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Is Corbynism a 21st century version of Bennism?

In an exclusive and edited extract from the new book The Corbyn Effect Mark Perryman argues there are similarities but important differences too.

Alan Freeman in his 1982 book The Benn Heresy described the mood in the Labour Party while Jeremy Corbyn was getting ready to stand for the first time as Labour’s candidate for Islington North:

Benn now had grounds for hope. The left seemed on the verge of complete triumph. It looked as if only the last bastion – the PLP – needed to be conquered, and with the right wing packing its bags and reselection entrenched in the constitution, this would surely fall in time.”

It didn’t quite turn out like that. First the SDP split then the 1983, 1987 and 1992 defeats and finally Blairist-Brownite New Labour. Throughout these years the Bennite Left was in headlong decline. Thoroughly marginalised, by the time Jeremy stood for leader its parliamentary faction, The Campaign Group, barely existed and was seriously considering its continuing existence.

It was very different in the mid- 1980s when Tony Benn still saw grounds for hope. There remained a substantial audience, and body of support within the Labour Party, who shared his undiminished optimism.

We must have the courage to speak up and fight because all the experiences of 1984 have shown that if you fight you win, and if you fudge you fail.”

Shaped by such conviction and faith Benn offered Labour an electoral strategy too:

Our road to victory does not lie in coaxing back half a dozen Guardian readers from their flirtation with the SDP, but in mobilising the 10 million people who don’t vote but ego are our natural constituents because they are the ones, more than any other, who are repressed by our society. I do not believe that we will win by disconnected theorising, or electoral manoeuvring. We shall win by practical socialist arguments that begin with the experience of ordinary men and women. We must be there when they need us, and then assist them, as best we can, to learn from their experience and make something of it so that socialism and the vision that we have, and the revolution that we need, is constructed by the people, for the people and not one that drips down from above – to be imposed whether they like it or not.”

I was in the Great Hall at City University when Tony Benn spoke those words. I’ll admit as convinced supporter of Jeremy Corbyn now back then I wasn’t particularly impressed with what Benn was arguing. Labour was doing badly in the polls, the SDP split had harmed it a tad more than losing Tony’s proverbial half a dozen Guardian readers, the Tories had built a popular-nationalist bloc after the Falklands War and was in the midst of successfully outmanoeuvring the NUM who a decade earlier had so gloriously toppled Heath via their ’72 and ’74 strikes.

The hall was absolutely packed out,. Benn was in debate with Stuart Hall, the well-deserved darling of the Marxism Today crowd. Stuart of course didn’t have the reach, the base that Benn had but the idea that he was in any sense ‘disconnected’ as an intellectual was laughable, and that’s putting it nicely. When Stuart rounded up for our side he spoke to many of thepolite reservations about Bennism we shared. Reflecting on the state of Kinnock’s damage-limitation leadership of the Labour Party during the miners strike Stuart asked the audience:

If that looks like a party with enough political imagination and ‘feel’ for the current situation to put itself at the head of the different forms of struggle and to take that struggle, not just into its own organisations, but out into society and to generalise the case for socialism on the basis of it, then I yield to a more optimistic version of events. I honour Tony Benn’s courageous efforts to ‘gloss’ the current situation in this way, but I regret to say that, on this issue, I believe he is whistling in the dark.”

Stuart was calling for a process of modernisation, to create a popular Labour Party, combining both radical politics and electoral appeal. The heresy at the time was to suggest that Bennism was proving an inadequate model to create the conditions for such a change.

The debate was in Islington, I’ve no idea if Jeremy was there, whether he was or not I can be pretty certain as a convinced Bennite he wouldn’t have been nodding very much in agreement with Stuart when he argued :

The Left must be able, on its own programme, with its own project, to engage the society as a whole, to generalise itself throughout society, to bring over strategic popular majorities on the key issues, to win converts, first of all among those sectors of its own class and those who can come into alliance with it, but who have in recent years not supported it. But secondly, to make converts to its case, to carry the case to a widening set of constituencies, to polarise the society in new ways towards the left, to connect with new experiences in society, to engage with its increasing complexity and in that way to make socialism grow in relevance to the emerging experiences as well as the traditional experiences of our time.”

