In view of Labour’s marginal shift, the new ‘broad left’ party proposed by Left Unity’s Left Party Platform is worse than useless, writes Stan Keable of Labour Party Marxists
Labour’s recent minor moves to the left are aimed at winning back some of its lost core support. Putting more space between itself and the Tories may aid the election of a Labour government on May 7 2015 – but a Labour government committed to running British capitalism will not bring socialism a single step closer.
Nor will deflecting socialists from the vital task of transforming Labour into a real workers’ party. But that is the apparent aim of those like Left Unity’s Left Party Platform, which wants to see the establishment of a ‘broad left’ alternative to Labour, even though prospects for recreating old Labour in a new mass party – however unlikely it already was – will always be undermined by marginal shifts of the type undertaken by Ed Miliband.
Transforming Labour into an umbrella organisation for all trade unions, socialist organisations and working class bodies of all kinds – a permanent united front of the class – is the central aim of Labour Party Marxists.1Not an easy task, and one that requires the organised unity of Marxists, not our present organised disunity – the proverbial 57 varieties of competing, and therefore ineffective, revolutionary groups. In the unlikely event that Socialist Platform or the Communist Platform is adopted at the November 30 LU conference, the new party should set about this strategic task – in line with the aims, too, of the Labour Representation Committee, to unite all socialist and workers’ organisations in the Labour Party.
Ed Miliband is right to deny the Daily Mail’s gross exaggeration that Labour has “lurched to the left” (October 12). But the party has certainly inched in that direction. Blairite ‘triangulation’ – the cynical electioneering technique of tailoring policies to compete for the floating voter and the political centre – seems to have been put aside for the time being and, while the promise to continue economic austerity under Labour still stands, Miliband has announced a number of measures designed to motivate the party’s core working class voters to get themselves to the polling booth.
As well as his popular last-minute turn against endorsing a US attack on Syria, we have had pledges to build 200,000 homes a year, repeal the hated bedroom tax and freeze energy prices for 20 months – a hugely popular policy with the millions facing rising prices on fixed incomes or feeling the effects of years of public-sector wage freeze.
Although he rejects his ‘Red Ed’ label and denies the party’s “lurch to the left”, Miliband was seen on breakfast TV on his morning walkabout before party conference responding positively to what may well have been a planted question from a member of the public: “What about socialism?” With the Tory press asking whether his conference speech puts us back to ‘capitalism versus socialism’, Miliband is not afraid to say ‘yes’ in public to socialism – unlike the Socialist Resistance language police in Left Unity, who prefer to hide their socialist light under a bushel, so as not to frighten away timid supporters by using nasty words.
Elsewhere, of course, ‘Red Ed’ makes clear his commitment to so-called ‘responsible capitalism’ – a utopian illusion. Capital’s inherent drive for self-expansion, regardless of the consequences, can overcome all barriers except one – the working class, the class of wage workers which capital creates and reproduces, and whose work creates and reproduces capital.
But his energy price-freeze pledge shows that he is not worshipping the market, as both Blair and Brown did. They took working class support for granted, thinking we had no-one else we could vote for – and eventually five million Labour voters stayed at home and let Cameron into No10. Now Miliband is speaking out against the Tories and getting some people excited by the prospect of a few crumbs.
Whereas Blair courted Murdoch and the Tory press, Miliband is on the offensive to curb the excesses of the media, including harassment by phone-hacking, and has taken on the Daily Mail with a vengeance. The Mail has followed up its smear attack on Ed via his Marxist father, Ralph, with a similarly dishonest attack on Miliband and Labour via its newly adopted prospective parliamentary candidate for Chippenham, ‘Red Andy’ Newman, who it represents as an “apologist for Stalin”.2
In short, Miliband is working to a different agenda, almost certainly shaped by the deal being worked out behind closed doors to modify the Labour-trade union link, now that the Falkirk candidate selections showdown has subsided – a compromise designed to leave intact and unaccountable both the dominant Parliamentary Labour Party and the Brewers Green HQ, on the one hand, and the trade union bureaucracy which finances it, on the other. The compromise deal is being settled behind the backs or over the heads of the rank and file. The deal will be endorsed by the special party conference now planned for March 2014.
In Miliband’s October reshuffle, the three senior shadow cabinet ministers most associated with Tony Blair – Jim Murphy, Liam Byrne and Stephen Twigg – were demoted in what has been dubbed the “cull of Blairites” (but left MP Diane Abbott was ditched too, presumably for premature opposition to a military attack on Syria).
According to Atul Hatwal on the Labour Uncut website, the appointment of Jon Trickett as ‘deputy chair’ to lead on party reform tells us that Miliband is not going to appeal “over the heads of union leaders to the rank and file”, but “wants to do a deal with the union bosses”. The “reform pill” which the unions must swallow if Miliband is not to lose face is “the requirement for trade union levy payers to opt in to paying some of their political levy towards Labour”.3
In exchange, “the union block vote at conference will remain, the unions will retain a separate electoral college in the leadership election and the union reservation of 12 places out of 33 on the NEC (compared to six places reserved for CLP members) will stay”. And there will be “an extension and entrenchment of the electoral college at CLP level”, justified by “parallel management and voting structures”.
Writing on the Left Futures website, Jon Lansman reminds us that this kind of rotten compromise was circulated for discussion months ago by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy “as the basis for just such an agreement between Ed Miliband and the trade unions”. The CLPD proposals involved “Meeting Ed Miliband’s aspiration” to impose (my word – SK) individual opting-in to affiliated membership, and “Meeting trade union aspirations for a continuing collective voice in the affairs of the party they founded, and sustainable levels of voting and representation.”4
This manoeuvre, politely described as “delinking the collective representation of trade unions in the structures of the party from the involvement of individual trade unionists in the life of the party”, may be a happy compromise between entrenched bureaucrats, parliamentary and trade union, who function as masters, rather than servants, of our labour movement. However, it leaves them as unaccountable as before, and sets up collective representation for further erosion.
3. www.labour-uncut.co.uk, October 8.
4. ‘Labour’s reshuffle – and what it means for party reform’: www.leftfutures.org, October 8.