“I can’t be cool … I read one too many books”
– The Clash: ‘Deny’
As an anarchist I regard the ascension of Jeremy Corbyn to the Leadership of the Opposition as a huge backward step. We were finally getting the message across that the political caste can do nothing for us, being in thrall to some distant, unaccountable people, and arbitrary market forces that no one understands, especially those who are paid fabulous sums to predict their outcome. Social inequality has reached Pharonic proportions, with 62 individuals wielding more purchasing power than the poorest three and a half billion. Through all the crises of the past five years, their wealth increased by 44%, while everyone else’s fell by a similar amount. The richest 1% is now worth as much as the rest of us put together. No state redistribution scheme is going to make a dent in this mountain of fictitious capital, and there’s simply nothing big enough to invest more than a tiny fraction of it in. In so far as it exists at all, except as a measure of the theoretical status of the socially useless, such wealth resides in tax havens, far from the workers whose needs and abilities it represents. The plutocrats amuse themselves with football clubs, islands and vast swathes of London, and use their newspapers and TV stations to install their lackeys in the institutions their class devised over centuries to keep it in power forever.
Our people still don’t know what they want, much less how to get it, on a recent TUC outing it struck me what a confused mess the left has become with all its different agendas. “Fight for every job”, one placard says; “a million green jobs now!” screams another; “NHS not Trident”, “stop tax dodging”, “positive banking!” – really? The GMB supports fracking, Unite sits on the fence over Trident. We aren’t helping much with slogans like “demand the impossible”; demand the bleeding obvious more like. With the Labour Party at last consigned to the dustbin of history, the mirage of political representation would evaporate revealing naked class struggle. The last thing we needed was someone breathing life into this anachronism and giving people false hope; it would be a tragedy if the young and angry spent the next five years campaigning for a Labour government when they could be kicking off, wildcatting and occupying the means of production. Like you, I’ve groaned at the false dichotomy of state-managed socialism versus state-guaranteed capitalism, shuddered at the grim spectre of Old Labour. It burns my arse that I’m sat here writing about party politics, just months after the Syriza fiasco exposed its futility.
As a matter of fact, back in July when the Messiah showed up at Tolpuddle to fill the gap left by Our Tone, I harboured a vain notion that I might have a quiet word with him at some point. He’s a nice geezer who works hard for his constituents. Having respect for his sincerity I would say: “For the sake of our class! Please don’t stand!” In the event, he floated in and out again, smiling beatifically, surrounded by swarms of entranced acolytes in their J.C. T shirts. After slogging away for decades to no good purpose, he’s having his fifteen minutes and loving it – well who can blame him? Had I waded through the selfie apocalypse to express such dissonance, I would have been denounced as a heretic and belaboured with copies of the Morning Star. Anyway, by then I was occupied with fucking off a pro-Israel group.
Corbyn was put up as a joke candidate by the Blairites, who no longer bother to hide their contempt for our class. He was to act as a foil for their argument that Labour had lost the election purely because they had failed to keep up with the Tories’ stampede to the right and were too soft on immigrants and the poor. New Labour had opened their leadership contest to supporters who paid a fee to register. This was mainly to reduce the influence of trade unionists, almost exclusively workers in the beleaguered public sector. This backfired spectacularly as thousands registered to vote for Corbyn. So they resorted to a range of dirty tricks, barred people from voting, even wheeled out the old war-criminal himself – big mistake; as Blair is the left’s most hated figure after Thatcher, perhaps even more so as he conned them into putting him in government. The result was that the 200/1 outsider polled three times as many votes as the next runner-up. Since His election, there have been a few unexpected developments, and some entirely predictable ones.
First there was The Miracle Of The Trots. Every Marxist group that ever there was, SP, CP, SWP, TUSC, LU, AWL Counterfire – who all hate each other with a vengeance, abandoned their turf war to unite behind Corbyn. The factionalist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty even de-registered as a party so its members could join Labour.
As anticipated, the chattering classes have closed ranks, the corporate press and the state-corporatist BBC whine forlornly at the prospect of having to fight a battle they thought ended with the Miners’ Strike. The parliamentary Labour Party, an uninspiring gang of careerists and time-servers representing no one whatsoever, were oiked out of obscurity and are now on the radio every five minutes. A year ago it would have been inconceivable that anyone would ask Andy Burnham’s opinion on anything.
The message blaring from every speaker is that under the hegemony of neoliberal capitalism, a socialist agenda has no place in a national representative assembly, however many of its subjects may want it. This arrogance from the 24% seems to have galvanised the multitudes who want to wave two fingers at them into joining the Party, more have done so since His election than are in the tory party. Branch meetings are suddenly packed with people who have never belonged to a party in their lives. Who are these people and what do they hope to achieve? A crowd- sourced budget perhaps? I’m imagining the kind of people who follow Another Angry Voice and The Artist Taxi Driver. Green, anticapitalist, for free education and healthcare, open borders and public ownership, if not exactly workers’ control. I suspect most of them want to go a lot further than their leader would dare and don’t give a damn if he wears a poppy or kisses the queen’s ring. So they aren’t too fussed that Corbyn can’t carry a majority in the house, or win an election with all the tabloids and the Beeb against him. Anecdotally a few anarchists are joining in, no names no packdrill, that should give the Daily Mail something to froth about. The tories who were rumoured to have infiltrated Labour to vote for the unelectable Corbyn, are reduced to lamenting the lack of a serious (i.e. neoliberal) opposition being bad for democracy. So maybe the Labour party will become a campaigning network like 38 degrees, which doesn’t suffer from having to have a policy on everything. But why do we need another one?
