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Posts Tagged ‘John McDonnell

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….




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

Arguments on the Left on “Left Out: The Inside Story of Labour Under Corbyn.”

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Aides feared Jeremy Corbyn was sabotaging his own campaign in ...

Debate on Labour Under Corbyn Grows.

Last December’s General Election was a catastrophe for the Labour Party.

A hard-right led Conservative Party promising to “Unleash Britain’s Potential” and “Get Brexit Done” won 265 seats and 43,6% of the vote  and  to Labour’s 203 and 32,2%.

This was not the disaster suffered by Labour’s counterpart in France, the Parti Socialiste (PS)  in 2017. They went  from governing the country under President François Hollande and being in government to marginalisation. They scored with their Presidential candidate Benoît Hamon, standing on a Green left platform won 6,36%, and 25 seats in the National Assembly (out of 577). Their defeat, the result of disillusionment with the outgoing President’s personal detachment,  and cabinet’s policies, rooted in a long-term concern with power-for-power’s sake,  had been helped by the defection of key figures and supporters to Emmanuel Macron and his movement, La France en marche.

Immediately after the election the PS Premier Secrétaire Jean-Christophe Cambadélis,  published, after resigning his position, Chronique d’une Débâcle (2017). The book was harsh, and detailed, about the “solitary behaviour” (that is, taking decisions off his own back) of Benoīt Hamon The socialist candidate appeared to wish to “refound” the left as a whole, morally and ideologically, rather than lead his troops into battle (“à la charge supreme”). The concentration on what one could call a Green New Deal, failed to talk to the wider public. With Hamon’s “Green Party” campaign, you got a “Green Party election score (“campagne d’écologiste, score d’écologiste” Page 111). He was not, in short,  “présidentiable”.

For somebody of my generation the first introduction to the genre of political insider accounts was through the memorable pages of La Vie quotidienne à Matignon au temps de l’union de la gauche. Thierry Pfister. (1985). The journalist tells the story of the first left governments under François Mitterrand. It pulled no punches either, presenting a detailed account of how Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy operated, and how he had got squeezed out. Pfister did not hide his antipathies, including towards the President, a view which he elaborated in Lettre ouverte à la génération Mitterrand qui marche à côté de ses pompes (1988).  La Vie quotidienne was introduced to the world by the right-wing daily Le Figaro.

I can’t recall much sustained hatred, other than some whinging, about Pfister from his targets. Nor, on the publication of Chronique d’une Débâcle were Hamon supporters omnipresent on social media screaming at the Saboteurs of the Parti Socialiste Parallel Centre.

Thin Skins…

Perhaps French centre left and left-wing activists have thicker skins, or are used to these kind of hard-hitting accounts.

By contrast, some on the left in Britain have taken great exception to the extracts just published from Times’ journalists Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire, Left Out: The Inside Story of Labour Under Corbyn.

From what one can read the book lacks much of a hold on Labour Party internal currents, that is ‘factionalism’ – something which Pfister (long background on PS left), and Cambadélis (former Trotskyist of the ‘Lambertist’ brand) have in spades.

The Week gives the main points:

Five things we learned from new tell-all book on Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership

  • Labour was warned of 2019 election disaster.

  • Corbyn ‘could not trust’ his closest allies, “

    Despite the damning polling results, “many in the room still believed” Labour could triumph, arguing that “the election of 2017 had shattered the old certainties, and Corbyn was determined to do so again”, the book says.

    But to do so would “require Corbyn to summon every drop of the energy” that months of Brexit drama and anti-Semitism scandals has “drained from him”, write Pogrund and Maguire.  And “those closest to him suspected he was in no state to do so”.

    These fears grew during the campaign, as Corbyn began falling out with his “closest lieutenants”, whom he came to “barely trust”.

    “His detractors at Westminster often contended that he had no idea what he was doing,” the book says. “For once, the jibe was accurate – though not for want of trying on Corbyn’s part.

