Many supporters of Jeremy Corbyn class themselves as “democratic socialists”. So the question we should ask is whether or not contemporary “radical socialism” (to use the Morning Star's words for Corbyn's position) can ever be truly democratic. After all, this is an ideology which demands that all the “means of production”, public services, schools, much (or all?) of the media, etc. should be state-owned... or, as Corbyn's supporters sometimes put, “socially-owned”. We would also need to contemplate what a Corbyn government would do to political dissidents - of whichever flavour. Think here of the leftwing “no platform” policy. (Not simply the named “no platform” policy of the National Union of Students; but that which can also be found in councils, libraries, public spaces, public services, etc.) This politically-correct (no-platform) milieu has has already claimed (i.e., without the help of a Corbynite state) political parties/groups, academics, non-political/political individuals, well-known celebrities, etc. as victims.
Many Corbynites also say that Jeremy Corbyn is himself a “social democrat”; not just a “democratic socialist”. For example, the very nasty and popular pro-Corbyn blog, Another Angry Voice, tells us that 'Jeremy Corbyn is a social democrat'. Then we have openDemocracy (a “socially liberal and internationalist political website”) with its article, 'Jeremy Corbyn – a mainstream [Scandinavian] social democrat'.
On the whole, however, it's more often said that Jeremy Corbyn is committed to “social democracy”; rather than saying – explicitly - that he's a “social democrat”. (Prospect - the “leading magazine of ideas” - published an article called: 'How Corbyn turned the tide for social democracy'.) Here we must simply assume that the words “social democrat” have a negative ring for those socialists who were around in the early 1980s (see later section); whereas - for some bizarre reason - the words “social democracy” don't.
What we have, then, is the case of Corbynites intentionally fusing democratic socialism with social democracy. They even have the audacity to cite Scandinavian countries as being Corbyn's political exemplars. Yet no Scandinavian government is democratic-socialist, let alone outright socialist.
Sweden, for one, is a parliamentary (representative) democracy and a constitutional monarchy; with a King as head of state. The country is now run by its Social Democratic Party.
Norway is also a parliamentary (representative) democracy and a constitutional monarchy; with a King as head of state. The government of Norway is a coalition between the Progress Party (which is “classical liberal-libertarian and conservative-liberal”) and the Conservative Party.
Finally, Denmark. This country too is a parliamentary (representative) democracy and a constitutional monarchy; with a Queen as head of state. At present, the Government of Denmark is made up of a “center-right bloc” which includes the Liberal Party, the Liberal Alliance and the Conservative Party. (Lars Løkke Rasmussen, Denmark's Prime Minister, is from the Liberal Party.)
More relevantly, we should ask if Jeremy Corbyn himself is a democratic socialist. Or perhaps we should simply ask: Is Corbyn a democrat?
Yet asking that question may seem very odd when set it within the context of his being a Member of Parliament for thirty-four years. But please read on...
Take the cases of the the “Irish Marxist writer and broadcaster” Richard Seymour and the Labour Party “adviser” Andrew Murray.
Richard Seymour left the Socialist Workers Party in 2013. He then joined the Labour Party when Jeremy Corbyn became its leader in September 2015. Arguably, since then, Seymour has done as much to further the cause of Corbyn than anyone else not directly working for the Labour Party machine.
To more or less paraphrase the man himself. Richard Seymour joined the Labour Party because he finally came to realise that Trotskyist and communist sects/parties had quite simply failed to bring about a revolution in the United Kingdom. He came to dislike their perennial political failures. Thus Seymour needed a more concrete and realistic option.
Firstly, Richard Seymour asks his fellow Leftists/socialists this question:
“[W]hy, in more than five years of turmoil for the global capitalist system, has the left made such a practically negligible impact?”
In parallel to these political failures, Seymour also believes that Trotskyist and communist sects are
“all too often subculturalised, dependent on forms of sociality and on shibboleths that are exclusive and tend to repel new participants”.
