Monday 8 June 2009

Why the Left is Not to Blame

Regardless of the vote No2EU and the Socialist Labour Party got, in the event of the BNP winning MEPs we were always going to be blamed for letting them in. This has certainly been the case in the North West where the Green Party's Peter Cranie missed out on the last regional seat to Nick Griffin by just 5,000 votes. "If only No2EU had pulled out and backed the Greens", goes the refrain, "the North West wouldn't be sending a fascist to the European parliament". Salma Yaqoob's argument is typical of this:
Yet almost 50,000 votes were cast for the Socialist Labour Party and No2EU. Together they amounted to just 3% of the vote – nowhere near enough to make a positive impact. The plain fact is that had even a minority of that left wing vote gone to the Greens we would not be waking up to the fact that the North West is sending a fascist to the European parliament. This was a completely unjustifiable indulgence by sections of the left.
Underpinning this is the naive assumption electoral support for political parties can be wielded like trade union block votes. Had No2EU avoided the North West, then all or a good proportion of those votes would have been drawn to the Greens. But is is never as simple as that.

Cast your minds back to the 2003 Holyrood election. Having served there since the first elections in 1999 and having a good reputation as a leftwing Labour MSP, John McAllion was able to do a deal with the Dundee branch of the
Scottish Socialist Party where the latter agreed not to stand against him. However, while the SSP managed to return six MSPs on that occasion McAllion lost his seat to the SNP. Rather than assisting him, in the absence of the SSP voters unexpectedly turned to the nationalists and leaving McAllion high and dry.

Then of course there is my patch, Abbey Green ward in Stoke. Back in 2006 we had a couple of Labour party councillors defect to us just prior to the local elections. After a hard fought campaign the
Socialist Party came in third with 508 votes (17%). Labour came second and Stoke BNP leader, Alby Walker, came first. Of course we were blamed for letting the fascists in and splitting the vote, etc. In 2007 and 2008 we did not stand in this ward, so what happened to the SP vote? First, turnout in the ward had risen in the two previous contests where we had also fielded a candidate, and since 2006 it has declined. Second, the Labour vote has been rising since - despite fielding possibly the worst possible candidate - but the BNP's margin of victory has been increasing year on year. In fact the only year their vote share didn't rise was, you guessed it, 2006.

If the voter make up of unambiguously socialist organisations like the SSP and SP is complex, that would be doubly so for No2EU. Sure, there would be a hard left and old Labour component, but because of its Eurosceptic name and relative lack of profile it undoubtedly picked up casual anti-EU voters who might not be
au fait with the left wing character of the formation. in Stoke we have some limited evidence from our No2EU stalls - while we did not speak to anyone who said they were going to vote Labour or Green, far more did admit they were going to lend their votes to UKIP and the BNP. It was among this group we had the most canvassing success. Therefore, in relation to the North West there is no telling where our vote could have gone had we stood aside - but I'm pretty sure more would have gone to the BNP or stayed at home than the Greens.

Incidentally, it's interesting to note that the best placed candidate to prevent Griffin from getting a seat was in fact UKIP. They missed out on a second seat by just 900 votes while there was 5,000 between the Greens and the BNP. But alas I've yet to come across anyone condemning the
English Democrats for taking votes from them. The same is true for Yorkshire and Humber where the BNP sneaked a seat for Andrew Brons. The Greens polled extremely well, but fell short of a seat by 15,000 votes. However, according to vote block logic had they stood aside Labour would be sending an MEP to Brussels. Again, where are the hoots of outrage?

In short the vote block argument crumbles when lightly chipped by analysis. And yet it remains a persistent feature of political discourse. This is because it lets certain interests off the hook. It's far easier for Labour and others to blame small left wing electoral interventions for letting the BNP in than looking at the glaring political failures closer to home. It's far easier for many Greens to wag their finger at the far left than address their historic refusal to consider joint challenges and/or agreements. And for those tied to 'vote-anyone-but-nazi' campaigning, blaming groups for diluting the anti-fascist vote avoids questioning the viability of their strategy.


North Briton 45 said...

The most significant aspect of the BNP winning two seats is that in both the North West and Yorkshire, their vote actually went down.

Labour voters can be held responsible for basically staying at home - no great surprise and not something they should feel too guilty about.

I don't think the election of two BNP MEPs is the end of the world; they will be revealed for the shallow, inept, racist, incompetent idiots they are.

