Following the general election held on 7 June, the Labour Party has been returned to office with a big majority of 167 seats – only slightly smaller than last time. The Conservatives won 167 seats, while the Liberal Democrats increased their representation in parliament from 41 to 52. Labour secured 413 seats (6 fewer than last time). The remaining 28 seats are accounted for by other parties, including the Unionist and Nationalist Parties from the occupied six counties of Ireland, which send 18 members to Westminster. In terms of seats, Labour’s victory is a landslide.
Abysmal turnout and the reasons for it
If, however, we cast a glance at the turnout, and the number of votes cast for each party, Labour’s landslide is not merely suspect – it is hollow. The turnout, at 59.2%, was the lowest since 1918, when exhausted by 4 years of the devastating first imperialist world war only 58.9% of the electorate exercised their right to vote. In view of the fact that 100 candidates stood unopposed in that election, the turnout in this 2001 election was effectively the worst since 1885 – the first time most of the adult males had the right to vote – and this notwithstanding the fact that every effort – including a big media hype, the updating of the electoral register, changes to the law concerning postal votes – had been made to get people to vote, with pubs, caravans and even fish and chip shops being turned into polling stations. With the total turnout at just over 25.5 million, effectively 2 out of every 5 electors refused to vote. As compared with 1997, three million Labour, 1.5 million Tory and 400,000 Liberal Democrat voters stayed away. Again compared with 1997, the drop in voter turnout this time round was a whopping 12%. The abstention rate was particularly high among 18-25 year-olds, of whom only between a quarter and a third made it to the polling booths.
Labour’s spin doctors have tried to explain away this precipitous drop in various slick ways. It is the
“politics of contentment”
, says Jack Straw, the new foreign secretary, blithely asserting that most voters are so happy with Labour that they don’t bother to turn out to vote. Dwindling turnout at elections is characteristic of the
says Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, as if that provided an explanation instead of merely prompting the question: why is voter turnout crumbling in the imperialist countries (‘industrial democracies’ if it pleases the likes of Gordon Brown)? Yet others say that, as the election result was a foregone conclusion, voters did not venture out to vote, as if to say that this is the first time that the outcome of an election had been such a certainty.
Even respectable journalists and commentators realise that something is terribly wrong here, for
“… a drop of 12% in turnout is more than a mere blip: it is a walk over a statistical cliff”
16 June 2001)
which can be explained neither by reference to the election result being seen as a foregone conclusion, nor by allusion to other
. Bourgeois politics is a huge turn-off for millions of people, especially the young, who, disillusioned with this charade, don’t bother to vote. The fact is that bourgeois political parties, with practically indistinguishable programmes aimed at furthering the interests of monopoly capitalism at the cost of the most disadvantaged and the most vulnerable sections of the population, have very little to offer to the poor, who in the main account for such large abstentions from voting.
Most commentators agree that the election just held was one of the most boring, uninvigorating, and cheerless in recent memory.
were a show on Broadway it would have been shut down after its opening night”,
wrote Robert Harris in the
just before the election. Contact between the leaders of the two main political parties on the one hand and the electorate on the other was minimal. This is especially true of Labour, whose leadership is marked by the utter dichotomy of its word and its deed. With little to offer to ordinary workers, they made sure that encounters with real people were limited and strictly on terms laid down by the party leadership. Referring to the failure of the main parties to connect with the voters, Jonathan Guthrie, writing in the
of 9 June 2001, has this to say:
But it was not only Mr Blair who failed to connect with the voters. It was as if the whole campaign was conducted in a bubble, inhabited by politicians, journalists and camera crews. Politicians would turn up in high streets, surrounded by adoring party members. Members of the public were jostled aside by the media scrum. Then they were gone, leaving only the campaign detritus of leaflets and posters in their wake.
Outside the bubble there was a sullen indifference from the voters. Television ratings took a dive when the politicians appeared on the news; many newspapers relegated campaign coverage deep into the inside pages.
Bothered by the low turnout, Philip Stephens, writing in the same issue of the
“…it cannot but trouble the prime minister that more opted out of the democratic process than voted for this government. Representative
democracy is corroding.
Continues Mr Stephens: “
There have been harbingers of this scorn for the ballot box. Across the industrialised nations disenchantment with elected governments has been manifest in the rising swell of angry protests against global capitalism and the degradation of the environment. The perception among many young people is that governments either do not care or are powerless before the might of predatory multinationals.”
Mr Stephens has offered a better explanation of the trend (declining voter turnout) across the
“, including Britain, than Gordon Brown with his vacuous and vain attempt to explain away low turnout in Britain by reference to other “
Those who don’t vote are precisely the people who are poor and thus don’t have a stake in the system. Referring to a survey of 41 countries by Richard Rose of the University of Strathclyde and Marta Lagos, the
says that “…
voting is a habit of wealthier, better educated, older people: in short, those who have a stake to preserve… Youth is disaffected, though … prosperity and education are more important than age in influencing the level of political involvement
” (John Plender, ‘The age of consent’,
2 June 2001).
Worried about social cohesion and social stability in a world where the main political parties of the ruling class agree with each other on all fundamental questions of domestic and foreign policy, in this “
“, continues the
…seems likely to express itself increasingly from outside the mainstream political system. Objections to market capitalism are being most strongly expressed on the streets, as in Seattle and Prague. And the biggest obstacle to Mr Blair’s programme in his second term will come not from the Conservatives but from unions representing public sector workers and form protesting interest groups.
Because populations are ageing, already high-voting old people will exert a tighter grip on politics. Greater efforts to reconnect low-voting young and unemployed people will be needed, if inter-generational conflict is not to find expression on the streets. Civic re-engagement is a phrase with no great ring – but we shall need more of it if the stability of democracy is to be preserved
The least popular government
To put Labour’s landslide victory in its proper context, let us not forget that although the Labour Party secured 42% of votes polled, its share of the total electorate is a mere 25%, compared with 31% four years ago. In Tony Blair’s Sedgefield constituency the turnout declined by 10%, cutting his majority by 8,000. For a party which has made a profession of pretending that it wants to draw in everyone, from Shaun Woodward to his butler, it find itself, in terms of the votes cast, “…
the least popular government since universal suffrage was introduced in 1928, actively supported by one eligible voter in four.”