Yet now, of course, we have Jeremy Corbyn at the helm of the Labour Party. And this man “did pull off the most stunning upset in recent political history”. What's more (as found in The Times Literary Supplement),
“he did this by turning out voters who, according to all received wisdom, would never vote, above all the young and poor”.
Thus Richard Seymour jumped ship from his own favoured Trotskyist sect (i.e., the SWP) to Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party.
Now for Andrew Philip Drummond-Murray (now called Andrew Murray).
Murray left the Communist Party of Britain (after being a member for 40 years) in November 2016. Then – in December 2016 – he glided effortlessly over to Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party. Not long after that he was made Election Chief during the 2017 campaign. (The same kind of thing also happened with the well-known “Stalinist” - as the New Statesman put it - Seumus Milne when he too rose to the top of the Labour Party by becoming a top adviser during the 2017 election campaign.)
It's hard to find many quotes from Andrew Murray because most of his articles for the Communist Party of Britain have been erased (as has John McDonnell's for the Alliance for Workers' Liberty). Nevertheless, here's one from Autumn 2016 – just before Murray joined Corbyn's Labour Party. (Indeed it must have been the last article he wrote for this particular communist party.)
In this article, '100 Years of Lenin's Imperialism', Murray writes about the need to “reconceptualise” the “revolution”:
“[Lenin] would look for the way to reconceptualise the need for world revolution in the light of the recent very heavy defeats and the emergence of globalisation.”
This could of course mean (as it does for Andrew Murray himself and Richard Seymour) that communists, Trotskyists and other radicals should now reconceptualise the revolution by joining Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party.
And then Murray explicitly states his Leninism:
"These views [of Lenin] are most clearly expressed... [when] he wrote that 'all democracy consists in the proclamation and realisation of rights which under capitalism are realisable only to a very small degree and only relatively...'...”
As you can see, it's hard to see how any of the words above tie in with Corbyn's ostensible democratic socialism.
In addition, Murray isn't happy with all parts of the “labour movement” either. He continues:
“Lenin would emphasise... the need to support all struggles against imperialism under whatever banner [e.g. the IRA, Hamas, Hezbollah, Assad's Syria, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, etc.] ... and he would stress the need to rupture ideologically with those sections of the labour movement [e.g., “Blairite vermin” and all non-communist sections] which argued for support for the new order.”
There's also explicit backing for my interpretation of these Labour Party entryists from the International Socialist Review journal. In an article called 'The rise of Corbyn' (which, ironically enough, is about Richard Seymour), we have the following words of advice for Trotskyists, communists and other revolutionaries:
“Corbyn has not obviated the need for an extra-parliamentary left. As [Richard] Seymour has noted in the past, Corbyn and Corbynism need a left outside Labour, which is unimpeded by party unity and capable of drawing knives against the LP right wing, and mass mobilization in the streets to succeed in implementing any of his platform...
Finally, the writer of this article – probably in a state of intense excitement - states that
“the magnet of Corbynism [is] drawing many revolutionaries into Labour Party membership...”
As you can see, my paranoid conspiracy theories about Richard Seymour and Andrew Murray - as well as about Jeremy Corbyn himself - are backed up by the Left itself. In the above we have everything we need without any requirement to indulge in any ad hoc conspiracy theories.
Firstly, we have the fact that Leftists realise that those outside the Labour Party are still of vital importance; even though Party itself is indeed democratic and committed to parliamentary politics. And, just in case readers have got the wrong impression, I don't mean workers or people who aren't members of the Labour Party. I mean (mainly) middle-class revolutionaries and students (i.e., the “vanguard of the working class”).
Secondly, we have the traditional anti-democratic vehemence of the Left when we read the words “drawing knives against the LP right wing”. Along with that, we also have the threat that if any aspect of Corbyn's “platform” isn't implemented, then there'll be “mass mobilisation”; which often means riots and violence. Yes, these radicals are offering to be Corbyn's boot boys/ brown shirts/squadristi.
Thirdly, there's the frank admittance that Corbyn is “drawing many revolutionaries into Labour Party membership”. Yet this is something which is aggressively denied by many supporters of Corbyn when you debate with such people on social media.
