Corbynism without Guarantees
A common response to my previous article on Corbynism was confusion as to why a self-proclaimed Marxist, having decided to join Labour, would not be fully supportive of Corbyn’s leadership. This question was brought to the fore by Owen Jones’ (no doubt self-defensive) decision to frame the article as one by a ‘Marxist academic’ when retweeting it. Despite the somewhat jarring, undeveloped use of terms like ‘commodity fetishism’, I had not intended for the piece to be read as such. It was rather an off-the-cuff response to claims that the explosion in Labour membership automatically translated into a ‘social movement’ of such strength that it justified the collapse of parliamentary opposition and even the Labour party itself.
It was the grandiosity of those claims which I was critiquing, rather than the activity of the new members in itself, a point which seems to have been missed in various replies. The argument that my ‘capitulation’ is due to Corbynism failing to live up to an ‘ideal type’ of a ‘real’ social movement is based on a misrepresentation. I was actually arguing the opposite — that Corbynism itself has thus far been an abstraction, an empty vessel into which leftists have poured their dreams, with very little evidence that the outlandish claims being made on its behalf have, as yet, any basis in reality. The article was an attempt to critique Corbynism from the inside out, taking it on its own terms and measuring it against its potential consequences.
Despite Marxism not being the focus of the first article, given that the question has been raised, it seems like a good opportunity to think through the ways in which my understanding of Marx has led me to have severe doubts about the ‘Corbyn project’. Doing so inevitably means engaging with a key, and correct, criticism of the piece, namely my failure to provide an account of the motivations of Corbyn supporters. Why do they think the way they do? The list Alex provides — the hollowing out of political parties, the historic defeats of the left, falling wages, the rise of communicative technologies — is as good a place to start as any. Each item could be the basis for an essay in itself, but I’m going to concentrate on one, the relation between the political content of Corbynism as a movement and that of its immediate predecessors — Occupy, UK Uncut, and the People’s Assembly.
Each of these movements were stimulated by the 2008 crash, shared similar analyses of its causes (as well as possible solutions), and had a substantial crossover in UK membership. Paul Mason sums up the general approach:
‘The proposition driving that resistance, since the night an art activist group shone the figure ‘99%’ onto the Verizon building in New York, boils down to this: that the world is governed by a rich elite; that the economic model of neoliberalism is broken; that inequality is out of control and the state there to defend the interest of the 1%.’
To reduce this account to its bare bones, the crash was caused by the lack of market regulation supposedly characteristic of ‘neoliberalism’. This had enabled the financial sector to make vast amounts of profit from speculation on behalf of the ‘1%’ at the expense of the other ‘99%’. The ‘real economy’ which makes actual physical things has been undermined by the power and greed of financial institutions. All this has been compounded by the ‘political choice’ of austerity. The myth that public spending (particularly on benefits) caused the crash and that cutting government expenditure is the way out of the crisis has been perniciously sold to a public confused by household analogies about the dangers of debt. This ‘lie’ has prevented the implementation of other possible strategies, namely tighter regulation of ‘the banks’, the clamping down on what Ed Miliband described as ‘predatory’ capitalism, and a Keynesian stimulus of state investment which would boost the economy and create a virtuous cycle of growth.
From this perspective, austerity is not only a vicious, self-centred political decision made by and for the ‘1%’, it is objectively irrational. The problem facing the economy is ultimately one of distribution. The greed of those in power has titled the balance of the economy far too much towards the ‘elites’ and away from those who actually do all the work. The 2008 crash was the consequence. The contrast is often made to the post-war era of welfare capitalism, in which the gap between the ‘1%’ and the rest was much less pronounced. The irrational refusal to countenance the redistributive policies needed to ‘rebalance’ the economy can thus only be explained the avarice (as Mason puts it, ‘they do not give a shit’) or, more generously, self-delusion of those in power. What is required from a political movement is therefore to ‘reframe’ the narrative around austerity and state intervention, to change the terrain of the debate so that people understand that it is not immigrants or those on JSA who are to blame for declining living standards, but the predominance of the City of London, widespread tax evasion, and austerity itself.
