“…half echo of the past, half menace of the future; at times, by its bitter, witty and incisive criticism, striking the bourgoisie to the very heart’s core; but always ludicrous in its effect, through total incapacity to comprehend the march of modern history” – K Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, 1848.
A letter in today’s Guardian from (amongst others) John Nicholson, Gregor Gall and Norma Turner, claims that “the next elections will not lead to major change,” and (apparently because of this) advocates support for “candidates of the left, across several political organisations.”
The signatories specify as candidates “of the left in its widest sense“, worthy of support (“and there may well be many more“): Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton), Dai Davies (Independent, Blaenau Gwent), George Galloway and Abjol Miah (Respect), John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn (Labour in London), Dave Nellist (Socialist Party, Coventry), Salma Yaqoob (Respect, Birmingham), Gayle O’Donovan, Kay Phillips (Green and Respect in Manchester), Peter Cranie (Green, Liverpool) and Val Wise (Independent, Preston).
This letter raises a number of interesting and important issues for socialists in the run-up to the general election, the first of which involves the specified candidates themselves: how many of them are in fact “of the left” -ie socialists? Salma Yaqoob of Respect, for a start, is honest enough not to even claim to be a socialist. She’s an Islamist. And the Green Party, though it may contain some individuals who consider themselves “of the left“, is most certainly not a socialist organisation in any shape or form. Nor does it have any links with the organised working class. It’s a classic example of a middle class, radical- utopian movement with some very unscientific and reactionary ideas (eg on GM foods, population control and nuclear power).
Actually, the choice of candidates specified in the letter is in itself rather strange: as well as the non-socialist Respect and Greens, they include Labour LRC’ers McDonnell and Corbyn, Dave Nellist of the Socialist Party and a couple of independents who I don’t know anything about. Noticeably absent are the candidates of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (“TUSC”) electoral bloc formed by the Socialist Party, the SWP and the RMT leadership – other than their one credible candidate, Nellist, who is not identified by the writers as a TUSC candidate. Nor is Jill Mountford of the AWL (standing against Harriet Harman in Camberwell and Peckham; Mountford is undoubtably the most openly Marxist and revolutionary candidate standing in the entire general election. So on what basis have the signatories to the Guardian letter chosen their preferred candidates? Clearly, not on the basis of their “left-wing” credentials – otherwise how do you explain the presence of Respect and the Greens on the list? Local credibility? Maybe, but that’s difficult to judge. MacDonnell and Corbyn are almost certain to be re-elected; George Galloway may yet smarm his way into hanging on in there; Caroline Lucas and Salma Yaqoob both have a realistic chance of winning; Nellist won’t win but he’s a credible candidate with a strong personal following and will poll respectably. But is the prospect of success (or, at least, obtaining a decent vote), sufficient grounds for socialists to support a non-Labour candidate in the forthcoming election? I will go on to argue not. But let me say that if socialists are going to support non-Labour candidates, then at least let them be socialist candidates who can make socialist propaganda, like Mountford and Nellist – not Greens or the Islamist-communalists of Respect.
But the crucial issue in this election – like all general elections – will be that of government. Even the most optimistic assessment of non-Labour “left” (sic) candidates’ prospects of success, does not amount to a governmental alternative to New Labour or the Tories. As Johhny Lewis wrote in an earlier post:
“We should judge all our actions on the probable effect they have on the lives of our class.
The probable outcomes of your Green/Respect campaign are (in order of likelihood):
1. A Tory goverment
2. A Tory-led coalition
3. A Labour-led coalition
4. A Labour government
Do you believe that the difference between these is negligible?
On the eve of the 1979 election Duncan Hallas from his then lofty position
in the leadership of the SWP expressed the opinion that the election was not
something to get excited about. Many on the left agreed with him that there
was not enough difference between the (old) Labour Party and Margaret
Thatcher’s Tories to warrant an active campaign for Labour. I do not think anybody is going to argue now that they were right about that.”
Like Johnny, I do not believe that the purpose of voting (and advocating a vote) in an election is to make you feel better about yourself: it’s to effect the lives of our class. Even the appalling Stalinist and apologist for Islamism, Seamas Milne acknowledges (in today’s Graun), that “it’s a disabling myth that there aren’t significant differences between the main parties on the state, where the tax burdan falls and when to cut, for a start – that will have a real impact on people’s lives.”
So I’ll be campaigning and voting for Labour. And if you are really such a self- indulgent petty bourgeoise that you can’t bring yourself to do that, then at least go to Camberwell and Peckham or Coventry North East to campaign for a genuine socialist candidate.