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The Collapse of Corbynism

The Collapse of Corbynism

Analysis of Labour's 2020 defeat.

The recent UK election produced at least one of Labour's worst historical defeats. This comes as a shock to many as the party under Corbyn's leadership was possibly the best modern example of grassroots radicals influencing the politics of a mainstream political party. Corbyn became Labour leader as a result of the momentum organization within the labor party. Momentum mobilized a grassroots campaign of party rank and file to place Corbyn into power in a party that in the last century became dominated by neoliberal elements a la Tony Blair.

As a result, this election, Labour ran on a truly social democratic program of social and welfare spending. Despite this initial success of transforming the Labour Party in a direction of real social democratic politics and away from neoliberalism, the project failed it's major test run. Labour lost big time in working class communities which had traditionally been Labour loyal, turning over to the conservatives. Labour has tried to argue that their social democratic program could have been successful if the election wasn't dominated by the issue of Brexit.

Unfortunately for Labour, this argument doesn't hold up to scrutiny. Voters, in reality, were skeptical of the social programs promised by Labour. Corbyn himself even had low approval among the population. It seems what Labour believed would appeal to working class voters, in reality, failed to appeal to them much at all. So why did the return to social democracy fail?

We can't ignore the large role Brexit played in Labour's downfall. Labour's position on the issue was practically non-existent; simply calling for another referendum. However, as we just illustrated, Labour's social democratic program would not have otherwise brought them a victory. Here, we will analyze why.

Voters were skeptical of Labour's social programs because while many supported specific programs that Labour backed, they were skeptical that these services could be effectively financed. Essentially, they didn't know how these programs would be paid for. This concern isn't unfounded, given the state of the capitalist world system. Capitalism is a world system that relies on continual accumulation. In the last century the system has run up against major blocks to it's accumulation. Immanuel Wallerstein explains this in his work "World Systems Analysis: An Introduction".

Not only has capital's expansion run up against the planet's geographic limits, but severe social limits have manifested. Capital has become crunched between organized labor's demands for concessions as well as middle management and specialist demands for more compensation. In addition, the demands by social movements on the state to provide concessions has added to the tax bill on capital which already is burdened by the need for the state to use public funds to cover basic costs of production.

This has created a situation where capital is rapidly loosing it's ability to accumulate and thus to function. Without capital accumulation social services become less tenable. Here, we should realize that social democracy, as a movement to create a more involved state that provides for the population, is not a purely theoretical proposal. Socialist parties around the world took power in elections after the second world war and administered social democratic policies. Welfare states became the name of the game in this period with even Nixon being quoted as saying "We are all Keynesians now".

The neoliberal reality of today was created as a result of world capitalism's inability to sustain welfare states. The above listed limits on accumulation lead capital the world over to attack concessions to labor and social movements and build up a "financialized" system to make up for the lack of accumulation in real production. This is not to say that movements should not fight for concessions. Movements should do everything in their power to reduce the global ruling class's ability to exploit the global laborers and oppressed populations.

What we can take away is that social democracy as a political program, just as "Marxism-Leninism", or traditional state socialism, is past its sell by date. Social democracy was possible in a specific period of the world capitalist system, but as that system matures it runs up against the limits of infinite accumulation in the face of resisting populations and finite resources. Thus its ability to sustain projects like social democracy degrades and ultimately falls apart. The rejection of Corbynism by working class Brits is a reflection of the working class's understanding of this situation. It also reflects the crumbling and possibly kaput viability of social democratic politics. Real social change will thus require us all to think past moldy political projects such as social democracy.

