John McDonnell, Labour's shadow chancellor of the Exchequer, declared Marxism a “force for change today” as he addressed the closing session of a conference in London marking Karl Marx’s 200th birthday on May 5.
McDonnell, a close comrade of Labour's socialist leader Jeremy Corbyn, received stormy applause for a speech in which he paid tribute to the revolutionary thinker and noted that public interest in his ideas had soared since the bankers’ crash of 2008.
The event at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies was organised by the Marx Memorial Library. It featured a day of discussions on Marxist approaches to everything from neoliberalism and public services through the rise of the Indian far right under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the nature of Latin American socialism, forms of oppression and exploitation based on class and race to “being a Marxist artist under capitalism” and whether artificial intelligence and new technology had “eclipsed” Marx’s relevance.
McDonnell said the revival of the left under Corbyn had seen “a significant revival of the question: who really owns our society?”
Marx’s economic analysis offers important insights into understanding the “crisis-ridden capitalism” of modern Britain, he said. “Ten years after the banking crash, interest in Marxism hasn’t declined, it has increased.
“This has led Labour to discuss how it can develop the co-operative sector and take back into public ownership rail and water and the post office,” he said to cheers.
McDonnell asked the audience to picture the reaction from his press team when he told them he planned to address a conference about Marx – but noted that even Bank of England governor Mark Carney had recently predicted a resurgence of Marxism.
Refusing to “self-censor”, he said openly debating Marx would undermine the “culture of fear” promoted by the Establishment in a bid to silence critical voices.
His address prompted a furious attack piece in the Daily Mail. It noted that his attendance had been “swiftly condemned by Simply Red singer Mick Hucknall,” who said the Hayes and Harlington MP “does not belong in the Labour Party”.
Images accompanying the article slammed Mr McDonnell as a “self-confessed socialist” and accused him of supporting left-wing newspaper the Morning Star, picturing him visiting the paper’s stall at the conference.
[Reprinted from Morning Star Online.]