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Jeremy Corbyn: The Disturbing Sway of Socialist Demagoguery

by Darkademic in Politics   9 comments

Background

Jeremy Corbyn has been the leader of the UK's Labour Party since 2015 when, in the face of high profile Labour MPs claiming that he would render the Labour Party unelectable, he won a leadership contest with a vote share of 59.5%. After the EU referendum in 2016, around two-thirds of Corbyn's Shadow Cabinet resigned and a vote of no confidence was passed by Labour MPs with 172 votes to 40. Despite this, Corbyn retained the party leadership through another leadership contest with an increased vote share of 61.8%, putting the parliamentary Labour Party squarely at odds with its wider membership.

After being rejected by his own MPs and ridiculed by both the media and his political opponents for most of his time as leader, dismal local election results left the Labour party looking fractured and weak. Theresa May decided to take advantage of the situation by calling for a general election, with a crushing defeat for Labour being widely predicted. However, in the month leading up to the election popular support for Corbyn grew rapidly—or perhaps simply revealed itself—culminating in a far better performance for Labour than was anticipated.

The election resulted in the Conservatives losing the slim majority they had gained in the previous election, when a mere two months earlier polls had given them an enormous lead that probably would have translated into one of the biggest landslides in UK election history. While the Conservatives did lose some ground as the election campaign went on—thanks to some mind-bogglingly poor decisions—Labour's surge contributed substantially more to the result, as can be seen here:


Fig 1. UK Election Polling Leading up to the 2017 General Election

Corbyn's popularity has continued to soar, particularly amongst young people. He even appeared on stage at Glastonbury to the delight of the cheering crowds. Support for the policies he advocates and the ideology from which they are derived largely disappeared from mainstream UK politics decades ago, and with good reason, so it is important to understand the causes of this resurgence and to shine a spotlight on Corbyn's most pernicious and foolish ideas.

Socialism

Corbyn proudly identifies as a socialist and has been a consistent proponent of views much further to the left than most of the Labour Party. Cheerfully referring to Karl Marx as a "great economist", his understanding of economics appears to be almost non-existent, his political beliefs are rooted in ideology rather than reality, and his strategy consists of provoking resentment by blaming "the rich" or "the few" for all of the world's ills (a hugely oversimplified and unidimensional way of framing society, typical of Marxism and its ideological cousins).

Corbyn's shadow chancellor John McDonnell is perhaps even more explicit in his support of repugnant authoritarianism, naming Marx, Lenin and Trotsky as his most significant political influences, and being described by friends as a "true follower" of Marx. He even described the financial crisis as something he'd been waiting for "for a generation"; referring to how Marx viewed a collapse of capitalism as being inevitable and necessary for the transition into socialism.

Socialism as a politico-economic system—in all its forms—is unmatched in its propensity to cause catastrophic suffering and death. The death toll over the course of the 20th century is estimated to be in excess of 100 million (Courtois et al., 1997). It is therefore very disturbing that Corbyn has garnered so much support while holding and espousing such views. It's also disturbing that the Labour Party, which was previously so critical of him, is now either silent or supportive, pointing to either an abdication of principles in favour of political expediency, or a silencing of more centrist dissenters.

I would say that anybody with more than a cursory knowledge of 20th century history who dares to claim simultaneously that they have compassion for the downtrodden, and that they're Marxists, are revealing either an ignorance of history that is so astounding that it's actually a form of miracle, or a kind of malevolence that's so reprehensible that it's almost unspeakable. Peterson, University of Toronto (2017a)

This is of course not to say that Corbyn would commit mass murder if he were to become prime minister, just that his fundamental political principles are very much aligned with those that did. He apparently fails to recognise any connection between the policies he advocates and those that have led to so much destruction throughout history.

The positive correlation between economic freedom and all measures of prosperity is so well established as to be effectively undeniable, making it difficult to understand how anyone with even the slightest knowledge of economic history can be in favour of any system where the free market is dispensed with in favour of some form of state or collectivised administration.

One need only compare the relative success of South Korea over North Korea, or West Germany over East Germany, or Hong Kong over mainland China prior to China's economic liberalisation, or the United States over the Soviet Union, to at the very least cast doubt over the notion that capitalism causes suffering and inequality in comparison to socialism which alleviates these problems.