A case is point is Richard Barnbrook in the London Assembly, who has rapidly shown himself to be one of the world's most pathetic individuals.

We can, therefore, hope the election of this pair will be a short-term hiccup. One mustn't be complacent, or shy away from highlighting their inadequacies.

But it would be equally foolish to recognise them as political peers, rather than inadequates.

andy newman said...

this is disingenuos Phil because it doesn't address the key issue is that you could have stood in Wales, Scotland and six english constituencies with no risk of letting the BNP win.

You could then have argued for people to tacticaly use their vote to deny the BNP - in the case of the NW you would have even had the luxury of having a committed socialist as head of the Green list.

this is where leadership comes in. Many people may have been reluctant to vote Labour or Green, but could have been persuased to do so as an effective anti-facsit vote. And part of the process is building alliances with good people in the Greens and labour.

Sorry, but I think Your argument about EDP and UKIP is fatuous ultra-leftism
. Are you saying that EDP/UKIP are equivalent to Labour and the Greens. Try arguing that in a union meeting!

the experience of No2EU has diminished the political authority of the RMT in the wider trade union movement.

gray said...

ah hells bells Phil

you were saying Vote Labour for years - it didn't matter if you were trying to infiltrate them or expelled by them...Militant's credo; vote Labour.

It was the SWP one too.

And why? Vote Labour and learn not to trust the Labour Party. Thereby flock to the Vanguard, of latter day Lenins.

When are you going to study that bit of political history or that bit of sociology, Phil? Are you prepared to ask questions about how royally the Trots have fucked up working class movements?

The workers have seen Labour. They told them to fuck off and they didn't go to the vanguard. They went elsewhere.

Dave Riley said...

Now that the significance of the EU electoral debacle has set in the outcry is strident. Even Lenin's Tomb ( situated in the SWP camp)has had enough. Phil Hearse offers a straight talking analysis in a piece aptly titled If this debacle doesn’t wake up the British Left, absolutely nothing will.

And now Phil BC takes the easy road by deflecting the polemic to a side show debate:Why the Left is Not to Blame (for letting in the BNP). Of course the left is not to blame, the Labour Party is.

The real issue, nonetheless, is that the British far left has had years of hard Labour to get its proverbial shit together and (as even Lenin's Tomb now argues) has cynically squandered it.

Which part of that do you not understand?

Even the initiative for the No2REU package had to come from outside the main socialist  left orgs. Crappy program. Formed late in the show. But hey, it's something ....! [Guard it with your life! You gotta start somewhere.]

I don't mean to suggest that regrouping the left is a walk in the park. The Australian experience has been very difficult to negotiate (see:Uniting the Socialist Left: the Australian Experience for a review)

But at least we've been able here to keep our eyes on the prize and rather than wank on about unity and collective action, actually  work at doing something and create a small beginning  pointed in that direction.

We have also been able to go beyond a obsession with electoralism and foster a day to day existence that seeks to root activity in the movements.

Our task has  often been  handicapped  by the very same political myopia that infects the English left -- a myopia that the UK left exports via a distribution network of  various toy international franchises.

So if you think the left can walk away from this poll without wearing some blame  for the result I think you are kidding yourself.

No wonder the Green Party has done so well.

Charlie Marks said...

It's a silly argument to try and blame No2EU or the SLP, I know - but it is a shame that we weren't all working together to tip the balance in favour of the Greens. If they're a little sniffy about electoral alliances it's probably because they're the biggest party to the left of Labour.

Anonymous said...

Blaming the SLP and No2EU for the BNP's success reeks of 4 years of Gore supporters blaming Nader for Bush's election to cover the fact that he couldn't motivate enough voters himself.

I still believe that voting Green, as I did in the South West, was a far more strategic approach.

Dave Riley said...

Charlie Marks is correct: the Greens are the biggest party to the left of Labour. That also means that they are the left party with the largest electoral support. When you adjust the voting figures that way the picture isn't as bleak as it may initially appear.

That's a historical dynamic that cannot be ignored. The question is whether green electoral politics should be challenged ideologically with a clear argument for a socialist perspective.

I think it should.

In Australia the Socialist Alliance tries to work closely with members in the local green party and we usually call for a vote for the Greens ahead of the major parties.While no electoral alliance has been secured the SA occupies a radical pole within the environment and especially within the climate change movement.

The Greens do not, however, reciprocate, preferring instead to seek preference deals with either of the major parties.

