The results are out and so is the mainstream analysis (and sorry for posting this a little bit late – you may have already forgotten). As a result of the May 1st elections, England and Wales have gone through a right wing shift, Boris Johnson has been elected mayor of London, and the Tories are on a roll to win the next General Election.
So what, you may think after the transformation of the Labour Party into “New Labour” there surely is very little difference between the two main parties in Britain. Many aspects of Thatcherism have been perpetuated by the Blair government, nothing whatsoever has been retracted or turned back. The poll tax fell when the Tories were still in power, the council tax was not abolished by Labour, nor were the amendments to the Criminal Justice Act 1994 revoked. Of course not.
It’s hard to see why anyone would have any illusions about the nature of the Labour Party even in Kinnockio’s days. Or in any days.
But then there is the history of the British Left, and most of the British Left have for many decades regarded Labour as the political party of the working class, no matter what the actual policies of the party were. Granted, more than, say, the German SPD, Labour has adhered to more Keynesian measures in the post war years, has advocated and pushed through nationalisations and council housing. Anything they have done and achieved under Atlee, Wilson or Carrington merely shows them to be on the left wing of Capital, at best.
Nevertheless the Labour Party has been regarded as the “party of the working class” by generations of communists who believed that it was aberrant maybe in one way or another but could eventually be transformed back into that grand manifestation of the “class for itself”.
The Communist Party of Great Britain tried again and again to gain affiliation to the Labour Party. Later, various trotzkyist sects tried to subvert it in numerous attempts at “entrism”. The CPGB therefor never became the same kind of mass party as the KPD in Germany pre-1933, or as the communist parties in Italy or France in the post-war years.
To see it in a less grandiose way, one could possibly argue that up to the early 90’s Labour was a noticably lesser evil than the Tories. Fine if you wanted to follow the “lesser evil” kind of line.
Certainly most of what was called “hard left” in the 80’s would have agreed to that (minus class-struggle anarchists and left-communists). But reasonably speaking, anyone in their right mind would have changed their mind by the time Anthony Blair became party leader and eventually Prime Minister.
Nevertheless these discussions don’t seem to have disappeared – on the contrary they come up again and again, although there are also more or less half-hearted attempts, usually quite unsuccessful ones, to create an electoral alternative to the Labour Party.
One of the problems of these attemps has been that they usually consist of competing Trotzkyist sects, and that the Socialist Workers Party – being the largest one of them – usually plays a leading role.
This was the case in the Socialist Alliance in 2001. It included all the usual suspects from the Socialist Party (formerly Militant), the Socialist Workers Party, the Communist Party of Great Britain, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, Workers Power, and the International Socialist Group. It ran on a distincly moderate “left wing” plattform, not substantially different from “Old Labour”.
In fact the program of the SA was a particularly explicit example of a reactionary Leninism. The basis of their program was that the working class was not ready for a revolutionary party, that instead it would opt for what essentially was a maintenance of the old Labour Party. Eventually the enlightened leadership could slip the class its consciousness (except until then the Trotzkyist bureaucrats wouldn’t want to know anything practical about revolution since it would mean the abolishment of their positions which they wold have acquired by then). In any case it decided that an openly revolutionary program was not an option because the working class wouldn’t be ready for it, but had to go through a political “centrist” stage that would mysteriously lead it from a reformist to a revolutionary position.
Obviously this is absurd.
After the rather sobering results came in, the SA ungloriously disbanded and the various factions could revert to the constant bickering so constitutional of the scene.
But of course the next elections would come up and there would be another twist and turn in the left-of-Labour scene. Indeed the next step was so far the most dubious one, leading to an electoral collaboration between the SWP and the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), the British arm of the notorious (essentially clerical-fascist) Muslim Brotherhood.
This in effect ended any “genuine” left wing leaning of the SWP and demonstrated it had become an organisation ready to abandon any principles whatsoever in the hunt of electoral success and thus positions in the state for its bureaucratic leadership.
Not surprisingly the working class largely can be assumed to be either seeing through the machinations of the wanna-be political careerists so as to either ignore their sorry proposals altogether or with a conscious decision not to waste their ballot paper anyway, and use it as toilet paper instead.
Nevertheless the new “Unity Coalition” under the name RESPECT managed to get the notorious George Galloway elected as a Member of Parliament in the last general elections.
It didn’t take long until internal tensions in Respect came to a head in 2007, leading to an acrimonious split in the party between the Galloway wing and the SWP wing, and thus the two factions were standing against each other by the time of the spring 2008 local elections with disastrous results for both of them.
The SWP wing ran Lindsey German for mayor of London – German had run as mayoral candidate already for Respect in 2004 – with an abyssmal share of the vote. The SWP tried to continue the Respect continuum as the “Left List”, bizarrely trying to catch on to the “success” of Die LInke in Germany, another left reformist attempt at electoral/bureaucratic “success” on the left of social democracy.
Lindsey German is certainly no Rosa Luxemburg or Alexandra Kollontai – her absence of charisma is about as explicit as the absence of revolutionary principles in the SWP.
At the same time Galloway tried to continue on the same “popular front” plattform of the old Respect in coalition with islamist elements.
Both failed miserably.
But what did the other, smaller, far-left organisations do in this context?
Generally they had nothing better to do than bicker about “critical support” of either the Left List or …. the Labour Party… or run their own lists as the Socialist Party as well as the “Morning Star” Communist Party of Britain did – with deplorable results.
One can only regard this kind of fetishism towards Labour (whether it is directed as a support for current Labour, or a nostalgic “refoundation” movement of “old” Labour) as bizarre, except that it can’t even be associated with any fun, glamour or pleasure. It simply a very grey bureaucratic kind of career path. Not only that: it is the failure to make it work even as such, again and again. It’s a cul-de-sac in any respect.
In any case, these vain mobilisations illustrate once again with increasing urgency that if there are genuine revolutionaries left in this milieu, they have to abandon the counter-revolutionary organisations constituting the “radical left” of capital, throw them in the dustbin of history and start building a new revolutionary communist movement.