The Marx Brothers: Not funny anymore

The left of British politics is rejoicing in an unexpected electoral resurgence. A skillful campaign has positioned Jeremy Corbyn as a political superstar and likely prime minister. The most left-wing manifesto on offer for more than three decades garnered widespread support, appealing to the average voter who was supposed to be put off by a candidate with a radical bent and a chequered past.

The incumbent Tory party had assumed the election to be a formality. Unconcerned by their own lack of big ideas, they believed they would win by default against an unelectable candidate, but were proven wrong. Attempts to draw attention to his past support for the IRA, his resistance to nuclear weapons and his brushes with anti-Semitism were in vain. A public tired of ‘austerity’ were happy to embrace a programme of easy solutions and generous promises.

The Tory campaign was inept: the tone of the campaign was negative, with no compelling vision for the future; abandoning the argument for free market capitalism left the intellectual battleground open for Labour; the manifesto targeted the elderly, a core constituency; Theresa May came across as unlikable, defensive and wooden; the incessant focus on Corbyn’s IRA links didn’t bite and became boring in the end. Still, the assumption that Corbyn’s past could be his undoing was not farfetched. But the Tory campaign chose the wrong focus.

Because it is true that Corbyn and his lot have an unsavoury past. Disregarding affinity for various terrorist groups, Corbyn and his shadow chancellor John McDonnell have an even darker mark against their name: their support for, and continued admiration of, Marxism.

Ever since his bid for the Labour leadership Corbyn, aware of the potential political damage, has been cautious in his approach. Asked in 2015 if he regarded himself as a Marxist, he answered: ‘That’s an interesting question. I haven’t thought about that for a long time’. Still, the man referred to as ‘comrade Corbyn’ by the organisation Labour Party Marxists, is an open and enthusiastic admirer of Chavez’ Venezuela and Castro’s Cuba, both abysmal examples of authoritarian regimes with appalling economic track records.

But it its McDonnell who is the weakest link: the shadow chancellor, an intellectual who himself stood for the Labour leadership in 2007 and 2010, has in the past been happy to self-declare as a Marxist. Asked in 2006 to name his most significant influences, he replied: ‘The fundamental Marxist writers of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, basically.’  ‘I will be honest with you, I’m a Marxist’, he said in 2013, in a speech where he welcomed the financial crisis of 2008 as a crisis of capitalism and warned comrades not to waste it.

Ideological bed-fellows do not come more unsavoury: Marx’ theory of capitalism’s inherent collapse is discredited by all mainstream economists; Lenin and Trotsky were violent revolutionaries responsible for millions of deaths in the pursuit of an ideology that proved completely unworkable and condemned their citizenry to untold misery. Ronald Regan, who possessed more political nous than the Tory party combined, aptly named their project an ‘Empire of Evil’.

This is the outrage that the Tory campaign should have focussed on: a mainstream party putting forward candidates who are proponents of class war and dream of overthrowing capitalism. Explained properly, the danger of a Marxist in the Treasury should be more relevant to the electorate than historic links with the IRA which, despite being objectionable, has little relevance for practical politics.

The weakness of Corbyn and McDonnell is not only their unsavoury past but their unwillingness to renounce it. Principled and ideological to the core, they continuously evaded rather than renounced their historic support for the IRA. Still, in the lead-up to the election, McDonnell tried to evade the Marxist tag on the Andrew Marr show. He knows it’s toxic. So does Corbyn. With a bit of help, even a gullible British electorate may start feeling a bit queasy at the thought of being ruled by Marxists. Amazingly, the Tory campaign left it largely untouched. In Labour HQ, the Marx Brothers must have breathed a large sigh of relief. They must not get away with it again.

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