Jeremy Corbyn’s programme – a revolutionary socialist assessment
By Dave Stockton
15 September 2015
Jeremy Corbyn’s programme for a future Labour government contrasts dramatically with the austerity-lite policies that lost Ed Miliband and Ed Balls the general election.
They are miles more radical and coherent than the mish mash offered up by Jeremy’s rival candidates in the Labour leadership election. In their own right, they are as radical as anything presented by past leaders of the Labour Party in its left wing periods in the 1930s or 80s.
In 2015, when we are used to hearing every politician repeat the same Tory mantra that austerity is inevitable, Jeremy’s modest call for an end to cuts and “a publicly-led expansion and reconstruction of the economy” sounds ultra-radical.
For a revolutionary socialist, the purpose of a programme is to meet the immediate needs of the mass of the working class, to mobilise a mass movement to resist the ruling class’s attacks on our living standards and our futures, and to link measures addressing the needs of the day with the fight for a revolution that can end capitalism and create a new socialist society. We support anything that works in that direction.
For these reasons Workers Power supports key elements of Jeremy Corbyn’s programme. We believe all socialists should join the Labour Party, defend and promote Jeremy’s progressive demands, and work to extend and deepen these policies in a revolutionary socialist direction.
We will be working collectively in the Labour Party, hand in hand with others, to advance that cause.
The opportunities for revolutionary socialism to grow in influence are huge. Critical to success will be a frank, fair and accurate assessment of Jeremy Corbyn’s programme.
Jeremy’s programme centres on increasing public spending, boosting investment in industry, services and construction. The aim is to end the downturn that followed the 2008-10 crisis and stop the austerity that Labour and Tory governments imposed to pay for the bank bailouts.
The Bank of England, he says, should continue to print money – he calls it People’s Quantitative Easing – for “new large scale housing, energy, transport and digital projects”. Jeremy says this would create “a million skilled jobs and genuine apprenticeships with knock-on boosts for the supply chain.”
The promises of re-nationalisation are limited to the public utilities: rail, water, electricity supply. He wants to create a national investment bank but does not explicitly call for the nationalisation of the banks, though he does propose a windfall tax on their profits. A consistently socialist programme would reject paying compensation to the former owners of big businesses and would insist that they be run under the control of workers, not just by highly paid senior civil servants and managers. However, Jeremy Corbyn’s programme does say a nationalized rail company would be run by a body representing “passengers, workers and government”.
On the housing crisis he says a Labour government should encourage and fund major local council building projects. To stop exorbitant rents charged by private landlords these will be regulated to an level linked to local average earnings. The bedroom tax and the benefit cap will be abolished. Jeremy has also pledged to eradicate PFI deals from the NHS, though by using government money to buy them out.
For Jeremy fighting climate change means the “socialisation of our energy supply”, which can only mean nationalising the oil, gas and electricity companies. This will be a step towards ending the era of fossil fuels, creating a green, resource-efficient economy with a million new climate jobs.
He has pledged to defend the welfare system, saying “the disabled, the unemployed and the retired have all been portrayed scroungers and layabouts and as a result immense damage has been caused by cutting the money given to those who need it the most.” He denounces the cruel and vindictive benefits cap.
Jeremy praises and supports people fighting to defend benefits like DPAC (Disabled People Rising against Cuts) and Boycott Workfare. This is in sharp contrast to the former Labour leadership, which was set to join attacks on claimants rather than challenge media and Tory scapegoating.
Jeremy outlines plans for a National Education Service; like the NHS, it would be universal and free at the point of use, starting with free childcare and expanding funding for adult education. This would mean an end to all tuition fees in further and higher education, he restoration of student grants, and an Education Maintenance Allowance plus a Disabled Students Allowance. He wants to bring the free schools and academies back under local authority control.
Other measures for young people include reducing the voting age to 16 years, bringing back student grants and an increased Education Maintenance Allowance, a ban on zero hour contracts and a statutory £10 an hour living wage for all workers, no matter what their age.
Corbyn’s programme calls for a “radically different international policy”, based on “political and not military solutions”. He is still resolutely opposed to air strikes in Iraq and Syria and military intervention in the region. He also says he would work to withdraw Britain from NATO, the US-led military alliance which is threateningly building up its forces in Eastern Europe today.
On the European Union, like most of the Labour Left Corbyn was once in favour of withdrawal. He now says he supports the UK remaining in, but wants to see major reforms in the opposite direction to Cameron, away from the pro-market and privatizing rules that have caused so much suffering in southern Europe. He wants to use the renegotiation of Britain’s role in the EU to strengthen workers’ rights, not undermine them. He refuses to guarantee that Labour will campaign to stay in until he sees if Cameron succeeds in negotiating away protections for workers. He is totally opposed to the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
Paying for it
Jeremy has pledged to cut spending on weapons and would abandon the commitment to NATO’s two per cent of GDP target. He would cancel the Trident nuclear missile system, and to save jobs there would be a diversification plan agreed with local communities and workforces affected.
He also talks of making large reductions in the £93 billion corporate tax relief and subsidies to big business. These funds will be used to establish a National Investment Bank to head a multi-billion pound programme of infrastructure upgrades and support for high-tech and innovative industries.
To make the tax system progressive, a Corbyn-led Labour government would cancel Tory tax cuts for the rich and collect £119bn (2013-14 figures) in evaded business taxes. This will mean reversing cuts to staff at HM Revenue and Customs and Companies House.