In other words, for everyone who has voted for Labour, there are three who have voted for other parties or who have not voted at all. This is not surprising, given Labour’s total subservience in the service of big business and its total hostility to the poor and the downtrodden – at home and abroad. It is a party that was put into office by big business in 1997. And it is big business which rallied round it this time, in view of Labour’s proven record of lackey service to finance capital over the past 4 years. Not without reason, organs of British imperialism – from mass circulation dailies such as the
to the ‘quality’ press like the
– came out in enthusiastic support of Labour. Not without reason did Sir Alan Sugar, the soccer-loving chairman of Amstrad, head a list of 58 top company executives who jointly wrote to
in the middle of May calling for the re-election of a Labour government. The same Sir Alan, be it said in passing, wrote a similar letter at the start of the 1992 election campaign, along with 42 other executives, calling for the re-election of the Conservative government – in terms almost identical to those of his latest missive. If the letter of 1992 urged business to “
support the party, which since 1979, has been actively promoting the renewed sense of enterprise in the British people”,
the one of May 2001 called upon business to “
support the party that since May 1997 has done so much to promote stable economic growth and a renewed spirit of enterprise in the British people.”
On the occasion of the 1992 letter, Labour’s trade and industry spokesman, a certain Gordon Brown, denounced the businessmen’s letter as representing the special interests of a group of fat cats who had
“done pretty well out of the recession
“, which drew the following contemptuous response from Sir Alan. In a letter to the
he wrote: “
I have noted with disgust the comments of a certain Mr Gordon Brown. I do not know who Mr Brown is. Excuse my ignorance but I don’t. Whoever he is, he has not done his homework properly.
Since then, Gordon Brown and his fellow servitors of imperialism have learned well how to do their homework on the importance of business, to such an extent that he and other Labour bigwigs have built up an exceptionally cosy relationship with the likes of Sir Alan – a fact which has not escaped even bourgeois, if perceptive, journalists, who have noted Labour’s “…
increasing obsession with learning from, looking after and generally buttering up business. New Labour’s true inspiration is not so much Calvin Klein as Calvin Coolidge. ‘The chief business of the American people is business’, declared Coolidge in 1925. Replace ‘American’ with ‘British’ and it could be the title of Labour’s manifesto”
(‘Buttering up is Labour’s biggest obsession’, Robert Harris,
, 20 May 2001).
Continues Mr Harris: “
[according to Labour]
no longer, it seems, to invest in business in order to care for people; we invest in people (via education) to nurture business”.
With what for a member of the fraternity of bourgeois journalists must be a most damning statement, correct for all that, Mr Harris goes on to say that “…
the Blair/Brown government seems to regard itself essentially as a recruiting sergeant for global capitalism and this election as an excellent opportunity to warn us of the perils that lie ahead if we don’t buckle down and do as we’re told. Money is held to be the primary human motivation.”
This being the case, Labour can hardly complain about voter apathy, for it has reduced politics, as indeed have bourgeois parties in all the imperialist countries if not beyond, “
to the language of the business seminar”.
And this, concludes Mr Harris, “…
is not only dull, it is dangerous. For there is now a vacuum in the political spectrum… In 2001, anyone who yearns for a critique of the new global business empires and their impact on the planet (and, God knows, one is needed) will find no words for their comfort in the Labour Party – nor, for that matter, in the whole of our mainstream parliamentary system. Labour used to make
[pretend to make would be more apposite]
it its business to be sceptical of the wealthy and powerful. But these days the business of Labour is business.
Be it said in passing that there is no dearth of critiques of imperialism (new global business empires, if it pleases our bourgeois journalists). The trouble, however, is that since the best of these critiques are rude enough to go beyond the limits of present-day class relations, they are ignored by the likes of Harris, who want capitalism (for they do rather well out of it) but without its defects (for they have a conscience). That is the essence of the wretched petty-bourgeois critique of capitalism and has been so ever since M Proudhon.
Tories in turmoil
As for the Tories, they received 33% of the poll (just over 20% of the electorate). Although this represents a higher proportion of the vote than that of Labour in 1983 or 1987, the Tories have ended up with far fewer seats – 63 fewer than Labour’s in 1987. This is a reflection of our electoral system. All the same, as a result of the second consecutive electoral disaster, the Conservative Party is in a state of chaos and, following the resignation of William Hague, convulsed by an exceptionally divisive leadership campaign. One may gauge the scale of Tory desperation, the deep divisions corroding the Conservative Party, the extent of the humiliation felt by its leading lights, from a revealing article written by Michael Heseltine, the former Tory minister, in the immediate aftermath of the election. Writing in the
of Friday 8 June, he described the Tory election campaign as
with its “
focus on hard-faced little Englander rhetoric”,
adding that the Conservatives “
are today deeply divided and electorally humiliated”,
…Mr Hague’s Conservative Party has been seen as white, middle-class … – the haven of ‘haves’.”
As if not wanting to leave his readers in any doubt he says: “
The brutal fact is that the Tories now have no chance of regaining power at the next election.”
He writes rather admiringly about the drastic policy changes made by the Labour Party, which “
… today is a recycled Conservative Party, but with fresh faces and a new language. For the majority of the people in this country, rule by Mr Blair has meant little more than a continuation of the policies established by the Tories.”
He concludes by calling upon the Conservative Party to reclaim “
the traditional ground of Toryism”
which Blair seized so successfully from the Tories, for to win power, Blair “
has to pay court to the very people who would, in the past, have been our natural supporters. It was our very success a generation ago which tamed and pulled the teeth from Old Labour and made his triumph in this election possible”
(‘A disaster for the Tories – a personal tragedy for William’).
Apart from revealing Tory divisions and desperation, Michael Heseltine’s article is far more revealing about the ideological and political similarity of the two major parties of British capitalism. If the Labour Party, as Michael Heseltine correctly affirms, is a recycled Conservative Party, then a Tory Party which succeeds, as Mr Heseltine wants to see happen, in seizing back from Labour the traditional ground of Toryism, can only be a recycled version of the Labour Party. Whichever way one looks at it, the more things change the more they remain the same. For all the apparent shifts and movement, one moves in an interminable circle of Toryism, through Toryism to Toryism. It is a pity that what is so clear to an intelligent bourgeois like Heseltine cannot be grasped by our disgraceful fraternity of self-proclaimed Marxists, to wit, the revisionist renegades and counter-revolutionary Trotskyites, to whom we shall return shortly.
