Drawing the class line

New Labour apparatchiks are using two tactics to motivate a deeply demoralised and alienated membership to work for the party in the looming general election. First, they are talking up the threat of the Tories - which convinces no-one, of course (not even Tories). Second, they are puffing up the achievements of the party in its first two terms and calling for an effort to consolidate these with "an historic third term". Of course, class struggle is the motor of history, not elections. A Labour Party third term will not be "historic" for our class in any other sense than being unique in electoral terms. However, the contest is not without significance. We will have to fight whoever wins to defend our democratic rights and living standards. The election will therefore be useful in giving us a snapshot of the balance of forces between the classes in today's Britain; it will help us gauge our fighting fitness. The stark truth is that, even before a vote is cast, it is already clear that the bulk of the revolutionary left has failed pretty miserably. Since their untheorised lurch into electoral contests in the 1990s, those who call themselves Marxists have not developed a principled working class intervention in this field any more than they have for trade unions or broader campaigning initiatives. As organisations, the majority appear organically incapable of it. This should hardly surprise us. Political life on the left and extreme left of our movement is characterised by the decay of old, discredited and now palpably unviable forms of pseudo-working class politics. In these circumstances elections serve to illustrate in a particularly sharp fashion the degeneration and collapse of the left. The election will highlight the fact that few of those who call themselves revolutionaries or communists actually have any belief that the politics they profess to believe in can convince masses of people. As we noted at the time of the formal burial of the Socialist Alliance early this year, "There is a common characteristic of all the unity projects the ostensibly revolutionary left has engaged in since its dislocation with Labour from the early 1990s onwards. All, without exception, have been to the right of the supposed real politics of the Marxist organisations involved - even when there has been no one but people who dub themselves Marxists in them" (Weekly Worker February 3). This gulf between theory and practice is not sustainable indefinitely. It is a political law that, sooner or later, theory will catch up with practice. Given all of this, what should communists and working class partisans do in the coming elections? We are faced with a Labour Party politically dominated by the Blairites. Outside this mass organisation, we have the widely uninfluential sects of the left that are determined to stand either on a variation of warmed over left social democracy (a parody of genuine working class politics that is now plainly useless) or, in the form of the SWP-Respect party, left populism. In this politically charged situation - characterised by continued movement to the right and a crisis of old forms - our concrete tactics must seek to differentiate, to promote and exacerbate latent and existing left-right divisions. We must differentiate between those individuals and trends which have some kind of attachment to the working class from those who are overtly compromised or who represent alien class forces. That is why the Communist Party says that candidates in the coming general election are only supportable if, first, they can be broadly defined as working class politicians and, second, if they stand unequivocally against the Iraq war and the subsequent occupation of that country. In some cases we will know that all those standing under the discipline of a particular organisation will fulfil those conditions - the Socialist Party in England and Wales and the Scottish Socialist Party spring to mind. But we have not plumped for these two criteria arbitrarily, so what is the logic behind them? First, the war on Iraq and its occupation continues to be a fundamental faultline in British politics: an issue that has divided the establishment, revealing in the most dramatic form the attitude of any politician to the military adventures of British imperialism, and which has badly damaged Blair's own personal standing. Second, given the popular frontist nature of Respect, we regard it as vital to emphasise the centrality of class. This is not sentimentality - it is an understanding that is indispensable for the viability of progressive politics in the contemporary world. The working class is key precisely because it is the only consistently democratic class; our class alone has an undeviating interest in the fight against imperialist war, against all forms of discrimination and oppression and for a new, socialist world order. A candidate's attitude to a huge contemporary political question such as Iraq will be relatively easy to discern, of course. The class character of that individual as a politician is more complex. So an obvious question - what is a "working class politician"? Any attempt to adopt some rigidly 'scientific' checklist to establish this would be foolish. Politics is an art, after all. So a balanced and dynamic approach must be adopted. Our intention is not to cross every programmatic 'T' or dot every theoretical 'I'. We take as our starting point the real movement of the working class, as it exists in all its complexity and contradictions. Take, for instance, the tense situation in the east London constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow. Labour members up and down the country are currently being cajoled by the party apparatus to commit themselves to supporting the looming general