Thursday, August 04, 2016

On the Corbyn New Left



Matt Bolton (PhD student) explains (July 14th 2016) that:
"... the mainstream ‘socialist’ or ‘green-liberal’ left who are the main constituency of Corbynism ... are much closer in form to moral or religious crusades, or perhaps a charity appeal, than marxism or anarcho-syndicalism. They are defined by a complete lack of strategic thinking, and are utterly devoid of cunning."
Bolton thinks that the 200,000 who have paid their £25 and joined/supported Labour as Corbyn supporters are very low-quality material to build the movement:
"My own CLP doubled its membership during Corbyn’s leadership campaign, with 300 people signing up. In the past year, I would generously estimate that perhaps 10 of those 300 has had any concrete involvement with the party (going to meetings, canvassing, delivering leaflets, taking up positions in the local party, running for council).

"The local Momentum group has had a little more success in turnout, though the majority of people attending were already involved in other campaigns, and the most that has been organised has been a few fundraising socials and the odd pro-Corbyn demo.

"This indicates that Momentum will be most effective in areas which already have a wide range of activist groups and networks (ie places with a high density of population due to a strong local economy) but far less so in places further away from the urban centres of capital accumulation, where existing political activism is thin on the ground, if not non-existent.

"The point here is not to bash people for lack of activity — there are all sorts of reasons why participation might be difficult, from lack of time to the labyrinthine structure of the party rulebook, to the deeply, deeply dull nature of most political work. It is merely to say that simply pointing to the numbers of new members says nothing about the existence or quality of a ‘social movement’.

"For the vast majority of ‘new members’, joining the party was not a promise of future activity, but a gesture of general support — perhaps similar to signing a Change.org petition — for whatever they thought Corbyn as Labour leader symbolised."
Such pessimism. And all Bolton can advocate is that the left should
"... campaign for Proportional Representation. It is only by getting rid of the farcical imbalance of FPTP that a Corbynist-style party has any chance of power (even if only as a minor partner in a coalition), and it would be far more effective in concrete terms than the membership reaching a million.

"Corbyn himself has had little to say about this issue, but McDonnell and Clive Lewis have intimated that a deal with the SNP, Greens, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru — and perhaps even UKIP — could be a possibility."
Trotsky and Lenin are spinning in their graves.

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Two days ago, Phil Burton-Cartledge took him to task for underestimating the potential dynamics of initially-naive popular movements.
"He argues that Corbynism is a simulacra of a social movement. It isn't a real one because the adherents Matt has encountered in his CLP and online do not match up to what activists in a proper movement looks like, such as the (relatively) politically sophisticated and hyper active supporters of Militant back in the day.

"In reality, how movements emerge are a process. Social movements are the purposeful, sustained mobilisation of large groups of people organising toward a series of political and/or social objectives. They never emerge fully formed and can in their early phases look like the remotest of primitive ancestors.

"Within days, St Petersburg peasants and workers went from clutching portraits of their beloved Tsar as they petitioned him to calling for his head as Russia almost tipped into revolution in 1905. The civil rights movement and its morphing into violent insurrection in parts of the northern US had its roots in the gospel, in pacifism, and a faith in American constitutionalism.

"How many activists have come into politics via beliefs in fairness, spirituality, conspiracy theory, and other ideas that at best partially reveal, and it worst obscure the realities of social life? The world over, millions have. And they always will.

"The movement of people coming into Labour are a work in progress, because we're all works in progress. The shouting on social media, the lack of sophistication with which some new comrades express themselves, the lapsing into semi-conspiratorial modes of thought, all are symptomatic of masses of new people getting drawn to politics.

"But among them there are future Labour ministers and perhaps even a Prime Minister who has got involved because of Jeremy Corbyn. "
Good Marxist points .. up to that last sentence. Lenin and Trotsky etc ...

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And finally, why is Corbyn so very popular?

Yesterday, Helen Lewis at the New Statesman published this insightful essay, "Explaining the love for Jeremy Corbyn", expressed in 11 succinct bullet points.

My short summary: he's a blankish canvas on which the disaffected middle-class project their own sense of entitlement and self-worth - powered by their alienation from the power and influence wielded by remote denizens of the inner bubble, which they naturally resent.

Perhaps I'm a little too harsh on her theses.

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There's a lot to like about the ethics, idealism and even the worldview of Marxism, as I tried to convey in my two previous posts:
  1. Revolution back on the agenda?
  2. Communism would be like - what?
Who wouldn't want to be a freedom fighter for the oppressed against distant and selfish elites who patronise from on high?

It's really unfortunate that the Marxist solution (the abolition of market mechanisms and total socialisation of politics and economics) flies in the face of real human nature, in all its evolved and genetically-endowed complexity.

The present generation of movement-activists may not be wholly aware that there was once a time when revolutionaries actually won, smashed the capitalist state and instituted the dictatorship of the proletariat. Putting in place a post-capitalist society was not easy (admittedly the communists at that time were faced with economic collapse and civil war).

Still, in 1922, five years after the proletarian revolution, the committed Bolshevik Leon Trotsky made this summing up to the Fourth World Congress of the Comintern, describing why 'War Communism' (extreme central planning) had to be replaced by the 'New Economic Policy', re-introducing market mechanisms.
"Failing a free market, the peasant would be unable to find his place in economic life, losing the incentive to improve and expand his crops. Only a mighty upsurge of state industry, enabling it to provide the peasant and agriculture with all its requirements, will prepare the soil for integrating the peasant into the general system of socialist economy.

"Technically this task will be solved with the aid of electrification, which will deal a mortal blow to the backwardness of rural life, the muzhik’s barbaric isolation, and the idiocy of village life. But the road to all this is through improving the economic life of our peasant-proprietor as he is today.

"The workers’ state can achieve this only through the market, which stimulates the personal and selfish interests of the petty proprietor. The initial gains are already at hand. This year the village will supply the workers’ state with more bread-grains as taxes in kind than were received by the state in the period of War Communism through confiscation of the grain surpluses.

"At the same time, agriculture is undoubtedly on its way up. The peasant is satisfied – and in the absence of normal relations between the proletariat and the peasantry, socialist development is impossible in our country."

The further history of the Soviet Union (and the other 'communist' states) confirmed that 'socialist man' was psychologically an impossibility both for peasants and, unfortunately, for workers, except in the heads of the most gullible and deluded Party cadres who were duly mocked by their contemporaries. *

So what should the HBD-aware person do? We don't, after all, approve of the elite bubble running things for their own benefit while pretending they really operate in everyone else's interests.

I had a suggestion which I posted here.

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* The Trotskyists think it was Stalinism which killed their leader and marginalised their movement. Proximately they are right, but ultimately it was human nature itself which fatally undermined the revolutionary Marxist movement.

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