The SLP contested 114 seats and polled 57,497 votes. The result was creditable considering the media blackout the SLP faced, the hostility towards it of the establishment, the dirty tricks played on it by the forces rabidly hostile to the very idea of socialism and the liberation of humanity from the torture that life is under capitalism (especially under its highest stage – imperialism), the discriminatory treatment meted out to it by the broadcasting authorities. Another factor this time round was that the SLP, unlike in the 1997 General Election, was faced with not only fighting against the traditional parties of British monopoly capital but also its ‘socialist’ agents in the working-class movement, namely the so-called Socialist Alliance, made up of 15 disparate counter-revolutionary Trotskyite parties, organisations, grouplets and weird outfits who, while hating each other and hardly able to agree on anything of importance, were nevertheless united in their rabid hatred of socialism and working-class power (past and present) in general, and their hostility to the Socialist Labour Party in particular. A kind of united front came to be founded during the election between the bourgeois media and the anti-socialist Socialist Alliance, with each trying to rubbish the SLP as either irrelevant or a relic of sectarianism. In view of all this the SLP did rather well (for a fuller report on its performance, see elsewhere in this issue the report by Arthur Scargill, the General Secretary of the SLP). Prior to the election the leading lights of the reactionary Socialist Alliance, when they heard that the SLP was proposing to stand 100 candidates, derisively asserted that the SLP hardly had as many party members. While asserting that the SLP had no money to finance its election campaign, they contradictorily pointed to its ability to
“persuade wealthy benefactors to cough up”
and its alleged access to limitless Libyan, Serbian, Cuban and North Korean gold – for no other reason than that the SLP maintains fraternal links with these countries, and unlike the incurably counter-revolutionary Trotskyite outfits, gives full backing to working class and anti-imperialist national liberation movements and regimes.
For all their attempts to belittle the significance of the SLP, they were at heart not convinced of the truth of their own assertions. Thus, while turning the facts on their head and presenting SLP’s participation in the election as
“cost the SA several lost deposits”
, instead of the other way round, the non-existent CPGB’s
was nevertheless obliged to state that it
“would be a mistake to believe that the SLP cannot harm the SA”
, for the SLP, while possessing, so we are told,
“a tiny fraction of the SA’s forces”
, has something
“which the alliance cannot yet match”,
“own name and reputation”,
adding that “
…it only needs some unexpected turn of events, with Scargill happening to be in the right place at the right time, for the Socialist Labour Party to make a miraculous recovery”.
So, here we have a mockery of an explanation, which reduces everything to the reputation of Arthur Scargill the individual, not Arthur Scargill the Marxist, whose firm fidelity to the principles of socialism, unstinting support for socialist regimes and revolutionary national liberation movements, principled and fearless stewardship of working-class struggles in this country, especially that of the coal miners during the heroic coal strike of 1984-85 which deservedly made his name a legend among the working class, but which equally brought him the hatred of the ruling class and its agents in the working-class movement – social democrats, revisionists and Trotskyites. Forgotten too are the political and organisational principles underpinning the SLP. This is not science but sorcery.
In the eyes of class-conscious workers, Scargill is, to use the
‘s own terminology, “
…the hero of the miners’ great strike,”
but to the agents of the bourgeoisie in the working-class movement, the gentry from the
included, he is
“…the stubborn sectarian wrecker of left unity”
and a promoter of
“authoritarian national socialism”.
Two hostile classes and their ideologues, two diametrically opposed outlooks and viewpoints.
Be that as it may, if the SLP were to become a dominant force (“
make a miraculous recovery
” if it pleases the snivelling Trotskyites of the
with the labour dictator
[their pleasant and comradely characterisation of Scargill, the most outstanding leader produced by the British working class in the last four decades]
firmly at the helm, it would be a disaster for the working class. It would shatter the prospect of a united, powerful party that was possible at the time of the SLP’s formation and that the SA now seems to promise.”
On the contrary, the SLP has become much strengthened since the entryist dross from a variety of Trotskyite backgrounds walked out of it and fell weeping into each other’s arms, with nothing to bind them together except their insensate hatred of real working class power, the dictatorship of the proletariat (as opposed to their petty-bourgeois fantasies and girations around
) and their irreconcilable hostility towards the SLP. As to the SA seeming to represent the prospect of a united and powerful working class party, that is a contradiction in terms and, as old Plekhanov would have said, an absolute untruth, for it is neither a party (composed as it is of 15 mutually squabbling groups), nor powerful (the addition of several zeros to an existing one does not add up to much as any junior school child will confirm), nor working class (all its constituent parts being counter-revolutionary to their fingertips). All that glitters is not gold. If the truth be told, the SA is an opportunist alliance of liquidators, social democrats and suchlike shabby elements, to whom ideological decay and organisational anarchy are dear, and who, at this time of confusion, wavering and disintegration, have temporarily come together to rescue social democracy from social democracy – that is, to rescue Old Labour from New Labour. They have joined in an unholy alliance to bring into existence the anti-working class imperialist party that Old Labour undoubtedly was, in an effort to frustrate the emergence of a powerful truly proletarian party that the SLP promises to be.
The SLP went into the election with a Marxist Manifesto, unlike the SA which went in pandering to the
“imagined yearning for Old Labour”
‘s words, not ours). Within its resources, it campaigned hard, distributed more than 3 million election addresses and leaflets, held several successful election rallies, and took the message of socialism and the vision of a socialist future, through its literature and party political broadcast, as well as the media coverage that by way of an exception came its way, to millions of people. The SLP’s campaign has brought in its wake increased membership and a healthy interest in it on the part of tens of thousands of working people. If the SLP proves equal to the tasks which lie ahead – giving organisational form to the support it has built up during the election, educates its membership, and builds up constituency parties in ever-larger numbers, it will become a formidable force. The SLP may take legitimate pride in its performance. Those who derided the SLP in the run-up to the election ended up by deriding themselves. Three million working class voters deserted Labour and stayed away from the polling booths. Most of these belong to the most disadvantaged and vulnerable sections of our society. The SLP is their natural home and they must be won over. They have deserted Labour but have not yet come over to the SLP. The latter must, through hard work, propaganda and agitation, win them over. This is the task confronting it in the coming months and years. Elections held under the conditions of the rule of the bourgeoisie, as Engels never tired of repeating, are no more than a gauge of the maturity of the proletariat. Judging by the results of the last election, the British proletariat has a long way to go. And it is the job of the SLP to educate the millions who have become disillusioned by bourgeois politics and whose disillusionment has given way to cynicism, to bring them over to a position of active support for, and participation in, the great proletarian crusade for getting rid of capitalism, to clear the ground of the old society and build a magnificent socialist society in its place. This task is as hard as it is rewarding.