This was the aim of Occupy, UK Uncut and the People’s Assembly — and Corbynism is essentially the distillation of this political analysis. Corbyn’s victory last September was driven by sheer frustration, even desperation, on behalf of those who understood the ‘austerity lie’ — frustration that Miliband’s electoral campaign failed to articulate the ‘rationality’ of the anti-austerity argument clearly enough (or at all), and that none of the other candidates recognised the moral urgency of doing so, particularly after the infamous abstention on the second reading of the welfare bill. This wave of feeling pre-existed the presence of Corbyn on the ballot — he was the beneficiary, not the instigator, of this leftwards shift. But Corbyn’s personal qualities were a factor. If nothing else, Corbyn is characterised by a lack of artifice, by ‘authenticity’ and the rejection of spin — ‘straight talking, honest politics’. His victory, and continued support, is predicated upon the steadfastness of his commitment to an unadulterated message of ‘anti-austerity’, one with a foot in both morality and rationality. Indeed, Corbyn’s main rhetorical device when talking about reducing poverty or inequality is an appeal to ‘good sense’, ‘decency’ or ‘being reasonable’, while political opponents are characterised as ‘unkind’.
Much of this is absolutely necessary — the idea that a floundering economy can be blamed on people faking disabilities in order to claim benefits is utterly specious, and should be called out as such. However, the weaknesses (and potential dangers) of Corbynism come from the same source as its strength — namely, the particular type of critique of capitalism that has emerged from the broad ‘anti-austerity’ movement, of which Corbynism is the concentrated form. The way problems are posed has important, and often unintended, consequences for the forms of analysis and political action that follow. This does not mean that everything about that critique is wrong, nor that the ‘Corbyn project’ is beyond redemption. But it does mean guarding against the possibility that what started out as something necessary and full of potential could gradually, almost imperceptibly, shift into the very thing which stamps out its own promise.
Personalised critique and the identification of the ‘guilty’
Not everything that purports to be a critique of capitalism is actually a critique of capitalism. An analysis based on the separation of the greedy, neoliberal ‘1%’ from the innocent ‘99%’ might make for a powerful slogan, but it is not a critique of capitalism, and certainly has nothing to do with Marxism. Rather it is a prime example of what ‘Neue Marx Lekture’ (New Reading of Marx) theorists such as Michael Heinrich, Moishe Postone and Werner Bonefeld describe as a ‘personalized’ or ‘truncated’ critique. Such critiques seek to directly identify those people or institutions ‘responsible’ for economic crises, for poverty, or the general grimness of daily life. They regard the pursuit of profit as the result of individual greed, and thus encourage the naming and shaming of those who are particularly repellent in this regard. The central thesis of all personalised critiques is that if only the wrongdoers could be somehow identified and eradicated, the rest of us would be fine.
Personalised critiques come in many different forms — the constant cry that ‘immigrants’ and ‘benefit scroungers’ are draining the life out of the economy is one popular iteration from the right. The idea that membership of the EU is the source of all the UK’s problems is another, as is blaming ‘politicians’ as such for everything under the sun — ‘a stock in trade of mystification everywhere’, as Perry Anderson puts it. One common version on both right and left is that of an opposition between ‘productive’, ‘authentic’ forms of capitalism (usually equated with industry, the ‘real’ process of ‘making things’, smaller, local businesses) and ‘parasitic’, ‘predatory’ forms (banks, financial speculation, ‘multinational corporations’, ‘usury’, even money itself). Antisemitic tropes of ‘Jewish bankers’ or a ‘Jewish lobby’ controlling the economy and media are the most extreme examples of these modes of ‘critique’ (which is not to say that all forms of personalised critique are destined to end up as antisemitism).
Personalised understandings project a Manichean logic onto capitalism — creating a story in which the forces of ‘good’ are held back by the dastardly deeds of the ’bad’. It’s easy to see their appeal. In a world where the capricious will of ‘the markets’ acts like an uncontrollable God, leaving chaos in its wake, stories which pin the blame on identifiable individuals are far more reassuring than the cold realisation that no-one is in charge of this mess. Such stories are also highly effective (perhaps even necessary, in some form) when it comes to motivating political action, and thus have a long and storied history in the socialist movement. Owen Jones’ notion of a shadowy ‘Establishment’ conspiring to undermine the left is a contemporary case in point, as is (often) the concept of ‘neoliberalism’. Neoliberalism as a strand of political-economic theory certainly does exist, with roots stretching back to 1930s Germany. But in the discourse of personalized critique the implementation of some neoliberal-inspired policies is routinely dehistoricised, ripped out of the context of the severe crisis of profitability that hit the ‘good’ welfare-Keynesianism in the late 1960s, and transformed into an evil conspiratorial plan cooked up in Chicago, unleashed on an unsuspecting public, and held in place purely by ‘ideology’. This has the effect of not only writing out of history popular resistance to the hierarchical strictures of ‘Keynesian-Fordism’, but also flattens the substantial (and ongoing) developments within ‘neoliberal’ government policy itself into a one-dimensional caricature which hides mores than it reveals.