election fight. In particular, London members are being urged to pledge "extra support" to Oona King, who faces a powerful challenge from Respect's George Galloway (London Labour e-bulletin, March 10). Now, the Labour Party remains what Marxists have called a bourgeois workers' party - it has organic links to the working class via the affiliation of important sections of the trade union movement. Comrade Galloway, meanwhile, has been expelled from this party and is central to a deeply compromised fringe political project that lacks stable roots, and which will be standing on a platform of vacuous generalities. To conclude from this - as the scandalously rightwing Alliance for Workers' Liberty does - that "even a vote for the Blairite candidate Oona King "¦ is better" than a vote for Respect, is treacherous, quite frankly (Solidarity March 3). This paper has hardly been shy about detailing its criticisms of Galloway as a politician or the SWP-Respect party he fronts. But his re-election to parliament would be a dramatic defeat for a prominent Blairite by a man whose political physiognomy clearly reveals his antecedents in the Labour left, who is by far the most prominent leader of the mass anti-war movement in this country and who - his reactionary views on important issues such as abortion or immigration controls notwithstanding - would be an asset in parliament, not least on the question of the occupation of Iraq. Clearly, the AWL's pathological hatred of Galloway blinds it to the fact that here is a working class politician with a supportable position on the Iraq conflict (a ticklish subject for the AWL itself, of course) whose re-election to parliament would on balance be a blow for our side. But our support for some other Respect candidates will not be forthcoming. At the time of the June 2004 European elections we called for an undifferentiated vote for Respect lists - even when they were headed by people who came from organisations outside the workers' movement (a number of our own comrades criticised this stance at the time, of course). For instance, in the Euro constituency of Yorkshire and Humberside, Anas Altikriti was the top candidate. Despite having formally stepped down as president of the Muslim Association of Britain in order to do this, Altikriti remains a leading voice for MAB - a reactionary, non-working class organisation. We say that there should be no vote this time for any MAB or other non-working class candidates who stand for the SWP-Respect party. Only its politically working class component should be backed. (And before we get any hysterical letters suggesting that this is an expression of 'islamophobia', let me state that - using precisely the method we advocate - it is entirely principled to critically support and work for Respect's Oli Rahman in east London. The comrade is a practising muslim - and a working class politician with a background in active trade unionism. See our interview, Weekly Worker June 24 2004). Obviously, the approach we are advocating here consists of very broad brush strokes. It would be idiotic of us to attempt to provide a watertight formula that perfectly fits every constituency nationwide. However, our two criteria do act to separate right from left in the parties and groups that will be competing for the votes of militant workers, presumably in May. Not only in Respect and the Labour Party, but, casting a glance over the ideologically incoherent left, we must do the same with them. Take the Morning Star's Communist Party of Britain, for example. Yes, here is a sect that is undoubtedly part of the working class movement. But also a group that is deeply split between its pro-Labour traditionalists and pro-Respect innovators. This also takes the form of a bitter division over the attitude to be taken to the Iraq war and the occupation, with one section of the organisation parroting the pro-imperialist arguments of the Iraqi Communist Party, while the pro-Respect wing calls for immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops (see Weekly Worker February 24). Or take the component parts of the new Socialist Green Unity Coalition - the Socialist Party, Alliance for Green Socialism and AWL. Green politics are not working class politics - so what exactly is the nature of the AGS? A pointer - it steers clear of calling for troops out now. The SP is certainly a working class trend, with, from what we can gather, a principled stance on Iraq. So, as I have said, there should be no problem voting for any of its candidates. But will its foolish assertion (there is no coherent theoretical argument offered to back up the idea) that the Labour Party represents just another bourgeois party lead it to stand against anti-war left Labour candidates based on sectarian considerations of its interests as a small group, rather than the broader needs of the workers' movement? Likewise, the AWL is a working class organisation, with a saner attitude to the Labour Party than the SP. Its Achilles heel is obviously its illusions in imperialism - it thought the "right side" won in 2003 and is unwilling to call for an immediate end to the occupation of Iraq - a shameful stance that any AWLer worth their salt should openly rebel against (Mark Sandell made a start in Solidarity of June 26 2003. On the other hand - more recently - the AWL's social-imperialist sympathiser, Alan Johnstone, has highlighted where the organisation's inconsistency should logically take them - Solidarity November 18 2004). The general election affords revolutionaries and working class partisans the opportunity to expose all such fudges, contradictions, ambiguities and acts of surrender. We should carefully weigh up the answers we get before deciding who exactly should be supported in the ballot box l Mark Fischer