Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to go on the Trident march tomorrow is an act of political and visionary courage. Political because less than half his party agree or understand his conviction — despite being the overwhelming leader of choice at the party elections. Visionary, because his view point looks to many as old hat, whereas it is a logic routed firmly in a future he and his supporters can see, but so many of the citizens he serves, cannot.
With less than 24 hours to go before the gathering at Marble Arch, I’ll keep this relevant. We have experienced two revolutions in our lifetime, one still ongoing. The first was globalisation: the opening up of our borders, our business but also our minds to the world. We no longer live in private nations that can choose when and where to allow others in: we have our doors open permanently, if not physically, certainly mentally. From the moment we turn on the radio, step outside the front door, go online each day, we enter the virtual globe and how we respond to it, defines our sanity and security.
Secondly, the revolution of connectivity. Whereas once information was siphoned down to us through hierarchies, today it is freely shared in peer to peer networks. People can hear, understand, engage with others’ views, positions, emotions and gather accordingly. The worldview of the elites are no longer the only ones on offer: we have access — if we choose — to the broad based, chaotic pluralities of the 99%.
The combination of these two ongoing revolutions, puts us in a precarious position today. We see different kinds of mobilisations occurring around the globe. The scary ones tend to grab the headlines: the right wing responses to globalisation, UKIP, Pegida, Donald Trump share a worldview that control has to be wrested back for nation states against the faceless hordes of global citizens now descending upon us.
For my sins — I’m a soft power consultant — I spoke at a NATO conference on public diplomacy earlier this week which embodied the right wing mind-set. The closed bubble of hard power tribalism — we have the weapons, we are the righteous, we will fix it — was hard to pierce. It’s heroic but it’s also behind the times. Hard power has not been able to fix anything since the world’s only superpower of the time, had to bow before the smallest agile power – Vietnam – in 1973. For all their guns and money, the USA was defeated not just by the guerrilla tactics of the enemy on the ground, but by the loss of faith from within their own country, that this was a game worth playing.
Too much money, too much grief, no real change achieved, military intervention was fast becoming an enterprise over associated with colonialism, the arms trade and masculine cultures no longer suitable for men. That loss of faith shrunk the morale, the legitimacy and the budget for the soldiers who trailed home with their tails between their legs.
That narrative, once the preserve of hippies and peace activists, has grown steadily over the past twenty years. And just as the connectivity revolution has given birth to intensely tribal hard power phenomena — from the Tea Party to ISIS (no connection implied) — so it has also given rise to what I call soft power networks. Grass roots movements organising to counter the old logic of power as might with a new story of power as engagement, relationship, transformation. Once it was only visible as petition sites — Avaaz, 38 Degrees, Change.org. Then as uprisings — sporadic and lacking long term planning other than the overthrow of the prevailing culture — such as the Arab Spring and Occupy. But today, some of those grassroots initiatives have given rise to political parties, capable of winning elections: Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, Pirate Party in Iceland, SNP in Scotland.
While none of these parties self-identify as pacifists — why would they? — they have a different global stance, a new world view that is simply not compatible with that which requires nation states to have a nuclear weapon to guarantee its security or its status. The people of these new movements distrust elite’s in general and what could be more elitist than the nuclear club we currently belong to? It’s a story about supreme leaders holding each others populations — the people they serve — to ransom. When our leaders sit at the nuclear table, the stake they throw into the ring, is us.
If you look at the daily headlines, has owning a nuclear weapons defended us from the threats we face? ISIS, cyber war and most pressing of all, climate change? Not a jot. Has the security council position of multilateral disarmament — acted as a deterrent for nuclear proliferation? Apparently not, as it looks like North Korea, Israel, India have all continued to grow their stockpile with an ambition to join us in our lofty control room. We are never going to achieve our agreed goal of getting rid of nuclear weapons while we hold onto ours.
So what exactly are those in favour of keeping Trident exactly in favour of? Some are clinging onto the idea that Trident acts as a deterrent even in the face of the evidence: using the example of Putin’s aggression on Russia’s borders, they extrapolate a willingness to obliterate the peoples of Great Britain. You only have to watch Russian social media to know how hard Putin has to work to keep his own public happy: and while they might like a bit of torso baring, they take part in the global culture alongside the rest of us and do not want us disappeared. Watching Kim Jong Il, the pro-Tridents convince themselves that he is keeping his eye on this tiny nation clinging onto the edge of Europe, waiting for his moment to strike. Are they oblivious to Chinese powers in the area? When even President Obama has called repeatedly for an acceleration of nuclear disarmament, they believe the USA, tied by bonds of family and history over generations, won’t like us anymore if we take the lead in a new common sense. This is a population still in the grip of narratives handed down from above in the self interest of the elites, backed up by a lazy and complicit media.
One other argument remains: that we need the nuclear weapons industry for the jobs it provides. Tom Watson does the Unions no favours to tie the legitimate needs of the people he represents to such a toxic solution. Where is the energy to transform those jobs into green jobs? Another factor of the onrushing global future is that automation will transform our relationship to work, jobs will have to be distributed better and we will have more time on our hands. Let’s face that honestly but also with alacrity: more time means better citizenship, healthier communities, personal health and well being. Let’s bring it on, sanely, together.
I knew Jeremy Corbyn when he attended the conflict transformation type conferences I did in the ’80s. He always understood the vulnerabilities of people and why they find themselves taking up arms against unrelenting, unforgiving authorities. He believed — and still does — in the power of listening, engaging, influencing and eventually changing the anger that destroys lives both for the aggressors and their victims. He is unlikely ever to invest in violence that attempts — and always fails — to control others. That’s why he votes against the wars that have no end and against the replacement of Trident. Those that voted for him in turn, knew that and it would be the worst kind of betrayal to dilute or stand back from that position now.
It’s a simple, honest logic that, increasingly, is the one that is being adopted by soft power networks the world over. Trident is a gateway issue for a new transnational politics that, if fostered, will give us the security we yearn for. And just as political parties themselves are in danger of becoming obsolete, no longer capable of representing the people in an era of massive individual, community and civic empowerment, so the call of the Labour Party PLP to cave into the old, elite arguments is outdated and irrelevant. Corbyn’s decision to stand up for the common sense of citizens the world over, in all their emergent forms and exigencies, is brave and right.