’s give an update on our case, the Embassy Protection Collective. We were arrested with two other people in the Venezuelan Embassy this past May 16th after being in there for 37 days with the permission of the elected Venezuelan government protesting the US coup against Venezuela. We had our hearing, another hearing, on December 13th, and it was a big disappointment for us.
KZ: Four of us who are facing federal charges for interfering with the protective function of the State Department at the Embassy and these are federal charges. We face up to a hundred thousand dollars each in fines and a year in jail. You can read about it on Defend Embassy Protectors dot org. The hearing we had last week was about discovery where there were three areas that we were looking for documents on discovery. One was that we wanted to show that even though President Trump is saying Guaido is President, he knows that Maduro is President because they are negotiating with Maduro on multiple issues. One example is there is a US Embassy in Caracas and Switzerland is going to be the protecting power for the United States in that Embassy and an embassy in Washington DC, Turkey was going to be the protecting power for the Venezuelan Embassy in Georgetown in Washington DC and there were negotiations going on to make that happen.
MF: With the Maduro government.
KZ: Well they were not negotiating with Guaido. Guaido can’t authorize a protecting power. He has no authority. So Trump is saying one thing and that’s important in the case because the justification for entering the embassy in violation of the Vienna Convention, which does not allow the host country to enter foreign embassies, the justification was the fake Ambassador Carlos Vecchio, a former oil executive who’s wanted for serious crimes in Venezuela and fled that country but now is appointed a fake ambassador by the fake interim president Juan Guaido. Vecchio said to remove us. That was the justification. So it’s central to the whole case and central to our understanding why we were not violating the law. The second thing we wanted to show was that the US government knew that we were in the embassy legally. They knew we had the permission of the elected government of Venezuela and they had discussed how they could go in, what would happen if they violated the Vienna Convention. That was all discussed. The judge didn’t allow any of that to be shown. And the third thing was because interfering with protective functions of the State Department is the charge, we want to have documents showing that we actually cooperated with the police at key times when this coup mob outside was breaking down doors, breaking into the embassy through windows, breaking windows, damaging the outside of the building. We called on the police to protect the building. We worked with the police to get people who broke into the building out of the building. So she didn’t want any of that in as well. So the jury is not going to be allowed to hear those key areas of interest when we get to a jury trial, but we’re still fighting. To follow that, go to Defend Embassy Protectors dot-org. You can get involved, get informed and help us in this challenge to end this coup in Venezuela.
MF: Let’s do an update on Venezuela because some interesting developments there. One thing is that there are reports that Juan Guaido is not doing so well. He is the president of the National Assembly. His term is ending in January and the opposition has really divided and divided against him. They’re not supporting him.
KZ: Well, there are so many instances of corruption around him and incompetence and then he has recently appeared drunk, which is rather embarrassing. He’s a failed coup fake president, a failed puppet for the United States and the people who used to be his allies, other right-wing opposition lawmakers, are calling him on his corruption regarding being tied to drug traffickers, about money being misappropriated that was intended for humane purposes in Venezuela being used for parties and activities in Colombia by his allies.
MF: Mismanaging an oil company and basically running that into the ground and now they’re concerned that the other oil companies including Citgo are similarly having problems.
KZ: He’s not even allowed to run for office again because he’s violated the law by taking foreign money while in the National Assembly. That’s not allowed in Venezuela. So he’s already been prohibited from running again. So, it’s going to be very interesting in January what happens. There’s a going to be a National Assembly election in 2020 and in January the assembly will pick its new president. So it’s gonna be very interesting to see how this develops but this is a failed coup. It fails and fails and fails over and over again.
MF: Well, you mentioned money. In fact, Grayzone Project revealed that USAID money is being used to actually pay Juan Guaido and his ambassadors and his staff, pay their salaries, their travel, their expenses. That’s our taxpayer money that should be going actually to provide humanitarian aid.
KZ: That was 40 million, 42 million dollars intended to go to Central America, people who are struggling, who needed humanitarian aid.
MF: Right and it’s going into the pockets of Juan Guaido and his folks. The Venezuelan government uncovered another plan by Juan Guaido and Leopoldo Lopez. They’re both part of the Popular Will party in Venezuela. They were going to bring in hundreds of guns from Colombia and overtake a military barracks.
KZ: And Leopoldo Lopez, for those don’t know, is a longtime US ally, educated in the United States. He was involved in the 2002 coup with Chavez, he was involved in the street barricades in the 2010s and he is now involved with Juan Guaido. And so this was another failed terrorist plan that was uncovered in time to stop it. There’s been multiple examples. In all these cases, the Venezuelan government presented documentation to show they were real, multiple examples of terrorist plans being hoisted on Venezuela by this opposition that’s failing and they have to do it because they can’t do anything else.
