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Back to Socialism

LONDON – The remarkable thing about Jeremy Corbyn, the hard-left outsider who stunned the British establishment by capturing the leadership of the Labour Party, is not his alleged lack of patriotism. Whether he wishes to sing God Save the Queen at public events seems a rather trivial matter. The remarkable thing about his brand of leftism is how reactionary it is.

Corbyn is an old-fashioned socialist who would like to soak the rich and put transport and utilities back under state control. His rhetoric of class war suggests a complete break with mainstream social democracy.

Postwar European social democracy was always a compromise with capitalism. Left-wing ideology, especially in Britain, owed more to certain Christian moral traditions (“more Methodist than Marx”) than to any political dogma. Labour leaders like Clement Attlee, the first prime minister after World War II, were not opposed to a market economy; they just wanted to regulate markets in such a way that might best serve working-class interests.

During the Cold War, social democracy was Western Europe’s egalitarian alternative to communism. Attlee, for one, was ferociously anti-communist.