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Learning patience from Jeremy Corbyn

I have always thought that we libertarians have a lot to learn from socialists. Not about what are true ideas. They can tell us very little about that, although the process of combating those ideas is very valuable. But about how to spread ideas – how to make ideas count for something – the socialists can tell us a great deal. Their success in spreading their own ideas is all the more impressive when you consider how very bad most of these ideas are.

We can learn, for instance, patience. This is from a piece in the Guardian a few days ago by Rafael Behr:

Whatever else Corbyn’s surprise ascent last year represents, it demonstrates the value of patience. It takes a particular temperament to plug away in apparently futile opposition, making pretty much the same speech to the same fringe meeting for 30 years, letting no belief be washed away by shifting political and economic tides, but instead sifting events for bits of evidence to support the unwavering faith. Not everyone who is cast on the wrong side of history sticks around, confident that history will swing by again in the opposite direction. Yes, Corbyn has been lucky, but fortune only furnished the battle. He gets the credit for winning.

And he is still winning. The tendency in Westminster is to measure success by the restless pulse of the news cycle and the temperature of public opinion. In those terms, Corbyn is not doing so well. It took the best part of a fortnight to conduct a shadow cabinet reshuffle from which the casual observer will have gleaned that Labour is in chaos, divided over nuclear defences with a new bias towards the view that Britain shouldn’t have any. By conventional measures this is bad, but the tradition from which Corbyn hails does not respect those conventions.

To sneer at 14 days of reshuffle-related mess is an error based on the Westminster canard that a week is a long time. Corbyn and friends come from a place where 14 years is a pause for breath; where 30 years of barren rhetoric can whizz by without frustration. Set that as the tempo of achievement and the appointment of an anti-Trident shadow defence secretary is a monumental triumph. Every day in the leader’s chair is more triumphant still if it stops the Labour party returning to what it was.

When libertarians have contrived serious victories, these are the sorts of ways we have done it. When we start winning bigger and more dramatic victories, these are the sorts of ways we will do it.

22 comments to Learning patience from Jeremy Corbyn

  • Greg

    Brian, great post!

    So, how do we spread ideas? A Leftist only has to pass some gas to get noticed, and favorably, by the media. How do we reach the victims of higher education and provide them what they should have gotten in the Universities? How do we re-educate the body politic in general to value the rule of law, property rights, and the dispersal of power?

    None of the above read Samizdata or anything like it, nor are they ever likely to. OK, that’s a little strong: but not enough will reach out to us to make any political difference; the onus is on us.

    But if anyone can answer these questions, it’s the Samizdata blogger and commenter community!

  • Alisa

    I don’t know if Corbyn is in fact winning, but the point stands: he and his likes are persistent and patient, and they are not thinking in short terms. We all of us would do well to adopt the same kind of patience and persistence.

    Greg: everyone is different, and so each one of us operates in a different way, that best suits us and our personality and situation. Each one of us has to identify that and work with that – even if that means each one of us only manages to influence one single person in our entire lifetime. Because that one person may influence several others, and another one several others as well, and so on. This is where patience and persistence come in. It can be quite frustrating at times, but then the rest of life can be that as well.

  • Patrick Crozier

    “Keep on keeping on” as Chris Tame once put it.

  • rxc

    The leftists are using the same plan developed by the Catholic Church and used for nearly 2000 years.

    (1) Identify a problem – “human suffering” – which has always been with us and which, realistically, will ALWAYS be with us.
    (2) Identify solutions to the problem – in the case of the Church, it is believe in redemption in the afterlife, supported by compassion and comforting (i.e., “good works”) in this life for the people who are suffering. In the case of the leftists, it is re-distribution of all resources to everyone equally, except that those who suffer get a bit more to compensate them for the “suffering”.
    (3) Identify a catchy rationale for accepting the illogic of points (1) and (2) – the Church has a lot of religious mumbo-jumbo about love, compassion, eventual salvation, etc, which sounds really nice to people who are suffering, and to people who think that some day they might end up suffering, and are interested in covering all their bases. The leftists have a lot of semi-pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo about love, compassion, community involvement, etc which sounds really nice to people who are suffering, and to people who think that some day they might end up suffering, and are interested in covering all their bases.
    (4) Identify a stick you can use to beat the non-believers, apostates, and wrong thinkers who see through the mumbo-jumbo – the Church now uses guilt (It used to be able to use the Inquisition, Crusaders, Cathars, etc, but they are now a bit restricted). The left uses guilt and shaming, and is trying hard to implement a new inquisition, with social justice warriors and lawyers and planners and nannies nudging/prosecuting people who don’t agree with them or don’t behave as they should.
    (5) Capture the trend-setters in the society and make sure they toe the line about getting the message out – the Church captured the really big one with Emperor Constantine, and they never looked back, until that damn German invented the printing press and people started to read stuff and think about what they read. The Leftists captured the western media, including all sorts of celebrities who love to be loved, so they naturally gravitate to political principles that promote “love”. The leftists also captured the largest country in the world, as well as the most populated country, but those two experiments failed, and then Al Gore and that damn Brit invented the internet so people could continue to talk to one another without having to have everything filtered thru the “experts”.