MF: They can’t win at the ballot box. They’re not able to unseat Maduro because he has strong support. Let’s talk about some positive developments in Venezuela. Russia came through with a huge delivery of insulin, something that Venezuela has struggled with being able to purchase medications because of the unilateral coercive measures imposed by the United States.
KZ: And it’s important to know that Venezuela used to have one of the best pharmaceutical, the best pharmaceutical industry in Latin America. They had something like 40 pharmaceutical companies that were manufacturing medicines in Venezuela. The people of Venezuela had good access to medicine but because of the illegal unilateral coercive measures, these sanctions that we call them, that pharmaceutical has been destroyed and as a result, 40,000 people died in the last several years as a result of US sanctions.
MF: Right, that was just over a two-year period. Also the civilian militia in Venezuela is now up to three point three million people. These are people who are trained to defend their country. They are now being deployed to provide assistance in areas of the country that they need it, particularly in making sure that they’re producing and getting food to people because of the blockade.
KZ: And that 3.3 million armed and trained civilian militia is one of the reasons why the United States cannot invade militarily. Donald Trump has been talking about invading them since 2017 and they’ve been preparing and they’ve made it really impossible for the United States to go into Venezuela. It would be a very costly loss for the United States. It would be very destructive to Venezuela. It would cause a lot of problems in Colombia and Brazil, which already have very weak governments that are struggling against popular resistance. For them to get involved in a US war would be a major problem.
MF: It’s a big part of why Venezuela has succeeded and you know stopped all these efforts from the United States to intervene, unlike Bolivia where the United States assisted in a coup, a very violent coup to overthrow Evo Morales recently. But that’s not stopping the people in Bolivia from organizing to fight back.
KZ: In fact, it is doing the opposite. It’s getting them organized and unified to fight back.
MF: That’s right. They just held a conference, the Movement Towards Socialism or MAS Party, held its conference where they dedicated themselves to uniting not only as a party but also with social movements and other movements within the country. They’re preparing for elections that will be coming up early next year.
MF: Right. And they chose Evo Morales to lead the campaign for those elections. They have several people as potential candidates to run for president. They’re still trying to figure out who that would be but you know, they are organizing and they’re meeting again in two weeks to keep organizing.
KZ: And Evo Morales participated in that convention. You look at the video of that convention, it was a big convention, very excited people, really organized and mobilized to take back their country. It’s very exciting to see that developing. It’s going to be a very tough, the election. How are they going to make sure that that election is a legitimate election? If it is, they will win.
MF: And by legitimate you mean by not having outside interference by like the United States or the opposition. Sometimes what we’ve seen is opposition threatening violence against people, preventing them from being able to vote. So there’ll have to be big eyes on that election to make sure that doesn’t happen.
KZ: Well you saw in Honduras when they had a re-election of their coup president. He lost in the election. The OAS initially said, wow, there’s some serious problems with this election. They waited two days and all of a sudden, the OAS was on the side of the coup president. So there are lots of ways to manipulate and steal elections. And they’re aware of this. They’re talking about how they are going to prevent the election from being stolen.
MF: Another thing they’re talking about is bringing the coup president Jeanine Añez to trial because she basically gave the police and military carte blanche to go out and be violent, to injure and murder people, and has been very repressive and so they want to hold her personally accountable for that.
KZ: And she’s one of the people seeking to run for the presidency. Among the other people running, there are major divisions. Luis Fernando Camacho is one of the people who wants to run, He’s a Christian fascist very allied with the United States. He was in the United States recently where he was protested very aggressively by our allies pointing out what he’s done in Bolivia. He evidently taped a conversation of another person running for president and released that and it was all about bribery and kickbacks and all sorts of corrupt issues. And that was all made public. So now the two of them are fighting. There’s major divisions among the opposition.
MF: So we’ll keep our eyes on that. Another thing that happened recently sadly, it was the vote on the NDAA, the National Defense Authorization Act, now giving once again a huge amount of money to the Pentagon, 738 billion dollars. 180 Democrats voted in favor of that, only 48 members of Congress voted against it and we continue to increase our military spending at the same time that the Afghanistan Papers are coming out showing the mismanagement and corruption and how that money is literally going into the hands of enriching people and that people in charge don’t know what they’re doing.
KZ: And those Afghan Papers show that from the beginning of the Afghanistan War and throughout its existence, the military has had no confidence in winning that war, no confidence in how to fight it, no confidence in any strategy. I remember when you and I were outside the White House protesting and Obama was inside saying how great it was going, how we’re turning the corner and we were outside with a lot of veterans and other protesters calling for an end to the Afghan war. And there were more than a hundred people arrested at that protest.
