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One Small Step for Humankind

13/09/2015 21:53 BST | Updated 13/09/2016 10:12 BST

Jeremy Corbyn's campaign agent and fellow left-winger John McDonnell told a packed pub of campaign staff soon after Corbyn's election to leader of the Labour Party that they had 'changed the world ... changed the Labour Party and ... opened up a whole opportunity now to change our country' (Independent, 12 September).

Corybyn's remarkable landslide victory (nearly 60% at the first round of votes) has indeed changed the Labour Party. His policy commitments - renationalizing the railways; bringing back the 50% tax rate for the top 1% of earners; opposing Trident and wars generally; rent controls; a mandatory living wage; and scrapping tuition fees and reintroducing maintenance grants for university students - represent a renewed and revitalised social democratic politics, and a move away from austerity/immiseation capitalism (Corbyn's insistence that austerity and poverty are not inevitable itself signifies a major shift in Labour Party policy). If implemented, these initiatives, welcome to the public in general as they are to socialists (to be distinguished from social democrats) will further change the politics of the Labour Party, as they change the fundamental nature of British society.

Equally important for socialists is the fact that socialist arguments will now become mainstream. In its constituency parties as well as among a small handful of MPs, the Labour Party is now on course for the opening up of serious discussions about socialist transformation not just of Britain, but of the world. Like many others I rejoined the Labour Party when I knew that Corbyn was in the running.

Such discussions will have reverberations not just in Britain but wider afield. Other Left parties in Europe and elsewhere will be heartened by Corbyn's success, while developments in Latin America, notably Venezuela, have led to the implementation of actually existing socialism in the form of communal councils, communes and workplace democracy.

Responding to recent attempts there to oust the democratically elected Maduro government, the Marxist Tendency of the ruling Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) or United Socialist Party of Venezuela, stated in February, 2015 that 'the historical experience of Latin America is that if the power of the bourgeoisie is not broken, they will use it to destroy the revolution'. They therefore stressed the need for a 'revolutionary offensive and to complete the socialist revolution in Venezuela.' Among their demands were the nationalisation of the main levers of the economy, the large landed estates, the national and transnational monopolies and all the private banks. With state property under the democratic control of the working class, it stated, a planned economy under workers' control can be established.

Remarkably and totally unexpectedly for Left and Right alike, the election of Jeremy Corbyn makes discussion of such issues a possibility for much more than a tiny handful of revolutionaries.

Corbyn's well-documented support for equal rights and equality for all is a standard tenet of twenty-first century socialism, as opposed to its twentieth century Stalinist incarnation which celebrated white working class heterosexual able-bodied men.

In the course of his victory speech, Corbyn also made reference to another fundamental difference - the foregrounding of ecology, what some have referred to as ecosocialism. This remark was made while thanking former leader Ed Miliband for his passion for defending the environment. At the same time Corbyn referred to Ed's 'late father the great Ralph Miliband', the Marxist academic. Corbyn was commenting on the dignified way Ed responded to the vilification of his father, part of the personality politics that has dominated parliamentary elections and from which Corbyn has totally distanced himself.

Having once spent a social evening with Jeremy (we are both members of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign) I can vouch for the widely reported comments on his gentleness, kindness and basic human decency. However, as Corbyn himself vows, the answer is not personality or charisma or the lack of it among party leaders, but power to the people. And this is what the ruling class fears most. Thus Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, was quick to warn of risks to economic security, weakening 'our defences', and, astonishingly, 'hurting working people.' This attack heralds just the beginning of campaigns against the new leader of the Labour Party which will no doubt also involve personal abuse.

Jean Paul Sartre once described Marxism as a 'living philosophy' continually being adapted and adapting itself 'by means of thousands of new efforts.' To Sartre's observation, Crystal Bartolovich added, Marxism is not 'simply a discourse nor a body of (academic) knowledge' but a living project. McDonnell's claim of changing the world is not as exaggerated as it might first appear. The living project of twenty-first century socialism has no doubt been given a boost by the election of Jeremy Corbyn, and, albeit in a small way, has changed the world.