Marx, class and contradiction
Personalised critiques are not Marxist. However, some of Marx’s work does veer in that direction, particularly the theory of historical development laid out in the 1859 Preface (not coincidentally, a big influence on Paul Mason’s PostCapitalism). Here capitalist property relations are described as a ‘fetter’ on the development of the ‘productive forces’ (technology, in short). The two gradually come into contradiction, until a communist revolution transforms the outmoded form of property relations, so they no longer restrict but enable the full development of the productive forces. This idea rests on the conceptual separation of the neutral forces of production from the ‘irrational’ relations of production, and the belief (carried over from a liberal ‘stagist’ theory of history) that they are destined to come into cataclysmic contradiction at some point, with communism the result. These beliefs were given political form by the veneration of the proletariat as the collective subject whose ‘historical task’ was to set the productive forces free from their capitalist ‘fetters’. Here the ‘proletariat’ and the ‘capitalist class’ are conceived of two externally related social groups, competing over the distribution of scarce resources produced by the former. Each group takes up a position on either side of the contradiction between the forces and relations of production.
This ‘two campist’ sociological notion of class made intuitive sense during the era of the ‘worker’s movement’, based primarily on industrial labour, and peaking in the early 20th century. It seemed self-evident that the working class produced all the wealth of the world, while the capitalist class merely stole it. It only required a small analytical step for this ‘working class’ to be personified as the representation, or prefiguration, of socialism itself, developing within the constraints of capitalism, and needing only to be rid of its own ‘fetters’ (the capitalist class) to be brought into being.
In the classical figure of the working class the forces of ‘rationality’ and ‘morality’ are combined. From the ‘standpoint of the proletariat’ it is not only right that the working class should take full ownership of what they have produced, it is self-evidently rational to move beyond the restrictive ‘anarchy’ of capitalist social relations too. Given that capitalism will eventually lead to the ‘proletarianisation’ of the entire planet, the expectation was that the need for socialism would soon become universally recognised.
There are clear echoes of this argument amongst the contemporary left. For Mason et al, the 2008 crash signified the ‘failure’ of ‘the neoliberal model’, with austerity policies a last ditch attempt to hold it in place. All the while, the productive forces have been developing under the surface — a ‘post-capitalist’ economy based on the free distribution of immaterial goods, ‘sharing’ and the reduction of the working week — but have been held back by the ‘fetters’ imposed by the failed (and thus irrational) ‘neoliberal consensus’. Those on the left demanding an ‘universal basic income’, or ‘fully automated luxury communism’, are essentially repeating Marx’s call in the 1859 Preface for an ‘era of social revolution’ to bring property relations in line with productive potential.
The first problem with all this, from (my) Marxian perspective, is that by the time he wrote Capital, Marx was on the verge of abandoning the ‘two campist’ conception of class. In his later work, he depicted class as an abstract relation of social domination, based on the (ultimately violent) separation of people from their means of subsistence — shelter, food etc. This separation necessitates the need for money as the only way to access what they need. Most people get hold of their money via a competition for waged work, and in the process create ‘capital’ as a seemingly separate power, standing over themselves. But ‘capital’ is not really a thing, with its own existence. It is merely a mode of existence of labour, a social relation founded upon the separation from the means of subsistence.
Class understood as a social relation does not divide the world into two simple categories of ‘good’ and ‘evil’. It is not a set of sociological boxes into which people can be placed according a set of characteristics, nor a simple opposition of those representing ‘socialism’ (or the productive forces) and those personifying capitalism (the relations of production). Rather it acknowledges that, while they may have the better end of the deal, class dominates capitalists as much as it does workers. As Marx put it, ‘[m]y standpoint…can less than any other make the individual responsible for relations whose creature he remains, socially speaking, however much he may subjectively raise himself above them.’ The need for ever greater profit, which drives the search for productive ‘efficiency’ via technological development, is not therefore driven by the conscious desires of greedy ‘fatcats’, but by the competitive nature of capitalism itself. ‘Growth’ is not a choice, but a compulsion. Technological development under such conditions is not neutral, but inherently capitalist. None of this means, of course, that capitalism is free of excessive greed, or that conspiracies to fix prices, lower wages or even spy on trade unionists do not occur — merely that greed or conspiracies do not drive the system. Pointing out the malignant behaviour of some capitalists has its undoubted merits, but there’s nothing inherently socialist about it — witness the Daily Mail’s recent savaging of Sir Philip Green.