MF: that was actually nine years ago this week, protesting that as he, like you said, was inside telling the press how great it was going. Either he knew that it was not going well or he was being misled because what the Afghan Papers show and they were interviews with 400 members of the military, USAID and others, where they all said, we would lie and say that what was happening was positive even though we knew it was not going well.
KZ: You were arrested at that protest.
MF: Along with over a hundred other people.
KZ: That’s right. I was the one outside taking care of the jail support.
MF: Thank you for doing that. That’s a key role. Let’s talk about what’s going on in Lebanon because we posted this week on Popular Resistance, and you can find the originals on Grayzone Project, a series of articles by Rania Khalek exposing the US’ role behind what’s happening with the protests in Lebanon and how the US through it’s agencies that we always talk about, National Endowment for Democracy, USAID, are turning the protests, these legitimate protests, into anti-government anti-Hezbollah protests.
KZ: And Rania is in Lebanon, so she’s reporting from Lebanon. A lot of the pictures in the article are pictures that she’s taken, videos that she’s taken. She reports on NED and its influence on the NGOs, the non-governmental organization sector, and how those are playing a role to shift the emphasis away from the legitimate issues the people of Lebanon have. There’s such a very corrupt, deep corruption, deep inequality, lack of public services, lack of electricity, lack of sanitation, all sorts of serious problems and the US is trying to manipulate those legitimate protests into being protests against Iran through Hezbollah. Hezbollah has the second largest Shia party in Lebanon. The US is trying to use these protests to really kick Hezbollah out of the Lebanese government.
MF: And of course, Lebanon has stood up to Israel and the United States wants a government in there that will be more friendly to Israel as well.
KZ: And having Iran in Lebanon is also not good for Israel. This also plays into the whole US-Iran conflict because one of the fears of the United States in threatening Iran and militarily attacking Iran is Iran has connections all over the Middle East and could strike back in multiple places. Lebanon is one of those key areas.
MF: Let’s also talk about the Hong Kong protests. They’re escalating even more into becoming more terroristic. They’re finding IEDs. They’re finding weapons caches. They found thousands of homemade bombs, you know, petrol bombs at universities and how you know this is really a danger to the people in Hong Kong.
KZ: These started out as nonviolent protests, big mass marches protesting against the extradition law that was being proposed. We’ve talked about that before. We have a lot about that on the website. If you want to know more about that from Popular Resistance. This morphed into protests with a lot of pretty serious violence against passers-by, against police, against reporters, really serious violence.
MF: And very serious anti-China racism.
KZ: There are many legitimate issues in Hong Kong to protest. It’s a neoliberal capitalist nightmare for most people, a very big wealth divide, high levels of poverty, long hours of work, good reasons to protest. But the US has been trying to manipulate these protests into anti-China protests. Now China doesn’t really change the economy of Hong Kong. It can’t do so until 2047 when their agreement with the UK and the transition period ends. So this is really a Hong Kong economy run by the Hong Kong people and yet the US has manipulated this into an anti-China protest.
MF: Well, that feeds into our national security strategy of great power conflict. Let’s turn quickly to France. The Yellow Vest movement joined with the labor movement. They’re now in their 12th day of strikes. This has been about Macron’s pension proposal and as a result of these protests, the chief of the pensions resigned amidst a corruption where they discovered that he has not reported the equivalent of a hundred twenty thousand British pounds of overpayments.
KZ: Yeah. No, it’s a very serious general strike building on months and months of Yellow Vests protests with labor and the Yellow Vests uniting into this ongoing general strike that’s really shutting down a lot of transit through the country and having a big impact.
MF: Let’s get to our interview with Dr. Leo Panitch. We’ll take a short musical break and we’ll be right back.
Margaret Flowers (MF): You’re listening to Clearing the FOG, speaking truth to expose the forces of greed with Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese. And we’re joined now by our guest, Professor Leo Panitch. He’s a professor emeritus at York University in Toronto where he taught political science since 1984 and is the Canada Research Chair on comparative political economy. He’s written nine books. He’s the co-editor of Socialist Register and he’ll have two new books coming out this year. One is an update of “The Socialist Challenge Today,” written with Sam Gindin on Haymarket Books and the other is “Searching for Socialism: The project of the labor new left from Benn to Corbyn.” Thank you for taking time to join us.
Leo Panitch (LP): Very happy to be here, Margaret.
Kevin Zeese (KZ): I really appreciate you joining us because you’ve been monitoring the UK election campaigns. You visited the UK during the campaigns and we’ve had this momentous result. Give us your review of what happened.
