The Peace and Justice Project could kick-start the renaissance of the left.
The end of Jeremy Corbyn’s tenure as leader of the Labour Party left many left-wingers in a state of mourning. When Keir Starmer took up the baton he pledged to stick to the democratic socialist principles the party had been pushing for five years, but a great number of us had little faith that he would keep his word. I expected a watering down of the party’s left-wing stance, but boy – I was not prepared for how quickly and how far Labour has been steered to the right. How naive I was.
For over sixty years I’d managed to steer clear of any political party that would have me as a member, but in 2015 Jeremy Corbyn changed all that. Up until that point I’d regarded Labour as the least dodgy option – mostly – but still not pursuing the kind of democratic socialist policies I wanted to see. That situation reached its nadir with Tony Blair’s governments, which, as any fule no, were effectively Margaret Thatcher and Nicholas Ridley’s love child.
Corbyn changed all that. When his leadership was threatened by insurrection I joined the party in order to vote for his retention, and of course that quickly led to branch meetings and various junior positions within my local CLP. I became immersed in the party, and while I found the level of bureaucracy overwhelming – especially for someone who’d spent his working life being left alone to do his thing – there were plenty of tasks I was able to do. I was one of a large intake of Corbynistas; we knew that many of the long-time members – those accustomed to running things – were not of a like mind, but we had a common purpose, and that purpose was getting Jeremy Corbyn elected. Ha!
Hindsight is a fine thing. During those five wonderful, energising years we believed the party was following a road map to democratic socialism, albeit via Scandi-style social democracy. We knew Corbyn was a phenomenon, but not quite to what extent. Seeing how quickly Labour has been taken back into the market economy-friendly, establishment fold, I now see the advent of Corbyn as party leader as an almost miraculous occurrence, a one in a thousand shot, not to be repeated in my lifetime anyway.
So where do socialists turn now? We are fragmented. Some have remained in the Labour Party, there are the Socialists and the Communists, and some well-intentioned souls have thrown in their lot with the Greens. Just as many have given upon party politics altogether. Although Jeremy Corbyn is taking legal action to bring about his full reinstatement in the Labour Party, his founding of the Peace and Justice Project is clear evidence that he sees developing solutions to the many problems we all face – the UK, the world and the planet – transcends party politics.
(I strongly suspect Corbyn’s action to regain the party whip are motivated by his obligation to his constituents. They voted for him as a representative of the Labour Party. He is a lifelong member; I found quitting the party after just five years was a wrench.)
For those not yet familiar with the Peace and Justice Project, details can be found at: thecorbynproject.com
Briefly, its aim is:
“To bring people together for social justice, peace and human rights, in Britain and across the world.
“The Peace and Justice Project will back campaigns, commission reports and develop progressive networks across the world.
“The Peace and Justice Project will work with labour and social movements and provide platforms to those campaigning for change for the many, not the few.”
The project had its online launch on Sunday 17th January, with speakers that included Noam Chomsky, Ronnie Kasrils (ANC), Len McCluskey, Yanis Varoufakis, Zarah Sultana and of course Jeremy Corbyn himself.
They outlined many policies the project would be promoting, but particular attention was drawn to four major areas of campaigning: Climate Justice, a green new deal; Economic Security, and pandemic solidarity; Democratic Society, and media reform; plus International Justice, and vaccine equality. Details are given on the website about how to get involved.
There was no media fanfare to greet the launch, and where the project merited a mention in the mainstream media it was regarded as either an irrelevance or Quixotic. It would have been surprising if its reception had been any different, which underlines the need for media reform.
Jeremy Corbyn was adamant that Rupert Murdoch and Andrew Neil’s plans for new TV “news” channels must be resisted tooth and claw – things are bad enough as they are.
The project has already drawn criticism from some on the left. One train of thought is that it’s going to be nothing more than a talk-shop, with plenty of laudable ideas but no teeth, and inevitably it’ll die a lonely death. On the other hand, large numbers have lauded its its birth and declared it should form the core of a brand new socialist political party – a True Labour Party. That, I think, is missing the point entirely.
During the pandemic we have seen a renaissance of community action. Support for the elderly, food preparation and distribution, educational help for those stuck at home, people coming together to support those less able to. Regardless of whether the government should be doing more for society (of course it bloody should), people have been stepping up. It has nearly all been a non party-political effort, and has been all the stronger for it.
Similarly the Peace and Justice Project gains from not being party political. It stands for humanitarian socialism, but without capital letters. It is international. It seeks to influence and inform, and hopefully gain sufficient momentum to steer political parties and nations along a more sustainable and equitable path. I believe Jeremy Corbyn has recognised the limits of how much can be achieved within the Labour Party – especially given its current direction of travel. This movement gives me some hope that at the very least there will be a groundswell of like-minded people, here and worldwide, aiming to bring about something better.
Paul Halas’s escape from 1970s hippidom was the discovery that he could invent stories. He spent forty years contributing to various Disney magazines and books, as well as a variety of non-Disney comics, books and animated films. His retirement from commercial writing coincided with Jeremy Corbyn becoming the Labour Party leader, which led to five years’ political activism. He left the party two years ago with a heavy heart.