John McDonnell's fantasy politics

You are cordially invited to compare two pieces of writing, published on far left websites, from the tail end of February 2017.

Exhibit A, published 26 February, states:

“The coup plotters are willing to sacrifice the Party at elections just to topple Jeremy and prevent a socialist leading the Party. It is more important to them that they regain control of the Party than it is to win elections.

The irony is that they are willing to go so far in denigrating Jeremy that they endanger their own parliamentary seats and endanger the very existence of the party they want to use to get into power.”

Exhibit B, published 25 February, suggests:

“After losing two attempts to remove Corbyn – one by mass shadow cabinet resignations and another by an open leadership challenge – the plan now was to lose the by-elections and for Corbyn to be sacked in the aftermath.

In fact, it is the right-wing attempt to remove Corbyn at all costs and to prevent Brexit that has discredited the Labour Party, to the point where millions of workers consider that Labour is no longer a socialist party of any kind and cannot resolve the crisis of capitalism as it affects workers with wage cuts, sackings, savage NHS cuts and closures and now millions of workers who have no legal protection at work.”

The first article is, you will have guessed, by shadow chancellor John McDonnell. The second is an editorial in Newsline, the newspaper of the Workers’ Revolutionary Party, a once powerful force on the hard left which collapsed among allegations of sexual abuse by the leadership, but retains a loyal if deranged core (plus ca change...).

The similarities, both in style of writing and of thinking, are striking.

McDonnell’s article appeared on the website of Labour Briefing, a journal that traces its history back to the 80s, with which McDonnell has been associated from its earliest days.

In those glorious days, McDonnell also edited Labour Herald, a WRP-associated newspaper. His predecessor as editor had been Ken Livingstone, who spoke at WRP founder and leader Gerry Healy’s funeral and would later suggest that the collapse of the WRP had been brought about by the secret services.

All this is not to go over ground that has been covered quite comprehensively by Little Atoms, but rather to point to McDonnell’s curious intellectual frivolity.

McDonnell this week suggested that he no longer held the strongly expressed view that a cabal of sinister Mandelsonians were plotting to bring down Jeremy Corbyn, and the Labour party with him, because of their fear of socialism, rather than, say, concerns over gross incompetence.

This would suggest he is either a) too fickle to be trusted with anything, b) lying now, or c) did not actually mean what he wrote for Labour Briefing.

My hunch is towards c). Under pressure, McDonnell has resorted to the language and thinking of his youth. It’s a fantasy world where every day is a new crisis of capitalism, and every crisis an opportunity. For the WRP, for example, every situation, including the current one in the Labour party, demands a general strike, which will be followed by revolution (“The reality is that as the masses begin to see through the Labour Party and its fake reformism, and also see through the parliamentary and judicial system, they are becoming conscious that the class struggle will be more and more fought out on the streets through massive demonstrations and strikes leading to a general strike in the UK.”).

For McDonnell, meanwhile, a collapsing PLP and a catastrophic byelection loss must not lead to fresh thinking. Au contraire, says the shadow chancellor: “We all have an important role to play in explaining what we are facing and how, by standing together, we can defeat the plotters again. This is the testing time for the Corbyn transformation. The challenges are great and the times are tough – but we all know that this is the socialist opportunity of a lifetime.”

This isn’t politics, it is posturing. In the past, it had very little bearing on most people’s lives, unless you had strong views on anoraked zombies attempting to sell you unreadable newspapers outside Argos of a Saturday.

But the tragedy is that this foolishness is now apparently all that stands between us and an entirely unfettered Conservative government hell bent on fulfilling the death wish that is “hard Brexit”.

I don’t hold out much hope.


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