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Left Socialist Blog

John McDonnell, Left Should not Shout ‘through the Letterbox’ at Starmer and become isolated.

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John McDonnell: Labour would save families more than £6,700Parikiaki | Parikiaki Cyprus and Cypriot News

At the beginning of Left Out, Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire’s coruscating, account of Labour during the Corbyn leadership, two sparks are thrown out.

There are two quotes;

Jeremey Corbyn, ‘We Won the Argument’.

John McDonnell, ‘I own this disaster.’

In the concluding pages there are these words,

“The Project’s weakness, and its internal divisions, be they the distrust of Murphy’s combative stile, the deep resentment that festered among junior staff in LOTO, or John McDonnell’s freelance excursions on Brexit, all flowed directly from Corbyn’s own. Power was not something he pursued. At times it felt that he was a man living in anticipation of another happy accident.

“The Shadow Chancellor, without whom the Project would have never existed, was the opposite. For four years he worked himself ragged in the pursuit of power. He set aside his sectarianisms and moderated and mellowed, or at least had the good sense to pretend to.”(Page 359)

This is not a review of Left Out. readers of this Blog may guess that the direction one will take. There is a  view that Jeremy Corbyn would have been more content,  and perhaps more effective,  in the leadership the League Against Imperialism circa 1927. The full story the Project fell apart is not the issue here.

But some general points can, and should be, made.

There is a judgement, contrasting with Pogrund and Maguire, that the “centrifugal forces” of Brexit and personality clashes, were overshadowed by divisions over what was right. One one side were left-wing internationalists opposed to the Hard Right Brexit Project, on the other side were those who either welcomed the opportunity to break free from the EU, or stayed confused about how to mobilise Labour’s electorate against it.

John McDonnell ultimately had more in common with the internationalists, and his actions were far from inexplicable but based on his ability as a politician to work with those from this camp, rather than the way the People’s Brexit faction attempted to dismiss us.

To illusrate his abilty to talk to, and not ‘use’,  other people we have this report today.

McDonnell has now said: “The most important thing for the left now is not to allow itself to be portrayed as oppositionists, shouting from the sidelines, shouting through the letterbox, that sort of thing.”

What there is, is the evidence of John McDonnell’s actions now.

McDonnell advises Labour left not to be seen as “shouting from the sidelines

John McDonnell has urged Labour left members not to let themselves be “portrayed as oppositionists, shouting from the sidelines” and instead “make sure that we win every political debate around the policy issues that we now confront”.

In an interview with Antonello Guerrera of Italian newspaper La Repubblica, the former Shadow Chancellor warned the party’s left flank against allowing itself to become isolated, saying: “We mustn’t alienate people within the party.”

He reminded members that Keir Starmer won the Labour leadership election earlier this year “on the basis of adopting a template policy programme which was drawn from the last two Labour manifestos” in the 2017 and 2019 general elections.

McDonnell said: “The most important thing for the left now is not to allow itself to be portrayed as oppositionists, shouting from the sidelines, shouting through the letterbox, that sort of thing.

We mustn’t allow ourselves to be isolated or in any way, and we mustn’t alienate people within the party of the majority of the Labour Party members.”

He argued that while most members are “willing to give Keir Starmer a chance to see how we can really keep the party together and develop it”, the majority “don’t want any retreat from the radicalism of Jeremy Corbyn”.

McDonnell also said that some members within the party had been alienated by the leadership’s statements on certain issues that have “not been carefully worded or well chosen”, but said people were not leaving Labour “on any mass scale”.

These comments follow others which confirm this Blog’s view that not only was John McDonnell one of the most serious figures in Corbyn’s Labour pushing a transformative democratic socialist agenda, that he has a “nose” for the political bargaining involved,  but that he is simply somebody with a lot of good sense.

The hysterics of many articles and comments made by those claiming to be on the left  shown towards Keir Starmer is repulsive.

Not only will they alienate the majority of the Labour Party, and the wider public, but the go against the grain of democratic socialist politics.

People used to talk, not least his own ‘knowing’ supporters,  of Tony Blair “getting in the betrayal first” when, well before election victory,  he had got rid of Clause Four and key left-wing policies on replacing Thatcherism.

