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Weissman writes: "Jeremy Corbyn, the outspoken Socialist MP, moves closer to leading Britain's Labour Party, even as Tony Blair and other aggressively pro-American advocates of neo-liberal economics smear him and his supporters as beyond the pale."

Senator Bernie Sanders. (photo: Zach Gibson/NYT)
Senator Bernie Sanders. (photo: Zach Gibson/NYT)

Redbaiting Socialists in Britain: Bernie Will Be Next

By Steve Weissman, Reader Supported News

24 August 15


eremy Corbyn, the outspoken Socialist MP, moves closer to leading Britain's Labour Party, even as Tony Blair and other aggressively pro-American advocates of neo-liberal economics smear him and his supporters as beyond the pale. Bernie can expect the same, whether from Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, or Donald Trump. As a lifelong “Democratic Socialist,” ducking was never Bernie’s way, nor is it a viable option for Corbyn. Just the opposite. Unless he, Sanders, and those of us who support them stand up and define twenty-first century socialism for ourselves, the red-baiters will define it for us.

Their smears often seem silly, but they take their toll. On environmental policy, the media have convinced even Corbyn supporters that his plans to reindustrialize Britain include an iron-clad vow to reopen Welsh coal mines. Just what the world needs. More carbon to further cock up a catastrophically changing climate.

In fact, Corbyn never vowed to reopen the mines. Like Sanders, he has been an environmental activist for years, and has made the protection of our planet a cornerstone of his Socialist ideals. See for yourself what he actually said when he raised the issue in a video interview with Energy Desk, an editorially independent spin-off of Greenpeace.

“The last deep mine coal mines in South Wales have gone but it’s quite possible that in future years coal prices will start to go up again around the world and maybe they’ll be a case for what is actually very high quality coal, particularly in South Wales, being mined again.”

“But,” he added, “if there’s to be substantial coal fire generation it’s got to be clean burn technology, it’s got to have Sulphur filters on it, it’s got to be carbon neutral.”

Corbyn understands that such technology does not currently exist on a commercial scale and would likely be very expensive. But, he concludes, “The principle has to be that we’re protective of our environment, guaranteeing affordable energy supplies for everybody, and we’re not ripped off by big companies.”

Nor would Corbyn simply nationalize everything in sight, as his attackers suggest. “I would want the public ownership of the gas and the national grid” that Maggie Thatcher privatized, he explains. But he also wants solar panels on every new home and warehouse, and would encourage municipal and cooperative developments of energy. “Essentially the more locally you generate electricity the more efficient it is,” he argues.

Other socialists who know the field differ on how to get the greatest efficiency, but the point is that Corbyn is far from the knee-jerk, left-wing reactionary that his detractors make him seem. Extremely sophisticated on the environment, he is open to wide-ranging debate.

His detractors similarly portray him as viscerally anti-American, anti-EU, and a patsy for Russia’s Vladimir Putin. The true patsies are his attackers, who parrot the NATO party line, blaming the Russian leader for everything bad that’s happened in Ukraine. As chair of Britain’s “Stop the War Coalition” and a long-time leader of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), Corbyn does not condone Russian behavior or expansion. But like Henry Kissinger, he believes that the Americans and their NATO allies provoked much of the Russian response. Kissinger is hardly pro-Russian. Neither is Corbyn, though living in Britain during the time of the Soviet Union and working politically with his wing of the Labour Party, I knew many who were.

Corbyn made his position clear back in March 2014. “We should,” he wrote, “oppose any foreign military intervention in Ukraine, as that would only succeed in that country reliving its traumatic past as a battleground where Russia and Western Europe vie for supremacy.”

Bernie similarly opposes military intervention in Ukraine, but remains much too soft on American and NATO policy. Appearing on The Ed Show in March 2014, he was completely uncritical of Obama’s intervention in Ukraine, and later backed the president on both financial aid to the post-coup government and sanctions against Putin. “The entire world has to stand up to Putin,” Bernie announced on Facebook and in a TV interview. “We’ve got to deal with sanctions.” In his opinion, sanctions and financial aid offered an alternative to military action rather than a buildup to it.

How should modern-day socialists choose between Corbyn’s approach and that of Sanders? Not by quoting Karl Marx, Eugene Debs, or any of the old venerables, and not by following the old saw, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” We need to be more nuanced and less doctrinaire, an approach certain to outrage true-believers and trolls on all sides. On Ukraine, for example, see my “Meet the Americans Who Put Together the Coup in Kiev,” Part I and Part II, and “Ukraine: Who Will Control Eurasia’s Oil and Gas?” On US and NATO provocation, “Exposing the Cold War Roots of America's Coup in Kiev” and “Putting a Stop to the New Cold War.” And on Russia’s new role in the world, “Putin Spells Out His Politics” and “Putin Funds Far Right in France. ‘It’s No Secret,’ says Maine Le Pen.

Looking beyond the either-or, we can simply refuse to take sides in a new nuclear-charged conflict, as many of us did during the first Cold War. We can work for a peaceful solution between the two sides, which Jeremy Corbyn has spent his life trying to do, most famously in early negotiations with Sinn Fein. And, we can learn to fight two monsters at the same time – America’s imperial expansion and the neo-fascist alliance on both sides of the Atlantic between xenophobic racism and right-wing Christian nationalism, whether in the form of Evangelical Christianity, Putin’s use of Russian orthodoxy, or Marine Le Pen’s appeal to right-wing Catholic traditionalists in her shift from her father’s Jew-baiting to unashamedly bashing Muslims instead.

One other smear of Corbyn deserves brief attention. “Although there is no direct evidence that he has an issue himself with Jews,” wrote Britain’s oldest Jewish newspaper, “there is overwhelming evidence of his association with, support for – and even in one case, alleged funding of – Holocaust deniers, terrorists and some outright antisemites.”

Or, as the Guardian’s James Bloodworth put it, “Corbyn may not have an anti-Semitic bone in his body, but he does share platforms with people who do.”

Large numbers of progressives Jews have condemned these attacks, which amount to little more than guilt by association. Corbyn has a long history of opposing racism of all kinds, including antisemitism and South African apartheid. He also supports Palestinian statehood, opposes Israeli settlements on the West Bank, and talks with Hamas and Hezbollah in his search for peace. But he has never wavered from his insistence that “a safe and viable Palestinian State” coexist “alongside a safe and viable Israel.”

Unhappily, Sanders is much less solid on the issue, supporting the Israeli attack on Gaza in 2014. But, to his credit, he shares Corbyn’s support for a Palestinian state, though he does little to bring it about. With the growing movement to boycott Israel, this could become a major issue for him and for the way we define twenty-first century socialism.

A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he is researching a new book, "Big Money and the Corporate State: How Global Banks, Corporations, and Speculators Rule and How to Nonviolently Break Their Hold."

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