After the elections
John Stone of the Liaison Committee of Militants for a Revolutionary Communist International looks at the lessons of June 10
The socialist group lost around 30 seats in the European parliament and ceased to be the largest force in the only international body elected by universal suffrage. Most of the media concluded that the elections produced a shift to the right. We will argue that this is a partial and false picture and that there was also an increase in the vote of some radical formations which could allow the possibility of building left socialist electoral alliances.
If we examine carefully the results, we see that European social democracy’s big losses are mainly in Germany and Britain, the two countries with the largest number of MEPs. A few days before the elections Blair and Schröder launched a manifesto for a ‘third way’ new centre. In an even more rightwing turn they pushed social democracy towards a new form of liberalism. The ‘centre-left’ ruling parties that recently replaced long-term conservative administrations were expecting to maintain similar levels of support. However, in Germany the SPD (and even its Green allies) lost more than 10% and the Christian Democrats achieved almost 50% of the total vote. In Britain New Labour’s share of the vote went down from 44% in the 1997 general election to less than 27%, and the Tories, who had previously suffered their worst electoral defeat this century, managed to win the European elections with almost 10% more votes.
Blair and Schröder have never tried to challenge the huge reactionary counter-reforms introduced by Thatcher and Kohl. They have abandoned traditional social democracy welfare state measures and endorsed the new right policy of privatisation, cuts and attack on social security and immigrants. New Labour adopted a hawkish, militarist stance in the Balkans. All of this demoralised their followers. Many did not want to mobilise for the party that was betraying them and some voted for parties which promised more radical policies. The rightwing parties benefited through being able to actively mobilise their supporters against the government.
New electoral advances were made by the Greens and the radical nationalist parties. These forces are not politically based on the working class. However, due to Labour’s increasing rightward shift, they appeared to be more radical - not only over environmental issues, but on many social and democratic questions. They also capitalised on the limited opposition towards Nato’s adventure in Kosova. In Scotland and Wales the so-called ‘socialist’ SNP and Plaid Cymru were closer than ever to displacing Labour as the main force. The parties associated with the most socially rooted EU armed struggles (the pro-ETA EH and pro-IRA Sinn Féin) doubled their votes compared to the last European elections. EH obtained one MEP and SF was only 2,000 votes short of winning one.
The Greens did well, particularly in Britain and France. They increased their MEPs by one third. In Germany the Party of Democratic Socialism saw its vote rise to 5.5%. A party which had found itself an outcast because of its previous links with the ruling Stalinist party in the GDR ex-degenerated workers’ state came close to becoming the third force. It is represented in the European parliament for the first time with six MEPs. Paradoxically, its sister organisation in Spain, the United Left, decreased its representation from nine to four MEPs. The fact that social democracy was in opposition in Spain and was the main recipient of the anti-government vote made a difference. In addition IU’s demarcation from the socialists was not so strong.
Trotskyite forces in France and Scotland also made a big impact. Lutte Ouvrière and the LCR obtained 5.5% in France (nearly as much as Le Pen and little bit less than the Communist Party). For the first time they have reached the European parliament with five MEPs. In Scotland the SSP won more than four percent.
Candidates to the left of Labour won in total 200,818 votes (more than two percent) in Britain. However, the main far left party (the SWP) did not stand anywhere (apart from its representation on the Socialist Party-led Socialist Alliance list in the West Midlands), and the second largest far left grouping only stood in Scotland and the West Midlands. There was no coordinated, all-British campaign for a united non-Labour left. In some places there were three competing lists of candidates to the left of Labour.
Socialist Labour was the only party which stood in all 11 British constituencies, but only managed to achieve 86,749 votes (0.87%). When Scargill launched his project it could had been a big success if he had championed a united socialist left and built a broader, anti-Blairite workers’ opposition. However, the SLP’s Stalinist, cult-like and sectarian policies and its little England nationalism disappointed many. The SLP obtained less than half of the votes gained by the non-Labour left and Scargill got six or seven times fewer votes than the Greens, whose support he wanted to contest.
The socialist forces to the left of Labour have to understand that the basis exists for constructing a new front for the next elections in opposition to Blair’s cuts and military attacks. During the Tories’ 17-year rule it was important to be with the workers, fighting with them to expel the Conservatives and to push their reformist party, which had historically had their support, into power. Now that New Labour is in Downing Street attacking students, youth, the disabled, unemployed, workers, immigrants, asylum-seekers and many other oppressed layers, the task of Marxists is to organise the working class opposition. This must also be expressed in an attempt to build an electoral class front.
If we do not do that the opposition against Labour and other social democrats could be seized by radical bourgeois forces (nationalists or greens) or even by the right. In the June 10 elections not only the Tories, but also the UKIP and BNP did well. The first obtained around seven percent and the Nazis obtained one percent, surpassing the SLP.
Some of the most ‘orthodox’ Trotskyists believe that it was important to continue to vote Labour because it remains the main workers’ party and revolutionaries have to be with their class. Some left groups even oppose PR on the grounds that it will weaken Labour. In fact, the introduction of PR creates better perspectives for the left to free itself from the Labour right and presents better possibilities for class struggle candidates to influence and be represented in the party. Tailing Labour means betraying the discontent of those looking for new alternatives and condemning the opposition to be dominated by radical or rightwing bourgeois forces.
A left electoral alliance is not a rotten propaganda bloc. It is, like a united left front in a union election, an electoral agreement around a platform against Nato and cuts in welfare and education, for full employment and better wages, etc. Every party could participate in such an alliance with its own programme and positions.