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Labour’s Undemocratic Resistance

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Labour’s Undemocratic Resistance

For a parliamentary democracy to work, it needs an opposition that accepts its loss—but Jeremy Corbyn suggests no such thing. January 6, 2020
Politics and law

The words we choose reveal the mental world we inhabit. When the defeated leader of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, said that he and his party were leaders of the resistance—rather than of the opposition—to Boris Johnson, he revealed how slender, if existent at all, was his and his party’s commitment to parliamentary democracy. One resists a dictatorship; one opposes a legitimate government. Corbyn is thus like Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who once said that democracy is like a train: you get off it once you have reached your destination. It is a means to an end—in Corbyn’s case, socialist social justice; that is to say, a good rather than a bad dictatorship. For once social justice is reached, what need would there be of any politics at all, except perhaps a little light leadership?

Corbyn specified that the “resistance” would not only be in Parliament but in the streets, by which he presumably meant strikes, demonstrations, and civil disobedience. For him, and many others like him, it is not so much a question of trying to persuade the public to vote for him, or someone like him, next time round; rather, he sees his task as one of trying to make the country ungovernable. He wants insurrection and, as Lenin said, the worse the better.

Corbyn also continues to insist that he and his party represent what he calls “the many, not the few,” unlike his opponents in the Conservative party, who nevertheless got more votes in the general election. Apart from sheer stupidity, what can account for the persistence of his claim?

The first possible explanation is that voters misunderstood their own interests in not voting for him. Corbyn is for the many, but not supported by them. They are, in effect, suffering from that old Marxist malady, false consciousness—they have been duped by the plutocrat-owned media, much as the American electorate was (supposedly) duped by the manipulation of the Russians. If this is the correct interpretation of Corbyn’s outlook, it suggests contempt for the discernment of the electorate—a belief that it cannot see its own interests, and thus needs redemption from an enlightened revolutionary vanguard.

The second possible explanation is that “the many,” in contradistinction to “the few,” has a technical meaning, as does the term “the People,” as in “The People’s Republic of . . .” Just as “the People” in that formulation do not represent the whole population, but only that part of it that directs or accepts the regime, so “the many,” in the truest sense of the term, are only those who support and vote for Corbyn and his party. Those millions who did not vote for him are but the lickspittles of the ruling class, and therefore their wishes may be discounted. Their votes mean nothing.

Corbyn is not wrong when he says that he has numerous supporters. In any large population, you can find significant numbers of people who will support anything. What’s worrying about him and his ilk is not only their dangerous policies but their apparent disdain for, and nonacceptance of, election results as the way in which governments are formed. For a parliamentary democracy to work, it needs an opposition that accepts that it has lost and must wait until next time to try to win, and that acts, in fact, as an opposition—not as a resistance.   

Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

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