Jeremy Corbyn: a Polanyian critique

Supporters of Jeremy Corbyn would be forgiven for assuming that, if one were to assess Corbynism – an admittedly crude term for the perspective of the Labour Party’s current leader and his main allies – through the prism of Karl Polanyi’s dialectical framework, the perspective represents a historical ‘counter-movement’.  As such it aims to re-embed the economy in social relations, in response to a neoliberal ‘first movement’ which sought originally do dis-embed the economic organisation from the social sphere by fetishising the notion of the free market.

This, essentially, is how Polanyi understood the early-mid twentieth century emergence of the welfare state in advanced capitalist economies. Arguably, Corbynism offers a response to the Hayekian undoing of the Keynesian state from the late 1970s onwards, which his predecessors as Labour leader had sought to accommodate rather than challenge.

However, I believe this would be an overly-simplistic account of the politics of Corbynism, and indeed of the application of the Polanyian framework to the present moment. In fact, I think we can see Corbynism as itself a product, or commodity, within the political marketplace, the (partial) dis-embedding of which from social relations can be understood as constitutive of the neoliberal first movement.

Indeed, it is becoming increasingly apparent that, in Polanyian terms, Corbynism represents a ‘fictitious commodity’.

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Image: Garry Knight