But a decade and a bit later what do you do when the alternative to Thatcherism you’d always believed in, a Labour Government, turns out to be so much less than the stuff of your dreams? When the Iraq War was added to the mix plenty like me who’d started out on the left had no place we could call home anymore. From Seattle and Genoa to Stopping the War then Occupy via the Student Fees protests and the Arab Spring there were sparks of resistance. However when two million can march against a war yet it ploughs on bloody regardless of our opposition then this activism became a symbol of our impotence not our power. So the years passed, the left just about surviving while existing in ever-decreasing circles of influence. The resources of hope running on empty. And then along comes Jeremy, a rank outsider, the Leicester City 5000-1 bet of the Labour Leadership race. The rest of the candidates were the same old faces or same old same politics, in some cases both. Of course Jeremy wasn’t going to win, though he might be worth a flutter. But if, heaven forbid, the unthinkable happened Labour would never be quite the same again, and so it is proving.

After registering as a support then recovering from the rare experience of being on both the left and the winning side I promptly joined the Labour Party. To effect the change Jeremy now represented there is simply nowhere else to be. My local Labour Party branch, like I am sure for many others, was both welcoming but a little unsure of who all us new members were. This is a party culture unused to the convulsions of change, or ‘surge’ as seems to be the modern way of describing the process underway. It sometimes appears as if in the face of such a challenge the response is to assume that bigger isn’t necessarily better, and our enthusiasm won’t last either. An organisational culture more or less unchanged for the best part of a century doesn’t see much necessity to alter its ways for a bunch of improbable fly-by-nights. Blair’s era of modernisation left most of this un-touched, his objective wasn’t to modernise the party, he ruled in so many ways in spite of it, not with it.

The Corbyn Effect is has thus become both a remix of Bennite principle and something new too. Its origins lie in the 1980s, then shaped by the disappointment with Blairism, and decisively energised by a social movement politics that has grown up generationally outside of Labour. Key now to the future is 8th June 2017 proving definitively Corbynism’s winning potential. Or as Peter Kyle MP, I’m sure unwittingly, put it on the eve of the General Election, “If we aspire to govern, we should listen to what the electorate is about to say on 8 June; we should listen to what will be the unvarnished truth.” Peter, defending a slender 1274 majority in the marginal seat of Hove & Portslade romped home with an 18,000 vote majority. The unvarnished truth? A hugely active local campaign, which I was part of – I don’t share Peter’s politics but needs must – the manifesto, Jeremy, together delivered this kind of swing to Labour and plenty more, but not enough, where that came from. But Peter, his Progress and Labour First co-thinkers want to stop Corbynism in its tracks, this far but no further. While some on our side are of the ‘one more heave’ persuasion, just wait and see, what we’ve got now in 2017 will delivery the victory we crave in 2022. Botyh are inadequate. Instead we need to understand that Corbynism’s key difference with Bennism, whatever the latter’s strengths, is that first it achieved an almighty mandate in the party, twice over, and then despite the doubters in 2017 the beginnings of a popular mandate in the country too. And with that, it means this isn’t the end, we’ve only just begun. Preparing for Power anyone?

The Corbyn Effect is edited by Mark Perryman with a foreword by Paul Mason, and published by Lawrence & Wishart. It is the first serious attempt to understand this exciting new phenomenon, the meaning, limitations and potential of Corbynism. An essential post-election read, The Corbyn Effect makes sense of Jeremy Corbyn and the fundamental shift in our system of ideas 2017 has made possible. Available now, from Lawrence & Wishart here.

43 Comments

  1. it’s not about Benism or Corbynism it’s about Socialism, no one ever talks about Attleenism or Keir Hardieism, I know that the last thing Jeremy Corby wants is cult status

  2. Imran Khan says:

    The problem is what is socialism first of all. In the minds of most people it’s the old east Europe and it’s state terrorism. The kind gentle guild socialism of the early Labour movement has forever been tainted with memories of the GDR, Ceausescu, the Stasi and all of the rest of the apparatus of terror and repression.

    1. JohnP says:

      Says our Tory Troll with the entirely bogus name. Whereas ever increasing numbers of people are seeing the last 30 years of neoliberal capitalism as a rapacious system of market driven robbery of the many, for the ever greater enrichment of the very few.

      Which is why a mildly reformist Left Keynsian Corbyn government will quite possibly be elected next year. Fortunately most voters, even non Labour voters, by now do realise that our Manifesto, and Labour as a Party have nothing whatsoever to do with Stalinism, the Stasi, Gulags, Chairman Mao, Kim Il Sung, or any other Stalinist atrocity. But you keep on trying to muddy the water , spraying the smearing old red-baiting Daily Mail crap, daft man with a bogus name. Wasting your time though.