Bibliography:
https://truthout.org/articles/boris-johnsons-right-wing-populism-prevails-in-uk-election/
Antisystemic Movements, Arrighi, Hopkins, Wallerstein
World Systems Analysis: An Introduction, Wallerstein

Posted By

Ivysyn
Jan 2 2020 07:04

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Battlescarred
Jan 2 2020 08:38

Should be "Keynesians" not "Kenyesians" and in second para should be "its major test rather than it's major test", fifth para should be "its accumulatiion" rather than "it's accumulation", seventh para should be "its ability" rather than "it's ability"and in last paragraph should be "its sell by date" not "it's sell by date" and "Thus its ability" rather than "thus it's ability"

darren p
Jan 2 2020 09:11
Spikymike
Jan 2 2020 16:19

Ivysyn, has got this broadly right if it lacks some clarity in the details. On the matter of whether Social Democracy has passed it's sell by date, more particularly in it's reliance on a version of Keynesianism, I have previously recommended this longer historical analysis:
https://libcom.org/history/abyss-opens-rise-fall-keynesianism-john-hollo...

Ivysyn
Jan 6 2020 07:09
Quote:
Should be "Keynesians" not "Kenyesians" and in second para should be "its major test rather than it's major test", fifth para should be "its accumulatiion" rather than "it's accumulation", seventh para should be "its ability" rather than "it's ability"and in last paragraph should be "its sell by date" not "it's sell by date" and "Thus its ability" rather than "thus it's ability"

I'll put those corrections in.

Ivysyn
Jan 6 2020 07:14
Quote:
but more clearly put

Quote:
if it lacks some clarity in the details

I usually don't respond to comments on here, but right now, I figure why not. In what ways did my post lack clarity?

darren p
Jan 6 2020 09:20
Ivysyn wrote:
In what ways did my post lack clarity?

Ok. To be as constructive as possible.

The article reads more as a synopsis of the Wallerstien book, rather than an analysis of the election result and why people were persuaded to vote either way.

You say

Quote:
Labour has tried to argue that their social democratic program could have been successful if the election wasn't dominated by the issue of Brexit.

Unfortunately for Labour, this argument doesn't hold up to scrutiny.

Then a few lines later you say..

Quote:
We can't ignore the large role Brexit played in Labour's downfall.

So was Brexit the decisive factor or not?

Quote:
Voters were skeptical of Labour's social programs because while many supported specific programs that Labour backed, they were skeptical that these services could be effectively financed. Essentially, they didn't know how these programs would be paid for.

But then voters were also skeptical of the uncosted spending plans put forward by the Conservatives, so why no collapse in the Conservative vote too?

Quote:
The rejection of Corbynism by working class Brits is a reflection of the working class's understanding of this situation.

This sounds like wishful thinking. I'm not sure how running to the anti-immigrant "Get Brexit done" party shows an understanding of anything much.

This is the second election that the Corbyn Labour party contested - on a platform not vastly different from the first. So why was there no collapse the first time around? The article doesn't really say much.

Ivysyn
Jan 6 2020 09:57

Ok, I'm actually annoyed now because you failed to be constructive what so ever. I think this site is great which is why I post here, but the nitpicking criticisms based on completely missing the point are so abundant in comment sections on articles (not just mine) for whatever reason. If you want to offer constructive critique, you have to read my damn post.

At the start you say

Quote:
The article reads more as a synopsis of the Wallerstien book, rather than an analysis of the election result and why people were persuaded to vote either way.

Then you go on to fucking criticize the analysis of the election in my article. Like really? Did you just post whatever bullshit came to your mind when I asked where I lacked clarity? Btw, none of the criticisms you offered have anything to do with clarity.

You claim there is a contradiction in my argument that Labour could not, at least necessarily, have won the election on their social spending promises and my other argument that Brexit did play a major role in the outcome. Why? What contradiction? You simply invented one. These two statements are not inconsistent, nor the accompanying arguments.

Quote:
But then voters were also skeptical of the uncosted spending plans put forward by the Conservatives, so why no collapse in the Conservative vote too?

Because voters turned to the conservatives for their pro Brexit stance. Labor is arguing that absent Brexit their social spending platform would have won the election, which isn't true because voters didn't buy that platform and it only adds to my point to note, yourself, that voters didn't buy the social spending proposals of the conservatives either.

