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Charlie Van Gelderen

The Mind of Desmond Donnelly

(August 1968)

From International, Vol. 1 No. 4, August 1968, p. 13.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Anyone who wants to make a serious study of what is wrong with the Labour Party could usefully study the speeches and writings of Desmond Donnelly, M.P. for Pembrokeshire.

Mr. Donnelly, of course, is a notorious critic of the Wilson administration; but we must not deal with this at length. What we are concerned with at the moment is the question: How is it that a party which still considers itself “socialist” could contain a person with the views of Desmond Donnelly within it ranks for all these years? If we could find an answer to this, we would know what is wrong with the party. For years left-wing critics of the leadership, who wanted to see a more aggressive socialist policy pursued by the Labour Party, have been either witch-hunted, or else bribed with office. Those, like Donnelly, who wanted a party which pursued a policy no different from that of the Tories, are left free to continue their acts of sabotage.

It is no accident that Mr. Donnelly should have chosen this particular moment in history to take leave of the labour movement. There are plenty of precedents for this. At every period when the working class shows signs of losing faith in the traditional parties, prominent leaders have broken away and formed rival parties – parties which whatever the original intentions of the traitors, eventually emerged as fascist parties. Mussolini in Italy, Doriot in France, and Mosley in Britain are the most famous of these. Of course, Donnelly only qualifies as a leader in his own estimation but he, no doubt, has those historic precedents in mind.

Fascism is not necessarily synonymous with racialism. Italian fascism flourished for nearly two decades, until it allied itself with Hitler, without recourse to racialism. The main task of fascism is to destroy the labour movement and to destroy parliamentary democracy which, with its “freedom” for political parties, provides the best soil for the growth of the labour movement. To achieve these objectives it must create a mass movement as a counter-attraction to the mass parties of the working class. This movement acts as magnet for all the discontented elements in society, the small shopkeepers, heavily pressed by the supermarkets and giant chain stores, unemployed workers, etc. In particular, of course, it serves the interests of big business from whom it also gets its financial resources.

When Donnelly left the Labour Party he announced his intention to start a crusade, to woke up Britain. This is typical language of the fascist demagogue. He also manifested the traditional fascist conception of the “leader”. At a dinner given for him by Pembroke Labour Party some time ago, the cocktail sticks bore the legend “Donnelly for Pembroke and the Nation”.

He recently explained his views in an interview with Penthouse, a magazine which caters for men who like pictures of naked women and correspondence about corporal punishment. No doubt it is among these people that he expects to find the nuclei for his future mass following. In this interview he makes his position quite clear. He is opposed to any further nationalisation, comprehensive education, a free National Health Service and what, he calls “confiscatory taxation” of the rich. He wants to maintain Britain’s military commitments east of Suez and the alliance with the United States. In typical fascist fashion, he wants to streamline the trade unions.

When the Penthouse interviewer suggested that a great deal “of what you’ve been saying could belong in a Tory programme”, he did not disagree, The only reason why he was not in the Conservative Party was that he “really wants to do these things” while the Tories only talked about it. “I find ... that I have more in common with right-wing Tories, like Julian Amery, than with the so-called progressive Tories ...”

The key to Donnelly’s thinking lies in his admission that for many years he has been associated with big business – with David Brown, a very large engineering association, with the great Phillips electronic combine, and with Britain’s largest commercial bank. “This has taught me much more than I’ve been able to help them”, he said. He now sees his role as serving the interests of big business but, of course, he identifies this with serving Britain.

We end this article with the same question we asked in the beginning: Why was Desmond Donnelly allowed to remain in the Labour Party for so long? There are, of course, others who share his views. The Labour Party will not find its way back to its working class origins until it has purged itself of those elements.

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Last updated: 9 December 2020