      1. Imran Khan says:

        My name is the only one I’ve got. Sorry about that. You can contact me on imrankhanlahore@gmx.com for more information about me and my family, what I do etc. I look forward to hearing from you.

        1. JohnP says:

          Your real name is Tory Troll.

          1. Richard MacKinnon says:

            That is a bad habit Labour supporters make. Name calling. ‘Tory’. ‘Tory Troll’. ‘Nana na nana’.
            JohnP do you know how imature it sounds?, how crass, how much others shake their head at that kind of childish superficiality? Obviously not.

          2. Imran Khan says:

            Why not engage with me on my email? Or pop around to one of our open family events in the Ilford area.

            You really do look like a silly billy as a former Labour leader once said.

  3. It is very hard to both win votes from and represent the electorate if you do not look like the electorate. The gentrification of the Labour Party since the 1945 election must be reversed. (Yes it started with Herbert Morrison’s control of choosing new parliamentary candidates back then.)

    You can find verbal support from the PLP for more working class candidates, but in the end turkeys do not vote for Christmas. A good start would be to make it harder for relatives of existing MPs and the party elite from joining the ranks of the PLP. Enough of the red princes and princesses.

    1. Imran Khan says:

      I constantly have rows with people who complain about the under-representation of this or that group in wherever. I always point out that the most under-represented group in the country are white working class women. I am afraid the problem goes back a long way though as Milliband senior pointed it out in Parliamentary Socialism back in the sixties.

      1. John says:

        Gloria De Piero, Caroline flint, Angela Rayner ,angela Smith in the lords, Angela eagle, Louise haugh, probably Cat smith and VIcky Foxcroft
        All working class women,

        Benn of course wasn’t. Interested in manipulating people to oust others, ans he was honest about his view in the EEC, to the point he supported Enoch Powell, can’t see Corbynistas saying that about a modern day Enoch Powell,like Boris Johnson

        1. Imran Khan says:

          When did they all become working class?

          1. John P Reid says:

            I was asking were they in 2 cases

  4. James Martin says:

    Is Corbynism a 21st century version of Bennism? No, is the short answer.

    The differences are not just ones of time, but of principle. Central to Bennism was democracy and accountability, in society of course, but in terms of the struggle in the Party and the wider labour movement. Benn took on the right head on on issues of membership control, of trade union rank and file power, even where it did him no favours. Contrast that to Corbyn and McDonnell who have time after time compromised and retreated. Contrast to that to the undemocratic structures in Momentum plc under the ownership of former (most definitely former) Bennite Jon Lansman. Would Benn have agreed with that? No, of course not, no one who knew what Benn was about would ever say so, and yet here we see that type of uncritical tosh creeping in with this type of article.

    More than that, Benn’s central strength that was based on the foundation of workers control in industry (something that Hall and the ‘New’ Left ignored in their rush to embrace identity politics and knitting for peace), but also democracy in society, Party and labour movement, and in turn this was linked to a clear political program, one that was developed over a number of years with key events like the Chesterfield conferences. Some may suggest that Momentum’s ‘World Transformed’ events are the modern version of this. They are not, and even after two years of supporting and voting for Corbyn I haven’t got much of an idea what our socialist program is in any detail beyond the hastily created manifesto at the last election (well it was a start I suppose, despite its top down method of creation).

    But what I find most worrying is my strong suspicion that many of those that have attached themselves to ‘Corbynism’ are essentially radical middle class liberals rather than socialists with a central orientation to the working class. That explains the high level of nonsense among many Momentum people about support for the neo-liberal EU bosses club – Benn would have had a lot to say about that of course, and I suspect that what he would have said would bee shocking to those pro-EU liberals. Benn himself was no working class socialist of course, but he was a socialist who understood that the working class were central to social change, and that change began in the workplace. Online campaigning and viral whatever’s are all very well, but until we build a rank and file movement in the unions and workplaces it will be incapable of taking on the power of the state and the capitalists. Benn knew that and did all he could to support workplace campaigning, but I have seen no evidence that ’21st Century Corbynism’ has much of a clue at all currently.

    1. JohnP says:

      Sadly, all too true, James.

