Forlorn Hope: When the call came down to make Corbyn unelectable, the Establishment's journalists and columnists rose to the challenge. Antisemitism was only the most imaginative of the charges levelled against the old democratic-socialist. There were many more and, sadly, they appear to have worked. Boris Johnson may not be much liked or trusted, but he’s more liked and trusted than Jeremy Corbyn.
WHAT BETTER DAY to assess the latest contribution from The Daily Blog’s resident Marxist than Election Day in the UK? I’m pretty sure Dave Brownz will be as gobsmacked as I most certainly will be if Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party ends the day with the makings of a majority in the House of Commons. Should the impossible happen, however, the issues raised in Dave’s post will take on a new urgency. The question of whether socialism and democracy can operate successfully together will instantly, in the UK at least, cease to be a matter of academic debate.
The essence of Dave’s argument is that any attempt to introduce socialist policies, while all the core institutions of the bourgeois capitalist order are still standing, is doomed to fail. According to this argument, every socialist reform attempted by a Corbyn-led government of the UK would end up being thwarted. Either, Labour’s changes would be welcomed as a much needed intervention on behalf of Britain’s beleaguered capitalists. Or, if Corbyn’s reforms did, indeed, strike at the heart of UK capitalism, his government would be deposed. Peacefully, if possible. Violently, if necessary.
Dave’s (and Marx’s) way out of this no-win situation is to call for “the dictatorship of the proletariat”. In place of the social forces which currently run, justify and benefit financially from capitalism, set up an entirely new system operated by its victims. Only then, say the Marxists, can socialism have the slightest chance of surviving and flourishing.
There is a grim logic to this position. Certainly, a socialist government surrounded by capitalist institutions will very swiftly find its room for political manoeuvre shrinking. The courts will intervene on behalf of those affected by its most radical policies. Senior public servants will leak its transformative plans to the capitalist press. Right-wing middle-class students take to the streets in protest. Foreign corporations will threaten to seize the nation’s overseas assets in the event of inadequately compensated nationalisations. Hostile capitalist powers will impose sanctions in order to “make the economy scream”. Dave’s argument: that if all these forces are not first swept away by the revolutionary masses, then they will conspire to strangle an infant socialist government in its cradle; is pretty compelling.
To date, Corbyn’s fate lends credence to Dave’s case. In the four years he has led the British Labour Party he has been the target of an unrelenting campaign of personal vilification and political destabilisation. With hindsight, it is clear that the Labour Party has, for decades, been kept “fit for office” through a combination of destruction and creation. The careers of potentially successful Labour left-wingers have been destroyed, while the reputations of those considered a “safe pair of hands” have been enhanced – mostly by Capitalist Britain’s well-positioned defenders in the security services and the news media. Corbyn’s success was a slip-up – a big one. Exactly how big is indicated by the sheer viciousness of the campaign set in motion to destroy him.
It has, however, been an extremely costly exercise for “The Establishment”. To “get” Corbyn, the supposedly left-wing Guardian newspaper was forced to reveal its unshakeable allegiance to the “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie”. When the call came down to make Corbyn unelectable, the Guardian’s journalists and columnists rose to the challenge. Antisemitism was only the most imaginative of the charges levelled against the old democratic-socialist. There were many more and, sadly, they appear to have worked. Boris Johnson may not be much liked or trusted, but he’s more liked and trusted than Jeremy Corbyn.
The temptation to subscribe to Dave’s critique of democratic-socialism’s contention that liberal capitalism can be dismantled and reassembled without sacrificing its “progressive” features – such as Freedom of Expression, the Rule of Law and Personal Liberty – is very strong. Especially once it becomes clear that, as I used to tell my fellow trade unionists back in the 1980s, “all the rights we possess as citizens of a democracy are given to us on just one condition – that we never use them”. But, to move from this bleak realisation to the Marxists’ wholesale embrace of proletarian dictatorship strikes me as a step too far. It requires us to pretend that the terrible events of the twentieth century never happened. That the exigencies of dictatorship – regardless of whose particular class interests it is established to serve – do not lead inevitably to censorship, concentration camps and mass executions.
