Still voting Labour

May 1 will see an unholy alliance in favour of New Labour. From The Sun to Socialist Worker, from Workers Power to the Morning Star, a whole host of publications and organisations will be urging workers to vote for Tony Blair. Come general election day, the great ideological divides will be bridged. ‘Official communists’, Trotskyists, ‘state capitalists’ and left Labourites will be as one with Rupert Murdoch.

What is fairly remarkable about this strange and, in many respects, unlikely alliance of forces, is the degree of uniformity when it comes to the difficult job of explaining why Labour deserves our vote. We come across the same, more or less, formulations, the same ‘logic’. These organisations may disagree violently about the nature of the USSR or the real meaning behind Karl Marx’s theory of value, but not so when it comes to the Labour Party.

Interestingly, Socialist Worker is the only organisation (apart that is from the Socialist Party and the Socialist Labour Party - see ‘Party notes’) amongst this ‘pro-Labour’ united front which seems a bit embarrassed by its own position. Over recent weeks and months it has been unable to issue its usual ‘Vote Labour, but’ clarion call. Indeed, its call to vote for what it calls “credible socialist candidates” (March 29) like Arthur Scargill is a welcome development, though no mention is made of the SP or ‘uncredible’ socialist candidates. It indicates an awareness that something is not quite right in the universe as seen through the eyes of the SWP - as well as pointing to its deference towards the bourgeois parliamentary process and its rank electoralism. Does “credible” mean getting 5% of the vote and saving your deposit - or giving the Tories/New Labour a run for their money?

As we have noted previously, the SWP takes refuge from reality in puerile anarchistic syndicalism, which tells us that elections are not important anyway - the perfect leftist cover for its rightist practice. As the latest issue says: “The most important argument, however, is not about the vote, but about what happens in the struggles that come afterwards”, which will take place in the “workplaces and on the streets”. However it does appear to have buckled under, so to speak. Socialist Worker proudly announces that their “election campaign is set to hit the streets of Britain this week”, which will see them “sending out tens of thousands of special posters with the message: ‘We’re voting Labour, but we don’t trust Blair’”. Apparently, as the SWP curiously asserts, this “simple” message “gets up Tony Blair’s nose” (March 29). But why bother if elections are irrelevant? If the SWP can call for a vote for “credible socialist candidates”, why does it not stand ‘credible’ candidates of its own?

‘Pro-Labour’ reasoning is a lot more unashamed in other organisations.

The Labour-loyal, Trotskyist, Socialist Outlook’s editorial takes great masochistic pleasure in explaining why we should vote Labour: “Labour will continue with much of the Tory programme, its anti-union laws, its attacks on welfare”, and so on in chilling detail. But despite all this it “has never been more important that a Labour government is elected, despite the extent to which the party has moved to the right. Labour losing would be seen as an endorsement of the Tories”. SO really believes that, “A Labour victory would create higher expectations and new conditions for a fightback” (April).

Another publication takes a similar stand, even if it is a bit more reserved about the virtues of New Labour: “It offers hope to those who are disillusioned with the health service, with education, with the lack of jobs for young people. But it does so while promising to do exactly what the Tories have done by keeping down taxes, borrowing and spending. On the big issues, Labour’s approach is simple: trust us. Although they still haven’t given us precise details of why we should” (my emphasis). In sharp contrast to Socialist Outlook though, it issues a blood-curling warning to Tony Blair: “But if they break the promises they have made to try to win the election ... then our attack on them will be ferocious” (original emphasis).

After reading this, you would be drawn to the inescapable conclusion that The Sun (March 18) has a clearer understanding of the Labour Party than the ‘Marxist’ Socialist Outlook.

