Alex Doherty interviews Christine Berry on her book PEOPLE GET READY! for Jacobin

ALEX DOHERTY: Looking at Labour’s platform, it seems the core of what you see as its radicalism is its plan to democratize the economy in various ways. Yet it seems that this hasn’t cut through very much — not only among the wider electorate, but even for instance in Labour Party forums on social media, where the program is almost solely seen in terms of anti-austerity and a kind of revivalism of the 1945 Labour government. So, if you’re right that this agenda is better thought-out than a lot of people expect, it doesn’t feel like it’s been particularly well articulated.

CHRISTINE BERRY: That’s definitely true. Even within quite politically-informed circles there isn’t a deep conversation about Labour’s new economic thinking. There’s a kind of irony if the talk of democratizing the economy — which means participation — is being developed from the top down by quite a small circle of policy wonks and people around shadow chancellor John McDonnell’s office. We need much more political education and effort to cultivate movement debate and discussion around these issues, so it can be an agenda driven from the grassroots.

Economic democracy is about going beyond a return to the spirit of ’45. The accusation often leveled at Labour when it talks about nationalization is that it just wants to go back to the past. But that isn’t the program — Corbyn and McDonnell have been clear that they’re not about replacing distant, unaccountable private elites with distant, unaccountable public elites. They have a solid critique of that model of nationalization — what they’re really interested in is exploring new models of public and common ownership that are more localized, decentralized, and participatory.

So, you have Corbyn talking about passenger-run railways and an energy policy that involves an element of national, public ownership but also has a big role for municipal energy companies and community renewables cooperatives. There’s also a lot of thinking about how to scale cooperatives and employee ownership in the private sector. This means taking seriously the value of democratic participation and control by workers and citizens. The nationalizations of 1945 were much more about the idea that this would make industries more efficient — something easy to forget after thirty years of neoliberalism hammered home the message that public ownership means inefficiency.

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