LP: Well, it confirmed what I felt in the pit of my stomach for most of this year. And especially since I went canvassing in old mining communities, ex-mining communities in Yorkshire in September and one could see that Corbyn and Corbyn’s led Labour party, who had done so well in the 2017 election, accepting the outcome of Brexit but saying we need a Labour government to negotiate a progressive rather than a reactionary one got pushed aside by those voices, most of them of the centrist liberal variety who really don’t believe in anything socially, but they believe vaguely in the Clintonesque Blair kind of way in global humane internationalism. They were determined to undo the referendum and as the poles shifted in 2018 as Mrs. May’s government found it difficult to come to an agreement, they started pushing for a second referendum, a people’s vote. It was led by the people around Tony Blair with tremendous funding from the city of London, which is your Wall Street, and the pressure on Corbyn from the majority of the Parliamentary leadership, that is of the MPS who had tried to unseat him within a year of him being elected. You may remember there was a coup against him, which didn’t succeed, the pressure became enormous on him to opt for a second referendum and one could feel in one’s bones that that would be giving the finger to those working-class constituencies and there were a hundred of them where Labour had MPS who had voted to leave, which was as in the midwest vote for Trump, a cry of despair in the face of three, four decades of neoliberalism, deindustrialization, neglect and the last 10 years after the crisis of a terrible austerity. Some of it was, of course, open to being directed against immigrants and I heard that when I was canvassing and some of it took a very Trumpist tone of the kind that we will “Make Great Britain Great Again.” Some of it involved the fact that people who otherwise would have been miners, especially men now in their 50s and 60s, went into the army when they couldn’t get jobs in industry and they therefore had a very skewed attitude to the conflict in Ireland where there had been of course great bloodbath on the border for so long. And Corbyn had, was one of the first to be insisting we need negotiations with Sinn Fein, with the Irish nationalists in the north, which is what major Tory prime minister and then Blair finally did 10-15 years after Corbyn was calling for it. But for that back then he was traduced as a terrorist supporter and a lot of people picked this up. So you got a combination, including the appalling and ridiculous anti-Semitism smear since Corbyn had put down ever since he was an MP some 8350 motions in Parliament defending Jewish communities against vandalism and attacks and anti-Semitism not only in Britain but in Iran and Russia and Turkey and France and so on. But that smear, which you know people up north don’t care about that much, but made him feel weird as far as they were concerned. All of that turned the tide against him. So from 2017, where he secured the largest increase in the vote of any party in Britain since 1945, what you got was this turnaround and it’s tragic. People voted against their own interests as they will discover, workers voted against their interests, as they did in the midwest in the United States in voting for Trump and Jewish people voted against their own interests because in the face of the far-right, which is indeed anti-semitic Neo-Nazi quasi-fascist etc., you could have no better defender than a Corbyn-led Labour party. But that is the irony of the media’s effect on politics and the effect of the liberal centrists within parties like the Labour party and the Democratic party.
KZ: Yeah. It’s so interesting looking at some of the exit polls. One that really struck me talked about how the primary reason that people did not vote for Labour was because of Corbyn.
LP: But I think that flies into the Brexit thing.
KZ: Right, and the second issue then was Brexit. And the third issue is a minor issue is economic policies.
LP: No, no the manifesto, which is the most radical and coherent Left-wing manifesto in the postwar world because it frames Labours, industrial strategy within the framework of a Green Industrial Revolution. So it’s even more coherent than the great Manifesto of 2017, which had a better title to it, was titled then “For the many, not the few,” all the polls showed every item in that work was popular including the nationalizations. Well over 50%, with less than 30% being opposed to them and the rest being undecided. The taxes on the wealthy, including all the way down to taxes on everyone earning over 80,000 pounds, which is about what just over a hundred thousand in US dollars, was very popular. The opposing of rent controls was very popular. The promise to have a housing program, which would be an eco-socialist one in terms of energy consumption that would provide a million jobs, it was enormously popular. No, in that sense what Corbyn has achieved since Johnson went running after him, you’d never know that his party was the party introduced austerity for a decade or that he had been part of as a young man the Thatcherite reaction. Yeah, he ran after Corbyn and saying we will enormously fund the NHS, we will stop the privatization of it. We will fund many more nurses and firemen etcetera. All of course, they had gotten rid of in the years of austerity. So his promises would just be to bring them back marginally to where they had been 10 years ago, but he went running after in policy terms all of this presenting himself as a one-nation conservative with the one-nation ideology coming from Disraeli in the 19th century who made an appeal to the male working class that had just gotten the vote calling them Angels in Marble. That is the workers who would vote Tory.
