Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Contexts for the Birmingham Symposium

When the London 7/7 bombs went off on the first day of the 2005 Morris conference in the city, history truly announced its impingement on the event with a vengeance. With the 2015 Morris symposium now so close upon us, perhaps we can think our way ahead of history this time. The most enlivening context for the Birmingham event, for British Morrisians at least, is Jeremy Corbyn’s remarkable campaign for the Labour Party leadership. Corbyn has galvanised the Left here in a way that no-one has for a very long time, and he seems well on the way to creating a genuinely broad-based anti-austerity movement, regardless of the outcome of the Labour contest. So we shall reflect on Morris’s politics in Birmingham at a time of genuine hope for British Left aspirations.

But if Corbyn does win the Labour leadership, massive hostile forces, both within and beyond the Labour Party, will be trained against him; and, as we have just seen on the European political canvas, Left projects can be rapidly destroyed by such pressures. Thus the Greek Syriza party, which has carried so many of our hopes over the last few years, is now in an advanced state of disintegration after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s disastrous failure to follow through on the rousing ‘OXI’ (No) result in the referendum of 5 July. So our local Cornbynmania has to be tempered by that wider calamity for the European left; and as Morris sagely reminds us, other people will have to fight for what Syriza stood for, under another name.

Meanwhile, the European migrant crisis continues apace, as hundreds of thousands flee from Middle-eastern war and horror; and that miserable hypocrite Obama visits Alaska to preach the dangers of climate change having just allowed Shell to start oil exploration operations in the Arctic. The big corporations pull the strings of their presidential puppet, as ever, but at least, with the Corbyn campaign, we are beginning to recreate a public language in which we can talk about such things again. As one of my colleagues said to me yesterday, ‘my children have grown up without ever hearing the word “socialism” in British political discourse’. And our Birmingham Morris symposium can play its own modest part in adding to this necessary conversation.


Tony Pinkney said...

For Alain Badiou's reading of the Syriza debacle, see http://www.versobooks.com/blogs/2216-eleven-melancholic-points-regarding-the-future-of-the-greek-situation

Anonymous said...

i always thought it was very naive to focus on Syriza - they are contained within structures, political , economic that they can't just escape without dire consequences. The Eu , IMF etc is the issue. If they refused a bailout the people would have even less which is OK for people on the outside to applaud as a theoretical victory.

Tony Pinkney said...

Thanks for this, Anon. The EU and IMF are absolutely crucial in this, certainly, on the "objective", systemic side of things, but I think the quality of the "subjective" side, the leadership of Greek resistance to austerity, is important too. Perhaps the Syriza project was flawed because self-contradictory from the start: to end austerity but stay in the Euro just wasn't coherent (given the current objective forces, at least). On the more local side of this blog post, I'm just back from Birmingham where, talking to people in the audience during the day and at the pub afterwards, I think the Corbyn campaign did give a real buzz to the Morris symposium (about which I shall doubtless post in due course).

Tony Pinkney said...

Peter Faulkner has just alerted me to the fact that, as recorded in Martin Crick's 'History of the William Morris Society 1955-2005' (p.220), Jeremy Corbyn spoke to the Society on 'Morris and the Environment' in the programme of events for the year 2000.