Is this the end for the socialist left?


10:00 am - June 9th 2010

by Sunny Hundal    


      Share on Tumblr

Update: John McDonnell has withdrawn. Full statement

Public support for Diane Abbott so far: David Miliband, Chris Bryant and Denis Macshane.

Breaking 12:10pm: James Macintyre reporting that Diane Abbott has the 33 required.

12:55pm: The Labour Party website updated with the list of names. One short, but the Milibands put her over the top.

——-
Even before a left-winger chucked their hat into the ring, the Socialist Campaign Group faced a big reduction in their numbers thanks to retirement and the expenses scandal.

I’m not a socialist but I argued earlier that having someone from the group on the leadership ticket would be good for internal Labour debate.

If neither John McDonnel nor Diane Abbott get on the leadership ballot by the end of today – then what does it say about the power of the socialist left?

The problem is both John and Diane have their plus points and negative points. To recap:

Diane Abbot
Pros: higher profile; attracted centrist nominations; adds gender & racial diversity to the ticket
Cons: not as close to the trade unions, still attracts hate for sending her kids to a private school; overplays the diversity card.

John McDonnell
Pros: has more (sometimes nutty) grassroots support; popular with trade unions; excellent debater
Cons: already had a go and lost; seen by some as sectarian and doesn’t attract much centrist or even soft-left support (though this time he has attracted a range)

Of course, all this is subjective; I want to see both or either on the ticket.

But the contest seems to have exposed the fractious nature of the socialist left despite John McDonnell’s attempts to be pluralist. If they can’t even get one person to mount a challenge, for the second time, then it really does not bode well for the movement.

An obvious response to this is that socialists can still build grassroots support and come back. That much is true. But there is a distinct lack of new talent and cohesiveness. The infighting isn’t just confined to the Labour party of course: it’s even worse outside.

I’m not saying the right of the Labour party is brimming with ideas. But there is far more discipline and upcoming talent on that side than there is here. That’s a serious problem for socialists. And it’s time they did something about it.

Anyway, consider this an open thread. I’ll start adding updates when I hear more on the leadership election.

    Share on Tumblr   submit to reddit  


About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
· Other posts by


Story Filed Under: Blog ,Labour party ,The Left ,Westminster

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.


Reader comments


One word answer to the question in your title, Sunny: yes.

Slightly longer answer: we keep getting told that no matter how many humiliations, defeats and let-downs the Labour socialist left suffer, that there is always the chance they could re-build and do much better next time. It has never happened. It won’t happen this time, it won’t happen next time: it will probably never happen.

Time to move on.

Socialism is weak right now- that’s not new and it doesn’t mean socialism is suddenly any more dead. Got to play the long game and not expect some messiah to take over the Labour party and suddenly everything is as it should be. We’re in this for the long term.

Is socialism dead? No

Is socialism in the labour party dead? Yes.

“Is socialism dead? No

Is socialism in the labour party dead? Yes.”

Exactly. A race to become the leader of New Labour is merely indicative of the Labour’s party’s break with socialism. Much of the people who support socialism/social democracy are either in different parties, or in groups outside of parties.

5. Sheryl Odlum

…in New Labour? maybe. There is always the refreshing Green face of socialism though.

Socialism in the Labour Party has been dead for a long time. The real nail in the coffin was Gordon Brown’s pathetic drive to sign up MPs in 2007 to avoid a leadership election. Most MPs, equally pathetically, went along with it.

If Diane Abbott does get on the ballot, a substantial vote for her would at least indicate the corpse still has a pulse – and could drag the elected leader marginally to the left on some issues in response. But I wouldn’t be optimistic.

Socialism outside the Labour Party isn’t dead, but it will be pretty much comatose until the ludicrous sectarianism that divides the various factions is put to rest. The various tiny socialist groupings need to realise that they are doomed to remain tiny until they put their differences aside.

7. Luis Enrique

so, where is the radical-left alternative to “socialism”?

