05/16/2018

Old Labour, Old Danger

Oliver Wiseman, Weekly Standard

Harold Wilson, British prime minister in the 1960s and 1970s, once said that the Labour party he led owed more to Methodism than to Karl Marx. Those at the top of the party today do not share their predecessor’s view.

Before Jeremy Corbyn was unexpectedly elected Labour leader in 2015, he led a career of far-left obscurity, catching the attention of the public now and then only thanks to his support for Hamas, Hugo Chávez, and anyone lined up on his side in what he sees as a global battle against capitalism and the West. Three years later, he is the bookmakers’ favorite to be Britain’s next leader.

But for all that Corbyn has poisoned British politics—most recently by allowing the emergence of a rabid anti-Semitism in his party’s rank and file—he isn’t the biggest threat to the country. The man who would take the reins of the British economy were Corbyn to become prime minister is far more dangerous.

John McDonnell is Corbyn’s closest political ally. As shadow chancellor of the exchequer, he is the second most powerful man on the British left. And he sees the Labour party’s intellectual inheritance a little differently from Harold Wilson.

On May 5, when the rest of London was outside enjoying the spring heat wave, McDonnell was inside a drab lecture hall at the University of London, delivering a speech on “Marxism as a Force for Change Today.” It was 200 years to the day since the birth of Karl Marx.

Just a few hundred yards from the British Museum reading room where the political philosopher committed many of his dangerous and disproven ideas to the page, earnest and aging Marxists gathered to mark the date. The speakers included representatives from the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation of Berlin, the head of the Marxism department at China’s Academy of Social Sciences, and the general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), with an assortment of left-wing sociologists making up the numbers. McDonnell’s speech was the main event.

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