Labour: Inching to the left

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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. 

Notes

1. www.labourpartymarxists.org.uk/aims-and-principles.

2. Daily Mail October 12.

3. www.labour-uncut.co.uk, October 8.

4. ‘Labour’s reshuffle – and what it means for party reform’: www.leftfutures.org, October 8.  

2 thoughts on “Labour: Inching to the left

  • October 20, 2013 at 12:10 pm
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    Very useful.
    Though I think the Labour Marxist comrades have a mechanical view of the transformation of Labour (it will be a revolutionising, not a transforming, be sure of that).

    The permanent united front of the class, which they propose, is coming up against the Labour apparatus diktat – as entrenched as its determination to support austerity – to exclude all those who may stand against Labour electorally.

    Such a United Front is going to need, therefore, conditions where the Labour apparatus is sufficiently weakened not to insist on being the only Labour electoral force any more.

    But the weakening of the Labour apparatus is not entirely in the hands of those who are in Labour at the moment, or those closely linked to Labour, like the Trade Unions.

    The force that weakens the Labour apparatus is mostly in the hands of the world process. The loss of authority of British imperialism, the advance of the world revolution against imperialism is what weakens the Labour apparatus.

    This is happening, mind. The idea of opposing immediate war on Syria did not come from Miliband, or even from the bulk of the MPs. It came from the general indignation of the masses (of Britain and the world) in face of yet another useless and inhuman war. Beside this, whole sections of the bourgeoisie itself (in Britain and the world) see that the multinationals concentrate capital by bankrupting them.

    This creates deep doubts within the organisms of the bourgeois State. This shows in the existence of whistle blowers, those who we know and those we don’t. Against those persons, who oversee matters of war and economic orientation, superior might has no effect. They simply do not want to go where imperialism is taking them – generalised war. They see that capitalism has reached its limits. They are not with communism, but they repudiate the present descent into human, environmental and global degradation.

    In this crisis of capitalism, layers that are not communist are making a separation between interests of the ‘nation’ and those of the capitalist class. This leaves Miliband nowhere to go, politically, but to attack the capitalist class, even if limitedly and in spite of himself. Added to this was the saga about his father, where he had to claim that being a Marxist is not against the national interest. This puts him on the defensive: For he will now have to clarify, as time passes, what national interests his father defended, and whether these were the national interests of the working class. Such events are indications of the way the failure of imperialism in the world ends up posing questions of principle in the Labour Party.

    So it is not just those who join Labour, or become a United Front within it, who decide the direction that Labour is going to take. This process forms part of a world process, and you can have any number of comrades and left organisations under the Labour umbrella without them agreeing with each other or dealing with the bourgeois nature of the umbrella. Indeed, this could/would reinforce its class collusion with the bourgeois State, because those under the umbrella who do not agree with the bettering of Labour (only of themselves) could/would start fighting against the need to ‘transform’ Labour.

    Falkirk and the incident about the police is an indicator. Sectors are already under the umbrella, already trying to advance themselves and even enrich themselves. At the cost of the workers of INEOS workers that they trample underfoot, wanting the police to help, and the latter finding it was not its role. Note that a new police is being built – or reorganised?

    The transformation of Labour cannot be organisational. It has to be political, fundamentally, and this will find its organisational expression, as part of a world process which is that of the bankruptcy of the capitalist system.

    November 30 is not a deadline. It is only a date on the road. There cannot be a unification of the Left that does not recognise the historic role of the British working class in the transformation (revolutionising) of Labour. All the rest is the unification of anti–Labour forces, opposed to the centralisation of the British working class, impatient of the apparent slowness, often wanting to build their own careers.

    In this matter, it is not a question of having lots of followers, but of helping to clear the way for the Trade Unions (and working class and their families) to enter the Labour Party. When this happens, it will not be a Labour Party, but a broad Socialist-Communist leadership acting as umbrella for, and political representative of all the local initiatives.

    The major obstacle is the Trade Union bureaucracy. See how it finances the Labour bourgeois structure, as Stan underlines. As capitalism weakens and reveals its true face – which would have been fascism by now, if it could – the working class is going to flood its Trade Unions, as well as pass around and over their reluctant leaderships. It is going to want to organise the power of the population, because it is the population. Let us not forget that the many comrades involved in single-issue campaigns are the working class (and petit bourgeoisie won to the working class).

    Why not pose the idea of local councils of the masses? To take over from the present local councils that become what they have always been, organisms that implement the rulings of the bourgeois State? Why not pose a programme for Trade Union democracy with a view to transform Labour, with leaders to be elected at mass meetings on the basis that they fight to transform Labour, and who can be recalled if they don’t? There are comrades open to this at the base of Unite, Unison, and others.

    Such points of programme will attract the best of the left organisations without having to administratively gather them under the umbrella. I propose that the Labour Marxist pose a clear programme for the kind of Trade Union democracy that elects directly (and recalls) the Labour leaders.

    Comradely, Marie Lynam for the Posadists in Britain, individual initiative
    .

  • December 5, 2013 at 8:52 pm
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    “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.”

    Hmm…now from Left Unity’s constitution,
    The aims of Left Unity are:

    “a) to unite the diverse strands of radical and socialist politics in the UK including worker’s organisations and trade unions; etc etc”

    “b) to win a mandate to govern and introduce radical and fundamental changes in British society based on our belief in the benefits of cooperation and community ownership instead of the chaotic competition of capitalism; etc etc”

    Now we may not stand a snowball’s chance in hell, much like Marxists in the Labour party, but I don’t think anyone could be in any doubt that we’re not ashamed of socialism.

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