  • Kevin B

    The tried and trusted way is a good old ‘Long March through the Institutions’.

    Start with the foundations, as in The Grantham Institute, Soros’ Open Society Foundations etc. etc. Use bribery, blackmail, threats even, to blag your way to the top of these institutions and then, once you can control the finances, just spend all that money on preaching ‘state bad – individual good’ messages. Use the same tactics to corrupt the universities, schools, media, the civil service and politics.

    Once you have the foundations, which are largely self-sustaining financialy, the rest of it can be accomplished fairly quickly and it doesn’t even have to be sequential.

  • Laird

    A good post (and that is an exceptionally well-written piece, especially given its source). I would add that Bernie Sanders has followed much the same path as Corbyn, and is also enjoying his moment of success (not quite as great as Corbyn’s yet, but who knows?).

    But I would posit that libertarians have been playing a “long game”, and we are beginning to see some glimmers of success, at least in the US. Although its roots run much deeper, the libertarian movement only really began in the 1960s (see Jerome Tuccille’s It Usually Begins With Ayn Rand for an entertaining account of the early years), and today we have more-or-less libertarian publications and think tanks such as Reason Magazine, the Cato Institute, Institute for Justice, etc. John Stoessel even has a TV show. “Radical” libertarian ideas such as drug legalization, restraining government, etc., are becoming mainstream. We wouldn’t otherwise have seen the relative success of such as Ron and Rand Paul. And we’ve gotten to the point that the political mainstream even feels the need to attack us. That’s clearly progress!

    With respect to tactics, we should purposefully adopt some of the strategies advocated by Saul Alinsky. Say what you like about his politics; his tactics are practical and effective.

    It’s natural to feel frustrated by the slow pace of our progress. But progress is being made. We just need to stay the course and keep on truckin’!

  • I agree that patience is a virtue we need: after Obama won in 2012, Natalie posted an email I sent her on ‘the consolations of philosophy’. I’m all for us having this virtue the article suggests Corbyn has. But I see Corbyn’s ‘making pretty much the same speech to the same fringe meeting for 30 years’ as having more in common with his getting two Es at his grammar school than with any unusual degree of patience. “These people are irritating me” does not speak to me of extraordinary capacity for patience. This spinning of his two-week reshuffle into looking less inept does not convince.

    If only we could rely on his being so very ‘patient’ in inflicting his plans on us if he ever had the power to do.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Becoming the leader of a suicide cult, is not normally considered a success.

    Leaving aside the specific case of Corbyn (and i could say the same of Obama), i wish to comment on the first sentence of the OP: what we can learn from socialists. It strikes me that the best critics of socialism are socialists of different schools. Marx produced a scathing review of competing forms of socialism in the Commie Manifesto; Bakunin got it right about what Marxism would lead to; Machajski was at least thought-provoking in his Marxist critique of Marxism; the Soviets agreed with many Western critics (Jonah Goldberg being much less original than people think) in re-branding social democrats as “social fascists”; the German national socialists made the world aware of the Holodomor while the NY Times whitewashed it; the Labour Party under Attlee played a pivotal role in the founding of NATO; and i understand that, during the Cold War, people at the CIA thought that their most reliable allies in much of Western Europe were the socialist parties.
    Maybe some more examples will come to mind tomorrow.

  • AngryTory

    First of all, this post explains why Socialists (social democrats, labour, communists) cannot be reasoned with, cannot be bribed, cannot be “re-educated” — why the original Constitutions of both the UK and America completely denied any kind of communist any kind of political representation and responsibility until the 20th Century, which, of course, is where the rot set in.