The trick, it seems to me, is to so conduct yourself as a democratic-socialist government that the capitalists are insufficiently motivated to overthrow you. There is, as alluded to above, a high price to be paid for exposing the iron fist of fascism inside liberal capitalism’s velvet glove. Nevertheless, convincing the Powers-That-Be that your left-wing government has more to offer them alive than dead isn’t easy. It requires a mixture of political wisdom and cunning not often found among the men and women of the Left. Harold Wilson almost had enough to achieve his goal of fusing the interests of British capitalists and British workers in “the white heat of technology” – creating thereby a “producers’ alliance” that would overpower the City of London and “Put Britain First”. Had he been Prime Minister at any other time but the Cold War, who knows, he might have succeeded.
Could Corbyn have made a similar case for a “producers’ alliance” to restore Britain’s waning economic fortunes? If he had somehow contrived to link Wilson’s project to the economic and cultural frustrations fueling Brexit – maybe. A democratic-socialist European Union: offered to Labour voters as an alternative to the present, bureaucratic, neoliberal monstrosity; now that might have been worth voting “Leave” to achieve. Barring some sort of miracle, however, it’s too late to make that case now.
No doubt Dave Brownz will shake his head at such naivety. But, even as Labour goes down to yet another defeat in the UK, I refuse to abandon the hope that one day we’ll find the right person at the right time. Because, in the end, if your socialism isn’t democratic, then it’s not worth having. No one ever said achieving social justice and freedom would be easy, but then, as my dear old dad used to say: “Nothing worthwhile ever is.”
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 13 December 2019.
Look at socialism and democracy together, and you go back in time to the 1st Labour Govt in NZ - 1935-49. You start with The Great Depression, WW2 and the post-war period. A Labour cabinet minister made a profound statement early in the piece - they will walk down to the polls and vote us in, later they will drive down and vote us out. So very true as society improves economically and financially. The 1950's was our greatest decade as the Sidney Holland govt discovered.
Sounds to me like you might to like review or comment upon the book, Fully Automated Luxury Communism, which is partly covered, together with some of the thinkers behind it, here in this article, GQ Magazine of all places.
One could also call it the Star Trek future: once you have "transporter" technology used to create any object you want, seemingly out of thin air, then the whole ownership of production becomes moot. The same thing was first written about in the Venus Equilateral SF novels in the mid-1940's, and the latter actually had more interesting takes on what sort of society might result from such a thing.
Boris Johnson. The living embodiment of the idea that people are far more willing to listen to people telling them what they want to hear than the actual facts. Actually I guess Trump is another living embodiment but worse.
The living embodiment of the idea that people are far more willing to listen to people telling them what they want to hear than the actual facts.
Of course if Labour had won there'd be no question in your mind that Corbyn had not been telling them what they wanted to hear when it comes to them getting stuff at no cost - which is the ultimate lie in Western democracies, and one indulged in by all sides.
Alternatively people in the UK weighed up the two choices and decided that the Corbyn option was too risky, both for them and the country. I know the hard left will argue that voters who switched to the conservatives were duped, but I would say they were making rational choices.
The Corbyn approach of painting the UK as a deeply dysfunctional and iniquitous state was never going to work. For a very large percentage of the country, the last 5 to 8 years have actually been quite OK, respectable growth rates, reflected in growing incomes. Low interest rates helped. Obviously not all perfect, but hardly the dickensian dystopia that Corbyn was painting.
Jacinda in NZ has a much better grip of this reality. She knows that New Zealanders do not want a socialist economic revolution (sorry about that Chris). Rather they want certain things fixed or improved within the broad economic settings that currently exist. For instance easier access for first home buyers, better spending on schools, more money for Pharmac. None of that requires a democratic socialism, which in any event requires a gross amount of state power to implement. And not many people want to give the state a while lot more power. Instead social democracy will do the job.
In short in modern well established democracies the real contest is not between democratic socialism and neo-liberalism (as the left describe current settings). Left wing parties that try to do that will fail. Instead the left has to run on the basis of social democracy.
That is not because voters are dupes. It is because at a deeply intuitive level, people across the political spectrum, know the implementation of democratic socialism requires a hugely intrusive state, not just on taxes, but on expropriation and compulsory trade unionism. People are not prepared to give the state that level of power, not within a democratic state. Who knows when such a powerful state would turn against you.
