Report by Steve Dobbs
John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor and Corbyn’s right-hand man, was the key speaker at the #KeepCorbyn public meeting at Chalvey Community Centre in Slough on the afternoon of Saturday 23 July. Originally McDonnell was due to speak at a Slough Constituency Labour Party (CLP) meeting in the previous week, but was unable to due to the ban on CLP meetings by the Labour National Executive Committee (NEC) – hence this public meeting organised by the pro-Corbyn Momentum group was essentially one way around it!
The meeting was very well attended for a sunny Saturday afternoon, with close to 100 present. McDonnell spent the first half hour outlining his take on the events of the last 12 months. He gave the now infamous story of how it was decided last year that Corbyn would stand on the Labour leadership ballot as the Left candidate; the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs simply took turns seeking the nomination and it transpired it was Corbyn’s turn this time around, to which he reluctantly replied “oh, alright then”. McDonnell chaired Corbyn’s leadership campaign and together stormed it with 59.5% of the vote.
Following his victory last September, Corbyn put together an ‘inclusive’ shadow cabinet comprised of Labour MPs from the Left, Right and Centre. However, from day one, the Blairites and their allies were out to undermine Corbyn’s leadership, and were not subtle about it, often telling them up front in shadow cabinet meetings! Clearly, Corbyn and his core supporters had prepared for the events that begun to unfold after the EU referendum.
McDonnell tentatively outlined a few policies but was generally light on details. He talked about the need for ‘fair taxation’ so that we could ‘invest and grow the economy’. This would be done through an independent (not state) investment bank which would borrow money and invest in infrastructure projects. What McDonnell was outlining was the classic tax and spend Keynesianism that we have critiqued across various articles in Marxist World. Other policies included abolishing tuition fees, building more council housing and supporting freedom of movement across Europe post-Brexit.
The floor was then opened up for questions and comments for the remaining hour. From all the speakers there was huge support for Corbyn and many raised the idea of democratising the party and holding the anti-Corbyn MPs to account, including through deselection. However, McDonnell said there would be no deselections; instead, we should wait until the mandatory reselections in 2018 when the electoral boundaries change. Like Corbyn, McDonnell was very charitable and conciliatory when speaking about the anti-Corbyn MPs, saying that ‘the bulk of the PLP are good people who just want to get on and do a good job’! He also said he did not believe a split in the Party would take place following the re-election of Corbyn as leader.
I made the point that, since 2008, capitalism has been in major crisis and not simply as a result of ‘bad’ austerity policies. What we needed was a fundamental alternative to the capitalist system, and that alternative was socialism, a word, I pointed out, that no one had mentioned at all for the first hour of the meeting. I asked McDonnell if he considered his programme as socialist or socialistic and what policies he had to support this.
Picking up on this, McDonnell must have subsequently mentioned socialism about twenty times! He explained how he considered Labour a socialist party with a socialist programme and talked about the need to ‘democratise the economy’ and create a ‘prosperous society’ where the prosperity was ‘shared by all’. He mentioned how, in his constituency, his CLP endorsed ‘community socialism’ and looked into how people at every level of society could have a say in what happens. He said that it was important to get elected in order to be ‘in and against the state’, which was a reference to his reformist programme that he co-authored way back in 1979 (and can be read here).
Whilst the Editorial Board of Marxist World has unconditionally supported the Corbyn/McDonnell leadership against the right-wing in the Blairite coup and upcoming leadership election, we have serious reservations with their reformist programme put forward. Without a clear break from the capitalist mode of production and the bourgeois state, it will not be possible to fully realise even Corbyn’s modest demands. The primary reason for this, as we have previously outlined, is the declining rates of profit that continue to plague capitalism internationally. Were a Corbyn Labour government to come to power, investors and their capital would simply flee the country and enact economic sabotage, much like what has happened in Venezuela. What capitalists would lend a Left ‘socialist’ Labour government money at favourable rates?
In direct contradiction to his reformist policies, McDonnell correctly pointed out that it was not simply the Blairites who were out to get Corbyn, but the entire establishment! And yet McDonnell thinks that by joining the establishment, he can defeat it?
At the end of the meeting, I spoke to some of the attendees. There was a complete spectrum of people, from well-meaning but rather naive middle-class types to more traditional, older Bennite Lefts, plus I even met an autonomous Marxist! Two copies of issue 2 of the journal were sold along with a copy of our abridged version of Marx’s Capital. Supporters of Marxist World still represent a very minor current within the Labour Party and Momentum at this stage, but through patient work and clear explanation we will win the best workers and young people to revolutionary socialism.