Fiddling with the constitution

Dave Craig of the Revolutionary Democratic Group lambastes the United Socialists’ economism

Recently William Hague has been attacking Blair over the House of Lords. His main point, as he said on the radio on December 2, is that Labour is “fiddling about with the constitution while our factories are closing and jobs are being lost”.

Hague knows only too well the vital importance of resisting any reduction in the constitutional privileges granted to the Tory Party, through having permanent control of the House of Lords and, linked to that, an ally in the monarchy. As a political realist, he knows that some change is almost inevitable. But by fighting a rearguard action tooth and nail, he may be able to derail New Labour. He might be able to snarl up the legislative programme and inflict defeats on the government that would be impossible in the Commons.

This fight is the beginning of Hague’s election campaign. If he wins, it will prepare the way for the next election. If he screws up, it will open the way for a challenge to his leadership. The stakes are very high indeed. We have already seen a division open up between the Tories in the Commons and the Lords with the sacking of Lord Cranborne. Expect there to be a few more surprises before the battle is over. It could make or break the Tory Party.

Of course, Hague appeals to the voters’ wallets. He failed to mention in his December 2 interview that defending the House of Lords was fundamentally about defending the future of the Tory Party and its rich and powerful supporters. He failed to mention that the House of Lords gives the Tory aristocracy the right to scrutinise legislation and revise anything that might adversely affect them. He did not mention the incomes derived from this corrupt sinecure or how these compare with the minimum wage. Neither did he call for market forces and compulsory competitive tendering to see if anybody else could do the job of wining and dining at taxpayers’ expense more cheaply.

This was not because Hague is naive or unaware of the truth. He knows exactly what the House of Lords and the monarchy are for. They are vital defensive fortifications for the ruling class. Your outlying forts must be defended at all costs, because if they fall then there is a possibility that your class enemies will become bolder and more daring and begin to win further and even more significant political victories.

Hague, therefore, reaches for the best ideological weapon in his armoury - bourgeois economism. He appeals for popular and working class support on the basis of jobs and wages. Let’s not waste time and energy tinkering about with the constitution. This will only delay finding a solution to the real ‘bread and butter’ issues that face the British people.

In fact it is the other way round. Unless the people take up the fight for a genuine democratic constitution, the people will be permanently deprived of power. With political power workers can gain control of the bakery. Then we can seriously alter the distribution of ‘bread and butter’. If we are not prepared for political change, then all we will get is a few crumbs from the bosses’ table.

Hague’s argument is designed for the more politically backward sections of the working class, who are relatively ignorant about politics and power struggles. Many are too busy struggling to make ends meet to worry about the abstract, obscure and mystifying world of high politics. So Hague’s appeal falls on fertile ground. Backward workers are receptive to this kind of argument. Workers need jobs and higher wages. It is surely obvious that the only way to improve the position of workers is to concentrate on demanding more money for wages and social services. And if these workers listen to the backward socialists they will get the same message reinforced.

The argument that workers should not bother themselves about ‘complex’ political matters fits in with what ‘common sense’ tells us. Except, of course, that in bourgeois society ‘common sense’ reflects the ideas of the ruling class. High politics or constitutional affairs should be left to bourgeois politicians in parliament, advised by lawyers and intellectuals. The people should concentrate on their daily routine. This is one of the most important principles of economism.

It is not for ordinary people, workers or trade unions to interfere with such matters. It is best to ignore them or watch passively from a safe distance. There should be no extra-parliamentary action, still less revolutionary direct action. That would be an unfair interference in ‘democracy’. It would be nothing less than a direct challenge to those who ruled the country. Hague’s appeal to economism, far from contradicting basic principles of bourgeois politics, is designed to reinforce them.

By seeking to repair the British constitution, Blair has raised the political stakes. For he might accidentally unravel the very constitutional fabric of the country. It could upset the whole system of bourgeois rule. This is why Blair must carry out his reforms very carefully so as not to upset the applecart. He must equally abide by the golden rule of keeping the masses from direct intervention.

