O Jeremy Corbyn

When Corbyn addressed the crowds at the Glastonbury festival and got a pop star’s reception, the media reported the crowds chanting ‘O Jeremy Corbyn’ in line with his newly-acquired cult status.

Hundreds of thousands of otherwise intelligent people regard him as a Leader who will improve things for them and are prepared to follow him on that basis. But leaders are not miracle-workers. They are prisoners of their followers and cannot go much beyond where these are prepared to go. They are also prisoners of objective conditions. No leader can make capitalism function in the interests of the many, as Corbyn’s followers imagine. In fact, if ever he did become Prime Minister, this would be a disaster for him.

Elected to office by the votes of followers who did want not socialism but only a capitalism reformed to put ‘people before profit’, Corbyn would not be able to reform capitalism to work for the many, let alone bring about socialism. He would have to resign himself to presiding over capitalism running on its terms, inevitably to the detriment of the many. ‘O Jeremy Corbyn’ would give way to ‘Corbyn, Out, Out, Out’.

A hundred or so years ago, in America, another working-class leader, Eugene Debs (who knew a great deal more about socialism than Corbyn), repudiated cult status by declaring:

‘I am not a Labor Leader; I do not want you to follow me or anyone else; if you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of this capitalist wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, someone else would lead you out. You must use your heads as well as your hands, and get yourself out of your present condition; as it is now the capitalists use your heads and your hands’ (Speech in Detroit, 1906).

Socialism cannot be established by people following some leader. It can only be established by people who want and understand it and participate in bringing it into being and making it work. As socialism involves people willingly and democratically cooperating to run things, it can only be established by people prepared to do this, not by sheep who have given up acting for themselves in order to follow a shepherd.

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