Comment: Jeremy Corbyn has a coherent strategy for the British Left

David Osland argues Corbyn will confound his critics and should lay out his platform to the electorate

jeremy-corbyn-john-mcdonnell

This is the second in a series of articles on the future of the British Left. To read a different view, click here.

Turning Britain into an extended 1950s Czechoslovak collective farm tractor station forms no part whatsoever of the political project advocated by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.

Yeah, I know, this shock revelation will sorely disappoint their detractors. But what is striking is that, ever since the two men took the leading positions in the Labour Party four months ago, serious measured analysis of what they actually stand for has been almost non-existent.

That’s partly their own fault, of course. The Little Red Book stunt and the casual Christmas party quote from Enver Hoxha have made it easy for them to be caricatured as madcap Maoist moonbats.

Boilerplate knocking copy has flowed easily from the pens of commentators so little aware of contemporary Left-wing thought that they wouldn’t know their Althusser from their elbow.

Nor has it helped that both Corbyn and McDonnell have spent recent decades as assiduous constituency MPs, with written outputs not extending far beyond occasional columns for the Morning Star or Labour Briefing.

To cap it all, since September 12 they have been too busy fighting for sheer survival to have had much opportunity to come up with a clutch of doorstep-sellable hallmark policies, something that needs to be put right in the months ahead.

So to resort to Blairspeak, what, then, is ‘the offer’? Corbynism – if it exists as a distinct doctrine at all – is simply the latest iteration of a strand of politics with deep roots in a Very British Labourism.

Think of it as an updated Bennism, a radical but pragmatic blend of Marxism and social democracy, implemented by winning a majority at Westminster rather than storming whatever might pass for the Winter Palace in the fevered imagination of Progress and Labour First.

Such thinking has most recently been encapsulated in the works of Ralph Miliband, with economic perspectives situated in a tradition that runs from the Alternative Economic Strategy of the 1970s down to the ideas of Andrew Fisher now.

Obviously the right, inside and outside the Labour Party, would rather attack Fisher for asinine Tweets from two or three years back than engage with the substantive arguments contained in his book The Failed Experiment. Shoot, you’d almost think they weren’t interested in looking at what Team Corbyn is actually all about, wouldn’t you?

Attempts to conflate Corbyn and McDonnell’s platform with ‘Leninism’ are frankly silly, despite my friends Paul Anderson and Kevin Davey unconvincingly attempting to do just that. Don’t expect the demand for ‘all power to the Soviets’ to feature in Labour party political broadcasts any time soon.

Strictly speaking, Corbyn and McDonnell are not even advocating socialism in the strict sense of the term, namely the dominance of social ownership of the means of production. Letting a few rail franchises expire hardly counts as a re-run of the First Five Year Plan.

What voters are being asked to buy into is an end to austerity, an end to British involvement in elective wars, and a genuine internationalism, defined not by way of spurious comparisons of the recreational bombing of Syria to the International Brigades, but by its attitude to racism, immigration and the refugee crisis.

The obvious question is, is this prospectus saleable? The Labour right insists that it isn’t, but has singularly failed to articulate a convincing alternative.

For starters, the Blair brand is irredeemably tainted. More fundamentally, any attempt at stealth redistribution on the back of a steady expanding capitalist economy is out of the question in a climate of secular stagnation. Social neo-liberalism has run out of road.

No Corbyn backer with any sense will argue that the guy is a slam dunk for 2020. For a start, there’s the loss of Scotland, the responsibility for which lies squarely with the last three Labour leaders.

Then there’s Cameron’s boundary changes, Mason-Dixie style voter suppression, cuts to short money and attacks on trade union funding.

All this, without even mentioning the ‘stab him in the front’/‘does the prime minister agree…’ tendency in Labour’s own ranks.

But the point is that Corbyn alone has a coherent strategy, which at the very least is proving sufficiently attractive to win tens of thousands of new recruits.

In the intellectual state in which Labour currently languishes, the one-eyed man is plainly king, (or whatever it is that republicans are called in these circumstances).

Sure, the next four years are going to be a rough ride for the British left. But whatever the nay-sayers tell you, it is thanks to Corbyn that Labour starts 2016 with better chances than it would be under the leadership of any other conceivable contender.

