It is anti-imperialism that drives Jeremy Corbyn and his hard-left cadre, argues Grace Skelton
Speak to most Momentum activists and they will proudly tell you that for decades Jeremy Corbyn has stood shoulder to shoulder with those struggling against the establishment and has expressed solidarity with civil rights causes across the world.
So why has he often found himself aligned with people who actively oppress marginalised groups? How can a man who has campaigned alongside gay rights activists in the United Kingdom also appear on Press TV, the propaganda arm of the Iranian state – where to be gay is often met with the death penalty?
The answer lies in is his almost religious belief in the anti-imperialism defined by those on the far-left, best shown by the political pressure group Stop the War coalition, of which Corbyn is a former chair.
Stop the War has a world view which dictates that whatever the wrongdoing and whoever the perpetrator, every bad event of any global significance can be blamed on western foreign policy. This is articulated by John Rees, its national officer, who proclaimed: ‘Socialists should unconditionally stand with the oppressed against the oppressor, even if the people who run the oppressed country are undemocratic and persecute minorities, like Saddam Hussein.’ The result is that responsibility is taken away from perpetrators and instead they are treated as victims of western oppression.
Look at Stop the War’s response to the Islamic State attack on Paris in November 2015. Isis said they were targeting France because it is a ‘capital of prostitution and obscenity’, yet Stop the War published an article – later deleted – claiming that France was ‘reaping the whirlwind of western extremism’, placing the blame squarely at the feet of the French. Only the faith of a true believer could make one plus one equal five and feel good about it.
This is also reflected in Corbyn’s longstanding criticisms of Nato. Only last month the leader’s office criticised a deployment of Nato troops to Estonia as a ratcheting up of tensions with Russia, yet he has remained nearly silent on Russia’s annexation of the Crimea. The Labour leader is no pacifist, he is a longstanding and consistent opponent of western foreign policy.
Corbyn’s personal politics aside, he arguably owes his leadership of the Labour party to the anti-war movement.
Before 2003, Corbyn was just one of a handful of hard-left backbenchers who were ideologically opposed to New Labour. Iraq gave Corbyn and his far-left cadre a high profile cause and threw them to the forefront of a movement that appeared to be broad-based and focussed on a single issue. Over time, many, such as Liberal Democrats and even Green party leader Caroline Lucas, pulled out as it became clear that the far-left were in control – and do not share.
Despite the continued electoral success of New Labour, there was an emerging consensus among some Labour members and the liberal commentariat – literally the Seumas Milne controlled comment pages of the Guardian – that Labour had lost its way; nothing epitomised this more than Iraq. This view was vindicated in the Labour party when Ed Miliband criticised Iraq in his 2010 victory speech.
In 2015, it was Jeremy’s turn to fly the flag for the hard-left of the Labour party. The new one member, one vote system allowed those far-left groups like Stop the War to sign people up to the Labour party en masse from their mailing lists, built up over 12 years since Iraq. They finally had an anti-west candidate to vote for, and they did so in their droves.
Grace Skelton is former national secretary of Labour Students. She tweets at @graceskelton
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