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 leftwing thought that they wouldn’t know their Althusser from their elbow. Nor has it helped that both of them 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 12 September 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 rerun 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 neoliberalism 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.