    2. C MacMackin says:

      I’m inclined to agree, given what I know about Bennism and what I’ve seen around Corbyn. That said, I was not alive during the Bennite movement, so I increasingly find myself wondering if all the positive stuff I’d heard about it are the result of rose coloured glasses. Given that many of the same people active in the “official left” now (Lansman, Willsman, et al.) were prominent Bennites, I’m starting to wonder if Bennism involved just as much membership passivity, internal maneuvering, and lack of proper political debate as I’ve seen in Corbynism.

    3. Then again aren’t most of the revolutionary left radical middle class? I seem to remember a bit too much of the leadership vanguard cadre being very middle class in my youth. Benn was equally middle class or perhaps of an even higher class. OK, as of course were Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin.

      I think we should give Corbyn, McDonnell and Lansman the chance to make a real change to British politics without the sticky hands of the Leninist sects hijacking the movement and leaving behind their usual chaos.

      The British sects never seem to be able to do it themselves.

      1. what Leninist left the total number of ultraleft parties is less than 9000 and that includes the anarchists

    4. Peter Rowlands says:

      Grossly unfair to Corbyn, who has managed to sustain his position as leader, even at the expense of some compromise, an enormous acievement for him and the left, which Benn didn’t and would never have achieved, due to his failure to compromise and work with others.I should say, however, and I am old enough to have attended several meetings with Benn as speaker, that he was the finest general populariser of the socialist case that I have ever heard speak, and I’m afraid that includes you Jeremy.

      1. C MacMackin says:

        It’s true that Corbyn has been more successful than Benn in terms of maintaining his position. However, I think the warnings James’ raises around internal democracy, a still incoherent political vision, and the essentially left-liberal nature of Corbyn’s supporters are all important. The point around democracy ties in to some of those compromises. Things like Trident should have been put to the membership, not hastily backtracked on in some shady back room deal.

        James’ point about Corbyn’s politics not having the same grounding in unions and workplace democracy is also important. We desperately need to rebuild that sort of working class militancy. However, it is somewhat unfair to blame Corbyn for this, seeing as Benn was able to support and encourage an existing movement whereas Corbyn came to power after decades of decline in the labour movement.

  5. Richard MacKinnon says:

    The problem with politicians like Benn and Corbyn begin when they get into positions of power. They are fine in opposition. There is a place for opposition with a conscience. Their princples are genuine. But on the occasion they are elected to office they dont know how to do it; run a country.

  6. David Pavett says:

    The Achilles heel of the Labour left is its socialism founded on assumed ethical principles. This is an old argument within the socialist movement.

    Is the case for socialism a matter of presumed moral principles? If it is then there is not that can be said about a clash or such principles, or even frankly about what they even mean.

    If instead the case for social transformation is based on a theory of both society and the way our moral inclinations develop and change through our social interactions then we have a very different view of socialism.

    The idea of socialism based on abstract ethical principles assumed to be given has always been contrasted with the Marxist view that the ethical principles themselves need to be subjected to critical examination rather than assumed. In other words our social theory needs to include a full theory of what makes us what we are as thinking, moral, human beings. Anyone deciding to look for such a theory in an annals of Labour politics is going to be looking for a long time.

    So we have the strange phenomenon that so-called ethical socialism is where the Blairites and most of the Labour left find themselves on common theoretical ground (even if they draw different conclusions from it).

    On that basis the generalised humanistic ethical socialism of Corbyn is all of a piece with that of Tony Benn. Indeed, and alarmingly, it is all of a piece with the socialism of Tony Blair (see his 1994 Fabian pamphlet on the subject). This is a seeming paradox that most on the Labour left have yet to comes to terms with.

    1. John P Reid says:

      Got a link to the Blair pamphlet

      1. David Pavett says:

        No but I have a copy which I have scanned. I have asked the editor to let it be uploaded so that I can give a link. As soon as he does that a link will be given.

    2. C MacMackin says:

      I’m not sure I fully understand everything you said here. You say that “this is an old argument within the socialist movement”, so are there any works you could direct me towards giving more detail?

      1. David Pavett says:

        This distinction between ethical socialism and Marxist socialism is between idealist and materialist views of human nature, history and social action. The idealist view comes in various forms/names e.g. ethical socialism, Christian socialism, utopian socialism and even (confusingly) self-styled democratic socialism. On the materialist side there are various versions of Marxism the dogmatic variants of which lose sight of their claimed materialism.

