If Corbyn became PM, what would he really be able to achieve in this system?
First, to reiterate something that has been pointed out on this site many times – the corporate empire is global and governments are national, and that fact alone means that national governments are in no position to challenge the corporate sector. Any government that doesn’t welcome international finance capital with open arms will scare it away, and it will go somewhere else. This might not matter if they had first managed to extract their country from global corporate capitalism, and could build a new economy themselves, without requiring international capital. But, as no country has managed to do that, they will then have to compete against the rest of the world for a share of the global market. And if they scare away finance capital, they will lose. Without the backing of international capital, you will lose out in the corporate capitalist game.
I’m not suggesting that the corporate capitalist game is the game we should be playing of course – we need a new game, which requires a new system, but as long as we try to operate in this system, any government bringing in policies that don’t suit the corporate sector will reduce funds flowing into the country, jobs will be lost, incomes will fall and eventually they will be replaced by a party that will reintroduce corporate-friendly policies.
Syriza as an example of what would happen to a Corbyn government?
So Corbyn, if he becomes PM and attempts to stay true to his principles, will go the way of Syriza. See this excellent article – speakers from Podemos and Syriza point out the problems with expecting anti-austerity political parties to be able to bring about real change in one country in a world of corporate capitalism.
Here’s a quote from that article that sums it up – (political parties) ‘even if with the best intent, end up obliged to follow the logic of “pragmatism” over the values they stand for, as they are called upon to run the state in a way that is efficient for the market economy and guarantees the competitive advantage of the country within the system. Political decisions of our governments have always been strongly influenced by capital, but in a world where finance capital has become the dominant factor, the rapidity with which it can flee a country that does not welcome it, means that it needs to be courted, just as the Tory government is explicitly doing, but also as the left wing parties across Europe, including Syriza, have been forced to do.’
I was wrong (shock, horror)
But I think I’ve been wrong in the past to dismiss parliamentary politics as a way to challenge corporate power. A good government can help to develop the non-corporate sector. Let’s take one example – community energy. Onshore wind is a major plank of community energy projects, but this government is in effect banning new onshore wind, but leaving offshore wind alone. Only the corporate sector can afford the upfront costs of offshore wind. Also, this government is removing the feed-in tariff and doing nothing to help community energy groups provide electricity directly to their members. At the moment, community energy projects would have to apply for an extraordinarily expensive licence to be an energy provider (currently only affordable by the corporate sector), and so they are forced to sell their electricity to the grid / the big energy companies for around 4p per unit, and members have to buy it back for around 15p per unit. This can all be changed if the will were there, but of course it’s not. To think that governments are not influenced by the corporate sector, with so much corporate money in politics, as well as jobs and lobbying, is naive I think. Legalised corruption is rife, and completely accepted. A principled government could legislate, tax and subsidise to help the non-corporate sector – as well as community energy there’s also community-supported agriculture, worker and housing co-ops, credit unions, land trusts etc. A generic term might be distributism – a fine philosophy, overshadowed by communism and capitalism in the 20th century, that I would be very happy to see gain the recognition it deserves.
Building the non-corporate sector
In this way, governments could build the ‘distributist’ sector, allowing more and more economic activity (and jobs) to be absorbed by independent, community-owned and co-operative businesses, but without scaring off international investors, who would still get a return from the (shrinking) corporate sector. I may be over-optimistic in hoping that the ’empire’ wouldn’t behave aggressively towards a country that is affecting their profits by limiting their field of play, but really, investors will still put their money where they can get a return, however large the sector. Only policies that affect investor returns will cause capital flight. Individuals can also help turn the tide by choosing to satisfy their needs and wants from non-corporate sources, although I think it’s naive to believe that this will be done by anything but a tiny minority.
So I retract previous statements that parliamentary politics can never challenge the coporate system, and I think the unexpected rise of Corbyn has helped me see that. The problem is, and always has been, that many people believe that it’s the only thing that can, whilst still working for and consuming from the corporate sector. There is much more work that needs to be done, constructing non-corporate alternatives, fighting local battles and discussing / debating the possibility of more revolutionary (as in wholesale and fast, rather than violent) change. This latter approach is sadly lacking, I think, as people tend to rely on parliaments and global institutions as the only legitimate vehicle for wider change.
