Once Again on the Labour Party and Socialism
General Election 2017
The last few weeks in the run up to the British general election the opinion polls have seen an increase in support for Labour especially after the publication of its manifesto. This has been greeted with enthusiasm by much of the British left. It is fair to say that the majority of the left are calling for a vote for Labour even if they are not already members of the Party. Is there really any justification for this approach given the history of Labour over the last century? Is this an example of the left going around in ever decreasing circles?
The arguments presented for voting Labour as opposed to boycotting the election are based on several reasons: that Labour is the ‘lesser evil’, that the Labour Party is in a period of struggle which could transform into a ‘mass workers’ party’ or is on its way to becoming a socialist party, consolidating the struggle of the labour movement and gaining concessions from Labour until the contradictions of capitalism are too great for the system to continue, that in fact the policies will lead to a better society. These arguments have been posed by the various leftists for decades whether the Labour leadership has stood on a ‘right wing’ or ‘left wing’ manifesto. It is clear from this stand that the central theme of the British left is that the capitalist state is neutral and can be used to introduce socialism. It is entirely in the traditions of reactionary Fabianism and not Marxism.
Labour is a capitalist party
The Labour Party has been and always will be a capitalist party and not a socialist one of the working class. It was founded by trade union officials to pressurise the Liberal Party to obtain better trade union rights. It has always held as its primary purpose a peaceful relationship between labour and capital. In other words opposing class struggle and uniting labour and capital in the interests of the nation which, of course, means British imperialism. The Labour Party philosophy has not altered from Arthur Henderson through to Tony Blair and Jeremy Corbyn. Labour Party social democracy is a safety valve for imperialism, diverting any anger within society into useless Parliamentary elections and it has made a good job of diverting the left down this road.
Towards the end of this current general election campaign both Labour and Conservative partyies are falling over themselves to promise increased funding for the police, secret service and armed forces. This is a response to the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London. We know that the reasons for the various attacks by Jihadist terror groups lies with imperialism. As Marxist-Leninists we understand that the increased powers and arming of the state personnel and apparatus will ultimately be used to oppress the working class and the people at large, especially as austerity and economic problems increase over the next decade. It does not mean that the political leaders are consciously planning this but ultimately the state is an organised mechanism guided by capitalist ideology and will always act to defend the interests of capitalism. The Labour Party has and will always uphold the authority of the state and is dedicated to ensuring it is kept intact.
The major issue the British ruling class faces currently is how to reorganise its trade deals now that Britain is exiting the EU. Under any government British imperialism will need to find new trading partners and the main one will undoubtedly be with US imperialism. British public services will be further threatened in the name of favourable trade deals for British monopoly capitalists under Labour or Conservative as they are both seeking a deal in Britain’s’ ‘national interest’ which is in reality the interests of the monopolists. The Labour Party is still firmly committed to the imperialist alliance of NATO. Even if Corbyn would stand by his old principles he would soon be thwarted by the Labour Party itself as well as the state.
A return to reformism?
The Labour Party and it’s leftist supporters have made a lot about the Labour Government of 1945 and the extensive reforms it introduced such as the NHS, nationalising major utilities and the building of council homes. This was in response to many armed conscripts with socialist enthusiasm returning from the war and a mass squatting movement of homeless families. The state-managed expansion of production and trade in the imperialist countries after the war meant that sections of the working class were able by means of industrial action to gain higher wages and better conditions. Reforms were not products of the subjective benevolence of social democratic parties like Labour. Indeed the Conservatives adopted the same policies and lare on it was under Labour’s watch that the dismantling of social welfare and the introduction of ‘monetarism’ began in the late 1970’s. The age of social democracy has now gone and the subjective wishes of Corbyn and co. will not cause it to reappear.
The imperialist system dominates the whole planet through extensive trade and the use of technological advances such as containerisation which has been the hallmark of what is termed ‘globalisation’. This is the form which imperialism takes in the 21st century. It is impossible to go back to the 50s and 60s as many of the left seem to want to do by promoting social democratic policies which they hope to force Labour to implement. It is reactionary to want to go backwards. Instead we need to struggle to fundamentally transform the system. The Labourites and their hangers-on still claim that if we have a ‘left’ Labour government it will somehow bequeath advantages to the working class or somehow encourage big industrial struggles as existed in days past. The golden age some of these leftists hark back to of big unions collaborating with imperialism, heavy industry and import controls was not socialism and was no paradise for the working class. This golden age is something the Conservatives and UKIP also like to hark back to. In both cases it is reactionary. Indeed, sections of the working class had the economic power to demand concessions but the ruling class cannot make concessions for long. They will find ways to avoid any drain on surplus value. Faster trade and the opening of new markets in Asia has seen the shifting relocation of production in searching for cheaper labour.
If any government were not to follow the current trends expected of it by the state and the finance and monopoly capitalists then it will not be long before economic penalties will result, as happened in the case of the Syriza government in Greece. If a Labour government headed by Corbyn and McDonnell were in such a position they would end up doing what was in the interests of the British monopoly capitalist class,. The final tool for the imperialists dealing with social democracy is of course the armed forces and secret service. They would put an end to anything which was seriously to threaten or undermine the system.
The working class or the Labour Party?
Marxist-Leninists always uphold that it is the working class consciously organised politically who can transform society through revolutionary class struggle. This means putting politics in command. The excuse offered by groups such as the Communist Party of Britain and the Socialist Party for supporting Labour is that it is a mass working class movement because of its links with the unions. This is a very economist argument and does not take politics into account. Lenin in What is to be Done? warned against such economism. It is tailing the trade union economic struggle and more often than not tailing the trade union leaders who wish to defend their own social privileges and support imperialism and the British state.
