Before the last UK general election in 2001 the ruling class were very concerned that there would be a dramatic drop in the number of people voting. When it turned out that a record low number had bothered (and 18 million hadn’t) the various leftist groups that made up the Socialist Alliance could at least say they’d done their best to get people interested in capitalism’s electoral spectacle.
Four years later and the Socialist Alliance has gone. Of its constituent parts the Socialist Party (ex-Militant), with some other groups, has formed a Socialist Green Unity Coalition (SGUC), while the Socialist Workers Party is the dominant force in the Respect coalition that also includes George Galloway and the Muslim Association of Britain.
The names have changed but the function of such groupings at election time remains the same. In 2001 there was already growing disillusion with the Labour government. Following the murderous wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, attacks on workers’ living standards, and all the cynical lies of politicians, even more people are convinced that there’s nothing to choose between any of the parties. The leftist groups feed on this estrangement. They agree with every criticism of the Labour Party while claiming to be an ‘alternative’, or at least a way of making a protest.
Yet, if you consult one of those easy-to-follow guides to what the main parties stand for, it’s not difficult to find a place for the leftists. After all, if you’re putting forward policies for a capitalist government to adopt you’re going to follow the needs of the capitalist ruling class. Labour, Liberal Democrat and Tory all agree on the need for more police, just differing on the numbers; they all declare that they’re more environmentally friendly; and while Labour and Lib Dem say they’ll spend more, the Tories say they’ll be less wasteful and more efficient. The only difference when you turn to the leftists is that they want the role of the capitalist state to be made explicit.
All the leftists are against the Post Office being sold off, for the re-nationlisation of the rail, gas, electricity and water industries, against further privatisation of health services and for massive funding for education. They don’t think that there’s a problem in finding the money. As the Socialist Party insists in its manifesto “No cuts! No privatisation… It doesn’t have to be like this… Britain is a rich country”. The SWP agrees that “Blair can find £6 billion to fund the war, but he can’t find the money to invest in our community and public services” (Socialist Worker 19/3/5). According to the left it’s just a matter of priorities, the capitalist state can be made to provide – even if the historic experience of the working class and the depth of capitalism’s economic crisis completely contradict this idea.
Lies about Labour
Also, for all their criticisms of New Labour, the leftists still claim that not so long ago the Labour Party had something to do with the defence of working class interests. Where revolutionaries can show that over the last 90 years Labour has been an integral part of capitalism’s political apparatus, Respect in “An invitation to Labour Party members and supporters” (8/3/5) says that “For many it was the obvious party to join if you believed in equality, peace and justice. But Tony Blair has transformed Labour into New Labour. And New Labour no longer stands for those traditional working class values”. Dave Nellist, launching the SGUC thought that “the New Labour party of Blair and Brown has deprived the working class of political representation”.
It’s true that many people have had illusions in parties like Labour – (and in Stalinism and Trotskyism and other political tendencies that have claimed to defend the interests of the working class). The fundamental tests that definitively demonstrate the class nature of any political party are wars and revolutions. The Labour Party (and other social democratic parties across the world) showed that it had joined the ranks of our exploiters when it put its weight into the war effort in the First World War in 1914, and has served British capitalism, in government and in opposition, ever since. Yet Respect and the SGUC claim that until Blair came along Labour stood for working class interests.
The strength of the revolutionary argument is that we can draw in depth on the working class’s historic experience to demonstrate the thoroughly bourgeois nature of the Labour Party. From the 1924 government’s bombing and gassing of Kurds in Iraq, to Labour’s clamour for war in the 1930s, the austerity of the 1940s – all decades before the arrival of Blair. Leftists, like other bourgeois politicians, have no interest in the truth – as their job is to confuse and mystify.
In the case of most of the leftists, for all their supposed anger at Blair, there is also provision for openly lining up with Labour at election time. As a resolution from last year’s Respect conference states, Labour is “a mass party to whom millions of working people still owe their allegiance” and therefore “we will not challenge anti-war MPs and will consider voting for Labour in those areas where Respect is not standing and where there is no other credible left candidate.”
None of this is going to “clear out the warmongers in Downing Street and their puppets in Westminster” (George Galloway in Socialist Worker 26/3/5), nor “teach Tony Blair a lesson” (SW 19/3/5).
In a nutshell the leftists stand for state capitalism, support for Labour, and participation in capitalism’s democratic circus. For the ruling class the parliamentary game exists to convince workers that they can have a stake in the system that exploits them. In reality the only way that workers can defend their interests is in developing a sense of their class identity, in becoming conscious of the nature of capitalist society and the central role of the working class in its overthrow, in organising as a class to destroy the state power that the leftists worship. Car 1/4/5