Saturday, 10 April 2010

They're not all the same - but none of them deserve our support

Yesterday, amongst its coverage of the farce that is the General Election campaign, the BBC had this snippet to offer which sums up the entire thing;
All three main parties have conceded job losses will result from cuts in public sector budgets as the row over their spending plans has continued.

The Tories have said vacant posts will be axed in order to meet their £12bn savings target next year but have ruled out any compulsory redundancies.

A senior Lib Dem MP said it was "dishonest" to pretend there would not be job losses over the next four years.

And a Labour minister said public sector employment would shrink.
I write this for the benefit of those comrades who, sharing a lot of my thoughts and ideas on politics, disagree with my abstention from the charade of electoral politics. In itself, it provides an excellent rebuttal to the idea that - in areas where it matters - political parties are not all the same.

There are enough differences between them, so the argument goes, to make voting tactically neccesary if not worthwhile to do. The two examples of this most frequently offered are using your vote to "keep the BNP out," and to "keep the Tories out." Unfortunately, it is already an indictment of electoralism in the fact that people are using their vote not to elect a worthwhile candidate in whom they believe will make a positive difference, but to keep out those they consider to be the worst of the worst.

In the instance of the BNP and other fascist parties, there are a variety of arguments on this point. Yes, if there really is no other way to stop them gaining power, it is excusable to go down to the polling office, hold your nose, and put a tactical cross by somebody else's name in the hope of denying them enough votes to get into office. But it shouldn't come to that.

The whole point of abstention from voting is not apathy. The message of anarchists isn't "don't vote, don't do anything," it's "don't vote, organise!" This means working together within our communities and workplaces to solve problems for ourselves and to reclaim the power, and so it is with antifascism. The BNP and groups like them don't get into office because their argument has merit and they're a positive voice. They get in because people are justifiably pissed off with mainstream politics and, due to the utter failure of the left to respond to this, have nowhere else to turn.

The response to this shouldn't be to mobilise the middle classes to drown out the protest vote and shout "racist" at the white working class, as groups such as Unite Against Fascism do. It should be, firstly, to counter the idea that the BNP offer any form of alternative to mainstream politics. In the recent By-Elections in Fazakerley, Liverpool Antifascists did this. Labour leafletted the ward once. The Lib Dems barely covered a quarter of it. Merseyside BNP leafletted the ward three times over, canvassed, and had their infamous Lie Lorry out to spread their bullshit to as many people as possible. Liverpool Antifascists delivered 5,000 plus leaflets in the ward, hammering home a simple but effective message: "We fully understand why white working-class communities feel abandoned by politicians. But a vote for the BNP is NOT a so-called 'protest vote' - it is a vote for FASCISM."

The results speak for themselves: the BNP's vote in the ward was half that in the previous election there. The message of working class anti-fascism worked.

But it's not just a question of getting across why the BNP aren't an alternative, it's also a matter of building that alternative for ourselves. This ties into the question of "keeping the Tories out." How will not voting help when the Tories get into power and decimate our jobs and services?

In itself, it won't. But how will voting help when which party wins the election doesn't lie with the working class at all but with the "swing" voters of Middle England? To take Liverpool, the Tories have virtually no chance whatsoever of taking the city, with Garston, Walton, Riverside, and West Derby all being considered safe seats (Walton perhaps Labour's safest seat in the country) and only Wavertree facing any effective challenge to Labour dominance - by the Liberal Democrats.

What will help is organised resistance by ordinary people, on the streets and on the picket lines. Keeping the Tories out will not stop vicious public sector cuts and job losses. It will not stop further attacks on the poorest under the auspices of "workfare." The major problem with keeping the Tories out is that, although in itself a good thing, it still leaves us with New Labour.

The anarchist slogan is that "whoever you vote for, government wins." The extension of this is that whoever's in government, we will have to fight them. Not only to advance the rights and freedoms of the working class, but simply to stand still. The main function of government as it exists is to aid the bosses in their class war against the poor.