MF: Now you have argued that part of the conservatives reasoning for supporting Brexit or wanting to bring forth this proposal of Brexit was so that the UK could become more like a Singapore, so it wouldn’t be tied to the labor standards of the European Union. Corbyn kind of played himself as “I’m representing all people. We need to hear both sides and figure out what to do.” But to do many of the things that he’s talked about in his Manifesto, there needs to be some independence from the European Union for the UK. Do you think he wasn’t clear enough in taking a side on Brexit? Was that part of it?
LP: Yes, I but I think that was largely a result of the xenophobic appeal of the original campaign during the time of the Referendum. The New Labour Left that Corbyn comes out of in the 1970s was critical of the European project even then, arguing that the Treaty of Rome back in 1958 had free capital movements in its DNA. That’s where they were heading and when Britain joined in 1971, Corbyn’s mentor, Tony Benn, opposed it and in the referendum of 1975, which Benn was the author of, the Labor New Left led by Benn and supported by Corbyn had opposed the European Union. They lost 66 to 33 with most of the Labour leadership, which was then in government, joining with the Tories in favor of the European Union. So there’s always been on the British left that Corbyn represents a high degree of understanding that the neoliberal nature of the European Union gets in the way of what you would need by way of capital controls and planning agreements and the control of investment to turn around a rampant global neoliberal capitalism. That said, Corbyn said back in 2012 when Cameron first decided he was going to get the UK independence party off his back by calling a referendum never expecting he’d lose, Corbyn said, “Look, we may need to support staying in Europe in the face of a reactionary campaign against immigrants” because Corbyn is fundamentally a anti-racist, the most decent of human rights politicians you could possibly find. When in the campaign itself as Labour leader during the referendum, he was traduced by the center-right of the party for not being enthusiastic enough because in the campaign meetings, he did hundred and thirty three of them, he said I would give Europe a seven out of ten and his position after the defeat in the referendum and this is how he won the 2017 election, didn’t win it, but how he increased Labour’s votes so enormously, to over 40%, was that we accept this vote. What we need now is a government led by the need to negotiate a progressive rather than a reactionary Brexit, one that will not be oriented to reducing labor standards. We would have a customs agreement. We would have the closest thing to a single market that would allow for some control over the movement of capital, the movement of labor. We would retain Europe’s labor standards, which are much higher of course than what Blair left the UK with. And we would retain the human rights standards of the European Court of Justice until we established higher standards than in Europe. The Tory’s strategy, and those people are now in Johnson’s cabinet, was ‘Singapore on the Sea,’ that is precisely to get out of Europe not only for xenophobic anti-immigrant reasons, which are the cynical ones, but for the economic strategy ones of getting a way out of the European labor standards, which are higher than in Britain because Europe didn’t have Thatcherism, because within Europe you have the strong Swedish and German labor movements, and that’s what they wanted to get rid of. It’ll be hard now for Johnson actually to do that by virtue of having one of these Labour heartlands, by virtue of having run a campaign of one nation, by virtue of having this very large majority which allows him, in fact, to do a very close deal with the European Union, which given that the degree of integration after 50 years of being part of it, with the city of London, as I said your Wall Street, being the center of the European bond market, all of the European bonds and the Euro itself are traded by the merchant banks in Britain, many of which are American. Johnson will now strike as close a deal as he’s able to. It’s possible tragically that the Europeans, if Johnson does go ahead and lower labor standards, will go along with that and led him to using that as a lever then to lower labor standards in France and in Germany. And as you see with Macron, he’s taking on a neoliberal reform against the demonstrations and general strike in France. He wants a pension reform of a neoliberal austerity kind. So there are reasons for the Europeans to actually want to give Johnson some rope in this respect because they may then follow him in this regard saying well, we need this to be competitive.
KZ: Yeah the EU, I mean, as it’s taken hold, it’s become more evidently a corporate kind of state, increased corporate power, but I imagine these bankers in Brussels and Berlin and Paris must be licking their chops at taking all that finance business from…
LP: Yeah, but they’re dreaming in technicolor. They wouldn’t have although obviously that was part of the scare campaign. The attractions of living in London, even for European bankers, are great compared to living in Frankfort. Secondly, with the American financial system being at the core of the global financial system, and London being its central satellite, that wasn’t going to be moved away very easily. So sure, in a very narrow sense, they might have hoped to pick up a little bit of business, but that wasn’t realistic. It really ever, I don’t think I, now even less so because Johnson will do the kind of deal with the EU. It may take a decade of negotiations, but the status quo will largely remain until then. He will do a deal with the EU that will protect financial flows moving easily across borders.
KZ: It will be interesting to see how that develops. You know, one of the things that really struck me about the election, was the Scottish and Irish vote. In those areas, you saw a move toward nationalism, especially in Scotland, also in Ireland and it’s so weird. It’s like this nationalistic view in the UK, a “we’re going to be UK and not EU” and then you have this nationalist view in Scotland and in Ireland, “we believe in nationalism too for ourselves.” And so it’s like this big breakup potential for Johnson. How do you see that playing out?
