Around 70 people heared John McDonnell speak at a Scottish Campaign for Socialism meeting in Glasgow on 2 February.
Speaking on “The Future of the Left” McDonnell’s starting point was that the current economic crisis was a vindication of Marx’s analysis of the nature of capitalism. But the Labour Party, despite the role played in it historically by socialists and revolutionaries, was now dominated by the forces of neo-liberalism. Any opportunity for the Party’s rank-and-file membership and affiliated trade unions to influence Party policy had been largely closed down.
The left outside of the Labour Party he said was hardly in a healthier state than the left inside the Party. Overall, the existing organisational forms of the left were inadequate. What was needed, therefore, was a new strategy and new organisational forms.
Campaigns were “everywhere” he said, about the environment, in defence of women’s rights, against the arms trade, in support of asylum-seekers, for workers rights, against the visit of the Saudi royal prince… What was needed was to link up with these individual campaigns, and to combine campaigning activity with intellectual activity. Socialists needed to “seize the moment” and build a “broad united front”.
The local SWP organiser chimed in with McDonnell’s emphasis on campaigning activities, citing the “Stop the War Coalition” as an example of how a broad and active campaign could be built. But other SWP initiatives — “Respect” in England, and “Solidarity” in Scotland — were passed over in silence. And for pretty obvious reasons.
Alan McCombes, speaking on behalf of the Scottish Socialist Party, stressed that the SSP was prepared to work with anyone to the left of the Labour Party and the SNP, and also the left in the Labour Party and the SNP. But such joint work should be based on co-operation, not attempts at control. (Translated into plain English: There’ll be no joint work with the SWP or any of its front organisations.)
Asked whether the Labour Representation Committee was aiming to build a “rainbow coalition” of social movements or whether it was aiming to rebuild working-class trade-union-based political representation, McDonnell replied that it was the latter.
The problem, however, is that little in McDonnell’s lead-off had pointed in that direction. And while it is true that any re-assertion of working-class political representation would want to reach out to all those campaigns “out there”, a project for rebuilding working-class political representation is certainly not the same as knitting together a latter-day “rainbow coalition”.
As McDonnell himself said, the working class is the decisive force for socialist transformation of society.