Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Why "left unity" is a noose around the neck of working class struggle

Today, Liberal Conspiracy hosted an edited version of this article by Paul Cotterill. Titled "10 reasons the Left should support Labour Council Cuts," it is a masterpiece of apologia for Labour Party reformism. It also shows why the poisonous totem of "left unity" needs to be destroyed.

The article itself lays out the reasoning for why Labour councillors cannot avoid making cuts in line with the government's grant reductions. Specifically, it is a rebuttal of those arguing for the tactics deployed by Militant Tendency in Liverpool and Lewisham in the 1980s. It then goes on to offer reasons why Labour cuts will not be as bad as Tory and Lib Dem cuts. Yes, really.

The first part of the argument is actually fairly sound legal reasoning. Whatever your opinion on Militant's tactics, it is a fact that the state has been efficient at making sure they cannot be repeated. What it boils down to is that, if Labour councillors refused to make the cuts, then either unelected bureaucrats or central government would step in to do so. Thus, what Tony Mulhearn and others are touting as a tactic of resistance in fact boils down to a grand, but fruitless, gesture.

However, it does not follow from this that we "should support Labour Council Cuts." Rather, that councils cannot (and, at any rate, don't actually want to) oppose the cuts simply exposes the limits of reformism and appeals to authority. It demonstrates that we should oppose the councils' actions as vociferously as the government's, not that we should accept a supposed lesser of two evils.

The only evidence that Cotterill can cite for the notion that "the most vulnerable will, in general suffer less under Labour cuts than they would under Tory administrations" is Liverpool City Council's own words. However, using that as the benchmark for credible evidence, I can easily counter with council leader Joe Anderson's admission that "life-line services for the young, elderly and disabled will not escape the cuts and libraries and leisure centres will also face the axe." Not to mention 1,500 jobs. That's 1,500 families that will suffer under Labour cuts, and their being the "less" which would only increase under the Tories will be cold comfort as they join the dole queue.

Hence why I baulk at the suggestion that "what is needed in these circumstances is proper engagement with Labour councils over what cuts are being proposed and why, rather than a blanket refusal to engage with any cuts at all." This is nothing other than pro-Labour nonsense to save face and (of course) votes amongst the working class suffering the cuts.

But this is why the notion of "left unity" is so virulent. In essence, as articulated by this post on Liberal Conspiacy, it is the notion that left wingers "need to accept those who hold views we disagree with in order to challenge those we oppose." Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. Even the author of that article admits that the centre- and far-left are and should be utterly divorced from one another. And, the master of utter bollocks about "unity," Sunny Hundal, effectively boils it down to leaving the moderates in charge of the movement.

Because "unity" inevitably means falling into line with the policies and leadership of whoever's advocating it. Whether that be Labour councillors working with Liberal Democrats and Greens to impose cuts, bureaucrats only interested in their own careers, centre-leftists who want to march about and shout things but shy away from things like class struggle, or party-building, paper-selling Leninists.

But the fact is that we don't need "left unity." We never did, and it will always be the noose that chokes the life out of effective class struggle.

Instead, what we need is class unity. That is, the working class organising ourselves in order to exercise our economic power against the ruling class. Only when a rank-and-file movement of strikes, economic blockades, occupations, and other direct actions paralyses the country will we see those in power shift on their cuts policies.

Society is a power struggle, not a debating chamber. Only a campaign of mass militant direct action can force concessions from the state, and only by learning to organise ourselves without bosses or leaders can we build the new world in the shell of the old.