“THE most powerful international corporations must not be allowed to continue to dictate how and for whom our world is run.”
This sentence from Jeremy Corbyn’s landmark Geneva speech yesterday sums up a growing mood of defiance among ordinary people.
The sense that the planet is dominated and exploited by an unaccountable elite lies behind repeated demands from developing countries for a greater say.
China’s call for a “more just and equitable international order” where global institutions are not controlled by the West at this year’s Brics summit is one example; the revolt by members of the United Nations general assembly, which saw Britain lose its seat on the International Court of Justice for the first time ever last month, is another.
But that feeling runs deep within societies too, and courses through the “anti-Establishment” movements which confront the status quo right across the developed world.
In many countries, resentment of a gilded corporate elite is expressed in the politics of intolerance and reaction — the bigot in Washington’s White House shares a great deal with the fascist movements that have taken such strides in France (second place at the last presidential election), Germany (where the far-right AfD went from no seats to 94 in the Bundestag in September) or Poland (where 60,000 white supremacists marching on the country’s independence day with banners demanding a “holocaust” of Muslims were described as “a beautiful sight” by sitting ministers).
Britain is different. The far right has not made any significant gains, although a rise in racist attacks and hate crimes since the Conservatives came to power in 2010 demonstrates the need for constant vigilance.
Part of the reason is that our country has seen the growth of a serious alternative from the left in the shape of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.
Corbyn’s speech in Geneva highlighted four “interconnected threats facing our common humanity” — the accelerating concentration of wealth; climate chaos; an unprecedented global refugee crisis and “the use of unilateral military action and intervention … to resolve disputes and change governments.”
These problems cannot be solved by capitalism.
Capitalism causes the concentration of wealth, and that in turn means governments beholden to corporate interests which profit so obscenely from the status quo that they are prepared to block action on climate change, even at the risk of a global ecological meltdown.
Those same corporate interests drive the unilateral military aggressions by Western countries which make such a mockery of the “rules-based international system” our politicians love to lecture foreigners about, and which in turn create millions of refugees.
These are not mere pieties. Corbyn did not mince his words — he was specific about the criminal wars he was referring to (Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen) and open about the direct culpability of the British state (“corruption isn’t something that happens ‘over there.’ Our government has played a central role.”)
He was emphatic about the next Labour government’s commitment to work with developing countries to smash the tax avoidance racket — a task Britain is uniquely well placed to undertake because most tax havens are in its crown dependencies.
And he grasped the opportunity for a new consensus created by the “crisis of confidence in a bankrupt economic system.”
What a contrast to the Tory crowing about a “breakthrough” in talks with Brussels — talks where both parties are wedded to the grotesque and unequal international order falling apart around them.
Too often the left in this country talks as if it hasn’t realised a crisis of confidence in the system is an opportunity.
Labour must take its cue from Corbyn, and recognise that an outcome of Brexit talks that maintains the pre-referendum status quo would signify a catastrophic abdication of leadership by the left and waste the chance of a lifetime for positive, transformative change.