Report Back on SFU Forum: “For the Many, Not the Few: Politics After the Corbyn Breakthrough”

Friday June 23rd, 2017, 7-9pm, Room 7000, SFU Harbour Centre, Sponsored by SFU's Institute for the Humanities

Friday June 23rd, 2017, 7-9pm, Room 7000, SFU Harbour Centre, Sponsored by SFU's Institute for the Humanities

June 23, 2017. Simon Fraser University

Jeff Shantz: I attended this forum on social democratic politics and the implications of Jeremy Corbyn’s unexpected success on the recent British elections. Speakers included Ingo Schmidt, Beverly Ho, and Derrick O’Keefe.

Ingo Schmidt noted the return of the electoral Left. He asked though, is it the re-emergence of a strong, viable Left that can defend gains over time? Rather than the emergence of a viable Left now these are times of a populist moment. The marked arrogance of power and wealth has discredited even neoliberalism. Populism appeals to anti-establishment sentiment. Anti-establishment is understood, however, as only political establishment, not the economic establishment.  

There are a few things to keep in mind about the Corbyn breakthrough for those seeking to replicate it in Canada . First, Corbyn did not win. Second, his success reflected anger with the Tory government as much as an affirmation of Corbynite Labour. Third, substantial movements against austerity and war have been active for decades in Britain, and in Labour. This is not the case in Canada.

What would social democracy of the Left need today according to Schmidt? First, it would need to rekindle a socialist vision. Second, it would need to develop a power bloc that brings together the working poor, the precariat, and welfare recipients. Third, it requires a proletarian internationalism.

Beverly Ho, Chinatown Concern Group, argued that people are sick of big money in politics. There is a need for a response to the rise of white supremacy and fascism. There is a need for people power from the ground up. This is built through door knocking, talking to people directly, leafletting, and one on one meetings. There is a need to remember work on the ground and behind the scenes. Neoliberalism has lowered expectations and told people their goals are not realistic.

Derrick O’Keefe asked how we might situate Corbyn in Labour? Labour is worse than the NDP. In power, Labour enforced austerity and waged war in Iraq. Labour is better than the NDP. Labour still has an active socialist caucus that defied their own leadership and organized openly within the party. The NDP erased its references to socialism in its own preamble.

In the 2015 election dozens of potential candidates for the NDP had been denied the right to seek nomination because of political views, such as support for Palestine. The NDP needs to be more democratic to attract younger people. Younger people cannot be excluded on the basis of social media posts.

The movements in Canada do not exist on a meaningful level to push electoral parties Left. For the NDP, trying to occupy the center with Trudeau would be fatal. Corbyn disproves the Blairite claim that going Left is certain destruction for an electoral party.

The forum raised many questions. In the end it needs to be remembered that populist Left parties like Syriza implement policies worse than they are asked to. When in power they concede to capital. How is that avoided?  

By Jeff Shantz