“so, where is the radical-left alternative to “socialism”?”

De-centralist green social democracy is at the core of my party in Plaid Cymru. We don’t support the big state socialism of the Labour left.

Is socialism in the labour party dead? Yes.

As I say above, while socialists within the Labour party are split – they’re even more ineffectual and split outside it. So I’m not sure if you’re referring to an outside movement but I don’t think it exists.

Socialism isn’t dead, party politics on the left is dead. The Labour Party is beyond saving and there is no credible alternative.

To answer Luis’ question, the alternative is syndicalism – radical trade union action focussed on the workplace and the street, not the parliament. Anyone interested in getting involved in reviving syndicalism, get in touch:
http://donnachadelong.info/2010/04/30/meeting-bringing-syndicalism-back-into-the-mainstream/

First, let’s see whether Diane in the short time left can muster enough nominations. However, whatever happens, this is certainly not the end for the Socialist Left which is in a stronger position than it has been for 25 years to exert influence in the Labour Party, as was demonstrated by the victory last year on the introduction of One-member one-vote to the election of constituency representatives at Labour’s National Policy Forum (NPF). That will lead to a significant bloc of Left members of that body, which will ensure that the Left can win “minority positions” (which require 20% support) and force votes on key poilicy issues at Labour Party conference itself.

The key change is that the large trade unions are willing to work in cooperation with the constituency Left – that’s how the voting at the NPF was changed last year. The majority of Labour members, although always loyal to their leaders, have always been well to the left of them, opposing the Iraq war, privatisation, academy schools, foundation hospitals and most of what constituted Blairism.

Terrible but not unexpected news. While I think Diane Abbot would make a very good PM, I don’t think she’d be a very good leader of the opposition – she doesn’t seem to have the debating skills that would land telling blows on Cameron. We now face the prospect of all three parties being led by identical right wing privileged slimeballs.

As for Socialism, I’ve feeling it could start to become popular again when those whose lives are ruined by Cameron see the rich continuing to get richer

Agree with #11 that the unions are the key. If Paul Holmes wins the UNISON election, or Len McCluskey wins the UNITE election, expect to see changes. Woodley’s change of attitude this time round was one of the most encouraging differences from 2007.

14. Alisdair Cameron

Is socialism dead? No

Is socialism in the labour party dead? Yes

Nailed it. This problem arises from the PLP, not from the grassroots. The PLP, looking at the way they’ve been backing candidates,simply want more of the same old, Newlabbish stuff (the Milibands may talk of a break with New labour,but can scarcely be said to truly represent such a break, especially not Miliband,D.)

Sunny, what the hell does this mean?

John McD. ” has more (sometimes nutty) grassroots support; popular with trade unions; excellent debater”

What do you mean by ‘nutty’? What grassroots support are you calling nutty? Climate Camp, Third Runway, Cleaners campaign, Welfare Reform, Visteon, Vestas, Gate Gourmet…. what? Bloody offensive that. John has immense respect and you know he will be there in struggle, campaign and industrial action.

Think things through before you call anyone ‘nutty’ as it is simplistic, and superficial and lacks any political insight.

Oh, and Sunny if you want to contribute ideas and a way forward for the LP then why not join with the rest of us, get stuck in and fight for an alternative other than sniping from the sidelines.

16. Paul Boizot

Chaminda (post 6) writes; “Socialism outside the Labour Party isn’t dead, but it will be pretty much comatose until the ludicrous sectarianism that divides the various factions is put to rest. The various tiny socialist groupings need to realise that they are doomed to remain tiny until they put their differences aside.”

Perhaps I could suggest to the..er…comrades that without a “correct and rigorous analysis” of why such factionalism had bedevilled the left for many years, there is absolutely no way forward for anything resembling that form of socialism. Maybe the factionalism in inherent. Certainly there is a problem with anything Marxist or tinged with it, where people think they are practising scientific socialism and therefore there is one correct analysis – theirs, usually. Don’t know if anyone still believes this thoroughly, but the influence is there. The converse is how people with different views are treated. I teased someone on another website over calling Blears and Purnell “traitors” (it is always important only to use surnames in such cases). But the tendency to regard those with different opinions not just as that, but as left-wing deviationists or lickspittle running-dogs of imperialism is not always helpful.