By contrast, the SA has failed dismally to achieve what it had set out to achieve, namely, to destroy the SLP, and into the bargain become
“the major minor party”
in Britain. Not only did the SLP emerge from the last election much strengthened, the SA’s performance, for all the support it got from bourgeois organs – the
and sections of the broadcasting media – and their much-boasted superior resources, was dismal. Before the election the SA luminaries attacked the SLP for not joining the SA. Since the election they have been busy attributing their failure to the SLP’s ‘sectarian’ refusal to unite with the SA. This accusation is worth looking into.
Socialist Alliance performance
The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) is the biggest constituent of the SA. Before the 2001 general election, the position of the SWP and that of almost all the other Trotskyist groups and organisations who are also in the SA, was
“vote Labour and kick the Tories out”.
During the 1997 election the SWP adopted the slogan “
Vote socialist or Labour”
kick the Tories out”.
The SLP’s position was clear and straightforward: Labour was as much a capitalist and anti working-class party as the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democratic Party. Therefore, the SLP could no more recommend a vote for Labour than it could for the Tories or the LibDems. Everything the SLP said about the Labour Party has been fully borne out by the four years of Labour government during which, while rendering massive help to the rich, it has waged war against the most downtrodden and vulnerable sections of the population at home, while conducting ceaseless criminal imperialist wars of aggression abroad. Single mothers, pensioners, the homeless, the disabled, the unemployed, the asylum seekers and other victims of imperialist wars and imperialist-inspired civil strife have been its favourite targets. By the time that Labour came into office, the Tories had already sold the public utilities, so Labour had to find something else to privatise. In its desire to prove its credentials as the most obsequios flunkey of British imperialism and in the service of the same, Labour has pushed the privatisation of our education and National Health Service (NHS) to a degree that the Tories would not easily have dared to do. Schools are being handed to such scholarly privateers as W.H. Smith, Serco (the group that runs prisons) and Vosper Thorneycroft (the defence contractor), while the privatisation of the NHS through the PPP (Public Private Partnership) – a kind of partnership in which the victim hands over his wallet and the bandit, gun in hand, takes it – and the PFI (Private Finance Initiative), as well as the increasing delivery of health service through private clinics and hospitals, continues at an ever-increasing tempo.
The government’s pretext, that PFI saves money and time and is therefore cheaper and quicker for the taxpayer, is a massive propaganda fraud. Here is just one example, taken from the
Mail on Sunday
, which cannot be suspected of being hostile to big business, let alone of harbouring sympathy for the working class. George Monbiot, writing in the 11 February 2001 issue says: “
Despite Labour’s assurances, the NHS is quietly being privatised”,
But while Labour and the Conservatives are both determined to enlist the support of big business, they are also aware that some privatisations would amount to political suicide. The NHS, for all its faults, is highly prized by the British people. It simply can’t be sold – unless you can do it in an underhand way. My research suggests that this is precisely what the Labour Government is now doing”.
Mr Monbiot says that, far from bringing private money into the public sector, the PFI “
…is actually draining public money into private companies. It is also gradually handing them control over the NHS”.
Here, in Mr Monbiot’s words, is how the whole fraud works:
The way the Government explains it, it sounds like a fine idea. The state, it says, has only a limited amount of money. If it tried to pay for all the new hospitals Britain needs, the building programme would take centuries. If instead, private companies build and service them, then rent them back to the state, the programme will be both quicker and cheaper.
But the Private Finance Initiative, far from bringing private money into the public sector, is actually draining public money into private companies. It is also gradually handing them control over the NHS.
My research began in Coventry. The city has two hospitals: Walsgrave and the Coventry And Warwick. In the early Nineties, the NHS drew up a plan for renovating Walsgrave at a cost of £30 million. The plan was delayed until after the 1997 Election. Then the local health trust submitted a new plan proposing the privately financed demolition of both hospitals and the building of a new complex on the Walsgrave site at a cost of £174 million.
“The new hospital would be smaller than the current Walsgrave. No one could understand why the existing buildings had to be knocked down when they could have been renovated for a fraction of the cost – until a confidential document from the Coventry and Warwickshire Health Authorities landed on my doormat.
The internal report showed the scheme was a fix. Labour had told the NHS it wouldn’t pay for the modernisation, so any improvements would have to be carried out by the private sector. Renovating the existing hospitals had too little scope for profit to attract private investors, so the plan had to be changed.
While the renovation would cost the NHS one £30 million payment, paying off the £174 million rebuilding scheme would cost it £36 million a year for 25 years. Coventry, said the confidential report, could only find this money by losing 25 per cent of its all-purpose beds, and 20 per cent of its doctors and nurses.”
What has happened in Coventry is by no means just a dreadful mistake, comforting though such a thought might be for Labour’s apologists. Coventry is just the tip of the iceberg; it is a harbinger of “
…the disaster awaiting healthcare”
“almost every hospital building plan in Britain. According to a study by a consultancy company which works for the Department of Health, every £200 million spent on privately financed hospitals will lead to the loss of 1,000 doctors and nurses.
All over Britain, the cost of hospital modernisation has been massively inflated. Swindon’s Princess Margaret Hospital was to have been improved at a cost of £45 million. Now, it will be demolished and a smaller hospital built for £148 million. The firms building Edinburgh’s new Royal Infirmary will reap £990 million from a project which, were it publicly financed, would have cost £180 million.
The priorities of the NHS have also been turned upside down. Soon after it took office, the Labour Government decided private companies building the new hospitals should be given legal precedence over public services. In other words, they get paid first, even if that means there’s no money left for treating patients. As the contracts they are striking with the NHS last for up to 60 years, this will allow them gradually to exercise more and more control over how the service is run.