This is the basis of the Labour Party and its individual membership consists of mainly middle strata elements and much less the proletariat. It cannot therefore ever be a revolutionary party of the working class as Workers Power (now acting covertly under the name of their new publication ‘Red Flag’) would have us believe it can one day be transformed in to. Labour Party members and officials are noticeably absent in the struggles of many working class communities and have ignored such communities. They are more interested in electioneering. Many working class and poor communities are now under attack from Labour councils carrying out social cleansing of council estates. The unions which fund the Party do not represent the lower sections of the proletariat and we have seen the emergence of new militant unions to defend workers such as cleaners who are not part of the ‘official’ trade union movement. Many of the other unions are associations of middle strata rather than proletarian elements.
Through the whole history of the Labour Party it has been a defender of the bourgeois state and bourgeois politics. It is not dedicated to the working class establishing power by forming it own state. The political line of an organisation determines if it is a true working class party and not whether it is funded by unions or has unions affiliated. In the US the Republican and Democratic Parties have had funding from unions but surely no leftist would claim this makes them ‘workers parties’?
The Socialist Future
Where is the socialist vision of the Labour Party or for that matter of the left who tail it? If we want to facilitate class struggle then it is in order to transform social relations and not simply ‘take over the means of production’ which is something they hope to force a Labour government to do through the British capitalist state. Marx and Engels said in the opening line of the Communist Manifesto that the ‘the history of all hitherto society is the history of class struggle’. They did not say it was simply the history of who owns the means of production. The problem with the left is that it focuses almost entirely on economic goals such as state ownership of the means of production. It does not ask which class controls the state which owns them for a start? Then there is the issue of transforming the relations of production and the management of society through the participation of the mass of the people so that these means of production are actually socially owned. Lenin and Mao highlighted the practices during class struggle on how this could actually be done. The application of the most advanced scientific techniques to social welfare was also a major concern of the Russian Revolution. The old economist left who tail Labour are barren of such insights. This is another reason for their harking back to social democracy’s heyday.
The Labour Party does not have any real vision of socialism or communism. It is downright anti-communist and the only ‘socialism’ it speaks of is just rhetorical. English Communists such as William Morris and Sylvia Pankhurst provided insights into how we could transform our social relations into ones which would end our alienation from each other and work collectively for the benefit of the whole of society:
‘Under Socialism production will be for use, not profit. The community will ascertain what are the requirements of the people…. Then will follow the adornments and amusements, a comfortable, cultured and leisured people will produce artistic and scientific work for pleasure, and with spontaneity. Large numbers of people will have the ability and the desire to paint, to carve, to embroider, to play, and to compose music.’ – Sylvia Pankhurst
The communist future will not just be about the material things we need to live, and just needing more, but about how we live. The way we are compelled to live now under capitalism is unsustainable and threatens the existence of untold numbers of species including our own. Labour cannot envision or desire such a social transformation as they are firmly committed to capitalism. The intermediate social strata they represent desire social peace and reforms to ensure a more efficient or fair capitalism but it does not want this system to be overthrown because they are firmly entrenched in it.
Marxist-Leninists in contrast see that the only way to save humanity is the overthrow of capitalism by the only class who can; the modern proletariat with a vanguard party to guide it. Socialism will be the working class exercising state power and implementing any necessary coercive measures to ensure the working class is the ruling class, just as the capitalist class ensures that they do today.
The workers’ state will take over the means of production and exchange but also work to change the relations of production to orientate economic development towards communism. This is a system without wage labour and private appropriation of wealth and involves the building of a system of social organisation which is based of mass participation in planning and decision-making to meet human needs. The technology exists today to develop new production processes much more efficient and democratic which can free our time so as labour can be undertaken by all for short periods and in which all can enjoy the products of their labour. This would be unlike today with long hours of work, unemployment and poverty. The leftists like the Communist Party of Britain, Socialist Party, Workers Power and the SWP omit these objectives when they discuss class struggle. They content themselves with calls to ‘vote Labour’ and ‘kick the Tories out’, ‘nationalise tRoyal Mail’, and more jobs etc. They often present a better or more efficient example of the capitalist system rather than a socialist vision. Marxist-Leninists must emphasise what future is possible under the proletariat and not tell workers that capitalism is all they can ever put up with, that they have no agency themselves to change society.
Labour and the Election
Labour under Corbyn’s leadership has attracted much support among trade unionists and workers in the General Election, especially among the young. Labour’s increase in popularity in the election has shown just how desperate many people are for change and Corbyn has been under attack for progessive positions he held in the past, for example on Ireland. He should be defended from these attacks by out and out reactionaries. This does not mean we should sow any illusions in Labour as it is an imperialist party. It is providing a safety valve to release the anger from austerity but it will not save the working class. There are other examples in recent history of leftist promises from politicians. The SNP and the Greens, for example, have both pursued the same policies as Labour and Conservatives in local government. In Germany the Greens are an out and out warmongering imperialist party when they entered into high state office. Much of the left consider that the working class is too stupid to want revolution so it must be tricked into socialism by being granted some reforms by the state. We have heard all this before from the middle class Fabians and the like. It will not happen. Socialism can come only from the working class overthrowing capitalism. Millions of people consisting mainly of the working class do not vote anyway as they know it will not change anything. The left could learn from the working class. Leftists who genuinely desire to transform society need to go to the working class, be amongst them and engage in dialogue to build a real revolutionary movement.