Who better than Mr. John McTernan, ‘Tony Blair’s political secretary’ to ‘review’ three books by three members ‘Corbyn’s Brain-Trust’ ? At least in the worldview of the Posh Boys & Girls of the Financial Times. Now, it doesn’t quite match the political hysterics of this ‘review’ published in the good , grey Times of February 24, 2019 :
Headline: Review: Dangerous Hero: Corbyn’s Ruthless Plot for Power by Tom Bower — portrait of a monomaniac
Sub-headline: If Jeremy Corbyn became prime minister, he would easily be the most dangerous, most indolent and least intelligent holder of the office in history
Mr. McTernan is a more adroit propagandist, his first paragraph is steeped in New Labour self-praise, allied to Corbyn’s election as indicative of ‘energy and excitement’.
In Downing Street, when I was Tony Blair’s political secretary, we used to say that political renewal needed new faces, new ideas, new voices, and new channels of communication. When Jeremy Corbyn became UK Labour party leader in a landslide victory in 2015 he certainly wasn’t a new face, though after 32 years on the backbenches he was new to leadership. But his election brought with it energy and excitement.
Yet he pays his way, by carefully placing these three writes in a ‘Radical Tradition’ , known by an honest writer as Left Wing Social Democracy. Marx’s epigones, not to speak of fellow travelers, in the garb of ‘Reformers’.
This the standard Party Line of New Labour and the Tories, who have presented themselves as the very same thing, except with vital difference being that Thatcherism, in its various iterations, is as failed as the State Capitalism of the Soviets, presented as the sine qua non of Socialism. Its as if Rosa Luxemburg and her coterie never existed, but propaganda has its demands. In Mr. McTernan’s very well written and argued polemic, Luxemburg and her coterie would play the part of a political inconvenience. Some examples from Mr. McTernan’s ‘review’ are descriptive of his carefully modulated attack on Corbyn and his advocates/apologists.
Kogan’s book updates The Battle for the Labour Party, which he wrote with his uncle Maurice Kogan in the early 1980s detailing the rise of the far left under Tony Benn and what then looked like its complete triumph with the defection of David Owen and Shirley Williams to the new Social Democratic party. As Kogan notes, history did not immediately go to the left’s plan. The disastrous 1983 general election, in which Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives routed Michael Foot, nearly broke Labour and led to the leadership of Neil Kinnock and the slow process of modernisation that culminated in New Labour. Tony Blair’s three successive election victories seemed to put paid to the left, but after defeats in 2010 and 2015, and following a change in membership rules, Corbyn became the most leftwing leader in Labour history.
The lesson of this book is be patient and be ready to seize your chance. Time and time again, Lansman was. As Kogan puts it — brutally but fairly: “The left had learned in its political wilderness that the historic divisions and sectarianism could be set aside if there was a clear goal. It was uniting around an incredible campaign. Its opponents were drowning under levels of ego and denial”.
What is missing in his book is a sense of how Corbyn’s was a victory of ideals too — that the politics were as intoxicating as the campaign was effective and data-driven. This is where Mason and Bastani come in.
These two books offer a snapshot of the new radical narrative that would frame the programme of government of an incoming Prime Minister Corbyn.
Their starting point is an analysis that sees current capitalism, which they loosely and polemically label “neoliberal”, as in crisis.
Yet, while avowedly future-facing, both books have one eye on the past. One might say that a spectre haunts them, that of Karl Marx. And a very particular Marxist moment — not his best-known work Das Kapital, the touchstone of Communist governments, but “The Fragment on Machines” from the Grundrisse notebooks of an unfinished work not published in his lifetime.
This is Marx as a prophet, rather than the man whose political legacy was literally tested to destruction during the last century. Indeed, the unpublished writings of Marx, in Bastani’s words, “exerted little influence over communist projects in the 20th century”.
This, in the end, is the point — for authors who write excitedly and excitingly about social, economic and technological change, both Mason and Bastani are both committed to a teleological view of history. They believe it will come to an end — in a form of Marxism. Yet, if the restless forces they describe — both of creation and resistance — are as powerful as they both argue, that final state of society and history seems unlikely. Creative destruction will continue. Ultimately, both writers shine a light on what powers the Corbyn revolution — its optimism, indeed its utopianism. Socialism may have failed historically, but the critics of capitalism have all the songs at the moment — and where the energy goes, the politics follows.
Has the fact that Corbyn will be the next Prime Minister, chastened the Editors of The Financial Times to soften their Anti-Corbynism?