Donate to build socialist media: We have the biggest opportunity in a generation for socialist ideas to gain ground. Help us raise £10,000 so we can rise to the challenge. Read more »
Close this message

My support for Jeremy Corbyn is about much more than ‘reclaiming Labour’

Hilary Wainwright says she is backing Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leader as part of a transition to organisation beyond parliamentary politics
July 2015


Jeremy Corbyn joins Pride in London, alongside some of the activists backing his campaign. Photo: Steve Eason

This article is taken from the forthcoming issue of Red Pepper – get a subscription now.

Wherever you turn, democracy is being closed down: the EU/IMF trying to crush the elected Greek government; New Labour picking apart Ed Miliband’s leadership while closing wider debate on the party’s future by trying to ensure a new leader of their ilk; concerted Tory attacks on trade union rights and social security. I felt trapped. And a Labour leadership election that made the choice of washing powder look like competition seemed only to mock my predicament. But then I’m not in the Labour Party, so maybe, I’d been thinking until recently, I could just close my eyes and turn off the radio.

Then, to my delight, I heard that Jeremy Corbyn was going to try to get on the ballot paper (followed soon after by Alexis Tsipras’s equally heartening call for a referendum). It’s not that I look to Corbyn (or Tsipras for that matter) as knights in shining armour coming to the rescue. No, Jeremy Corbyn is just one of a modest band of Labour MPs, building on the tradition of Tony Benn and Ken Livingstone, who don’t ask to see your party card before joining struggles and debates beyond the walls of Westminster.

Then he made it into the contest. Without a moment’s hesistation, I clicked on the link that, at the cost of three quid, would enable me to vote for him. The cost of two pensioner swims at the London Fields lido! To be honest, the Labour Party isn’t worth that valuable three quid. But a platform for someone who not only insists that there is an alternative, but stretches himself to support everyone who is fighting for it, is beyond anything that money can buy.

Transitional demand

It might sound perverse, but I believe Jeremy Corbyn should be supported not as an attempt to ‘reclaim the Labour Party’ but as a transition to a political organisation beyond the Labour Party and beyond parliamentary politics.

In this sense his campaign today is not of the same order as Tony Benn’s campaigns for the deputy leadership in 1981 (against Denis Healey) and the leadership in 1988 (against Neil Kinnock). These were campaigns that were part of concerted attempts to turn the Labour Party into a genuinely socialist party, just at the moment when neoliberalism was gaining its pervasive, octopoid grip on British politics. Though I was collaborating with Tony Benn on issues of industrial democracy at the time, I did not support his leadership campaigns. I believed – and continue to believe – too strongly that there were deep structural limits to the possibility of turning the Labour Party into a truly socialist body.

Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign is taking place in a context where a thoroughgoing neoliberal politics has taken over the UK state – and much of the Labour Party apparatus with it – and hollowed them out of all live forms of democracy. Moreover, through destroying the welfare state and any legitimacy for a progressive tax system, neoliberal economics has destroyed all material bases of a public good or even moderately just national economy.

The economic and political conditions for social democracy no longer exist. The prevarications of both Ed Miliband and Andy Burnham are indications of this. Their goals are social democratic but the world of a mixed economy, where the profits of a productive capitalist sector could be taxed and redistributed to provide universal welfare, social security and a public infrastructure for the benefit of all, no longer exists. It has been replaced by a financialised global capitalism, where financial flows shape politics rather than politics intervening in a productive economy tied to territory and geographic markets. In the face of such global monsters that have already weakened the organisations of labour, social democracy as we have known it is visibly too weak to be an effective champion of social justice.

Reflecting on the fate of once powerful and popular social democratic parties, from the Greek Pasok, through the Italian Communist Party to the German SPD, the French Socialists and British Labour, it is clear that social democracy depended on the normalisation of a Keynesian macro-economy – productive capital, the aspiration of full employment, decent wages and social security (hence a strong market for the goods produced), taxable profits and a nationally regulated currency and trade.