David Osland is a London-based journalist and writer

19 Responses to “Comment: Jeremy Corbyn has a coherent strategy for the British Left”

  1. Selohesra

    I thought you were supposed to put flattering pictures of your own side on this site and leave the unflattering ones for the Tories & UKIP

  2. Darren Burgoyne

    What’s wrong with the photo?

  3. madasafish

    “But the point is that Corbyn alone has a coherent strategy, which at the very least is proving sufficiently attractive to win tens of thousands of new recruits.”
    Agree.
    Corbyn is odds on to win in 2020 and the Tories are quaking in their boots.

  4. Cole

    Updated Bennism? Heaven help us.

    And for those who weren’t around in the 1980s, it didn’t go too well the first time, with Labour only just besting the Lib/SDPs in 1983.

  5. johnm55

    End to austerity … great but how? It’s not enough to say increase spending, how are we going to raise the money for it? Do we raise taxes, if so on what or whom, and by how much? Cutting Trident will save a bit, but the full programme is only about the same as the NHS budget for one year. Anything else that we can cut? I can’t think of much to be honest. Taking rail franchises back under public control, could be a saving but I suspect that it will probably be fiscally neutral, albeit with a better and more coherent service. We need more flesh on the bones, in fact a few bones of a strategy might be an idea.

    But the point is that Corbyn alone has a coherent strategy, which at the very least is proving sufficiently attractive to win tens of thousands of new recruits.

    The new recruits are painting their own picture on what they think is a blank canvas. Corbyn has led them into believing that what ever they want can be done. It can’t. Life and politics are about compromises, the trick is to ensure that you can live with they ones you have to make.

  6. FromEnglandWithLove

    As with flood defences, so many of the Tories’ policies end up losing us money in the long run, all because of an ideological obsession. There is nothing wrong with being in debt while investing in infrastructure, education, the NHS, pollution control, renewables etc. I’m sure you know what the term ‘fiscal multiplier’ means but if not you should take a look at the article on Another Angry Voice, it explains it quite well.

  7. jonlivesey

    “Turning Britain into an extended 1950s Czechoslovak collective farm tractor station forms no part whatsoever of the political project advocated by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.”

    Of course not. East Germany was far more efficient. East Germany with an iPad.

  8. madasafish

    The Fiscal Multiplier works until borrowing money becomes too expensive…and your currency goes mammaries up. See Venezuela.

  9. Alex Ross

    You forgot to mention appointment of “Straight Left” Stalin apologist, and Putinphile, Seamus Milne in the opening section…sort of equivalent to Cameron appointing David Irving as head of strategy. Whilst this clearly doesn’t make Corbyn a Stalinist himself, it reflects poor judgement, a break with the social **democratic** core of the party (which rubs us social **democrats** up very much the wrong way) and fits with a long tradition on parts of the left whereby it’s human rights and civil liberties at home and gushing praise for authoritarian “anti-imperialists” abroad.

    Of course Corbyn is not committed to turning the UK into a Communist dictatorship…however many of the policy suggestions both at home and abroad are batshit crazy or just unappealing. Leaving NATO (for example) would undermine an institution which has supported the transformation of many Central
    European Nations (and the Baltics) into becoming more prosperous Liberal Democratic societies and has kept Russian Imperialism at bay. His domestic policy is all too old fashioned and statist for my liking. The left has some practical and interesting ideas on social justice (e.g. a substantial minimum basic
    income) but Corbyn, like so many of his left generation, lives in some nostalgic time warp where the big state is always the solution.

    Then there is the question of Corbyn’s supporters…and Momentum. Whilst they might not be Trots, they often exhibit all the irritating qualities of the Trotskyists of my youth (including those exhibited by myself!!)…unbearably self-righteous, polarising (in that they only see hard categories of friends and enemies – never any grey), unnecessarily abusive and not very good at self-reflection. Pluralistic politics is all about negotiation – and in this case convincing the great number of people who voted Tory last time to vote Labour next time. To do that, you need to calmly convince people from different political backgrounds to come to your way of thinking. The phenomena of Corbynism is all about self-righteousness and identify politics for the true believers (who seem to think it is their turn to be in the limelight), rather than the art of political persuasion.