And a question/observation you Chris. Surely you actually know that Jim Anderton was not a democratic socialist. Much more a left social democrat.
The revolutionary workers councils (Soviets) set up in the 1905 and 1917 revolutions in Russia were the most democratic political institutions ever set up in the modern era (they mirrored the 1871 Paris Commune).
The military interventions orchestrated by all the major capitalist powers (including the USA) led to years of civil war and the ultimate destruction of the socialist experiment in Russia (by Stalin's bureaucratic/police state counter-revolution which resulted). See Trotsky's book "Revolution Betrayed".
Capitalism has taken many backward, dictatorial turns during its rule. Democratic capitalism was fought for, and won, against the capitalists' wishes. Their state has always rested, in the last resort, on repression and violence. Demockracy is a necessary overhead to keep the restless proletarians under control.
Cunning and political craft will be necessary to preserve any elected democratic socialist government but creating a new workers', democratic state (the "dictatorship of the proletariat" as opposed to the current dictatorship of the ruling capitalist class and it's very tooled-up state apparatus) will be required to preserve it. That; and international support and solidarity. Workers of the World Unite.
Well - is not Corbyn's loss credible evidence of what would happen to our government if it puts Socialism before fiscal prudence ?
And therefore, would it not be more promising for Jacinda's government to go for the votes close to the Centre of the political spectrum, rather than compete with Left wing parties for the votes of Lefties ?
And is it still not understood, that without the basic economic function of saving capital at the expense of consumption potential for its useful - PROFITABLE - investment there would nogt even be an economy to speak of, and that therefor Socialism is impossible without capitalism ?
So how can one credibly dream of an agricultural and industrial society without capitalism ?
Mr Trotter, we disagree on many things - I am no socialist - but you are a class act. I very much respect your relentless honesty and clear analysis.
For what it's worth I agree with you entirely when you say that "if your socialism isn’t democratic, then it’s not worth having". If I thought socialism and political freedom were compatible, I would be a socialist. Regrettably, in current cultural conditions at least, I don't think they are. Perhaps that will be different one day, but I doubt that you or I will be alive to witness it. For the time being at least, the fight is to at least keep democracy alive, and in that fight I am your ally.
"Well - is not Corbyn's loss credible evidence of what would happen to our government if it puts Socialism before fiscal prudence ?"
Er...No. And I can't believe that anyone who actually thinks can think it's as simple as that
"Of course if Labour had won there'd be no question in your mind that Corbyn had not been telling them what they wanted to hear when it comes to them getting stuff at no cost - which is the ultimate lie in Western democracies, and one indulged in by all sides."
Are the eternal conservative Bullshit about the unworthy getting "free stuff". Not to mention you completely missed my point. Boris Johnson is like Donald Trump. He doesn't lie because he has no concept of the truth. He simply says whatever is convenient to him at the time. There is no point in taking what he says at anything near face value. Corbyn at least had policies, which could be debated in a rational way. Trump and Johnson not so much.
The London School of economics certainly agrees Chris.
Kia ora Chris
Political and economic systems are and must be congruent. So the political nature of "dictatorship of the proletariat" in the Soviet bloc was entirely congruent with the economic management. The same applies in the United Kingdom, the United States and every other western "democracy".
Although Marxists might say that the economic base determines the shape of the political superstructure, it is also true that while the failures of a system may be first become apparent on the economic side, the evils are more starkly evident in the political sphere.
So first off, there is no possibility of a socialist society being constructed through the system of western representative democracy as it currently exists.
Secondly, throughout the western world that system is in crisis and is rapidly evolving towards fascism.
So while we may have no interest in "the dictatorship of the proletariat" (whatever that may mean) we should not succumb to the delusion that socialists or any kind of egalitarian movement can make headway through the colonial regime in this country, or for that matter the parliamentary system in the United Kingdom.
Political revolution is paramount. For our people that means rangatiratanga as the logical and natural path to a harmonious egalitarian society in which ordinary folk will have a genuine ability to "choose their own leaders" and an authentic voice in political decision-making.
See Trotsky's book "Revolution Betrayed".
