Something unexpected is happening in US politics.

“Under the guise of Medicare For All and a Green New Deal, Democrats are embracing the same economic theories that have stifled the liberties of millions over the past century,” GOP Vice President Mike Pence told a major gathering of the American right—the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)—outside Washington D.C. last week.

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When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez beat Joe Crowley in a headline-blitzing New York primary race last month, the first thing the Democratic Party establishment tried to do was minimise the significance of her victory.

“They made a choice in one district,” the House minority leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters the following day. “It is not to be viewed as something that stands for anything else.”

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On a cold February morning two years ago, Gordon Brown held a press conference on the top floor of the Doubletree Hotel in Edinburgh. Framed by a bright, clear view of the capital’s skyline, with the castle fixed immutably in the distance, the former prime minister launched – once more – into the constitutional debate. Independence, he said, would mean breaking all ties to Britain. Scotland should lead the United Kingdom, not leave it. Only the Labour Party understands this country’s unique commitment to social justice. 

And yet as Brown paced the stage, wagging his finger at reporters and thunderously regurgitating another stock defence of the devolutionary project, somewhere, on some primitive, subliminal level, he must have known that Scotland was no longer listening, and that in the very near future, regardless of what he said today or of how vigorously he said it, Labour would slip screaming into a broad, black Caledonian abyss.

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Until June or July of last year, Jeremy Corbyn had never expected to lead the Labour party and probably never wanted to. A veteran backbencher and diligent constituency MP, the 66-year-old socialist would probably have been content to go on championing the various causes – from trade union rights to Palestinian solidarity – that had defined his modest career up to that point. In his spare time, he might have tended to the vegetable patch in his north London allotment or cultivated the olive tree in his back garden.

But history had other ideas. As Richard Seymour shows in this laser-sharp analysis of British Labourism and its contradictions, Corbyn found himself, almost by accident, in the right place at the right time. (Or in the wrong place at the wrong time, depending on your perspective.)

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When veteran socialist politician Jeremy Corbyn joined the race to become the next leader of Britain’s Labour Party on June 3, his candidacy was widely dismissed as a token gesture, a sop to Labour’s restless left flank after a bruising defeat to the Conservatives at the UK general election on May 7.

Even Corbyn himself seemed to acknowledge that his role in the contest was largely symbolic. “This decision to stand is in response to an overwhelming call by Labour Party members who want to see a broader range of candidates,” he said. “I am standing to give members a voice.”

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Jackie Anderson stands in the center of the campaign office she helps run on Maryhill Road in north Glasgow. Her white T-shirt is emblazoned with a single word in bright blue print: “Yes.”

On Thursday, Scotland holds a referendum on independence from the United Kingdom. Pollsters say the race is too close to call. But Anderson has no doubt about the way the residents of Maryhill will vote.

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