Quote:
This sounds like wishful thinking. I'm not sure how running to the anti-immigrant "Get Brexit done" party shows an understanding of anything much.

You are mistaking my analytical statement for a value judgement. I am not saying that Brexit is a better policy for workers than social spending. I think the opposite, despite my critique of social spending in the post. My actual contention is that workers being skeptical of the ability to fund social programs indicates that workers, in some sense, understand that welfare statism will no longer work. This itself is not good, bad, or indifferent.

Why does my argument have to account for the results of recent elections? I'm clearly arguing the development of social phenomena up to this point. You may not think, for example, two years is a very long time, but in terms of the social processes described by Wallerstein it absolutely is.

Not to be an asshole, but THIS is why I barely ever jump in to discuss in the comments. There are two many like yourself who for whatever reason nitpick, nonsensically in fact, rather than actually criticize. The one person above you who corrected my spelling did so in a rather cold manner, but at least they actually gave me something of substance to improve on. You wasted my time with your own ego.

darren p
Jan 6 2020 10:04

Mate, don't take everything so personally!

Noah Fence
Jan 6 2020 10:27

Wow! Ivysyn, your reaction here is way over the top. Regardless of the validity of Darren’s comments, it seems pretty clear that he is commenting in good faith(as I think he always does). You’re gonna have to grow a thicker skin AND be open to genuine critiques if you’re going to publish your writing. You think Darren’s points aren’t valid? Fair enough, but to interpret that as purposeful nitpicking(which to do you would very carefully have to read an article) and then make accusations of not reading your article, is not only unfair but looks very insecure. I am saying this in good faith, and as someone that has supported your YouTube channel by linking your videos on various internet platforms. If you can’t take the (in this case, pretty much luke warm)heat, then the kitchen ain’t a place for you.

Ivysyn
Jan 6 2020 11:34

@Noah @Darren

I will drop the vitriol because, yes, it doesn't really help anything. I'm not sure if my skin is thick per say. I do have emotional responses to criticism. I am usually able to be more rational than emotional in the face of criticism, but if I feel the criticism is not, like you said, being made in good faith, then yes, I will get short very quickly. The reason I got short with Darren is for mainly two reasons. The first is that he accused me of not doing any analysis of the election and then, right after that, went on to criticize my analysis of the election and quote it for the rest of his comment. This gave me the impression that he wasn't actually charitably reading my article. The second is that he prefaced his statement by saying he would try to be as constructive as possible. Usually it's assumed that your criticisms are supposed to be constructive so it just seemed like that statement was the result of him trying to restrain himself from simply calling me an idiot outright. I will apologize for my assumptions of ill intent. However, I still don't think Darren's criticisms actually function as arguments for any faults in my post, much less lack of clarity, which none of the subjects he touched on had anything to do with.

Spikymike
Jan 6 2020 11:39

Ivysyn, OK wasn't going to bother but since you ask. Yes it wasn't clear to me that the paragraph about the pressure on capital for 'concessions' was a significant factor in terms of any realisation of actual material concessions made in recent times, such that this was perhaps then inconsistent with the thrust of your otherwise correct point of ''..capitals inability to sustain the welfare state..'' Given maybe other pressure factors arising from the global financial crisis and longer term historical declines in the rate of profit. Just looking for clarity here really - you might still be right depending on the time frame you were referencing.

darren p
Jan 6 2020 12:30
Ivysyn wrote:
You may not think, for example, two years is a very long time, but in terms of the social processes described by Wallerstein it absolutely is.

I don't understand what you mean by this in the context of the collapse of Corbynism. What changes "in terms of the social processes described by Wallerstein" occurred between 2017 and 2019 and how do these account for the change in voting patterns? If social democracy was economically impossible in 2019, then surely it was impossible in 2017 too? If social democracy was impossible in 2017 then why wasn't it flatly rejected then?

Ivysyn
Jan 6 2020 12:35
Quote:
the pressure on capital for 'concessions' was a significant factor in terms of any realisation of actual material concessions made in recent times

Could you explain what you mean? Concessions in relation to the realization of concessions in recent times?

Ivysyn
Jan 6 2020 12:48

@Darren

The social phenomena (pressure on capital by labor and social movements, geographic limits, decreased ability to subsidize costs of production, and increased demands by middle management and specialists) have been a factor since the 20th century. One has to imagine that given the pressure that these phenomena exert is building, rather than decreasing, over time, that even in a small time frame the severity of the effects of these phenomena could increase enough to where in two years time more people are directly aware of those effects.

That aside, it doesn't fallow that even if we assume nothing about capital's declining state has worsened over the past 3 years that Corbynism would have failed earlier. It's failure in the election was contingent on the awareness of voters, which isn't inherently rational so as to inherently register phenomena such as this. It doesn't have to register phenomena such as this everywhere either. You could have also tried to argue that Bernie's popularity refutes my point since there are plenty of people who will vote for him precisely because of his social spending policies. However, this isn't a dilemma for me since nothing about my argument entails that everyone has to be cognizant of the limits of social democratic policy all the time. It only entails that in Britain this was the cause of Labour's downfall in 2019. To refute my argument you would have to refute that, not that Labour failed 3 years earlier, which I never claimed, nor needed to, to prove my point.

darren p
Jan 6 2020 13:13
Ivysyn wrote:
However, this isn't a dilemma for me since nothing about my argument entails that everyone has to be cognizant of the limits of social democratic policy all the time. It only entails that in Britain this was the cause of Labour's downfall in 2019.

OK, if that's what you think then fair enough. I'm not too so sure if that was really the case though. And I guess the only way it could really be found out is by conducting a mass survey of some kind.

For sure, some voters will have been suspicious of how all of Labour's promises could be financed, but I'm more enclined to agree with an analysis like this one put forward by Michael Roberts: https://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2019/12/13/get-brexit-done/

Namely, that in the constituencies that mattered, a significant amount of voters "have accepted the claim that their poorer living conditions and public services were due to the EU, immigration and the ‘elite’ of the London and the south" and that therefore they were attracted by the Conservatives simplistic message of "Get Brexit done".

Ivysyn
Jan 6 2020 15:36

@Darren

Then this is a question of whether you agree with my analysis not one of clarity. Which is fine, disagreeing with my analysis is perfectly legitimate and we can have that discussion as well.

radicalgraffiti
Jan 7 2020 05:27

i think this part

Quote:
Social democracy was possible in a specific period of the world capitalist system, but as that system matures it runs up against the limits of infinite accumulation in the face of resisting populations and finite resources. Thus it's ability to sustain projects like social democracy degrades and ultimately falls apart.

is quite silly

i've seen the same idea stated by communists elsewhere and i know the idea that capitalism is one day going to collapse in a big crisis is, or used to be, popular with marxists, but it just seems like buying into bourgeois propaganda

i dont see why policies in place in other european countries would be impossible in the uk
the financial times published a couple of articles in favour of the policies labour was proposing before the election too, so it reasonable to say the capitalist class doesn't think its impossible either

in general social democracy is beneficial to capitalists, but individual capitalists can benefit from lower taxes privatisations etc so the arrangement is unstable
this doesn't mean its become impossible, it means capitalists will screw each other over to get more profit unless there is an obvious existential threat

WithDefiance
Jan 7 2020 11:59

I have a bit of a different reading here... although I must say I'm not sure its whether just unfortunately formulated or that its really a difference in perspective here.

Social Democracy in my reading is a settlement between labour and the capitalist class. Its a concession to keep the power of the working class contained within the system and move it away from revolutionary perspectives and practices. In this sense it was not so much a capitalist project, but the acceptance of a dialogue with a certain part of the working class (the reformist part). It was the useful idiot so to say - but not their own project.