Workers and capitalists certainly do come into conflict over the way resources are distributed into wages or profit, a conflict whose parameters run from all-out insurrection to worker cooperatives and the building of trade unions and parliamentary parties. But both workers and capitalists are ultimately united — and thus internally connected — by their shared reliance on economic ‘growth’, measured in monetary (value) terms. Furthermore, that growth is not existentially threatened by the antagonism between workers and capitalists, but exists because of it. To this end, the working class is divided against itself. It needs a ‘bigger pie’ over which to fight just as much as any capitalist, despite that pie being the product of its own exploitation — and, furthermore, would do so even if it took complete control of the means of production. Hence Marx’s recognition that to be a productive member of the working class was ‘not a piece of luck, but a misfortune.’ The contradiction upon which capitalism is founded runs through the working class itself. From the viewpoint of the worker, the successfully expanded reproduction of the system that separates them from their means of subsistence is necessary to their own existence. This is the meaning of the ‘class struggle’ which underpins capitalist society, and which takes place continously, regardless of the levels of consciousness of workers, or whether it appears in the ‘classical’ form of conflict between social groups. Socialism cannot mean, then, the ‘victory’ of the working class in a struggle between ‘two camps’ — this would merely constitute a different form of distribution. For Marx, socialism (or communism) entails the destruction of the very concept of ‘working class’ altogether.
There is therefore nothing inherent in ‘class struggle’, understood as a contradiction which runs through the entirety of capitalist society (including the working class), which inevitably leads to the development of a universal revolutionary consciousness. Starting your own business, ‘aspiring’ (god forbid!) to buy your council house through Right to Buy, or competing with colleagues for a promotion will be, at different moments, just as ‘rational’ or ‘moral’ from a worker’s perspective as joining a trade union or going on strike. The classical form of the ‘workers’ movement’ was not ‘the’ identity of the working class, and nor did ‘class’ as a social relation disappear with its defeat — it was a particular social group, formed during a particular historical period, as a response to particular conditions. The idea that the traditional cultural forms supposedly associated with that particular group constitute the only ‘authentic’ identity of the working class — the basis of the Labour right’s falafel-based attacks on Corbyn’s ‘Islington elite’ — is as ridiculous as pretending those cultural forms never existed, or don’t have any purchase today. The point is that the working class is capable of being both reactionary and revolutionary, traditional and experimental. Claiming one side or the other for its ‘real’ identity fails to recognise that it is precisely the contradiction between the two which constitutes that reality.
As Tom rightly points out, ‘political consciousness does not just appear miraculously, it is acquired over time, through struggle and reflection.’ But given that working class life is founded upon a contradiction with no assurance of resolution, that struggle and reflection will vary dramatically in different historical conditions — it is not a one-way ticket to a pre-established destination of the ‘correct’ answers and actions. The mere development of a particular form of collective ‘consciousness’ within a particular social group says nothing about its political content, or direction of travel. Nor does it necessarily lead to ‘the’ class consciousness, if such a thing exists. It might point beyond capitalism, or it might not. It might point towards a communist form of ‘beyond capitalism’, or it might lead, intentionally or not, to something much worse, including antisemitism and authoritarianism. The way problems are posed (particularly by political leaders) shapes the struggles that follow, as well as the capacity for, and results of, any process of critical reflection upon them. As Bob points out, such reflection is sorely needed within Corbynism if it is to ward off the spectre of conspiracy thinking - but it is not at all clear that its vague policy prescriptions and brittle institutional structures, centred as they are (for whatever reason) around one man, could survive such a process. Tom is absolutely right to warn against the temptation to sneer at ‘intellectual errors’ amongst political activists. But in a world without guarantees, the abandonment of critique in favour of celebratory flag-waving carries risks of its own.
‘People Powered Politics’
The consequences of Corbynism’s failure to recognise class as a contradictory social relation comes to the fore once the question of collective subjectivity is posed. Given the defeat of the ‘worker’s movement’, who will be entrusted with the historic task of freeing post-capitalism from its neoliberal fetters? The multitude? The precariat? The ‘graduate without a future’? For Corbynism, the answer is the ‘people’, the same people who have worked their way through Occupy, UK Uncut, the People’s Assembly, and have now joined the Labour Party in droves.
