Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

WHY CORBYN IS NOT A SOCIALIST

There is a serious political problem surrounding the Labour Party’s new leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Jeremy Corbyn says he is a socialist. The media says he is a socialist. His supporters and detractors all say that he is a socialist. But socialists don't.

Why are socialists out of step with everyone else? Why do we say that Corbyn is not a socialist?

It is all about what you mean by socialism. For socialists, socialism is a world-wide social system where production will take place just to meet human need. Socialism will be established by a socialist majority through a principled political party, socialist delegates, the revolutionary use of the vote and Parliament. This has been the principled and democratic position of the Socialist Party of Great Britain since 1904.

Corbyn’s politics, on the other hand, is all about the enactment of piece-meal social reforms, nationalisation policies, Keynesianism in economics, government intervention in the markets, and aggressive taxation of the rich. However, his politics offers no fundamental change to society leaving capitalism intact.

For Corbyn the abolition of capitalism does not enter into the equation. Commodity production and exchange for profit, nation states, the wages system, and class exploitation are unquestioned. Instead, Corbyn wants a fairer and regulated capitalism not its abolition. For a republican he sees nothing inconsistent in either becoming a Privy Councillor or to perform other duties required of the Leader of her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.

Corbyn even tells us that he is as patriotic as the next person. With reference to the Teesside steel industry he wants to save jobs for “British workers” through “partial nationalisation” as though this will protect workers from world competition. Workers were still unemployed when the steel industry was fully nationalised and it was a Labour government in 1965 who made over 400,000 miners redundant by closing down “inefficient” and unprofitable coal mines (Huw Beynon, Andrew Cox and Ray Hudson, THE DECLINE OF KING COAL). Under the Callaghan government of the late 1970’s, 40 mining pits were closed when Corbyn’s friend Tony Benn was Energy secretary and if Thatcher had not come to power in 1979, the Labour government would have gone on to close even more coal mines.

And there is no such thing as “British jobs” for “British workers” just as there are no ring-fenced and protected jobs for workers in France or elsewhere in world capitalism. Employers think nothing of moving production to other countries to tap into cheaper labour costs or importing in workers from abroad to undercut wages and salaries. In an economic depression unemployable workers are laid off in their tens of thousands. Workers are only employed when it is profitable to do so and when it is not they are made redundant.

Corbyn rejects the class struggle just as he rejects socialism as a distinct social system from capitalism. Socialism will be a world-wide social system without national boundaries and the nationalism and patriotism which goes with it. It will also be a social system without the exploitive wages system; the leaders and the led. Only the working class can establish socialism without the need of leaders like Corbyn, no matter how well-meaning and sincere. The establishment of socialism has to be the work of the working class itself.

In Corbyn’s politics there is no end-game, there is no common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. Corbyn sees capitalism and the profit system going on and on forever. The Labour Party under the leadership of Corbyn exists not to establish socialism but to administer capitalism. Evidence of this was made recently by his Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, with his vision of “socialism with an iPad” (20th November 2015). This is neither a “new politics” nor a “new economics” but a re-hash of Harold Wilson’s “WHITE HEAT OF TECHNOLOGY” speech of 52 years ago. Wilson’s policy was an utter failure; there was no national scientific and technological renewal (GUARDIAN September 19th 2013)

So the difference between a socialist and non-socialist is the difference between wanting to abolish capitalism and to keep it. And Corbyn falls into the latter category. A socialist he is not.

So if Corbyn is not a socialist what is he? Corbyn, put simply, is a reformist in as much as he has no intention of bringing about revolutionary socialist change. Corbyn thinks within the capitalist box and is quite happy to stay there.

Corbyn’s social reform menu was stated at the last election, during the hustlings when he was standing for the Labour Party leadership contest and when he assumed leadership of the Labour Party in September 2015.

Here is a taste of his reform menu: a state controlled NHS with no private sector input; the end to privatisation, a “people’s Bank”; nationalisation of the railways and postal services; rent control and security of tenancy; and the expansion of social housing. The list goes on and on as it would with any social reformer. But it is a menu that is offered to whet the appetite of a non-socialist electorate. These reforms might be carrying a criticism of capitalism and the vast wealth owned by the capitalist class but they will not resolve the urgent problems facing the working class.

The use of social reforms plays an insidious and reactionary political role in the defence of capitalism. Whenever a sound socialist critique is made against a particular problem caused by capitalism, a social reformer will come along and insert a social reform between the capitalist problem and the socialist solution.

Socialists, for example, have long argued that only the establishment of socialism will provide the best housing for everyone. Corbyn does not want capitalism abolished so, instead, he proposes “240,000 social houses” to be built if a Labour government is elected; not the best housing but ones stamped with the words “second best”. “Social housing” is only a mealy-mouthed way of referring to working class housing. He does not want workers to live in the type of housing found in the pages of Country Life.

Corbyn calls for a “fair and equitable society” but it is a hollow cry, undeliverable in a class divided society where the means of production are used for the purpose of making profits not for meeting human needs. Only Socialism, a social system without capitalism and the capitalist class can deliver a world of abundance.

The belief that capitalism can be reformed into a fair and equitable society has a long history. However policies to make capitalism more egalitarian will always flounder when imposed upon a social system based on the private ownership of the means of production and distribution.

Social reforms initiated by well-meaning politicians to meet real social needs fail because they conflict with the overriding principle of capital accumulation and the profit motive. The interests and needs of the capitalist class dominate capitalism and capitalist politics not the needs and interests of the working class. Social reforms are also subject to the vagaries of the economic cycle where social reforms enacted during an economic boom are watered down or repealed in an economic depression.

Socialists have neither advocated a policy of social reformism nor do we advocate reforms as a bridge to socialism. Socialism cannot be reached by a series of reforms; it only be achieved by the formation of a socialist majority understanding and wanting a world of free access to what people need to live creative and decent lives. All reform programmes have the effect of side-tracking workers away from working for socialism.

And here lies the real difference between socialists and the Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn. A socialist party cannot entertain advocating social reforms because it would attract non-socialists to the socialist party who are more interested in the social reforms than in wanting to establish socialism. Corbyn rejects this key socialist principle. His Party uses social reforms to attract non-socialist voters in competition with other capitalist parties. To call this socialism is the politics of deceit.

However, it is a policy that has a long history of failure. Just pick up any history book and consider those numerous social reforms which were enacted to solve the problems facing the working class. Two hundred years of social reforms and the problems facing workers still persist from one generation to the next: poverty, poor housing, second-rate health care and schooling, unemployment and social alienation. In offering workers social reforms rather than socialism, the continued misery of capitalism is all Jeremy Corbyn can offer the working class.

Back to top

Socialist Studies

email: enquiries@socialiststudies.org.uk | www.socialiststudies.org.uk