Through his spat with Richard Branson regarding alleged overcrowded trains, Jeremy Corbyn has revealed he wants to be treated like an Emperor. Corbyn was filmed sitting on the floor of an off-peak Virgin train from London to Newcastle, having a moan about privatisation. However, CCTV footage released by Virgin Rail shows there were many seats available on the train without reserved tickets. Corbyn chose to sit on the floor as a publicity stunt that has somewhat backfired. Now he says ‘what he meant’ was he wanted a free double-seat so he could sit with his wife. But that expectation is absurd.
The humble hoi-polloi are well aware if you want to sit with family members, it is best to book in advance where that can be fully accommodated. But Corbyn who thinks he has a god-given right to be the next Prime Minister simply because he pays lip-service to ‘socialism’, believes special measures should be laid on just for him. The fact is that no train company – state owned, or private – could have guaranteed that Corbyn and his wife could sit together if they haven’t booked in advance. It is a utopian dream whilst any company has to operate within the parameters of the market, be it a nationalised company or a private company. It is simply too expensive to generate enough carriages for everyone to have lounging room, hence seats are designed on the fair principle – one man, one seat – based around the physical structure of the human being. If you bring someone else on to the train without booking in advance, you should expect you may be separated. Normal people put up with this. Normal people also remember when rail was nationalised – prior to 1996. It was a shoddy overcharging service with overcrowded trains back then as well.
It isn’t ‘bloody Tory privatisation’ or whatever, it is derived from the efficiency of the market. If you want a superior system to this, you need to go beyond the capitalist mode of production and develop the train network far beyond what is possible if everything has a price. So Corbyn’s threat to nationalise the rail network really means, in this context, he will tax people more to fund his desire for himself and whoever he decides to travel with in the lap of luxury whilst everyone else struggles to make ends meet (because their tax bill has risen). But the solution is to transcend the “nationalisation vs privatisation” debate. Nationalisation to the extent it implies social ownership is only useful if it exists in the context of a broader liberatory challenge to capitalism, i.e. that the goal is part of a project to abolish the wage-labour/capital social relation at the heart of things through a social revolution. This leads to the erosion of the law of value so that people become free to produce longer trains without the need to consider profitability at all. As well as this, the likelihood of getting rid of all train staff becomes possible. If you can have driverless cars, you can have driverless trains. A fully automated network would also not require any station staff or guards, freeing all these people (3068 of them in Virgin Rail) to do more rewarding jobs than just travelling the same old routes up and down the country again and again just to earn the right to survive.
Corbyn’s supporters such as the Guardian’s Owen Jones has argued that privatisation is a tactic of greedy capitalism so they can overcharge on fares and cut corners on delivery in order to make super profits. Is he for real? Whilst Virgin Rail’s annual turnover is just over £1bn, their net worth in 2015, the latest year where figures are available, is only £42m. When you think of the millions of journeys made in any year, a net worth of £42m is a pitiful sum. Virgin Rail are definitely not making super profits, they are only just surviving, if that. The problem with the capitalist mode of production isn’t that it makes some people rich, it is that it cannot develop the economy enough. It is thus that we are stuck with an inferior train network which neither privatisation nor nationalisation can solve, since both are wedded to a wider market structure. If Corbyn’s ‘socialism’ was anything more than moralistic posturing, he might be able to grasp this point.