Our working alliances with Greens members are deepening and broadening because of the environment campaign work we do,and the way we try to do it, but the Green's dedicated electoral pragmatism is forever dragging the party rightward. Here in Queensland, the Greens have more or less abandoned mass movement politics and enter a state of political hibernation between elections.Our approach, however, has been to try to draw their membership into activity where we can.

Some SA members are also Greens members.And some SA members have joined us from the Greens.At the moment we are fighting a campaign in partnership with some Greens members against the push within their own party and the by most of the peak environment bodies to roll over for Rudd's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme -- the CPRS.

Despite their very shallow industrial program the Greens receive financial backing from some trade union branches -- more than we do because the Greens occupy most of the electoral space left of the Australian Labor Party.

Another aspect of the rise of the Greens in Australia has been that after they reached lift off electorally and there was no coming together on the far left -- in the late nineties -- many socialist exers from various Marxian orgs joined them. So it's not unusual for sitting Greens councilors or campaign managers to be some comrade or other you know intimately from decades past.

This is surely happening in the UK...for the exact same reasons that the phenomenon has occurred here.The best of these we work with but there is a layer who have turned their backs on socialist politics altogether.

The Greens also reaped the electoral results from the wave of protests against the Iraq War despite their often shallow engagement with the anti-war movement

But Greens politics has also meant that in many instances of being elected they have not stood up to neo-liberalism and in the inner suburbs of Melbourne, the Greens electoral strength is beginning to wane so that four years ago Steve Jolly won a council seat for the Socialist Party with 12 % of the vote (and ALP preference flow); and at the most recent poll, the SA secured up to 18% of the vote in one area and Jolly doubled his poll return.

But the Greens still occupy that electoral space left of the ALP which may now reach almost 30% in some areas and currently sustains a generic national average of around 7-8%. But in the movements, they are very thin on the ground and their electoral successes are rarely deployed to strengthen the movements for social change as they limit themselves mainly to the constraints of parliamentary discourse.

Vicky said...

Salma Yaqoob's statement is utterly ridiculous.

I thought No2EU was a terrible initiative, but the idea that it shouldn't have stood against the Greens is crazy. The only people to blame for the fact that the Greens didn't beat the BNP is the Greens themselves for failing to appeal to enough voters. They ran an extremely dishonest campaign, claiming that they were the only party that could beat the BNP. I had a leaflet through my door from Peter Cranie, the apparently Socialist candidate standing in the North West, dedicated to the fact that he was not a racist. But that's it. No policies, no politics. Even his website was called Stop Nick Griffin- how is this putting forward an alternative to fascism? The Greens have no right to expect Socialist support; they are not a Socialist organisation. In local politics, they enter into alliances with the Tories. They have no connection to the working class and it is the Greens in Ireland and on the continent who have pushed through some of the most anti-worker legislation. The idea that Socialists should not stand against them, or they have some right to our support, is absurd.

But then I totally disagree with your title to. The Left absolutely is to blame. We are fractured and weak, and by remaining disunited, we have squandered years of New Labour exposing its true colours. The election of the BNP is far more of a failure of the British Left, than it is a victory for fascism in Britain. If we don't accept this, we're never going to move forward.

Anonymous said...

The comparison with Australia can be a bit misleading, though, because there is preferential voting there as well as compulsory voting.

The problems here in the UK with this election were (1) only 1/3 of eligible voters voted and (2) the problem of where to direct the only preference we got.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

It doesn't matter, none of this, no one is to blame apart from 900,000 twonks who voted for the BNP.

They are the ones that need help.

Anonymous said...

who is to blame?

1. the labour party's pro-market leaders, obviously.

2. the capitalist system, which breads racism.

3. the union leaders and the leaders of the socialist left, including those still in labour, and the far left, also must take some blame. they have failed to establish a genuine and coherent left wing political party in the past 15 years. they need to think about this and take steps forward whilst avoiding the same mistakes as in the past.

the arguments about tactically voting green or labour are false, they are made by those who support a liberal and ethical 'anti-fascism', or, in some cases, by those who simply despise socialists and the left. some of these people are openly pro-popular frontism and have learnt nothing from the history of this failed tactic.

yes it's a set back and a dangerous happening. but we are not talking about fascism coming to power here, even at council level! get some perspective. if we were talking about fascists taking state power, the time would be for either armed workers' militias or fleeing the country, and voting wouldn't matter by then!

