Corbyn: “economically illiterate”?

Submitted by Matthew on 19 August, 2015 - 10:47 Author: Ralph Peters

To judge by what you hear from the camps of the other candidates for Labour leader, or the media you might believe that Corbyn's economic policy could only be implemented by a storming of the Westminster Palace with a troop of Red Guards. That is far from the truth.

Corbyn's proposals for renationalisation of the rail network and a gradual takeover of the private energy corporations are classified as “old policies” by Corbyn's opponents who attempt to portray them as unpopular. These policies would indeed have been mainstream in the 60s, 70s and 80s, prior to pro-market policies of the Tories, and the Blairites adoption of Tory policies.

But have things really changed? The wasteful competition, the absence of accountability and the huge profits of the private companies that have taken over the rail, utilities and telecommunication industries are widely known. The privatisation of everything has happened all over the world. But, unlike in for example the US, there is in the UK also a memory, however nostalgic, that things weren't always like this and shouldn't be like this.

So the Blairites’ unexplained designation of “old policies” as unpopular therefore makes little sense to working-class people who are joining the Labour Party in their tens of thousands. Corbyn's policies are far more popular than the other contenders and there is little doubt that in spite of the media attacks they could win him this election.

The problem I have with Corbyn's policies is that they don’t go far enough. Why are the hugely profitable and competitively wasteful telecommunication industries also not brought back into public ownership? Why do we need to “buy back” these industries that have already made excessive profits over the years at the peoples’ expense? Why don't we bring all the banks under democratic public control?

Corbyn also underestimates the obstructions that might be put in the way of a government trying to reverse an overwhelmingly privatised economy.

Chris Mullin has recently reversioned his 1981 novel, A Very British Coup. The original was written at the time when the left got close to taking the leadership of the Labour Party. Mullin's narrative is flawed in many ways but it does highlight the sabotage that the “establishment” — the senior civil service, powerful well-connected capitalists and media moguls — are capable of.

And that is why any programme of re-nationalisations needs to also advocate democratic workers’ control of those industries and the need to mobilise workers at every level of society.

Public ownership is not enough. Look at the record of some of the heads of those industries in the past. At Ian McGregor who first demolished the British Steel Corporation and then the National Coal Board when the Thatcher was in power. Or, more recently, Bob Kiley, who was appointed by Ken Livingstone to run London Transport on a very high salary and who had a very poor relationship with tube workers.

Any attempt to seriously regulate private and profit-driven corporations would be completely frustrated by powerful senior civil servants and capitalists with their own vested interests.

So the issue of who controls the economy and for what purpose has to go hand-in-hand with who owns it and how it is regulated.

The restoration of workers’ and trade union rights is a unique and positive element of Corbyn’s programme. As also is the desire of both him and John McDonnell MP, possibly the Shadow Chancellor under Corbyn, to have a thorough-going debate in the Labour Party.

Yes, we must end the domination of the Labour Party by pro-market politicians but we need further debate on how we ensure that workers can be involved in rebuilding an economy run for the needs of the people and not for profit.

The economy in 2020

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