20 May 2010

John McDonnell for Labour lea...oh, what's the point?

Did not bomb the US embassy in Nairobi

John McDonnell, one of the few genuinely working-class & left-leaning MPs in the Labour Party, is once again standing for party leader, after a (somewhat astroturfy) public campaign to call for him to stand. McDonnell himself seems to admit he has no chance of winning a race "stiched up from the start".

While this is likely true, it doesn't change the fact that McDonnell has had two years to try and gain the backing of Labour MPs. The Parliamentary Labour Party is now so rotten that it should be no surprise Jon Cruddas can't tell what the Millibands and Ed Balls stand for — if they stood for anything they'd never have been made front-benchers in the first place.

A McDonnell candidacy would, at best, serve as a platform for reformist-left ideas within the Labour Party. The audience, though, would be two groups: to a Labour establishment which has already rejected socialism, and to a socialist rank-and-file already committed to Labour.

On the soft left, there is still a stampede in the wake of the General Election. The Labour Party claims to be picking up members by the thousands, although even to tread water it would need to be picking up members in the hundreds of thousands. Labour, which had been expecting for months to lose the election, now seems to prefer to have lost and has rapidly swung about to the role of opposition. Diffident sections of the revolutionary left (I'm looking at you, Socialist Appeal and AWL) have joined in the tulip-mania, reaffirming their commitment to a party whose only connection to the People's Flag is that it, too, is stained in the blood of the workers.

Let me be clear: The Tories and Liberal Democrats, on their own or both together, are parties inimical to the working class and to human decency. They are parties of war, cuts, and ruling-class dictatorship. A vote for one of them for anything short of urgent tactical reasons is, to the informed working-class voter with a full range of options before them, a moral failure.

But Labour is just as much a party of cuts, as much as it now pretends to be otherwise. It is the party of rampant police and the assumption of criminality. It is a party of class-collaboration; no person who works for a living should face a choice in the ballot box between Nick Griffin and Margaret Hodge. It is the party that launched Britain's participation in the Afghanistan War and the Iraq War and it remains the party of war criminals; and this was just as true on May the Seventh as it was on May the Fifth.

Platform or not, the Labour Party that will emerge from this leadership contest will remain a Labour Party whose policies will have as much in common with the needs of the working class as Al Qaeda has in common with Al Jarreau. It remains true that the trade unions who donate to political parties donate to Labour; but to slavishly stay with a traitorous Labour because "that's where the working class is" is to abdicate the responsibility of every socialist to advance the working class. Consider: every worker, through the miracle of VAT, pays a sizeable portion of their income into the state's coffers, which the state largely uses to pay for...well, itself (war, police, intelligence agencies, etc). This does not mean that the working class supports these things and it especially does not mean that socialists should support them; rather, it is a reminder that even in peacetime Britain the working class lives under occupation, and that the vast majority of people do not see a viable alternative.

This explicitly does not mean that the left option is not supported by the voters. The UK general election saw an overall swing of 6.2% against Labour as a whole; but the Labour Representation Committee members who stood for re-election saw an average 1.0% swing toward themselves. The desire for pro-working-class policies exists, but in a Labour Party controlled by the ruling class, working-class ideas have no chance of becoming the ruling ideas.

The best solution for the LRC, and for the working class, is for those six MPs to leave the Labour Party and join in the formation of a new workers' party, one free to preserve the best traditions of the organized labour movement while shedding the mistakes and betrayals of New Labour. This was the right answer on May the Fifth and it remains the right answer today. Does McDonnell's leadership campaign give him a platform within the Labour Party? Splitting with Labour would give him a national platform. Is the LRC a place where left ideas can be talked about within Labour? Talking left is pointless without action — and part of the devil's deal that Socialist Appeal made in rejecting the open turn was a rejection of activism.

The AWL accuses the Socialist Party of a wild swing in making the Open Turn, from devotion to the Labour Party as a working class vehicle to utter rejection of it. To this I ask: should a socialist be anything less than utterly devoted to the advancement of the working class? Should we not be devoted to the best vehicle available? When socialists have determined, through discussion and experience, that that vehicle, the Labour Party, is no longer a viable path to socialism in any way, indeed acts as an enemy of the working class, should we not be utterly devoted to its derailment? To have one foot in and one foot out, as AWL attempts, is to be half for the working class, and half against. "If you chase two rabbits, you will lose them both."

The left splits from Labour, first by the IS, then the Militant, and then the SLP, consigned each of those groups to a generation in the wilderness; so might it consign McDonnell and the LRC. But, despite their disunity, the choices to split remains choices the left can be proud of. Meanwhile, continued little-s socialist support for Labour is an ongoing mistake; even the very best Labour MP, in the final analysis, was a strut beneath the failed, corrupt, criminal regime of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. We can debate whether, and for whom, the choice to join in the foundation of a new workers' party represents the chance to rule in hell or to serve in heaven; but as long as John McDonnell remains a Labour MP, all he will do is serve in hell.

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