WASHINGTON — It is a testament to the enervated state of the European left that Jeremy Corbyn could be viewed as some sort of savior. And yet that is how an increasing number of desperate social democrats appear to see the hard-left leader of Britains Labour Party.
Its easy enough to understand why: Despite being in opposition, Labour is relatively strong compared to nearly every other social democratic party in Europe, where the left is in freefall and center-right and far-right parties dominate.
Mounting his longshot bid for the Labour leadership three years ago, the career backbencher inspired hundreds of thousands of people to join the party, making it Britains largest in terms of membership.
Though Labour lost last years snap general election, Corbyn far exceeded expectations, handing Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May that rarest of political outcomes: a humiliating victory.
And now, thanks to creeping Brexit-induced national uncertainty and perennial Tory back-stabbing — were an election held today, Labour would win.
In what should be a non-starter for European progressives, Corbyn is a lifelong Euroskeptic.
But as superficially attractive as Corbyns achievements may appear, Europes dejected social democrats should avoid trying to mimic his ostensible political success. Any progressive with a social conscience and a grasp of history — never mind a desire to actually win elections — must reject Corbynism wholesale.
First, the practical reasons.
In what should be a non-starter for European progressives, Corbyn is a lifelong Euroskeptic. He voted against Britains joining the European Economic Community in 1975 and barely lifted a finger to campaign against Brexit 40 years later. Corbyn subscribes to a school of left-wing thought that considers the EU to be a capitalist conspiracy impeding the implementation of socialism in one country.
Whats more, Corbyns success is in many ways a fluke, owing much to the exigencies of internal Labour party politics and Britains first-past-the-post electoral system.
“Labours large membership roll under Corbyn is … indicative of a personality cult” | Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
A year before Labours 2015 leadership election, the party replaced a process that granted equal weight to MPs, union representatives and dues-paying members with a “one member, one vote” system. Voting rights were simultaneously extended to anyone willing to pay £3, leading to an influx of “entryists” from further-left groupuscules that long supported Corbyn. As a result, he won in a landslide.
In the proportional representation systems favored by most European countries, Corbyn and his ilk would be concentrated in a far-left party with minor parliamentary representation (if any at all) — not the mainstream center left.
Labours large membership roll under Corbyn is deceptive, indicative not of a party with broad and deep support across British society but a personality cult. His base of loyal supporters has protected him from the sort of gaffes and insurrections that would have undone most any other leader, such as a 2016 vote of no confidence in which 172 of his 229 fellow Labour MPs voted against him.
It has also had a distortive effect on British politics as a whole, dragging the party so far left as to hinder its competitiveness. In light of the Conservative governments incompetence and infighting, a Labour Party led by someone more politically skilled and less ideologically extreme — by pretty much anyone other than Corbyn — would have very likely taken power by now.
In addition to being economically socialist, Corbynism is reflexively anti-Western in its foreign policy. Whatever its appeal to luckless socialists in the Netherlands, Corbynism has little allure in the lands beyond the former Iron Curtain.
Having lived under the actually existing socialism Corbyn has only celebrated in speeches, most people in this part of the world are allergic to the Labour leaders Marxist bromides. They are understandably skeptical of a man whose modus operandi regarding matters of global concern is to ask what position America has taken and then adopt the exact opposite.
Though not a communist himself, Corbyn was a fellow traveler of communist causes and Soviet-aligned third-world political movements during the Cold War. His top aide, former Guardian journalist Seumas Milne, is a Stalinist. Today, Corbyn takes Moscows side in matters great (blaming “NATO belligerence” for the Russian invasion of Ukraine) and small (claiming its propaganda channel RT “more objective” than the BBC).
His ambivalence regarding British intelligence findings as to Russias responsibility for the attack against double agent Sergei Skripal on British soil is just the latest example of his readiness to support Russia against his own country.
Which leads us to the moral reasons why European social democrats should reject the politics of Corbynism.
Almost three years into Corbyns tenure as leader, the crisis of anti-Semitism within the party keeps getting worse. Just last week, it emerged that Corbyn once compared Israels actions in Gaza to those of Nazi Germany at Stalingrad, referred to Hamas terrorists as his “brothers,” ridiculed a Jewish colleague as “the honorable member for Tel Aviv” and questioned — on Iranian state television, no less — whether Israel had a role in a terrorist attack against Egypt.