the way to stop fascists is through mass working class action at all levels.

let us not forget that the capitalists like to have bands of fascists, to stir up racism and create disunity in the working class, they like thugs who can strike break and attack the left! the capitalist state attacks democratic rights, it wages colonial wars of occupation, it defends fascist marches, it attacks the unions.

we must resist popular frontism. the capitalists and their parties are not our allies against fascism, or in any other battle. lets not forget that in the 30s, at a certain stage, the capitalists have backed the fascists and handed them state power.

class independence in a fight against fascism and racism is not just desirable, but critical.

no worker will be motivated to defend the capitalists who are making redundencies, defend the capitalist parties who privatise and cut services, and their mps who claims thousands in expenses! the workers fight best and hardest in their own interests, not to defend the capitalists rule and priveledges.

for this reason anti-fascism and class and socialist struggle are inseperable.

and finally, the only way to end the threat of fascism forever is to overthrow capitalism, the system which breads the conditions and supporters of fascism, and instead institute a democratic socialist society in britain and worldwide.

there is no short cut.

popular frontism is a road to defeat.

re-learn the lessons of history and apply them today - remember spain, germany and italy.


Phil said...

There is no disingenuity on my part, Andy and I doubt if the SP had fallen behind the Greens it would have made much difference. We might have a network of active branches in the North West but we do not possess much of a base - the organisation in Liverpool is nowhere near what it once was. Our active support for the Greens would have only delivered a minority of No2EU North West votes.

Second, as was pointed out many times in the lead up to the election, in many parts of the country No2EU deliberately targeted BNP areas. That coupled with the ambiguity of the name undoubtedly picked up some who would have otherwise voted BNP or UKIP. This has not been lost on the Greens, but seems beyond you for some reason.

Lastly you misread my point about UKIP and the EDP. In the context of anyone but the BNP, it made more sense for the English Democrats to stand down to prevent them getting a seat. Yes, it would have been preferable to have had Peter Cranie in place but alas he wasn't the best placed to do so was he?

It's pretty clear to me the responsibility for the BNP is the Labour party and the media. On that I think we can call agree. But it is also my opinion based on participating in this and other socialist campaigns that no way is No2EU responsible for allowing Nick Griffin to sneak in.

Phil said...

Dave, I pay tribute to the work your comrades have done with the SA. However, the reasons why the British left has so far failed to come together cannot be boiled solely down to sectarianism and shibboleths: the biggest barrier to lasting unity are different strategic orientations and modes of political practice. The way to overcome this is to try and work together wherever possible and reach understandings over elections, etc.

This weekend leading figures in No2EU will be meeting up and chances are it will lead to some kind of convention down the line. Because there is at least one trade union participating in the process there is the promise of something not unlike the SA contesting elections. But to build up trust and comradeship between different organisations, especially when some direct their recruitment at existing organised leftists, is going to be a long hard process.

Phil said...

Vicky, I accept your points about left unity. But remember, the existence of your organisation shows how difficult it is to remain united even where there is substantial political agreement and shared history.

Dave Riley said...

Phil BC writes:"the biggest barrierto lasting unity are different strategic orientations and modes of political practice. The way to overcome this is to try and work together wherever possible and reach understandings over elections, etc."

I say: So that's the formula?So how come it hasn't been given a test drive? I in fact referenced those points about strategy and modes-- I didn't  argue that way myself.However from my POV your phrase is simply a nice way to descirbe entrenched sectarianism.

Here's an anecdote. The Socialist Party -- a local CWI franchise here in Australia-- has historically spurned overtures made to it by the Socialist Alliance in way of shared electoral approach. Today fortunately we have an agreement  not to stand against one another. However, the SP , quite rightly, has raised objections to the practice of  other groups on the left who refuse to call for a vote for the SP or even recognise the fact that it is standing in elections.( The SA, on the other hand,  publicly  calls for a Ist preference vote for the SP.) At the last federal poll, for instance, all Australian far left groups, aside form one tiny groupuscule, called for a first preference  vote for the Greens and a couple of Neanderthals pitched for the Australian Labor Party.

However, the SP did not publicly call for a vote for the Socialist Alliance either nor did it recognize by name the existence of the Socialist Alliance in its election campaign propaganda.This is silly sectarianism and has not one iota to do with a generous interpretation of "different strategic orientations and modes of political practice."

socialist  groups pulled back  and lost their political nerve when the project proved that  the left could indeed work together -- not only during election campaigns but also during other struggles. The question was sharply posed : why remain separate and rigidly autonomous?