Unlike Socialist Worker, the logic of the North Korean-loving, pro-Labour, ‘official communist’ New Worker is impeccable and straightforward: ‘There is only one way to defeat the Tories on May Day - to vote in a Labour government. There is no other way to get the Tories out and to send a clear message of what we think of the last 18 years and to signal loudly our desire for change”. Having said that, its logic begins to disintegrate somewhat when it attempts to put the ‘flesh on the bones’ of its pro-Labour strategy: “If the Tories are not kicked out in May the attack on trade union rights will continue, with public sector workers being among the first to suffer as they face renewed onslaughts on the right to strike” (March 21). The New Communist Party, publishers of New Worker, should really try reading the papers, watching the TV and listening to the radio sometime - then again, total media abstinence is the only way to avoid Blair’s viciously anti-union pronouncements.

It is fascinating, and gruesome, to watch the small and disparate elements of ‘official communism’ and ‘orthodox’ Trotskyism ineluctably being drawn together under the common gravitational pull of Labourism. So much so that it is difficult at times to distinguish the ‘Stalinists’ from the Trotskyists. Workers Power has stated: “A massive Labour victory will open up a whole new situation for the working class ... It will open up the possibility of challenging the Tory anti-union laws in practice. It will unlock new areas of struggle ... That is why we want a Labour landslide” (March). Similarly, the Moring Star argues that “returning a Labour government has to be the cornerstone of building a just society” (March 18). Workers Power wants to “put workers’ illusions in Labour to the test of office, to demand Labour begins to meet our needs”, while the Morning Star dreams of “determined pressure on an incoming Labour government to represent our people as the Tories did theirs”. It is hard to put a ballot paper between them.

What unites these representatives of ‘official communism’, Trotskyism, left Labourism (and the SWP) is the shared dogma that the experience of a Labour government is a ‘necessary’ stage for the working class. Completely untroubled, Socialist Outlook is convinced that the “election of a Labour government will lift the air of gloom over the working class”, which in turn will “lead to recomposition in the workers’ movement” (my emphasis, April). Workers Liberty also believes that a Blair government is essential since “breaking the icy Tory grip of 18 years is the only way to begin to open British politics up again ... It is the only way for the labour movement to begin to move forward again”, as Blair is “likely to be more vulnerable to working class pressure than the Tories ever could be” (my emphasis, April), something which it shares with the New Worker. It imagines too that a Blair regime will “strengthen the left and lift morale for the struggles ahead” (my emphasis, March 21).

Passivity and fatalism rule the roost in these organisations. They have all abandoned the (hard) fight for what is necessary and substituted the opportunist scramble for what (might) be possible in the future - if history is kind to them and unfolds in the ‘correct’ way, as laid down in the sacred texts. This probably accounts for the SWP’s shockingly blasé attitude to voting Labour. Waiting around for the ‘inevitable’ future struggles “is much more important than agonising about whether to vote Labour on May 1, as the latest issue of Socialist Worker so innocently put it.

Communists categorically reject this lightly warmed over Menshevism, which in effect abandons the struggle for working class independence. During the last general election, “British Menshevism plunged into another bout of self-imposed demoralisation” (Jack Conrad In the enemy camp London 1993, p72). Sadly, history is about co repeat itself on May 1.

If given leadership and vision, the working class can struggle and fightback under any government. It was the miners after all who toppled the Tory government of Ted Heath. Without leadership and direction, the working class will be battered from pillar to post - by Labour or ‘socialist’ governments as much as by conservative ones. Two of the most recent, and vicious, anti-working class administrations were Labour governments in New Zealand and Australia, which attempted to out-Thatcher Thatcher. Reality disproves the pious dogmas of the British Menshevik left, whether ‘official communist’ or Trotskyist. If only they could remember the advice of VI Lenin, who said that the working class will never be united, never fightback, “unless a line of demarcation is drawn and a ruthless struggle is waged against those who serve to spread bourgeois influence among the proletariat” (Collected Works Vol 17, 1977, pp222-223).

No, as comrade Conrad wrote after the 1992 election, “our priority, as it was for the Bolsheviks, is to make independent working class politics a reality, independence from Labour included” (In the enemy camp p63, original emphasis). Logically, this means fielding socialist and communist candidates, and fighting for the “reforged Communise Party that will replace Labour as the natural party of the working class” (ibid p64, original emphasis).

Not to do so now is to leave our class more vulnerable to the attacks to come, not less so. History does tell us this.

Don Preston