This writer has heard those who knew absolutely nothing about Keir Starmer, who had a period of radical left activism of some years in the 1980s, as a Blairite.

You do not have to have met Starmer during his years editing Socialist Alternatives, or indeed to have worked with him in his Chambers, to feel your stomach churn at some of the scattergun, often very personal, attacks.

John McDonnell, like Andrew Fisher, are well placed to call for these  bilious shouts.

McDonnell’s interview has made waves for another aspect,

In an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica, the former shadow chancellor drew parallels between Johnson and US President Donald Trump and claimed that parts of the world are “in quite a dangerous moment when it comes to the development of the forms of the Right”.

“The depiction of right-wing populism can be described in some instances as ‘proto-fascism’, with regard to Trump and also with regard to our own country, the rise of Johnson, Johnson’s politics,” McDonnell told the paper.

“It’s proto-fascism, no respect for democratic values, no respect for democratic institutions, no respect for the law, no respect for some of those rights and entitlements that particularly Labour and trade unions in our own country secured after struggles over the years.”

Boris Johnson is ‘proto-fascist’, says John McDonnell


That sounds a better row to get into!

But on Labour’s left will he be listened to?

We hear that leading Labour left-wingers, or rather, those who define themselves against others by their identification s left wing are already saying, “Comments and articles like this are  unhelpful by John McDonnell” They are preparing to buckle down.

To see what alternatives there are (not forgetting the previous post on this Blog on Chris Williamson) here is an interesting critical assessment of life outside the Labour Party.

Marxist Method and Orientation to Mass Organisations of the Working Class II

Socialist Voice.


“A Matter Of Prestige ” and “Marxist Method and Orientation to Mass Organisations of the Working Class (Part One)”, published in August 2019 and July 2020 respectively, examined the destructive role played by The Socialist Party of England and Wales (SP) in the United Kingdom civil service and out-sourced workers’ trade union the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) and the subsequent wider split in the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI).

One’s eyes are drawn to this passage on one of the groups shouting loudly for people to leave Labour and join their brand of politics.

 – SP & CWI and the Trade Unions

As predicted, the SP/CWI’s surrender to prestige politics and abandonment of the united front strategy has driven an inexorable descent into destructive sectarianism, currently most evident in their continuing “rule or ruin” strategy in the socialist led PCS, one of the most militant, democratic, lay-led unions in the UK. Their abandonment of the principles and method through which the CWI played such an outstanding role in building a united left over many decades that defeated one of the most corrupt right-wing bureaucracies in the movement has left their now tiny forces isolated and alienated from even their erstwhile supporters on the left. Prestige politics inevitably results in a pursuit of “strategies” based on grudge-bearing, vendettas and self-abasing delusions of victimhood rather than a sound method of Marxist analysis. For them everything is now personal.

Written by Andrew Coates

September 18, 2020 at 5:57 pm

3 Responses

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  1. What a pity that the educated McDonnell was not leader, instead of the ignoramous Corbyn and his Stalinist court advisers – most notably the egregious Milne. We’d probably still have lost in 2019,but at least the left would have been left with something worthwhile to build upon.

    Jim Denham

    September 18, 2020 at 8:21 pm

    • Left Out certainly portrays Milne as intellectually a Guardian comments man, without going much into his ideology, which I’d say (having crossed real Stals since youth) is a kind of CPB lite, and somebody who genuinely believes that his circle, which I suppose extends (at least in the realm of ideas) to people like Tariq Ali/Counterfire and so on, have the version of ‘anti-imperialism’ that ‘everybody’ on the left believes in. Still it’s not something you’d want for a strategic international decisions, and not only over like Brexit.

      A further point. If you’ve read the book Jim Lansman often comes out well, committed to the agenda of democratising Labour, or at least giving more power to activists. Personally I’ve heard people directly involved who have a good opinion of him – look at what happened to those who really crossed the red lines (JW etc).

      The Labour right factionalists were and are their own horror story of course.

      Andrew Coates

      September 18, 2020 at 10:35 pm

  2. First auto-reactive kick back from the future Lord Bastini of Portsea; “I think members would prefer it if McDonnell helped to make the SCG more than a paper organisation rather than tell them what to think.” I guess Skwawkie and his elves will get round to their monstering later on this weekend.

    david walsh

    September 19, 2020 at 10:52 am

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