In the News
“One of the few exciting stories of this election, largely untold, is the emergence of the Socialist Alliance/Scottish Socialist Party as a credible alternative to Labour,” wrote Mark Steel, expressing the hopes of a section of the London leftwing intelligentsia, in an election day article in the Independent. If he really believed this, when the results came in he must have been as gutted as the Tories.
The SA put up 92 candidates. They got in total around 57,500 votes (i.e. about 625 per candidate). Rather than becoming the fourth party in England, as they intended, they ended up 8th, after the Greens, the UKIP and the BNP. Their only consolation was to have done better than Arthur Scargill’s SLP which put up 114 candidates and only got around 55,000 votes (or about 480 per candidate). It is true that in Scotland the SSP did rather better, with its 72 candidates totalling some 73,000 votes, or 3 percent of the total vote in Scotland.
We are not rejoicing over this failure since we know that it is also a reflection of the popular reception to the word “socialism” which rubs off on us. Of course neither the SA/SSP nor the SLP stood for socialism. Indeed, it was their traditions – respectively, Trotskyism and Stalinism – that have done so much to discredit the idea of socialism by associating it with a state-run economy run by a vanguard party.
The other tradition responsible for discrediting the word “socialism” is Old Labour, but it was precisely as a revival of this that the SA set out to pass itself off as. The SA was an electoral coalition of normally warring (and still mutually suspicious) Trotskyist sects which had come together to create a front organisation which, if it got off the ground, would become a new Labour party which they could then all infiltrate as they did Labour in the good old days. The SA programme was thus consciously constructed to be openly reformist so as to appeal to Old Labourites. In this it succeeded remarkably.
The title of its manifesto People Before Profit encapsulated the reformist illusion perfectly. Just as their other slogan of “Tax the Rich” assumes the continued existence of the rich, so “People before Profit” assumes the continued existence of the profit system but where the government would intervene to try to make it work in the interest of wage and salary workers. As we know from the experience of Labour governments, this can never work.
The profit system can only ever operate in the interest of the class of profit-takers, and any party which takes on the responsibility for managing its political side will inevitably end up doing this on its terms, finding itself obliged by economic circumstances precisely to put profits before people. In the end such a party, far from transforming capitalism into a new society, itself becomes transformed into an ordinary pro-capitalist party. That’s the explanation of the repeated failure of the Labour Party in government and of its eventual transformation into New Labour.
The Trotskyists who drew up the SA’s detailed programme of promised reforms of capitalism showed no imagination. They weren’t even promising anything new, but largely the restoration of reforms that had once existed but had been whittled away by the workings of capitalism since the 1970s. Thus their manifesto of “pledges” (they played the promise game just like any party of conventional politicians) consisted of “say no” to this and “bring back” that. But perhaps, when you’re pretending to be something you’re not, the tendency will always be to overdo it.
There is another possible explanation. That the SA’s reformist programme wasn’t a cynical ploy, but that they genuinely believed in it. In that case they would be genuinely Old Labour reformists. This could be the case but the arguments socialists had with them on the streets and at meetings suggest that they did indeed have a hidden Leninist agenda of violent insurrection led by a vanguard party (but that they couldn’t agree which one of them it should be). So perhaps after all it is reassuring that they did not emerge as a credible, reformist alternative to New Labour. – Adam Buick
The workers of Oldham were battling in the streets, against each other and against the police, for three days from the 25 to 28 May this year. The poisonous despair, powerless and poverty of the area, caused in large part by the decline of the town’s traditional textile manufacturing industry, lead to workers turning upon one another. Differences in skin colour and culture became the focus for the pent-up energies and frustrations engendered by these social conditions.
The spark was, apparently, the provocative actions of followers of the British National Party and their ilk, who damaged property and harassed and attacked brown skinned workers, seemingly without reprisal from the police or authorities. Their targets eventually responded to the provocation, coming out onto the streets to fight them. As a part of the conflict, the unfortunately named Live and Let Live pub was attacked, and windows in the area were bricked. The police turned out in force, and a series of running battles ensued, leaving some 25 workers (including police officers) injured.
The centre of the trouble was the Glodwick area, with groups of up to 500 workers throwing petrol bombs and firecrackers at the police lines. Over the three nights of clashes a post-office was looted and the offices of the local newspaper became the target for firebomb attacks.
It has been suggested that the trouble was stirred up by the British National Party, as a part of their election campaign in the area. The BNP advocates divisive confusionist policies, based upon the scientifically absurd idea of racial differences. Its leader Nick Griffin, their candidate in Oldham West & Royton, advocates communal separation, along the lines of the so-called “Peace Wall” in Londonderry/Derry. This is supposed to be the only way of ending the allegedly irreconcilable differences between people of different “races”.
Their campaign turned out to be highly successful, with workers continually let down by the promises of reformism and the lack of any prospect for change from any other parties, being attracted to the radical posturings of Griffin’s band of would-be leaders. Their promises, geared toward insularism, putting a mysterious group called “The British” first, by protecting their “homeland” and ending their unemployment by prohibiting “foreign” products, attracted a high number of votes for such a small party. In Oldham West and Royton the BNP recorded 6,552 votes (16.4 percent) and in Oldham East and Saddleworth they scored 5,091 votes (11.21 percent). Each total is almost twice the entire number of anti-capitalists who turned up to the London Mayday event.
Naturally, the left is outraged. One commentator in Socialist Worker expressed shock that police refused to prevent the BNP members canvassing for their candidates, stating it was “perfectly legitimate election activity”. Presumably, the SWP must believe that the state should be allowed to vet and permit candidates’ campaigns.
