Saturday 6 May 2017

The Far Left and the 2017 General Election

Tradition has it to write a preview of far left challenges at general election time. Seldom-issued press releases are rifled through, hyperbolic statements of intent are scanned and, ultimately, declaration of polls are descried for that important nugget of information. Two years ago, 215 candidates entered the fray on self-described class struggle platforms. That was also something of a record - certainly the largest (disparate) collective effort Britain's tankies, Trots, and others had mounted this century. Possibly even bigger than rosters of candidates ever fielded by the official Communist Party before it disappeared up its own backside.

Interestingly, 2017 will probably mark the slightest far left general election challenge ever. Oh yes, I imagine the Workers' Revolutionary Party rape cult to donate a dozen or so deposits to sundry council coffers. If you got leftover piles of cash from doing jobs for Saddam Hussein, what's a central committee to do? Likewise, former stable mates the Socialist Equality Party might arrange a phalanx of their forces and storm the bottom of the vote tallies in a couple of seats. And no election would be an election without the Communist League, the British outpost of the weird and not-so-wonderful American Socialist Workers Party. This is a round about way of saying none of the principal outfits of the far left are standing this time. And it's not just because May's calling an election caught our most farsighted vanguards on the hop.

The Morning Star readers' group trading as the Communist Party of Britain quickly ruled themselves out of contention. Declaring they're not going to do anything? I've never seen this dozy organisation move so lightning fast. Rightly, they argue that Theresa May offers an anti-working class government whose Brexit will see a diminution of workplace rights and other nasties. They are also sensitive to how May may betray Brexit by keeping Britain in the single market. Yes, because obviously socialists should be against the deepening integration of economies across borders. Whatever would Marx have thought? Anyway, they're not standing. Everywhere they're calling for a Labour vote. As they put it, "the higher the Labour vote and the number of Labour MPs elected, the more secure will be the position of Jeremy Corbyn and his left allies in the Parliamentary Labour Party". In due course their own manifesto will be issued, and they are going to lend local constituency parties their campaigning assistance. A principled position, you might say.

Principled position. Now there's a phrase you never associate with the Socialist Workers Party. Recently abandoning the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, after (reluctantly) cohabiting with the Socialist Party and the RMT to no discernible benefit whatsoever, the SWP decided talking to people on the doors about the issues that mattered to them was getting in the way of selling papers and organising A to B demonstrations. Which is entirely typical of them, of course. Between the late 70s and the end of the century, it was all about "the struggle". Real politics was made on the streets and the workplaces, and anything else was a distraction. Come the 00s and it was about face. First the ill-fated Socialist Alliance and later Respect (an initiative that also ended in acrimony), it was all about elections. The path to socialism was no longer about mobilising on the streets, but clearing up the dog poo that fouled them. After the coterie responsible for this orientation decamped and went on to form the, ironically, super-movementy Counterfire, elections were more or less put back in the box and the SWP went back to what it did best: being really irritating. Except there was the small matter of the worst crisis in their history as it emerged they had covered up and "investigated" allegations of serious sexual assault against a leading figure. He was cleared by a jury of friends and comrades, of course. Battered, bruised, and even more reviled by the rest of the left than was previously the case, the SWP retreated further to their ourselves alone activism. Albeit much diminished, and rightly so.

That they're doing nothing in the general election isn't a surprise. In 1997 they handed out window posters exhorting us to "Vote Labour", with the caveat "but we don't trust Blair". Given the tone of their recent coverage of what's going on, they could easily substitute the latter for 'Corbyn'. All that said, I have to welcome the SWP to the reality-based section of leftism. They argue that the polls are very much against Labour and the "cannot be ignored". It goes on to rightly apportion appropriate levels of blame on those who've undermined and briefed against Jeremy Corbyn from day one of his leadership, and goes on to note this will always be the case if anyone else from the left gets the top job. They argue they want to see Labour win on 8th June, "but we also want a much bigger fight in the streets and workplaces against the racists and the rich. We want that type of struggle that gives a sense that society can change—and that the Tories can be beaten." And how do we get that? In their write up of the local election results and what Labour can do to turn it around, they recommend that "Corbyn should immediately announce eight or ten mass rallies in big cities which can draw thousands or tens of thousands of people to them." Actually, that's not bad advice and fits the twin-track strategy well. They also recommend setting out what a Labour Brexit would look like which, um, Kier Stamer has already done. Though it does need reemphasising and repeating, though not Maybotically. Of the SWP's election intentions, there is nary a word. As if even contemplating such a move is an absurdity.

