Issue 252 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published May 2001 Copyright Socialist Review



Time to turn our backs on Labour?

Keith Copley accepts that it is too crude to say New Labour and the Tories are the same, but then goes on to argue that there has been a qualitative shift in the nature of the Labour Party under Blair (April SR).

Clearly Blair has gone further in his own support for the market than his predecessors. However, Labour leaders have always accepted prevailing ruling class ideas on running the economy.

Labour's chancellor in 1931, Philip Snowden, insisted that there was no alternative to remaining on the gold standard. The Labour cabinet voted to cut unemployment benefit. MacDonald only formed a National Government because the Bank of England had demanded unanimity.

The Labour government of 1945 responded to the pressure for change amongst workers but also reflected a recognition amongst the ruling class that a welfare state and limited nationalisation were necessary if Britain was to be competitive internationally.

Blairism is a product of the ruling class offensive of the 1980s and the demoralisation amongst workers that followed a series of defeats. As the ruling class has abandoned Keynesianism and embraced the untrammelled rule of the market and globalisation, so has the Labour Party leadership.

Socialists have to distinguish between where Blair would like to take the Labour Party and the reality. Lenin's view that Labour is a bourgeois workers' party retains its validity today. Although there are the beginnings of a rethink in unions such as the CWU and FBU, most trade unions remain Labour affiliates. Labour still relies on them for half its funds and for activists in elections.

The possibility of building the Socialist Alliance stems partly from a widespread belief amongst erstwhile Labour supporters that the party has fundamentally changed under Blair, but also because experience in this country and elsewhere has convinced most workers that the market Blair worships offers them nothing.

Socialists have to understand where the ideas of the Labour Party leadership come from and the contradictory class pressures to which it is subject in different periods. That means recognising that Labour remains a party that is supported by workers with a leadership that supports the capitalist system. Exploiting the widening fissure between the leadership and its traditional base to build a mass socialist movement means building the Socialist Alliance while in the immediate future calling for a vote for Labour where socialists are not standing.

Tony Phillips

  • In April SR's letters the issue of what to do next about the Socialist Alliances was raised, with a call for the establishment of something akin to the Scottish Socialist Party in England. I have a number of objections to this.

    The Socialist Alliance is conceived as an extended united front tactic aimed at uniting left reformists and revolutionaries in an alliance, mainly with the intention of fighting elections. It has been most successful in those areas where people breaking to the left of New Labour have become a part of the alliance, and least successful when it has simply united existing organisations. At this stage it is still too early to talk in terms of a new party. All this would do is set off a huge, internal and frankly boring fight between organisations that have existed for years to include as much of their 'programme' as possible as part of the Socialist Alliance's platform. In the meantime those who have recently broken from an internalised, vicious organisation would be left wondering why they had joined something similar.

    The real way forward for this is to continue the debate within the Socialist Alliances. The broad agreement around a set of principles put in place for the election campaign could continue, while at the same time the separate organisations could be free to talk to all individuals involved in the alliances about more specific theoretical differences. At the moment time is on our side with this one--we should not try to force false unity, but let it grow. To borrow Trotsky's phrase, 'Two revolutions have taught me patience.' It's time for us to learn some.

    Jon Tennison

  • We welcome letters and contributions on all issues raised in Socialist Review. Please keep your contributions as short as possible, typed, double spaced if you can, and on one side of paper only.
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    Phil Marshall and Clare Fermont paint a very clear picture of Ariel Sharon, the right wing thug and murderer (March SR).

    Phil's argument that Sharon's record and politics are a reflection of Zionism in general (and its right wing revisionist current in particular) was especially welcome, given the liberal media's incomprehension over Sharon's victory.

    The case against Zionism is even more damning when you consider that the young Sharon was a protege of Israeli Labour long before he was embraced by Likud prime minister Menachem Begin.

    According to biographer Uzi Benziman, Sharon made enemies among his fellow military officers because of his rudeness and arrogance (Sharon: An Israeli Caesar, London, 1987).

    But he was protected at key points of his career by Labour leaders. After the Qibya massacre, for example, prime minister Ben Gurion demanded a meeting.

    Benziman records, 'Ben Gurion grilled him about his past and his education. He was surprised to find out that Arik [Sharon] was raised on a moshav, nominally within the labour movement... He was surprised that many of the members of the 101st [Sharon's unit] were members of kibbutzim and moshavim... Ben Gurion felt he had no choice but to come out in support of Arik.'

    It was Ben Gurion who chose Sharon's Hebrew name: 'Ben Gurion...saw in Arik the realisation of the new Israeli.'

    In 1971 Sharon evicted Bedouins from the northern Sinai with brute force. There was an outcry. Again it was a Labour leader who salvaged his career: 'Prime minister Golda Meir supported Sharon's actions... In one protest demonstration held at a kibbutz in the Negev, Meir addressed the assembled people: "My conscience is clear regarding the fact that the minings and murders [by Palestinians] were worse than the eviction of innocent people".'

    Sharon's career is a revealing insight into what all Israeli leaders hold in common -- the dispossession and continued repression of Palestinians. Sharon has been a loyal attack dog for Israel, regardless of whether Labour or Likud have held his lead.

    David Glanz


    The western media, in reporting current US-China relations, is reluctant to put the question of Taiwan in the right place. In fact, the media has always used Taiwan in its pro-US propaganda. We want to make this very clear--there is (and will be) a socialist position in Taiwan that is completely different from those taken by the mainstream Taiwanese nationalist party (DPP) and the right wing reunificationists (KMT, New Party and the so called People First Party), as well as the Stalinist reunificationists (as found in various labour groups). Our position is one based on Lenin's theory of national oppression and the right of small nations to self determination, which is part of the Marxist tradition, and which sees class as an essential tool in understanding nation and nationalism.