They and other groups blame the failure of leaders, Socialist Worker observed that Oldham workers couldn’t identify with Many-Homes Meacher (their MP), and no-one in power listens to them but instead neglects them; while Militant noted that “the community leaders should be fired” for being out of touch. The problem, apparently, lies with the leaders and not the social system. Michael Meacher himself blamed William Hague and his “foreign land” speech for stoking up xenophobia.
Of course, the leftists see the fascists as rivals for leadership, and are thus happy to join with liberals in relying on emotive tactics and censorship to impede them. Such tactics back-fired badly at the announcement of the vote, because the local council forbade any candidates from speaking. This allowed the fascists to pose before the television cameras, wearing t-shirts proclaiming “Gagged for telling the truth”, and sporting large and visible gags in their mouths. This played into their victim posture, along with their attempts to claim they were trying to defend “whites from racism”. It also effectively prevented anyone from being able to hear how ridiculous their policies really are.
Liberals and leftists alike will not debate fascists, because they have no real answers to their arguments. They both support nationalism and its logic, albeit qualifiedly. Their differences with the fascists are those of degree not of quality. After all, the SWP has unfurled openly reactionary banners by merging with the Scottish Socialist Party whose slogan is “for a Scottish Socialist Republic”, the capitalist politics of national self-determination. What is the differences between “moderate nationalism” and “moderate racism”? Both are absurd creeds used to mystify and divide the workers.
The SWP calls upon workers to “turn anger on the real enemy”, by which they mean not the capitalist system, but the fascists. It means a futile programme of continually trying to suppress the manifestations of fascism, without destroying its root cause: the fallacy that workers share in some national interest. Without that understanding then the privations of capitalism will always lead to workers misidentifying the cause of their problems as not the capitalist system, but other workers.
Dividing the workers against the fascists will not ultimately bring the resolution of these problems, nor will simply appointing a different set of leaders to save us. Only the clear understanding that workers of all types share a common interest against the capitalist system, and that its replacement with socialism will end the social conditions that breed such violence will be of any use to us. That understanding will only come about through trusting the workers to think for themselves, instead of trying to crush the fascists with state power or street politics. –PIK SMEET
So, has anything positive come out of another instalment of British capital’s election farce? Well, 41 percent of those eligible to vote on 7 June turned their backs on it altogether. The representatives of capitalism and the media have done no end of moaning about our “apathy”, but then, of course, they are never going to give workers the credit that we might actually have seen through capitalist political “democracy”. So, maybe we can talk of rejection rather than apathy. But are there any positive challenges or alternatives coming from the working class?
Any readers from the Bristol area will have seen the posters and stickers stating “Nobody Cares” and “Vote Nobody”. Well, on 3 May (the date council elections were originally meant to take place) people in the Easton area of the city did indeed really have the chance to “Vote Nobody”. Thousands of forms were delivered ahead of an “election” held at Easton community centre, where those voting had a choice on the question “who do you want to run Easton?” between Bristol City Council and “Nobody”. 150 local people participated, with the result being Council – 5, “Nobody”– 145. The Nobody campaign then “derecognised” the council and invited people to meet on Thursdays at the community centre, at an assembly where they could discuss local issues. There are now a few “You are now entering free Easton” signs to be seen around the area.
As reported in the Big Issue South West (April 30–May 6 edition): “We’re telling people to ‘Vote Nobody’ for two reasons,” said campaign spokesman ‘Nobby O’body’.
“Firstly, we want to ridicule the idea that democracy is working. Democracy isn’t about ticking a box every four years to choose between a few cloned candidates whose manifestos say almost exactly the same thing. Secondly, on a more serious level, if the council is failing local people, we believe that the community has a right to say that it doesn’t recognise the council’s authority any more”. (The Vote Nobody campaign can be accessed at: http://uk.geocities.com/votenobody)
The “Nobody” team then went on to encourage people pissed off with the political con-game to express themselves by writing “Nobody” across ballot papers in the general election on 7 June. Spoilt ballot papers? Sound familiar?
Yes, in this respect there is more than a little common ground between the Socialist Party and the Nobody team in the elections just gone. We were both saying, if you are opposed to all the political con-merchants and the capitalist interests for which they stand – why vote for any of them? Why not vote for yourself, for a change, rather than just saying “voting changes nothing”? Why not vote “Nobody”? Or, better still, as we support the use of the vote as a potential revolutionary form of political expression, write “world socialism” across your ballot paper?
Both the world socialist campaign and “Nobody” rejected all the parties of capital. And, in the case of the 3 May Easton “referendum”, the Nobody campaign was perhaps tentatively exploring the sort of community/workers’ councils embodying direct working class democracy that would be vital in any future social and political movement for socialism. In our case though we are slightly more specific that this must be accompanied by electoral action to win control of parliament for the revolutionary working class. This in order to neutralise the capitalist state and its forces of repression, express the revolutionary desire of the working class majority and formally dismantle capitalism and its state apparatus. These, of course, are questions and situations for the future. But at least we have seen in Bristol, for any criticisms that could be made, a positive reaction to the evident failure of capitalist politics of all shades to work in the interest of the working class and their communities.
Local Socialist Party comrades delivered our own “anti-capitalist guide to the general election” leaflets to homes in Easton, putting our case for the rejection of capitalism’s election charade and for the rejection of the capitalist system entire – and for self-organisation to build a free society based on the principle of from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs. So let’s put self-emancipation and the abolition of capitalism on the agenda. Let’s vote for ourselves for a change, and act for ourselves for a change – turning “apathy” into positive action –BM