Corbyn’s cultural hegemony

Rob Francis
Aug 18, 2016 · 5 min read

Cultural hegemony has long been a concept found within far-left thought.

The communist intellectual, Antonio Gramsci, used the idea to explain why the anti-capitalist revolutions predicted by Marxism had not come to pass in most advanced nations.

Gramsci’s theory states that a ruling class secures its position in society not just by economic means and violence, but also by persuading the other classes to accept its own moral, political and cultural values. This ideological consensus can then be treated as merely common sense; in this way, all non-ruling classes seek to maintain the status quo rather than revolting.

This cultural hegemony then leads on to the related concept of false consciousness; whereby the working class support the status quo and act against their own interests because they have been duped, tricked into thinking what is good for the ruling class is also good for them.

These notions continue to resonate today within the left, and within Labour. Just today, it is revealed that Jeremy Corbyn has refused to take part in debates organised by the New Statesman, the Guardian, or the Mirror, because he believes those organisations to be biased.

Chris Williamson, former MP for Derby North, offers up a classic example here, by claiming Corbyn is under attack by an “establishment” seeking to retain the status quo. He’s talking about Labour MP’s.

Embedded deep in the Corbyn project is a belief that all institutions seen to be fundamentally part of the cultural hegemon must be destroyed; any institutions seen as part of “the elite” cannot be trusted, as they contribute to the false consciousness which we all labour under.

The tragic irony is that Jeremy Corbyn and his inner circle are desperately seeking to construct their own, alternative, cultural hegemony within the Labour Party; to impose their own values and push out any others.

The Corbyn project constructs its own narrative, and pushes it hard. Jeremy Corbyn says Labour were leading the polls in May; this is a lie. In the same hustings he denied saying Article 50 should have been invoked the day after Brexit; this was also a lie. He claims that his meetings with the IRA in the 1980s were merely the actions of a man seeking peace; Alex Massie rebuts this one. The pro-Corbyn website The Canary pushes conspiratorial nonsense extremely successfully.

Those who object to this narrative are “Blairites”, “Red Tories”, and should join another party. MP’s who speak out of line are threatened with deselection or abused, either online or perhaps at one of Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign events. As David Hirsh brilliantly notes, rather than seeking to win opponents over, Corbyn’s faction seeks to define them as not belonging, not Labour.

The fiction is sustained. Despite polls showing that Labour voters prefer Theresa May to Jeremy Corbyn, or that Corbyn is the most unpopular Labour leader in seventy years, some continue to blame the PLP for everything that has gone wrong.

If we’re talking false consciousness, this is a good place to start.

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The Tory right is emboldened. Brexit has won. A “compassionate Conservative” leader that many members and MP’s never quite took to their hearts has gone. Theresa May knows full well that, with a majority of just twelve, she needs to keep an eye on her backbenchers. Already she has thrown the right some red meat in the form of grammar schools, and she has set up a body aimed at giving MP’s more say over policy in the hope of staving off rebellions. May‘s main concern is the MP’s on the benches behind her, not those across the floor.

Then there’s UKIP. Although the current leadership election is descending into farce, they could well pose a significant threat at the next election. Before failing to make the ballot, Steven Woolfe was speaking of his aim to take Labour seats in the North and the Midlands; many Labour MP’s are in seats which voted Leave in the EU referendum, and may be vulnerable. If UKIP survives, it will be a significant threat to a Corbyn-led Labour Party uninterested in fighting for those voters, yet if it implodes, Theresa May stands to benefit.

The oft-repeated opinion that the Tories and/or UKIP are somehow scared of Jeremy Corbyn is utterly laughable. For Theresa May, and for whoever succeeds Nigel Farage, Jeremy Corbyn is the Labour leader of their dreams.

To support Jeremy Corbyn is to enable everything that we in Labour need to fight against. A Conservative government with a huge majority and increased parliamentary representation for UKIP will be the outcomes if Corbyn leads the party into a general election.

He is a weak leader, poorly organised, with no real interest in doing the hard work necessary to win power. Listen to the accounts of Lilian Greenwood, Thangam Debonnaire, Heidi Alexander, or any of the other MP’s who have resigned after trying to make things work. Or consider the stories the media will use in the run-up to a general election; Jeremy Corbyn has 33 years of terrible politics behind him. Neale Coleman, formerly Corbyn’s head of policy, warns that Labour could face a repeat of 1931.

This isn’t about unity; if everyone united behind Jeremy Corbyn, we would still lose to the Conservatives by a huge margin, because he is very bad at his job, and because of his past. This is about competence, decency, and about having someone strong enough to stand up and fight for Labour. Whether or not you think moderate Labour MP’s aren’t particularly inspiring is a second-order issue now. We need a strong Labour Party. We are heading for disaster.

The Corbynite false consciousness says that there is a latent majority in the country desperate to have Jeremy as Prime Minister, and only the mass media and Labour MP’s are stopping people from flocking to his side by sowing confusion and deceit.

This is not the case. We need to grasp that we are doing extremely poorly, and Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership is to blame.

Although in very narrow terms, a vote for Corbyn may align with your beliefs, in more practical terms, it is a vote directly against your own interests. A victory for Corbyn will delight the Conservatives and UKIP.

Corbyn’s attempted cultural hegemony, his narrative of smoke and mirrors, will lead to everything it claims to stand against.

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