        A useful introduction to the distinction between ethical socialism and Marxist socialism can be found in Socialism – A Very Short Introduction by Michael Newman (2005).

        Alex Calinicos discusses utopianism in his The Revolultionary Ideas of Karl Marx (2010).

        There are Wikipedia articles on Utopian Socialism and Ethical Socialism.

        In general terms I would say that virtually the whole of Marx’s work is a critique of social action based on moral principles held to be eternal values existing in their own right independently of any particular form of society. His approach was first clearly spelled out in the notes by Marx and Engels published under the title of The German Ideology. In that work they develop their fundamental, and much misunderstood, principle that our consciousness is a product of our social activity and not a starting point for analysis: “consciousness can never be anything else than conscious existence, ad the existence of men is their actual life process. If in all ideology men and their circumstances appear upside-down as in a camera obscura [i.e. it seems social life has its origin in their ideas rather than the reverse – DP], this phenomenon arises just s much from their historical life process as the inversion of objects on the retina does from their physical life process. In direct contrast to German philosophy which descends from heaven to earth, here we ascend from earth to heaven.”

        Marx’s Poverty of Philosophy developed the same critique in the course of rejecting Proudhon’s economic and social views. The general ideas of both the German Ideology and The Poverty of Philosophy are expressed in particularly succinct form in Marx’s Letter to Annekov of 1846.

        The classic Marxist statement on Utopianism is the Slim book by Engels Socialism Utopian and Scientific. Another instance is Marx’s critique of egalitarianism in his speech to the Working Men’s International of 1865 (published as Wages, Prices and Profit).

        There is a discussion of the distinction in Tony Wright’s Socialisms Old and New although unfortunately his animosity towards Marxism generally gets the better of him (he attacks it on almost every page of the book). Tony Blair wrote the preface to the book in which, after dismissing public ownership and central planning, he says “The truth brought out in this book is that the creation of “new Labour” has taken the party back to its ethical roots”. And then there is Tony Blair’s Fabian pamphlet on socialism of 1994. It is a must read.

        Bernard Crick defends ethical socialism in his book Socialism (1987). He does so under the title of democratic socialism and that is a point worth noting. The distinction between Marxist approaches and utopian/ethical ones often takes the form of a rejection of socialism based on class struggle in favour of so-called democratic socialism.

        Gordon Brown & Tony Wright edited a book of selected British socialist writings Values, Visions and Voices (1995). What is interesting is that the selection is entirely in favour of purely ethical socialism. In their introduction Brown and Wright make it clear that for them socialism is a matter of acting on the basis of ethical ideals. They say that earlier socialists were too ready to believe “that the human potential for improvement … was the malleable product of a benign social environment …” and that “A decent society has to be embedded in the solid foundations of practical decency”.. The also go on to reject the “preoccupation with ownership” as “morally and intellectually deficient”.

        The ethical socialist view was stated in Ethical Socialism by Jon Cruddas and Jonathan Rutherford. Consistent with his position Cruddas also claims that the Labour Party could learn much from 19th century Catholic social doctrine. The ludicrous of that claim is soon established by reading 19th century Papal pronouncements on social and political matters.

        And finally, virtually all the work of Compass is based on the view that progress is made by imagining a better form of society and then trying to change present society in the direction of our imaginings, thereby bypassing the need to make critique of present society to reveal how its workings may point beyond themselves to different social forms. Neal Lawson, Compass Chair, enthusiastically tweeted “Our democracy is broken: Here’s a utopian idea for fixing it: Zeo Williams. Pessimism reigns, but if we could only reconnect then we might fall back in love with politics.” He writes else where about what he calls “serious utopianism” or even (I think) “robust utopianism”.

        All of which does not and should not detract from what Lenin described as the importance of dreaming of which he said their was “too little in our movement”. He suggested that the important thing was to take the dreams seriously but to do so without confusing them with reality. Our ideas, and therefore our socialism, are not plucked out of an ethereal world of the mind. They arise from our social practice. The failure to understand this is the dividing line between ethical socialism and a materialist view.

        P.S. A fine study that consider what exactly constitutes the difference between idealism and materialism, and the confusions that abound on the side of those who think of themselves as materialists, is Evald Ilyenkov’s The Dialectics of the Ideal, Haymarket books, 2014.

