In 2022 Labour came to power. From a 2028 issue of Samizdat, we learn what happened under the party’s revolutionary leadership
There are always special circumstances that make it possible for an extremist political party to acquire power. Lenin said that all the Bolsheviks needed was having the majority at the right place, at the right time. They engineered this majority in 1917 in Petrograd with the help of the sailors of the Russian Navy. Hitler’s rise to absolute power was thanks to the Reichstag fire, although his elevation to Chancellor occurred by the will of the German people. If Jeremy Corbyn comes to power that is also due to specific circumstances but those specific circumstances were not created by him. They were formed by random forces which we may justifiably call accidents. We might say that to have one favourable accident may be good luck but to have many such accidents can only be down to divine intervention or extreme luck — the equivalent to winning the lottery. So what are those accidents?
For the first one we must go back to the 2010 election, when David Miliband nominated Diane Abbott for the leadership. Neither he nor anyone else thought that she had a chance of becoming leader. It was a gesture justified by saying that having a wider range of candidates could only be a good thing. Very few of those 33 who nominated Abbot intended to vote for her. In fact, only six of them did so (she received seven votes, the seventh being her own).
Accident number two was the election of Ed Miliband. Nobody thought that he had a chance when he was first mooted. Had David Miliband, the favourite, been elected, Corbyn would have remained on the sidelines as an ardent, anti-imperialist firebrand. Under Ed Miliband the Labour Party took a turn to the Left. He introduced reforms aimed at making Labour a mass movement. Among them was the three-quid rule: anyone willing to fork out £3 could vote in the leadership election. This was a clear affront to longstanding members of the Labour Party who had paid their dues for decades. It was an obvious encouragement for extremists to join. How likely was it that any political party would ever introduce such rule? Very unlikely. We may count this as accident number three.
Accident number four would not have come about without accident number one. If a no-hoper like Diane Abbott could be put on the list of candidates in 2010 then why not nominate another no-hoper in 2015? Corbyn was nominated by one more than the minimum number of MPs required. Many of them, other than a few far-left fanatics, signed his nomination paper only to have a wider choice of candidates. Most of his supporters could go to bed with a clear conscience, confident that their choice would never cause any trouble. (That reminds me of Keynes’s judgment when he visited the Soviet Union in 1925: “Russia will never seriously matter for the rest of us, unless it be as a moral force.”)
The local elections in the spring of 2017 were a disaster for Labour. Conservatives gained 563 seats, Labour lost 382. Corbyn’s leadership was shown not to work. It was only a question of time how soon after that fiasco he would have been deposed. But he was saved by Theresa May, who had boldly called a general election for June 8. There was no time for Labour to elect another leader. Corbyn remained at the helm.
The general election of 2017 can surely count as accident number five. No prime minister under normal circumstances would have called it. Mrs May had an overall majority of 12. She did not have to go to the country for another three years. Anyone would have told her: sit tight. But no, she thought she was so popular that her majority would increase. Hubris! She lost her majority. She would have made a somewhat better show but for accident number six. After a lot of uncertainty about the Labour manifesto, Corbyn struck on the brightest idea he ever had: “Abolish university fees,” he said. “The cost is immaterial.”
Let’s make a quick calculation. There were 1.76 million students in higher education in 2016-2017, each paying £9,000 per year. That comes to £16 billion. Some Labour members engaged in drafting the manifesto must have thought such a promise unrealistic. The electorate would not believe that a Corbyn administration would be able to finance it. Corbyn insisted and he was right. Whereas in the 2015 election the young vote was about evenly divided, in 2017 two-thirds of voters in the 18-24 age bracket voted Labour.
Overall, Labour gained 32 seats. The Conservatives won the election but lost their majority. Corbyn claimed victory, and he was right in a sense. There is such a thing as momentum in human affairs. If you made good progress once (32 seats counts as good progress), it is likely that you will make further progress next time. Thus, in spite of everything, in spite of being an accidental man, Corbyn might become the next prime minister. What will it be like to live under Corbyn? How will he govern?