The interests of the working class are not served by non-intervention in politics. Unless workers are prepared to challenge and change the system of political power, they will not be able to significantly change the wages system. Politics holds the key to economic change. Without turning that key, workers will be confined to tinkering with jobs and wages.

Marxism teaches that political struggle is one of the best means of bringing economic change. If the working class act to change the system of bourgeois democracy, they will in the process shift the alignment of class forces. A new constitution will be and can only be the product of class struggle and a new balance of class forces represented in the institutions of state. Just as a fascist constitution would represent a major shift in the relative positions of the different classes, so would a democratic and republican constitution.

The existing constitution of any bourgeois state is the political prison for the working class. In the UK we are under the constitutional care and supervision of Her Majesty’s prison warders. They are all united in agreeing that workers must not directly try to break down the constitutional prison walls. They should concentrate on appealing to the warders for an increase in prison rations or asking for a job in the prison workshop.

As the new prison governor, Tony Blair is not intending to knock anything down. But he realises, along with other liberals, that the walls of Her Majesty’s constitution are rotten and seriously in need of repair. If he does nothing to patch it up, the whole structure will collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. So Blair is determined to cut out some dead wood and patch it up. This, however, will weaken the position of the Tory Party, the main historical beneficiary of the British constitution. Blair is not averse to that. He intends to keep the job of governor for many years to come. Weakening the position of the Tory Party will help his cause. But equally, like Hague, Blair could also suffer derailment.

In these circumstances you might expect the British left to seize the initiative. All efforts should be made to mobilise the working class for political struggle. Our ‘third way’ is neither to follow the economistic arguments of the conservative Hague or the liberal Blair. The working class movement must mobilise with the aim of abolishing the monarchy and the Lords. We must build an extra-parliamentary republican movement that can smash open the constitutional prison. Once the working class has broken free from these shackles, we will enter a newer and higher terrain of political and economic struggle and dual power.

If we want to see the real politics and strategy of the British left, we need look no further than the recently agreed joint platform of the left for the European elections. For over two months a number of socialist groups have been engaged in discussions over a possible platform for the European elections. The groups involved include the Independent Labour Network, the Socialist Workers Party, the Socialist Party, Socialist Outlook, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, the Socialist Movement and other independent left activists. These negotiations were reported in a November 23 circular to have reached a successful conclusion.

As you might expect, this platform is a mix of British and European demands. The slogans for Europe are in favour of a “democratic”, “socialist” and “peaceful” Europe which puts “people before profit”. The European Union is an emerging imperialist superstate. It cannot possibly be “peaceful”. It must engage in war of an economic, diplomatic and military variety. We cannot even begin to speak of a socialist transformation of Europe without its democratic transformation. Yet there is no plan or idea how the workers of Europe should prioritise a struggle to ‘constitute’ themselves as a democracy.

When we turn to the question of British politics, we can see exactly where these “United Socialists” are coming from - abject economism. We can hear the words of William Hague echoing in their minds as they wrote out their ‘socialist programme’. We must not waste time tinkering about with the constitution when there are jobs and services to be saved.

The United Socialists have therefore decided not to waste any time at all on the irrelevant matter of who wields political power and how they exercise it. They could not bring themselves to call for the abolition of the House of Lords and the monarchy or British withdrawal from Ireland, or self-determination for Wales and Scotland. They said nothing about proportional representation and official secrecy. So perhaps the United Socialists are simply loyal subjects appealing to the House of Windsor to help ‘tax the rich’.

When Hague preaches non-politics and keeping away from constitutional affairs, he neither believes it nor practices it. The Tory Party is all about political power. They are not the constitutional numbskulls of British ‘socialism’. Our socialist political idiots actually believe the economistic bullshit churned out by the Tories. They think the high point of leftist socialism is to concentrate on economic and social reforms.

The difference between the Tory Party and our United Socialist economists is that one has been born to rule and keep the working class out of high politics, and the other was born for the more humble role of assisting them.