    The simple mathematics of economies – Zipf’s Law, Pareto’s Law, and the laws of Comparative Advantage and the Business Cycle means that there will always be more “losers” than “winners” — the median is typically about halfway between the mean and zero on a log scale. 20% will own 80%, 10% will own 50%, 1% will own 25%. This is an inevitable, mathematical consequence of freedom and private property.

    So “spreading our ideas” is pointless, in a democracy with the individual franchise. It’s an argument we can never win. Lucky for us, we don’t have to win arguments – which is why TRUMP and Palin are so great, and half the solution we need. The other half is to realise that universal franchise, so-called people’s democracy, is always and everywhere just another word for communism, the one inexorably leads to the other. Which is why the US is a Republic, and the UK a Kingdom, and for less than 100 years, neither has had universal adult franchise. Whether by restricting the franchise to those who deserve it ,reserving powers to a senate or fiscal council, or otherwise constraining government by Constitutional overriding laws, we just need to make sure the country is governed by those who actually own it, not those who by some accident of history or fate happen to live in it from time to time.

  • Chester Draws

    The “long game” thing is a nonsense. There are only two types of politicians, the ones who stick by their principles and those that don’t. If you are the first sort then you enter politics and stay in the same position, more or less, until you leave. Patience doesn’t really enter into it.

    My dad did the same job for 40 years. He’s not patient. He had to do something.

    Corbyn was making decent money as an MP, and really not trying very hard to be anything else really.

    Patience is some poor sap who runs for MP every election for a losing ticket.

    The lesson we learn from Corbyn’s election to the leader of the Labour Party is that if everyone running for a position is bad then you cannot have a good result. (What the US is about to discover when it elects its next president.) If anyone inspiring had been on that Labour ticket we wouldn’t be having this lesson on “patience”.

  • Paul Marks

    I hope you are correct Brian.

  • Mr Black

    Socialist ideas spread far and wide because it’s almost all lies. They tailor their lies to whomever they are speaking to, in order to generate the most passionate support. Their message, the true one, would be met wit a hail or stones and broken bottles if they were forced to reveal their actual plans and where it would lead.

  • AngryTory

    Their message, the true one, would be met wit a hail or stones and broken bottles if they were forced to reveal their actual plans

    wrong. “Death to the Rich” will always get a hearing in 30-50% of the population. The great advantage of TRUMP over all the other GOP candidates is his message is getting through to a whole bunch of folks who would not be harmed by that message.

  • Roue le Jour

    I agree with you that universal suffrage is the camel’s nose for collectivism.

    However Mr. Black is quite correct. Nobody would vote for “And we will import a million third world inhabitants to take your job and molest your wife and children.” Which is why such claims are carefully not made at election times.

    Big governments always turn on their populations. It cannot be otherwise as their interests are diametrically opposed. Big government wants to be big and powerful, people want to be rich and free. But a free and wealthy people don’t need and won’t vote for a big government. So government has to piss your money away and constrain your liberty if it is to survive. Immigrants conveniently serve both these objectives.

  • AngryTory

    I agree with you that universal suffrage is the camel’s nose for collectivism.


    people want to be rich and free.

    people do. communists don’t. that’s why, philosophically, communists aren’t people.

    But a free and wealthy people don’t need and won’t vote for a big government

    again: communists will and do. Thus the New Deal, Clintons, Great Society, Labour, UK Conservatives, D’RATS, RINOS, etc. All of which are prima facie unconstitutional in the US — and, sadly, mandated by the EU Constitution (arguably the best reason of all to leave the EU: purging communism from the EU is unconstitutional. Exhibits: Poland, Hungary…)

  • Roue le Jour

    It isn’t that communists don’t want to be rich and free, it’s that they don’t want anyone to have more than they have. (Although senior comrades seem to be quite comfortable with dachas, servants and the like.)

    We’re simply quibbling over what proportion of the electorate are communists. My view, and I assume Mr. Black’s also, is that there simply aren’t enough of them to get their own way, they must deceive a fraction of the floating electorate in to supporting them, a fraction which would not support them if they fully understood the socialist end game.

    And yes, the EU is absolutely the European Union [of Socialist States] which in my view also is by far the strongest reason for leaving.

  • Nicholas (Andy.royd) Gray

    I keep pointing out that a good way to create a Libertarian bastion would be for millions of libertarians to emigrate here, Australia, for a few years. We accept immigrants from everywhere, even the US! If enough anarcho-capitalists moved here, we might even try that!
    With Australia as an example, Libertarianism would be on everyone’s lips!