Many of us from the generations born and socialised in the years before neoliberalism became hegemonic have tended almost unconsciously to treat some version of Keynesianism as the orthodoxy and the norm. Our arguments against neoliberal austerity measures are often that ‘It doesn’t make economic sense’, meaning that they cut demand and destroy markets, leading to a vicious circle of unemployment, lower demand, the closing down of production and a lower tax base, leading to a weaker welfare state.

All true in Keynesian terms. But the Keynesian consensus is no more. It has been killed, not simply replaced, by neoliberalism and capital’s shift from production to finance, from making profits out of producing things to making money out of money. Indeed neoliberals sought political power, with the backing of financial interests, exactly because Keynesianism was leading to the erosion of profits. That is, Keynesian economics favoured the growth of a strong labour movement with its bargaining power massively strengthened by full employment and social security. This, in neoliberal and corporate eyes, was unacceptable and had to be destroyed.

Campaigning for Corbyn

So what does all this have to do with Labour Party leadership elections and campaigning for Jeremy Corbyn?

In the past, social democracy’s symbiotic relation with Keynesian macro-economics worldwide provided the context shaping internal debate in the Labour Party and other social democratic parties. For social democracy went with the grain of the Keynesian mixed economy. Internal debates were about how far social democratic governments should push the mix towards a greater or lesser state component. Neither option posed a problem for existing parliamentary institutions or the moderating division of responsibilities between the unions (industrial matters minus politics) and the Labour Party (politics minus any active alliance with the unions).

This context began to change as the post-war economy hit problems – the 1973 oil price rise; a combination of inflation with recession; an intensification of global competition; the rise of financial speculation and financial instability. This had direct consequences for working-class communities – factory closures, cuts and so on. And this in turn unleashed a radical extra-parliamentary politics, in the unions as well as coming from the radical social movements that had been incubating in the cities, especially since 1968 – the women’s liberation, student, housing and community movements. All with an increasingly transnational orientation – observing, as they did, the increasing power of global capital.

This created the politics that both Tony Benn and, in a different way, Ken Livingstone tried, against ruling class outrage, to put into practice. This involved ‘the labour movement’ becoming less a cautiously constrained alliance between trade union leaders and a professional caste of parliamentarians and more a matter of radical, activist politicians strengthening their assault on capital with support from highly politicised workplace leaders. These were often closely allied, through trades councils, cultural and research collectives and the like, with social movements of a socialist bent (socialist feminism, left gay politics, radical tenant and community groups).

This in turn, along with the generalised increase in the power of labour, provoked a rabid response from economic elites, who had long been champing at the bit of the Keynesian consensus. This became the basis of the neoliberal class war on labour led by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

We still have much thinking to do about the ramificatons of the left’s defeat in that class war. One implication, becoming clear in the Euro-elite’s treatment of Greece and Cameron’s continued austerity and privatising measures, is that there is definitively no return to the compromises of the Keynesian consensus. Victories – for example, against water privatisation or for protective legislation – can be won here and there but only through strong extra-paliamentary movements gaining support from sympathetic politicians.

The levers of national governmental power have either become useless in the face of global financial flows (for example, to tax corporations or combat tax avoidance) or, in the case of the EU, international treaties block state intervention in the market or use debt to prevent radical governments from using the powers they could have (as with Greece). Across the world, a new kind of politics of resistance to this is developing that seeks to mobilise all possible sources of counter-power. In particular, it doesn’t limit itself to gaining the power of being an elected government – it is simply not sufficient. It seeks rather to disrupt the day-to-day oppressions and injustices on which the neoliberal order depends and to create new transformative relationships of mutuality and democracy out of resistance.

Beyond, not against, the ballot

It is important, at this point, not to counterpose this grassroots transformative power to the distinct and, on its own, limited power of electoral politics. ‘Beyond the ballot box’ does not equal ‘against the ballot box’. While it has become clear in the past three or four decades that electoral politics is a blunt instrument for radical change against the global strength of the corporate market, it is equally clear that the full realisation of people’s transformative capacities will be enhanced if those organising and sharing these capacities gain support from state bodies, local and national, through legislation, redistribution and measures.

