I was hardly alone in underestimating Jeremy Corbyn. Even if I will not for one second abandon my view that if he becomes Prime Minister then Britain is doomed, St Jeremy did prove himself a terrific campaigner in the general election.
His success means I almost regret rejecting attempts made last year to have me follow up my creation of DUEMA (the Don’t Underestimate Ed Miliband Association, founded in 2010.) DUEMA had to file for (intellectual) bankruptcy when Miliband lost the election. There was a small amount of pressure for a successor organisation (DUEJCA) but not much. Then Corbyn lost the 2017 general election, but unlike Miliband was hailed a hero on the back of a surge of younger voters.
The need to take Corbynism seriously, on the basis that non-Corbynites are terrified of another election and of him becoming Prime Minister, is forcing a lot of rethinking and inspiring some great commentary.
John McDonnell’s remark at the Glastonbury festival about those who died at Grenfell having been murdered was disgusting. Murder is premeditated killing and this was not that. But the outrage, Danny points out, overshadowed a more important revelation. McDonnell said that democracy is not working. What does that mean?
Corbyn and McDonnell want a different kind of democracy from classic parliamentary democracy. They want street politics and demonstrations to lead to the overthrow of the economic order and the creation of a different kind of democracy, an industrial democracy if you will, in which workers take over the means of production, stealing private property and running the economy via a system of, er, cooperatives or soviets. An exaggeration? Really, wake up. Don’t be fooled by the Labour manifesto. That was a staging post. They are hard core Bennites. That is Bennite as in Tony Benn – one of Britain’s nicest and most erudite loonies of the last 50 years – for those who are too young to remember the man who nearly wrecked the Labour party in the early 1980s.
What worries me is that in these strange times, when Corbyn’s support for the IRA is regarded by so many voters as a non-issue, and basic precepts of the market economy are attacked, is that a frightening number of people are prepared to give this Corbyn thing a go. What could possibly go wrong?
The answer is that a lot would go wrong in a socialist economic revolution, as history shows. Danny makes the point that Corbyn is rather naive and idealistic, thinking presumably that this process of transforming the economy to an anti-market system would be rather nice, joyful and peaceful. And there you get to the heart of why this stuff always leads in the end, or often quite rapidly, to coercion, control and terror.
Several things happen when it is tried, after the initial shock that leads to capital flight and panic. There are case studies from Russia, Venezuela, Cuba, East Germany, China and quite a few more.
The socialist economic revolution begins, but not everyone agrees that the economic revolution is a good idea. They like their property and even if it is not stolen or taxed heavily in the first wave, they fear it will be next. Or they want to own property in the future or they simply have a job they like and want order. They make their voices heard in complaint against the uprising. St Jeremy finds this baffling, because this is is a nice joyful revolution which is in the best interests of everyone. Why, he asks, can’t they see this? See, say the hardliners, the ones who know their Russian Revolution, you have to be tough to be kind. People sometimes don’t know what’s in their own best long-term interests.
Then it really starts to goes wrong for the economy as basic mechanisms such as supply chains break down. People might have moaned about the market system, and its inconsistencies, but the soviets or workers collectives can’t agree on how much to produce, when, or at what price. Various mouthy twits strut about making speeches and ordering strikes. There is chaos. Who will sort this out?
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This is a key moment in the socialist economic revolution. If the leaders do not take control and issue some orders – do this, produce that, do what you are told – the revolution may fail or be overturned by angry citizens. A system must be established to transmit the orders from the leadership and ensure they are obeyed. Time to get tough, say the hardliners, even if it is a temporary measure on the route to joyful, control-free rule by the workers. And actually, we are the workers too, they say, it’s just that some workers are a bit more equal than the other workers who need to be told what to do, comrade.
This stage may or not be popular. Some people will like someone taking charge, and put up with anything if there is – once again, for now – bread in the shops. Other brave citizens will hate what is going on and speak up. Now, you see, say the hardliners to the leader, there are the wreckers, the enemies of the revolution. Time to get even tougher with them. Crack down on the naysayers. And on it goes, to penury, misery and disaster.
Far-fetched? Not really. That is where a Bennite economic revolution by “the workers” directed by far left thugs, often educated at expensive schools, leads. Incredibly, the Conservatives during their calamitous election campaign started borrowing Corbyn’s rhetoric, talking about “the workers.” It is an appalling term at odds with both one nation Toryism and economic liberalism, in that it accepts the primacy of class divisions and the Corbynite socialist analysis.
Socialism always was a terrible idea. It has failed time and again precisely because it rejects the market mechanism, which has driven human improvement in the most extraordinary fashion, in food, supermarkets, drug research, air travel, cars, clothing, music, technology, housing and communication. To say nothing of the dramatic falls in poverty in developing countries that adopt market systems.
Corbyn and McDonnell want to eliminate all this in Britain and if you doubt it you are being naive. They want to eliminate profit and retro-fit human beings so they accord with their ideological vision based on class hatred and the journey towards socialism. But as Adam Smith demonstrated, pursuit of economic self-interest under the law and with respect for private property is healthy and vital. Companies in pursuit of profit pay wages and corporation taxes. Profit creates the money for investment, expansion and consumption. Profit is not a dirty word. It is incredible considering the calamitous history of socialism that this case needs to be made again and won anew, but there you are.