Dave Osland (Solidarity 390) is right that Jeremy Corbyn’s and John McDonnell’s opposition to austerity is to be welcomed, and opens many more exit doors from the Thatcher-Blair-Brown-Cameron neo-liberal consensus than anything previously-established powers of the Labour Party had come up with for decades. He is also right that Corbynomics is far from “Leninism”, “all power to the Soviets”, or even “socialism in the strict sense of the term, namely the dominance of social ownership of the means of production”.
However, he indicates that this remoteness from socialism proper, this closeness (in contrast) to the traditions of “Very British Labourism”, is a positive virtue. I dissent. Dave does not summarise Corbynomics beyond “an end to austerity”, but suggests it connects to the Alternative Economic Strategy proposed by the Communist Party and others in the 1970s, and the ideas of Andrew Fisher in his book The Failed Experiment.
The cornerstone of the AES was import controls (shortly followed by simulation of a wartime siege economy, and nationalisation of some big companies). To Corbyn’s and McDonnell’s credit, they propose nothing like that. Fisher’s book is more a critique of neo-liberalism than a policy blueprint, but he has summarised his recommendations in three points (Morning Star, 1 May 2014):
• Banning profitable companies from declaring redundancies;
• Raising the minimum wage and pensions and benefits;
• A law saying that if workers in a company vote by a majority to make it a worker cooperative, then the government buys out the owners and gives it to the workers.
None of those are in Corbynomics, other than a non-specific commitment to a living wage. The chief policies of Corbynomics are renationalising rail (bit by bit), efficient tax collection, reducing government subsidies to business, and “people’s QE”, putting public money into public housing and infrastructure projects.
Corbyn and McDonnell feel they must step cautiously because they have as yet no mandate from Labour Party conference, let alone the Parliamentary Labour Party, for radical policies. But rank-and-file activists can and should still be socialists! We can and should fight to win that mandate for radical policies. We are not obliged to pretend that the limited Corbyonomic measures are sufficient, let alone that the AES or Fisher’s measures show the direction they should be extended.
Both the AES and Fisher’s measures would require a great mobilisation against strong capitalist resistance to push them through. In current conditions they would probably need a workers’ government to implement them. Yet, at the same time, they would not give that workers’ government a real grip on the economy. The mobilisation would be for tangential, or, in the case of import controls, diversionary measures. We should be arguing for measures like public ownership and democratic control of the banks (TUC policy, 2012) and a radical transformation of the machinery of government.
• Solidarity 384 carried a survey of Corbyn’s and McDonnell’s economic policies