  10. Cole

    Good post! The question of Corbyn’s attitude to NATO is interesting. In the past he’s written articles in the Morning Star opposing it. Now he apparently claims to be for it. What’s his real position?

  11. jdp3

    I think that when people talk of ‘Leninism’ in connection with Corbyn, they’re not thinking he’s going to demand ‘all power to the Soviets’; they’re thinking of such things as automatic anti-West ‘anti-imperialism’, democratic centralism, and an attempt to replace parliamentary democracy, in which MPs have some independence and represent their constituents, with a system in which MPs (Labour ones, at least) merely vote the way party members have decided.

    The article is disingenuous in suggesting that ‘letting a few rail franchises expire’ is all that Corbyn and McDonnell want to do in the way of ‘social ownership’. They’ve gone quiet about their aim of nationalising energy companies, for example, but that doesn’t mean they’ve given up on the idea.

  12. Eddie Clarke

    The only unarguable point made in this article is that no one in the Labour Party has yet even attempted to set out a convincing alternative to the vacuous leftism of the current leadership. I joined the party last summer in the hope of showing solidarity with a party of ordinary people under assault. I even thought Jeremy Corbyn would be the spur to developing a credible alternative to the business as usual notions of the other candidates. A quick look at his programme – a checklist of threadbare lefty shibboleths – not to mention his friends, soon disabused me. There is otherwise nothing in the above article that even attempts to address any salient concern of ordinary people. It is indeed Corbyism made plain. How about talking to ordinary people ( I mean non-politicos), even learn their language, before trying to concoct a “real internationalism” á la Benn/Marx for presenting in draughty halls. If was socialist, as opposed to lefty, I might even be glad I joined the Party.

  13. Alex Ross

    I think it’s clear what his real instincts are…and also clear that he is slowly learning what is possible in a leadership role (after having been on the backbenches all his life). I think it’s fair to be suspicious of him on the grounds of his past writing…unless he gives a convincing answer as to why he’s changed his mind (i.e. not just that exiting is not practical in the light of public opinion, which is overwhelmingly pro-NATO)?

  14. K BB

    We have a Stalinist and a Trotskyist on Team Corbyn – surely if they can bury the icepick we can all be friends?

  15. FromEnglandWithLove

    Sorry but I can’t take anyone seriously who compares the UK economy and Venezuela. Is that a joke?

  16. madasafish

    You obviously are unaware of Mr Corbyn’s oft expressed admiration for the way Venezuela is run.

  17. FromEnglandWithLove

    You can call a whale a cat all you like, it doesn’t make it feline. The two economies are about as different as you can get in terms of what they are based on. Venezuela is based on petroleum and manufacturing, the UK is based on services and finance. Let alone the million other differences. Petroleum exports are at least 50% of the Venez economy. I still can’t take you seriously.

  18. Mauro Andrade

    There are things I like about Venezuela. Their governing socialist party is very strong in community organising in the barrios of Caracas; it has great links with los sindicatos, that is to say, the trades unions; it has created fantastic public services, particularly public healthcare and education, for an overwhelmingly agrarian, desperate, populace. These are great, great, things.

    Ultimately, though, the Venezuelan example will probably not succeed. That’s because Venezuela was a feudal society that tried to embark on a transition to socialism without a period of sustained, intervening, capitalism. Karl Marx, in Capital as well as other works, was clear that this kind of transition wasn’t viable. Sustainable increases in capital investment, market competition and profit, that is to say relative surplus yield on the part of capitalist traders, have to be present within an economy so that the wealth coming out of all this can subsequently be expropriated by those proletarians exploited in the process of capital accumulation.

    You can’t just have feudal wealth – like the Venezuelan oil fields which pre-Chavez were privately run by local hidalgos as feudal enterprises, manned by dependent peasants and sold dear in foreign markets – expropriated by would-be socialists running a government like that of Venezuela in order to fund vast, expansive social programmes. Ultimately, it won’t yield enough cash for these kinds of expansive expenditures. What you need is sustained capital investment of the kind that neither the feudal hidalgos nor the socialist state undertake. You need capitalism. Then you can have your socialist transition.

  19. Cole

    But it is alarming that Corbyn’s has been a cheerleader for Venezuela (along with his other dodgy friends and connections). The current regime has reduced the country to an economic basket case, is brutal with the opposition and is deeply corrupt.

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