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Home Uncategorized Turn On, Tune In, Help Out

Turn On, Tune In, Help Out

Paul Walsh
Corbynism: A Critical Approach, by Matt Bolton and Frederick Harry Pitts, Emerald Publishing, 368 pp, €18, ISBN: 978-1787543720 “Surely to goodness we can take this Tony Benn tribute act and wallop it for six!” cried Boris Johnson in his 2018 Conservative Party conference speech ‑ with one eye on a future Tory leadership election. And perhaps the Tories can, because in Corbynism: A Critical Approach Matt Bolton and Frederick Harry Pitts accuse the Corbyn project of several immanent flaws, among them a “truncated” critique of capitalism, chronic disrespect for a threatened liberal order, and the canonisation of Corbyn himself as a moral saviour ‑ a martyrdom that, for them, serves to disable any sober analysis. Quite a critique then, and different from other books on the same topic. Richard Seymour’s Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics (2016) was sympathetic to radicalism, but pessimistic about Corbyn’s chances, predicting that “Corbynism will struggle to outrun the limits of Labourism”. Alex Nunns’s The Candidate: Jeremy Corbyn’s Improbable Path to Power (also first published in 2016), was a more positive account, covering the battles fought sculpting an alternative to Blairism into solid form. In their book, Bolton and Pitts intend to put Corbynism to “proper scrutiny”. And so, as the Labour Party attempts to ride out the approaching Brexit day of reckoning – with several MPs quitting the party in February, allegedly because of Corbyn’s stance on Brexit and antisemitism – their critique might have something to tell us. So how do they begin? First the authors chart their own path in and out of the movement. Both active in the Labour Party, in 2015 they eagerly supported Corybn’s ascension to leadership, one of them even helping to set up a local Momentum group. However, the Momentum meetings soon became “sectarian power struggles”, constituency party meetings consisted of “shell-shocked centrists and little more”, and online engagement wasn’t matched by street activism. Corbyn’s perceived lack of commitment to Remain during the EU referendum, the partisan mud-slinging of 2016’s “chicken coup” (where the parliamentary party staged a revolt against the Corbyn leadership), and residues of orthodox Marxist-inspired thinking have led the authors toward what some might call a heretical critique; one grounded in liberalism and their own “subterranean” understanding of Marx. Their book might best be described then as a journey from faith to heresy; a journey, like many renegade accounts, with disappointment at its roots. But there’s much to commend….

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