As Johann Hari put it in an op-ed for Friday's Independent;
Money being endlessly shovelled up to the top by the state is considered the natural state of affairs; anybody trying to speak for the interests of the majority is considered a rude and irrational "warrior." These premises were best rebuffed by the billionaire Warren Buffett, who quipped: "Let's face it – if there's a class war, my side's winning."

Yet the media is trying to render all of this taboo, by claiming that any discussion of class is an attack on Cameron's childhood at Eton. One front page screamed: "Now The Class War Begins!" – referring not to Cameron's policies, but Gordon Brown's mild reference to himself as "middle class." But how can the British people know what they are choosing, if we can't discuss which class will benefit from Cameron – and which classes will lose?
I don't doubt that there have been some incredibly positive changes in the past thirteen years. This, indeed, is the point of Hari's piece;
Yes, the differences between New Labour and the Conservatives are far too small, on this as on all issues. There are myriad ways in which the current Government has also spoon-fed the super-rich. They cheer-led the economy-crashing deregulation of the banks; they turned Britain into a de facto tax haven for non-doms; when you add it all up, a tycoon still scandalously pays a lower proportion of his income in tax than his secretary.

But it is wrong to say, on this issue, there is no difference at all. The gap is real, and millions of people live in that gap. The Institute of Fiscal Studies just published a long-term study of how Labour's tax changes have affected different classes, compared to the last Tory government. It found that the richest 10 per cent have seen their incomes cut by 9 per cent, to pay for an increase in the incomes of the poorest 10 per cent. A rich man has lost on average £25,000 a year; a poor woman has gained on average £1,700 a year. I have seen these changes among my own family and friends: gaining £1,700 is the difference between struggling to pay the bills, or being able to give your kids a summer holiday. Yes, there should have been much more – but the cigarette paper between the parties is big enough to make a pretty fat roll-up.

Cameron's policies make it pretty plain: this redistribution will be slammed into reverse by him, with state cash flowing in the opposite direction. Is this due to the fact that Cameron has lived his life in a bubble of extreme privilege, and thinks it is natural that People Like Us should be the primary beneficiaries of government action? This is a question that matters – but it needs to be answered carefully. It is idiotic to attack somebody for a decision their parents made when they were a child, or money they earned before he was conceived. There's nothing wrong with being an Etonian: George Orwell went to Eton, and went on to become the greatest left-winger this country has ever produced.

The problem isn't Cameron's extreme privilege – it is that he has never tried to see beyond it.
But Hari makes the mistake of assuming that Labour is being "intimidated into silence" on the issue of the media creating a "false middle" out of the upper classes in order to promote politics that ignores the interests of ordinary people. He automatically translates a point against the Tories into a point for Labour, and blames their failure to capitalise on this as a "lapse."

The fact that Labour are also out of touch is revealed when he points out that "public opinion is substantially to the left of Labour" because New Labour's "conservatism and capitulation to the right" has left the working class out of the political discussion entirely. They may be better than the Tories, but not by enough. When Hari points out that "a child born into a poor family has to be 20 IQ points smarter than a child born into a rich family to have the same income when he is an adult," he is talking about a Britain where the Tories have been out of power for 13 years. Following on from Thatcher and Major, Blair and Brown have continued to shaped the country so that "75 per cent believe Britain is too unequal." Billionaires such as Buffett are declaring that "if there's a class war, my side's winning" without the Tories even holding power.

So, yes, it will almost certainly get a whole lot worse if the Tories get in. But if Labour hold power it won't get any better. We cannot end the injustices of capitalism, or push back the class war waged by the bosses, with a ballot paper. All we can do is help determine how dovish or hawkish that class war will be. Reform may force a concession or two out of the ruling class, but if we want real change we're going to have to make it.

An integral part of communism is the notion that workers can run the workplace without bosses. Anarchists believe the same about local communities and political leaders. The former do not need the latter, and the only way to prove that is to put it into action by organising for resistance ... and revolution.