Why (despite everything) I’m supporting Corbyn: a reply to Alan Johnson

August 16, 2015 at 6:50 am (anti-semitism, democracy, elections, internationalism, Jim D, labour party, Middle East, palestine, reformism, stalinism, Stop The War, Unite the union)

Dear Jim,

I’ve always looked up to you, from the days when we were in Socialist Organiser – you the Marx-reading shop steward in a car plant and me the young student. In 2011 you described Jeremy Corbyn in these terms: “Corbyn is now beyond the pale and part of a de facto anti-democratic, pro-fascist and anti-semitic current that claims to be “left-wing” but is in fact, profoundly reactionary and anti-working class.” So why did you urge Unite (my trade union) to back Corbyn? Will you vote for him? Why? Is it democratic centralism? If so, fuck that Jim. Look back at what you wrote in 2011 and, as Dylan sang, ‘Don’t think twice, its alright.’

(NB Alan Johnson is not the MP of the same name! This Alan’s Open Letter to Jeremy Corbyn, expanding on many of the points he raises above, can be read here).

Dear Alan,

Thanks for your kind words and because I admire your intellect and evident principles I’ve given some thought to your comments (incidentally, although I was a motor industry shop steward when we first knew each other, before that I’d also been a student and I don’t think our ages are that different …).

Firstly, you are quite justified in drawing attention to what I’ve previously written about Corbyn’s attitude to a number of international issues (ie knee-jerk anti-Americanism) and – perhaps worse – his unsavoury “friends” and/or associates in the Palestine solidarity movement (anti-semites like Hamas and Hesbollah, the Jew-hating Islamist Raed Salah and the holocaust-denier Paul Eisen, for instance).

These “friends” (Corbyn’s own description of Hamas and Hesbollah representatives when he hosted them in Parliament in 2009) are significant, disturbing and a matter that should be (and has been) raised by myself and others within the Corbyn campaign – and we will continue to raise these issues in the event that Corbyn wins.

Are these concerns (as you and some other people I know and respect, have argued) sufficient to make support for Corbyn unacceptable or unprincipled? I’d argue not, and here’s why:

We live and ‘do’ politics within a British labour movement that has some pretty awful political traditions within it: craven reformism, nationalism, various forms of racism, sexism and general backwardness. I’ve been on the knocker, over the years, for some truly dreadful people who happened to wear a Labour rosette. The mainstream left of the Labour movement is – in its way- just as bad. Influenced to varying degrees by Stalinism, it takes lousy positions on international affairs, often seems to operate on the bankrupt principle of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” and has a long-standing tendency to allow its (correct) support for the Palestinian cause slide over into indifference to anti-Semitism. It also has a terrible habit (which I think at least partly explains Corbyn’s warm words to Hamas and Hesbollah) of being diplomatic towards people it regards as perhaps dodgy, but broadly “on the right side.”

Corbyn is part of that left – as was Tony Benn, who we all supported when he stood for the Deputy Leadership against Dennis Healey in 1981. Like Benn (and unlike shysters of the Livingstone/ Galloway variety) he seems to be a decent and principled human being, despite his political failings and downright naivety on a range of (mainly international) issues..

Yes, the British labour movement, including the  “left”, has some rotten politics. But it’s our movement and in the assessment of Marxists and serious socialists, the only hope we have of building a decent, democratic society ruled by the working class. We work within that movement to transform it, so that society itself can be transformed. We are consistent democrats who relate to workers in struggle in their existing organisations – organisations that are infused with all sorts of Stalinist, bourgeois, reformist and other reactionary ideas.

The Corbyn campaign is dominated by the politics that dominates the mainstream left in Britain – a soft Stalinism and incoherent “anti imperialism” that also dominates the Morning Star, the Communist Party of Britain, the SWP and Stop The War (the misnamed outfit still, unfortunately, supported by our union, Unite). But the rank and file people (many of them young and new to the movement) who’ve been enthused by Corbyn’s campaign have been attracted by his anti-austerity stance, his opposition to the neoliberal consensus, and his inspiring if not always entirely coherent message that a better, fairer and more equal society is possible. We cannot stand aside from this movement by abstaining or backing the wretched Burnham or Cooper. Just as serious socialists have always argued for active, positive engagement with the actual, existing labour movement as a whole, so we must argue for engagement with that movement’s left – and for now, that means support for the Corbyn campaign. That’s also the best way of making our criticism of his international policies heard by the people who need to hear it – his ordinary  supporters, the young and not-so-young people he’s enthused and inspired and who make up the bedrock of his support.

