Monday, 4 January 2010

Voting, organisation, and the General Election

With the new year, it would seem that the run-up to the General Election has become more vital.

According to BBC News, Gordon Brown has declared it a "big choice election." He assures us that "it would not be a referendum on his government but a choice between growth under Labour or an economy held back under the Tories." The Telegraph tells us that David Cameron is about to "lay out his draft manifesto placing the economy at the top of the agenda" in a speech at Westminister. And "the scale of the advertising blitz in the marginal constituencies is likely to worry Labour who are already concerned at the size of the Conservative election war-chest." Nick Clegg, meanwhile, "has already suggested he would feel obliged to support whichever party "won" an indecisive election," making him what the Guardian's Jackie Astley calls a "hot date" for the next prospective PM.

Despite the fact that brain injuries have forced Peter Tatchell, a tireless and truly inspirational campaigner, to stand down as a candidate, the Green Party look set to win their first MP as polls show that they are the favourites in the Brighton Pavilion constituency, where leader Caroline Lucas is standing.

BNP leader Nick Griffin announced his General Election intentions back in November. As I noted at the time, "the fact that Griffin is abandoning his [North West] constituency in an attempt to become the party's first Westminster MP should come as no surprise" and only shows how in his desire for power he "marginalises those he is claiming to represent." Other third-parties cannot claim either the credibility of the Greens or the notoriety of the BNP, with back-biting and factionalism plaguing the smaller parties of the conservative and libertarian right, whilst the Marxist-Leninists of the SWP and Respect's obsession with front groups has only furthered their electoral obscurity.

With all this in mind, then, what does this election mean to ordinary working class people? The answer, in short, is not a lot. Though we face the prospect of two seats in parliament being filled by politicians outside of the "big three" parties - i.e. Caroline Lucas and Nick Griffin - the fact remains that the essential choice is between a New Labour and a Conservative government, with the Tories the likely winners.

Recognising this fact, some on the left have decided that whatever the follies of New Labour over the past decade, the Tories returning to power is the worst thing that could happen to Britain. Hence, Sunny Hundal of Liberal Conspiracy says "long live the Class War strategy," the Sunday Mirror offers a spread on "how Gordon Brown can still win," and Labour Home writes on how "the Tories have never changed."

Taking an altogether different tack, the Class War Federation brands the entire set of mainstream politicians as "wankers." For those of the centre-left such as Sunny Hundal, "Class War" means "more populist left-wing economic policies and rhetoric, and pointing out why Tories don’t get it." But genuine class war "is what happens when ordinary people have had enough of being pushed around and decide to fight back." It is a response to a society "where capitalism, the State and the ruling class dominate." And it does not mean economic populism but the force of "a large and growing number of people that come from very different backgrounds, experiences and places to work together to destroy capitalism and the State."

How this relates to the specific context of the General Election isbest articulated by Ian Bone, in announcing a London Class War conference on January 24th. The need is for "an effective anarchist intervention in the forthcoming general election campaign," which means "getting our politics back onto the streets in a rumbustuous and exciting way that will make sense to the proletarian punters."

I would say that in doing this, we need to articulate why change cannot come through the electoral system.

Labour, the Lib Dems, and the Conservatives all represent the same centre-right elite concensus of socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor, and the race to see who can cut services, bash workers, and scapegoat immigrants the hardest. Third parties such as the BNP, UKIP, et al. orbit at the extreme-right of this narrow political spectrum, feigning radicalism when really they can only offer the worst bits of the last two decades, and harder. The Greens may seem a feasible alternative, but the centre-left's "green capitalism" offers only the thinnest veil of reform over a corrupt system. Beyond that, we have an abundance of Trotskyite "vanguard" parties for whom navel gazing is the only distraction from creating front groups and selling newspapers, and single-issue parties which serve no useful purpose whatsoever.

Faced with this, it's easy to get depressed, give up, and go along with the two-identical-horse race one way or the other. But you don't have to. All politicians are wankers, and all political parties are conglomerates of worthless, power-hungry, often-reactionary horseshit. But people have power in numbers.

Most people think of community participation as "neighbourhood watch" and other such peeping-tom exercises. But it doesn't have to be. It can mean organisation, and resistance, for a better society. Whether it's booting out Islamist / fascist rabble-rousers, stopping your council from closing a public footpath, resisting forced eviction and building up a squatters' movement to make good use of derelict homes for the homeless, occupying a school so the council can't close it down, or any other act of defiance, we can build up a new society within the shell of the old. With organisation, education, and activism, anything is possible.

The only rallying cry that offers change in this general election, then, is the one that says "Don't vote - Organise!"