A comprehensive refutation of socialism is well beyond the scope of this article, but such can be found in the writings of numerous great economists such as Ludwig von Mises in "Socialism: An Economic & Sociological Analysis" and Friedrich Hayek in "The Use of Knowledge in Society", or in the writings of Ayn Rand who offered a philosophically driven rejection of both socialism and the more fundamental ideas upon which it is based.

Socialism […] is not the pioneer of a better and finer world, but the spoiler of what thousands of years of civilization have created. It does not build; it destroys. For destruction is the essence of it. It produces nothing, it only consumes what the social order based on private ownership in the means of production has created.Mises (1951)

When one observes the nightmare of the desperate efforts made by hundreds of thousands of people struggling to escape from the socialized countries of Europe, to escape over barbed-wire fences, under machine-gun fire—one can no longer believe that socialism, in any of its forms, is motivated by benevolence and by the desire to achieve men’s welfare. No man of authentic benevolence could evade or ignore so great a horror on so vast a scale. Rand (1964)

Venezuela

You don't have to look very hard to find a crystal clear demonstration of both Corbyn's economic lunacy and his prioritisation of ideology over reality. He actively and enthusiastically supported Hugo Chávez, Nicolás Maduro, and the Venezuelan regime that has been in power since 1999. He has given numerous speeches and written many articles where he made his endorsement clear, championing Venezuela as a shining example to be followed.

[...] Chávez strode the world, spoke up for the Palestinians, spoke up for the poor around the world, and [as an] inspiration to all of us fighting back against austerity and neoliberal economics in Europe, showed us there is a different and a better way of doing things; it's called socialism, it's called social justice, and it's something that Venezuela has made a big step towards. Jeremy Corbyn (2013)

In his view, Hugo Chávez should be praised for “showing that the poor matter and wealth can be shared. He made massive contributions to Venezuela.” [...] “Showing that the poor matter” is a typical Left euphemism for class war, and “wealth can be shared” is a typical Left euphemism for expropriating other peoples’ property. Pryce-Jones (2017)

It can take time for a country to experience the full force of economic gravity after socialism has been imposed upon it, but it is nonetheless an inevitability—Venezuela is merely the most recent example of this. The country has seen rapidly declining productivity, massive inflation, widespread malnutrition, and shortages of food, medicine and basic necessities. As the economic situation has deteriorated, the people have become increasingly hostile to the regime leading to violent clashes between demonstrators and government personnel.

At the time of writing, the country is a tragic confluence of violence, poverty and political repression that appears to be on the brink of civil war. It has thus become a damning indictment of Corbyn's political incompetence and demonstrates a staggering lack of economic understanding and foresight. Short of Soviet-style genocide, it is difficult to imagine a worse situation for Venezuela to be in, considering its position as one of the most oil-rich countries in the world, and as formerly one of the wealthiest countries in Latin America.

It’s a tragedy that the Labour Party [...] is now led by people who, with ideological conviction, have abandoned constitutionalism in favour of the myths of Maduro and the needless suffering he’s inflicted on a people with a proud history and a nation with abundant natural resources. More than a tragedy, it’s a monstrous disgrace. Kamm (2017)

Pressure has mounted for Corbyn to admit he was disastrously wrong in his support for the Bolivarian regime. He was recently asked whether he condemned Maduro's part in the bloodshed in Venezuela, to which his response was: "What I condemn is the violence that's been done by any side, by all sides, in all this. Violence is not going to solve the issue." In his failure to condemn Maduro in particular he has, by his own standards, "chosen the side of the oppressor":

He then went on to say that "we also have to recognise that there have been effective and serious attempts at reducing poverty in Venezuela, improving literacy and improving the lives of many of the poorest people." Disconnecting specific (and debatable) improvements from the wider context of enormous suffering in this way is akin to praising Soviet GDP growth after tens of millions starved to death in the Ukraine. It is utterly contemptible, highlighting Corbyn's refusal to recognise the devastation that has repeatedly been the consequence of the ideology he has clung to his entire life.

A blanket condemnation of "all violence" is meaningless when you support political ideas that demand violence both for them to be realised and for them to be sustained in practice.

No great movement has ever been inaugurated without bloodshed. Marx (1879)

On the one hand, Karl Marx wrote of the inevitability of socialism. But on the other hand, he organized a socialist movement, a socialist party, declared again and again that his socialism was revolutionary, and that the violent overthrow of the government was necessary to bring about socialism. Mises (1952)

Excuses for Evil

Two blame-abdicating excuses are commonly used in response to pointing out the catastrophe that is Venezuelan socialism. The first is the oft-repeated claim that "it isn't 'real' socialism", which is also used as a way to explain away the atrocities that took place in other countries that adopted variants of Marxism, such as the U.S.S.R. and Maoist China. The oxymoron "state capitalism" is commonly used to refer to failed socialist states such as these.