That’s why, Alan, despite the many harsh words I’ve spoken and written about Corbyn and the kind of politics he represents, I’m supporting him. And that, by the way, is my honestly-held personal opinion, and nothing to do with the AWL, for whom I do not speak on this matter. I don’t suppose we’re going to agree on this, but please feel free to come back at me with any further thoughts or comments.

With best wishes

Jim Denham



  1. Andrew Coates said,

    Heartfelt and well expressed Jim.

  2. Political tourist said,

    Nobody of course took the slightest bit of notice that there was a Labour leadership contest in Scotland.
    Oh well, onwards to Scottish Independence.

    • dagmar said,

      I think a lot of people would be quite willing to let the Scottish Labour Party be totally independent from the English/Welsh ones. In any case, the leadership of UK Labour might be more relevant as to the future of Labour in Scotland than the leader of Scottish Labour….

      • Political tourist said,

        Ah the old branch office scenario.
        And the new leader of the Scottish Labour Party is………..Neil Findlay.
        In about three months time.

  3. Boleyn Ali said,

    I said in a comment here sometime ago that I found Johnson the most persuasive of the “left wing” ABC brigade, out in (orchestrated?) full force here http://hurryupharry.org/2015/08/17/the-left-wing-case-against-corbyn/. I am surprised that Anderson’s is less convincing, http://libsoc.blogspot.co.uk/2015/08/1.html?m=1 , though he at least saves some of his fire for the domestic agenda which is driving Corbyn’s campaign. He also, uniquely, says who he is voting for, though does not enlighten us as to how Cooper will win in Scotland where, he says, Corbyn will fail. That seems well wide of the mark.

    HPs Magnificent 7 all focus entirely on Corbyn’s woeful international positions – woeful is not a typo. No problem with that – although it might help if some of their critical light was shone on the other 3. You might not find flirtation with Islamism but you are surely going to get something unpleasant – perhaps unpleasant enough to preclude a second preference. Given that it has been credibly suggested that Burnham might become Foreign Secretary in a Corbyn shadow cabinet, such an exercise might actually be of more value.

    Corbyn probably could not, or more likely would not even attempt to impose his foreign policy agenda on the party. If he does this should be strongly resisted, alongside a general campaign to restore party democracy, life and accountability. There is never any alternative to having these debates fully, out in the open. He would lose.

  4. ZINR said,

    What exactly are the differences between Corbyn and George Galloway (who, quite rightly, comes in for nothing but abuse on this site)?

    Both are hugely pro-Islamist. Both are open in their contempt for Jews. Both are part of the repugnant BDS movement. Both have given public support to the Charlie Hebdo murderers. Both are cornerstones of the rotten, fascistic StWC.

    What is the difference?

    By all means back this Islamonazi scumbag in pursuit of some dewy-eyed Socialist ideal, by all means brush off mentions of his bigotry and support for medievalist racist murderers by saying “it’s okay, the rest of the party won’t agree, we’ll keep an eye on him”. Just don’t expect that any Jew will vote for him and don’t expect that any Jew will hold you in any regard once you’ve voted for him.

    • Jim Denham said,

      Corbyn, unlike Galloway, has come out clearly for a two state solution in the Middle East. Also, unlike Galloway, he was unambiguous in his condemnation of the CH killings and (also unlike Galloway) didn’t join in the nauseating anti-CH/”They brought it on themselves”/”CH is racist” campaign that followed. Corbyn’s politics on the ME and many other international issues, are flawed, but it’s simply not true to say he’s the same as Galloway.

      • Glasgow Working Class said,

        But Corbyn knows there is no chance of a two state solution as the Arabs and fellow Islamists want to wipe out Israel. Is Corbyn taking the piss with the lives of Israels.

