Blair, Brown, New Labour, Old Labour: all stand for austerity and war

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'Blair out', 'Bliar', 'Tony's a Tory'.

These were the most prominent slogans on the anti-war demo in London on 27 September.

But calls for Blair to go aren't limited to the 'far left' groups who hand out placards emblazoned with these slogans.

Respectable ex-cabinet ministers like Claire Short and Robin Cook have more or less explicitly called for his resignation, accusing him of deceiving the country over the war on Iraq. At the recent Labour party conference he was under fire not only over the war, but also his domestic policies - privatisation, student fees, relations with the unions, to name but a few.

Gordon Brown has already begun to tout himself as an 'alternative' - his conference speech avoided justifying the war and rousingly reasserted 'Old Labour' values such as the 'redistribution of wealth'. A false alternative

To think that Brown is an alternative to Blair is to disregard his role at the heart of the Labour government in the management of the capitalist economy where the rich have got richer and the poor poorer.

68% of working taxpayers earn less than £20,000 a year and 51% earn less than £15,000 (according to the Inland Revenue). These are levels of low pay deliberately encouraged by the government through the minimum wage and the Working Families Tax Credit system. His 'distribution of wealth' has seen hundred of thousands losing unemployment benefits due to entitlement changes. Hundreds of thousands of manufacturing workers have been thrown out of work. National Insurance contributions and direct taxes have been increased.

'Prudent' Gordon is also working out ways to make the working class pay the cost of the war and occupation of Iraq - current cost £3 billion and rising.

Neither are the likes of Short and Cook any alternative.

They fully supported British imperialism's participation in the Kosovo and Afghanistan adventures, the military enforcement of the 'no-fly' zones over Iraq, and the maintenance of crippling sanctions which killed hundreds of thousands of the Iraqis they now claim to care so much for. Nothing new about Labour's capitalist policies

Socialist Worker (4/10/3) says that Blair and Brown "are both cut from the same Tory cloth". Yet Labour's history shows that it is not becoming a crypto-Tory party but is and has long been a reliable part of the ruling class's political apparatus. In its own right, with its own ideology, it has imposed austerity measures on the working class and defended the interests of British imperialism in times of war and peace - ever since the First World War.

At the Labour Party conference Jack Jones (former leader of the T&G) and Michael Foot were both honoured for their long service, and some nostalgically recalled the days of 'Old Labour'. This is the Jack Jones who was central to the Social Contract imposed by the Labour government of 1974-79. At that time government and unions inflicted a ruthless incomes policy on the working class and worked tirelessly to undermine and defeat the struggle against this attack. This is the Michael Foot who said that Britain was never closer to 'socialism' than during the Second World War - when Labour did its best to ensure that the workers were enrolled to die for British imperialism, repeating what it had done during the 1914-18 war.

All these figures are 'cut from the same cloth'. The fabric of the Labour party has been cut to suit the needs of British capitalism for the last ninety years, and, to mix metaphors, there is no 'reverse gear', or any other means, to change it. The groups that make up the Socialist Alliance also pose as an 'alternative', but their programme for strengthening the capitalist state's management of British capitalism is indistinguishable from the ideology that guided Labour in government and opposition for the decades before Blair became Labour leader. United on the need to attack the working class

The only thing that would change if Blair was replaced by Brown or some other defender of the 'real values of Labour' is the rhetoric. This is because a Labour government acts in the way its does not because of the particular individuals who lead it, but because of the class interests it serves. Brown would sound more 'socialist' but a capitalist government has to consider a number of factors. It has to take account of the state of the economy, and in the face of a worsening crisis it is the working class that has to pay the price. Unemployment, job insecurity, harsher regimes for those in work and in education, cut backs in benefits, the decline in basic services such as the NHS (with more and more available only to those who can pay for them), the disappearance of pension funds: the capitalist state presides over all the attacks on the living and working conditions of its citizens.

Brown has amply shown his willingness to carry out such attacks. As has the labour party, be it New or Old, since the First World War when it has managed British capitalism at a local or national level. It was a very 'old' even 'socialist' Labour government that laid off 30.000 Liverpool council workers in the 1980s (aided and abetted by the 'Loony Left' council run by Derek Hatton and the Trotskyist 'Militant' group).

Thus we can see that all the wings of the Labour party are agreed on one thing: the need to attack the working class in order to defend the interests of British capitalism. Labour defends British imperialism

The government of the capitalist class is not only in economic competition with every other state, it is also compelled to defend its interests militarily. Every capitalist state is imperialist and has to devote enormous resources against the potential threat of other armed states defending their interests. It is the nature of capitalism that requires every national capital to be armed and ready for conflict - not the particular policy of individual governments.

Labour governments have proven themselves to be intransigent defenders of British imperialism. Not only since the 1990s but since 1914. The first Labour government (1924) made a clear commitment to this by continuing the previous government's policy of bombing and gassing the rebels and civilians in Iraq. The only alternative is the class struggle

In addition to the economic crisis and imperialist conflict the capitalist state is aware of the threat posed by the struggle of the working class. Capitalism is based on the exploitation of the working class, and the more that the ruling class attacks the working class, the greater the potential for workers' struggle in defence of their class interests. The massive struggles that took place in France this May over the issue of pensions were a stark reminder to the ruling class of this potential. In Britain we have yet not seen such a massive outburst of combativity, but the unofficial strikes at Heathrow, in the post and the shipyards are signs of a growing unwillingness to accept attacks on living and working conditions (see the article on page 3).

If the class struggle is to make significant steps forward, workers will have to learn to rely on their own strengths - the ability to organise, to unite, and to develop their own political programme aimed at the overthrow of the capitalist system. And the only way the working class can make progress in this direction is to refuse to get caught up in all the false alternatives offered by its exploiters.

WR, 4/10/03.