Corbyn, Momentum and Socialism
There was an interview recently in the OBSERVER REVIEW magazine with a group of Momentum supporters (18th September 2016). Each person gave their reasons for entering into politics and supporting Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership of the Labour Party. Most were driven by the desire to improve society and to end poverty, inequality and austerity. They wanted something better than the social system in which they currently lived.
However, none of them described themselves as a ‘socialist’. Nor did they see the necessity for capitalism to be replaced by socialism. They did not even mention capitalism by name and why it the cause of the range of social problems they were so keen to eradicate. None questioned the political relevance or usefulness of “the leader”. Leaders and leadership appeared as somehow “natural” and “beyond question”.
Momentum and Entryism
Momentum was founded in 2015 by the Labour activist Jon Lansman.
According to their website, the Momentum group:
…exists to build on the energy and enthusiasm from the Jeremy Corbyn for Labour Leader campaign to increase participatory democracy, solidarity, and grassroots power and help Labour become the transformative governing party of the 21st century.
It also has other political objectives:
…(to) encourage mass mobilisation for a more democratic, equal and decent society (Welcome to Momentum 25th October 2015).
Although socialists have no interst in the internecine warfare found in capitalist politics, the conservative media and anti-Corbyn groups within the Labour party have tried to portray Momentum as an “entryist” organisation but without much success. Channel 4’s DISPATCHES (19th September 2016) attempted to smear Momentum as an “entryist” organisation but even some of Momentum’s own detractors considered the programme nothing more than crude propaganda.
The fear in capitalist political circles, particularly from politicians and the media, is that if Corbyn becomes leader with the support of Momentum he would threaten Britain’s membership of NATO, scrap Trident, break ties with the US and Israel, become pro-Palestinian in foreign policy and take a far less aggressive line towards Putin’s Russia. Following the Referendum he is also held responsible by some pro-EU supporters in the Labour Party for “Brexit” and “trashing” the economic and political interests of sections of the capitalist class they represented.
However Momentum is neither a socialist organisation nor a socialist movement. Like the Labour Party, it is entirely reformist. It has no intention of replacing capitalism with socialism. Momentum might see capitalism as causing social problems but its answer to these social problems is the enactment of social reform policies not socialism.
Yet reform policies to end the entrenched social problems facing the working class have been a historical failure. The failure of past Labour governments to make any appreciable difference to the workers’ conditions is because the profit system must be run in the interests of the capitalist class, and not the working class. And this will remain the case while workers persist in supporting capitalism and capitalist political parties.
Socialists acknowledge the genuine concern by Momentum supporters who want to end the social problems they have identified. However these problems will not be resolved through the Labour Party and they will not be resolved by electing Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party.
Corbyn and Reformism
Corbyn’s policies are also not socialist but reformist. In fact, they are less ambitious than the policies of the 1945 Attlee government. There are many strands to Corbyn’s reforms, each with little or no grounds for success.
First: there is nationalisation of industries like the railways. This is an old policy first put forward by the Tories in the 1840s. If enacted, nationalisation would not remove the need for trade unions to struggle for more pay and better working conditions. In the 20th century, nationalisation made little difference to the situation of the workers. Workers were still exploited, they were still made redundant and they still had to periodically strike against their state employers. Nationalisation was and is just another way of operating capitalism, leaving the workers as an exploited and subject class. Workers have no interest in the capitalist debate over the merits or otherwise of nationalisation and privatisation. Both are two sides of the same capitalist coin.
Second: the implementation of the “living wage”. The “living wage” is a misnomer. The wage is the price of labour power and is constrained by the workings of the wages system. The wages system is a form of rationing and restricts the consumption of the working class to what they need to produce and reproduce themselves as a subject class. What workers need and what their wages will buy are two completely different things. Why should workers want to remain wage slaves? Why remain imprisoned within the labour market? And why remain chained to capital?
Third: there is the question of peace. Corbyn may genuinely want peace but capitalism will never give him peace. War is an outcome of international competition for raw resources, trade routes and spheres of strategic influence. Corbyn cannot assume political power under capitalism without one day having to use military force. War and conflict define capitalism and will define any capitalist government including a Corbyn one.