Like Burke and Hare, the Government must work under the cover of darkness. Its subtle privatisation scheme could destroy the NHS
If this is what Labour has been up to on the domestic front, its imperialist credentials are no less impeccable in the sphere of foreign policy. It enthusiastically participated in NATO’s genocidal and criminal war of aggression against the people of Yugoslavia. It continues to participate in the daily unlawful bombing of Iraq a whole ten years after the end of the Gulf War. It is an ardent supporter of the criminal sanctions policy against Iraq, which has claimed the lives of more than 1.5 million innocent Iraqi men, women and children. It is continuing to wage war against the people of Sierra Leone. It continues with the occupation of six counties in the north of Ireland.
In view of the above crimes, even the SWP found it difficult to overtly call for a Labour vote. So it changed the formulation, but not the essence, of its support for Labour. Its ‘new’ slogans for the 2001 election were ‘
Vote socialist – build a left alternative to Blair’
Don’t let the Tories in’.
Hardly an earthshaking change from their previous position.
Hitherto the SWP had correctly maintained that revolutionary change could not be brought through bourgeois electioneering and parliament, but incorrectly asserted that there was, therefore, no point in participating in bourgeois elections. It had criticised the SLP’s participation in the electoral arena. Then, without so much as a single word of self-criticism, it made a 180 degrees turn and decided to contest the elections after all, with two aims in mind. First to check the growing influence of the SLP. Second, to gain some credibility in the eyes of their own supporters who were increasingly uncomfortable with the SWP’s tailist and economist auto-labourism. With this end in mind, the SWP formed the SA, of which it is the single most important and biggest constituent. Over a dozen other Trotskyite outfits – the one the more counter-revolutionary and rabidly anti-communist than the other – joined it, united by their hatred of socialism, opposition to the SLP and an almost congenital support for the Laour Party. Hence the SWP’s campaign slogan of
“voting socialist where we can and Labour when we must”.
While the SA stood candidates in the election, its position was not to stand in marginal seats, for that might let the Tories in; to vote Labour in constituencies where the SA had no candidates; not to stand candidates against prominent ‘left’ Labour candidates. All this clearly reveals that its support for Labour continues intact.
It is true that Labour has not, as yet, gone through the final consummation of the Blair project and become an outright bourgeois party”,
of 15 March droned on mindlessly. The
expressed its ‘tactical’ support for any Labour candidate
“who correctly represents some kind of progressive working-class based opposition to, or break from, Blairism, thereby in someway constituting an expression of Labour’s current submerged proletarian component”.
If this convoluted sentence means anything, it simply amounts to support for ‘left’ Labour candidates, i.e., candidates who continue to be in the mould of Old Labour. And yet, the
hypocritically castigates, as we shall soon see, its fellow Trotskyites in the SA for trying to be Old Labour rather than socialist.
We still prefer a Labour victory to a Tory one
“, said the SWP.
These are the gentry who foam at the mouth at the slightest mention of socialist construction in the erstwhile and glorious Soviet Union. Their tender loving care and concern for the Labour Party is merely another version of their support for imperialism and their total opposition to the rule of the proletariat and socialism.
These are also the gentry who will smugly berate the SLP for not being keen on theory. Well, while the SLP, allegedly without a theoretical training, has come to the correct conclusion that the Labour Party is an imperialist party, just like the Conservatives and the Lib-Dems, our ‘Marxist theoreticians’ (don’t laugh), with all their theoretical erudition and grounding in ‘Marxist theory’ continue to regard the imperialist Labour Party as a working-class party while daily denouncing socialist construction and its achievements in all the socialist countries – past and present.
This is the counter-revolutionary amalgam that the SLP was asked to join – an invitation which the latter wisely, firmly and unequivocally declined to accept. The SA did not go into the election with a socialist programme, but merely to fill
“the gap left by Old Labour”
as SWP members are reliably reported to have explained at a meeting in Southwark just before the election. Theirs was not a programme for abolition of capitalism; it was, as a correspondent bitterly complained in a letter to the
a left reformist programme based upon the slogan ‘Tax the rich’ – in other words – ‘keep capitalism and reform it'”.
The SA was, in the apt and vivid terminology of the same letter writer, not a socialist fighting organisation but a conglomeration of
“groups huddling together like penguins for warmth”.
of 22 March, in its report of the SA’s Haringey public meeting, criticises its fellow Trotskyites in the SA for dumbing down the SA policies (as if they are not already dumbed down enough) in an effort “…
to appeal to the ‘masses who are desperately looking for an alternative to New Labour, who let us all down in 1997’
as Comrade Bennett
[Weyman Bennett, who is a member of the SWP]
concludes its report with the following remarks:
The message of the main speakers was clear: in order to be successful at the polls and offer an alternative to the Labour Party, The Alliance has become … the Labour Party, or at least old Labour. Opinions may vary as to which stage in the Labour Party’s history comrades want to take us back to, but they agree on one unfortunate point. Although ‘there never has been a better time to be a socialist’, as comrade Bennett put it, it seems we have to do all in our power to disguise who we are: socialists fighting for independent working class politics.”
This is good – even very good. The only problem is that these words, coming as they do from the hypocritical counter-revolutionary Trotskyites of the so-called CPGB, who are equally guilty of embellishing the Labour Party, can only be taken for what they are – meaningless and hollow cant uttered in the heat of a factional dispute.
The SA avoided mention of anything that might upset any section of the electorate. Its candidates would not mention to SA’s immigration policy for fear of annoying the racists and conservative sections of society; they would not advocate the abolition of the monarchy for fear of losing the royalist vote; would not support the right of women to abortion, upsetting as this demand was to the pro-life lobby. Naturally, they did not express any support for anti-imperialist struggles, let alone support for socialist countries, all of whom, according to the counter-revolutionary and convoluted Trotskyite reasoning of the SA’s constituents, are reactionary anyway. What they did do was to give their full backing to
“More resources for the police”,
which, it goes without saying, is very popular with the well-off sections of society – and the police, of course.
Significance of the fight against opportunism
As to what they call their “
socialist vision of the future”
it is simply an anti-communist meandering ramble. In an attempt to denounce the truly earthshaking achievements of the Soviet proletariat, compared with which the achievements of the Paris Commune were but child’s play (and note what pleasure, joy and enthusiasm Marx and Engels displayed in connection with that, the first dictatorship of the proletariat), their Manifesto, without the slightest sense of shame, declares:
By socialism we mean nothing like the old Stalinist Soviet Union, with repression and bureaucracy
“. That statement was bound to, and did, gladden the hearts of the bourgeoisie and its ideologues. Hence the latter’s rather kindly treatment of the SA in the bourgeois press. Now without reason did the anti-communists like Ken Loach and Tariq Ali and suchlike flotsam and jetsam flock to their camp. Not without reason did the
and the electronic media give much favourable coverage to the SA.