      • ZINR said,

        Firstly, he has been a patron of PSC and a Friend of HAMAS for a long time – both positions that would strongly indicate a preference for a one-state solution (achieved by massacre as far as I can tell; he’s yet to offer an alternative solution for achieving this perfect Palestinian state) – his recent declaration, for the sake of appeasing Labour Party internal pressure, that he supported two states, was particularly flimsy and grudging – his statement contained no acknowledgment of any requirement from anyone on the Palestinian side to do anything at all, and simply constituted yet another dreary, biased, HAMAS-appeasing attack on the Israelis. The idea that his associations for decades with scum like PSC and StWC can be disregarded all of a sudden due to one unbalanced and insubstantial statement is an odd one.

        Secondly, Corbyn was indeed present at the “Je Suis ne pas Charlie” rally, standing alongside Galloway to placate a crowd of religious fanatics and reinforce the revolting idea that anyone who insults the Prophet is fair game. If you wanted to unambiguously condemn these horrendous crimes, why would you attend this rally? How was the rally different from a crowd of Nazis with speakers saying “If you upset the Fuhrer this is what happens, so take note and don’t do it again”? To say he avoided the “they brought it on themselves” campaign is laughable. Why was he there at all?

      • Jim Denham said,

        I’ve done a brief Google-search and been unable to find anything linking Corbyn with ” Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie”. If you’re going to make these most serious allegations, ZINR, you must back them up with evidence.

      • Celow Pippenfists said,

        Corbyn was the primary sponsor of the following EDM:

        That this House expresses its heartfelt sympathy to the families of those journalists, police and others who were assassinated or injured at the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo on 7 January 2015; notes that this attack took place on press day, thereby increasing the casualty list and the potential damage to press freedom; considers that the perpetrators of this heinous crime must swiftly be brought to justice; further notes the bravery of individuals who work in this field despite many of them coming under attack previously, and that in carrying out their jobs they uphold the invaluable and historical right to free speech and freedom of expression which are both integral elements of democracies; acknowledges the solidarity that is being shown around the world on behalf of the victims and their colleagues in standing together in defence of civil liberties at this time; and offers its support to the NUJ in the UK and the International Federation of Journalists for their work in defending the rights of all journalists to do their job without fear of threats, intimidation and brutal murder.


      • Jim Denham said,

        If your allegation that Corbyn was indeed “present at the “Je Suis ne pas Charlie” rally, standing alongside Galloway”, were true, then it would indeed force me to reconsider my support for him. So please provide the evidence and, preferably, a link, ZINR.

  5. dagmar said,

    I suspect one difference is that Corbyn is for a ” safe and viable Palestinian State alongside a safe and viable Israel. “

  6. kb72 said,

    @ZINR – where’s the evidence that he was at the Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie rally?

  7. Steven Johnston said,

    People often praise the Labour Government(s) of 1945 – 51 and that they raised working class expectations. Really? Is that why the working class voted Tory in 1951 and for the following 13 years…as cunning plans go even Baldrick would reject this as too silly.

    • Jim Denham said,

      “the working class voted Tory in 1951” Oh yes? The following is from the Wikipedia entry on the 1951 general election:

      The subsequent Labour defeat is significant for several reasons: the party polled almost a quarter of a million votes more than the Conservatives and their National Liberal allies combined, won the most votes that Labour had ever won (and has ever won as of 2015) and won the most votes of any political party in any election in British political history, a record surpassed by the Conservative Party in 1992. Despite this, it was the Conservatives who formed the next government with a majority of 16. In addition, under the first past the post electoral system, Labour votes translated into increased majorities for MPs in safe seats, rather than into gaining new seats. This was the second of three elections in the 20th century where a party lost the popular vote but won the most seats, the others being 1929 and February 1974; it also happened in 1874.

      • Steven Johnston said,

        Agreed and I knew someone would bring that up, but aren’t you forgetting the elections of 1955 & 1959? Then the elections of 1970, 1979, 1983, 1987, 1992 & finally the election of 2015.

    • Jim Denham said,

      Lessons learned from experience have to be re-learned through experience, time and time again. In the class struggle, as in much else in life, there are no easy answers or short-cuts.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: