Corbyn, rather than being the saviour of the working class in Britain, demonstrates the futility of even the best of intentions when operating within logic and limits of capitalist democracy.
Alright, I'll admit it: I have a soft spot for Jeremy Corbyn. I feel like he's the left-wing grandfather I never had. I like his elbow patches, his allotment, his cycling about and making jam. As the old platitude goes, I could imagine having a beer with him.
He's a politician, but he probably is authentic in his beliefs. And, at least in my lifetime, he's the first politician with socialist principles to have a legitimate shot at achieving the highest level of state power.
Ultimately, though, I still won’t be voting for him.
The Enemy Within: the PLP
“What?! You want another five years of the Tories? Don’t you care about [insert issue here]? How could you not vote Corbyn?
Well, firstly, because, unless you live in Islington North, you can’t vote Corbyn. You can vote for your local Labour MP who, in all likelihood, probably one of the three-quarters of MPs who tried to get rid of Corbyn with their no confidence vote. We’re being asked to vote for the same MPs who, when they stood in the 2015 general election, ran on a platform where they promised to work within George Osbourne’s spending plans and refused to reverse the cuts that had already been made.
It’s also worth remembering that some of these people - people like Tom Watson and Hilary Benn - have been MPs since Labour were last in power: they were there for the introduction of ‘managed markets’ and ‘Private Finance Initiatives’ into the NHS, or when the Labour government contracted ATOS to do Work Capability Assessments, or when they introduced the proto-Bedroom Tax in the form of the Local Housing Allowance to ‘incentivise’ private tenants to move into cheaper accommodation.
Are we supposed to believe these same MPs have had a change of heart and will pursue Corbyn’s social democratic policies?
The fact is, the PLP will continue to sabotage Corbyn at every turn (by resigning from important posts, publicly criticising him and his progressive policies; in fact, continuing everything they’ve been doing up to now).
And Corbyn will be forced to compromise. In fact, he already has: first, he decided not to call a whip on the November 2015 Syria airstrikes vote thus ensuring the result would be in favour. Second, he refused to call on Labour councils to resist budget cuts, which has resulted in councils shedding services and attacking pay, in some cases, such as Durham and Derby Teaching Assistants by as much as 25%.
Yet these are exactly the types of principled stands on which Corbyn established his credentials as an activist MP.
Now, obviously Corbyn didn’t do these things because he secretly loves war and budget cuts; he was trying to maintain party unity of his party. But his party is, ultimately, a capitalist party which not only aspires to manage a capitalist state but where one in six peers have financial interests in private healthcare and numerous councillors and MPs have links to property developers.
So do I think Corbyn is basically the same as the Tories? No, of course not. But do I think the Labour Right are basically the same as the Tories? Yeah, pretty much. And, in most cases, that’s who we’re being asked to vote for in this election.
The Enemy Without: Capital
Most worryingly for Corbyn (and his supporters) is that all these compromises with the Parliamentary Labour Party are while pressures on him are relatively mild. Should Corbyn win the election, Corbyn's social democratic policies would undoubtedly see a backlash from big business in the form of capital flight and non-cooperation if not outright sabotage.
We only have to look at the economic effects since Brexit to see what market jitters can do to an economy: devalued currency, price rises on imports (and, therefore, price rises in shops and supermarkets), banks and companies talking about moving operations abroad, outflows of capital, etc etc.
And this is due only to the uncertainty of moving from one kind of conservative neoliberalism to another. Imagine what would happen if the shift was to the kind of social democracy Corbyn is advocating! In fact, it would probably look a little like what happened to the Labour governments of the 1960s and 1970s, which ended in them taking a loan from the IMF along with a package of cuts and controls.
Right-wing economists aren't wrong about capital flight or businesses shedding jobs when wages are raised because that’s exactly how bosses react when their profits are squeezed. That is how bosses wage their half of the class war.
So whether through through raw economic forces or through the concerted activity of capital in the political realm, brakes will be put on Corbyn's reforms. He'll have very little choice but to compromise on his program or face all the consequences that come with a slowing or stagnating economy. Corbyn's beliefs – no matter how authentic they may be – will quickly come up against the reality of managing British capitalism.
Getting out of the election cycle
But I get it: Corbyn's a breath of fresh air. He talks the talk and, no doubt, he wants to walk the walk. And, to be honest, if people want to vote Labour, that’s fine. It’s not a crime against the class or whatever.
But as an American who's relocated to Britain in the past decade, I can remember my friends getting really excited about Obama back in 2007. Needless to say, my American friends no longer have such a rosy view of Obama.
Fast forward ten years and a lot my friends here in Britain have those same levels of excitement about Corbyn; a man whose program is far to the left of Obama and would be significantly more difficult to implement.
The history of left-wing politicians is one of moving rightward in government. Whether Syriza implementing EU austerity measures, the Irish Green Party overseeing an onshore Shell refinery project they had previously opposed, the Italian Communist Party’s ‘historical compromise’ with the right-wing Mafia-aligned Christian Democrats (and countless other examples), the reality of governing a capitalist state ensures that even honest social goals are compromised when wielding state power becomes a reality.
None of this should be taken to mean that I’m just ‘waiting for the revolution’ (I’m not) or don't want to improve our conditions in the here and now (I do). But it’s not by voting that we improve our conditions; it’s through struggle.
It was through sustained levels of class struggle in post-war Britain ensured the working class could extract concessions from capital on both the workplace and state levels. It’s through rebuilding that collective strength - in the workplace, in community organisations, or elsewhere - that we can do so again.
So while it might be nice to have a drink with Jezza, seeing him elevated to the position of prime minister is not the way we'll see social democracy re-established as the framework of British politics. Rather, we'd need to to bring back the levels of class power that existed in the decades after the Second World War. And we won't achieve that by voting.
Thanks to Ed for his edits and suggestions.