Continues the Manifesto of this all-inclusive opportunist political swamp:
For us, socialism is about making solidarity the guiding principle of society. We mean the working class organising to liberate itself from the rule of profit and create its own democracy, abolishing the privileges of managers and officials. Every major industry should be reorganised on the lines of social provision for need – publicly owned, and democratically controlled by workers and the community. No rich and no poor, no profits and no wage slavery, no palaces and no homeless, no jobless and no overworked.”
This meaningless reformist mishmash is to the right of Clause IV of Labour’s old Constitution – only, whereas Clause IV did have something to say, even if it was meant as a sop to the working class never to be carried into effect, the SA’s formulation has absolutely nothing to offer, only vague and empty phrases that dodge the issue of practical implementation. And how could, considering that the constituents of this swamp do not agree with each other on what they are fighting for and what kind of society they are aiming at. Their agreement is purely negative, namely, their total opposition to real socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat. Here is how their Manifesto gives expression to the total disagreement existing among the anarcho-syndicalist, opportunist and downright counter-revolutionary constituents of the SA:
Within the ranks of our Alliance there are different views on what will eventually be necessary in order to achieve this. But we are all united on one principle – the decisions on how to fight for socialism will be made by working-class people themselves, through their own democratic organisations. Socialism will never be achieved behind the backs of the working class by decree, or by some committee or other.
” Thanks for the enlightening statement!
The whole point of a political party is that it should offer political understanding, organisation and leadership to the class it purports to represent. A party claiming to represent the interests of the working cannot opt out of its responsibilities by saying that the working class will decide what it will do. Yet this gentry have the temerity to invite the Socialist Labour Party to join this reformist and opportunist swamp – without a clear working-class programme, without clear working-class tactics – possessed of nothing but rabid anti communism!
Those who are serious about fighting against capitalism and for socialism are duty bound to fight against opportunism in the working-class movement, the economic basis of which lies in the exploitation of the whole world by a tiny group of imperialist countries. Out of the vast profits thus made the bourgeoisie of the imperialist countries is able to, and does, bribe sections of its ‘own’ working class into acquiescence and class collaboration. This upper stratum of bribed workers, the labour aristocracy, of
“workers-turned-bourgeois, … who are quite philistine in their mode of life, in the size of their earnings and their entire outlook … are the real
agents of the bourgeoisie in the working-class movement
, the real labour lieutenants of the capitalist class, real vehicles of reformism and chauvinism. In the civil war between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie they inevitably, and in no small numbers, take the side of the bourgeoisie, the ‘Versaillais’ against the ‘Communards’.
Unless the economic roots of this phenomenon are understood and its political and social significance is appreciated, not a step can be taken toward the solution of the practical problems of the communist movement and of the impending social revolution”
(Lenin, Preface to the French and German editions of
Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism,
6 July 1920).
The Labour Party in Britain is the political expression of opportunism in the British working-class movement. It has always represented the interests of British imperialism and of the privileged upper stratum of the working class. It has always represented this alliance. It is no point appealing to the Trotskyites to give this question serious consideration, for they reject out of hand Lenin’s thesis on imperialism and the split engendered by it in the working-class movement. They deny without reason that imperialist parasitism can have any influence on all “
… the socio-political conditions”
of the imperialist countries, in general, and the “
two fundamental trends
[one revolutionary and the other opportunist]
in the working-class movement, in particular”
Imperialism – the Highest Stage of Capitalism).
The revisionists of the New Communist Party
The revisionists, on the other hand, do pay at least lip service to their adherence to Lenin’s thesis. The Communist Party of Britain (CPB) and the New Communist Party (NCP) are the two main revisionist parties in this country. While accepting in words Lenin’s thesis, their practice is an utter betrayal of Lenin’s teaching on the question under consideration. This is most clearly revealed by their position vis-à-vis the Labour Party. The
the weekly organ of the NCP, in the run up to the election, came out with its traditional vote Labour editorial, which is full of contradictory, not to say reactionary, nonsense. It endeavours to establish the NCP’s revolutionary credentials with this sentence – but for the sole purpose of diverting the reader’s attention from the inevitable capitulation that follows:
It is important for us, those who want to see revolutionary change involving the seizing of state power by the working class and who want to build a socialist society, to recognise that bourgeois elections are not going to be a means of achieving that revolution whoever we vote for or whoever we put forward as candidates.”
In view of this, should we then vote? Yes, we should, says the NCP. Who should we vote for? We are told that we should vote for (yes, you have guessed it, reader) the Labour Party. Why? Because “
… for all the current problems the Labour Party remains essentially and fundamentally different from the Tories, the LibDems and others. It is organisationally linked to the trade-union movement and is still the mass party of the working class.”
Countering the argument of those who say that New Labour is drastically different from Old Labour and that, therefore, people should vote for “
one or other of the small left parties
says that there is no point voting for these small parties because they cannot win and
“therefore cannot deliver anything at all”.
What fidelity to principles! The NCP refuses to do the correct thing out of the opportunist reasoning that at the present moment it won’t result in victory.
And it’s not true that the Labour Party has become a totally different party from the mythical ‘Old Labour’.
The Labour Party was always led by right-wing social democrats and some leading figures of the past were by-words for class collaboration and reaction – Hugh Gaitskell, Ramsay MacDonald, Philip Snowden, Reg Prentice and others, not to mention the gang of four who formed the breakaway Social Democratic Party – the House of Lords is full of such people”.
That being the case, a socialist possessed of any ability to reason would conclude that there never was a time when a proletariat could justifiably vote for Labour. This ordinary logic, known to ordinary people, is completely alien to the NCP, which concludes from the above words that as Labour was always led by the right wing, if it was correct to vote for it then, it is equally correct to vote for it now. More is yet to come. The NCP never fails to surprise us with its stupidity:
The difference is that the left in the Labour Party is smaller and weaker than it once was. It reflects a lower level of militancy in the working class at the present time. This in turn means the right is having an easier run than it has sometimes had and is able to press home its advantage. This situation will change.”