I need not say more on this, for this much is obvious to Red Pepper readers. What I would stress is the need to abandon purisms and single perspective politics – whether pure anarchism, pure parliamentarism, pure syndicalism or any one-track approach – and instead to urge a hybrid and experimental politics where collaboration is the guiding method. And where this collaboration is organised not through a single unifying centre but through networks of co-ordination, giving a priority to inter-communication and inter-connection as a means of developing shared values and a common sense of direction.

What is needed, then, is a different kind of political organisation from that which represented working people in the Keynesian age: one that is less about campaigning for government, more about developing and interconnecting people’s transformative capacities on a transnational scale – interconnecting from the local to the global – to challenge the monster that is global capitalism. But the notion of hybridity and the goal of a movement mobilising many different sources and levels of power can also recognise and value the organisations created historically and still of value but within a different framework.

Here I would argue that while the Labour Party nationally cannot be ‘reclaimed’, local Labour parties have often been built out of local struggles. They cannot be discarded, nor corralled into a homogenous vanguard party. They can, however, be – and indeed in many localities are already becoming – part of alliances against austerity and for democratic alternatives.

These could be part of a new politics that is less about demands on government, more about grassroots transformation, and reflecting and generalising from exemplary cases – a politics that starts from a recognition that our only resource is people’s creative capacities and their willingness to realise these capacities for the benefit of all. Hence a movement as much about popular education and self-education as about winning elections; that is less about faction fights and more about welcoming diversity and creating space for reflection and debate, treating practice as experimental action from which to learn; an organisation, then, that is less of a central hierarchy and vanguard, more a platform connecting and supporting and interconnecting struggles.

A good kind of leader

Jeremy Corbyn is a good kind of leader, one among many, for this kind of plural and non-hierarchal organisation. He always makes himself available for the struggles of others and never over-estimates his own power. ‘I always try to encourage people in what they are trying to achieve,’ he says. ‘MPs can’t do everything themselves – we’re not gods – but if an MP says “I will support you”, that is probably a help to the campaign.’

He is willing to say ‘I don’t know’ and always ‘respects other people’s knowledge, whether they are academics or not’. He welcomes diversity: ‘Surely we need to have a diversity of opinion around us? It’s good for us, is it not?’ And he ventures into areas where the left doesn’t normally go, such as religion: ‘I find religion very interesting. I find the power of faith interesting. I think the faith community offers a great deal for people. There doesn’t have to be wars about religion; there has to be honesty about religion.’

He supports an impressive range of struggles but he weaves a web of networks so they connect with each other, rather than going through him. At present, he can see that something new is going on, transcending traditional political allegiances. ‘At a local level,’ he says, ‘people who are supporters of Labour and the Green Party actually work together on a lot of issues – probably with a few Liberal Democrats as well as others. There is going to be a change in politics in the future – look, for instance, at the growth of organisations like UK Uncut. Essentially it is a moral force.’

By supporting Jeremy Corbyn, we are not seeking to escape the problems that beset the left in the UK – disunity, sectarianism, parochialism, defeats by a supremely confident ruling class – through placing our faith in a charismatic leader. Contrast the dynamic that tended to lie behind rallying to Arthur Scargill, George Galloway and even, at times, Tony Benn. We are supporting someone who has no desire to be the leader but is willing to offer his energies and legitimacy as an MP as a resource for a movement that can self-consciously create a truly transformative politics, inside and outside the Labour Party and based on principles of self‑governing democracy.

In his spirit of modesty, it’s an opportunity to get out of a political trap into a space for debate and new radical thinking. Let’s grasp it!

If you’re not a Labour Party member you can still sign as a 'registered supporter' to vote for Jeremy for £3 – visit or text LABOUR to 78555 before 12noon on 12 August.

Hilary WainwrightHilary Wainwright is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective and a fellow of the Transnational Institute.


'How can you decant people from estates then make deals with developers to build luxury apartments?’

