More comedy than serious politics

Carry on regardless

SPEW just will not admit it was wrong in its characterisation of Labour, writes Peter Manson

According to Clive Heemskerk, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition is “likely to have well over 300 candidates in the English local council elections on May 5”.1

And comrade Heemskerk ought to know, since he is not only an executive committee member of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, but is Tusc’s national election agent. Amongst the 300 will be mayoral candidates in Bristol and Liverpool, and, says comrade Heemskerk, Tusc will also be standing a slate in three regions for the Welsh assembly elections, together with Scottish parliamentary candidates in six constituencies.

The figure for local candidates is, of course, well down on the number Tusc was able to stand on May 7 2015, which coincided with the general election. There were more than 600 candidates contesting local council seats - and no fewer than 135 standing for Westminster.

The reason for the large drop in Tusc candidates is obvious: the victory of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour Party leadership election in September 2015. Many of those comrades who a year ago were rallying to the Tusc banner have since joined (or rejoined) Labour. So Tusc has been reduced to a hard core around SPEW itself, whose comrades were central to Tusc’s founding and continued functioning.

However, the Socialist Workers Party also remains on board. SWP national secretary Charlie Kimber has an article in the latest Socialist Worker, in which he states that the SWP still “supports” Tusc, although he does not say how many (if any) SWP candidates there will be among those standing next month. Comrade Kimber urges a vote for Tusc, which will not stand “against any councillor who is pledged to vote against all cuts or supports Corbyn”. Where Tusc is not standing, “the SWP thinks there should be a vote for Labour”.2

For his part, comrade Heemskerk does not state how he thinks we should vote where there is no Tusc candidate. Which is strange, for it is not as though he is completely ignoring the question of Labour. In fact he asks the rhetorical question, “won’t standing this time undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s aim to change Labour into an anti-austerity party?” After all, “With the election last summer of Jeremy Corbyn … the political situation has changed since Tusc was formed in 2010.”

However, the “forces of capitalism organised within the Labour Party are heavily entrenched”, and “the battle between them and the anti-austerity forces that crystallised around Jeremy’s leadership campaign has still not reached its conclusion”. So we must carry on regardless, it seems - although comrade Heemskerk also pledges not to stand against “Labour councillors who have voted against cuts in the council chamber or new, Corbynista candidates who have made a pledge to do so”. Nevertheless, “over 90% of Britain’s 7,000 Labour councillors did not support Jeremy Corbyn for leader and still continue to vote to slash local public services. They are the candidates which Tusc is standing against.”

Comrade Heemskerk has even taken into account the fact that a poor result for Labour on May 5 will give the “pro-capitalist Labour right” the excuse to “move against Corbyn”. And it is just possible, despite its dismal results last year, that Tusc could just take enough votes off a handful of Labour candidates to deny them victory in a very close contest. But he immediately dismisses any concerns about this:

What is clear is that Labour is still not an anti-austerity party in practice. Despite Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership victory on an anti-cuts platform, six months later every Labour-led council has voted for further cuts to local public services.

Why didn’t they take SPEW’s advice and - wait for it - delay the implementation of government-enforced cuts? According to comrade Heemskerk, the “58 Labour-led councils with elections this year had combined, useable reserves going into this year’s budget-making meetings of £4.5 billion”. Thanks to these reserves, which could have been “supplemented by using councils’ borrowing powers”, no Labour council “would have needed to make cuts this year”. And that would have allowed time “to prepare a national confrontation with the Tories for more funding for local councils”.

Leaving aside the small matter of the likelihood - or otherwise - of rebel councils being able to persuade banks to lend them millions of pounds under such circumstances, what if the “national confrontation” never happens or fizzles out? In that case the rebel councils would have used up a good slice of their reserves and possibly built up a larger debt. So what about the next year?

Bourgeois party?

Note, by the way, the characterisation of the Labour left as merely “anti-austerity”. While SPEW is quite right to dub the Labour right “pro-capitalist”, shouldn’t the Corbyn wing be considered, at least in terms of its aspirations, as being ‘pro-working class’ (in however attenuated a form)?

But that, of course, is where SPEW’s real difficulties lie. For the last couple of decades it has been insisting that Labour is no longer a bourgeois workers’ party (Lenin’s description), but, thanks to the changes enforced by the Blairites, it is now a bourgeois party pure and simple. In that case, how on earth did Corbyn - a self-avowed socialist and anti-imperialist - manage to win so overwhelmingly? He not only gained a clear majority from newly signed-up “registered” and “affiliated” supporters, but easily the biggest share (around 49.6%) of the first preferences of existing members. Surely that says something about Labour’s continued trade union and working class base?

Interestingly, SPEW deputy general secretary Hannah Sell, speaking at the group’s March 19-21 national congress, provided a description of the Labour Party with which we can concur. According to SPEW’s own congress report, she said that, while Corbyn’s election “hasn’t transformed Labour into a workers’ party”, in actual fact “Labour encompasses two parties - a capitalist party and a potential workers’ party”.3 Absolutely!

Labour has always consisted of two poles and the ascendancy of New Labour, together with the subsequent marginalisation of the left, did not change that. The party continued to rely on the trade unions for financial support and the urban working class for votes.

In other words, SPEW is now trying to fit the reality into its recent ‘theory’ by implying that the “two parties” Labour encompasses is some kind of new development. Anything but admit they were wrong!

In current circumstances, while the renewed battle for control of the Labour Party is only in its initial stage, it would be ill-considered for revolutionaries to stand against its candidates even if they did so on a principled Marxist programme. But Tusc’s programme is far from that. It was set up specifically on the basis of the need for a new, broad “mass workers’ party”: ie, a Labour Party mark two.

Comrades, we have news for you - mark one is still alive and kicking, and that is where we need to concentrate our energies. The necessity of defeating the right needs no spelling out, but there is also the question of what sort of Labour Party is needed, assuming the working class pole gains full control. No-one should be satisfied with the continuation of the current bourgeois workers’ party. The aim must be to transform Labour into a united front of the entire working class.

If ever there was a need for a rethink, surely it is now.



1. The Socialist April 6 2016.

2. Socialist Worker April 12.

3. www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/22446.