It is about time that everyone with an iota of common sense realise that Jeremy Corbyn isn’t working for the Left. After around a year and a half as the leader of the Labour Party, this has become painfully obvious to all but Corbyn’s truly devoted supporters.
The Corbynites’ reluctance to accept the impotence of their figurehead is understandable. After almost three decades of neo-liberal triumphalism, the rise of Blairism within the Labour Party, and a horribly fractured and sectarian Left which has stood powerless in the face of the rise of deregulation and speculative, volatile finance capital for so long, it is not difficult to comprehend that socialists would show enthusiasm for a man whose discourse and stated agenda, though hardly radical, fall noticeably outside the accepted political narrative. Furthermore, after Corbyn took a battering from the right-wing and centrist media and political ‘Establishment’ in his campaign for and in the first months of his leadership of the Labour Party, it is understandable (but not excusable) that the so-called ‘Corbynistas’ tend to simplistically dismiss any criticism of Corbyn or his policies, no matter the source or content, as a right-wing, ‘Blairite’ attack not worth a moment’s consideration. However, at a time when just managing to keep Jeremy in office is considered a victory for the Left, it is time to ask – is Jeremy really the ray of hope that so many long-frustrated left-wingers thought he was?
If we really look at Corbyn’s time in office so far, and consider it logically with politics, and not desperation masked as enthusiastic revivalism, as our starting point, we will be disappointed. Corbyn failed, for example, to impose his anti-war line on the parliamentary Labour Party at the time of the vote on the bombing of Syria. Had he done so, it would not have stopped a single pro-war Labour MP voting in favour of the bombing, but it would have forced the tension within the Party out into the open and perhaps driven out the more right-wing elements. Instead, a free vote was permitted to maintain the façade (and it was and remains a mere façade, an appearance) of Party unity, to avoid a conflict which could not be avoided – and, for the sake of maintaining an appearance of Party unity which had already been shattered, British bombs fell upon the long-suffering people of Syria.
This example can be used to illustrate the entire problem. There are several people who, while supporting Corbyn in public, admit among themselves that whereas they wholeheartedly agree with his political principles, they would prefer a leader who was a little more savvy in actually running a parliamentary political Party (maybe someone like John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor). But this won’t do. It isn’t just that Corbyn, while correct in principle, just isn’t too good at running things, it is that the very concept of a parliamentary Labour Party is incompatible with the project of an emancipatory Left with the working class at its core.
We often see, appearing on the news, specialists in economics or political science talking very proudly and very arrogantly, holding their stuck-up little heads high, about complicated terms and formulas that most people neither understand nor give a rat’s ass about. The facts are much simpler. It doesn’t require a PhD in economics or social theory to understand that national political systems, be they liberal, parliamentary democracies or not, cannot control an economic or financial system the very essence of which is international interconnection and interdependence. International capitalism (or, more accurately, capitalist imperialism) is regulated exclusively by the rate of return on capital, or, in other words, by the potential for profit. Everything – production, trade, etc. – is regulated (that is to say, controlled or based on) the potentiality for profit. This potentiality is handled through the speculative financial system, the stock market and so on (and since the major banks and companies of international finance, which also reap the vast majority of its benefits, are based in the First World, it is understandable that the financial sectors of First World countries have massively swelled, swelling also inequality). The speculative financial system is, essentially, systematic, international gambling – an investor or team of investors puts money into something it is gambling will be profitable, and wins or loses. If it wins, things stay the same – the vast majority of people work awful jobs for low wages, are numbed and stunted by the fact that their lives revolve almost completely around the tedious monotony of dehumanising, impersonal labour, and so forth, while the investors get rich; if, on the other hand, the investors lose, the enterprise either collapses, in which case who knows how many people are thrown onto the streets or into the dole queues, or the rest of us are expected to pick up the bill. Of course, this profit-based system brings a world of good to those who can appreciate the huge variety of products it brings to the market, but since about 70-80% of the world’s population earns less than £7 a day, that is not most of us. As far as capitalism is concerned, actually producing the things people need to live is a by-product, while the endgame is profit for profit’s sake. If you can’t afford to buy stuff, if you have to spend the majority of your pay-packet on basic upkeep and barely have enough left over for a pint at the end of the week or a birthday present for your kid, tough luck and go fuck yourself. In this system, it is “I spend, therefore I am”, and if you can’t afford to spend, well…