It is usually only after the murderous reality of one of these systems has become so obvious as to be undeniable that such retroactive condemnations begin, and until that point it is common to find leftists singing their praises (Kamm, 2017; Niemietz, 2017).

Because the aims of socialism are never achieved, its advocates often point to this as evidence that “true” socialism has not yet been tried. Nonsense. It has been tried repeatedly. Its aims are never achieved because it is a failed ideology. Kelly (2017)

Whether it is "real" socialism isn't a particularly meaningful question to ask unless socialism is defined properly. Marxists and leftists will tend to use narrower definitions that include particular methodologies, socio-economic structures and justifications. The fundamental dimension that effectively makes these other considerations superfluous however, is economic freedom, as this is the primary determinant of a society's economic success. If socialism is defined as a system where the economy is centrally or collectively owned or controlled, then Venezuela certainly meets the criteria. Factories, farms and businesses have all been forcibly appropriated by the state, and this disregard for property rights has led to many remaining businesses simply shutting down or leaving the country.

Despite significant nationalisations—most notably of the oil industry as it constitutes a significant portion of the economy—it may be pointed out that Venezuela still has a sizeable private sector. However this fails to consider the other ways in which the government has interfered in the economy and rendered private businesses almost completely unable to function. Price controls, the inflation of the money supply, and the imposition of trade restrictions are the three most obvious ways in which this has occurred. Artificially capped prices mean that demand far outstrips supply, leading to crippling shortages. Inflation reached a ludicrous 800% in 2016, making prices almost meaningless, and trade restrictions have meant that Venezuela can't even reliably fall back on the functioning economies of other nations.

Which brings us to the second excuse; that Western imperialism or intervention has stifled the Venezuelan regime's attempts to implement socialism. It is true that the United States has attempted to exert influence over Latin America in the past, and in 2002 there was a coup which attempted to overthrow Chávez. Documents exist which show that the C.I.A had foreknowledge of the coup which it chose not share with the Venezuelan regime at the time. Anything beyond this is conjecture, including claims that the Venezuelan opposition has received financial support from the U.S. government. Even if this were the case, it could not possibly be causally responsible for the clear and deliberate economic decisions made by the Venezuelan government.

The fall in global oil prices could also be considered as being a distinct excuse given for Venezuela's situation, however oil dependency was an economic decision rather than a natural circumstance, so this simply reinforces that terrible economic policy is primarily to blame. In addition, it is the case that many countries more oil-dependent than Venezuela have not experienced anywhere near as much of a decline.

I know that Venezuela’s descent into chaos – hyperinflation, empty shops, out-of-control violence and the collapse of basic public services – will not be the last time we hear of a collapsing socialist economy. Looking into the future, it is safe to predict that more countries will refuse to learn from history and give socialism “a go”. Tupy (2016)

Closing Thoughts

Corybn's rhetoric has proven particularly persuasive, and this should not come as a complete surprise. In the UK, and to varying degrees around the world, the principles of individualism and freedom have become overshadowed by collectivism, cultural relativism and egalitarianism, particularly amongst young people.

Marxism and broader leftist philosophies are well suited to providing bite-sized, easily digestible snippets of rhetoric, as these ideologies boil economic and historical realities down to a narrative of oppressive elites prospering at the expense of everyone else. In times of economic uncertaintywith a near absence of positive, coherent messages that favour liberty or capitalismeasy to blame cartoon villains make for convenient and marketable scapegoats.

In an era where political discourse often takes the form of short, one or two sentence exchanges over Twitter, or emotionally charged catch-phrase ridden diatribes posted on Facebookwhere entire schools of economic thought are confidently dismissed as "right-wing propaganda" by people who haven't even left university, or who have never read a book on economics in their livesit is entirely to be expected that shallow yet visceral platitudes like "for the many, not the few" are resonating with people.

Corbyn is praised for his honesty and his consistency, and in most circumstances these are admirable traits, however the fact that he has consistently held views that have ruined nations and left scores of millions dead are demonstrative of an unwavering, narrow-minded, unthinking attachment to ideals that are detached from reality. Unfortunately the condition seems to be contagious.

