I've had various debates (or at least exchanges) with the supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. In these debates Corbyn has been variously classed as “center-left”, a “social democrat”, and a “democratic socialist”.
Despite all that, no matter how many times people keep on saying that Jeremy Corbyn is "center-left" or a "social democrat", it won't change the fact that... he's not. Corbyn, after all, has classed himself as a “radical socialist”. Indeed he's been classed that way by numerous of his supporters.
Now what point is there of using the prefix "radical" (as in “radical socialism”) if it simply refers to some kind of center-left position or the position of a social democrat? The whole point of adopting a radical position is that's it's radical. (That is, not centrist.) Thus all this playing with terms is surely semantic deceit. It's linguistic showmanship which is primarily designed to distance Jeremy Corbyn from Marxism, Trotskyism and communism generally. But what's even more perverse is that the classifications “center-left” and “social democrat” are designed to distance Corbyn from Radical Socialism itself – something which he has openly endorsed.
Corbyn is on the Center-Left
So let's firstly tackle the classification “center-left”.
That term may sound odd for the current leader of the Labour Party. However, even the Independent newspaper has Corbyn down as being “center-left”. (See here.) Many others do too.
Yet the fact is that many Corbynites despise the center-left of the Labour Party and centrism generally. (Yes, Corbynites don't only despise right-wing "Blairite vermin".) You can see the vitriolic dismissal of non-Corbynite Labour Party MPs, Labour councilors, Labour members, etc. on social media and in Corbynite blogs (such as Skwawkbox, Evolve Politics, Another Angry Voice, the Canary, Novara Media, etc.).
Nonetheless, I'm happy to admit that many Labour Party members and supporters are center-left. I'm even prepared to accept that a few supporters of Corbyn are center-left (i.e., those who're tribal Labour Party voters). However, I'm certainly not prepared to accept that Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Momentum, etc. are center-left.
Now semantic games can even be played with the term "center-left". As it is, there are dozens of quotes, arguments, bits of evidence and biographical detail which explicitly show that Corbyn is a hair's breadth away from being a non-revolutionary (though still “radical”) Marxist... So why have I just used the prefix “non-revolutionary”? I've used that because it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that there have been countless non-revolutionary Marxists (dating back to the late 19th century) whom happily participated in the politics of “capitalist democracies”.
Corbyn is a Social Democrat
Many other Corbynites say that Jeremy Corbyn is a “social democrat”.
So let's start with this quote:
“From a purely socialist point of view, social democratic reform is a failure since it serves to devise new means to strengthen the capitalist system, which conflicts with the socialist goal of replacing capitalism with a socialist system.”
The following are some example of outlets which also claim that Corbyn is a “social democrat”.
For example, the pro-Corbyn blog, Another Angry Voice, tells us that 'Jeremy Corbyn is a social democrat'. We also 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'.)
So let's take 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 (let alone Radical Socialism) within the SDP context. What's particularly relevant is the fact that the SDP was created as a response to the growing “far Left 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” and centrists (i.e., non-radicals) are hated by Corbynites today.
The primary gripes of the SDP 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.
It's also interesting to note that the SDP modelled itself (at least in part) on the “social-democratic governments” of Europe. This, of course, was something Labour Party socialists at the time were very much against – primarily because such social democracies were also “capitalist” social democracies - with monarchies! They were also strongly against the Europen Economic Community.
One can conclude that Labour's radicals must have been against both the democratic part of social democracy and also against the social democrats' commitment to 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".
Having just mentioned European social democracies, many Corbynites have even had the audacity to cite Scandinavian countries as being Corbyn's political exemplars. Yet no Scandinavian government is socialist - let alone Radical 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.
As for Denmark. This country is also 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.
Corbyn is a Democratic Socialist
Many supporters of Jeremy Corbyn also class him as a “democratic socialist”.
The question we should ask here 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, distribution and exchange” (as well as all public services, schools, much - or all? - of the media) should be state-owned (or, as Corbyn's supporters put, “socially-owned”). We would also need to contemplate what a Corbyn government would do to political dissidents - of whichever flavour. (Note here that the leftwing “no platform” policy will be backed up by a socialist government if Corbyn gains “state power”.)
The term “democratic socialism” (or “democratic socialist”) is very vague anyway.
