The West is anxiously awaiting the results of Thursday's general elections in the United Kingdom, which pits Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn against Conservative incumbent Prime Minister Theresa May. Some observers hope that a win for Corbyn, who is virtually neck-and-neck with his opponent in some polls, will signal a seismic shift in U.K. politics.
Since Corbyn's shocking ascent to a Labour Party once ruled by Tony Blair and his U.S-loyal neoliberal clique, the leftist has been relentlessly attacked for his past positions on issues ranging from his opposition to atomic weaponry to his solidarity with the Palestinian people against Israeli settler-colonialism, his opposition to apartheid in South Africa and, consequently, the insinuation that he has links to “extremists” and alleged “terrorists.”
While Corbyn has been called the British equivalent of liberal Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the comparison doesn't quite do justice to the British politician's progressive stances.
Jeremy Corbyn has proven himself to harbor progressive attitudes that are unacceptable to many in the U.K., where British ruling figures and well-off British workers alike cling to colonial attitudes toward the Global South rooted in an identity many characterize as essentially “imperialist.” The Labour Party has hardly been different — while it has sought to look out for the interests of British workers to some extent, the party has also historically supported the repression of anti-colonial uprisings in Burma, India, Iraq, Nigeria and Palestine while harboring pro-war and pro-U.S. attitudes.
Nevertheless, Corbyn has sought to strike a different position, dubbing the U.S. and U.K.'s war on Iraq “illegal” and chairing the Stop the War Coalition while finding inspiration in the progressive movements of Latin America that inspired him as a youth, as well as Scandinavian states he admires today. To Corbyn, these examples represent his “core values.”
“I first went to Latin America when I was 18, to Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile,” Corbyn explained. “I was fascinated by the history, fascinated by the pre-Hispanic history, by the Indigenous cultures and Indigenous languages.”
At the time, he supported Salvador Allende's popular front government in Chile, which left a deep impression on the British Labour movement and on Corbyn himself, showing the dangers of U.S. hostility toward popular movements in the Global South. After the CIA-backed Sept. 11, 1973, overthrow of Allende and subsequent consolidation of military rule under dictator Augusto Pinochet's junta, Corbyn united with many among the thousands of political refugees who sought refuge in the U.K.
A fluent Spanish speaker, Corbyn spent the 1980s campaigning for solidarity with Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, Cuba, El Salvador and other struggles for democracy, justice and human rights in Latin America.
Corbyn has also supported Bolivia and Venezuela's attempts to implement independent policies on numerous occasions, defending their right to exercise sovereignty through socialistic economic policies such as the nationalization of industries and services, while comparing the anti-government opposition's tactics to those that ushered in the Chilean dictatorship.
In 2015, Corbyn was a keynote speaker at a rally in support of Venezuela that called for the U.S. to end its sanctions on Venezuela, noting that Latin America needs “solidarity … not a dependence on the USA.” He also hailed the country's achievements in securing housing, health care and education for the poor while boosting Venezuela's stature in global affairs.
During May Day 2016, Corbyn gave a speech that showed his concern for the state of democracy in Brazil, where right-wing politicians were seeking to topple elected President Dilma Rousseff through a parliamentary coup.
“We send our message of solidarity all around the world, those who are going through difficult times, those going through difficult times all over Latin America and in Brazil in particular,” Corbyn said. “We send them a message of support and solidarity, the march for social justice, the march for equality will continue, and will not be halted by anybody else.”
For these reasons, in recent weeks the British press has run multiple alarmist headlines claiming that Corbyn seeks a “Venezuelan Britain” or that he is hoping to plunge the U.K. into “socialist induced chaos,” failing to note the incredible pressure faced by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela at the hands of Western capitals and financial institutions.
While Corbyn is only a single politician who, if victorious, may not be able to change the fundamental nature of the capitalist British state, many are hoping that the progressive leader will be able to implement programs that assist the country's workers and poor while also, perhaps, translating his past messages of solidarity with Latin America into foreign policy deeds.