Well, if Labour was always led by the right wing, even during times of great militancy in the working class, as for instance during the 1926 General Strike, how will the rise in working class militancy this time round ensure that this allegedly “
mass party of the working class”
acts in the interests of that class? The NCP has absolutely nothing to say on this question. Besides, if the Labour Party indeed is the mass party of the British working class and the situation within the Labour Party can change in the interests of the working class, as is the assertion of the NCP, why does the NCP not liquidate itself and advise its members to join the Labour Party? It obviously does not believe in its own assertions, or is too cowardly to draw the logical conclusion from its own premises.
At a time when the trade union members have begun to question the usefulness of affiliation to the Labour Party in view of the attacks of the Labour government on the working class, it takes renegacy of monumental proportions to pen the following words, taken from the concluding paragraphs of
‘s editorial that we have so extensively quoted from immediately above:
This relationship between Labour and the unions is under constant attack – from the right and even some on the left. It is a link the bosses and the capitalist class would smash tomorrow if only it could. They regard its potential with loathing because a rise in the militancy of the working class could then be brought to bear on Parliament.
Blair has already bowed to pressure from this quarter and at least partly restored the right of workers to be represented by a trade union – a right the Tories had taken away. Of course there is much more to be done. But what is absolutely certain is that we need another dose of the Tories like we need bubonic plague – we say vote Labour everywhere and keep the Tories, the BNP and the rest in the wilderness.”
The union bosses paid £15 million of their members’ money to finance Labour’s election campaign – the same Labour that has attacked them with zeal. The workers are seriously thinking about breaking this link. Any revolutionary would greet such a development with joy and grasp the opportunity to take the workers out of the baleful, pernicious and suffocating embrace of class-collaborationist social democracy. But the mummified ‘revolutionaries’ of the NCP are horrified by this wonderful development.
Writing in the
of Friday 15 June 2001, Robert Griffiths, General Secretary of the CPB, speaks about the development of imperialism, the super-profits derived by imperialism from export of capital, the effects of imperialist super-profits on the working-class movement in the form of opportunism and the dampening of revolutionary consciousness, whereby the working class is forever fighting for half a loaf – never “
the whole bakery”
, that is, the establishment of socialism through the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. How do we get to such a revolutionary change? Robert Griffiths’ answer is to point in the direction of the thoroughly revisionist, and totally discredited, programme of his party, the
British Road to Socialism
(BRS), which he says, though a “
programme for socialist revolution”,
Rather, it sets out the basis on which the battles that people are fighting today can be brought closer to one another, given direction, turned onto the offensive and developed into a challenge for real power.
It proposes an alternative economic and political strategy, made up of mutually supportive policies, which would make deep inroads into the economic and political power of state-monopoly capitalism.
The BRS identifies the array of forces which could be mobilised into a democratic anti-monopoly alliance to fight for such a strategy, led by the organised working-class movement.
Mass popular and industrial struggle in pursuit of such a strategy could produce a left government in Britain, based on a ‘Labour, socialist and communist majority’ at Westminster and in other parliaments and assemblies.
The political class struggle would then enter a new phase, with a mass movement and left governments fighting to implement the alternative strategy against fierce opposition from within the capitalist class and the state apparatus”
(‘Focus on the real enemy’).
Under this silly little scheme of Comrade Griffiths’ not only does the dictatorship of the proletariat disappear, so does the dictatorship of the monopoly capitalist bourgeoisie. The question of smashing the old state machine of the exploiting class, the institution of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the use of this dictatorship to suppress the resistance of the exploiting class, which resistance grows a hundred fold after such an overthrow – all this is replaced by silly little fables about a majority in parliament, composed of labour, socialist and communist MPs at Westminster “
implementing the alternative strategy against fierce opposition from … the capitalist class and the state apparatus
“. This is a renegades’ charter plotting a path down which lies the slaughter of the working class. A proletarian revolution is nothing if it does not smash to smithereens the old state apparatus of the bourgeoisie. In the absence of that, the bourgeoisie would need no more than a few hundred soldiers to surround parliament, rudely interrupt the debate of our ‘left’ MPs, and disband them in a fashion not very dissimilar to that used by Cromwell to disperse the long parliament, with the words ‘Gentlemen, you have stayed here for too long, In God’s name, go’.
Like his NCP cousins, Robert Griffiths too is inclined to dismiss
to break union links with the Labour Party for that will “
only fragment the labour movement”
. After all that we know about the Labour Party in general, and the Blair government in particular, the question of whether the Labour Party has become irredeemably the
“totally safe and obedient servant of British state-monopoly capitalism”
has yet to be decided, he thinks. It will “
probably be decided over the next five years”.
What more proof do you require, Comrade Griffiths, before you reach the correct conclusion on this very important question? What more crimes against the working class at home and the oppressed nations abroad has Labour to commit in the service of imperialism before you give, what for a Marxist ought not be too difficult, an answer in the affirmative to your own question.
John Haylett, the editor of the
and a close comrade of Robert Griffiths’, writing in the 7 June issue of his paper, while calling for “
the return of a majority Labour government
” went out of his way to attack the SLP in the following terms:
To claim that there is no difference between the ‘three capitalist parties’ and to carry that position through by standing candidates against Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott and John McDonnell, as the SLP is doing, is reminiscent of the Comintern ‘Third Period’ when the Communist Party singled out Labour leftwingers as more dangerous than the right for peddling false illusions.
Surely those who have battled against the pro-business tide in Parliament should be deserving of support
” (‘Coherent political force’).
What position are we in,”
he asks, “
if Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott … are seen as the class enemy?”
Ignoring Comrade Haylett’s drivel about the Comintern ‘Third Period’, which is totally irrelevant to our present dispute with him, we answer him with the following words of Lenin:
a man who ‘sincerely’ proclaims himself a communist, but who in practice vacillates and plays the coward instead of pursuing a ruthlessly firm, unswervingly heroic policy… such a man, in his weakness of character, vacillation and irresolution, is just as much a direct traitor. As far as the individual is concerned, there is a very great difference between a man whose weakness of character makes him a traitor and one who is a deliberate, calculating traitor; but in politics
[nota bene, Cde Haylett]
there is no such difference because politics involves the actual fate of millions of people, and it makes no difference whether the millions of workers … are betrayed by those who are traitors from weakness of character or are betrayed by those whose treachery pursues selfish aims”
(Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 30, pp. 354-355).
