iPads + superfast broadband = socialism (or maybe just a kinder, fairer capitalism)

iPad for socialismSocialism is Jeremy Corbyn in Number 10 plus superfast broadband! Okay, not as pithy as Lenin’s definition involving soviet power and electrification, but John McDonnell’s speech on Wednesday is a continuation of a fine tradition in left and centre left politics: the close alignment of our policy agenda with technological dynamism. Though, of course, it’s more than just a nice rhetorical flourish – the lining up alongside futurity in John’s case has a double purpose. His iPads and Socialism speech was an attempt to wrest the white heat of technology from the grip of George Osborne, who’s made much of his fetish for graphene and high speed rail; and to bring out the shiny contours of contemporary left Labourism against the soot-streaked brutalism of nationalisations past.

While John is often portrayed as a wild-eyed Bolshevist burning with the ambition to collectivise the FTSE 100, his speech contained very little that might suggest expropriating the expropriators is on his mind. Still, city slickers might get a bit angsty over his desire to do something with the huge piles of cash big business are sitting on. This graph from Michael Roberts demonstrates the problem:

How to unlock this cash? John said Britain needs to look at “ways to change our corporate tax system and work constructively with companies to give them the incentives to invest wisely … a higher tax on retained earnings should be investigated.” That seems quite reasonable to me and anyone not ideologically committed to stuffing the maws of corporate accounts with even more gold in the hope that someone, somewhere will invest as per Osborne’s illiterate and dysfunctional long-term economic plan.

Some might take this as evidence of Labour’s anti-business stance, though being super business-friendly has never stopped the Tories enunciating such. Yet, again, what is on offer here isn’t socialism as such but rather a kinder, fairer capitalism. As John notes, what he’s seeking is a “compact” between government, business, and science to plan for growth. This would mean addressing skills gaps in increasingly crucial sectors, turning attention to the threats and promises of automation, as well as providing a context for more profitable investment. Think of it as capitalism as if rationality mattered. And, as you might expect, John takes a swipe at the idiocy of Osborne’s austerity.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Putting aside the PLP froth and different approaches to matters of terrorism and war, economically speaking a great deal unites Labour. Compare John’s scheme with the more “mainstream” vision outlined by Liam Byrne. I don’t think there are differences of kind here, merely of degree and emphasis. Unfortunately, our opponents are aware of this even if we’re not, and will say and do anything to keep the political focus away from the economy – even when there’s a spending review imminent.

  1. Except of course what John is saying is not a comprehensive programme only policy in one area as a part of a programme. The so called ‘mainstream’ vision is almost it, in totality.

  2. Lenin was talking about an economy that was in large part extremely backward and of course the spread of the revolution to advanced Europe was even more important to him than electrification whereas today we have iPads coming out of our arses. The idea that capitalism can grow again is ludicrous. Perhaps if McDonnell was talking about the socialisation of industrial and commercial profit and the obscene wealth of the super rich we might be getting somewhere. Austerity and stimulus have the same outcome in a glutted economy. They both make the problem worse. We need consolidation if the real economy is to be saved. A massive redistribution of wealth from rich to poor which is the exact opposite of what is happening. We are in fact in the midst of the greatest redistribution of wealth from poor to rich since the enclosure of the commons. Funny how the end often resembles the beginning.

  3. Interesting article but perhaps democratic socialism would be free solar panels on roofs and free laptops – initially for the poor in the UK and in developing nations.
    We harness both the free energy of the sun and harness techology to benefit people, and Universities and FE colleges around the World offering free MOOCs (massive open on-line courses) could enable milions of poor people to liberate themselves from poverty.
    I have been banging on about solar panel farms in the World’s deserts for years now and so was heartened to read today that Morroco is to have a huge one which will power 1m homes and Morroco is planning to get 48% of its energy from solar.
    I also saw the news re how draught was desertifying areas in Africa and perhaps the farmers could have solar powered greenhouses to produce crops.
    Also read about a Spanish island with a large solar panel farm and again it gets much of its energy from the free energy of the sun.
    So if you put human beings first instead of profits and use your imagination there is no end to what we could achieve.
    And just think people with severe conditions are often robbed of a few extra years of life because the drugs are priced beyond them by the market.
    If intelligent aliens landed perhaps they would ask: Why don’t you give those drugs to those people who need them?
    We could have some publicly owned airlines with less seats, more space and comfort for passengers and even creches in the sky!
    We could have public owned utilities with staff electing qualified boards and with communities having a say which pay a community dividend and rail and mail run on simimilar democratic lines but break even.
    But good news today tempered by news that the Left in Argentina lost but perhaps a lesson here – it lost because it had a centre left candidate who ran to the middle and failed to enthuse people.
    It is still the labour of the working billions which creates the wealth and makes societies work and hopefully soon will be the age of the grassroots -led, bottom up, democratic, and peaceful- what democratic socialism was always meant to be.

  4. @ Bazza

    Concentrated solar energy can also produce desalinated water as a waste product for desert solar powered greenhouses to produce crops… just a thought.

  5. Compare John’s scheme with the more “mainstream” vision outlined by Liam Byrne. I don’t think there are differences of kind here, merely of degree and emphasis.

    If John McDonnell’s vision is confined to making capitalism work better, as Phil BC seems to think and hope, then its back to business as usual for Labour and the hopes and dreams revived by Corbyn’s election will come to nothing. As with every other effort to tame the capitalist beast of the last 60 years it will no more succeed than Gordon Brown’s promise of an end to boom and bust.

    Phil BC thinks that John McDonnell and Liam Byrne are singing from the same hymn sheet. I don’t and, unlike Phil BC, I don’t want it to be so. If it is so then the left is stuffed for another generation. Socialism has to mean something more than ‘capitalism with a human face’.