I don’t necessarily consider myself completely certain that ballot box communism will never work (although not in the near future certainly) but I believe that the far more important work is that which we do in our communities to fight austerity, not the work we do in convincing people to vote for a political party. The promises often made to those who are the most vulnerable in society, that consistently get broken. I believe building community activism, working to develop a political theory based in praxis, and fighting to improve conditions for people abandoned by the political parties is more important, and generally has more of an immediate effect, than focusing on party politics. I do think we should do both, to a limited extent, but I believe that amount of work we do outside the ballot box and in our communities should exceed the amount of work we do within the electoral system.
However, I’m backing Corbyn and willing to put what energy I can into his campaign, and beg people who believe ballot box politics to not be worth doing at all, to sign up as Labour supporters and back Corbyn, for the following reasons:
His campaign (and more the high profile campaign against him winning) has given more press attention to the issues around cuts and austerity. For me, these aren’t just something that I oppose because it’s bad and harms other people, but something that, as someone completely relient on disability benefits for the foreseeable future, defines my life and freedom. The more people backing his campaign, the more the general public is exposed to his arguments against these cuts. The ESA rates for those who are meant to be considered unfit for work currently, and meant to be given extended support to help that change, are being reduced to the pitiful amount given to those unable to find work, ignoring the impact of disability on living costs. The change in the way ESA is tested and fitness to work assessments are being run, has killed people. I’m going through that torturous application at the moment, and to see Labour refusing to oppose the welfare bill was unsurprising given their current state, but Jeremy Corbyn’s defiance of the whip brought the bill, and the reasons he is opposed to it, further into the public eye. Regardless of whether he wins or what he does when he wins, at the moment any increase in membership that can be assumed to be related to his campaign helps raise the profile of issues the press normally ignores, and challenges the typical image of benefit scroungers to some extent.
While the original Syriza platform was far more radical than Corbyn’s, and while the differences between them and Labour are inumerable, the progress of Greek politics does remind us of what happens when a left-wing party is elected. Capital flight, external intervention by bodies such as the IMF, and manipulation of the political system (as in Greece), the SDP’s response to the 1983 manifesto (which lost Labour the election), and Mitterand’s about-turn in France show us that no government with a left wing platform can carry it through fully. They generally end up reneging on their promises partially or entirely. Corbyn would also, if he won, be in the unenviable position of leading a party whose MPs, generally, are opposed to him. If elected I doubt he could achieve much of what he wants to.
However, the position I’m in, of being disabled and completely relient on the government for survival, means that if he achieves even small changes in the region of benefits, it could change my life entirely. Renationalisation might not be achievable, but changing the benefits system to improve those available for people who are some of the poorest in society, could change my life. So even if other factors prevented him carrying out most of his program, even tiny achievements change lives, and we shouldn’t sacrifice the present for the future, claiming purity of politics. Corbyn could never be a pancea to all the ills of the society, government, and state and I don’t even suggest that people opposed to parliamentary politics put energy into his campaign, but I think becoming a supporter for three quid and ticking a ballot paper for him would improve the chances of a better life for millions nonetheless.
Comrades who disagree completely with our (or any) electoral system, I understand and wouldn’t generally encourage you to vote. In this specific situation however please don’t place a belief in the irrelevance of voting over the first politician I’ve seen who actually stands a chance of improving the situation of the poor and disabled and gives me some hope. I doubt he’ll achieve much, but even the tiniest achievements could offer a future to at least some of us without one.
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-Whence I am blogging specifically about disability