For a start, hardly any socialist or communist has ever explicitly spoken out against democracy. Nonetheless, they most certainly have spoken out against particular types of democracy. Thus the word “democratic” in “democratic socialism” will need to be defined and explained. After all, we mustn't forget that many communist regimes in the 20th century classed themselves as “democratic”. (E.g., the Lao People's Democratic Republic, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, the Democratic Government of Albania, Democratic Kampuchea, the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, the Somali Democratic Republic, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, Democratic Federal Yugoslavia, the Democratic Republic of the Sudan, etc.)
The basic thing is that no matter how the word “democratic” - in “democratic socialism” - is defined or used, it's still deemed to be an aspect of socialism.
So perhaps it would be wise to consider here the Democratic Socialists of America; which was formed 1982 and is still with us today. The DSA is (according to itself) “the largest socialist organization in the United States”. In the past the DSA has endorsed Jesse Jackson, Bernie Sanders and, more recently, Britain's very own Jeremy Corbyn.
One enlightening Democratic Socialists of America statement reads as follows:
“Electoral tactics are only a means for democratic socialists.”
So what about democratic socialism itself? The following is the DSA's view:
"We are socialists because we reject an economic order based on private profit, alienated labor, gross inequalities of wealth and power... We are socialists because we share a vision of a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution... We believe that such a strategy must acknowledge the class structure of American society and that this class structure means that there is a basic conflict of interest between those sectors with enormous economic power and the vast majority of the population."
We can see that this passage might have comes straight out of Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto - if in an updated form!
That means that when it comes to the Democratic Socialists of America (at the least), the term “democratic socialism” means acknowledging and then winning the class war. It also means the total control of all “resources and production”; alongside complete “economic planning”.
So what, exactly, of the democracy part the DSA's democratic socialism? The answer to that is as simple as this:
No state or government which allows capitalism – in any shape and form – can be truly democratic precisely because it still allows “gross inequalities”, “alienated labour” and the “conflict of interests”.
Quite simply, the Democratic Socialists of America believes that true democracy will never exist until socialism – in its complete form - is put in place.
And like the activist group Momentum within today's Labour Party (which stated that it "exists to build on the energy and enthusiasm from the Jeremy Corbyn for Labour Leader campaign”), the DSA places its cards on the table in this way:
“Much of progressive, independent political action will continue to occur in Democratic Party primaries.... democratic socialists will support coalitional campaigns based on labor, women, people of color and other potentially anti-corporate elements... Electoral tactics are only a means for democratic socialists [my bold]; the building of a powerful anti-corporate coalition is the end...”
Indeed the overall role of the Democratic Socialists of America (just like Momentum in today's British Labour Party) is to “realign” the Democratic Party and make it out-rightly Marxist/Radical Socialist.
... and, finally, Corbyn is a Radical Socialist
So what about Corbyn as a “radical socialist”?
It's fairly easy (I suppose) to square Radical Socialism with Democratic Socialism. However, when it comes to squaring Radical Socialism with the “center-left” or with “social democracy”, then that's very bizarre indeed.
I don't know if it's only me, but I take the words “radical socialism” to mean a kind of socialism which is radical. Now socialism itself is - by definition! - opposed to capitalism. So I simply must assume that Radical Socialism is radically opposed to capitalism. However, I'm prepared to accept that many other types of socialist do indeed believe in “mixed economies”, “parliamentary democracy”, etc. (Though their positions may well be self-contradictory.) However, I'm not prepared to believe that Radical Socialists believe in mixed economies. Indeed many of them are also deeply suspicious of parliamentary democracy (or “capitalist democracy”, as they put it). Again, if all this isn't the case, then what point does the prefix “radical” serve in the term “radical socialism”?
This also means that we shouldn't expect Jeremy Corbyn himself to be too explicit about his dislike of - or scepticism towards - “the parliamentary road to socialism”; as his fellow socialist/Marxist Ralph Miliband was in the 1960s and 70s. (Ralph Miliband argued that the Labour Party could never be truly “radical” within a parliamentary context.)
One must assume that Corbyn's response to these Marxist/socialist sceptics would be something like this:
If Parliament were ruled by a radical-socialist Labour Party (as well as if Parliament itself were largely socialist in nature), then there'd be no problem at all. There'd simply be no need for a revolution.
This also means - at least in theory - that Jeremy Corbyn doesn't need to take a categorical or extreme or revolutionary position against Parliament. And isn't that precisely why he's been an MP for 35 years?