And in tandem with all the above, we can now ask if Corbyn himself might have always known (as Murray and Seymour now know) that the Labour Party has always had more of a concrete chance of radically changing the “capitalist democracy” that is Britain than all the communist and Trotskyist sects put together. Indeed how much truer is that today now that he's the leader of the Labour Party?
It can be said that many of the socialists who've also been genuine democrats weren't at all socialists in the way in which Jeremy Corbyn, Richard Seymour and Andrew Murray are socialists. For example, many of them were committed to large elements of private enterprise. They were also committed to parliamentary democracy. (Until December 2016, Richard Seymour and Andrew Murray weren't committed to parliamentary democracy at all – perhaps they still aren't!)
Now of course it's unlikely that Corbyn would explicitly say that he wants every part of Britain's economic and social landscape to be state-owned. However, recently Corbyn has come closer and closer to saying exactly that. His Marxist Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, the dour ideologue John McDonnell, for example, is much more honest about these matters. Readers should also note here that when McDonnell was asked - by the Alliance for Workers' Liberty - to name the “most significant” influences on his thought, he replied: “The fundamental Marxist writers of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, basically.”
And neither should we expect Corbyn be too explicit about his dislike of - and scepticism towards - “the parliamentary road to socialism”; as his fellow socialist/Marxist Ralph Miliband was in the 1960s and 70s. Both Ralph Miliband and Corbyn's friend today, Andrew Murray, argued that the Labour Party could never be truly “radical” within a parliamentary context.
One must assume that Corbyn's response to these communist/socialist sceptics would be something like this:
If Parliament were ruled by a socialist party (as well as if Parliament itself were largely socialist in nature), then there'd be no problem at all. There'd be no need for a revolution.
This would also mean - at least in theory - that Corbyn doesn't need to take a categorical or extreme position against Parliament. And isn't that precisely why he's been an MP for 34 years?
Again, no politician – let alone a leader – is entirely honest and truthful when they're positioning themselves for political power. Neither is Corbyn. For example, he's been less than explicit and honest about the IRA, Karl Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, student fees/loans, the European Union, Hamas and Hezbollah, Iran, Venezuela, the British army, etc. Put simply, Corbyn's total honesty on all these issues would quite literally end his (leadership) career over night. Exactly the same has happened to other leaders in his position.
Now let's move on to the Social Democratic Party (SDP), which was formed in 1981.
It's clear that there are lots of lessons to learn about the difference between social democracy and socialism within the SDP context. What's particularly relevant is the fact that the SDP was created as a response to the growing “radical socialism” of the Labour Party in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
As just stated, the SDP was formed in reaction to the increasing Marxist/Leftist leanings of the Labour Party. In this instance at least, social democracy and socialism certainly didn't fuse. Thus the SDP was as hated by the socialists of the time as “Blairite vermin” are hated by Corbynites today.
It's interesting to note that many members of the Social Democratic Party had previously been members of the the Manifesto Group. This group - like Militant in the early 1980s and Momentum today - could actually have been found within the Labour Party.
The primary gripes of the Manifesto Group included the growing prominence of Tony Benn (who, according to the BBC, “has been a key influence on Corbyn's politics”) in the Labour Party and the fact that the trade unions – with their “block votes”, etc. - had a very strong say in choosing the party leader. Now, in 2017, Corbyn himself still believes in “secondary strikes”; that unions can charge a “political levy” (i.e., to support the Labour Party); and that strikes are acceptable – in health, education, transport, etc. – even if less than 40% of the workers in these services support the strike.
The Manifesto Group was also against unilateral nuclear disarmament. Hard Leftists/communists within the Labour Party – right up to Corbyn - have, of course, always been in favour of unilateral nuclear disarmament.
It's also interesting to note (considering the comments made in the introduction) that the SDP modelled itself (at least in part) on the “social-democratic governments” of Europe. This, of course, was something many Labour Party socialists of the time were very much against – primarily because such social democracies were also “capitalist” social democracies... with monarchies!