Corbyn and the Greens
This isn’t an endorsement of the Labour party, by the way – just some of Corbyn’s ideas. This Tory cabinet is beyond the pale of course, when it comes to equity or sustainability – as well as freedom from corporate control. However, I know our Tory parliamentary candidate quite well, and he considers himself a distributist – and old-school Adam Smith-ite, for small businesses and against corporate power. He understands that his veiws might not gel with his party’s leadership, but if elected next time (which is entirely possible – he was narrowly defeated last time) he may be another little unexpected fly in the ointment for the corporate empire. And of course the Greens – in a first-past-the-post sytem, Corbyn’s gain would be the Green’s loss, and they’re the only party that even begins to question the insanity of the quest for perpetual growth – that is, maybe, until and unless they ever achieve office and the reality of having to compete with other countries in a global, corporate system sinks in.
Some of Corbyn’s ideas are distinctly old-school, however – like re-opening coal mines. Yes, the destruction of mining communities in the eighties was a tragedy, but there’s a welfare state, and ways to reinvigorate communites without damaging nature. Coal mines?! Much better to train the children of miners to install renewables or build natural homes. Digging coal out of the ground and burning it is a really bad idea, and I’m surprised that Corbyn doesn’t know that. How about promoting community renewables (see above) instead?
Corbyn and growth
And of course, he has the typical old-labour fetish for economic growth, that really has to go in any post-corporate world. His ‘People’s QE’ is interesting – why would you release money to financial institutions rather than real people doing real, useful work? but it’s still all about boosting the economy, rather than stabilising it, which is required if we’re ever going to stop destroying the biosphere and, well, survive. There’s plenty of wealth out there to provide work and a comfortable life for everybody (and I mean everybody in the world), it just needs to be distributed more evenly. As corporate capitalism necessarily concentrates wealth, it’s impossible to distribute it in this system. Even if benign aliens came to earth and divided all the money equally, under corporate capitalism it will concentrate right back again.
So the most valuable thing that a Corbyn premiership (or any other nominally anti-corporate, pro-people premiership) could achieve is to support and build the non-corporate sector – something that future pro-corporate governments would find much harder to reverse than, say, nationalisations. But we also need to stabilise the global economy, and start talking about what a post-corporate global system might look like – this conversation is what’s missing from the political scene, and what’s most urgently required. The corporate empire will continue to try to prevent any attempts to develop an equitable, sustainable society within individual countries – ask Syriza.
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1isitavideo September 28th, 2015
Whilst Corbyn is closer to FDR than he is Marx, it’s important that we get behind him as many of his policies support the decentralisation of democratic and technological power. In our local constituency, the Labour Party is going to undertake an experiment in online policy making, there is pressure from the top and bottom to radically transform the parties democratic process, but currently the Parliamentary Labour Party stands inbetween those two forces. What’s important now is if Labour can purge itself of these reactionary neo-liberals and this is going to take a year if not several.
The big difference between greece and the UK is that we have a sovereign currency that we could utilise in tackling austerity. We are in a much better position in a whole raft of ways, but we have to learn from Gramschi, that it is likely that even if we can elect Jezza on his progressive social democratic mandate he will need an enormous grass roots lobby to push these changes through. Additionally, there may be several reversals, and so we need to understand that because it’s impossible to have 4 or 5 sequential labour governments that will create socialism, we need to have a strategy that’s based on broad consensus on a grass roots level. Fortunately I am at an age where I am ready to chuck 30 or 40 years at this task ?
On the whole I think it’s the most positive thing to happen in British politics for decades – perhaps ever, we have to remember that our last most left wing labour leader, Neil Kinnock, purged the party of communists and marxists, so this is quite staggering that we now have a socialist at the head of our largest political party.
This is all thanks to Ed Milliband really, who reformed the election process so that exactly this sort of thing could happen. That’s why I hope history remembers him as the greatest prime minister we never had ? haha
2John Harrison October 3rd, 2015
I wonder if we’d be in the situation envisaged in the play ‘a very British coup’ by Chris Mullins. For a start, if elected, he has just removed the nuclear deterrent. Saying he wouldn’t use it makes it so much radioactive waste. That won’t go down well in the CIA office. Then we have the inertia effect so aptly covered in ‘Yes Minister’ – apparently a comedy that was pretty near to the truth according to some retired politicians.
My take on things is that a lot of people voted Tory or didn’t bother to vote last time because Labour didn’t offer an alternative. They didn’t have distinct policies, just Tory Light. Next time it could be different, especially as he has the ‘man of the people’ charm that has done so much for UKIP. Just as Farage pushed immigration and Europe to the fore, Corbyn might well push the Tories to the left even if he doesn’t get elected. And I do think he’s pragmatic enough to accept politics is the art of the possible, so in 5 years we may (I hope) find out the answer to the question you pose.