There was another issue we encountered which I think may relate to the future of the NO2EU package.Since the SA began as an affiliated body in 2001 --  it was a major struggle to open up the organisation so that non aligned Alliance members could democratically determine  activity. This was the crux of the multi tendency socialist party debate because as soon as the affiliates lost veto over the SA  then the groundswell for a new party became feral.My view is that these outfits had no concept of the dynamic that the initial regroupment initiative had unleashed among a layer of people who identified as socialist and joined the Alliance -- which still today is a majority of the Alliance membership .The yearning for a unified left was and is very potent.

Our complication has been that the engine room for the project -- the DSP -- has been rent asunder by a faction fight for three long years about the future of the Alliance. This dispute parrallels the divide in the left in regard to strategic autonomy and no doubt reflects the same issues that were in dispute within the SP over the Scottish Socialist Alliance.

However, the Socialist Alliance, ticks over and has sustained a profile and a level of loyalty and identification that transcends what the  left has been able to achieve for decades.

The question is :Can the project now  be moved forward?

Dave Riley said...

In fact the exact opposite is the case: I believe that the SP's core objection to the Alliance is that it shares very similar "strategic orientations and modes of political practice" as the SA occupies the political space it thinks it should own.The platforms are similar. The campaigns are similar. And the SA's reach is way beyond what the SP can obtain from inner suburban Melbourne where it has its only viable presence.

Of course you are correct, in that "the way to overcome this is to try and work together wherever possible and reach understandings over elections, etc." and that's happening.

Nonetheless, my regoupment experience is very different to your ruling. The  biggest barrier to lasting unity is the strong similarity of strategic orientations and modes of political practice amongs these socialist outfits. And that is what scares the bejeebers  out of the them. That's where the panic sets in. If these groupuscules cannot by habit differentiate their copyrighted existence from others on the left, then the very rationale for a totally  separate strategic orientation is destroyed.

In the chronology of the Socialist Alliance, the affiliated

Dave Riley said...

Sorry about this but Blogger has suddenly slashed comment length and now imposes brevity -- even upon me! In cutting down my above comments into two I mucked up the paragraphs and lost some of the sense of it:

Here's the full in tack comment:AVPS COMMENT for those who think the journey across the web is worth it.

ModernityBlog said...

It ain't rocket science.

You simply put together an informal committee of the various groups, get on the phone, chat a bit, and agree not to stand in certain places, if it will split the vote or aid the fascists, etc

Just make an informal arrangement between groupings, that's it, simple.

Phil said...

Dave and Mod, don't you think the far left in Britain hasn't done that? In the case of this election the spectacle of No2EU and the SLP standing against one another could not be avoided. Scargill is absolutely impervious to reason on cooperating with other socialist organisations and that's likely to remain the case. It wouldn't matter if say the RMT, PCS, POA, FBU, Labour Left, the far left got together and launched a new workers' party tomorrow. He would neither accept the invitation to participate nor come to any agreement regarding elections.

But yes, there are some non-aggression agreements in place. The best known is probably the Socialist Green Unity Coalition, which is merely an over named electoral pact between the SP and several smaller groups (Socialist Alliance, Alliance for Green Socialism, AWL I believe ...).

I've said it before, but what's likely to happen at the next election is an alliance of socialists with each group standing a slate of candidates united by a basic list of demands. It is likely to be backed by at least one trade union. It's not ideal but given the state of the left its a good step up from what we've got now.

ModernityBlog said...

"Dave and Mod, don't you think the far left in Britain hasn't done that?"

Phil, I don't honestly know.

Bits of the British Left are very conservative in their organsitional methods, some have only just mastered mobile phone and email :)

But seriously it has to be done, the BNP are aiming for an MP, next and the Left should make an extra effort.

Dave Riley said...

I agree with the outlook of SR:European election: `An alarm is ringing' -- time `to build the broadest possible left unity

ModernityBlog said...

ahh Dave, I didn't know that Socialist Resistence were readers of my blog, cos their conclusion was basically what I argued.

I would place more emphasis on the need to build up trade unions, as the membership levels have fallen dramatically and the grip of the bureaucracy is even tighter, but either way the real way is to build up local community organisation and trade unions, bottom up.