John Stewart, Hackney North & Stoke Newington CLP, spoke at an event in Hackney in March to thank Jeremy Corbyn for his work. As Jeremy stands down as Labour leader, Briefing reproduces John’s speech.
It’s hard to know what to say when you’re on a platform with the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition. You have to be careful about not being rude about anyone in case it causes trouble. So I won’t mention Tom Watson or Margaret Hodge. But everyone knows that the outcome of the last two General Elections could’ve been very different if Labour MPs had accepted the choice of Labour members and behaved differently.
Jeremy Corbyn has always been a man who’s tried to build the grassroots, the rank and file. More than any other Labour leader in the party’s history, he’s one of us. So I thought I’d relate a brief story of a discussion I’ve been having with some friends, some Labour Party comrades.
As Labour members do, we’ve been discussing Kondratiev’s Long Wave theory and whether it’s applicable in any way to the rhythm of struggle in the Labour Party.
Nikolai Kondratiev was a Russian Marxist who worked on economic policy in the Soviet Union in the 1920s. He was interested in what he saw as long-term economic cycles in capitalism, growth and crash over 60-year periods that he called Long Waves. He fell out of favour with the Soviet leadership in the 1930s and was imprisoned and shot. Unlike many socialists around the world, we don’t have to worry about that sort of outcome in the Labour Party – the new leader will go easy on us.
We were wondering if there were similar Long Waves at play in the Labour Party. Everyone knows that Labour traditionally moves left after election defeat, then moves to the right again, then left, and then usually back a bit more to the right.
It’s noticeable that the peaks of the Labour left since the War seem to come every 30 years or so: Aneurin Bevan and the Bevanites in the 1950s, Tony Benn and the Bennites in the 1980s, Jeremy Corbyn and the Corbynistas in the 20 teens. This is a bit worrying as, under this formula, the next big leftist upsurge isn’t due until 2045. And many of us may be dead or infirm by then.
But one of us in the discussion, ok it was me, said we prefer a different philosophy. We prefer to follow that other great thinker, Sarah Connor from the Terminator films, who said “No fate but that we make”.
That is, the future is not set, it depends on what we do.
We all make decisions on what to do. We make those decisions on our own, as individuals. And we make decisions collectively, as comrades.
Jeremy made a decision in 2015 when he agreed to stand for Labour leader. I suspect he didn’t want to do it. I’m sure he didn’t expect to win. But Jeremy took the decision to stand to raise socialist ideas and promote the left’s agenda. And his unexpected victory inspired hundreds of thousands to get involved and join the party.
And then, in the summer of 2016, when the bulk of Labour MPs and the party bureaucracy tried to overthrow the members’ choice, Jeremy, under unimaginable pressure, chose to fight on for Labour Party democracy and the right of Labour Party members to decide who leads us. And his personal courage and integrity inspired millions.
So what we choose to do matters.
I suspect we have some difficult times coming in the Labour Party. Whoever wins the leadership, there are likely to be setbacks. We may see purges of left wingers. We have a duty to support comrades who are witch hunted and we also have a responsibility to not do anything daft that makes it easier for our opponents to attack us.
The choices that we make will help determine the future development of the Labour Party and of Britain. We can learn and be inspired by the example Jeremy has set for us, not just over the past four and a half years in the Leader’s Office, but over 37 years as an exemplary socialist parliamentarian and a supporter of campaigns for justice and equality here in Britain and around the world.
And it is the responsibility of all of us to continue campaigning for a better world, inspired by the respect, admiration and affection that we have for JC and all his comrades who have flown the flag for socialism for so long.
Thank you for everything you’ve done for our movement Jeremy, you have been and continue to be, an inspiration.