All political movements have principles. So do the extreme Left and the extreme Right. They do not share all their outlook on life (e.g. racial purity is no concern to the Left) but the following three things are representative:
(i) You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. (There is also a very similar Russian version attributed to Lenin: “If you chop down a forest, splinters will fly.”)
(ii) Love, friendship and respect do not unite people as much as a common hatred for something or somebody.
(iii) The opposition is not only wrong, it is morally wrong.
None of these were invented by modern politicians. The first is an old English proverb, the second is attributed to Chekhov, and the third has been famously upheld by most religions over centuries. So what do these three principles imply in practice?
In the first one, “breaking eggs” obviously refers to violence. It means that to achieve your noble aim, violence is not only permissible but necessary. The second provides a recipe of what to do if you want to unite people. Choose some hate subjects. What will be Corbyn’s choice? Bankers, ex-colonial powers, the State of Israel and possibly the EU. Who will be his friends? Cuba, Venezuela, Russia, China, Turkey, Hamas, Hezbollah.
The third principle, interpreted in the political context, is a licence to deal with a turbulent opposition. It happened more than once in the past. There was the Inquisition, there was the Night of the Long Knives and there were Stalin’s purges, to name a few. So how will Corbyn deal with the opposition? Like President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela.
Predictions are risky things. Fortunately, I have at hand a lengthy article published in Samizdat in 2028 shortly after the election that was called off. It was quite a sympathetic review, although a little ironic, written by a banned faction of the Labour Party who had to go underground. I also have a crystal ball at my disposal. Below, I give a concise summary of that historical Samizdat article with a minimum reliance on the crystal ball.
The general election of 2022 saw a unified Labour Party. Its parliamentary candidates, with a few exceptions, were solidly behind Mr Corbyn. Two ex-Labour MPs stood as independents. After a successful election campaign Labour came to power. They missed an overall majority by just a few seats. However, they were capable of forming a minority government with support of Sinn Fein, who had come on board when Corbyn promised them a referendum on Irish unification (the question whether the South should be invited to vote at the same time was deferred, to be discussed later).
True to the Labour manifesto, the shift of wealth away from the workers was reversed. The minimum wage was increased by 20 per cent, and corporation tax by 10 per cent. Tax on wealth was introduced, and the income tax structure radically reformed. Taxation was to start at an income of £20,000 at a rate of 20 per cent, rising to 72 per cent at £200,000. (The reply to Conservative criticism was that the highest rate had been the same under the first Thatcher government, so what was all the fuss about?)
What did the rich do? Some of them meekly accepted the changes, some of them even supported the new regime, but the majority turned to dubious practices. They not only engaged in tax avoidance, they resorted to all means, legal or illegal, to transfer their assets to countries where capitalism was not only alive but vigorously kicking. They were caught and brought to justice in the courts. Fraud proven, they received long custodial sentences, and their assets were confiscated. Unfortunately, the courts were so overwhelmed that it was necessary to set up People’s Courts (called Revolutionary Tribunals by the opposition) in order to cope with the long queues. The role of the Border Police was reversed. They scanned the seas as before but the aim was no longer to stop illegal immigrants (the hankering after a UK residence became a thing of the past) but to catch those scoundrels who wanted to leave the country in small motorboats laden with gold. There were reports every day in the press of people caught red-handed.
At one point in 2023 there was a minor financial crisis because of a slide in the value of the pound. The IMF, a product of imperialism, refused to offer any loans. Fortunately, the Chinese stepped in with a low-interest loan of £50 billion, repayments to start in 2027.
