A Challenge to Neoliberal Orthodoxy

Conventional thinkers say Jeremy Corbyn’s election to head Britain’s opposition Labour Party and Bernie Sanders’s surge against Hillary Clinton are passing fancies that will fade as the summer ends, but Nicolas J S Davies sees the hope for an inspiring new politics.

By Nicolas J S Davies

Jeremy Corbyn, the chairman of the U.K.’s Stop the War Coalition, is now also the leader of the U.K.’s main opposition Labour Party. Bernie Sanders, the independent socialist Senator from Vermont, is leading in the polls for the Democratic Party primary in New Hampshire and the latest poll for the Iowa caucuses.

As Corbyn told the BBC, “politics can change, and we have changed it.”

Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of Great Britain's Labour Party.

Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of Great Britain’s Labour Party.

American socialist Michael Harrington coined the phrase “on the left wing of the possible” to define the most effective position that people of conscience could take amid the corruption of capitalist politics. Harrington had a way with words — he is also credited with coining the term “neoconservative.” But the challenge on the left of U.S. politics has always been to define just what is “possible.”

The Sanders campaign’s failure to stake out strong progressive positions on foreign policy and militarism (in contrast with Corbyn in the U.K.) risks squandering a historic opportunity to build a united front for “a new kind of politics” in the United States, but it is not too late for him to do so.

The rise of neoliberalism in the 1970s and 1980s succeeded in marginalizing progressive politics for a generation in the U.S. and U.K., reducing most political activists’ view of “the possible” to focusing on single-issue advocacy or supporting the “lesser evil” in actually existing politics — or some ill-fitting combination of the two.

Rationalizations abound to excuse the outrages of the Clinton and Obama administrations. Many Democrats now subscribe to a myth of the Presidency as a powerless office where a fine speech from the “bully pulpit” counts for more than actual policy decisions that bring death or misery to millions — and yet the same people still hold President…

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