Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Luk√°cs

Monday, December 04, 2006

John McDonnell and 'socialism in the 21st century'

A month ago I declared the Labour Left dead, but I now have to report that against all odds, it is actually still alive, but only just. On Saturday, I went to see John McDonnell MP, who is campaigning to become the new Labour leader after Blair, speak in Leeds. McDonnell spoke well enough, though the picture he painted of the current state of the Labour Party on the ground (about 20,000 activists nationally, apparently) thanks to Blair and New Labour's criminal betrayals was shocking to an outsider like me. He warned of the consequences if his campaign was not successful - and predicted defeat for Labour at the next election as voters simply would not vote for more Tory policies from Brown. The audience was about 80 strong, mostly elderly left Labourites, with a smattering of old Communists and orthodox Trotskyists. Anyone under the age of 30 (there were not many) seemed to be a member of some Trotskyist group or another (I suppose I also fall into this category), and in the discussion John was asked several times by these young people about how he would 'attack' and 'defend himself' from 'international capital' once he was elected.

The 'elephant in the room' which was somewhat ignored by such comrades concerns McDonnell's chances of getting elected. Indeed, to even get onto the ballot paper he needs 44 MPs to agree to nominate him - and the problem is that finding 44 Labour MPs with socialist principles is not the easiest task in the world. It was telling that not one Leeds Labour MP was present at this - just as no Leeds Labour MP voted for an inquiry over the Iraq war. Indeed, with his fervent hope that he can 'get his Party back' to the politics of peace, social justice and equality, McDonnell is akin to the blind man in the dark room looking for black cat...which isn't there. There is no 'golden age' of building socialism in the Labour Party's history - and one hundred years after the Party was formed, Labour is now further away from its goal of 'democratic socialism' than ever before. If the Party cannot even hold its leader, the war criminal Blair, to account after committing mass murder, what chance of the same Party ever electing a socialist leader?

Nevertheless, McDonnell's campaign does deserve support from those socialists like myself in Respect - and if he does get onto the ballot paper then he has a chance to put his ideas about 'socialism in the 21st century' out there to a wider audience. This will strengthen the whole of the Left in Britain - not just the Labour Left. Yet the consequences for the Labour Left if McDonnell does not make it onto the ballot paper are pretty dire it must be said. Labourism's roots in the British working class movement are still there, but, thanks to New Labour's neo-liberalism at home and neo-conservatism abroad, every day become less and less. In 1981 Tony Benn got 3.2 million votes to be deputy leader of the Labour Party and must have had 250,000 active supporters (he still lost). Twenty five years on, the fact that the leader of the Labour Left in Parliament is scrabbling around to even get onto the ballot paper tells a sad tale in itself. There is a desperate need for a 'labour' Party in British politics - a party which will champion labour against capital, and peace against war - and Blair has all but destroyed the Labour Party's chances of being such a Party. Unfortunately for Blair, just as he thinks he has chopped off the head of the working class movement, another head slowly begins to appear...

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At 2:26 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was at the Sheffield McDonnell meeting. I agree in part, he'll struggle to get onto the ballot. But if he does, I think he's got a fairly decent chance of winning.

And the best thing is that they are the party in power, so he automatically becomes PM.

I agree with your comments about young Trots.

At 2:32 pm, Blogger Daphne Watermelon said...

the problem is that hes not even the 'leader of the Labour left' - in fact the campaign group was split over whether to back him.

while it would be brilliant if he were Labour leader - when you look at his campaign, all there is is a number of long-term fellow travellers (good socialists eg jon rogers) and the awl. and that's the problem - old labour is dead and shows few if any signs of revivial.

At 5:36 pm, Blogger Adam Marks said...

John McDonnell is boring. Can't he juggle or wear chaps or burp his speeches. Who on Earth could get excited about this man? He makes Jezza Corbyn look like Russel Brand.

At 5:40 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi snowball...going back to John Newsinger's book, I came across this audio of his book launch:



At 3:38 am, Blogger syndicalist81 said...

That's fantastic! Thanks, Imran!

At 7:37 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're very welcome.


At 10:35 pm, Blogger Snowball said...

Yeah thanks Imran...


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