This membership forms the basis for what Mason describes as ‘a mass, democratic and participatory opposition to the rule of the 1%’. The key messages of the immorality of anti-austerity and the irrationality of a ‘zombie neoliberalism’ will gradually take hold in civil society, underpinned by the cold economic reality of stagnant wages, Brexit recession, and an exacerbated housing crisis. Perhaps the benefits of this strategy won’t come quickly enough for a victory in 2020, perhaps Labour will have to suffer the loss of a substantial number of seats first. Nevertheless, eventually a ‘counter-hegemonic’ tipping point will be reached, the wider social movement will propel a rebuilt Labour to power in an irrevocably changed political context, and the ‘fetters’ imposed by the ‘1%’ can finally be removed. The confidence with which this prophecy is routinely foretold is a clear indication of its reliance on a form of teleology, history’s guarantee of success. That faith in an inevitable future is why, as John McDonnell allegedly put it, the continuation of the Corbyn project is worth ‘whatever it takes’, including a Labour split.
But the precondition for all this is Corbyn himself as leader. This is one reason why the political aims of the wave of support which brought him to power — a wave which, in theory, still has the potential for all sorts of useful political activity outside the narrow constraints of parliamentary politics — have been gradually narrowing until the only concrete actions that Momentum organise are rallies and phonebanks in support of Corbyn. A lot of this is due to expediency. But, as FH Pitts notes, in a context devoid of the social basis once afforded by the ‘workers’ movement’, it is also a consequence of Corbynism’s need to conjure up its ‘people’ on the hoof, via an adhoc form of identity with allegiance to his leadership the only binding force.
This is not unusual in itself — all political activity requires some sort of shared identity. But the danger is that in the process by which the borders are sealed around the Corbynite ‘we’, it is forgotten that it is ‘an’ identity, rather than ‘the’ identity. The temptation is to then project that identity onto the working class as a whole. As a consequence it becomes almost impossible to understand how others could ‘rationally’ disagree. Hence the overriding focus on the identification of those people who ‘don’t get it yet’, those standing in the way of the ‘counter-hegemonic’ project. The militaristic ‘two campist’ depiction of class struggle is then superimposed onto that between Corbynism and its detractors. This has elevated Corbyn’s survival as leader into an issue of life-or-death for the left as a whole, to such an extent that anyone with doubts stands accused of not only blocking the progression of the Corbyn project within the party, but the eradication of neoliberalism itself. As Mason puts it, in a phrase which pushes the personification of capitalist social relations to its absurd limits, ‘the final defence line of the 1% is…inside the Labour Party. In fact physically it is somewhere between Corbyn’s office in the Norman Shaw building at Westminster and Labour HQ on Victoria Street.’ Hence the force of the ‘ethical’ demand for unity that Tom invokes.
The effect of this inflated rhetoric has been to transform the entirety of ‘the PLP’ — ‘soft left’ included, despite virtually no disagreement on policy — into a homogenous bloc of racist ‘Blairite plotters’. Almost every other Labour MP is now regarded as disingenuous at best — it doesn’t matter what they say, their secret ‘Blairite’ intentions are clear — and an outright traitor at worst. Never mind the various firsthand accounts of shadow ministers being undermined and contradicted, left adrift with no direction from the leadership. The only possible motivation for their resignations is that they just don’t ‘get it’. The obvious conclusion to be drawn is that Labour MPs are essentially disposable, immoral, irrational, an unnecessary hindrance - people with whom there can be no compromise whatsoever. It was this mode of thinking which led to the failure of all negotiated settlement between Corbyn, the unions and the (non-hardline) PLP, and the false, destructive and ultimately pointless binary of Smith vs Corbyn. Once the ‘two campist’ mindset had taken root there was no way out.
In an electoral system based on PR, this all-or-nothing form of political purity might achieve a degree of success. Under FPTP, it spells the total obliteration of Labour as a parliamentary presence. The Labour Party’s survival over the past century has been based precisely on the understanding that it can never be anything but a form of compromise. Explicitly formed as an institution of working class self-defence, the party is founded upon the recognition of contradiction, not its denial. It exists to win gains which are immediately limited by their reliance on the very forms of exploitation which necessitated them in the first place. There is no way the party can avoid this. Its aim is merely to utilise parliament and the state in order to form as effective a means of legal self-protection as possible within a society that is not doomed to collapse under the weight of its contradictions, but is kept alive because of them. Parliamentary strategies patently do not encompass the totality of possible forms of working class political activity, and can often restrict them. But neither should the importance, and historic achievements, of those strategies be minimised — or exchanged for an illusion of pure identity, however exuberant.