With the time the class struggle element of social democracy withered away because it was contained and played out in a different and alienating arena (the parliament). This is also where the base of the social democratic parties lost their participatory possibilities and thus depoliticized. On the other hand the parliamentary arena being a middle class and bourgeois instrument also gave space to careerism which also could take seat because of the withering working class participation and check-and-control. This gave way to ideological shifts and the growing embrace of capitalism in the 70's 80's and 90's.

And that's where we are now: the base is gone, the working class divided, the party ideologically confused and astray. Why would the capitalist class need a social democratic party or its reforms if the working class lacks both the revolutionary threat. And second why would the working class believe in a reformist social democratic party which hasn't been able to hold of the capitalist threats of social insecurity while all the promises of the 90s with the liberalization of almost all the aspects of our lives are not debated nor taken account for?

And that's only the focus on the 'left'. Next to that, there of course has been already 10, 15 years of right wing agitation creating a narrative and setting the topics that should be debated... you can't overcome that in just one election. Giving up so fast is a fatalist and defeatist attitude not fit for social struggle.

Spikymike
Jan 7 2020 16:13

Ivysyn, I think you might have indirectly answered me in another response to darren and anyway this discussion has just got more confused since, although WithDefiance makes some valid points.

Ivysyn
Jan 8 2020 08:34

I do want to apologize to everyone for loosing my cool. Noah was write that even harsh criticism is something that comes with published writing. I conducted myself improperly and I hope everyone reading can forgive me for that.

Ivysyn
Jan 8 2020 08:42
Quote:
i've seen the same idea stated by communists elsewhere and i know the idea that capitalism is one day going to collapse in a big crisis is, or used to be, popular with marxists, but it just seems like buying into bourgeois propaganda

This is where we completely disagree. It is true that the idea that the ultimate universal development of capitalism will somehow lead to communism is buying into the bourgeois ideological conceptualization of history. However, the simple idea "that capitalism is one day going to collapse" is actually a basic realization required for correctly understanding capitalism's dynamics. Capitalism requires constant accumulation on a finite planet and constant exploitation of the vast majority of people. There is no way such a system can sustain itself forever, it's simply impossible as Wallerstein's analysis shows (which I will point out that you didn't address). Capitalism's decline is a world phenomena that even remaining social democratic regimes are experiencing. It should also be noted that in my post I didn't say social democracy is definitely impossible right now, but that over time it's ability to be sustained has been declining.

Ivysyn
Jan 8 2020 08:56

@WithDefiance

I don't think what you said contradicts the idea that social democracy, starting with welfare statism during the second world war and after, is a bourgeois project. Social democracy in the 19th century sense obviously has origins in the socialist and labor movements, but I think this definitively changes with the debate between Lenin and Bernstein. While Lenin's conception of social strategy, although similar to Bernstein's in important ways, maintained the idea of a struggle between the victims of capitalism and the system itself, Bernstein's did not. Bernstein put all of his faith in the development of capitalism as an economic and social force and assumed that this development would lead to a more, or less, peaceful transition to socialism. Thus Bernstein's social democracy loses all proper connection with antisystemic social struggle.

Concessions are an antiystemic project in the sense that they are often the demands of those taking part in class struggle against capital and it's state. Social democracy, however, as the systematized organization of those concessions as a method for carrying on capitalism's life is not. This is seen clearly by the post-war compact with labor wherein the deal for an increased standard of living for union workers included from the get go the bureaucratization of unions as policing mechanisms to keep workers in check. You identify this trend yourself when you say "Its a concession to keep the power of the working class contained within the system and move it away from revolutionary perspectives and practices." https://libcom.org/library/4-capitalism-class-struggle-world-war-ii

Quote:
Giving up so fast is a fatalist and defeatist attitude not fit for social struggle

My post specifically argues that we shouldn't give up; "This is not to say that movements should not fight for concessions. Movements should do everything in their power to reduce the global ruling class's ability to exploit the global laborers and oppressed populations.'

