Friday, 12 February 2010

We vote for nobody - a response to the Socialist Worker

In this week's edition of the Socialist Worker, organ of the Socialist Workers' Party (SWP), Simon Basketter asks the question "who do you vote for?" As might be expected, his answer is that tired old cliche that the working class should vote Labour "without illusions;"
Our vote for Labour is not because we believe the party will act better than the Tories in government. We, and many workers, vote Labour in spite of the party’s record in government, not because of it.
No, that doesn't make any sense whatsoever. As the paragraphs which follow explain, the Labour governments of the 1960's and 70's "were responsible for the biggest public spending cuts ever known." Wilson and Callaghan "pushed down the level of real wages." And "attacks on working people will grow whoever is elected this year." But this is okay because it "still didn’t stop most workers voting Labour."

According to the sophistry that follows, the reason for this is that "the scale of the economic crisis, rather than which party is in government" is responsible for attacks on workers. And "part of encouraging confidence among workers means working with Labour supporters, members and voters in every campaign" because "we support them against the right wing." This isn't elaborated upon, and the idea that although "our first electoral priority should be to make sure left of Labour candidates at the election do as well as possible," we also need to "vote Labour against the Tories where there is no serious left of Labour candidate."

Unfortunately, a lot of people beyond the apparatchiks of the SWP share this - let's be quite honest - defeatist attitude. They maintain that Labour remains the "best of a bad bunch" despite an utterly appalling record in office and a seamless continuation of Thatcherite programs such as reducing social housing stock, slashing welfare, and privatising public services.

The argument that needs to be made against this mentality, to be fair to the SWP, is made in this article. They admit that "action outside parliament" and "rais[ing] the flag of resistance in every workplace and every community" is what really matters in terms of fighting for change. However, they still make this case within a framework that offers importance to political parties and the electoral system. The reality is that if we are serious about "building and uniting networks of resistance and infusing the fightback with genuine socialist politics" then we have to get away from that. Serious action cannot be guided from above, it must come from below, and it must be direct.

The leadership of the SWP, as with the leadership of all so-called "workers' parties," is built of Leninists and Trotskyites who consider themselves the "elites" or the "vanguard" who will guide a docile working class to liberation. We have seen the reality of such ideas in Russia with Lenin's counter-revolution of October 1917, as elsewhere the authoritarian left has taken a stranglehold.

However, within the rank-and-file members of the SWP and similar parties, the vast majority are committed to genuine social change. In the end, unless our designs are in achieving power, we all want the same result - workers' control of industry and community control of resources without the tyranny of state or capital. In a word, we are all communists. The only question is in methods, and my argument is that encouraging people to "hold their breath, bite their lip and vote Labour" achieves nothing. It certainly doesn't win "the confidence of the working class."

If we want that, then we need to be organising within our own communities. It may well be true that "Labour voters are overwhelmingly less reactionary, less racist, and more open to ideas like class solidarity than the Tory voters," and we should certainly reach out to such people. But we can do that without casting a ballot for a party which stands against the working class. We can do that whilst making the argument that they shouldn't cast their ballot either. At the same time, we can also engage with those who don't vote at all, or who have thrown their vote to the fascist BNP, without a shred of hypocrisy. When a considerable section of the working class have, with justification, turned away from Labour, how can we appeal to them whilst putting an "X" next to the name of the party that has betrayed them?

If we want to build for change, then we must shed hypocrisy and shallow sophistry. Our goal is communism from below, and that will not come from either the electoral system or the instruction of a gang of old Trots who consider themselves the elite. It can only come from the people, as a mass, organised without hierarchy. Until we realise that, all we can do is sell papers filled with impotent rhetoric.