Taking the big example of Communist dictatorships, the problem was that democratic centralism was all centralism and no democracy; so power is concentrated. But this is not merely a problem of the form of organisation, as this reflects the attitudes of those involved.

The problem is a lack of analysis of how people give up their power to others, a lack of awareness of how individual (yes, individual) humans interact with each other, and in groups. Even harder is to move from any such analysis to actually behaving differently to one’s comrades.

I still believe that in some very important ways “the personal is the political”.

Craig murray sums up Nu Labor’s future without an opened-up election:

“Which opens the question, what is New Labour for? To me, it has found its niche as a neo-conservative opposition to a more traditional Conservative party given a still more comparatively Liberal tinge by coalition.”

http://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2010/06/diane_abbott.html#comments

PS Are the left ever going to master the art of blogging and start attracting large numbers of posters? At the moment Labour sites seem to still resemble 1960’s marxist magazines with great wodges of statement by some theorist or other and 1.5 responses to it.

Blogging is about the cut and thrust of debate. Stirring it. Fun. Labour sites are so dead the israeli hasbara don’t even bother to troll them!

18. Nick Cohen is a Tory

Luis
There is no left or an alternative to the right.
Even social democracy is now a dead duck
Equality will never happen.
Fraternity unless it’s corporate.
Liberty will be for those who can afford it.
A world full of guys and gals like cjcjc, nick cohen, and the rest of the righties.
The name of the game is neo liberalism or what ever it will transform into
The real battle will between the economic and social libertarians, social conservatives, neo conservatives and the religious right.
The only thing that unites these guys is a hate for the left.
Without the left the real fun begins

What grassroots support are you calling nutty?

I’m not saying John’s positions are nutty – I’m saying some of his supporters are – to the point of extreme sectarianism!

The Green Party is a growing Leftist movement. It isn’t quite socialism but it’s a damn site closer than Labour. Caroline Lucas is quite possibly the most socialist MP in the commons.

This was “nutty” – though his supporters might not think so.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/2949688.stm

Nick Cohen iaT – I think you’re a bit pessimistic.
Socialism never had a chance, so much is obvious.
But I don’t think that (even after the cuts) state spending of 40% of GDP is “neo-liberalism” rampant.
Thatcher never “rolled back the state” – spending was only cut in one fiscal year 1988-89 – and neither will the boy king.

Most people are not aware of what socialism is, the Labour Party were really a party that was moving the nation towards a centralized socialism, nulab, in effect, changed that direction.
@16 Most socialists now look at new models of socialism (probably nearer Marx) but taking into account modern societies and liberalism is certainly part of it
I see this as the real problem with socialism, a lack of understanding and visions of the soviet system and their history. Probably the best model of liberal socialism is Gorz, who is largly ignored in the UK, he also assimilates green issues into his model. Worth looking at.

I’m not a member of the Labour Party but my impression is that are still socialists in the PLP and the wider party but they have become increasingly marginalised over the years, and so there are not any candidates with either a sufficiently high profile or broad enough support to have a genuine chance of winning a leadership contest.

24. Shatterface

Socalism has to be built from the workplace up, it can’t be imposed from the top. That way lead to stagnant State monopolies and beurocracy.

“Caroline Lucas is quite possibly the most socialist MP in the commons.”

Well, given she is working very closely with Plaid MPs, we agree on that.

26. Paul Boizot

S&M – Post 20 – says; “The Green Party is a growing Leftist movement. It isn’t quite socialism but it’s a damn site closer than Labour. Caroline Lucas is quite possibly the most socialist MP in the commons.”

Please don’t spread this around, otherwise people won’t vote Green.