Corbyn is a dogmatic leftist who understands racism purely through the prism of power — which, in his simplistic and vulgar Marxist worldview, Jews possess.
On Holocaust Memorial Day in 2011, Corbyn joined his future Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell in supporting a parliamentary resolution to rename the occasion “Genocide Memorial Day.” More recently, Corbyn and his allies tried to alter the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliances definition of anti-semitism so as to exclude examples pertaining to Israel. Invalidating such rhetoric (like comparing Israel to Nazi Germany or imputing dual loyalties to Jews) as anti-Semitic is a supremely cynical attempt by Corbyn and his acolytes to retroactively inoculate themselves from the charge of anti-Semitism after decades spreading it.
The inescapable conclusion is that Corbyn is an anti-Semite. Not in the crude way of people such as former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, British National Party stalwart Nick Griffin, and neo-Nazi blogger Daily Stormer (who, incidentally, support the Labour leader). Corbyns anti-Semitism is subtler and more nuanced, and is a function of his fervent anti-Zionism.
Corbyn is a dogmatic leftist who understands racism purely through the prism of power — which, in his simplistic and vulgar Marxist worldview, Jews possess. He is incapable of understanding how Jews can be victimized by left-wing anti-Semitism in addition to the traditional right-wing variant.
Corbyn speaks about anti-Semitism inquiry findings, June 2016 | Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
It is therefore difficult to imagine a politician with Corbyns baggage about Jews making his way up the ranks of the French Socialist Party, much less Germanys Social Democrats.
Corbyns agitation to rename Holocaust Memorial Day alone should be enough to disqualify him with the German left, which did the admirable work — over generations and against widespread societal indifference — of placing the Holocaust at the center of 20th-century European history.
Corbyns cheapening of the Holocaust by likening far lesser crimes to the systemic extermination of 6 million Jews — or the more blatantly anti-Semitic tactic of comparing Jews to Nazis — is rightly considered a taboo by anyone with an elementary education and a moral conscience.
The idiosyncrasies of the Corbynite attitude to Jews, Israel and global politics more broadly relate to Britains unique World War II and imperial history — and are another indication of how it wont play in continental Europe.
“Corbyn loves to hearken back to the post-war domestic achievements secured by Labour under Attlees premiership” | Will Oliver/EPA
Unlike countries on the Continent, Britain neither fell to, nor collaborated with, Nazi Germany. British Jews were protected by the British state, not sent off to gas chambers. And so statements and behaviors that are taboo in a society like Germany — where Holocaust education is mandatory and many students have ancestors who participated in fascist crimes against Jews — lack potency in a place that prides itself on having fought Hitler, at least for a time, alone.
Corbyns particular brand of anti-Westernism is also an offshoot of a historical, and provincial, left-wing opposition to the British empire. After World War II, which spelled the end of the British colonial project, animosities toward a racist and capitalist global empire were simplistically transferred onto the United States.
Not everybody on the European left followed that path. In sharp contrast to Corbyn, social democrats like the U.K.s Clement Attlee, Germanys Helmut Schmidt, Italys Bettino Craxi and Frances Francois Mitterand all understood the value of the transatlantic alliance with the U.S. and possessed moral clarity in dealing with the Soviet Union.
Corbyn loves to hearken back to the post-war domestic achievements secured by Labour under Attlees premiership, waxing nostalgic about the National Health Service, massive homebuilding schemes, and the adoption of generous workers rights. But he represents a radical departure from Attlee in nearly every respect.
Few things could be more foolish than the European left embracing the politics of Jeremy Corbyn.
Where Attlee was pro-American, Corbyn is anti-American. Where Attlee was anti-Soviet and adamant about the democratic aspect of democratic socialism, Corbyn has been a lifelong useful idiot of Moscow and an ally of British communists. Where Attlee helped build NATO and Britains nuclear arsenal, Corbyn opposes both. And whereas Attlee supported the creation of a Jewish state, Corbyn has spent his entire career promoting, celebrating and working with people determined to destroy it.
It was a German Social Democrat, August Bebel, who is reputed to have called anti-Semitism “the socialism of fools.” Few things could be more foolish than the European left embracing the politics of Jeremy Corbyn.
James Kirchick, a visiting fellow at the Center for the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution, is author of “The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues and the Coming Dark Age” (Yale University Press, 2017).
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