And this applies not only to your beloved Corbyns, Abbotts, Benns, etc., but also to the likes of you as well, Comrade Haylett. Call us relics of Comintern’s ‘Third Period’ if it pleases you, but you would not be able so easily to dispose of this matter. These ‘left’ MPs are on a gravy train, which they dare not leave. Being ‘left’, they are fully cognisant of the fact that they are in an imperialist party, which wages war on ordinary people at home and abroad. This makes their treachery all the more abominable and unforgivable. Mr Corbyn, we have learned, parted company with his wife because he had strong differences of opinion with her over a question of principle, namely, the education of their son. While she wanted to send the child to an elite school, Jeremy was totally opposed to it. His principles were so offended by his wife’s insistence on a school of her choice for their son that he resolved the differences by breaking up the marriage. In the circumstances, is it not reasonable to ask such a person of principle the simple question: Jeremy, what crime does the Labour Party have to commit before you part company with it?
Tony Benn is another ‘left’ wing hero of John Haylett and is provided regularly with space in the
. Writing in the
of 15 June, he says that in order to “
convince the majority…to support progressive policies, we must adopt a strategy of persuasion based upon a clear explanation of what is really happening…”
(‘Election lessons’). And what is his idea of a clear explanation? Here is his answer:
If, as an MP, someone comes up with a problem – unemployment or homelessness for example – it is no good just lecturing to them on the evils of capitalism when what they want is a job or a house.”
But the whole point is that it is nothing but capitalism which stands in the way of people getting a job or a house. By all means do what you can to assist someone in his/her quest for a job or a house, but in the end every person cannot be provided with a house and job under capitalism, which is incapable of abolishing unemployment and homelessness. Unless you, who claim to be a socialist – a ‘left’ socialist at that – provide this explanation, you too have become a problem and not part of the solution, for you simply confine yourself to applying ointment on the ulcers of capitalism. So as not to leave anyone in any doubt about his position, Mr Benn goes on to say: “
I am also doubtful of the value of preaching revolution…”
These words don’t tell us anything about Tony Benn that was not already widely known. But they tell us a great deal about John Haylett, the
, and other luminaries of the CPB who parade the likes of Benn before the working class as great heroes, and in whose defence they rise up with such touching concern.
John Haylett and the CPB, not content with lionising the likes of Benn, Corbyn and Abbott, give pride of place in the
to trade union labour aristocrats of the type who shamelessly represent the Blair government’s attacks on working people in the service of British imperialism as great achievements for the working class. One such person is Mr Derek Hodgson, General Secretary of the Communication Workers, who seems not only to be disengaged from his own members but also gives the impression of living on another planet. Writing in the
of 4 June, this revolting sycophant and class collaborationist had, inter alia, the following to say:
It is a tribute to a government that has made few mistakes, appealed to the majority of free-thinking people and done enough in its first-term in office to keep business happy and unions reasonably content.
In this time, it has prepared the ground for the big issues that will need to be addressed early in a second term.
It has also proved itself eminently able to handle the economy and it has established a reputation for being dependable and reliable”
(‘The only wise and considered choice’).
Comparing the former Trotskyist Militant with the right wing of the Tory party, and declaring himself a supporter of a European imperialist bloc, our Derek says that the Tory right wing’s
“attitude towards Europe is unprecedentedly extreme and so sickeningly biased it smacks of totalitarianism.”
Labour in power, he continues, has “
shown firmness of purpose”
and accepted “
that money cannot be spent before it is earned
[read cuts in the provision of services],
yet in its first term, has done enough to appeal to all sections of the country”.
Referring to anti-trade union laws passed by the Tory governments and left intact on the statute book by Labour, he says: “
The government must revisit the area of regulation and trade union laws. But equally, trade unions need to take a mature
[read subservient and capitulationist]
attitude towards the party.”
Labour and the unions,”
he meanders on,
“have the same basic ideals and visions for a more equal and compassionate society”.
With leaders like this, the members of his union need no enemies. And with the
giving scoundrels of this type a free run, God save the working class from such ‘communists’.
What is needed is the work of socialist education – of exposing the hideousness of monopoly capitalism (imperialism) and its parties, including the Labour Party. What is actually being done by the likes of the Trotskyites and the revisionists is a “
work of socialist corruption, for treason, treachery, routine, inertia, philistinism whereby mistakes are hushed up, whereas real education consists in overcoming and removing them”
(V I Lenin, Vol. 30 p. 353).
We shall need this education in the coming months and years. With the government increasing becoming
“an exercise in compulsory liquidation”
27 June 2001); with increasing privatisation of schools, the National Health Service and transport; with doctors threatening to resign from the NHS over their contracts; with the public sector workers threatening industrial action over the privatisation of this much-prized institution; with the transport system threatening to come to a grinding halt; with the question of the euro threatening to tear this government apart; and, most importantly, with a mother of all recessions staring the entire capitalist world in the face; with all the scope for intensification of inter-imperialist contradictions, trade wars and upheavals – with all this in the offing, the working class and its party will need this education if it is successfully to utilise the opportunities that will undoubtedly present themselves in the not too distant future.
The realisation that, despite its large majority, the Blair government is in for a very rough ride has dawned even upon the consciousness of sections of the bourgeois journalist fraternity. Here is an example:
Comparing Tony Blair with Stanley Baldwin, the election of 2001 with that of 1935 which gave Baldwin (who won 53% of the popular vote, never since surpassed) a massive majority, and predicting a landslide for Labour similar to that for Baldwin’s Conservatives, Robert Harris, in the article referred to above, nevertheless underlines the fragility of the Blair government, summing it up with the following characterisation by Churchill of the Baldwin government a year after its victory in 1935:
“So they go in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent.”
Adds Mr Harris: “
For Baldwin, read Blair”,
referring to the multitude of problems, including the likely recession and the referendum on the euro the Blair government will almost certainly face, and to the characteristic inability of Labour – or the other bourgeois parties for that matter – to make up its mind on the big issues of the day.. And this, not because of a lack of will power, but due to the incurable problems of the system which is serves and whose affairs it manages.