Andrew Dolan spoke with Amina Gichinga of Take Back the City about doing politics differently and righting Labour's wrongs in London

Conventional wisdom: our chance to redraw the British state

Jeremy Corbyn has said that he wants to organise a constitutional convention. We should seize the opportunity, writes Dan Hind

Higher aspirations: politics beyond the ballot box

As with the Scottish referendum, electoral defeat can be transformed into political success. A new movement is rising, says Hilary Wainwright

Labour once again refuses to break with 'business as usual'

Labour's links to PricewatehouseCoopers is yet another sign of a party unwilling to break from 'business as usual' and of a political system captured by corporate interests, writes Andrew Dolan

Anonymous 19 July 2015, 03.43

I think you have hit the nail on the head. Excellent article.

Peeve 19 July 2015, 10.11

A fascinating article. Thank you. I shall need to read it again (more than once) to absorb its implications, but my gut instinct is that such a new breed of politics could encompass not only grassroots alliances between Labour and Green activists, but national figures such as Russell Brand and Brian May, who have both recognised the impossibility of using our existing political systems to effect change and have individually proposed quite different solutions to oppose the monster that is global capitalism.

Mike Reardon 20 July 2015, 09.52

Excellent and would like to see more embracing of new models of social enterprise and mutuality that offer practical here and now alternative to both neo liberal and social Democratic state traditions. Too many on the left still looking to and waiting for ‘the revolution’.Recently read Paul mason who has interesting things to say on this.

Pip 23 July 2015, 15.12

I like your description of this. Almost as if resistance to global capitalism is something organic and pliable which resists defeat no matter how vicious the gatekeepers of wealth are. Their attempts to defeat it would, considered as part of a whole, have all the effectiveness of a man beating a pillow.

I do also think that it exists. You mention UK Uncut but there are many, many others. DPAC springs to mind, as does Anonymous and the Occupy movement. You are correct when you say Greens and Labour work together. So do lots of revolutionaries. I see proof of that every day. All of these coalesce so that taken together, things are nowhere near as hopeless as they at first seem.

But, while as you say there may be small victories here and there, the things that change people’s lives in lasting ways are still the things enacted and legislated by politicians in government, working for the interests of the global elites.

I think that, ultimately, this kind of elastic, all-encompassing resistance must swell, and as it does it becomes more than a passive absorber of neo-liberal policies like austerity. People demand change for themselves, for their children, for their neighbours, and I can’t help but see it as a precursor to revolution, however unlikely that might seem. The tipping point is always sudden, and once reached it spreads through society like a forest fire. The Arab Spring series of revolutions shows what could easily happen in Europe, spreading from country to country, possibly beginning with Greece.

I make no predictions, I only offer my opinion that there does need to be a reckoning, whether it is in the next five years, or the next five hundred. What happens after that is anyone’s guess.

The one thing I am sure of is that nothing is forever. And that includes this neo-liberal global capitalism.

For now, like many others with wide-ranging opinions and beliefs, I say elect Corbyn. Socialist policies like fair taxation, renationalisation and ending tuition fees will have appeal beyond the poorest in society as long as they are presented correctly, and I believe Corbyn to be eminently capable of that.

But, as you say, there will come a point (even if all we hope for occurs) when the state is bound by the interest of the global corporations through TTIP and similar. Hard to imagine then that small victories will be enough.

Thank you for writing and sharing this fascinating article – it was a joy to read!

Will Podmore 27 July 2015, 13.42

Hilary is once again jumping aboard a bandwagon of illusions. The Labour party is and always has been part of the establishment, an arm of the state. Whether led by a ‘left’ or a ‘right’, it has always served the interests of capitalism.

SocialJustice 30 July 2015, 16.00

Labour Needs to be on the Side of Social Justice which Includes the Welfare State and the
National Health Service

The 1945 Labour Government after All Established the Welfare State and the National
Health Service

Margie Bernard 30 July 2015, 16.37

Great article and I hope he becomes the head of Labour!