Read it. An excuse-making exercise by a man who was as bloody and ruthless as the guy, Stalin, who eventually killed him.
The revolutionary workers councils (Soviets) set up in the 1905 and 1917 revolutions in Russia were the most democratic political institutions ever set up in the modern era (they mirrored the 1871 Paris Commune).
The 1905 ones didn't count for crap in making real decisions and the 1917 ones were quickly rendered a joke by the fast growing apparat of the Central Committee.
By contrast have you read the early 90's biography of Lenin by Demitro Volkoganov? Being given acccess to once-secret files of telegrams and notes written by Lenin and other Soviet leaders it becomes quite clear that Lenin wanted a civil war in Russia, indeed regarded it as absolutely necessary because only that level of violence and terror could destroy the old classes and institutions. Basically Year Zero thinking before that phrase became popular.
All the horrors of Soviet Communism flowed entirely naturally from its premises in Marxist-Leninism: it was the agency of that ideology and its followers that did that - not the stale old excuse of it all happening as a reaction because of the terrible "military interventions" of the "major capitalist powers".
But the same echoes have been heard with every failed Communist state, up to an including Cambodia: it's always those external factors that screwed it up rather than owning the results.
And those echoes appear again today, with Corbyn and Momentum blaming everybody but themselves and their "ideas".
Still, being Far Left today is one thing. Being a Soviet apologist in 2019 is something else entirely.
There are two things knowing about socialism,one in most so called communist declared countries,its state capitalism,meaning money transacted to own goods,in so called democratice socialist states,in itself a oxymoronic weird one,again money is transacted for ownership,yet in a proper socialist intent or otherwise communist society,choose what distinction is comfortable with your being, no money is needed as humanity its , our inherant care, shall prevail.
There are three things to be understood from the quasi british election,for those that follow such things firstly Labour was in for a serious kicking,and they did get it,for those blinkered die hard beleivers sorry.The other two Boris,and his cabal are going to continue with austerity in the social health and educational areanas and the third mark my words is going to be massive social unrest.
If socialism means to be socially concerned, then do not practically all the political parties consist of socialists ?
And does that not also include us, who share our concerns with Chris?
But Socialism and Communism as proposed by Marx is nothing but State Monopoly Capitalism, from which some early disciples of Marx broke away over 100 years ago in favour of mixed capitalism financed Social Democratic welfare economics, the original "Third Way" between State Monopoly Capitalism (i.e. Socialism) and feudalistic elite capitalism - which under the name of Social Democracy has spread at least economically - if not politically - over practically all of the developed world ! (?)
But the welfare state of 80 years ago in NZ became too successful in the wrong way, when instead of spreading profitable prosperity, it spread economically increasingly unprofitable welfare dependency. leading into economic stagnation and even widening poverty from the point where borrowing has to replace profits and earnings to finance it all.
That's why the "Third Way" welfare state will do better by strengthening its mixed capitalism base through widening participation in wealth ownership creation systematically to all citizens, including welfare beneficiaries.
We have a start in this direction already, so it is not "pie-in-the-sky" utopia.
Wayne Mapp is correct that the question for the majority is no longer between capitalism and socialism, it is rather what type of capitalism. The issue facing NZ is that Scandinavian style social democracy is in trouble unless you have a very strong economy and strong social cohesion- otherwise the question arises why pay taxes for a welfare state to support those who are not like me? To recover social democracy you need to recover a concept of society- and yet as Thatcher argued, 'there is no such thing as society'. This is why we see the rise of identity politics under neo-liberalism - I worry about myself, my family or my community of identity, but I don't worry so much, if at all, about those who are not like me- or more so, those who I do not like and who might not like me.
The neoliberal answer to all of this is the increased outsourcing into community or business (ie my foodbag etc) for social services, but here the question becomes what community and what happens if you are in community X that lacks such provision and not in community y that does provides such things? So the first step is to recover a rethought notion of society within capitalism, not a reduction into communities of interest that can be played off against each other- by the left and the right.
However, what tends to get forgotten in our current situation is that neoliberalism is not the only form of capitalism - and as Schumpeter noted, central to capitalism is creative destruction. What is required is another form of democratic capitalism that is not nativist populism- and yet in the face of neoliberalism and globalization we see the return of the nation state at a time when many had predicted its increasing irrelevance.