And that brings me to my erstwhile comrades in the Socialist Party. As we have seen previously, the emergence of Corbynism caught them entirely by surprise and have had a great deal of difficulty orienting toward it since. For example, they want to support Jeremy Corbyn from inside the Labour Party so they can do the whole Militant Tendency reenactment/cosplay thing, but they can't. And so they've sporadically stood TUSC candidates. Of their meagre challenge in the local elections on Thursday, they said "every TUSC vote on Thursday will be an early declaration of support for Jeremy Corbyn's anti-austerity policies." Or, alternatively, you could demonstrate your support for Jeremy Corbyn by voting for Labour. The SP's weird positioning comes from the complete collapse of their strategic perspectives. Having declared the Labour Party a bourgeois party no different in kind from the Tories and Liberal Democrats, for a quarter of a century they have, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, pushed the idea for a new (labourist) workers' party to fill the political void. It went nowhere because Labour remained a proletarian party. i.e. An electoral alliance and movement representing the interests of working people in all their sectional and status difference. When politics is quiet and the labour movement is defeated, that reflected itself in New Labour and Blairism. When politics is in flux and tens of thousands of newly radicalised people are getting politicised, you have Corbyn and Corbynism. The difficulty for the SP is that to say they had mischaracterised Labour all along meant admitting their entire politics of the last 25 years was wrong. And so now, how a party of capital is suddenly a site of socialist struggle is something they choose not to dwell on. In fact, it proves them right. The new workers' party they had forecast with Micawberish optimism was actually emerging in Labour!

Ho hum. Now they characterise Labour as two parties, each corresponding to pro-austerity and anti-austerity poles. Which means they have shifted their strategy accordingly. Though they haven't explicitly said it, the SP's latest missive suggests they won't be standing anyone under the TUSC banner this time to assist their would-be comrades in Labour. Whatever the case, if they do decide to keep away it is welcome. Arguably, TUSC standing in The Gower in 2015 gifted the seat to the Tories. There's also another reason why a campaign is unlikely. Since Jeremy Corbyn looked a dead cert to win, some SP members have taken out Labour Party membership. When the election was announced, among the surge of new members are SP folks, some of whom are relatively well-known on the left/labour movement/trade union circuit. I suggest these comrades may not have been diligent in separating themselves from their previous affiliation. Clearly, in what follows the general election, the SP is determined to participate in the arguments and struggles to come from inside Labour. And so, whereas the CPB's position on supporting Labour is principled, the SP's is underhanded and motivated by the two things self-described Leninist outfits need above all: paper sales and recruits.

And there is your far left at the 2017 general election. If some of the micro sects stand, this is the place to find that information out.


Speedy said...

Well you see the horror for all these parties is their dream came true and they finally have one of their own in charge, about to be tested at the ballot box. Trouble is the media are out to get him and the polls are fixed and... really, what is the difference between one of these folk and your average Scientologist?

Roger McCarthy said...

Having the miserable duty of analysing the May 4 East Sussex council vote I noticed that Howard Pillott of The Socialist Party (SP-GB) - i.e. the dear old SPGB - stood in that well-known revolutionary bastion of Lewes and got no fewer than 19 votes (0.5%).

jim mclean said...

Is anybody else underwhelmed by Corbyn's lack of commitment to targeting marginal seats or am I reading too much into the Weekly Worker comments elsewhere. Think each constituency should look after its own or a close by marginal until after the election. Then we should consider a Federal system within the Party.