Lovelass and Others

Oct 29, 2020

3 min read

Corbyn, Greenwald: Two victims of feckless left journalism

Two events today apparently only superficially related. Jeremy Corbyn and Glenn Greenwald both forced out of institutions they once led.

Ostensibly very different events. Corbyn was suspended from the Labour Party for making the most mild and objectively true comments in the wake of the publication of the EHRC report into antisemitism in the Labour Party. Greenwald resigned from The Intercept after the editorial team refused to publish an article he wrote about Hunter Biden’s activities in the Ukraine. While these events came as a shock to many they were a long time in the making. The Labour Party already leaked their plans to suspend Corbyn back in July. Greenwald had been having fairly open spats with colleagues at the Intercept for the last few months — spats he elaborated upon in his resignation letter. These events weren’t just a long time coming. They are part of a common trajectory that has all but collapsed the possibility for social democracy in the US and UK.

Recent years have seen an upsurge in popularity for socialist policies — from nationalisations, progressive taxation, free and protected state healthcare, a widening of social safety nets and so on. This has found political expression in the rise of Corbyn as Labour leader and Bernie Sanders as an insurgent presidential candidate in 2016 and 2020. It has also found expression in the rise of a popular and independent new media of which the Intercept is just one example.

The problem was that the rise in radicalism in the US and UK has not been supported by a concomitant rise in the power of ordinary people to affect politics. Organised labour remains very weak as does the active membership of the political parties ostensibly housing the radical insurgencies. For all that has changed, politics remains theatre of spectacle delivered by journalists.

As a result it is the left commentariat that have been effectively burdened with the responsibility of leading the left. Those elected in to political positions are only nominally in charge. De facto power lies with the commentariat. It is they who are responsible for articulating the left’s messages, proposing and defending left policies and providing leadership and left strategy.

The problem is that the power accrued by the commentariat is — save for the democracy of the marketplace — unaccountable. Their priority isn’t actually providing leadership for the left, it is in establishing and advancing their own careers. The political pressures they are exposed to come in the form of a pull to the right, not the left. Many aspire to a place in establishment “legacy” media. Many others want to seal their place in the liberal literati. Those that don’t necessarily have these aspirations understandably fear the wrath of crossing the establishment media.

The result is that when a faultline emerges between the establishment left and the radical left, the left commentariat has consistently sided with the establishment.

In the UK the left commentariat astonishingly naive, cowardly and feckless response to the antisemitism crisis ultimately led to the situation we are in today. While the establishment all sang from the same hymn sheet smearing the left in Britain as antisemites, the left commentariat prevaricated, naval gazed, pontificated and — most scurrilously of all — joined in with the smears.

In the US this faultline has emerged over Trump. Having stitched up the Democratic primaries, the DNC and their centrist allies insisted on nothing but submission from the US left. This provides the political context for the self-censorship of the Intercept. Terrified of being blamed for a Trump victory (and presumably burning bridges with people from whom they seek patronage) the Intercept have aligned themselves with centrist media — resorting to precisely the same self-censorship they were founded to oppose.

In both instances the centre has effectively managed to neuter the left. It is prosaic to say that without a genuine democratic revival among grassroots organisations including and especially the labour movement — social democracy is effectively dead in the water in both the US and the UK. In the meantime also we might want to find ways of reining in or at least applying political pressure to our milquetoast media representatives.