Tendance Coatesy

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New Left Review, Oliver Eagleton attacks Owen Jones, “tough action on antisemitism is a proxy for antisocialism…”

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A New Generation of Struldbrugg Socialists.

As New Left Review (NLR)  enters its 61st year, while still publishing valuable articles, the political content has become dominated by Struldbrugg socialism. These long-living inhabitants of the  land of Luggnagg, Jonathan Swift discovered in Gulliver’s Travels, show not  not only all the “follies and infirmities” of other elderly people , but they are also extra-opinionated.

NLR founding figure, Perry Anderson, writes in his Parish journal, the London Review of Books this week, “The letters objecting to my account of the European Union, offer a range of criticisms, none without an intelligible rationale.”. (Vol 43. No5) The Struldbruggs are supporters of national sovereignty, or sovereigntists, but they tolerate imports, like a hefty shaft of rare and curious words, to remind us of our Bildungslücke.

The peevish, the morose, the covetous,, and the vanity of those those claim to challenge power from their laptops,  are hallmarks of those who wrote, as present Editor Susan Watkins did in 2016, welcoming the vote to leave the European Union,”  Critics of the neoliberal order have no reason to regret these knocks to it, against which the entire global establishment—Obama to Abe, Merkel to Modi, Juncker to Xi—has inveighed.” Anderson indeed repeated this happy phrase in 2020,’critics of the neoliberal order have no reason to regret these knocks …” (Ukania Perpetua. NLR Second Series. 125).

Enter a new voice: Oliver Eagleton, whose work has appeared in Jacobin, The Article, Novara and openDemocracy, as well as Counterfire and Verso.

For the latter he wrote this hatchet job, which has disappeared from the archives:


Now there is this:



A review of Owen JonesThis Land: The Story of a Movement

This is not really a review of Jones’ book, one written by somebody, Owen Jones, with serious experience and respect in the broad labour movement. It is a polemic against something Eagleton calls “McDonnellism”, against left internationalists who stood against Brexit, and  a  pretty good effort at aping his  Struldbrugg  elders.

The first thing that strikes the reader is that Eagleton follows the NLR line that Labour should not have opposed Brexit. He fails to mention that his journal actively backed the vote to Leave, with Editorial Board member Tariq Ali appearing on public platforms to cast the ballot on the same side as the European Reform Group, the Tory hard right, and Nigel Farage. As he himself wrote in 2020, “Labour will never be the Party of Remain. It’s time it stopped trying.”

Eagleton focuses on the movement for a second referendum, widely backed by the Labour grassroots, and the force behind million strong marches protesting against Brexit.

While autopsies of Corbynism invariably identify the Brexit polarization as a fatal turning-point, This Land is unique in detailing how Corbyn’s ambiguous position was partially responsible for creating that chasm in the first place. His protracted indecision generated a political vacuum that enabled the arch-centrist Remain movement to grow throughout 2018, winning over previously sceptical figures like Starmer and McDonnell.


McDonnell thus formed a second referendum pressure group inside the shadow cabinet, swaying the perennially indecisive Corbyn after purging the Leave faction from his office. Jones acknowledges the disastrous electoral fallout of this policy, but he concludes that ‘Labour had no real choice’. ‘Whatever decisions the party made’, he writes, ‘it would not have ended well’.

In this ‘review’ the idea that opposition to national neoliberalism, and to the hard right fantasy of the ‘anglosphere’ was behind this turn occurs not once.

Less interested in a political analysis of why Labour failed in 2019  – the obvious point being that Corbyn did not connect with the electorate, that there was gulf between the enthusiasm of the Corbynistas and the dislike of the majority of voters – Eagleton spares no words against Owen Jones, “a self-described ‘participant-observer’ in the Corbyn experiment”, marked by “instinctual conformism”, and takes a few side swipes at other highly regarded Labour people, including “Clive Lewis, the chest-thumpingly pro-nato Afghan war veteran..”

This paragraph, discovered in the thickets of ire. follows the main thrust of the book, “less a history of Corbynism than a prolonged apologia for McDonnellism.” One that refuses to challenge the idea that there was a crisis in the Party about antisemitism, and, Eagleton underlines, “. Alongside such incoherent formulations is a summary of Israeli history which ‘could have been written by Shimon Peres’, as one critic has remarked. ” Or that, “‘tough action on antisemitism’ is a proxy for antisocialism…”

Over it all there is the dark figure of John McDonnell….

Just as This Land’s timeline is manipulated to indict Milne… , “The same double-standard is evident in Jones’s disinclination to criticize his political mentor. In order to sustain the representation of Milne as obtuse Stalinist and McDonnell as master strategist, the latter’s political misjudgements must either be neglected or downplayed. Like Jones himself, McDonnell warned against Corbyn’s leadership bid; opposed the leader’s anti-imperialist agenda (including his widely popular response to the Manchester bombings); advocated ihra; cosied up to New Labour leftovers like Alastair Campbell; and pushed the party towards Remain out of an irrational fear of Change uk. A serious account of Corbynism would recognize the damaging effect of these climbdowns. “

For Eagleton, “Starmerism is the end-point of McDonnellism, the logical result of Jones’s prescriptions. ”

The Struldbruggs nod, and nod and nod.

