Corbyn victory sign of ‘deeper global trend’

Doing it differently: Jeremy Corbyn calls for fundamental change as he addresses a rally. © PA

Socialist candidate Jeremy Corbyn has become leader of the Labour Party, defying expectations. Is this an idealistic protest vote or part of a global movement to a post-capitalist society?

‘He is not far from being a joke candidate. He just played all the old left-wing tunes.’

This was one commentator’s scathing verdict on Jeremy Corbyn after the first hustings of the Labour Party’s leadership campaign in June. It was confidently predicted that a man who opposed the global economic model of free trade (capitalism) would be marginalised in one of the richest countries in the world. Bookmakers gave odds of 200-1 against a Corbyn victory.

But this weekend, Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party. He did not merely win the election: he obliterated his rivals, winning almost 60% of the votes cast.

‘They are fed up with the inequality, the injustice, the unnecessary poverty,’ he said of his supporters. ‘All those issues have brought people in, in a spirit of hope and optimism.’

Corbyn’s politics are in the socialist tradition: he prioritises equality in the distribution of wealth over the freedom to trade. His victory has confounded those who believed socialism had become a fringe movement in the developed world following the decline of the communist Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War. But recent political upsets in Greece and Spain and the support given to movements such as Occupy, which has organised anti-capitalist protests, have suggested renewed disaffection with capitalism.

Economists are now increasingly asking whether there is a crisis within the global economic system. In a new book, the journalist and broadcaster Paul Mason says capitalism helps individuals but fails the common good, straining world relations and fuelling global inequality. He adds that shocks such as climate change and ageing populations worldwide may speed the death of capitalism, and asserts that a replacement system is already taking shape thanks to information technology and ‘a new kind of human being’. His thesis sits alongside work by current academics such as Thomas Piketty and Ha-Joon Chang, who question whether free trade is doing enough to meet socio-economic, political and environmental challenges.

Something new?

The likes of Mason and Piketty say capitalism is merely the latest system we have. Just as we now view the medieval feudal system as absurd and unfair, so future generations will see capitalism. It encourages selfishness and ignores common problems. It can, and will, be replaced by something better.

The Times columnist Tim Montgomerie disagrees. Capitalists may need to adapt to help the world to address its problems, but their thinking is grounded in reality. Humans will always be, at least partly, individualistic. Those who propose to replace our system of free enterprise are merely re-heating ideas which failed long ago.

You Decide

  1. Is equality more important than freedom?
  2. Is our global economic system failing?

Activities

  1. Write down three questions you would ask Jeremy Corbyn if you had the chance (and, if you can, write the answers you think he would give).
  2. In pairs, write and perform a three-minute sketch between a socialist and a capitalist, in which they debate the merits of their different economic systems.

Some People Say...

“I don’t care what anyone says. Being rich is a good thing.”

Mark Cuban

What do you think?

Q & A

I can’t vote, so why should I care?
Corbyn may well be a candidate in your first general election. If you were over 13 on 7 May, you will be able to vote in 2020. Even if you can’t, politics changes all our lives: for example, by setting taxes and deciding how much is spent on services.
What has capitalism done for me?
Capitalism’s proponents say it has given you a comfortable standard of living. Under capitalism, our desire for wealth and goods is seen as natural, rather than something to be ashamed of. If you want something, you can buy it; a company then takes your money and pay it to the people who work for them or their shareholders, who then spend it again, giving more people the chance to earn money. But socialists say capitalism rewards greed instead of need, fuelling inequality.

Word Watch

Almost 60%
Corbyn secured more than three times as many votes as the second-placed candidate, Andy Burnham. He benefited from a new electoral system which gave extra power to party members and ‘affiliated supporters’.
Cold War
From the end of the Second World War in 1945 to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, western liberal democracies were engaged in an ideological battle with communist countries, led by the Soviet Union. Communism was a revolutionary and authoritarian form of socialism; the western countries were capitalist.
Occupy
This movement began as a protest in Wall Street, New York City’s financial hub, in September 2011. Protesters were opposed to bank bailouts and disapproved of inequality in the global economy. The protests quickly spread globally.
A replacement system
Mason calls this post-capitalism (which is also the name of his book).
Feudal system
Between the 9th and 15th centuries, European societies were structured according to clear hierarchies. Most people swore allegiance to a lord, who would in turn grant them the ability to live on their land.

Subjects

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