The significant (if not yet overwhelming) support of Corbyn also seems to be part of the wider leftist movement that has become increasingly vociferous and militant in recent years. In the United States it has manifested itself in the rise of identity politics, with so-called "social justice warriors" taking over university campuses, or "black lives matter" protesting in the streets.

An oppression-centric worldview underpins these new strains of leftism, which pits groups (which are usually poorly defined or based on non-essential characteristics) against each other. For Corbyn, it's rich vs poor, for feminists it's women vs the patriarchy, for black lives matter it's black people vs universally racist white people, for social justice warriors it's a toxic amalgamation of some or all of these and/or other variations of the "oppressed vs oppressor" paradigm.

Unless a credible opposition to this kind of rhetoric can be mobilised, it's entirely possible that Jeremy Corbyn will be the next prime minister of the United Kingdom, and while he would probably be prevented from turning his more extreme socialist fantasies into reality, he would undoubtedly cause economic upheaval at a time when the United Kingdom absolutely cannot afford it, and likely extinguish any hopes for post-Brexit prosperity.

I think eventually the penny will drop regarding the un-cuddly nature of the essential Corbyn, and the lesser fleas who currently swarm around him will die off, engorged, fatally, on their own poisonous contradictions. Archer (2017)

References

Archer, G. (2017). Venezuela, Jeremy Corbyn and an ideology that strips people of dignity. CapX [online]. Available from: https://capx.co/venezuela-jeremy-corbyn-and-the-ideology-that-strips-people-of-dignity [Accessed: 06/08/17]

Corbyn, J. (2013). Speech given at a London vigil for Hugo Chávez [online]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYEfYsZ8SaA [Accessed: 06/08/17]

Courtois, S., Werth, N., Panné, J. L., Paczkowski, A., Bartošek, K. and Margolin, J. L. (1997). The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hayek, F. A. (1945). The Use of Knowledge in Society. The American Economic Review [online], 35(4), pp.519–534. Available from: http://home.uchicago.edu/~vlima/courses/econ200/spring01/hayek.pdf [Accessed: 06/08/17]

Kamm, O. (2017). The monstrous disgrace that is Corbyn’s Venezuela stance. CapX [online]. Available from: https://capx.co/the-monstrous-disgrace-that-is-corbyns-venezuela-stance [Accessed: 05/08/17]

Kelly, B. (2017). Come clean, Comrade Corbyn: Socialism is always a disaster. City A.M. [online]. Available from: http://www.cityam.com/267365/come-clean-comrade-corbyn-socialism-always-disaster [Accessed: 06/08/17]

Marx, K. (1879). Interview with Karl Marx. Chicago Tribune [online]. Available from: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/bio/media/marx/79_01_05.htm [Accessed: 09/08/17]

Mises, L. V. (1951). Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Mises, L. V. (1952). Foreign Investments and the Spirit of Capitalism. Marxism Unmasked: From Delusion to Destruction. New York: Foundation for Economic Freedom.

Niemietz , K. (2017). “But that wasn’t REAL socialism!” (Part 3. Venezuela). Institute of Economic Affairs [online]. Available from: https://iea.org.uk/but-that-wasnt-real-socialism-part-3-venezuela [Accessed: 06/08/17]

Peterson, J. (2017a). Postmodern NeoMarxism: Diagnosis and Cure. University of Toronto (Lecture) [online]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4c-jOdPTN8 [Accessed: 05/08/17]

Peterson, J. (2017b). Mask of Compassion: Postmodernism & Neomarxism in Modern Times. Harvard University (Discussion) [online]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Urd0IK0WEWU [Accessed: 05/08/17]

Pryce-Jones, D. (2017). Jeremy Corbyn’s Soviet Ghostliness. National Review [online]. Available from: http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/448543/jeremy-corbyns-labour-party-socialism [Accessed: 05/08/17]

Rand, A. (1964). The Virtue Of Selfishness. New York: Signet.

Tarnoff, B. (2017). How social media saved socialism . The Guardian [online]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/jul/12/social-media-socialism-jeremy-corbyn-bernie-sanders [Accessed: 06/08/17]

Tupy, M. (2016). As Venezuela Craters, Appeal of Socialism Remains. CapX [online]. Available from: https://capx.co/as-venezuela-craters-appeal-of-socialism-remains [Accessed: 06/08/17]

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