LP: Yeah, I mean this is one of the possible outcomes of this English nationalism that Brexit represented and the attempt to reassert a you know, some sort of Great Britain in the Imperial sense. I must say as a Canadian any politician like Reagan or Thatcher or Trump or Johnson who came to the Canadian people and said we were going to make Canada great again would be laughed off the stage, but in your imperial countries, that has a resonance and it had a resonance in that working class, which was formed in the late 19th, early 20th century. At the time when you know “The Sun never set on the British Empire.” The Scottish nationalism does reflect a anti-austerity orientation on the part of the Scottish National Party. It’s not only a matter of a certain degree of national identity, it;s explicitly anti-Thatcherite and that’s why it’s managed to win Labour votes so extensively because the Labour Party in Scotland was totally controlled by the Blairites, which totally bought into neoliberal globalization as we know, as Clinton did and they were all part of the team. So that’s where it comes from. It’s partly a rejection of the move to the right in Westminster. That’s not to say it doesn’t represent the genuine sense of identity. But that’s also true in Barcelona as well, in Spain, with the nationalist movement there. It reflects a social substance as well as an economic one. The Europeans don’t encourage that type of small nationalism. They don’t want to see the breakup of countries that are aligned to Europe. That said, if Britain leaves, they may be prepared as they stood up for Ireland in the negotiations with Mrs. May, they may be prepared if Britain leaves to countenance admitting an independent Scotland. So you can be sure that Johnson will do everything he can to thwart this but I have to tell you that the SNP is in for some trouble. There’s some trial about to take place of the former leader Salmond having attempted to rape a woman and there’s some evidence that the current leadership of the SNP tried to cover that up. So they may be not looking as rosy in the next election in Scotland. And if they aren’t, it’ll make it easier. On the other hand if Britain does leave in a way that, which I think is unlikely that gets in the way of the integration of Northern Ireland with the Irish economy, Republic of Ireland economy. Yes, it’s possible that we could finally see a united independent Ireland. We could if things work out differently than I’m suggesting see an independent Scotland. You’d be left with England and its little province of Wales where there’s a strong nationalist movement as well. So that would be a fine turnaround for the Tory Party, which was always the party of course of the United Kingdom above all but they could live being the party of a greater England if you like.
KZ: You know that SNP, Scottish National Party, supporting the early vote was in part because of that trial you mentioned coming up, you know, early next year.
MF: Yeah. I was thinking that actually Johnson being in charge of the UK would actually push the Scottish National Party to have more support because Scotland does see itself as being more progressive.
LP: All I say is that 53% of Scots did not vote for the SNP and they lost the last referendum. So she won but you know, she was running against Labour and she was running against the Tories and she was running against the Liberal Democrats. If you added those three together, those 53 percent of Scots voted for parties that aren’t in favor of Scottish independence. Part of the reaction of the northern working class in Britain, which was already seen in the 2015 election that Ed Miliband lost for Labour was that a Labour government would have to be dependent on the Scottish National Party and they responded in the kind of nationalism that the Tories and UKIP appealed to, voting for UKIP in 2015 and for Johnson this time partly by virtue of their antipathy to Scottish nationalism contrasting it with their English nationalism. That’s one of the ironies of this. And really the incompetence of British politicians in this respect has been stunning. Miliband being forced by the Blairites and Labour Party running with the Tories against the SNP in the Scottish referendum was a disaster. They should have been running independently saying we would have given the greatest autonomy to Scotland in a British Federation and a reconstituted bridge estate. But instead, they fell into running with the Tories funded entirely by the capitalist financiers, which even though they’re for that left edge, Miliband who is an ethical socialist and had rejected the war in Iraq and the inequality of global finance and so on, it left him holding an empty bag.
MF: So you’ve been studying and following Labour for a long time since you did your thesis at the London School of Economics.
LP: You’ve done your research.
MF: What do you see as, you know, where does Labour go from here?
