Link to this page: https://secure.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/450/5387
John McDonnell's leadership bid
THE SOCIALIST Party welcomes John McDonnell's statement that his leadership campaign will be explicitly socialist and a serious challenge.
McDonnell is the Labour MP with the most consistent record of voting against New Labour's anti-working class policies. Potentially a McDonnell leadership challenge could play a role in raising the profile of socialist ideas amongst sections of working-class people.
But it is not certain that McDonnell will get sufficient support to get on the ballot paper. He needs the backing of 44 MPs. If he is on the ballot paper we will call on all those trade unionists that are entitled to vote, to vote for McDonnell.
Nonetheless, we believe that, given the transformation of the Labour Party into a capitalist party, McDonnell's leadership campaign will not be successful. Unfortunately, the LRC conference could not give a perspective of how its campaign could succeed.
The Labour Party today is an empty shell. McDonnell himself estimated the real membership at an all time low of 100,000 and the active membership at '10,000-20,000'.
This was graphically revealed by last year's Party conference, where constituency delegates were outnumbered by corporate sponsors. One third of local parties did not bother to send a delegate. The real nature of the Labour Party membership was revealed by a majority of the constituency delegates present voting against every anti-Blairite motion moved by the trade unions.
Nor is McDonnell likely to gain support from the tops of the trade unions. It is no coincidence that the three trade union leaders who addressed the LRC conference are from unions who are not affiliated to the Labour Party.
The membership of the FBU and RMT members have been involved in struggle with the New Labour government and, as a result, have drawn the conclusion that their unions should not continue to fund New Labour. They rightly see it as a big-business party responsible for raining down attacks on them. Nor would there be support amongst PCS members for affiliation to the Labour Party.
Bob Crow correctly pointed out that most RMT members, seeing the anti-trade union laws and privatisation of public services, did not see New Labour in any sense as 'their party' and would not join. Therefore a campaign for re-affiliation would be utopian.
Given the capitalist nature of the Labour Party it would also be a retrograde step. However, as we have explained elsewhere, nor is non-political trade unionism a way forward. Bob Crow and others like him have a responsibility to work towards the foundation of a new workers' party.
A majority of trade union leaders have fought to maintain the link with Labour, but do not support the LRC. On the contrary most have repeatedly praised Gordon Brown, despite his position as Chancellor in a viciously anti-trade union government.
It is only in the last few weeks, because of their members' horror at Brown's ever more right-wing comments, that some union leaders, such as Paul Kenny of the GMB, have come out in favour of a leadership contest. However, Kenny has not said he would back anyone other than Brown.
Even if he and the other leaders of the 'big four' unions are forced under pressure from their membership to oppose Brown, they will resist backing McDonnell, preferring to opt for a more 'moderate' candidate.
The LRC conference implicitly recognised this by arguing that the only way to launch a successful bid for the leadership would be to use the campaign to inspire thousands of youth and workers, trade unionists in particular, to join the Labour Party. Even if this strategy were to lead to an influx of members, they would then face a massive struggle to recreate the democratic structures of the Labour Party.
Such a campaign would face the virulent opposition, not just of New Labour but of the capitalist class. They have won New Labour as a party that they can totally rely on to act in their interests. They would fight tooth and nail to prevent it being reclaimed.
However, we believe this strategy will fall at the first hurdle, as there are not thousands of workers and youth who can be convinced to join the Labour Party to engage in such a struggle. Wherever workers have taken strike action, it has tended to increase demands for their union to disaffiliate from Labour. It has never led to an influx of workers joining New Labour to change it.
The biggest mass movement in Britain under New Labour has been the anti-war movement. It resulted in widespread radicalisation. But, despite the efforts of John McDonnell and others, it did not result in an influx of radicalised young people into the Labour Party. On the contrary, tens of thousands of Labour Party members flooded out.
John McDonnell and the LRC must be prepared to draw an honest balance sheet once the leadership contest has finished, or if he doesn't get on the ballot. If, as we unfortunately expect, McDonnell's leadership challenge is unsuccessful, it is crucial that those it has touched with socialist ideas are offered a vehicle to further the struggle for socialism.
To remain in the Labour Party in that circumstance would be an abdication of responsibility and would lead to the demoralisation of any workers reached by McDonnell's campaign. If this challenge confirms the fact that Labour cannot be reclaimed, McDonnell and the other Labour lefts should throw their weight behind the building of a new party, which can genuinely represent the interests of the working class.
In The Socialist 27 July 2006:
Invasion of Lebanon
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party youth and students
Socialist Party campaigns