    “Strategy for the campaign he was supposed to be leading had largely been decided – or, more accurately, disagreed on – in his absence.”

  • Deputy (Tom Watson)  considered defecting

  • Split with McDonnell over anti-Semitism.

  • Republican Corbyn bonded with the Sussexes

Poor old Skwawky has tried to his oar in over one part of the book:

Many would consider that the deep disagreements over Brexit are at the heart of the account.

This is the stand of John McDonnell.

His worst fears had been realised: despite his best efforts to cajole Corbyn into supporting a second referendum, Labour was repelling pro-EU voters. As Waters sat down, the shadow chancellor delegated the inquisition to his wife. Cynthia, like Lavery, struggled at first to believe what she had been told. She had spent much of her career at market-research companies and queried whether the research was watertight. An angry Lavery went further. YouGov, attendees recall him fuming, had been founded by card-carrying Conservatives, a charge he raised with Waters and Sookoo repeatedly. He insisted that they could not and should not trust a “Tory firm”.

But McDonnell had already made up his mind: Labour must do everything in its power to win back pro-EU voters. It would refrain from discussing the detail of Brexit and extol the virtues of giving voters the final say via a second referendum. It was a strategy Seumas Milne, Corbyn’s chief strategist, had long argued against, warning that the working class could desert Labour en masse. But he was not present that day. He was also increasingly outmuscled by Corbyn’s oldest comrade, who was by then plotting Milne’s demotion. “From that point out, our strategy was to hug the remainers,” says an official present that morning.

Some now piling in suggest that Labour was wrong to offer the prospect of a Second Referendum.

Their opinion might be taken seriously if they did not come from circles, like the inner core around Corbyn, his advisers Seumas Milne and Andrew Murray, which supported Leave in the first place. Had not the Lexit (Left Exit) argued that leaving the neo-liberal EU open the way for a movement to “take back control”?  Instead here was marked shift to the right.  The Brexit Party (involving people that the Lexiteers worked with in the Full Brexit front) in the 2019 European election topped  the poll at 30,52% and , 29 seats. It was the xenophobic right that was taking charge.

The backers of a People’s Brexit in the labour movement and left ranged from the traditional Labour Right, the patriots of Blue Labour, Parliamentary sovereigntists, to the Morning Star, Counterfire, the SWP, and national Trotskyism, in groups like the Socialist Party. They were joined by vociferous opponents of any referendum like the paleo-Trotskyists of Socialist Appeal.

This left had done all it could to keep a movement going against austerity with the People’s Assembly. As attendance at their events dwindled off the scale, they were pained to see the People’s Vote campaign bring hundreds of thousands onto the streets. It was galling to see internationalists from the independent radical left, Labour left and centre-left and Greens organise a broad campaign, Another Europe is Possible, that joined, with very visible contingents, these protests.

Lacking the courage to organise their own People’s Brexit march the Lexit left’s  main public effort seemed to be to encourage an early election.

In September 2019 Lindsey German wrote on the Counterfire site,

General election: unite and fight

General election speculation grows and it looks like it may be called later this week, for a date in mid-October. The Blairites and Libdems want to delay, partly because they want a second referendum, partly because they fear a Corbyn government.”

“Labour needs to be confident that it can win against these rich and undemocratic right wingers. It needs to project this. It needs trades unions, campaigners, all those who suffer under the Tories……..

This is some of the background which could be added to the book.

But what there is remains of great interest.

Arguing, in the face of growing debate, some people are still inclined to dismiss Left Out: The Inside Story of Labour Under Corbyn.

Phil writes,

The Hack Obsession with Corbyn

What’s interesting are the dynamics driving this continued obsessive focus on matters Corbyn, despite having sat on the backbenches for the last four months. Some comrades locate it in a generalised campaign against socialist politics – discredit Corbyn, discredit the ideas. Well, yes. And that’s why the Tory press can always find space to put the boot in, but in the age of the attention economy and social media, it’s not solely driven from the editorial offices.


This is the condition of establishment journalism in our period of crisis. Attention gives them incentive to bang on about Corbyn, their experience of social media gives them incentive to bang on about Corbyn, and their pooled anxieties give them incentive to bang on about Corbyn.

This might have a shred of credibility if backbench retiree Corbyn had not taken the step of publicly advocating support for a candidate in an internal trade union election.


John McDonnell takes another view:


The extracts continue,

For Milne, just as for Corbyn, foreign policy was the real locomotive force of his leftism. Both understood their socialism in terms of global power, and who wielded it. In their view, the US was both a global hegemon and a force for ill in the world. They believed its imperialism ought to be resisted, and that resistance to its imperialism could almost always be justified. According to aides, Corbyn was wont to break off sensitive discussions at shadow cabinet to bend the ear of Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, “about the Western Sahara or about West Papua. Self-determination for oppressed peoples was his driving thing when it came to foreign policy”. No matter how fractious relations between Thornberry’s team and the leader’s office, Corbyn only ever wanted to talk about one thing. “Emily always knew,” says a source close to Thornberry, “that if she walked into the room, he would still want to ask: ‘Did you see that article by John Pilger about East Timor?’

To his MP critics, Milne took a similarly Manichean view of geopolitics, and during his career at The Guardian had on several occasions ended up on the same side of the argument as Putin. In March 2014 he had defended Russia’s annexation of Crimea and praised its role as “a limited counterweight to unilateral western power”. In October of that year, Milne attended the Valdai conference for Russia experts in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. There he chaired a lengthy question-and-answer session with Putin. However, he had always criticised the regime’s authoritarianism and aggression.

All one can say here is that this “anti-imperialism”, campism, is not, in many left-wing people’s view, internationalism.

The influence of Seumas Milne became a sticking point between the Labour leader and Mr McDonnell.The huddles were conducted under lobby terms — meaning Milne’s answers could be used, but only on the condition that they were credited to a Labour spokesman rather than him personally.

What he said on March 14 was deemed so remarkable by the parliamentary press corps that the Press Association, the most conservative of media outlets when it came to questions of style and convention, defied the unspoken rule and named Milne as the Labour spokesman in question. He had not only doubled down on Corbyn’s suggestion that the government send a sample of novichok to Russia for testing, but compared the incident to the build-up to the Iraq War. “I think, obviously, the government has access to information and intelligence on this matter which others don’t,” he said. “However, also, there’s a history in relation to WMD [weapons of mass destruction] and intelligence which is problematic, to put it mildly. So I think the right approach is to seek the evidence; to follow international treaties, particularly in relation to prohibited chemical weapons, because this was a chemical weapons attack, carried out on British soil. There are procedures that need to be followed in relation to that.”

When news of the briefing reached John McDonnell’s office, James Mills, the shadow chancellor’s spin doctor, kicked a bin across the room. “That’s f***ing going to cost us the election!” Mills shouted. “That’s f***ing stupid. Who the f*** does stuff like that?”
While the leader’s office happily took the speech off McBride’s hands, there was a limit to the case they were willing to make. Andrew Fisher, primary author of most of Corbyn’s Commons speeches, and Milne, who had identical views on foreign policy to the leader, sought to dilute the tone. It was gutted of any statements levelling blame at Russia, support for Nato, or anything else that Corbyn might regard as unduly imperialist in its tone.
Where Thornberry would have labelled Russia “guilty as charged”, Corbyn said: “There is clear evidence that the Russian state has a case to answer, and it has failed to do so.” A section on the importance of seeking cross-party consensus on Britain’s response — and committing Labour to supporting the government — was deleted. Thornberry’s endorsement of the government’s reprisals against the Kremlin was replaced with the more restrained: “We have supported actions taken.” A call for a European Court of Human Rights “case against Russia” turned into a more general inquiry about whether the government would consider “initiating or supporting” a wider examination of extraterritorial violations of human rights.


Against the advice of the dismissers many comrades have already ordered copies of the book…