[ A new book traces Jeremy Corbyn’s ideology from its roots. Clockwise from top left: Tony Benn, Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, a Stop the War protest against bombing in Syria and a steel factory in operation (Photo: Getty) ]
[ Source= https://inews.co.uk/news/politics/what-is-corbynism-the-author-of-a-new-book-explains-why-even-some-left-wingers-have-problems-with-it/ By: Karl McDonald 27/9/18 ]
[Posted by Lara Keller 28/9/18]
What is Corbynism? The author of a new book explains why even some left-wingers have problems with it.
The ‘critical’ book traces the ideology that informs the Labour leader’s policies.
Everyone knows who Jeremy Corbyn is, and most of have an idea of “Corbynistas” too – but relatively little thought has been put into what Corbynism really means as a political ideology.
It’s forgivable for the casual follower of the news to be confused. In the right-wing press, we hear about Jeremy Corbyn the Soviet bloc spy.
On the left, Corbynism tends to be romanticised. And in the centre, we’ve lived through the great punditry crisis of 2015-17, as the unelectable dinosaur did better than anyone could have imagined.
But little of what we read day today deals with what he actually believes and why. One effort to get to grips with this comes in the form of Corbynism: A Critical Approach, a book by Matt Bolton and Frederick Harry Pitts.
“The origins of the book lay in our frustrations with the way that Corbyn is critiqued or examined across the spectrum,” Bolton told “iNews” [Newspaper]. His book is heavy on theory – it’s certainly not afraid of discussing the “substantialist strand of value theory” for example – but it’s also filled with criticisms that we don’t often hear, coming from left-wing academics.
Here are some of the conclusions they’ve drawn:
1. Corbynism is not just one thing.
[ Frederick Harry Pitts and Matt Bolton, authors of Corbynism: A Critical Approach. ]
“You’ve got the traditional left strand, which is kind of a mixture of Bennism and bit of Trotskyism,” he says. “There’s a kind of residual Stalinism there as well, represented by Corbyn himself, (shadow Chancellor) John McDonnell, (former Guardian writer and now strategist) Seumas Milne, (special adviser and former Communist Party member) Andrew Murray and (adviser) Andrew Fisher.”
Next, you’ve got the Momentum strand – still a little Bennite in its older members, but driven mostly by the energy of younger people radicalised after the 2008 crash.
“Then you’ve got the (Derby MP) Chris Williamson, Squawkbox,Canary thread, who I’m increasingly interested in,” says Bolton. “They’re really coming from a much more conspiratorial point of view.”
On top of that, there are postcapitalists, cultural theorists and more.
“All these different groups with different traditions have fed into Corbynism – and there are tensions between them,” says Bolton. “They come out from time to time with Brexit and with the anti-Semitism row over the summer – McDonnell was intent on shutting that down, but the more extreme elements were keen on pushing it. ”
Corbyn’s major achievement, he says, is that the Labour leader keeps things vague.
“When he talks about socialism, he says it’s just natural, it’s people being nice to one another. And because he doesn’t express himself in clear political terms, it allows other groups to project what they want on him.”
2. We wouldn’t have Corbynism – or as much of a left resurgence – without Corbyn himself.
[Jeremy Corbyn on stage at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool (Photo: Getty)]
The vagueness goes some way towards explaining why Corbyn’s rise happened when it would have seemed impossible to an observer wondering whether Corbyn, McDonnell or Diane Abbott would emerge for a leftwing tilt at the leadership in 2015.
“Would Corbynism have been possible without Corbyn? The ideas were there, and we had the upsurge starting in 2008, but we’re doubtful that any other figure from the left would have been able to do it,” says Bolton.
“Would John McDonnell have done it? He’s too clear, almost, on his positions.”
“George Galloway? In a lot of ways he’s similar to Corbyn, they share a lot of positions and Galloway is close friends with Seumas Milne. But it seems implausible to me that he could have done it.”
3. Corbyn sees the world as good vs evil.
[A Stop the War protest near Downing Street demands bombing of Syria stops (Photo: Getty)]
When Bolton and his co-author Frederick Harry Pitts use the term “Stalinism” in relation to Corbynism, they’re not talking about gulags. They’re referring to a particular world view that splits countries into two camps: the American “imperialist” camp on one side, and those who resist American dominance on the
other, led in Stalin’s time by the Soviet Union.