I’ve been a fan of his since 1989, when, at a book-launch held at the Irish Centre in London, he learned I had been banned from a scheduled interview on BBC Radio Foyle to discuss my book “Daughter of Derry: The Story of Brigid Sheils Makowski” he bought a copy for the reading room of the British House of Commons. See p. 39 of this Helsinki Watch report:

vigo 31 July 2015, 05.19

Will Podmore is correct. There is so much waffle and doublespeak in this article. It rehashes the same old arguments and so called strategies that ‘the left’ have been banging on for decades now. Labour became more and more an elitist metropolitan middle class movement who were entirely disconnected from working class people and fight in the immediate struggles they face. Its easy to ‘show solidarity’ with a struggle occuring on the streets hundreds of miles away as a pretend default to attempt to claim ‘solidarity’ and then spout some bullshit half assed excuse about why you didnt support Benn in his leadership bid. In fact your whole article comes across as so much cross eyed post rationalism. ‘Social democracy is dead but I’m supporting a social democracy party’ LOL.

Mike Roscoe 31 July 2015, 06.55

Hilary has made some good points here, especially in stating what the real problems are, most of which are linked to the financialization of the global economy. There is nothing to be gained from negative remarks such as those made in the previous comments: this failure of the left to unite is part of the problem and always has been. Yes, Labour lost the plot years ago, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get it back. Supporting Corbyn would be a good start.

vigo 31 July 2015, 09.49

There has been a ‘globalised’ financial economy fo far longer than the article claims and it is disingenuous to suggest that this was/is a new phenomena which crushed social democracy. As for your ‘negativity’ approach ~ your argument is without merit. There is no positivity in supporting a politcal party with a track record like Labour and whose MPs sanctioned the murder of people in Iraq and Afghanistan and who continue to do so. Look at the track record of individual labour MPs and the harmful and retrogressive policies they continue to advance. Your belief that Labour will suddenly miraculously transform is naive fairy tale nonsense. Change cannot occur if you endlessly confer power to the same failed group who will give the same failed results ~ and its about more than getting a new driver for an old clapped out car.

Mike Roscoe 31 July 2015, 17.07

Perhaps, Vigo, you can suggest a better alternative. I had been voting for the Greens for years, but they also need a stronger, more capable leader. There are so few politicians worth voting for, maybe none, but I’d like to think that Corbyn might make a difference, that’s all. At least it would send a message to those in power, that their time is nearly up: change is coming. Corbyn getting votes (along with Bernie Sanders in the US) would be a good start.

Graham Edwards 1 August 2015, 04.26

Oh Hilary Hilary, spot on and all that, but in words directed at the intellectual left. Get with the programme. We need short, sharp and populist.

Will Podmore 4 August 2015, 10.05

Jeremy Corbyn recently said of the EU which is crushing the Greek people, “We cannot be content with the state of the EU as it stands. But that does not mean walking away, but staying to fight together for a better Europe.” “Look at it another way: if we allow unaccountable forces to destroy an economy like Greece, when all that bailout money isn’t going to the Greek people, it’s going to various banks all across Europe, then I think we need to think very, very carefully about what role they [the EU] are playing and what role we are playing in that.”
“staying to fight together for a better Europe”? Exactly what Cameron says.
And after thinking ‘very, very carefully about what role they [the EU] are playing and what role we are playing in that’, what does he propose we do?

pouppy 12 August 2015, 08.49

What we can’t do which the ruling class is supremely good at is to unify behind an honest leader. Forget that he’s a member of a vacuous party and see him as an opportunity to get some meaningful change to this sick system we live under and beat the establishment at their game. UNITE!!

lewis parry 25 August 2015, 20.57

fair enough.
but what is happening on the compass site,usually
broadly sympathetic to your site’s mindset?
over the past month they,sadly,seem to have
melted like an iceberg on a summer sea.

Will Podmore 1 September 2015, 13.46

pouppy, how can the leader of a vacuous party achieve any meaningful change? If the party is vacuous – which it is, I agree – then no leader can achieve any meaningful change with such a vacuous vehicle.

Matthew Kalman Mezey 1 September 2015, 13.51

The Labour Party’s smartest option – an inspiring vision for the future seemingly only noticed so far by Compass! – would be to begin to align itself with the ‘hottest’ trend in management of the moment: non-hierarchical organisations without managers, where authority is distributed across the workers, not concentrated in the power of upper management and a Chief Executive.