        1. You wrote:
          “This distinction between ethical socialism and Marxist socialism is between idealist and materialist views of human nature, history and social action.”
          In the UK more than 80 per cent of those employed are producing services, things that have no material existence. Doesn’t that mean that idealism — what people believe — is now the dominant political vector? (doesn’t that help explain the unexpected rise of political Islam?, Donald Trump?)

          1. David Pavett says:

            I agree with you that the distinction between material production and services is important. However, it is important not to confuse materialism with the study of things. Engels long ago suggested that conceptually the concept of relations was more fundamental than things and that is certainly a useful idea when it comes to service because what service workers are engaged in is the generation of human relations (e.g. caring, training). Those relationships are real relationships in social space and time. They therefore require materialist analysis every bit as much as any other form of activity. So no, I don’t think that makes what people believe the fundamental source of what they do. What medical treatment is given or what training is provided are both tied down to some very material realities.

            I don’t think either that we need to look to idealist explanations for the rise of Trump or Islamic fundamentalism. This is not the first time in history that there have been surges of support for extreme solutions. I suggest that both have got far more to do with the failure to deliver of the political systems that dominated for decades before them and which increasingly showed an inability to deliver.

          2. Inability to deliver is a metaphysical concept. Expectations, another idea, matter more.

          3. David Pavett says:

            @Edmund O’Sullivan, Sept 24, at 11:39 pm.

            Having raised an interesting point to which I tried to give a considered reply, you now resort to mere assertion. That’s a pity.

          4. David. I was being economical with words and rhetorical.
            You wrote:
            “Those relationships are real relationships in social space and time. They therefore require materialist analysis every bit as much as any other form of activity.”
            Relationships — the way people interact with each other — have no material content. They can only be subjectively perceived. In other words, they only exist in the heads of individuals. This makes them beyond materialist analysis. They of course shape everyone’s reality but are intangible.
            You also wrote:
            “What medical treatment is given or what training is provided are both tied down to some very material realities.”
            The tangibles used in medical treatment like beds, hospitals, pharameuticals etc support value creation in healthcare. they do not create value.
            Only people create value.
            The value in healthcare is the result of the constructive interaction between doctor, other medical people and patient. That value is intangible and can only be subjectively perceived. Only part of the value created in such an interaction is monetised in the form of a payment (indirect as in NHS or direct in a multiple payer system).
            I worked in the media industry. I and my colleagues never really knew what we were creating. What was certain was that it was the result of constructive and iterative interactions involving customers, colleagues and the community.
            The value created in this interaction was shared (not transferred as happens in tangibles).
            The payment was negotiated and essentially reflected the value we and our customers attached to the relationship.
            There was no market price though what others paid for similar services condition how much we asked for.

          5. David Pavett says:

            @Edmund O’Sullivan, Sept 25, 9:37 am.

            Relationships — the way people interact with each other — have no material content. They can only be subjectively perceived. In other words, they only exist in the heads of individuals.

            This is, I suggest, false. Relations in general cannot be perceived. Newton’s inverse square law for gravitational attraction cannot be perceived. We can perceive its effects but not the relationship itself which we can only grasp conceptually. The same goes for social/human relations. The relations of fear or dependency cannot be perceived per se. We can perceive their effects but to grasp them we need the appropriate concepts. This does not mean that dependency and fear do not have a material content any more than the imperceptibility of the inverse square law means that gravity has no materil content.

            This point applies to what you say about medical care. Beyond that you use the value in very different senses so your point won’t take much analysis.

            As for media creations I think you would be hard put to claim that materiality was not involved. The relation between the industry and its customers, even if we set aside the issue of monetary value, is also material in nature. Media creations would be completely incomprehensible if they did not refer to the surrounding world in all sorts of ways using shared references (arising from the material exchanges of social life). Even if we consider purely abstract productions there is still a dependence on the materiality of such things as colour, sound etc.

            And you forget that just labelling something as subjective does not mean that something is non-material (subjectivity depends on some very material processes). It doesn’t mean either that it doesn’t have an objective existence as is carefully explained by John Searle in his book The Construction of Social Reality

      2. David Pavett says:

        I have now scanned and OCRed the Fabian pamphlet on socialism by Tony Blair. It is such a classic statement of ethical socialism that I think everyone interested in socialist ideas should read it. You can get it here.