Deepen and extend the programme
Jeremy Corbyn says frankly that this platform is far from revolutionary, telling one recent rally: “None of what we have said on this platform today would be seen as remotely exceptional, extreme or left-wing in Germany where they proudly have public investment in all kinds of industries and don’t feel ashamed about it.”
So while supporting the proposals above, revolutionary socialists can identify ways they can and should be strengthened. We will fight for this is the party.
On tax, far reaching as Jeremy’s pledges are compared with the policies of recent Labour governments, increasing the number of tax inspectors alone will not recover the funds needed. Only opening the books of the monopolies and their owners to inspection by their workers will really uncover and recover these sums.
The starting point needs to be a public audit of how much we need to save the health and education services, to build hundreds of thousands of council homes a year, identifying how we raise it from the enormous unearned wealth of the super-rich.
To guarantee the funds are there for this programme it will be necessary to break the Old Labour rule of compensating the billionaires for their nationalised property. After all they already accumulated profits from the unpaid part of the labour of their workers. We’ve already paid them – why pay them again?
All in all Corbyn has presented, what is historically a modest left reformist programme. In some respects, most obviously nationalisation, this programme was exceeded by some previous Labour governments, not just Attlee’s in 1945-51 but also Harold Wilson’s in the 1960s and 1970s.
It is Blair and Brown’s conversion to liberal economics in the 1990s that makes today’s reassertion of old Keynesian Labour programmes look so radical. Instead of nationalising a few monopolies in the private sector like their predecessors, post-1997 Labour opened up the public sector to private profiteers via the Private Finance Initiative (PFI). They started the break-up of the national education system with the new Academies, which took schools out of local authority control, handing them over to “faith bodies”, consortia of businessmen and middle class parents. It is true that under Labour’s PFI there was significant investment in hospitals and schools, but it was very expensive money. The result has been crippling debts for the hospital trusts, threatening them with bankruptcy.
Corbyn and McDonnell’s proposed People’s Quantitaive Easing has been attacked, most recently by Yvette Cooper, for threatening to cause runaway inflation by simply printing money. Of course, she knows full well that the Brown and then Cameron governments authorised a massive Quantitaive Easing programme, but to put money in the hands of the banks, not to fund jobs and services.
In a televised debate with Corbyn, Cooper highlighted inflation concerns by pointing out that Corbyn proposes to ‘print money during a recovery’. Now normally of course this would cause inflation, except for two things. First, the very sluggish and low growth British recovery takes place against the threatening backdrop of the China and ‘emerging markets’ slowdown which even the capitalist economists agree is likely to cause another global recession. And, second and even more important, inflation can be fought: with a sliding scale of wages, indexing them against price rises, paid for by confiscating the property of the multinational corporations and the super-rich.
The capitalist class abandoned Keynesianism for neoliberalism nearly 40 years ago. Depressed rates of return on investment compel it to look for fresh sources of profit wherever it can find them, especially by opening up and breaking up public services. If However modest his programme of renationalisation might appear when viewed in a longer historical context, if Corbyn came to power the capitalists would find it absolutely intolerable. If it is included in Labour’s programme and 2020 manifesto, the bosses will denounce it as ‘Marxist’ and ‘revolutionary’ and mount a frenzied campaign against it.
This raises a simple question: what power could force the capitalists to pay-up on taxes, or hand over their enterprises. A left-wing Labour government, if it was armed with no more than mandate and a majority in the House of Commons, would be faced with sabotage and revolt: by the bond markets, the stock exchanges, by a run on the pound, by a flight of capital. In short it would be faced by the enormous economic power of the 1%.
Like the Syriza government in Greece in July, it would have to face the choice of either giving in like Alexis Tsipras has done, or going further, breaking with its self-imposed legal limitations, and nationalising the banks, confiscating the property of the economic saboteurs. This would bring it into a head on clash with the unelected parts of the establishment, not just in the boardrooms but in the state, from the judges and the police chiefs and the military high command and the monarchy.
So what attitude should revolutionary socialists take to Corbyn’s programme? Certainly we should defend its many positive goals, against the Labour right and the Tories. Indeed the left in the Labour Party and in the trade unions should do all in our power to get these policies adopted by Labour’s conference, to make it obligatory for the MPs and councillors to defend them and include them in election manifestos too.
At the same time we need to start up a debate on the shortcomings of the programme and in particular what forces we need to mobilise to implement it. The great economic power of the capitalist class and the repressive power in the hands of its state cannot be successfully defied, let alone broken, by electoral mandates alone.
Only the huge numbers and organisations of the working class and the youth, rallying to our side any progressive sections of the middle class, can match and master the power of business and the state. The working class can win and exercise control over production, distribution and via the banks finance and the exchanges. We can organise mass self-defence against the state forces when they repress strikes and demonstrations, let alone when they threaten a coup, as they would undoubtedly do against a radical Labour government.
But this mass mobilisation cannot be called up at the last minute – after a Left government gets into trouble. The process of building up our forces has to start now: during the resistance to the cuts and the anti-union laws. By creating democratic bodies for mobilisation, councils of resistance at local and national level, by creating instruments of workers’ control of production and services, we can not only shorten the life of this Tory government. We can create the basis for a new type of government altogether: not just a parliamentary Labour government encircled by the institutions of capital, but a workers government determined to break the power of the bosses, the bankers and the generals for good.