I don’t know if things have changed, but when I was in the Green Party from 1980-1993 it did not self-identify as socialist. There is more to politics than left and right – the authoritarian/libertarian dimension for example -see The Political Compass. The Greens clearly have some polices that use the power of the state to redistribute wealth. But they have also been very decentralist, and used to think that a lot of our ecological problems were linked to the imbalance of power within the world. I know some socialists could go along with that, but monolithic dictatorial “socialist” states have been a huge problem in the past.

And Abbott gets onto the ballot paper, with the support of Jack Straw and Phil Woolas. Hope she’s worth it!

Congrats to Diane. Finally a bit of colour in the leadership contest, and I’m not talking about her skin.

On another note, a tribute to Alf Garnett

A shame that a genuine Leftist, John McDonnell, has stepped aside, while Diane Abbott has gone forward. McDonnell’s voice is more needed.
But Abbott will be better than nothing. Small mercies.

Does it have to be called “socialism”?

There are millions of people gagging for adequate representation regarding workers’ rights, consumers’ rights, affordable services, cost of living, job security, civil rights, the environment, fair taxation etc…

The gap is ginormous; New Labour made sure of that… Most people don’t care under which semantic category those “battles” fall.

It depends what you mean by socialism. The National health service is socialist, yet I see no desire, except from the right wing morons to destroy the health service.

Is there a great desire to go and fight in foreign wars on behalf of Anglo American Oil companies? Don’t think so. That is not socialist but The New Labour, lets kick ass is not what the public wants.

Do people want the end of the welfare state? I would say no, but they want it much better run, and they want the money to go to the real deserving cases.

Do the public love the idea of the gap between rich and poor getting larger and larger, and do the public love the bankers and think they are worth their ludicrous bonuses? I don’t think so.

Do the public trust the large Private food giants and want them deciding what we eat? Do they like the idea of making it illegal to label food as having GM crops in them and stop the public from deciding themselves? I think not.

The coming battle of the next 50 years is how much power we should allow International corporations to have over us, and how much scrutiny we should have over them. New Labour cuddling corporations is not a very good idea. Let the Right wing do that.

WHat ever you want to call it, socialism, regulation , whatever, I see no reason to stop fighting for it.

This is all Westminster-centric how many angels can dance on the head of a pin navel gazing, that so much of passes for ‘politcal commentary’ nowadays.

Little known left wing candidate of a no longer centre-left party not elected as leader = “socialism is dead”.

Dur.

I think, for the first time in my life, the majority of the electorate are to the left of the governing parties (look at the views in opinion polls). This does not mean they are socialists and their views may be inchoate, but they are there and they are not represented at the moment.

I remember after 1983 lots of people saying “the Labour Party is dead” and it took Margaret sodding Thatcher to come out and say “no, there will always be a Labour Party”.

Put it this way, you get a lot of libertarian wing-nuts in the blogosphere making a lot of noise, but socialism and socialist ideas are much more popular and well supported than libertarianism, but no one comes out and say “is libertarianism dead?” (cos it’s never shown much life anyway).

I’ll tell you what is dead: neo-liberal economics, but our politicians, in all three main parties don’t seem to have twigged this yet.

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v31/n10/john-lanchester/its-finished

But Sally, how do we fight for it? I don’t think Labour is very effective at doing it, but still better than the far left groupuscules that try to claim Labour’s mantle. Maybe the Green Party is one possible avenue, I don’t know.

>I think, for the first time in my life, the majority of the electorate are to the left of the governing parties (look at the views in opinion polls). This does not mean they are socialists and their views may be inchoate, but they are there and they are not represented at the moment.

Hear hear!

Wow… actually agree with most of what’s been written in this comments thread. Even cjcjc makes a valid point.

@32 captain swing

“I think, for the first time in my life, the majority of the electorate are to the left of the governing parties (look at the views in opinion polls). This does not mean they are socialists and their views may be inchoate, but they are there and they are not represented at the moment.”

Wise words. I agree.

