John McDonnell MP
Of course the Labour leadership election should combine an assessment of the election loss with a depiction of the future possibilities for our party and the country. Not being a candidate gives me a wonderful freedom to suggest an agenda of issues to be addressed, not just by the candidates but by all of us who live with the hope of a Labour government capable of creating a just and compassionate society.
So as I do my best to ease into the enjoyable role of elder statesman, working with various left-wing think tanks and policy experts I am bringing people together in a series of seminars to discuss the questions that may be able to influence the climate for the debate about Labour’s future.
So for starters, here are a couple of basic initial questions to be addressed.
Who does have the power in our society, and how can it be challenged to bring about the change we want to see?
If we aim to transform our society, we need leaders and a movement made up of members who understand the economy and society we operate in — and how it has evolved in the recent period.
The recent exciting work of the left-wing think tanks such as the Institute for Public Policy Research, Class, the New Economics Foundation, Autonomy, Common Wealth, Positive Money and the Progressive Economy Forum, has explored the evolution of capitalism since the Eighties.
It’s explained how the overriding dominance of finance capital has financialised our economy so that rent-seeking has largely displaced production as the prime mover of the economy, creating grotesque levels of inequality.
Through its concentration of wealth and power, finance capital has exerted immense influence and control of the politics of countries across the globe.
In the past 20 years it has formed a new alliance with the emerging powerful data/media corporations.
Whereas in the past, reference was made to capitalism being sustained in the US in particular by a military industrial complex, a new seemingly all-powerful coalition has been forged.
Technological advance has meant that new capitalist formations have had to evolve to reflect the new players and resources on the block.
We have entered the era of the finance, data/media complex.
The methods by which power is exerted have also had to evolve to incorporate this technological change.
We now see a finance, data/media complex capable of combining the traditional financial clout over economic decision-making by governments with the ability to use its ownership and influence of the various media platforms to decisively influence decision-making and even elections.
As we have just witnessed, not just in the UK but across the globe, elections can be decisively influenced by the dominating ownership and control of the mainstream press, the resultant permeation of the broadcasting media and the purchase of overwhelming influence via social media and use of data targeting.
This is not a conspiracy theory. There is no need for conspiracy. It’s simply the capitalist system naturally evolving to protect its distribution of power and wealth from any radical challenge.
As an aside, it’s interesting to note the emergence of the political phenomenon of having a buffoon character popularised on television as the political face to ward off radical challenge. This combines celebrity with a deceptive reassuring image of good humoured, optimistic harmlessness, for which, dangerously, anything can be excused as roguishness.
So the question is: how can change be brought about in the face of resistance by this powerful new capitalist formation?
So far the left has failed to develop a successful strategy, but some lessons are pretty obvious.
First, move on from the traditional political party and start building the party into a social movement. Social movements arise from the grassroots within geographical communities with a sense of place, or communities of interest with a sense of mission or grievance or identity.
One focus of Labour’s energies in the future should be ensuring party members are at the forefront of building community campaigning on issues people care about in their area, or workplace or nationally, whether it’s low pay, poor housing, street crime, the environment or aspiration frustrated by discrimination.
Second, recognise that to change the world you need to understand it. Groups like The World Transformed have demonstrated how to change political education and the discussion of ideas into an exciting social activity. They need to be scaled up into a mass initiative of political education and discussion.
Third, appreciate it is a culture war in which every potential weapon of mass communication has to be used. Accept that in trying to use the traditional media, the left must always be more professionally prepared and effective in the delivery of our message.
Both the mainstream media and some of the terrain of social media, however, now produce meagre pickings. So as one media platform becomes colonised by opponents and less effective for us, be ahead of the game and move on to create or utilise new platforms and outlets. Above all else, understand that creativity in conveying our message through cultural activities in film, music, narrative and drama beats any expensive paid advert by the establishment.
Fourth, accept that nobody said changing the world would be easy. But one thing is certain. If you don’t try you never will. So enjoy trying. Our best assets are our smiles and solidarity.
RED BOX | JOHN MCDONNELL January 27 2020, 12:01am, The Times