A Word to the Lingering Left Labourites

By Chris Witter


Should we of the Left support the Labour Party, even in their Post-Labour (i.e. neoliberal, pro-austerity, anti-worker) form? A common attitude on this question goes something like this: “We have to be realistic and compromise: if we don’t vote for Labour we will end up with the Tories back in power.” This is usually followed by a stream of citations of Labour polices which, four or more years ago, had some generally positive effect. Undeniably such accounts are erudite, but they are also conspicuous in avoiding both the many manifest failures of the Labour Party and the general trajectory of the Party, which is increasingly rightwards. Not only are Labour Councillors currently facilitating cuts, but even in opposition the Party has taken to attacking immigrants, welfare claimants and unions, whilst determinedly approving anti-worker policies (e.g. the public sector pay-freeze). Rather than presenting an alternative, Labour takes all its cues from the Right. But, even those who do see the general picture often fall back on arguments based on pragmatism and realpolitik in order to justify the necessity of voting for the Labour Party in the name of compromise (e.g. the whole SWP).

This question of ‘compromise’ must be addressed, for it presents itself in a somewhat mystified form. What is said to be important is the relation between the political parties (i.e. “Better Labour than the Tories”). The paradigm here appears to be consumption rather than political struggle (i.e. “I prefer this brand to that”). Indeed, perhaps the commodity form and commodity fetishism have subsumed politics? One way or another, the typical Leftist objections to this are:  1) “You might vote for Labour and still end up with the Tories” or 2) “Labour basically are Tories.” Both contain some truth, but both are inadequate. The real point is that the relation between parties is not the crucial thing. What is crucial is the relation between political parties and individual and collective subjects.

In this light, the question of compromise unravels itself. The Labour Party is currently in a position where it must prioritise the interests of capital. This is so because the balance of the class struggle is currently weighted against the working-class and its allies, who are currently quite weak. Meanwhile, despite the economic crisis (or perhaps even because of the crisis) the capitalist class is really doing very well (see: http://www.leninology.com/2013/03/the-actuality-of-successful-capitalist.html). It faces all sorts of difficulties, but it is more than coping. Whilst this situation persists, whatever the hopes of the few Lingering Left Labourites, the party is not going to be reformed and reclaimed. For the problem is not simply the internal/institutional problems of bureaucracy, factions, ‘middle-class’ members, ‘Blairite cadres’, &c., but the whole state of the class struggle in the current conjuncture. In sum, what ‘compromises’ can be wrung from the Labour Party entirely depend upon the state of the class struggle; whilst the capitalist class has the upper-hand these offerings will be very scant.

That is the problem of the relation of the Post-Labour Party to collective subjects (the fundamental capitalist classes). Let us now come to the question of individual subjects’ relation to the Labour Party with regards the question of compromise. The fact is, Labour cannot be reformed in the current conjuncture. You approach the LP thinking you are compromising with it (“I like that, but I don’t like this”) but you are not. The Party hears nothing of what you say as an individual. The experiential basis of this is the frustrating to-and-fro and endless back-stepping any individual who sets out to reform Labour will encounter. Eventually, tired of this fruitless fight, you think you are compromising with yourself (“Well, I don’t like it, but this isn’t an ideal world”). However – even here you are wrong. For your compromise is not a tragi-heroic stand but a complete capitulation.

On these last points, I am reminded of those young children who have newly discovered duplicity – i.e. the ability to lie. They think they are possessed of a secret ability, a secret cunning: the power of manipulation. They try it out on adults. In truth, whether the adult sees the duplicity or not (likely the first), they decide to humour or scold, to accept the wheedling demand or ignore it, independently of the child’s will. Meanwhile the child triumphantly flatters themselves that they are able to wield power and control over their elders, though in truth the reins are kept well clear of their hands. So it is with the ‘socialist Labourite’, who ‘plays the part’ of Labour supporter whilst ‘really’ nurturing socialist view. The truth is somewhat the other way around. They think that they push, but it is they who are pushed. Their failure to realise this is merely a self-flattery born out of the defensive need to protect themselves from the plain truth: that they are lending their energies and support to something they rightly detest.

None of this, of course, excuses the Post-Labour Party ministers and their cronies. They are deeply implicated not only in facilitating austerity but also in the weakness of the Left whom they have historically attacked and betrayed. What these insights do provide, however, is a little light to help guide our strategy. Two key points emerge: first, we must cease ploughing our energies into reforming the Labour Party; second, not only is Labour a valid target, but it must be attacked constantly from without if it is to be shifted. Change will come, but in the current conjuncture this will not come through an internal struggle within the Labour Party. Accept it and move on.

This article was provoked by the convergence of several things, including:
[1] This shamefully shitty statement by Ed Miliband on the death of Thatcher, in which he demonstrates once again that he can do nothing but follow the cues of the Right.
[2] The as yet ambiguous, but nonetheless hopeful emergence of Left Unity, whose appeal for a new Left party has so far been signed by around 7000 people.
[3] This very insightful article by Richard Seymour, cited in the body text.


2 thoughts on “A Word to the Lingering Left Labourites

  1. radicaluniversity Post author

    “not only is Labour a valid target, but it must be attacked constantly from without if it is to be shifted”
    A question – attacked how? The enmity between the students / youth and the organised labour movement / social democratic parties across Europe is enormous. In Greece the black bloc and KKE/PAME have traded molotovs and flagstaffs in Syntagma Square. In Spain I saw thousands of people on the 26S demonstration surround the PSOE’s headquarters chanting “conservative, labour, same shit!”
    If we declare outright against Labour then we lose most of the trade unions and many of the activists fighting against austerity. Personally, I broadly favour the united front approach that many groups like the UAF or the People’s Assembly claim to practise – working with the best and most militant people in more reformist organisations, all the while rightly calling them out on their own organisations shortfalls and trying to win them over.
    We must cease ploughing energy into reforming the labour party, but it would be just as wrong to plough energy into attacking an “opposition” party. In 2 years’ time we can focus on attacking the labour party, we might even get the hilarious spectacle of Liberal Democrats turning up to protests – lol!


  2. Wit

    For a start, the united front approach you describe must explictly position and define itself against Labour. It must not offer support for Labour electorally, but criticise their polices under the narrative of “all three parties are the same; none represent us” (a potent narrative that chimes with cross-class experience). The aim should not be to exclude ‘left Labourites’ but to draw them away from Labour into the emerging Left-of-Labour fold. We need to face up to the fact that Labour quite probably will be the party in power next, and anticipate this by trying to shift the terrain in which they operate. Otherwise we will end up with a neoliberal Post-Labour party in power pushing through the same shitty austerity, and then things will look bleak – especially as dissatisfaction with Post-Labour Rightism could easily play into the hands of a deepend and more aggressively offensive Tory-Ukip coalition Rightism at the following election.


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