Shadow chancellor John McDonnell told a fringe meeting that a radical left Labour government would be ready to face attempts to undermine it by bankers and big businesses.
Speaking to hundreds of left wing Labour supporters McDonnell said Labour would have to build mass support against an “assault” from bankers, the media and parliament.
But he also suggested that Labour would have to make concessions and accommodate to capitalists and bosses in order to survive.
McDonnell was speaking at a discussion on Governing from the Radical Left at the World Transformed festival.
Under previous Labour governments, and against radical parties abroad, capitalists have tried to cripple governments through measures such as refusing to invest or deliberately devaluing the currency if Labour implements radical policies.
McDonnell said Labour can, “Build up the sort of support that will ensure that kind of assault is not even contemplated”.
But McDonnell also said Labour would try to convince capitalists that they could trust the party to run the economy.
Referring to Labour’s pledge to increase taxes on the rich he said, “They don’t like our tax plan—but they do like our investment plan”.
Economist and journalist Paul Mason argued Labour shouldn’t “go for everything in the manifesto at once.”
“Some people may be banging on doors to bang on zero hours contracts on day one,” he said. “I wish we could do that”.
Instead Mason said Labour had to “execute a transition” that involved talking to capitalists to find out what they would accept. He said Labour’s approach would be to say to bosses, “We want you to tell us what you can do”.
He also said Labour should shy away from banning nuclear weapons.
“If you’re going to take their power away from them, then don’t take their toys away,” he said. Mason even said it would be right for Labour to “make compromises and retreat.”
This was the disastrous approach of the Syriza government in Greece in 2015.
It was elected to end austerity in Greece. Its attempt to negotiate with capitalist institutions the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund ended with them forcing through even harsher austerity than their Tory predecessors.
Syriza politician Theano Fotiou told the meeting her government had “faced so many obstacles” and that “it’s a miracle we’re still alive”.
She admitted that working with the system as it is means, “Our lenders always have a veto”.
Syriza is a warning to the left in other countries—not an example to copy. The lesson is that radical left governments have to confront capitalists head-on.