So much for 'social weight'
The far left vote has gone from the tiny to the statistically insignificant, writes Eddie Ford
By any yardstick, the far left’s electoral performance in the general election was bad - even by its already dismally low standards. The results speak for themselves. Or at least they should for anyone not made stupid by dogmatic sectarianism or leftist official optimism. Which is, that the left as currently constituted and orientated is going nowhere fast.
We in the CPGB do not say this with any sense of Schadenfreude. Rather, it is said with a mixture of sadness, frustration and hope. We are in the midst of a deep economic crisis. Unemployment is soaring. Social deprivation and gross inequality is endemic. An unpopular war in Afghanistan. A discredited political system held in wide contempt. With the working class now facing a Tory-Liberal coalition government committed to savage cuts and austerity. Yet the revolutionary left is irrelevant, if not on the verge of blinking into political non-existence.
It goes without saying that the CPGB is glad that the candidates backed by the Labour Representation Committee did relatively well, with comrades John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn getting re-elected with fairly handsome majorities. Good. But that still does not detract from the stubborn fact that the Labour left, just like the extra-Labour left, is in general decline - though there is always the possibility, far from certain, that a period of opposition status for Labour could act to revitalise its left wing. In reality, the only party that can claim to have made a genuine advance during the general election - seeing how all the mainstream parties lost rather than won last week - are the Greens, by notching up their first MP with Caroline Lucas. Yet this is no cause for celebration for communists, as the Green Party is thoroughly petty bourgeois and does not represent the interests of the working class - let alone socialism - in any way whatsoever.
Therefore, confronted by such a dire and potentially demoralising situation - one that leads to more resignations and drop-outs from organised leftwing activity - communists and socialists are duty-bound to undertake a cool, sober assessment of the post-May 6 world. Not engage in spin or ‘Marxist’ make-believe. We are where we are, not where we would like to be. Which is up the creek without a strategic or programmatic paddle to grasp to take us in the right direction.
Engels famously remarked that you can compare election results to a thermometer, one capable of registering the political temperature amongst the working class. If that is the case, then the weather out there is near Arctic. Looking at the electoral statistics for the various left-of-Labour groups makes this more than clear. With very few exceptions every seat that had been contested by a far-left candidate in 2005 saw a marked decline in vote share on May 6. That is, most were not even able to reach the traditional 1%-2% range of votes that the non-mad or non-eccentric sections of the far left have normally and regularly received in the past. Or, to put it even more brutally, the far-left votes have gone from the very small or tiny to the statistically insignificant. Needless to say, such an unprepossessing state of affairs should surely be a matter of grave concern to those committed - in some shape or form - to Marxism/communism and the project of universal human liberation. Surely time to embark on a round of ruthless self-criticism and debate?
Forget it. Indeed, the SWP’s four-page election ‘special’ treats the disaster almost as if it was an irrelevancy, a trivial distraction from the ‘real struggle’ out on the streets. Instead, the comrades believe we “need to learn the lessons of resistance” from Greece as - sounding more like anarchists than Marxists - these Greek ‘lessons’ are “far more important than who won which seat” in the boring UK general election on May 6. In fact, quite fantastically, we are also told that, as “our rulers clash and argue” - the SWP special being written before the formation of the David Cameron/Nick Clegg government - “their side is weak”: Hence it is “time for our side to be strong”. At this particular juncture, the SWP stirringly declares in an obvious bid to rouse the glum troops, “fighting back can be even more effective than usual”.
So the near total left wipe-out at the general election was in fact a harbinger of victory - thank heavens for that! For many years, of course, the SWP impatiently, and in apparent total ignorance of the real communist tradition, dismissed any kind of election work by socialists as “electoralist” - before its comrades became equally opportunistic vote-chasers in the unpopular popular front that (barely) was Respect. And there is nothing to say that the SWP comrades cannot go full circle and become anarchistic ‘anti-electoralists’ again.
Of course, what the SWP comrades are doing - just like the Socialist Party in England and Wales and the rest - is shilly-shallying around the screamingly obvious fact that the left’s deservedly atrocious electoral performance on May 6 exposes the fundamental bankruptcy of their whole political approach and methodology. Projects like Respect, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, Campaign for a New Workers’ Party, etc were doomed from the start for the simple reason that they were premised on the entirely erroneous notion that they were somehow acting as midwives for a new and ‘real’ Labour Party mark two. Accordingly it is the comrades’ solemn task to guide history through its predetermined lines, which dictates that the only route to a ‘mass workers’ party’ is through a reinvented and rewarmed Labourism - with the expectant ‘revolutionaries’ naturally waiting in the wings as its extreme left, to burst forth like a ‘Marxist’ Superman at the right historical moment, as adjudged by the sect leaders (take your pick), and lead the surprised but delighted masses to revolution.
This essentially explains the thinking, if that is not too grand a term, behind the decision to prohibit the CPGB from standing its own candidates as part of the Tusc ticket because we have no “social weight” - no trade union general secretaries, no councillors, no MPs, etc. Unlike the comrades from SPEW, of course, with their mighty trade union machine behind them. With their leadership of whole communities, as reflected in numerous election results up and down the country. By contrast, the “shrill” losers of the CPGB/Weekly Worker would have been destined for a derisory return had we been allowed to stand under the Tusc umbrella - something under one percent, I would think.
But for SPEW the big time beckoned yet again - or so the story went. Which turned out to be a sick joke, with the joke being on the preening Tusc/SPEW leadership. How did the comrades who vaingloriously boasted about their “social weight” do on May 6? Of course, they got no more votes than past CPGB candidates who stood on a full, unambiguous, revolutionary programme - so SPEW’s “social weight” turned out to be a complete chimera. The plain but unavoidable fact is that none of us have “social weight” or any real implantation within the working class - CPGB, SPEW, SWP … Just face up to it, comrades.
So, yes, when compared to the CPGB, SPEW might have a relatively large number of union officials - who can exercise a degree of influence over their members, although this in turn is extremely limited, given the phenomenon of inquorate meetings, low turnouts in ballots, and so on. But, as things stand now, not one of these officials can translate such marginal influence into any sort of political leadership or movement. So in that sense, when all is said and done, both SPEW and the CPGB find themselves in an analogous position - equally as marginal, equally on the fringe.
Comrades, this is not good enough - we need a radical change of direction, if we are to avoid becoming left versions of the Monster Raving Loony Party, a permanent but irrelevant feature of the political landscape. We need to provide our class with a real, viable, socialist alternative. This is where the CPGB matters because, for all its small size, we have consistently fought for the idea of left unity, struggled for the unity of Marxists as Marxists - not fake social democrats or left Labourites, chasing after left union bureaucrats in the hope that they will give us a leg up.
Most of all, we in the CPGB matter because of our paper, the Weekly Worker - with its readership of between 15,000 and 20,000, and its unrivalled tradition and history of open debate. This is what we can offer to any post-Tusc formation: the project of left unity and partyism.