Fourth: there is the question of social housing. Increased construction of social housing at best would only result in cheaply built dwellings for the working class and lay the foundations for the slums of the future just as they did in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Working class housing is always cramped and utilitarian which do not respond to the real needs of families. They are built in high densities on land often adjacent to railways and motorways without enough provision for housing associations or local councils to afford future repairs and maintenance. Compared with the housing which is enjoyed by the capitalist class and advertised in the Sunday newspaper magazines, working class housing, whether in the private or public sector, will always be second best.
Fifth: education. As with housing, education will remain two-tiered even under a Corbyn administration. The capitalist class will still be able to afford the best education for their children. The working class will receive Gradgrind utilitarian education to make them fit for purpose for the employment market and class exploitation.
Sixth: health. Even if billions of pounds were spent by a Corbyn government on the NHS, the health care received by the capitalist class would always be qualitatively better than the dismally under-funded health care received by the working class.
Seventh: ending unemployment. Corbyn, like any other politician, cannot prevent unemployment. High levels of unemployment are the result of periodic economic crises and trade depressions. Governments and their economic advisers, particularly the Keynesians, cannot prevent the trade cycle from moving from boom to bust and back again. Job insecurity is the inevitable consequence of this competitive capitalist system of production for profit, with periodic mass unemployment.
Eighth: participatory democracy. Participatory democracy – for example, workers on boards of directors, like in Germany - will always be limited and constrained by the private ownership of the means of production and the necessity of the capitalist class to exploit workers, invest capital and make a profit. Under capitalism the process of expanding value, of accumulating capital for the sake of accumulation, cannot be interfered with. Genuine participatory democracy only begins with the establishment of socialism.
The mistake by individuals in Momentum’s is to follow political leaders, both within their own organisation and in raising Corbyn to an almost cult-like status. Leadership is a capitalist political principle and is utterly at odds with the thinking and actions of class-conscious socialists, with, with the process of a socialist organisation and revolution and with how free men and women will organise themselves in a socialist society.
Corbyn’s mistake is to believe you can have capitalism without the effects of capitalism. Corbyn believes that capitalism can be made to work in the interest of the working class and can be reformed to become something it can’t be. A study of the failure of previous Labour governments shows this only too well and what disappointment will follow from even a Corbyn-led Labour government.
Corbyn wants the impossible – “fair distribution” of social wealth through reforms on the basis of the profit motive and the private ownership of the means of production and distribution. It is a circle he can never square.
If you want a democratic, equal and decent society you will not find it in capitalism. So where should the energy and enthusiasm of those interviewed in the OBSERVER be directed? Their energy and enthusiasm, allied to a better understanding of the capitalist system we live under. And it should lead them to abandon dreams of reformism and to join in working with other socialists in a principled socialist party to establish socialism: the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. That will not be through the Labour Party.
To achieve socialism would mean class-conscious workers thinking and acting for themselves without the need for leaders. It would mean struggling to establish socialism, not to bring about yet more social reforms. And it would mean seeing the Labour Party for what it is: a capitalist political party which can only ever operate in the interests of the capitalist class to the exclusion of the working class.
Only in a socialist system can the problems which now facing workers be solved. Socialism will be a social system in which the means of production and distribution of social wealth will be democratically owned by society as a whole. There will be no buying and selling of the workers’ commodity labour-power, there will be no labour market, and there will be no employers and employees. In socialism the wages system will be abolished.
A socialist society would ensure that all people received the best possible health care, the best housing and the best education that society can provide. It would also be enhanced by something denied by capitalism: the realisation of human creativity. It would be an “association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all” (Marx and Engels, THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO).
Socialism will also be a classless society of free men and women in which social and co-operative labour will produce just to meet human needs. Socialism will have no use for leaders and everyone will be able to co-operate in democratically running social affairs – an “administration of things, not people”.
Socialism will also be worldwide with no artificial frontiers. There will be no wars in socialism; no raw resources to protect, no trade routes to defend and no strategic spheres of influence to maintain. Socialism can be defined by the socialist expression: “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs”.
Object and Declaration of Principles
The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.
Declaration of Principles
THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN HOLDS:
1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.
2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.
3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.
4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.
5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.
6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.
7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.
8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.