In her final letter, written while in hiding just days before she and her comrade in struggle, Karl Liebknecht, were tracked down in Berlin by counterrevolutionary Friekorps proto-fascists prior to being butchered, Rosa Luxemburg summed up the crisis facing the workers’ movement she’d helped to inspire and lead in Germany, and which had just culminated in a failed uprising:
these events are a tremendous school for the masses…One must take history as it comes…At this moment in Berlin the battles are continuing. Many of our brave lads have fallen…For today, I have to close.
In our time, Corbyn inspired and led his own failed uprising — a democratic uprising — and likewise is now suffering the consequences of defeat, measured in the ferocious and fierce backlash of the Establishment media and a reinvigorated Blairite core within the Labour Party. The objective now is not only to bury Corbyn (metaphorically speaking), but the very ideas he represents; doing so with the gusto of a status quo that has just beaten off the most serious challenge to its dominance in decades.
The barrage of invective that has been directed at Jeremy Corbyn in the aftermath of a general election which proved to be a second referendum on Brexit in all but name, only reveals that socialism — the idea of a society underpinned by human solidarity rather than human greed — continues to strike terror in the hearts and minds of the servants of capital in our world.
For such people poverty, homelessness and human despair are an unavoidable consequence of the unfettered reach for profit. In such a scenario the rich are the salt of the earth, to whom the spoils of class war rightly belong, while the poor are just so much human flotsam and jetsam, whose condition is that of the defeated army in this class war and as such wholly in keeping with the natural order of things.
History is replete with examples of the savage reprisals of the rich and their servants in the wake of a determined attempt to challenge their power from below. Such examples stretch all the way back to the days of the Roman Empire, most prominently encapsulated in the story of Spartacus and the slave revolt he led.
Here, as Aldo Schiavone points out: ‘Spartacus’s defiance was a radically different matter (from that of Hannibal and the Gauls, etc), almost unspeakable for the dominant culture, the symbol of extreme subversion, of a dramatic break in the “natural” order of things…He was a slave in revolt, at the head of an army consisting largely of men in the same condition, who had succeeded in threatening the very heart of the imperial system.’
Such failed attempts at toppling the status quo, whether in antiquity, whether in the context of the 1848 pan-Europe revolutions, the Paris Commune of 1871, the late-19th century and early-20th century Labor Wars in America, have each met with similar bloody reprisals.
In our time, in the context of a Corbyn-led project not so much to topple the status quo as change it, though the reprisal in the wake of his defeat may not be bloody, it certainly has been unleashed with the same objective of crushing any prospect of another such attempt at social and economic transformation being possible for many years to come, driving home the message this is the best of all possible worlds — one in which nothing more than the most tepid reforms are either acceptable or workable.
We all have our reasons for why Labour lost the election so emphatically — Brexit, media bias, smear campaigns surrounding antisemitism, and so on. The bald truth is that the real reason Labour and Corbyn lost is to be found in the axiom that those who make revolution halfway dig their own grave. The aforementioned cocktail of attacks on Corbyn and his allies could only have been defeated if fire had been fought with fire.
The fault here lies not with Jeremy Corbyn, however. It lies instead with a PLP and Momentum leadership that was either complicit in the war waged against his leadership, or lifted hardly a finger to oppose it. Corbyn himself has been immense over these past four years, struggling manfully to lead a grassroots movements into battle against the fortress of cruelty, brutality and mendacity which ‘they’ have the temerity to describe as a civilised society — this previously mentioned best of all possible worlds.
In the opening chapter of his Communist Hypothesis, sub-titled ‘Preamble: What Is Called Failure’, Alan Badiou writes: ‘What exactly do we mean by ‘failure’ when we refer to a historical sequence that experimented with one or another form of the communist hypothesis?’ He goes on: ‘Was it a complete failure? By which I mean: does it require us to abandon the hypothesis itself, and to renounce the whole problem of emancipation? Or was it merely a relative failure? Was it a failure because of the form it took or the path it explored? Was it a failure that simply proves that it was not the right way to resolve the initial problem?’
The reality, which in their hubris and ignorance of the human condition, those engaged in the anti-Corbyn pile-on now underway have failed to grasp, is that there is no final defeat or final victory. There is only struggle, sometimes open sometimes hidden, but permanent as long as injustice is the lived experience of the many and greed that of the few.
Ultimately, speaking figuratively, Jeremy Corbyn was our Father Gapon, the cleric who led a failed attempt to win succour for the suffering masses of Russia in 1905 by appealing to the Tsar’s better nature. The result was Bloody Sunday, which was a spark for that year’s brief revolution, which in turn was the prelude to 1917.
So, yes, Corbyn was our Father Gapon. They have yet to meet our Lenin.