LP: Well, where do we go on the Left? It’s the same question. It’s not just Labour. Labour is a party like the Democratic party. Well, except it is really more of a party. It actually has branches and constituency Labour Party’s and a certain class culture. The Democratic Party is an electoral machine every two or four years, but that said it’s really more a matter of where’s the Left because the vast majority of the leaders of the Labour party, the parliamentarians, the career politicians who come out of Oxbridge with relatively progressive liberal ideas and run for the Labour party. They are not socialists. They are not particularly on the Left. They are hostile to the kind of radical politics that Corbyn and Sanders represent and behind which they galvanized the remarkable anti-neoliberal and anti-war protest movements. At the Labour Party conference that I attended in September, young people, young delegates from the floor came to the mic and said, “We’re not for the 52%, we’re not for the 48 percent, we’re for the 99%” and they were picking up the slogan of Occupy. So the question is not about Labour. It’s where does the Left now go? That Left moved, that young Left moved from protest into politics. There is a very short bridge from Occupy to getting behind Sanders and getting behind Corbyn a year earlier. And I think they realize that you can protest until hell freezes over and you won’t change the world. You need to get into the state to change the world. So the question will be whether their class focus can become class-rooted and it’s evidence of how un-class rooted it was. How you could get 800 brilliantly committed and talented young people campaigning for a Asian woman who heads up a think tank called Class running in North London. You could get 800 canvassers while in a constituency in Yorkshire, you would get six canvassers because although Momentum tried to move some of these people around the country, these people aren’t class-rooted in that way. And the same is true of the DSA. I mean, there are people in the DSA who understand the real task is to be out there on picket lines, to do the kind of support that the DSA in East Oakland did with the Oakland teachers so that they were the ones running the school lunches so that black families did not have to take the kids across the picket line to access the lunch, etcetera. That is what is going to be required. I think it’s always naive to think that the immediate election and however much as one wanted Corbyn to succeed, one wants Sanders to succeed, that you know one’s not going to win on the basis of that election. What we’re in is a very long run, difficult shifting of the social forces in these societies, which have for so long been skewed and based on the defeat of the labor movement in the 1980s. And that had a lot to do of course with the defects of trade unionism, the extent to which it wasn’t engaged in political education of a kind that would have made it much more open to diversity, much less oriented to narrow economic self-protection in a consumerist sense rather than a collective-needs sense and so on. We’re in for a long struggle. So the question is what happens to that Left in the Labour Party and my feeling is, I mean in fact I know, they will now continue through Momentum and other similar organizations that have come out of it to try to do the kind of class rooting and political education that they haven’t had time to do and we’ll have to see because there’ll be a terrible reaction to the Labour Party now, which will blame this defeat on the platform having been too left-wing.
KZ: And that’s what we’re seeing actually in the United States, seeing Joe Biden and the centrist Democrats, of course, saying the lesson from Corbyn is we can’t elect a left-winger like Sanders and you’re already starting to see even, I’ve seen some tweets, these kinds of anti-Semitic memes coming out against Sanders. That works.
LP: Teah. You’ll get the same slanders and it’s very important that that be responded to with simply the evidence of the popularity of the policies and the very fact that the Tories were able to root themselves in working-class discontent. Whereas the Democratic party has lost all credibility in you know places in the midwest that voted unfailingly Democrat since the New Deal not least because they felt abandoned over NAFTA and there’s Trump coming along using the word working class and saying I’m going to undo NAFTA. Well, what do they expect? So the response to this needs to be on the contrary. The lesson one needs to learn is that the party needs to become led by Sanders and the DSA, class-focused rather than progressively liberal, which is nothing to be ashamed of, opposing the putting of immigrant children into cages of course, but it does need to become class-focused. It needs to be able to bridge that humanism with the real needs of people whose communities have been devastated.
KZ: And I see the Democrats doing kind of the opposite in many ways because two things that are really going on right now that play into this, one is passage of the new NAFTA, USMCA, it’s the same as the old NAFTA. The Democrats gave Trump that but it’s not going to help the working class and then you have the impeachment process, which is basically a thumb in the nose of people who voted for Trump, working-class voters who said we don’t like these elites in Washington and now these elites in Washington DC are doing a partisan impeachment based on a narrow issue, not dealing with working-class issues at all. And the result is going to be this thumbing their nose at the elites in Washington. Sanders has to be very careful how he plays on both those issues.
LP: Absolutely. That’s absolutely the case. I totally agree but I think that it’s not inevitable that the reading of Corbyn’s defeat will be of the kind that Buttigieg and Biden will want to do. I think that there’s every reason for being able to show that the policies were popular, to keep reminding people that on those policies Corbyn increased Labour’s votes in a way that no party had had since 1945, you know, trying to get at the smear and the weakness of the Labour Party’s response to that smear not least because so many of the centrist and right-wing Labour MP’s were happy to join in it in order to get rid of Corbyn since they are opposed to socialism, since they are opposed to democratic socialism. It’s not that they’re reactionary, it’s that they think that this is a dangerous chimera. They have the illusion that the center is holding, that one can go back to the Keynesian welfare state. They are the people who present themselves as the pragmatists. They are in fact the most unrealistic people. They simply don’t recognize the way in which capitalism has changed so that compromise is no longer possible.