        Errors could have crept in at the OCR stage. Please let me know if you spot any. I noticed the pamphlet being sold for £380 by an Amazon seller. Perhaps it has become a collector’s items. Perhaps too a free digital version will bring the price down a bit.

        1. C MacMackin says:

          Thanks David, that was very illuminating of the ethical socialism endemic to the Labour Party. (Although, of course, I strongly disagree with Blair’s analysis and think that it is very weak.)

          Where I’m not entirely sure I agree with you is that I think even most Marxist socialists are, at least in part, driven by moral concerns. What they do is use Marxism as a tool to work out what changes are needed to develop what their morals tell them is a just society. (Mind you, maybe I’m just saying this because I haven’t yet read enough Marx to really be a Marxist—at the momemtn I’m more Marx-ish.)

          1. David Pavett says:

            Yes, of course Marxists are driven by moral concerns just like anyone else. The difference is that they do not think that their moral impulses/inclinations provide a justification for their views on society. They understand that our moral views are themselves a product and not a bedrock on which everything else is built. We can ask how it is that people in one age or place find something acceptable but in another age and place find it disgusting or shameful. So morality, like everything else has to be subjected to a critique. Therefore claiming a moral insight is the justification for a political philosophy is just a shame theory only believed by those who have never asked how our moral views are formed and how they evolve.

    3. C MacMackin says:

      A recent example of ethical socialism in the Labour Left, coming from Chris Williamson: “It’s common sense socialism…it’s no longer a choice between left and right, it’s about right and wrong”.

      1. David Pavett says:

        Yes, exactly. That is the sort of analysis-free politics that can still be taken as intelligent comment in the LP. Nothing serious can be expected from someone with such a superficial base view.

  7. Danny Nicol says:

    Benn was a fool. His Deputy Leadership campaign of 1981 was so ridiculously high profile (for a not terribly important post) that it caused great division in the party and gave the membership the impression that the Left were “splitters and wreckers”. This appalling mistake, based on completely over-estimating the Left’s strength, was a turning point. It proved a, perhaps the decisive, factor in the Left’s utter marginisation in the mid to late 1980s onwards.

    Nor was Benn so tremendously consistent on socialist programme. He backed the proposal for the nationalisation of 25 top companies when it became Conference policy in 1973, but once Harold Wilson vetoed this he retreated to promoting workers’ co-ops within the capitalist framework which was a failure. He should have been far more consistent in supporting public ownership of the “25 companies” scale in the aftermath of the 1974-9 Labour government but he wasn’t particularly stalwart in this crucial regard.

    The Left’s marginalisation led to him pursuing silly pipedreams. At one stage he penned a rewrite of the EEC Treaty of Rome along socialist lines, a very useful exercise! At another stage he promoted a Constitution of Britain, seemingly unaware that once you have a written constitution you empower the judiciary to quash socialist statute law. His efforts in this regard merely gave succour to the liberal Charter 88. How dim. The Chesterfield conferences were more of this going-nowhere crap.

    Corbyn’s even worse! He has at least learnt that the Left should not come across as divisive but has taken things to the other extreme and sacrificed socialism, if indeed he was ever in favour of socialism in the first place which is doubtful. I suspect that he has always been a left liberal.

    Nonetheless he was elected (the first time) on the slogan Honest Politics and THREE DAYS after being elected announces himself a partisan of the Remain cause in the referendum. How democratic of him!

    His support for public ownership is pitiful. A few publicly owned companies competing in a capitalist market with private firms. That, and a snail’s-pace taking back of the railways.

    At least Benn was steadfast in voting on the NEC in support for measures which increased members’ say in the Labour Party. By contrast we have Corbyn’s support for the Momentum coup. With hindsight I feel Corbyn’s stance was actually more important than the coup itself: he was signalling that, as Leader, he did not give a toss about the views of rank and file left-wingers. Only his coterie and the PLP count.

    Most important of all, the whole idea that the Labour Left is against capitalism and wants to replace it with a better reorganisation of our society has gone. It’s not entirely down to Corbyn but the fact remains that the Benn-Heffer-Maynard-Skinner axis was more socialist whereas the Corbyn-McDonnell-Abbott axis is more left-liberal.

    1. John P Reid says:

      Don’t think Corbyn had much of. Choice on the EU, thr nationalising the biggest industries which was said again in the 83 manifesto… which lead too
      But we did nationalise a bank..