“If you look at Seamus Milne and Andrew Murray, both of whom were very influential in the Corbyn circle, they have an explicitly Stalinist background,” says Bolton.
“Andrew Murray was a member of the Communist Party until 2016. And the way that that feeds in to the Corbyn movement is mainly influencing foreign policy through a particular form of anti-imperialism which we call ‘two-campism’.”
He adds: “Any group that opposes the states that are seen as the embodiment of capitalism through the lens of imperialism, is seen as anti-capitalist.
“You can see this in particular with Syria. Because they view Assad as anti-American, they see any opposition to Assad as a proxy for the Americans. So these Syrians fighting basically for liberal democracy gets dismissed either as a jihadi thing or as stooges of American democracy.
“That world view has its roots in Leninism and Stalinism.”
4. He’s a Bennite – and Bennism is economic nationalism.
[Jeremy Corbyn is keen to subsidise industry – including steel – in the UK (Photo: Getty)]
When it comes to policy at home, however, it’s not Soviet policy that the Labour leader reaches for.
Bolton and Pitts links Corbyn to Tony Benn’s Alternative Economic Strategy which emerged in the 1970s and early 1980s – the last time the left was a serious force within the party.
“On the one hand you have the notion of workers’ control of production, which you can see in the stuff they were talking about at conference with workers on boards,” Bolton says. “Lots of that is good stuff, we don’t disagree with everything.”
But the other side of Bennism is the idea that the British economy and industry were “under attack” from finance – and that Britain needed to build a “siege economy” to throw off the shackles of the bankers, Bolton says.
“We think that’s a form of economic nationalism – protecting British jobs and British industry from foreign intruders,” he says. “That’s dangerous. It’s politically ambivalent.”
5. It’s a short jump from ‘rigged economy’ to antisemitic tropes.
[Fire and fury: former Trump adviser Steve Bannon (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)]
Bennism’s sense of attack from the financiers leads Corbyn to describe the economy as “rigged” – something that might be intuitive to a lot of left-wingers. But left-wingers aren’t the only people who use it, Bolton points out – Donald Trump, Bannon and even Michael Gove have adopted it too.
“The political ambivalence of the ‘rigged economy’ term alongside the economic nationalism is quite dangerous,” he says.
It’s this sort of thinking that leads Corbyn into his anti-Semitism rows.
“If you see capitalism as something that’s imposed on workers rather than something more general, it’s not inevitable that you end up with anti-semitism, but the potential is there.
“The combination of that and the good vs bad world view, you can end up repeating or stumbling into antisemitic tropes.”
6. He had his chance to oppose Brexit and missed it – probably on purpose.
[ Jeremy Corbyn during the Remain campaign (Getty) ]
There’s a reason Jeremy Corbyn is “anti-EU by instinct”, as it’s presented in the media. In the Bennite tradition, the EU stops Britain building a “siege economy” and growing its industrial base without restriction, according to Bolton.
“They don’t want to be in the single market because they think it restricts their ability to provide state aid for national industry,” he adds – meaning he wants to be able to put public money into nationalised businesses in a way that might be illegal under EU rules.
Of course, Corbyn campaigned to Remain, and even if he did want to change his post-referendum position on Brexit, he had a chance to do it when Theresa May lost seats in the election. “They could have said you’ve had your chance, you’ve lost the election, let’s have a re-think. But they want Brexit, I think,” says Bolton.
7. The Corbynite intellectuals are losing control of their own fringes.
[ Labour MP Chris Williamson is a leftist – but has been combative since leaving the shadow cabinet ]
Corbynism is open to many different left-wing ideas, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t clash.
One particularly difficult subgrouping is what Bolton calls the “conspiratorial wing” – or the “Chris Williamson- Labour Against The Witch Hunt-Canary strand”.
“You’re starting to see a split between them and the intellectual leadership,” he says. “They’re starting to turn against them.”
“You can see the tension between the radical-but-sensible thinkers at the core of the party and their zealous outriders on social media and elsewhere when the latter turn against the leader’s perceived enemies.”
“Jon Lansman has done more for Corbynism than almost anyone apart from John McDonnell, maybe,” says Bolton.
“But once he does one thing to contradict the leadership’s position, which is put himself forward as General Secretary against Jennie Formby, instantly the Chris Williamson wing started to turn against him.”
“Suddenly it become, oh he’s a Zionist, he’s power-mad, it’s a secret Israeli agenda.”