In addition, it's ironic that the Bennites - and other radical socialists – had a problem with a political party that had a constitution which declared:
"The SDP exists to create and defend an open, classless and more equal society which rejects prejudices based upon sex, race, colour or religion.”
One can conclude that Labour's radicals must have been against both the democratic part of social democracy and also against its commitment to some forms of capitalism. It was indeed the case that the SDP was committed to a restrained and controlled capitalism. (As is the current Conservative Party and all Conservative parties since the Second World War.) The SDP itself deemed its position to be a “middle way” between “Thatcherism” and “hard-left Labour”. In concrete terms, its constitution also stated that it was in favour of the “fostering of a strong public sector and a strong private sector without frequent frontier changes".
The immediate post-war Labour government is the only government which gets a good press for Corbynites and other radical socialists. So why is that? It's primarily because of the creation of the National Health Service in 1948.
Take Professor James Tomlinson's book, Democratic Socialism and Economic Policy: The Attlee Years,1945-1951. This has frequent mentions of the NHS. We also have Robert M. Page (who's a “Reader in Democratic Socialism and Social Policy” at the University of Birmingham) who refers to something he calls the "transformative democratic socialism" of this period.
This is why so many Corbynites today claim that the NHS was entirely a “socialist invention”. Yet is that really the case? We can certainly say that NHS was indeed put in place under a Labour government – i.e., after a world war which had caused so much havoc! However, non-socialist public services date back to the Romans – if not before. And the NHS's very own William Beveridge was a Liberal.
We also had the Chancellor of the German Empire in the 1870s and 1880s. Otto von Bismark implemented various public services (or “welfare programs”) which included sickness insurance, accident insurance, disability insurance and a retirement pension. In addition, the German National Socialists (i.e., Nazis) later - in the 1930s - also had an extensive public services (if only for Aryans) such as maternity pay, animal rights legislation, health services, green policies, pollution controls, etc. It also had full employment. All this was of course at the expense of civil liberties and freedom; and it also partly relied on forced labour. However, exactly the same can be said of all the socialist/communist regimes of the 20th century and beyond!
It can be argued that Jeremy Corbyn believes that “eventual socialism” (or “reformist socialism”) has – up until now - failed. (Richard Seymour – discussed above - believes that Corbyn is the Labour Party's first socialist leader.) Hence his radical message. Apart from the immediate post-war Labour government, all Labour governments have been seen (by radical socialists) to have appeased the “capitalist system” in various and many ways.
However, historically and in the contrary direction to Corbyn, some Labour Party leaders have argued that Western states have been moving (since the post-World War Two) from "liberal capitalism" towards what they deemed to have been democratic socialism.
The Labour Party politician, Fabian and “revisionist”, Anthony Crossland, for example, argued that a more "benevolent" form of capitalism could be seen after the War. This was the case because of such things as the many regulations on private enterprise; the elements of democracy within the industrial infrastructure; and the small pockets of workers' self-management. Crossland also spoke against revolution and the need for revolutionary/radical or “fundamental” economic and political change. To him, equality came about through an economic growth which would be achieved by better management of the economy; not through class war or total state ownership. Indeed, from such economic growth, the funds for better and more public services would be found. Such things could even happen, it was argued, without massive “fiscal redistribution”.
This above shows us that alongside revolutionary/radical socialism within the Labour Party, there have always also been those who've argued that their own brand of socialism could exist alongside capitalism. That is, that socialism isn't about utterly destroying capitalism in its entirety. Needless to say, radicals within the Labour Party haven't been keen on any of this. To them, it hardly deserved the name socialism. Perhaps they are right.
In addition, this Leftist hatred of the Labour Party's democratic traditions and its (non-revolutionary/radical) values isn't only the case when it comes to Jeremy Corbyn himself and all those entryists discussed above (e.g., Richard Seymour, Andrew Murray, John McDonnell, Seumus Milne, etc.). As mentioned earlier by the International Socialist Review, it also includes the “many revolutionaries drawn into Labour Party membership” by the “magnet of Corbynism”.