MF: Finally, one question that I had wanted to ask you: your thoughts on – the fact that we’re seeing these protests around the world. If you look at Lebanon, Latin America in particular, this real calling out of neoliberalism and austerity. Does that, what are your thoughts on that in terms of the trends globally?
LP: Well, it’s obviously very encouraging. It is not in fact new. Remember when Seattle happened, Seattle was 1999. In fact, there were already protests in India in 1995 and in France in 1995 against the free trade agreements and the move towards the WTO, the World Trade Organization. Remember the anti-war movements. Corbyn himself was chair of the greatest of those, the Stop the War Coalition in the UK, which really was the base of a lot of his candidacy, successful candidacy for the party leadership in 2015. So this isn’t new. It is of a thing with the G20 protest, with the Occupy Movement, with the Arab Spring and the terrible inequalities, exclusions, marginalizations, inevitable refugee effects that global neoliberalism will have, will keep on producing these types of protests but what we need to learn and it’s ironic that it was learned in Britain and the United States of all places, is that unless you can get into the state to change the world, all the protesting in the world is not going to change it. And Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg need to learn this as well. The disdain for party politics, which is understandable given what the Socialist and Communist and Democratic Parties in the United States became, of course, is understandable. There’s been this anarchist moment, if you like, amongst people who are organizing to change the world. What people who moved into the Labour party and the Democratic party and those who created the smaller parties, Podemos, Syriza in Greece, Die Linke in Germany, have understood is one needs permanent political organization of a kind that is prepared not only to put forward policies but is prepared to figure out how to implement them and that implementing is both about how to change the state once you get in to implement those policies, which I have to say I don’t think either Sanders or Warren are spending a lot of time doing. You’d have to change the very nature of the Treasury and Federal Reserve and not to mention even the Department of Energy in order to do those things but you’d also need to change the basis of support that you’re winning from people because people would have to realize as when you engage in a long strike that you are going to have to have sacrifices in order to win this struggle, you know. You don’t win a strike without having to tighten your belts. Well, you’re not going to be able to take on the powerful forces of capital reigned against what you want to do unless people realize that it’s for the transition period. This is going to be economically costly. We’re going to have to learn how to shift our standard of living given the nature of the ecological crisis and the radical socialist policies needed to introduce the kind of planning that would overcome that. We’re going to have to learn how to shift from individual consumption of so many things that we now have into the meeting of collective needs through collective services from transit to food to certain aspects of housing. Now, that’s not to say that today’s left is going to do away with coffee shops and markets and etc. Of course not, but it is to say that we’re talking about changing our conception of our standard of living. So it’s a matter of both being able to change the state and being able, for people who are supporting this, to change themselves through the process. That’s when it gets serious and for that you do need political parties that look both ways, both to get into the state and that are engaged in the reforming of classes. That’s what parties do, they form people into classes, these parties on the left. And the new parties of the 21st century are going to have to be now that the working classes of old are so divided and transformed and unrecognizable, they’re going to have to be reformed in the 21st century by these new parties.
KZ: A lot of transition ahead. The hard part, your point about getting into state power, man, you look at the US political system. It is such a difficult solid two-party system of two corporate parties funded by Wall Street. It is just hard to imagine. But anyway.
LP: It’s hard. This can’t happen without both the Democratic and Labour party’s splitting. It matters less in the United States because there’s less of a party apparatus in fact. There is no funding machine. In the Labour party case, there actually is an organizational form, with real roots in communities and those branches of the party need to be turned into centers of community life. Those have to be built anew in the United States. They can be out of the worker’s action centers that have developed but it will involve at some point people whose project is fundamentally not to change the system, which is the majority of the current leadership of the Democratic Party and most of its elected officials at every level. Either those people will have to see the writing on the wall and join in the struggle or those people who are engaged in this struggle through the Democratic Party understandably will have to find ways of building new organizational forms. This isn’t new. I mean, I think if you look at the 19th century, the way in which people reorganized from the Chartists of the 1830s to the 1848 revolutions until you got the mass socialist parties of the 1890s and the mass strikes before World War One, people were transforming their organizational forms in order to get to that point. The 20th century then became one in which the parties that emerged before World War One and just after became the central forms of political representation vis a vis the state and organizing vis a vis the people through the 20th century, you know, our generation, my generation of the 60s already saw that those parties had run their historical course as agents of social change and we’ve been stumbling our way now for 50 years through woods trying to build new ones and that can be done through the old parties and through the building of new ones, but that’s what the agenda is for the 21st century.
MF: Leo. Thank you so much for taking time to speak with us today.
LP: Thanks. Happy to talk to you both. Keep doing what you’re doing. It’s badly needed.