Donald Trump was at the UN this week sticking it to the globalist elites and bragging about being the greatest president since Reagan or FDR or one of the other ones. Twitter and the press corps — to the extent there is any difference remaining between the two — were fair taken by the General Assembly snorting in response to this familiar display of MAGAlomania. Of course they laughed. It's the UN, the world’s most prestigious gathering of diplos, kleptos and psychos. They look at Trump, a strongman who can’t even stop his own executive branch investigating him, and think: ‘Amateur’.
Other than that, it was a fairly middling restatement of Trumpian nationalism. Far more telling was the section of his remarks he dedicated to socialism. Pointing to the example of Venezuela, where the Madagascar trilogy is considered food porn, Trump warned:
'Virtually everywhere socialism or communism has been tried, it has produced suffering, corruption, and decay. Socialism’s thirst for power leads to expansion, incursion, and oppression. All nations of the world should resist socialism and the misery that it brings to everyone.’
Who’d have thought an American president would have to make the case against command economics barely 30 years on from the collapse of the Soviet Union? I’m amazed Francis Fukuyama can still get work. Collectivism scares the right because it appears to be on the march again, threatening to slow or reverse the free-market gains of the last three decades and sweep away the legacies of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. A new wave of populist Democrats is shunting out the ‘neoliberal’ old guard by campaigning much like Warren Beatty’s leftist senator in the movie Bulworth: ‘Let me hear that dirty word: Socialism!’
We’re hearing the dirty word a lot. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the next congresswoman from New York's 14th district, calls herself a socialist, as does Julia Salazar, the mercurial candidate for the New York State Senate's 18th district, and a host of other ‘progressive’ Democrats too. The problem — or, perhaps, advantage — is that none of them can agree on a definition of socialism that is terribly socialist. Their most commonly cited policies are single-payer healthcare, free university education and free daycare, all of which are liberal or, at a push, social democratic programmes.
The same goes for the Corbyn Party, successor to the Labour Party (1900-2015), which has just wrapped up its annual conference in Liverpool. The event has been reported as the party’s most radical in years but it was just as stage-managed and spun as in the New Labour era. Fudges on Brexit and deselection were finagled by the leadership and the unions. MPs were told to keep their speeches to a maximum of seven minutes, or 17 for those quoting extensively from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Rallies were held in support of the leader, Tom Watson pretended to be some kind of moral ballast, and the feminists got shafted again. Proceedings closed as they always do with a rousing rendition of ‘The Red Flag’, which remains the party's preferred anthem despite stiff competition from ‘Throw the Jew Down the Well’.
Look again, though, at policy. Free childcare, 400,000 green jobs, and reduced carbon emissions. Which of those would Tony Blair disagree with? Certainly pledges on worker share ownership of large firms were to the left of Blair , but any number of credible soft-left Labour leaders (plus Ed Miliband) would have been happy to endorse the principle. Ditto much of the talk of renationalisation. Andy Burnham promised to take the railways back into public ownership during the 2015 leadership campaign and nationalising utilities would be more dramatic if both Miliband and Theresa May hadn’t advocated energy price caps. On the biggest political (though not the biggest popular) issue of the day, Brexit, the Corbyn Party continues to fudge, with the occasional moment of clarity quickly melted back down into the viscous goo below.
It would be contrarian to argue that the Corbyn Party isn’t to the left of the party it replaced. It is, but not by as much as its dreamy-eyed foot soldiers believe. When he wasn’t palling around with the IRA and assorted anti-Semites, Corbyn spent much of his backbench career opposing Neil Kinnock from the left. How times change, and men of unshakeable principle too. For I can’t think of any policy espoused by Corbyn that Kinnock would have disagreed with in his time as Labour leader. If anything, Corbyn is more conservative. He went to the country last year on a pro-Trident manifesto, whereas Kinnock went into his first election as leader pledging to ‘inform the Americans that we wish them to remove their cruise missiles and other nuclear weapons from Britain’. Public opinion has lurched to the left and the left's figurehead ambles sluggishly after it.
If this is Corbynism — if it’s really just a harder edge on the soft-left — why go to all the trouble of electing a life-long far-leftist to push bog-standard social democracy? It can’t be charisma — Corbyn has none. It can’t be charm — same. Maybe young lefties like him for the same reason a generation of film school freshmen swooned over Pauline Kael, a middle-aged broad who mimicked their patois and told them what they wanted to hear. Don’t underestimate the power of rhetoric. Rhetoric matters and in rhetorical terms Corbyn is at odds with the last three decades of bland managerialism. Talk of ‘a broken economic system’, ‘the political and corporate establishment’ and ‘the old way of running things isn't working any more’ pushes buttons in much the same way strikingly similar language has for Trump, Vote Leave, the SNP and the nativist governments of Hungary and Italy.
Why is Trump so afraid of ‘socialism’? Not because it seriously threatens his economic interests or the interests of people like him. There's a reason the Buffett Rule is called the Buffett Rule. The rich can afford social democratic tax rates; it’s full-blooded socialism that puts their wealth in peril, and that is being proposed on neither side of the Atlantic. ‘Socialism’ scares Trump because it's an emerging rival. The heroes and villains change but the script remains the same: You are being screwed. That group of people over there are the ones doing it. Vote for me and I’ll stick it to them. Things used to be great and I’ll make them great again. In 2012, Barack Obama won Ohio by three per cent but his margin among unionised voters was 23 points; in 2016, Trump won the state by eight points and nine among labour households. Populism left or right appeals to voters left or right.
Trump should fear what is currently being passed off as socialism because it appeals to many of the sentiments, prejudices and grievances that he seized upon two years ago. The rest of us should fear the radical authoritarianism of Corbyn and his party because it shares all the worst attributes of socialism. Corbynism stands for public policy organised around animus, for arbitrariness and caprice, for placing the apparatus of the state at the disposal of a personality cult. It stands against liberalism, the rule of law, and the easy peace that comes with laying your head down at night in a country governed by ordered liberty. And Corbynism, like socialism and communism, gorges itself on dark fantasies of Jewish power and manipulation.
The Corbyn Party’s conference saw praise for lawless Trotskyism, an insurrectionist call to bring down a democratically elected government, threats against press freedom, and reminders that this is a party at war with Britain’s Jews. If this is socialism, it is the socialism of thugs.