WithDefiance
Jan 8 2020 11:08

I didn't mean that you are fatalist of defeatist, I meant Corbyn is; like so many politicians at the first glance of an initial failure.

radicalgraffiti
Jan 8 2020 16:11
Ivysyn wrote:
However, the simple idea "that capitalism is one day going to collapse" is actually a basic realization required for correctly understanding capitalism's dynamics. Capitalism requires constant accumulation on a finite planet and constant exploitation of the vast majority of people.

does it though? wouldn't a system where the means of production where owned by a small group and the majority had to sell there labour to live be capitalism regardless of if the owners where increasing what they owned every year?

you could say it is something different, but capitalism will transform into something like feudalism would be a different claim than capitalism will collapse

Ivysyn wrote:
There is no way such a system can sustain itself forever, it's simply impossible as Wallerstein's analysis shows (which I will point out that you didn't address). Capitalism's decline is a world phenomena that even remaining social democratic regimes are experiencing.

is it declining? it seems accumulation is accelerating right now
it could be that capitalists action will prompt revolution, but this is not the same as it collapsing by its self

for a long time now people have looked at things and decided the final crisis of capitalism was about to occur, and i dont think thats how things work

darren p
Jan 8 2020 17:34
Ivysyn wrote:
However, the simple idea "that capitalism is one day going to collapse" is actually a basic realization required for correctly understanding capitalism's dynamics. Capitalism requires constant accumulation on a finite planet and constant exploitation of the vast majority of people.

Another old argument, and one for another thread I guess, but generally automatic 'collapse' theories are mistaken. See this pamphlet by Anton Pannekoek for a start:
https://libcom.org/library/theory-of-the-collapse-of-capitalism-pannekoe...

Ivysyn
Jan 9 2020 12:26

@WithDefiance

I suppose you are correct then given that he stepped down after Labour lost.

Spikymike
Jan 9 2020 14:54

Even if we are rightly critical of both Grossman's and Luxembourg's particular theories of capitalist economic 'collapse' in an earlier phase of capitalism, this does not exhaust the continuing need to understand the inherent tendencies in capitalism's functioning towards crisis on an ever enlarged global scale that might still merit the term 'collapse' in the absence of any genuine global revolutionary movement. Predicting an economic collapse is not of course the same as predicting the final 'collapse' of capitalism in it's entirety as a social form and the victory of communism which requires a conscious organised expression. But 'the common ruin of the contending classes' and of civilisation as we have known it can't be ruled out or the regeneration of some form of capitalism (or other class form) from those ruins. The material relationship between the evolution of modern global capitalism, continuing economic and social crisis, threats of war and ecological crisis, and the potential development of class struggle towards organised opposition to all that is still open to question.
Personally I still find other analysis referencing at least potential global 'economic collapse' by such as Robert Kurz and Internationalist Perspective worthy of more consideration.
See here for instance this more extensive explanation in IP Issues No 30-37.
http://internationalist-perspective.org/IP/ip-archive/ip_30-31_cap-crisi...
or here; https://internationalistperspective.org/issue/internationalist-perspecti...

ZJW
Jan 13 2020 07:37

Many thanks, Spiky, for drawing attention to this IP material.

As for the second link, though, I can find nothing to click to download that issue. Rather, if you want to see the entire article (and not just the section titled 'The Roots of Capitalist Crisis - Part 1: The Inevitable Fall in the Rate of Profit'), it seems it must be done from here: http://internationalist-perspective.org/IP/ip-archive , by searching out the five links beginning ' ip_30-31_cap-crisis_..> ' .

Spikymike
May 19 2020 14:05

ZJW, Yes I complained that their new site made it difficult to locate and link individual articles without having the old site links available but don't think they got the importance of what I was saying. Having said that most of the new issues of their journal are available now on the new site and older material via links to the old sites material via the 'archive' tag. (Edited).