Socialist challenge to capitalist manifestos

Vote for a working class alternative

The Socialist Labour Party, fielding 65 candidates, launched its general election manifesto this week. This is a very welcome and positive development, which - with the Scottish Socialist Alliance, Socialist Party and candidates supporting the CPGB manifesto (launched last week) - ensures that the voice of the working class will not be drowned out by the bourgeois-orchestrated chorus.

The SLP’s manifesto puts the working class back on the map. Unlike the bourgeois parties, who seem to regard unemployment as an act of god or as part of nature, the SLP does not passively accept it and is committed to full employment. What is more, the manifesto document stresses the fact that “they must be real jobs - whether full-time or part-time. They must be permanent jobs (no short-term contracts) and they must be jobs paying a decent wage” (original emphasis) - a far cry from the current cult of ‘flexible’ working patterns.

Refreshingly, the SLP’s manifesto states that it is committed to scrapping all anti-trade union laws, noting that “trade union activity has become a criminal offence”. Rightly, it points the accusing finger at those unions which are “failing to defend members (such as the Liverpool dockers or Hillingdon hospital workers) against exploitation and abuse”, and calls for “defiance by the trade union movement” - ie, break the law. This puts the SLP on a fast collision course with Tony Blair, who recently declared that he was “implacably” opposed to all militant (or even non-militant) trade union actions, citing the teachers and postal workers as unacceptable ‘disrupters’.

Scandalously for the bourgeoisie, the SLP calls for the “immediate withdrawal, militarily and politically, from the North of Ireland”, the “immediate repeal” of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the “release of all Irish political prisoners”; for “withdrawing from Nato”; and - most blasphemous of all - wants to see the “dissolution of the monarchy” and the “complete abolition of the antiquated House of Lords”.

There are inevitably some negative aspects to the SLP’s manifesto - which, we note, has not been voted upon or even discussed by the membership, making its first appearance at a press conference on Tuesday. We should also remember that only five out of the 25 policy documents (on which the manifesto is based) were debated, and voted on, at the SLP’s founding congress in May last year.

The primary flaw in the actual manifesto itself is the proud emphasis on ‘costing’ every election pledge, which almost turns it into an exercise in revolutionary accountancy. For Marxists committed to scientific socialism, therefore, the SLP’s entire manifesto is characterised by utopian-ism, as it appears to believe that all this can be achieved by an SLP government sitting in the House of Commons. We would also oppose the SLP’s implicit ‘Little Englandism’, made clear by its statement that, “Only by corning out of the European Union can we begin to put things right economically and socially; everything from the health service to childcare depends on it.”

However, this is something it shares, unfortunately, with the Socialist Party, which states in its election manifesto: “If a referendum is called, we will oppose the European Union” - come actual polling day this would objectively place the SP alongside the Eurosceptics and English/British nationalists, for all their protestations to the opposite.

It also has to be pointed out that the tone of the SP’s election manifesto is relentlessly economistic, to the point where Irelend is not mentioned once. This is nothing short of a disgrace, in all honesty. SP’s residual faith in the bourgeois state is also a bit alarming, such as when it calls for the police to “be democratically accountable to elected police committees” - no mention of smashing the police (and the standing army) and replacing it with workers’ militias. The SP also believes that the “arms industry should be taken into public ownership under democratic control and converted to useful production”. The ghost of ‘old’ Militant still lingers visibly too. Thus, we are told, “Socialism ... means taking into public ownership the 150 or so major companies and financial institutions.” As an adjunct, we need “strengthened local and regional government in England”, a “Scottish parliament” and a “Welsh assembly”, which will “implement socialist policies” - ie, ‘socialism’ will be handed down to the working class, not be the product of the workers’ self-activity.

Nevertheless, for all that the SP’s manifesto clearly outlines a working class perspective which presents an alternative to the ruling class. Its candidates should be critically supported.

Last week all the bourgeois parties - mainstream and some not so mainstream - unveiled their election pledges and promises.

And what a contrast to the documents of SLP and SP, for all their faults. The complete ideological hegemony of the bourgeoisie is indelibly stamped all over these documents. Nothing remotely radical, or even vaguely new or different, can be detected in the pages of the manifestos. Not that this prevented the Conservative Campaign Guide from denouncing the Liberal Democrats for being “an extremist party unfit for office” - which is certainly not an accusation you can level against New Labour’s manifesto document, which has all but purged the spectre of old Labour.

The Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru are no exceptions either. The emergence of a mass movement for self-determination in Scotland and Labour’s march to the right has seen both these parties give their nationalism a radical tinge. Nevertheless the SNP’s 33-page manifesto announces its attachment to the enterprise economy and a “reformed monarchy”. Plaid Cymru’s manifesto, while more ‘left’ sounding than the SNP’s, meekly calls for a “2p rise in the basic rate of income tax”, which will fund a “public works programme” for 100,000 unemployed, and looks towards “full self-government in Europe” - after, that is, “a five-year transition period”. It, like the SNP, has no desire to overturn the UK state and its constitutional monarchy.

You can only be safe with the Tories is a document of robotic predictability - we can look forward to more of the same, it cheerfully tells us. Thus, the Tories pledge to expand grammar schools, introduce more attacks on union rights, more privatisation (including London Underground), and so on. The ultimate aim is the creation of an enterprise economy “uncluttered” by government or EU regulations. Unconvincingly, John Major claimed that the Tory manifesto was “the boldest and most far-reaching manifesto since 1979”, which will “make Britain the best place in the world to live”.

It has often been said that Tony Blair aims to tum the Labour Party into a British version of the US Democratic Party - ie, into a thoroughly ‘de-laboured’ bourgeois party. While this is undoubtedly true, Blair’s 10-point ‘contract for Britain’ is more redolent in many ways of the US Republican Party. Remember Newt Gingrich’s ‘covenant with America’ and such like?

Similarly, Blair has assimilated the evangelical tone and language of US politics, making New Labour - because Britain deserves better almost a theological text (or like a nightmarish cross between advertising copy and the bible). Indeed, at one point the manifesto thunders:

“Ten specific commitments are put before you. Hold us to them. They are our covenant with you.”

Amusingly, the Blairites have described the positions outlined in the manifesto as representing the “radical centre”. This contradiction in terms in reality is Blairite newspeak for ‘charging to the right and hoping to out-Tory the Tories’. New Labour’s convergence with the Tories is not limited to its ever increasing championing of privatisation. The manifestos are almost identical on anything you care to mention.

Like any typical conservative platform, Labour’s manifesto talks interminably about “building strong families”, the wonders of low inflation and the need to promote a “dynamic and competitive” business sector, being “tough on crime” and - surely a sign of the times - why New Labour will not increase the basic and top rates of income tax. New Labour - because Britain deserves better’s mixture of free market-worship (economic libertarianism) and authoritarian social policies are the basic templates of any rightwing party, and in places would probably make the Democratic Party look a bit liberal.

The merging of New Labour and the Tories can be illustrated with a few examples. In the section on benefits, Labour’s manifesto states: “We must crack down on dishonesty in the benefit system. We will clamp down on housing benefit fraud, estimated to cost £2 billion a year.” Meanwhile, the Tories say:

“We will crack down on benefit cheats. We will introduce benefit cards and a benefit fraud inspectorate.”

Convergence on ‘defence’ is as obvious.

“The post-Cold War world faces a range of new security challenges. Our armed forces are among the most effective in the world. Our security will continue to be based on Nato” (Labour).

“The old rivalries of the Cold War have been replaced by new tensions. Our armed forces are the most professional in the world. Nato will remain the cornerstone of our security” (Tory).

One interesting, and largely ignored, aspect of the general election is the right-moving nature of the Liberal Democrats. Even though Paddy Ashdown loves to tout them as being a “radical party of the left”, Make the difference tells another story. Unlike New Labour, it makes no reference to a national minimum wage. It prefers to talk vaguely of a “flexible labour market with a regionally variable, minimum hourly rate”. It does not even promise to scrap VAT on fuel - even Labour manages that.

Significantly, Make the difference makes no specific pledge to introduce proportional representation and/or ‘home rule’ for Scotland - two items which were top of the agenda at the last general election. Limply, the Liberal Democrats now call for a referendum on PR, and Scotland gets forgotten almost completely.

The Liberal Democrats want to introduce a higher tax rate of 50% on incomes over £100,000 - a far cry from 1992 ‘fighting’ talk about a 50% higher rate of tax on incomes over £50,000.

Unlike the bourgeois parties, the Communist Party election manifesto is not a list of empty promises, tailor-made for an atomised electorate. Quite the opposite. It aims to energise our class, to make it into a fighting, combative class which can take its future into its own hands. Though we have criticisms of the SLP and SP manifestos, the CPGB urges a vote for these candidates as well as those standing on or supporting the communist election manifesto. The SLP, SP and the Scottish-Socialist Alliance mark a break with Labour and therefore begin to challenge the stranglehold of Labourism over our class.

Eddie Ford