    In the face of Chinese nationalism and US military intervention, socialists in Taiwan should be opposed to both. The increasing US arms sales to Taiwan and the development of National Missile Defence systems since the beginning of the Bush administration should be exposed as part of a US exercise to secure its monopoly as an imperialist power in the region and the world, and should be strongly opposed and fought against. Taiwanese workers will write their own postwar history in which the US (government and corporations) had consistently backed the KMT dictatorship in suppressing workers' struggle. Let's not forget that part of history. And let's look at the US aggression in other parts of the world like the Middle East and South America, and learn lessons there.

    The future of Taiwan should only be decided upon the will of the Taiwanese working class. As socialists we are in favour of open exchanges (for example, the lifting of various bans that were installed during the dark ages of Chiang's period) between the two countries, so that people will be able to travel and correspond freely.

    When people across the strait have more opportunity to exchange ideas between them, antagonism will decrease and people may realise they have more in common with one another than imagined. More and more Chinese workers may come to the realisation that national reunification is not an absolute aim, and that national interests do not always coincide with their own interests. Although we are in favour of increasing contact between the peoples, we do not support the official negotiations and talks occurring between the ruling classes (represented by those government committees set up for the purpose of reunification) across the strait.

    The bargaining and advance of nationalist goals on that level will not benefit the ordinary working class people in either China or Taiwan. In fact, they tend to blur class divisions in both societies.

    As socialists in Taiwan, we should challenge the backwardness of the ruling DPP each time it concedes to the interests of big businesses. This has been recently manifested by its decision to carry out the construction of the fourth nuclear plant in Taiwan, which it previously fought against before getting into power. We have to fight for workers' rights to strike, now that it has just become legal, at the time of writing, for workers to form their own unions. Apart from national gains for workers, we should also support local campaigns against corporations (Taiwanese or American) which impose long hours, low wages and unsafe working conditions.

    The DPP has struggled its way to the ruling position on the back of Taiwanese workers. But the DPP is not a workers' party and does not have workers' interests at heart. We have to argue for an alternative to mainstream Taiwanese nationalist politics. The old institutions (the old constitution is one of them) have remained intact following DPP's rise to power. We have to offer a serious critique of the DPP's nature as a bourgeois nationalist party and fight for our own future. We will say no to them--no, nation doesn't come before class. They are one struggle, perfectly summarised by the Taiwanese Communist Party in the party constitution of 1928. Side by side with its goal of national liberation, the Taiwanese Communist Party argued for the overthrow of the local landlord class, for the establishment of a national insurance and welfare system, and fought for workers' rights to assemble, to organise and to strike. This should be our tradition.

    Hsiao-Hung Pai


    Prior to the advent of the Socialist Alliance I watched in disbelief as the left lost its voice in mainstream politics. Now it has lost its mind in its facility for critical analysis. Rational discourse was replaced by simplistic soundbites, but, even this has been supplanted by emotional absurdity. In support of, or opposition to, a 'cause' the current vogue is to make a totally irrational statement or claim--packed, for preference, with glaring inconsistencies--and then not to question these. I listen to radio programmes where, in the guise of 'news and comment', these absurdities are uttered and gradually I become more angry to hear not a jot of ridicule or even dissent.

    Since my present circumstances force upon me the acceptance that I am no one's genius, the inescapable conclusion is that our mainstream politicians' reasoning faculties have been so far reduced beyond average as to constitute brain death.

    Take, for example, the Countryside Alliance's clever exploitation of the rural/urban divide. They portray themselves as the champions of every aspect of rural life--like foxhunting! They wail about the plight of farmers and weep over the effect of a ban on the rural population--agricultural workers. Indeed, where would the farmers be without anyone to trample their crops, and how would redundant agricultural workers pass the long hours of unemployment without the hunt? This does conveniently ignore the fact that the average agricultural 'oik' would be welcomed at a meet much as bubonic plague would be welcomed in a mother and baby unit.

    They plead the case that hunting is the most effective and humane way of controlling these vicious predators. The Belvoir hunt dismissed concerns about cruelty by stating that only one fox had been killed out of the last 26 meets--that's what I call effective!

    They indignantly claim that it would be an insufferable abuse of their human rights to have hunting banned simply because others disapprove of an activity which does not affect them--perhaps MS sufferers should share their 'joints' with the local hunt on the same basis.

    They have welcomed the foot and mouth epidemic with open arms as a heaven sent opportunity to display their solidarity with the farmers. They paint the picture of farmers near to suicide because their stock has been slaughtered. Okay so they will get compensation at full market value, but 'it's not the money it's the sight of the stock they reared lying dead.' Of course, they were all being reared to enjoy a long and happy life as family pets, weren't they?

    And then there's the claim that a ban would turn upright citizens into animals overnight! This assumes that these upright citizens will simply ignore the change in legislation and exercise their god given right not to have the law apply to them. After all, some of them are magistrates--what's the point of that if you then have to obey laws you don't like?

    There should surely be a dispensation--without them, who would send the MS sufferers to their well deserved punishment for smoking cannabis? After all, others disapprove of such 'degenerate' treatment.

    Just in case, we'll keep a few spaces for them in here. A tip--don't pack your pink jackets since they're not allowed. It might be an idea to bring the hard hats, though!

    John Higgins
    HMP Edinburgh

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