The underlying crisis of the Labour Party, and indeed social democracy itself, has much more to do with the failure of Keynesianism and the destruction of the classical ‘workers movement’ than it does with Jeremy Corbyn. Having shed its once-dominant cultural identity, all that is left is its institutional framework, its parliamentary presence and whatever coalition of voters it can cobble together at each election. But that is not nothing. The pretence that it is only those institutions which lie in the way of the glorious post-capitalist future is utterly disingenuous. The idea that Corbynism is on the verge of producing a collective political subject strong enough to not only shrug off the challenge of the Conservatives but to remove itself from the contradictory relation of class, eradicate the ‘guilty parties’ and singlehandedly defeat neoliberalism, is both utopian and false.
Looked at through the prism of Corbynism’s personalised critique however, the struggle to overcome neoliberalism and austerity does indeed become a mere matter of moral fortitude. The answers seem obvious, self-evidently rational. Keynesian stimulus. Clamping down on the banks. Chasing the tax evaders. Popping the housing bubble. All laudable objectives, no doubt. But what is missing is any recognition of how deeply integrated each of these phenomena are to the successful reproduction of ordinary people’s lives. Like it or not, the billions of pounds that flit around the City of London each day do not constitute some unfortunate cancerous growth attached to the side of a self-sustaining ‘real economy’ which can be neatly lopped off — they are fundamental to the way that economy functions. A housing crash might be welcomed by millions — but it would also destroy the only means of longterm security of millions more, and pull vast amounts of equity out of the market, with potentially devastating consequences. A huge fiscal stimulus might power up the economy for a while — or it could merely keep growth puttering along until the same forces which caused the crisis of Keynesian in the 1970s return with a vengeance. Neither neoliberalism nor austerity is merely a set of dehistoricised ‘ideologies’, ‘fetters’ which can be abandoned at will, or without consequence. They are both sets of cruel but rational responses to real imperatives imposed by the market. These imperatives will not disappear with the election of a Corbyn government — and the successful reproduction of the working class will continue to be dependent on meeting them.
This is not to say that there is no alternative at all to the present. But it is to say that the available options for a social democratic economic policy — which is all we are talking about here — are far more limited than those investing their hopes in Corbynism are being led to believe. Given those limits, it is not that surprising to find as many forward thinking capitalists in favour of proposals such as a Universal Basic Income (a mainstay of ‘post-capitalist’ proposals, and recently mooted by Corbyn himself) as ‘radical’ leftists. To this end, even in a best-case scenario of an election victory, both Corbyn’s supporters and critics are united in hugely overestimating his radicalism. There is clearly some room for manoeuvre. But to pretend that room is not restricted in some form by the needs of capital on the one side, and by electoral considerations on the other, is facile. To insist on all this at the expense of the Labour Party as a functioning parliamentary opposition, even an electoral force altogether, in a post-Brexit era is even worse. Pushed to extremes by a movement which is increasingly brooking no criticism whatsoever, and in the face of a heavy electoral defeat, it is a false promise that risks imploding into denial, conspiracy, nihilism and an endless search for traitors.
Corbyn’s ascent to the leadership was a moment of real progress for the left, signalling a genuine and substantial shift within the Labour membership. But the extremity of the ‘two campist’ vision of society that has now taken root indicates a contraction, rather than expansion, of its capacity to reach beyond the converted. Instead of challenging the regressive personification of social relations pervasive across both right and left, Corbynism is reproducing it in intensified form. As Tom rightly points out — people do make their own history. But in a world mired in contradiction, stripped of the reassurance of inevitability, the consequences of that making are not always what are intended. If Corbynism not only goes down to a disastrous election defeat, but takes the Labour Party with it, a working class without guarantees will be divested of its last means of parliamentary self-protection, however flawed, too. There is absolutely no certainty that Labour would ‘bounce back’ at some point, or be replaced by another left party. At a moment when all the old political rules are collapsing, and with rightwing populism surging across the world, that risk has to be seen for what it is, and what it could lead to. The question now, given Corbyn’s imminent re-election, is whether the movement in his name has the capacity to open itself up, to lift its eyes from its own image in order to acknowledge, rather than deny, the contradictions from which it cannot escape. But perhaps that would require the end of the Corbyn fetish itself. Or perhaps it is already too late.