@33 blanco

Maybe the Green Party is one possible avenue, I don’t know.
Maybe. Or if we do get some form of PR (I see your LibDem idols have been fairly quiet on the subject), that could/would mean a clean slate.

37. Watchman

As I’ve said before, on most of its battles socialism has won. As sally says, institutions like the NHS or the benefit system are essentially embodiements of socialism that have been accepted. Debate is not about their existence or principles, but about implementation and cost (which was always a debate within a socialist society anyway).

The corollorary of this is the question of whether there is any fights for socialism (the nineteenth-century political movement rather than the modern identification with vague aspirations related to this movement) any more? If the enemies are not the factory owners and aristocrats, but the multinational corporations and the unresponsive bureaucrats who work with them rather than for us, is not the divide between the socialist and the small business owners who form the backbone of much of the conservative movements much smaller than with those who back corporationism and over-regulation, right or left-wing? To try and live in a world with issues such as this and to call for simple socialism in your leadership candidates is backwards looking; it may be time to reinvent socialism, or better yet to try something new.

38. Yurrzem!

@13 timf

You’re right, too much time has been spent by Dave Prentice and others schmoozing New Labour for nothing. It was just a love-in at the top while the union withered. Unless Dave and his ilk are replaced by people with leadership and management skills and a vision for the future of trade unionism then unions will join the PLP on a mortuary slab.

If the Left cannot organise in the face of the shock-doctrine style changes we are being prepared for then there is no point in the Left any more.

Its time to stop qualifying our beliefs, using language apologising for our anti-capitalist ideals. A counter-narrative to the current government-led notion that we all have to suffer cuts to balance the books has to be put forward: threats by capitalists that they will take their business elsewhere are idle threats because they need to invest anywhere there is business to be done. They will do so even if they cannot dictate their terms.

The alternative will be more of the same, rich people getting richer while the rest of us work our arses off for less. Bugger that.

39. Cristiano

Interesting the comment that most of the electorate are to the left of the coalition – I’d argue that most of the electorate are slightly to the right of the coalition. Most people seem to want tougher stances on immigration, criminals, Europe than the coalition is presently offering. There is even a general acceptance of tough spending cuts (in principle, at least – not when people start to think about how it affects them personally).

Or if we do get some form of PR (I see your LibDem idols have been fairly quiet on the subject), that could/would mean a clean slate.

There you go again, Claude, with your evil sellout Lib Dems, no one voted for this blah blah blah. PR for the Commons would not have been brought in by any of the viable government options after the election. AV for the Commons and PR for the Lords is not a bad achievement – and AV is a good basis for AV+ or STV in the next parliament, provided the Lib Dems are part of whatever coalition government takes shape. Your “idols” Labour had 13 years to do it, and didn’t. So stop the broken record.

Unlike most Lib Dem voters, I don’t actually think PR is a magic bullet for sorting out the problems with the left. PR won’t make it any easier for the rumbunctious socialist left to work together.

Naturally, I hesitate to mention this but the terrible thing about Diane Abbott is that she actually voted against the Iraq War in March 2003:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/2862397.stm

“I think, for the first time in my life, the majority of the electorate are to the left of the governing parties (look at the views in opinion polls). This does not mean they are socialists and their views may be inchoate, but they are there and they are not represented at the moment.”

What you have actually are both parties crowding in the centre. There are plenty of right-wingers who will also feel disenfranchised by the Tories. Just give it a year or two.

I made my point because the socialist left is declining in numbers, doesn’t seem to have the leadership and cohesion to give that left a voice. The soft left in this case is doing far better in terms of cohesion, but lacks the strident figures.

43. Watchman

Sunny,

“The soft left in this case is doing far better in terms of cohesion, but lacks the strident figures.”

Or a unifying message? It is all very well being left, but you tend to need some clear programme, and whilst you are prepared to lead on giving one, most of the soft left (as you call it – are you sure that’s the best label? I’m envisioning some sort of giant playpen) don’t seem to be following one at the moment.