The hard truth is that for the vast majority in the west who are not under 25 in many ways the worst argument for socialism are socialists themselves...but if you want an alternative of social democracy then it has to deliver- on promises made, expectations raised - and in the economy.
I see that like so many BBC commentators delighted with UK Labou's misfortunes you are determinedly ignoring the elephant in the room called Brexit Wayne Mapp.
This election only happened because of Brexit and it was basically a second referendum on Brexit; and as the labour party is as decided as the rest of the country on the issue, and in the main the labour MPs on the other side of the issue from the majority of their constituents , Labour had to sit on the fence on the issue and satisfy neither the retainers nor the leavers. So the retainers went one way and the leavers went the other.
I think it is a great pity that Jeremy will not stand for reelection against whoever comes up to take over the leadership now. He should stand down but be available for reelection if the party want him.
It would have been just as catastrophic for him if he had won this election and perhaps more final. Brexit is a poisoned chalice , There is no way of dealing with it that is not going to enrage at least half the country. And it is far from over yet. Bono won't be so popular in 12 months time, he'll be about as popular as May is now, maybe less.
D J S
1."But Socialism and Communism as proposed by Marx is nothing but State Monopoly Capitalism"
No, Marx never advocated that except perhaps as a transitional period to what he considered to be true Socialism.
2." I worry about myself, my family or my community of identity, but I don't worry so much, if at all, about those who are not like me- or more so, those who I do not like and who might not like me."
That's the conservative brain at work.
The problem is of course that conservatives have managed to take over the definition of socialism particularly in the press, as "anything the government does that I don't like" and labels anyone who wants social democracy as extreme left and therefore dangerous.
As far as the British election goes I've heard two analyses, one suggested that it was a dislike of Corbyn that caused labour to lose, and the other that it was the brexit issue.
I wouldn't be surprised if the hatchet job done on Corbyn by the right, and by people who should know better contributed, but it's interesting to note that of all the electorates that switched from labour to conservative – I think 47 – only five of them voted remain and only one by any great margin.
There's an interesting analysis here.
Young people tended to vote remain and labour, all people tended to vote conservative and leave.
Well Mike Grimshaw - with all of us - including all kinds of people in need and welfare dependency - participating in the effort, austerity and responsibility towards at least a minimally meaningful level of personal (retirement) wealth ownership creation -
would that not be the kind of egalitarian capitalism where no one can think of each other as wanting to profit from capitalism without contributing and participating in it, and be more democratic than Socialism or even our Social Democracy at present, because of the 100% personal participation in it ?
"if all these forces are not first swept away by the revolutionary masses,"
So what Pol Pot did in Cambodia? Is that honestly what you advocate? If so, that is horrifying, as the evidence from that time and every other attempt at "proper" socialism had always ended the same way. Concentration camps, like that in northern China right now. Mass deaths, either by execution or starvation. Complete collapse of decency and humanity.
There were anti Johnson riots in London characterised by Labour Party MP's as "far right". Seriously? That is deluded.
There were similar riots after Trump's election. They're will be more of he wins next year. But there will NOT be riots if a Democrat wins the presidency.
Take off your blinkers, and see the left of the 21st century for what it is. It is ugly, and violent
Guerilla Surgeon - Marx's basic mistake - where he is wrong - is in his imagination that Socialism and Communism at a post primitive existence where life is not in direct hand-to-mouth dependency on the daily or yearly gifts of nature alone -
just does not happen without saving (capital) for trading and the profitable investment of it, or capitalism, regardless who owns it.
If you don't agree with this statement, then - as a scholar of Marxism (?) - please explain and describe how Marx or you imagine a society without capitalism ?
Are not our communistic religious communities also owners and managers of their own capital, practicing communistic capitalism on the economic level ?
If you look at the demographics of this election most of the older people voted for the Conservative party. And where did they live? In the North of England which historically was a Labour threshold. Why would they vote for a party that had destroyed their lives in the past in the Maggie Thatcher era? This part of England had Street parties celebrating her death and who mostly voted for Brexit. In my view Boris Johnson was their logical choice. This election was basically another referendum on Brexit and Boris promised Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn prevaricated on this very matter. The next question is will Boris deliver and if he does will the North of England be able to recover from what was done to them by Maggie Thatcher’s Conservative party. If he privatises the NHS I think the North of England will go back to Labour.
