Corbyn Sits Firmly Within the Overton Window

While much is made of Jeremy Corbyn’s radical proposals, making him out to be a member of the far-left, the bulk of his policies fit well within the wider the capitalist framework of politico-economic understandings. His support for things like financial passporting, piecemeal nationalisation and some form of freedom of movement are policies well within the Overton window of accepted political opinion, despite the radical rhetoric that surrounds them. The idea that these things are somehow at odds with capitalism is frankly laughable, and usually presented by individuals who view the machinations of socialism or communism as purely connected to the state.

Are nationalisation or statism truly anti-capitalist? Tell that to the innumerable multinational corporations that rely on a nationalised infrastructure to create particular economies of scale. Tell that to technology companies that rely on the stringency of intellectual property law. Tell that to banks or energy companies that rely on “independent” institutions and structures like a central bank or national energy grid. At the height of the Keynesian paradigm, many companies relied on nationalised structures for output, subsidised inputs, and the maintenance of trade and capital flows. Even with the development of neoliberalism in the 1980s, and the supposed rollback of the state, the quantitative share of GDP held by states wasn’t reduced significantly. Instead the qualitative aims of the state were changed, moving toward a paradigm of globalisation that changed the boundaries between public and private. The forces of labour were disempowered, and the concept of a national interest was disregarded in favour of international flows and their continued deterritorialisation in a narrow sense, limiting the effects of technological and financial change to a class of globapolitans who could accrue the new forms of value and surplus value being created.

In this regard, the development of quasi-independent institutions had a veneer of anti-statism to them. Central banks and independent regulatory agencies (Ofgem, FSA, CQC, etc.) are said to be technocratic bodies of experts that are removed from the lowly base of national politics, all the while reacting to political decisions and moving the realm of politics to new sets of distributional coalitions, consisting mainly of interest groups, lobbyists and ideologues of managerialism. New distributional coalitions such as these tended to favour capital accumulation and the limitation of claims to it, as can be seen with the accrual of productivity gains to management and shareholders, and the accrual of real-wage growth to particular subsets of workers (namely operators in the post-Fordist sense of hands-off corporate control, where operators act as conduits between different subcontracted agencies within the wider internationalised corporation).

The only thing that Corbyn can be seen doing is moving this public-private boundary line in a direction that is more overt, that rejects this false impression of depoliticisation. Similarly, his perspective on freedom of movement is hardly in line with a socialist internationalism. Instead, it’s about bolstering certain forms of immigrant agency, allowing immigrants to have greater claim to welfare and worker rights when they live in the UK. It still maintains the idea that immigration is primarily of an economic kind, thus viewing immigrant agency as akin to a labour-force. It doesn’t significantly remove power from employers or slum-landlords, but simply gives greater claim to abstract rights. The flows of wealth, capital, goods and people that have developed under globalisation aren’t really being challenged, but instead Corbyn is calling for a slightly reinvigorated state that plays a particular role in these globalised flows (something akin to the competition state theorised by Aglietta or Mazzucato).

This is hardly outside the Overton window of capitalist orthodoxy. Maybe it can be seen as the development of a post-neoliberal capitalism, that reshapes particular value structures and presents the first-step in a pathway toward liberation and exodus from the corporate-state nexus. But it isn’t presented like that. It’s instead as a set of reformist policies that redevelop some of those flows mentioned. Calling this radical or far-left only shows the dearth of political debate within the UK, and shows that modern politics acts only as an ideational veneer for the wider means of production. The best thing that Corbyn has done is show the extent to which media and political discourse goes beyond the Overton window, seeing Corbyn and his proposals as despicable and beyond the pale, rather than as a reformist agenda. Fundamentally, it shows how depressing modern political engagement really is in the 21st century.


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