@41 What a crazy extreme leftist, so out of touch with the British public. According to They Work For You, she also voted against top-up fees, against Trident and against a stricter asylum system. Utter madness! She must be stopped.

45. Watchman

@44

Don’t worry. If she becomes too extreme, maybe this time John McDonnell will assassinate someone?

@45 shhhh that’s the real liberal conspiracy…

47. Chris Baldwin

Socialists, at least, have a philosophy. The right of the Labour Party is pretty much an ideological vacuum.

@47 and so is the ConDem coalition, though if it coalesces around classical liberalism that would suit me fine.

“Having a philosophy” being a good thing does rather depend on what that philosophy is!

Socialism is not dead. It wont be until Arthur Scargill goes to the great coal mine in the sky.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialist_Labour_Party_(UK)

He is leader of the Socialist Labour Party

http://www.socialist-labour-party.org.uk/

Their aims include:
“To abolish Capitalism and replace it with a Socialist system whose institutions represent and are democratically controlled by and accountable to the people as a whole.”

According to his website the results of the last election were invalid because no party got 50%.

At the last election his party ran 24 candidates and got 7,196 votes or 0.0% of the UK national vote.

Labour led by either Abbott or McDonnell would have zero chance of success in a general election; but that isn’t really the point. The point — in my view — is which would be better for advancing the (at the moment totally anaemic) socialist movement in the UK. I have to say that neither would be all that hot. McDonnell seems a well-meaning man and likely decent. However; he’s never stuck me as having much in the way of mental horsepower. Abbott, on the other hand, is — to put it bluntly — a fucking clown. She is totally incoherent most of the time and the rest of the time she’s promoting her meager talents in the most shameless way possible. Add to that her obsession with gender and race and her staggering hypocrisy the choice would have to have been McDonnell.

Its pretty obvious that’s she’s being put up as a token — her support makes that clear. Obviously scum like MacShane and co haven’t the slightest interest in even pandering to socialists — shes a fig leaf for the stitch up between the ghastly Millipede bros. and the moronic (and aptly named) Balls.

51. Nick Cohen is a Tory

cjcjc
Classical liberalism.
Ah the days of slavery, opium wars and putting kids up chimneys.
As Mary Hopkins would say “Those were the days “.
Also cjcjc you still can have those hate figures, chartists, trades unionists, the poor, and not forgetting the French.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. jack booth

    RT @libcon: Is this the end for the socialist left? http://bit.ly/9Wbk55

  2. Mortimer Vanunu

    RT @libcon: Is this the end for the socialist left? http://bit.ly/9Wbk55

  3. Bev Craig

    RT @libcon: Is this the end for the socialist left? http://bit.ly/9Wbk55 << im clinging to the words of terminator… It will be back!

  4. sunny hundal

    Is the Socialist Left dead, I ask this morning: http://bit.ly/9Wbk55

  5. Vegan Panda

    RT @libcon: Is this the end for the socialist left? http://bit.ly/9Wbk55

  6. Liberal Conspiracy

    Is this the end for the socialist left? http://bit.ly/9Wbk55

  7. Tweets that mention Is this the end for the socialist left? | Liberal Conspiracy -- Topsy.com

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Liberal Conspiracy, jack booth. jack booth said: RT @libcon: Is this the end for the socialist left? http://bit.ly/9Wbk55 [...]

  8. Amusing note

    [...] A socialist can’t even get nominated, let alone elected, even in the Labour Party, any more. [...]

  9. Joseph McCarthy

    Robin the rich RT @sunny_hundal Is the Socialist Left dead, I ask this morning: http://bit.ly/9Wbk55

  10. Labour leadership: socialism not on offer « Shiraz Socialist

    [...] 9, 2010 at 8:25 pm (Champagne Charlie, labour party, multiculturalism, wankers) As a  “nutty”-sectarian supporter of John McDonnall, I’m naturally disappointed that he’s not obtained sufficient [...]





Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.