Beggar thy neighbour and more Greek tragedies

From Jeremy and Corbyn, Chapter Six – order now on Kindle

‘I may have been half-asleep, but I heard what you said. Making the economy better for “everybody”. Who exactly is this “everybody”? It’s always the same – you always seem to be muddying the class question. Can’t you say “the working class” for once?’

‘Well, if things improve for the Greek working class, then surely everyone benefits?’ said Corbyn.

‘And how is that going to happen? By “collecting taxes” and “working harder”? You sound like one of the EU’s inspectors.’

‘That is what Tsipras is trying to do; it’s only a statement of fact, not your… propaganda.’

‘You’re not an advocate for Tsipras, you know. You should be talking about what he should be doing, not uncritically describing the workings of the Greek government.’

‘The Greek people have chosen their government. It’s not for me to criticise their choice.’

‘That radio presenter had a point, you know, when he said that the Greek economy cannot deliver if it is just going to keep carrying on as before. That should have been your cue to say: “Yes, you’re right, that’s why Tsipras needs to rip up the debt and declare the Greek economy socialised.”’

‘That’s just what they want you to say. And within hours the headlines would have been: “Corbyn attacks Syriza government.”

‘Our comrades in Greece would be over the moon with that, wouldn’t they?’

‘So instead you say that the Greek people want to “work hard” and “pay their taxes”. Do you even know what you’re saying? The Greeks are among the hardest workers in Europe. They work far longer hours than the Germans. If working hard was the answer then they would be masters of Europe and it would be the Germans who were in Greece’s thrall. They’re outcompeted because the German bosses have invested. The Greek bosses didn’t. That doesn’t make the Greek workers “lazy”!’

‘I wasn’t saying that, I was attempting to refute all this nonsense about them being lazy. I was saying they need to be given a chance, that’s all.’

‘I know you mean well, which is why I’m saying be careful how you choose your words. The Syriza government is trying to collect taxes, but you might have mentioned that they’re also trying to make the rich pay more tax. I might have my reservations about Tsipras and Syriza, but you should have mentioned that.

‘The British people need to hear that these kinds of things are struggled fought for in other parts of the world. The great weakness of our labour movement is its ignorance of working class struggles internationally.’

‘I did say that. I said the government is trying to rebalance the economy.’

‘And you need to stop with these euphemisms,’ said Jeremy.

‘Tell me: What exactly do you mean when you say “rebalance the economy”? More industry over services? More exports over imports? I hadn’t even considered you meant taxing the rich more and the poor less! If you mean progressive taxation, why not say so? Because it’s not the same as the economy. You must say what you mean. Otherwise, you’ll never mean what you say.’

Corbyn fiddled his watch strap.

‘Well, it can mean all those things – I’m in favour of all those things. That’s why it’s such a good, all-round phrase. It’s not a “euphemism”!’

‘It’s such a good phrase that the Tories and the Blairites say the exact same thing…

‘Just explain yourself, won’t you? Society needs trade and industry, but if you start saying that we need to revive industry in order to “attain greater exports” and “close the trade deficit”, well, you’re straying into the field of nationalism.’

Corbyn looked up from his watch strap. He did not like the sound of that.

‘Germany has a very healthy trade surplus precisely at the expense of southern Europe,’ continued Corbyn. ‘Because it exports cheap, efficiently-made goods produced by the technology the German capitalists have invested in, and can therefore out-compete its rivals and run their industry into the ground. We should be talking about socialist cooperation with the people of Greece and Europe – with the people of the world, in fact – not beggar-thy-neighbour policies and more Greek tragedies.’

‘You can’t say such things on the radio, not with the time you’re given. Even if I did, they wouldn’t accept it,’ said Corbyn. ‘You’ve got to speak their language, the language of responsibility. We can’t just say things like “take over the banks” and “plan industry democratically”, valid proposals though they might be.’

‘You know,’ said Jeremy, ‘sometimes you talk like you’re trying to win this contest. I thought it was meant to be about getting the message across?’

‘The group agreed on an anti-austerity message, and that’s what we’re delivering.’

‘Do you honestly think we can fight austerity without proposing anything to replace it?’

Their bickering continued for a while, until they eventually settled into silence. Corbyn worked on his notes, Jeremy caught up on his sleep.

From Jeremy and Corbyn, Chapter Six – order now on Kindle

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