When a general election comes around leftist groups are put in an embarrassing position. Typically they call themselves ‘socialist' or ‘revolutionary' and, as part of their basic function, criticise the Labour Party, whether in government of opposition. The problem they have at election time is how to retain their ‘radical' credentials while taking part in the whole parliamentary circus.
In the pages of Socialist Worker (13/2/10) you can read their answer to the very concrete question "Who do you vote for?" Because "After 13 years of bloody war, privatisation and assaults on workers' living standards, some workers say they will never vote Labour again" the SWP is participating in a Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) which is standing 50 candidates. Elsewhere they will call for a vote for other groups like Respect.
This is a simple scheme enabling workers to let off steam and protest about Labour with a trip to the polling station to vote for groups and parties that put forward the same state capitalist policies as Labour. It won't mean voting Labour, just for Labour policies.
However the SWP note "Unfortunately in most areas, workers won't have a TUSC or other left candidate to vote for. The choice will be much more stark - vote Labour or don't vote at all." They don't explain why the workers who say they're never going to vote Labour again because of the experience of the last 13 years have got it wrong. Where millions are in a position to see that all the parties are offering the same austerity policies, the SWP claim that "there is an important difference between Labour and the Tories. Basically it comes down to class. Labour still retains a link with the organised working class through its union affiliations."
There is no class difference between Labour and Tory parties. The unions do indeed have links with Labour, but their function is to control the working class and undermine its struggles. Among the minority of workers who are in unions there is a growing suspicion of their pretence to represent workers.
The SWP say they will not "cover up" Labour's "horrendous record," but then give reasons to vote for them. For the SWP "A class line will open up as the election gets closer. Most workers will grudgingly line up with Labour against the Tories." Actually, a real class line separates those who tout for the Labour Party and the electoral process from those who insist that the working class can only defend itself through its collective struggle.
Socialist Worker says that "If the Tories win the election, reactionaries and employers throughout the land will rejoice - and celebrate by throwing more shit at us. Many workers will feel depressed and less confident to fight." ‘More shit' being the operative words, that is to say, whoever gets in, there will be more shit on top of what Labour have already dished out. Yet the SWP have the cheek to say that "If Labour wins, workers will feel a little more confident". How does that work out? Let's vote for the government that's been in charge for the last 13 years? That's going to make us feel confident? When workers voted for Labour at the last two elections in 2005 and 2001 there is no evidence that it led to outbreaks of confidence and joie de vivre across the country. It's true that in 1945, 1964 and 1997 there were massive illusions in incoming Labour governments, and in February 1974 there was the mistaken belief that the Tories had been ‘kicked out' by the workers rather than replaced as a governing team by the ruling class. But a more realistic view of past elections reveals them as moments in the life of capitalism's political apparatus, spectacles giving the working class false hopes in the possibility of change through the mechanisms of democracy.
There are circumstances in which workers can gain confidence: in the class struggle when workers act together in solidarity with one another, in defence of their own interests, and, ultimately, against the government, regardless of what colour it's wearing.
The SWP says that "Millions of workers will hold their breath, bite their lip and vote Labour. Every one of them will feel disappointed and indignant." We agree. If you follow the advice of the SWP (or any of the many other groups that spout the same sort of line) you will be disappointed and indignant. The alternative was demonstrated by many groups of workers in Britain during 2009. The occupations at Visteon and Vestas, the solidarity actions over Lindsey and beyond, are reminders that the working class can best express itself in struggle - in strikes, occupations, demonstrations and protests - and is only atomised as millions of separate individuals when stood in isolation in the polling booth.
Car 3/3/10see also