Those of us who read a bit were also quick to have a pop; we follow ideas not people. Corbyn’s ideas are neither new nor explicitly anticapitalist, and at the present stage of capitalist accumulation, impossible for any government to implement. Some of them are daft and obviously made on the hoof, his idea of building nuclear submarines without warheads smacks of Keynes’ digging holes and filling them in again. His Unite backers would prefer to while away their days building Trident, a mechanism for ending human history and making the planet uninhabitable, than be excluded from waged labour. As for back-door negotiations with deash, that would be a betrayal of the working class in both territories, and put Britain in the same sordid position as Turkey and Saudi Arabia – if it isn’t already.
It’s a truism that politicians are out of touch with the people, having never done, been trained for, not had any ambition to do more than govern others. The media have long lamented the young’s lack of engagement with the Westminster circus. In reply they’ve thrown up only reactionary buffoons like Farage and hare-brained misogynist Russell Brand, whose boner melted before Milliband’s legendary charisma. Both are heavily reliant for their livelihood on the status quo. In the media-generated political mirage, the class that must work for wages is only allowed to construe economics in terms of jobs and money; they would have us believe that money has a value, is finite, and must be worked for. Corbyn cannot escape this mythology, so he chats about creating jobs, wealth and economic growth through investment as if these things were desirable. The trouble with Keynesianism, as Hitler and Mussolini knew only too well, is you have to have a war every so often to destroy surplus production. When Billy Bragg sang ‘Between the Wars’ thirty-odd years ago, Britain actually was – if you didn’t count Ireland, and the proxy wars going on in Palestine, Iran/Iraq, Timor etc in which British capital was invested. We are now in a continuous state of war and it will end when capitalism ends.
Capitalism rests on violence; it pervades every aspect of the culture. Children are taught to admire and simulate the taking of life as soon as they are able to grasp the concept of death. There are few computer games related to saving the planet, I tried a Google search and the latest entry was from 2011. On Radio 4’s Question Time recently a panel of liberals and worthies had a solemn debate on whether it was reasonable to lock away a fifteen year old for the rest of their life, for fantasising on the internet about killing strangers in a distant land. They agreed they didn’t have enough information to make that judgement and would leave it to others – a pretty sorry admission from would-be opinion formers. This was followed immediately by a discussion on whether it was irresponsible for a seventy-year old man to say he would never kill strangers in distant lands. The grown up common sense view is that not having a vessel under the sea, carrying more explosive than has ever been detonated, anywhere, would put us at risk – who, exactly is ‘us’?
Here’s the double-edged bit: unlike us Bookfair-goers, the braying toffs and media hacks are not just sneering at some fluffy old lefty and his 20th century politics; they are sneering at the needs and aspirations of our class. Those who aspire to bring their kids into a world that isn’t fitted with a self-destruct button, and is at least prepared to feed and house them. The young who see themselves as more than just creators of surplus-value, while the rich, breeding at our expense on their stolen land, see their own offspring as appropriators and accumulators of that value. The test of a socialist utopia will be whether you’re still getting up in the morning and taking crap off people you don’t respect. Within the drudgery of our lives we find that that the most significant things people do are done neither for reward nor to order but out of the instinct to altruism and goodwill. It’s just that we’ve all grown up in a society where greedy sociopaths rise to the top, are perceived to be successful and held up to be admired.
There are more useful things we could be doing than kicking Corbyn right now, we need to get amongst the disciples a bit sharpish and steer the conversation away from fixing the economy, a hateful thing that exists to maintain the dominance of the few over the many. Our class could break it irrevocably in a heartbeat, but we must abandon the attitudes, and to some extent the desires that sustain it. We work to live, or else we are raw material to the industry that generates its profits from managing our inactivity. In work or out of it we are confined by procedures, forms, assessed and audited by folk who have no idea what they’re doing or why they’re doing it, as are they in turn. We are required to sacrifice our dignity and be pacified with toys and entertainments, endless consumption without satisfaction. It’s bizarre that so many corporate-constructed cultural artifacts are claimed as ‘working class culture’. Capitalism robs children of their childhood and robs adults of opportunities to grow up. The economy makes us sick and trades our ill-health. False hope and desperation are commodities, or no one would ever buy hair restorer. Loving Corbyn is a commodity, so is hating Him; their stocks will rise and fall, the market will care little, and when the party’s over, there’s going to be a fucking great hangover.
What can we salvage from all this? Probably no more or less than from the occupy movement; sitting round the fire listening to tosh about chemtrails and the Bilderberg group, every now and then someone would ask: “seriously, how do we get out of this fucking mess?” Well I’ve a few ideas, but you’re going to have to put yourself out … fancy a pint?