Ultimately, capitalist-imperialism is the root of our problems. It is the reason unemployment and dole queues exist – it isn’t because you as an individual are just unemployable, or are too lazy and ought to try harder, or whatever (don’t get me wrong, their are lazy folks out there, but when the vast majority of the world barely earns enough to make end’s meet you sorta have to start seeing that there’s a bigger, more systemic problem than individual laziness), it is because, for the capitalist, employing you is no gain and sacking you is no loss. Think about it, do we really need our bosses at all? What are they there for? Of course, we need sight managers, coordinators, etc. to manage these big, complex enterprises with a lot happening, but our bosses, the people who own the company, the people who invest, what do we really need them for? If everything was nationalised tomorrow and there were no more bosses, no more private owners, would there really be no more jobs – would we stop needing cars, electricity, rubbish pick-up, mechanics, engineers, shelf-stackers, teachers, etc…? Of course not. The bosses don’t provide work, the work is already there because it needs to be done – all the bosses do is take the majority of what a worker makes for profit, they line their pockets by robbing the workers. You might think the tax man takes a lot of what you earn, and he does, but the fact is, the proletarian earns more than he is paid, often considerably more, and that is taken by the boss, by the capitalist as a profit on his investment (which is you, the worker, or more accurately, the wage he pays you in exchange for working). This isn’t about a few greedy individual bosses, it is about the fact that greed, or the absolute imperative for profit, is the entire basis of the capitalist system. This is why Detroit, in the US, crumbled – it was more profitable to outsource the jobs, and (no matter what Trump says) that will never be reversed while capitalism exists.
Capitalism cannot be reformed, and certainly not through a liberal democratic political process based around individual nation-states. Capitalism is international, it is rapacious, and it is constantly trying to outrun its own demise, leaving a trail of devastation and a mass of obsolete, ruined and dehumanised human beings in its wake – like one of those old westerns, where the villain runs from town to town trying to escape justice, harming and killing anyone who finds him suspicious and might turn him over and continuing his wicked ways while he’s on the run, and everyone knows that it is not till someone takes the initiative to stop him, and kill him if necessary, that his trail of misery will come to an end, because he will never change his ways.
Anyone who sincerely considers themselves opposed to the obsolete, decadent and ruinous system of capitalism must realise that it is capitalism itself, and not just its excesses, not just “casino capitalism” or “crony capitalism”, which is the problem. Once it has been acknowledged that capitalism itself is the problem, it follows that no parliamentary system based upon capitalistic property rights (i.e. respect for private property and ‘business’, large or small) will be sufficient to reform, much less to abolish and supersede it. Capitalism reforms at its own pace, in its own way, and for its own benefit, and that is not enough for any sincere, decent socialist who desires the liberation of human potential, of human creativity, from the fetters of profitability and neo-liberalism. For, capitalism doesn’t promote innovation or creativity, it just chains them to profit – ideas, no matter how brilliant, no matter how useful, are simply worthless if there’s no way to turn a profit from them. By contrast, the Soviet Union, a socialist country, sent the first satellite and the first person into space, Cuba found a way to prevent the transmission of HIV from mothers to babies, and much more could’ve been accomplished had the relentless capitalist assault on the socialist world not been victorious in the shape of a self-seeking, bureaucratic class, a red-bourgeoisie about which Mao warned us, but was unable to defeat in his day.
It isn’t just the ineffectiveness of Corbyn as a political leader, then, that is the problem, but rather the incompatibility of any project for the liberation of the working class and the creation of a society based around the meeting of human needs in which the liberation of our potential as an active, conscious, thinking species might become possible with parliamentary, bourgeois democratic political systems and processes which by their very nature are joined inseparably to the nation-state, property-rights, and capitalism. Only the organisation of the victims of capitalism, of the starving beggar, of the bloke on a zero-hours contract struggling to pay the bills, of the woman in the dole queue who can’t heat the flat where her kids sleep, of the underpaid and abused migrant labourer…of the proletariat as a class, against capitalism and for socialism, led by a political Party of committed revolutionaries from the ranks of the masses themselves, only that will ever be capable of building socialism. The social-democrats, reformers, and Corbynite sell-outs shouldn’t be so quick to throw the word ‘socialism’ around.