  • Julie near Chicago

    Yabbut, Nicholas, we tried that here in Wyoming — hardly a densely-populated Left Coast demesne — and in New Hampshire, where they chant “Live Free or Die” regularly three times a year, and every summer hold Porcfest, and all (Porc-for-Porcupines, the state’s mascot, not as in Pig); and in, what, 15 years? they haven’t come anywhere near to having enough people move in to change things. And ruddy ultra-librul Vermont has Constitutional Carry, no license to carry, open, concealed, or in-between.

    (It also has Bernie Sanders, of course. And there have been a couple of Vermont towns near the N.H. border that made noises about wanting to leave Vt. and join N.H., but nothing has come of it.)

    The culture of the state has changed, too, particularly in the Southern part near the Taxachusetts border. I understand a lot of Massachusetts’ citizens decided enough was too much in the tax department, and took themselves, their loved ones, and their checkbooks across the border to Keene, N.H. Unfortunately, as so often happens they seem to have taken their politics with them. And the libertarian contingent who had come in to try to make a freer life for themselves abandoned Keene to the interlopers and moved up north where nobody would bother them. That’s the story as I’ve gotten it, and it’s a shame. But what did they think would happen if they abandoned the field?

    Of course, I’m 1000 miles away (or almost) and can dining-room-chair quarterback from Near Chicago. And I’m sure I don’t have the whole story.

    They have had a few successes politically, I guess. People in local government. Maybe one or two in some position with the state? And that’s very good. The overall idea is very good, if the right kind of people can be found. If the Muslims can get Britain and America to abandon what’s left of our long-held bedrock belief in our ideal of liberty and allow Shari’ah to become a political alternative, then people leading good lives and preaching liberty surely ought to be able to infiltrate New Hampshire successfully!

    . . .

    But your blandishments are charming, and the only reason I resist is that my idea of an ideal climate is four seasons, with plenty of rain and ditto snow, provided someone else will shovel. I think you’re not quite far enough south, and a little too much on the dry side. :>((

  • Nicholas (Andy.royd) Gray

    Julie- Tasmania has plenty of snow, and the neighbouring country of EnZed also has lots of snow, and I don’t mean drugs! The only drawback is that they hired locals to play the Orcs in those Lord of the Ring movies, and they didn’t need make-up! Still, it does help us normals to stand out.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Great. Devils and Orc wannabes. Why don’t I stay home and you can write and tell me all about it. 😉

  • JohnK

    We really ought to get across the fact that Corbyn is a rather uneducated and dull fellow. I expect most people assume he has some sort of Oxbridge background, but in fact after getting two “E” grades at A Level, he spent a year reading “Trade Union Studies” at North London Poly before dropping out. He could not even finish what must be the ultimate doss degree imaginable.

    We must not fall for the lie that this is a clever man. He is dull, uneducated and boring. The combination of circumstances which led him to become Labour leader were bizarre and unrepeatable. Whether his tenure will lead to the end of the Labour Party as a party of government will be revealed in due course. One can but hope.

  • mike

    Allow me to describe part of my own effort in Taiwan. The recently elected DPP government’s leader, Ms Tsai Ing-wen has a think tank with a website. I am acquainted with the fella who is the equivalent of “managing editor” at the website (naturally, a leftist) but to his credit he does allow comments on their articles. A few years ago, when there were a series of “land expropriation” cases under the old KMT government, I kept pointing out that this in fact meant that private property rights were actually very weak and that the people who need the protection of private property rights most are often those with little to no money and no political power. I also pointed out the inadequacies of Ms Tsai’s response to these cases as leader of the opposition – which was basically to squirm and call for more “dialogue” and “consensus”, rather than to defend the people who were having their homes stolen from them. Now that the new leftist government of Tsai has been elected, I will be making these same criticisms of the DPP and of the new president when the next “expropriation” cases occur, as they surely will. The hope is that the university-educated Taiwanese who read this website and share its’ articles on Facebook and the like will see this and will begin to be persuaded that what the poor actually need is not government management of the “social impact” on their lives, but straight private property rights respected by the courts.

    It might not achieve anything, but given that alternatives are unclear, that I have my own life to get on with and that the opportunity costs are relatively low, it’s my preferred tactic.