Significant silences

Party notes

The continued rightward drift of Blair’s Labour Party has posed real theoretical and practical problems to sections of the left. As the general election campaign hots up, the Socialist Labour Party and the Socialist Party - two of the most important formations on the extra-Labour left - display profound contradictions, tensions and ambiguities as they struggle for political coherence without the benefit of a consistent Marxist understanding of Labour.

They are not alone. Across the spectrum of the left, we are seeing organisations shifting uncomfortably and starting to prepare the ground for some sort of potential break from Labour once Blair is installed in No10. This is to be welcomed. Prising free the hold of Labourism over the vanguard, and then the mass of the class in this country, is the key strategic question of our revolution. The fact that important sections of the left milieu are now even contemplating such a rift is a positive thing, even if it would not yet represent a fully rounded communist stance.

The ambiguities which remain should be confronted to ensure that this hostility to Labour does not simply remain conjunctural, premised on the rightist manifestation Labourism takes during this particular period.

Most interesting - and most contradictory - are the Socialist Party and Scottish Militant Labour.

In Scotland, SML is unambiguously for a Labour vote and - by heavy implication - even a vote for the Scottish National Party as “the main opposition to the Tories” in parts of Scotland (see Scottish Socialist Voice, March 21).

Yet, according to authoritative figures in the SP, Labour “is now a completely bourgeois party” whose degeneration has “effectively disenfranchised the working class” (Lynn Walsh Socialism Today April, p16). In that case, what are the Socialist Party in England and Wales calling for? At least in Scotland, SML’s ambiguity is confined to the bourgeois SNP. Is the SP calling for a vote for Labour in those seats where it, the Scottish Socialist Alliance or the SLP are not standing candidates?

Again, such a position is heavily implied when it writes that “we want to see a massive defeat of the Tory government”, but will “warn what will happen under a Labour government” (Editorial, Socialism Today, March 1997). Similarly, they make the limp observation that “many working class people will vote Blair as the only ‘realistic’ alternative ... But [we] cannot endorse the policies of New Labour ...” (Editorial, The Socialist, March 2l).

Thus, in Scotland, the SML are explicitly calling for a vote for a party branded as “completely bourgeois” by the Socialist Party in England and Wales. Instead of a clear, unequivocal line on the coming election, the SP itself fudges the issue of support for Labour, implying that people should vote for an explicit party of the capitalist class that has passed through its “defining moment” and ceased to be a workers’ party of any description. We ask the SP and SML - is the Labour Party a “completely bourgeois” party or not? If so, how do you justify your electoral support for it?

If anything, worse confusions abound in the Socialist Labour Party.

As we have reported, the formula occasionally touted by Scargill and others most logically would lead to a Labour vote in the majority of the country’s constituencies - that is, a vote for those ‘closest to Socialist Labour policies’.

We are promised another issue of Socialist News before the election which may make matters clearer, yet in the March/April issue, Scargill appears to rule out support for any Labour candidate, right or left, when he writes that “New Labour is no longer a party that socialists can be members of or support and that “every Labour candidate in the forthcoming general election must accept she or he is standing on behalf of a party that supports the free market and capitalism” (my emphasis).

Logically enough, he thus suggests that the SLP should stand candidates “wherever finances and resources allow”.

Yet, the announcement by Brent East constituency SLP - presumably after a careful stocktake of its “finances and resources” - of a candidate against ‘Red’ Ken Livingstone brought immediate denunciation from Scargill and the assurance that the SLP “has never intended to contest and will not contest London’s Brent East constituency in the general election” (Morning Star February 3 1997). Likewise, verbal statements from Scargill that the SLP will not stand against Labour lefts like Skinner, Benn or Corbyn make a nonsense of his tough journalistic posing.

Paradoxically, both Scargill’s and the SP/SML’s savage indictment of Labour as “indistinguishable” from the capitalist parties (Socialist News March/April), a “completely bourgeois” organisation (Socialism Today April), actually conceals a softness on Labourism. Like many others, they have been compelled by developments in Blair’s party to split, but neither have the theoretical tools to explain why.

Thus, both have to posit some fundamental, irreversible shift in the very nature of Labour to justify their independent perspectives. Consequently, the eclipse of left Labourism is equated with the demise of the working class soul of the party. A reinvention of Labourism in the future as a left-leaning, ‘socialistic’ current would fatally undermine such ‘independence’, of course.

For both Scargill and the SP/SML, hard talk on Labour still unfortunately conceals a very mushy, reformist core.

Mark Fischer
national organiser