I see Boris Johnson is now attacking the BBC. Where is all that manufactured outrage then? Establishment though it might be, it's about the only television counterweight to all the conservative news outlets in Britain. So I'll expect to see some huffing and puffing here right? Not holding my breath.
A bit eye rolling, this whole article is very much head in the sand denial. The Tories won because Corbyn ignored working class Labour voters in the North East who'd voted for Brexit.
Corbyn was always a bitter little man, I'm sure he'll leave the UK Labour party in internal strife as he tries to install one of his cronies on the way out
The North of England will go back to labour once Brexit is over. Irrespective of the NHS.
D J S
Marx (dammit AutoCorrect) made many mistakes Jens. He was a man of his time trying to describe something that is actually immense. And he was a little vague about the post state capitalism. The rest of your statement makes absolutely no sense to me. I guess as a hobby horse of yours it must to you, but..............
Comparison,the leader of our opposition must now be felling,i can do this here,really.Xmas has always been the time of the National party to carve their turkey, their leader on the xmas menu.Last time the xmas turkey was carved,was English,he coming back in the new year full of vigour and vim,only months later to say as he past the challace of sour wine to their present leader,i was sitting with the wife on the porch of our Dipton farm and why carry on,look at my home here.
The North of England will go back to labour once Brexit is over. Irrespective of the NHS."
That may well be wishful thinking on your part , the working class may well abandon the Tories after Brexit but theres no guarantee they'll return to Labour, or even return at all
Yes Guerilla Surgeon - Marx never suggested that Socialism and Communism are state monopoly capitalism, and I don't know if the totalitarian "dictatorship of the proletariat" was prescribed by Marx or introduced by Trotsky - Lenin - Stalin.
But you as a "Neo-Marxist" who admits many mistakes by Marx - have failed to describe how a Socialist or perfected Communist society can deliver all the daily needs without capitalism, i.e. saving and useful (profitable) investment, if t hat society is to live at a more prosperous and secure level than cave dwelling hunters and gatherers ?
Bugger me Jen's you make a lot of assumptions without knowing the least thing about me except what I write in these columns – which I suspect you don't read because if you did you would realise I am not a neo-Marxist. Please get off your hobbyhorse.
If as I expect it is Keir Starmer who gets the nod, and as I expect he returns the parliamentary party to the Blairite philosophies then not retiring at all as in not voting at all is certainly likely.
I imagine there has been much behind the scenes both before and since the election that has led to Corbyn's resignation. For him to have done that it seems highly improbable that Labour will continue with his priorities as there is no one with anything like his authenticity in leading in that direction having bee almost a loan voice during the l whole Thatcherite/ Blairite decades. If he is to be dumped so will his ideas. And so will his supporters. Watch the party membership disappear over the next few years.
There's been a serge immediately, doubtless returns of those that couldn't stand him. There won't be a mass protest cancelation of membership, they'll wait and see and then just not renew.
D J S
My apologies, Guerilla Surgeon - and I am pleased to assume you are not a Marxist of any description at all ???!
And as a Social Democrat you could not be an orthodox, original Socialist of any description either.
So - regardless of political elections trickery - is not the basically most important debate about the most effective - or promising - ways of improving or maintaining our welfare state in a sustainable way, especially in face of the investments needed for the attempts to maintain living standards despite fossil fuel reduction measures ?
In other words - is it more promising to trust in more capital investment in science and alternative energy resources, or in our ability to survive in substantially reduced living standard conditions ?
Or is this contemplation all irrelevant or nonsense, and why ?
Guerilla Surgeon -
I remember only criticism and complaints from your postings.
What do you actually stand for, and believe in?
I cannot believe that you might believe in anarchy, .
Do you believe what British Labour under Corbyn stood for ?
If it is not just the joy of "stirring" and expression of dissatisfaction that inspires you, then please let us know what you stand for, so our discussions would be more positively instructive and educational.
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