  8. Scratchy says:

    The major concern I have with the present direction of the Labour party / Corbyn is that it only preaches to the already converted.Yes this is probably a mixture of ‘old’ ’60’s, ’70’s,& ’80’s first time Labour voters who have done well for themselves (mainly through property price increases) & the sons & daughters of these ‘mainly’ middle income rich who have gone onto University.Corbyn (& Benn) are from a more definate Middle Class background, however which complicates things even more.

    Trouble is Labour / Corbyn is finding it hard to engage with lower income groups, which is probably on the increase due to high property prices, squeeze on wages.Many lower income groups, which represented a high % of the Labour vote up to the mid ’80’s are not presently so much so (although Labour seemed to capture half the ex-UKIP, lower income vote which had previously deserted them with reservations).There is a conflict in Labour’s message coming from Corbyn as it often preaches to the lower income families as if it was a natural ally & in many ways bases it’s policies around this group.Corbyn / present Labour supporters seem to be in denial that this is not their natural ‘present’ base.Low income families distrust Labour partially due to Blairism / New Labour association with Neo-liberalism which is still represented in Parliamentary Labour.Also because they now that Corbyn is middle class (a near Bennite figure) who have Marxist policy tendencies (although very much diluted).As mentioned above Marxism was formed from the middle class preaching to less well off.Lower income families do not trust Marxism, even in a lite form.Marxism can harm the very people it is designed to help, due to right wing & Capitalist backlash.New Labour was, supposedly, designed to counteract this.

    From what I can see, from a very much outsider viewpoint, is that Corbyn is recruiting his support from University educated ‘nouveau revolutionaries’.To gain & maintain support from low income groups Corbyn needs to get representation from this group who can influence & voice their concerns of an increasingly exploited forceforce at the lower end (never mind people who are not in the workforce – who have, possible different concerns).People do not like to be preached to by a group that appears outside their sphere to them.People like decisions, at least partially by them, not imposed on them by an apparent group who claim to do it on their behalf.

    I can see alot of good things in Corbynism, especially it’s anti-Neo-liberal standpoint which I personally despise.New Labour to a certain extent, despite its many drawbacks, did deliver in many ways.Corbyn’s Labour should not through that away.Being pragmatic is often the best solution as long as it supports an end goal.

    Labour should keep Corporates at arms length but realise they are important in providing an income for lower income groups.It would be harmful to many families on lower incomes if these companies were forced from these shores, perhaps a Nationalised rail system is an exception.The support from re-nationalism of rail comes from a predominently middle class group again though.Trains are, generally too expensive for lower income groups to use.Would a re-Nationalised railway system actually bring prices down so Lower income groups attracted to use them again which would require a big expansion in rolling stock / large investment.Would this re-Nationalisation only be aimed at present users & continue excluding low income group use like it is at present.Perhaps it is best to leave the Rail structure as it is if low incomes groups are still excluded from its use, apart from clamping down on corrupt business practices. [this is just an example of the results that income inequality has inflicted on the UK & my concerns of a Corbyn reaction / re-adressing it]

  9. Danny Nicol says:

    Note the irony that the mainly-Blairite supporters of the NEOLIBERAL European single market are bellyaching about the lack of a conference vote on Brexit.

    There would have been a debate had we retained the pre-Kinnock, pre-Blair LP arrangements whereby Conference was OVERWHELMINGLY based on resolutions from CLPs and affiliated organisations.

  10. Bazza says:

    Cronyism is perhaps what we grassroots left wing democratic socialists may want it to be.
    Oh David and John you may be interested in my CLP experience last night.
    There was a resolution by a branch on affiliating to the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.
    My CLP area takes in a university so there are a lot of middle class academic types etc.
    And I opposed it using most of the arguments I did when posting on here and I have never seen so many middle class people glaring at we with a look of utter contempt which was interesting.
    It was I am afraid carried after an amendment to say ‘free movement in the EC’ (I.e. supporting Fortress Europe) 21-4.
    I went to a different pub afterwards, I just felt I wanted to be with ordinary diverse working people.
    I texted a female working class friend about by meeting and she said “sounds like you have had a bad day!” but I said, no, I have had a wonderful day, I stood up for working people internationally!

  11. Bazza says:

    Ha! Ha! I meant “Corbynism is perhaps what we grassroots left wing democratic socialists want it to be.” That bloody meeting took a lot out of me!

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