Not any of them have a clue about getting the left into power in this country.





We hear on good authority that the person Oliver Eagleton attacks in this review  has also written a reply….




8 Responses

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  1. Indeed. I saw the article a few days ago on the NLR blog and winced. I winced too, at Eagleton’s throwaway phrase in the now redacted Verso essay using the same kind of guilt by association (the DPP, Saville, Davos, etc etc), that is used by the less grey cell endowed sections of the left, to assert that Starmer was ‘guilty’ of some form of accomodation with greed and capital as when “Starmer worked as a servant of the British security state, domestic and international. In 2003 he was hired to advise the Policing Board of Northern Ireland on its compliance with the Human Rights Act – a role that ended his attachment to grassroots politics by proving that change is best achieved by working within established institutions” Read that again – he was “guilty” of helping to move policing in Ulster – a policing that in its inglorious history saw the worst kinds of bigotry – away from nativist sectarianism and towards working in the spirit of internationally accepted human rghts standards. If that’s accommodation with the enemy, can I sign up to this treachery too ?

    david walsh

    March 9, 2021 at 1:27 pm

    • There are some people out there who have been suggesting the Oliver Eagleton, the son of course of Terry Eagleton, has taken a leaf out his dad’s endless lectures defending the claims of religion against vulgar atheists in their ‘ob-nailed secularist boots.

      That is (a very common argument amongst late 19th century Catholics in France), that there are there are certain kinds of truth addressed by science and other deeper truths looked into by religion.

      Oliver is said to be believe that his “truths” about Starmer are superior to the mere rationalist world.

      Andrew Coates

      March 9, 2021 at 2:38 pm

  2. I guessed – but didn’t know for sure – that he was Eagleton Jnr. If so, and he follows his dad in defending religiosity against “vulgar atheists”, why is he slamming Lisa Nandy – who he describes in his NLR piece as a “‘heartlands authentocrat who has since become Labour’s resident China hawk” for the thought crime of simply standing up for the rights of the .Uyghurs to live their lives as an ethnic race and adherents of their own faith ?

    david walsh

    March 9, 2021 at 2:51 pm

    • I missed that bit!

      I don’t think he writes anything more than rhetoric, dispensing with vulgar facts for higher truths.

      .We are not 100% sure about his father but a number of reasons – people have said it – and he writes about Ireland for Jacobin and seems to have the profile.


      Andrew Coates

      March 9, 2021 at 4:42 pm

      • It is Eagleton Jnr. From a 2002 Guardian interview with dad “In 1997 he (re) married. They have a four-year-old son, Oliver………… They moved to Ireland to live on neutral territory and friends say he is delighted to be a father again. Eagleton laughs that Oliver has even started to learn some Irish at school, “but he thinks it’s French”.

        david walsh

        March 9, 2021 at 6:42 pm

  3. I used to get very worked up about people like the Eagletons (pere et fils),Tariq Ali, Seumas Milne, Noam Chomsky, anyone associated with Socialist Action … etc … now I just repeat to myself the mantra “wankers, wankers, wankers” … and I feel Ok.

    Jim Denham

    March 9, 2021 at 4:16 pm

  4. Just one final comment on Perry Anderson (or as one letter writer to the LRB called him, “the grandson of Brigadier-General Sir Francis James Anderson, commander of the Queen Victoria’s Own Madras Sappers and Miners (1905-9)”.) You define the Struldbrugg Socialist of “showing not not only all the “follies and infirmities” of other elderly people , but (being) extra-opinionated”. Andersn Jnr must have been born an aged man; in a NLR review of the Rolling Stones ouevre written in early 1965, he wrote “Thus their music expresses ‘narcissism’ and ‘arrogance’, which may have a liberating effect on ‘the individual’, but invariably leads to ‘paranoia’ and ‘persecution’, unless transcended towards a more ‘reparative’ attitude. The Kleinian connotations of this line of argument are evident.” Or as Keef (age 79) of Dartford would say “that man deals some real tasty shit”…………………….

    david walsh

    March 10, 2021 at 11:11 am

    • This is rather a challenge to the the widely held view that he has got worse with age…

      Mind did have some original advice for the Labour Party back in the day,

      “The master aim of Labour strategy must be to unite the working class under its leadership and so win a permanant sociological majority of the nation.”

      Problems of Socialist Strategy 1965.

      In Towards Socialism New Left Review Fontana. Page 260.

      Andrew Coates

      March 10, 2021 at 11:58 am

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