I was looking forward to a serious and objective critique of “Corbynism”, as this book promised. I was to be disappointed. The overriding message is that “Corbynism” promotes a “truncated” analysis of class society and, in doing so, simplifies the relationship between labour and value, and consequently the relationship of the capitalists and the workers.
The authors highlight two defining elements of Corbynism as problematic; the first being the “nationalist” nature of Corbyn’s manifesto — invest in British business, nationalisation of utilities and rail.
Second, they argue that Corbynism encourages a “personalised” approach to politics which implies that the problems of capitalism can be addressed simply by giving “good people” (the workers) more control.
This in turn, according to Bolton and Pitts, leads to a “two-campist” politics of good and evil and encourages a culture of blame and shame, while putting Corbyn himself on a pedestal beyond his party.
While there may be some truth to these observations, the authors’ main conclusions (and criticisms) are highly questionable.
The first is that these factors reduce Corbynism to nothing more than a naive populist movement based on “anti-establishment” rhetoric and a highly personalised criticism of the current system. They then equate this to the populism of the far right and Trump, essentially claiming they are all equally dangerous.
It is acknowledged that overt racism, sexism and bigotry are the preserve of the right wing, but the relevance and importance of this distinction is not discussed.
Equally worrying is the assertion that an anti-establishment narrative has a tendency to lead to the promotion of antisemitic ideas because this “worldview” can be conflated with the antisemitic position that “Jewish people conspire to run the world”.
This implies that anyone who criticises capitalism is potentially antisemitic and it does nothing to help challenge the smears against Corbyn and the Labour Party.
In fact, the book appears to reject the fact that these are opportunistic smears, arguing instead that Corbynites attack the media blindly in the same way that Trump accuses any media criticism of being “fake news”.
The authors consider this to be a reckless dismissal of any truth in the mainstream media, thus giving a dangerous level of credibility to alternative news.
All of this is framed in an image of Momentum being nothing more than a bunch of keyboard warriors viciously defending Corbyn, whatever the truth.
The final assertion is that this approach encourages conspiracy theories which again puts the “far left” in bed with the “far right”.
Bolton and Pitts conclude that Corbynism is dangerous because it gives credibility to far right movements and therefore only a “liberal” system, with its democratic and legal structures, while flawed and imperfect, can defend democracy and save us from disaster.
The book is semantically dense and highly academic. It often feels like an exercise intent on undermining socialism, rather than an objective critique of Corbynism. The rewriting of history in the chapter on the Stop the War movement would infuriate anyone who was part of that important campaign.
It is not, however, without merit. It locates Corbyn’s greatest challenge in the fact that the very structures of capitalism hamper any real attempt to achieve true socialism from within. The authors credit Marx with having a deeper analysis of socialism as an entirely different society, required on an international scale.
However, its nod to the “Mensheviks” in its concluding chapter, aptly titled “the politics of pessimism” as the only sensible way forward, leaves anyone who aspires to a better society than that which neoliberal capitalism currently offers, with nowhere to go.