In the period 2022-2025 the living standard of the working people much improved. Circumventing the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, the election of 2025 was easily won by Labour with an overall majority of 45. The second Corbyn government also had some economic problems but China quickly stepped in again and Russia was not far behind. In the manifesto for the 2028 election Labour promised the introduction of a four-day working week, bringing further industries into the public domain, and squeezing the rich until they squeaked. The opinion polls predicted that Labour would get 77 per cent of the vote. This prediction was never tested. At midday on the day of the election, voting was stopped by order of the Home Secretary. “It was necessary,” she said, “due to the widespread intervention of thugs in the election process. We are all for free elections but we cannot condone the intimidation of voters by enemies of democracy.”
Economics was based on Marx’s concept of Mehrwert (surplus value). According to Marx’s theory, the surplus value is equal to the new value created by workers in excess of their own labour cost. In the capitalist world this excess value is appropriated by the owners of the means of production. They call it profit. A socialist government has the duty to tame the profit motive.
The economic plans of Labour in power were quite clearly formulated by the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, at the 2018 Labour Party conference. He was not a radical like Karl Marx. He had no intention of abolishing capitalism; he only wanted ordinary people to share in the wealth held by parasites for centuries. Another of his proposals, made at the same time, was to allocate one third of the seats on boards of directors to the workers in the company. Were these proposals reasonable? Yes they were, as part of the policy of rewarding “the many”. Let’s go into more details.
The first batch of worker-directors, although mainly concerned with working conditions, had a vested interest in the success of the company. If the company paid high dividends, each worker’s share could be as much as £500 a year. In response, many companies moved overseas, while many decided not to pay any dividends. There was a flight of capital out of the country.
To rob the country of her wealth is not something any government could ignore. Simplifying parliamentary procedures the Labour government was able to bring in quick and effective new legislation. Among other laws, there was a reassessment of the role and duties of the worker-directors. From then on they were appointed by the government. No longer interested in working conditions and profits, they were the stormtroopers of the proletariat. Their main duty was to check the financial transactions of the company, report any intention of avoiding tax, and work closely with the newly-established EcPo (Economic Police). They came from the upper middle class, literate and numerate. They knew, they felt it in their guts, that the profit motive was simply wrong. They knew, they felt in their guts, that they were at the threshold of a New World Order. Where the Soviet Union failed, strangled by the imperialists, the British people prevailed. The slogan was: “We overcame the Nazis, we shall overcome the imperialists!”
Under the first Corbyn government several bourgeois newspapers were banned; others went bankrupt because of their inability to raise advertisement revenue. The Times was nationalised, and only a small percentage of its journalists were retained. A new mass circulation daily, Liberty, appeared. In the years after 2022 a number of new weeklies and monthlies were founded which provided ideological support to the government.
Culture flourished. Any day of the week one could see a Shakespeare play, not only in London but in every city, large and small. Theatre prices were brought down after nationalisation to make the theatres available for the masses. The film industry obtained large grants to produce the right kind of films. A Minister of Moving Pictures was appointed. Some of the neglected literary greats were rediscovered, such as Gerhart Hauptmann’s The Weavers, based on the 1844 rising of the Silesian weavers (also subject of a poem by Heinrich Heine). The play showed the degrading effects of the Industrial Revolution upon working men. The American novelist Upton Sinclair was revived from obscurity, Jack London’s The Iron Heel was republished, the poetry of Louis Aragon and Elsa Triolet suddenly became popular. Leaders of peasant revolts, like Wat Tyler, Gyorgy Dozsa and Florian Geyer were celebrated. The Lollards were reassessed as early socialists. The Battle of Peterloo was made a subject to be discussed every year by schoolchildren, starting at the age of seven.
The Samizdat article I saw summarised the events up to the aborted spring election in 2028. Unfortunately, I had problems with my crystal ball as well. It suddenly became foggy. I was unable to find out whether there was another election in the 2030s, but a temporary lifting of the fog allowed me to obtain a glimpse of an article in Liberty, reporting a grand demonstration demanding the death penalty for economic crimes against humanity.