Cooking the Books I: The Labour Party Marxist? Pull the other one!
The Labour Party Marxist? Pull the other one!
The Sun (5 December) denounced the prospect of ‘a Marxist-run coalition with Corbyn in No 10.’ This strange view that the Labour Party under Corbyn is Marxist had been repeated for months by Tory politicians. A headline in the Daily Express (30 March) proclaimed ‘Iain Duncan Smith issues warning over “Marxist threat” from Jeremy Corbyn premiership,’ while in July, in his bid to become Tory leader, Boris Johnson spoke of Corbyn as ‘the leader of a cabal of superannuated Marxists.’
This claim goes even further back, to Prime Minister’s Question Time in 2013, when according to a Daily Mail headline (9 October 2013) ‘Miliband wants to live in a ‘Marxist universe’, Cameron claims as leaders clash over Labour ‘gimmick’ to freeze energy bills’, while ‘Chancellor George Osborne claimed that the Labour leader had put forward the same argument that “Karl Marx made in Das Kapital”’. Cameron’s case was that Marxists want to control prices while world market prices are beyond the control of governments; which, ironically, is the Marxist view.
But what is a ‘Marxist’? Marx himself didn’t like the term and would have preferred his theories to have been called ‘communist theory.’ Nevertheless, after his death, ‘Marxism’ came to be the term used even by those who agreed with his views to describe the body of his theory: the materialist conception of history, with technology and class struggles as the driving forces; his analysis of the economic workings of capitalism as a system of uncontrollable capital accumulation in fits and starts; and his insistence on the need for the working class to win control of political power in order to establish a communist (or, the same thing, a socialist) society based on the common ownership of productive resources and production to directly meet people’s needs rather than for sale with a view to profit.
The Labour Party falls at the first hurdle. It does not stand for socialism as Marx did, even though at times it has claimed to be socialist. The first time it did this was in 1918. Before that, it saw itself as merely a trade union pressure group in parliament. But what it called socialism was nationalisation, or production for profit organised by state enterprises, the correct term for which is ‘state capitalism’.
The present Labour Party has abandoned even this, accepting that the commanding heights of the economy should be in the hands of profit-seeking private enterprises. It talks now of an ‘entrepreneurial state,’ which is just another form of state capitalism.
The Labour Party has never understood how the capitalist economy works. It has never accepted Marxian economics, preferring Keynes who taught that capitalism can be controlled by state intervention and made to work in everybody’s interest.
A previous Labour Party general secretary, Morgan Phillips, famously said that ‘the Labour Party owes more to Methodism than to Marxism’, which is true. Its philosophy, insofar as it has one, is do-goodism rather than Marx’s view ‘the emancipation of the working class has to be the work of the working class itself.’
One more intelligent Tory, Robert Halfon, newly re-elected MP for Harlow, warned them to ‘stop calling Corbyn a Marxist’ as ‘such terminology means very little to most ordinary folk’ (www.conservativehome.com/thecolumnists/2019/04/robert-halfon-stop-calling-corbyn-a-marxist.html). It doesn’t, but there might be an upside to this – more people seeking to find out what it does mean.