They seem to suddenly be growing in number, helped in part by Frederic Laloux’s 2014 book of case studies about them, Reinventing Organisations – which you can read for free here:

Have a listen to the BBC’s In Business programme from only last week on “Companies without Managers” – it was fairly clear to me that this is the wave of the future: (and a wave that the Left could be aligning with, learning from, even leading!)

And the reduction in bureaucracy in such ‘Next Stage’ organisations can be almost miraculous. One public sector expert – writing in the Guardian – talked about how he “fell off his seat” when he read about a self-managed community nursing organisation in Holland called Buurtzorg: it now has close to 10,000 nurses and only around 60 backoffice admin staff:

Yet we’re all so acclimatised to our relative powerlessness and stifled creativity – to self-sabotaging ideas that change must be imposed from above etc – that this self-managed organisational model doesn’t (yet) spread like wildfire, despite them being very engaging, rewarding and effective workplaces.

These organisations without managers – with distributed power – offer an inspiration that could animate both the left and the right of the Labour movement, and be aligned with the most progressive of digital companies – such as the $1bn US online retailer Zappos, which has removed most managers as it moves to self-management, to free up staff autonomy and creativity.

I’ve helped to produce a website where you can read more about all this – including the Scottish Government piloting some projects based on the Buurtzorg model:

Could this be a new focus for Labour? Could the the party itself begin to use proven self-managing structures, such as Holacracy?

Matthew Kalman Mezey

lewis parry 1 September 2015, 14.22

thank you,Matthew,for producing more insight than the whole compass website
for the past month!
but the fact remains that hiliary has given a clear steer on her immediate preference for leader (corbyn).
so has gordon brown (yvette cooper).
so has progress/labour (liz kendall).
so has tony blair (abc ~anyone but corbyn).
but compass is dithering like mavis riley
over a chocolate box (one for the teenagers).
an ex-blandee at compass,umunna,backs Kendall now.
as for the non leading leadership didn’t the chinese liberation army
also adopt this?for a while.and found it unworkable?

lewis parry 2 September 2015, 21.31

to be fair have just received a very comprehensive and stimulating
compass newsletter from jacqui howard their organiser dealing
substantially with the labour vote issues,including neal lawson’s
move to personally vote for corbyn.excellent stuff.

by the way matthew,despite my grupy old ### persona
have genuinely enjoyed following up your references etc..

Will Podmore 7 September 2015, 14.28

So Hilary, “part of a transition to organisation beyond parliamentary politics” is to indulge in parliamentary politics – how very dialectical!

Jasmine Luxemburg 14 September 2015, 10.55

You ‘guys’ have a narrative going. I’m old so I know it is one with a long history. Embedded in a long period of relative stability and defeats. It seems to me a BETTER question than
is’ Corbyn capable/system capable of achieving meaningful change’
IS ‘ what does this unexpected massive support for radical policies signify ?’

At the root of this going round in circles, it seems to me , are two weaknesses. Imagining change comes out of better ideas (idealist thinking) and a lack of confidence in the creative capacities of the masses when old forms of debate and action are suddenly too small and limited for the energy and anger unleashed.

Be happy ! the masses ARE on the move, ARE searching for adequate answers, are searching for adequate leaders and adequate forms of organisation. Are testing out all of this on a Europe wide and international level. Get your ‘running shoes on’, exciting times are here ! We are joining Portugal, Spain, Italy , Greece…. yes Scotland too, in an enormous wave of casting off old ideas that have not met urgent needs for deep and radical root and branch change. Mistakes and confusion are not problems in THIS context ! But rather present opportunities to learn and get better equipped for the battle ahead – whose form, timing and trigger location is not yet known.

History tells us this – not ‘clever clogs’ writing this or any other comment. Get ambitious and prepare to get humble, maybe many times over ! Its not personal, its the way of great change once a critical point is reached.

There are two things I hope to see before vacating the scene, this great transformation that is so long overdue, and the discovery of evidence of life elsewhere in our fantastic universe. Think big and big things ARE possible.
Love from a new subscriber

Comments are now closed on this article.

Red Pepper · 44-48 Shepherdess Walk, London N1 7JP · +44 (0)20 7324 5068 · office[at]
Advertise · Press · Donate
For subscriptions enquiries please email