Corbyn and 1968: lessons for the left?

The Corbyn victory in the Labour leadership contest has revitalised the left. By challenging the deadly discourse of austerity, he has threatened consensual politics in the UK. However, his strategy has also opened up historical discussion about the real mission of left politicians. While the Corbyn surge can be perceived as a populist challenge to a complacent establishment, it can also be viewed as a flowering of the values of 1968.

In 1968, capitalism was challenged in Paris, while state socialism was attacked in Prague. Both oligarchical systems were assaulted by determined democratic movements. The Corbyn insurgency has that same democratising flavour. Furthermore, the fact is that optimism is once again in the air.

However, the forces of reaction proved far too powerful in 1968. The elites survived. And the left struggled. One reason for its difficulties was its emphasis on identity politics. While it was necessary to challenge patriarchy and racism, identity politics evolved into a diversion from the issue of social justice. The election of Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party can be seen as a rejection of technocratic identity politics. However, his prospects of success are restricted by a variety of national and international factors. Hence the left has to analyse the situation with care as the media attempts to destroy his reputation.

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