Though Cowards Flinch and Traitors Sneer, We’ll Fly the Red Flag at an Undetermined Point in the Future
Posted Under: Class,GreenFeed,Labour,Socialism,Venezuela
Working class universalism is not enough. Labour does not deserve our unwavering loyalty
It’s Friday evening. I should be out partying or down the pub. Instead I’m sitting in front of my computer, wondering what wondrous topic to opine upon for my column. I’ve scoured the news. David Cameron’s doing God and Boris, hopes for a climate change deal this year are looking scandelously dismal, British soldiers are getting shot in Afghanistan and American soldiers are getting shot at home. But what’s really caught my attention tonight has been the debate on Though Cowards Flinch which emerged from an article Guy Aitchison wrote for The Third Estate on Power2010. The discussion on democratic reform, whilst interesting in and of itself, is not really what’s piqued my interest in this thread, rather the disagreements on left wing organisation within and without the Labour Party.
I very rarely get involved in internal left-wing organisational disputes anymore. Partly because, despite their utility to a point (and it is a definite point), they bore the hell out of me. And this is speaking as someone who considers themselves switched on. For the wider public, sectarianism is to socialism as talking about your ex is to sex. It’s a turnoff. More crucially, however, these sorts of debates in the end only serve to distract us from our common goals, our common enemies, and the wider issues facing us in a very unjust world. While we’re bickering about the best way to rally the British workers to our cause, Iraqi civillians are getting blown up, Afghanistan’s tearing itself apart, kids are slaving away in sweat shops, Palestinians are having their homes knocked down, the ice caps and glaciers are melting and David Cameron’s doing God. And Boris.
Just this once, however, I’m going to throw in my two Euro cents. The impetus for this is a comment by Carl Packman in response to my damnation of the Labour Party and everything it stands for these days.
I see what you’re saying Salman, but take something that Mark Fischer said, when he gave a lecture on Marxism recently at Eton: ‘I assured the audience that the whole point of Marxists’ identification with the working class was its universalism.’ The very reason British Marxists should remain tied to the Labour party, and not join fringe yoke like SWP, or any of the other Trot splits, is because the party is historically linked to the Labour movement, and is henceforth the site of working class universalism. New Labour neo-liberalism is its inappropriate thorn, those careerists should not be vindicated by socialists jumping ship.
I tend to avoid discussing Marxism in 19th (or indeed 20th) century terms anymore. The last time I used the words bourgeoisie and proletariat were in an essay on The German Ideology. I believe many of Marx’s ideas remain fundamentally relevant to the modern world, but the modern world is dynamic and disjunctive and theory must remain equally adaptable in its adoption. Creationists, after all, are laughed at in modern Europe. Christians who have successfully incorporated Darwinism into their world view remain part of relevant discourse. The reason I personally feel this point warrants discussion however, is because it’s a debate I’ve had with Reuben many times. It’s a very old idea and one that has never failed to leave me feeling cold.
No political party reserves the right to go unchallenged. And no left-wing organisation deserves the right to be reified, to become a concrete fact in and of itself, to demand the unwavering loyalty of the workers regardless of its political positions. If that party is not the right vehicle for change, we should not be in it. I simply cannot accept that because the Labour party was once the locus for progressive working class political activity that it should always be and will always be, irrespective of its current leadership and its present policies. That is the political equivalent of Creationism. It relies on nothing more than blind faith. Not least the faith that New Labour – a neo-liberal, neo-conservative, repressive war machine that, by gutting the Labour movement and accepting the basic tenets of Thatcherism has done far more damage to the country and the world than the Iron Lady ever could - is simply a transient thorn. It isn’t. It’s been here for the best part of two decades and will remain for the forseeable future. Labour may be heading for a spell in opposition, but the fight against Cameron as he does God and Boris won’t be led by the old class warriors. It will be led, most likely, by David Miliband. Or another obsequious, spineless, supine, Blairite clone with a pretty face and ugly politics.
And it is precisely this kind of faith-based thinking which will continue the New Labour project long after Brown’s government has faded to a dim, uncomfortable and embarrassing memory. New Labour is not a transient thorn. Its intelligent, educated and very bourgeois (look what you’ve made me do!) architects made a calculated, and very correct, decision that they can afford a sharp swing to the middle ground because whatever they do, their core support of left-wing voters will back them come what may. As long as they believe they can get away with that, New Labour will remain entrenched and the British working class will find nothing more than a few empty platitudes.
The workers of Venezuela once owed their loyalty to the loosely social democratic Acción Democrática party. Indeed their largest trade union remains linked it it. But AD was not the right vehicle for a country that desperately needed change. That’s why Chavez rose to fill a gap in political representation, without any reliance on historical links or organisational ties, because he is the right vehicle and the right voice at the right time. That time is now. Parties cannot just be viewed in terms of their history. A week’s a long time in politics and a decade’s even longer. We have to look at their policies here and now and make informed decisions about the change they are likely to bring. Otherwise we’re betraying our own principles, all in the name of some ideological committment to a homogenous, united, organised, class-conscious working class of the last century that thanks to Thatcher, Major, Blair and Brown, no longer exists.