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2005


  If this debacle doesn't wake up the British Left, absolutely nothing will

Phil Hearse
8/06/09

The outcome of the county council and Euro elections means that the British left - the left to the left of New Labour - has to wake up and break out of its dire sectarian, bureaucratic and factional mindsets. Nothing is more shameful than the lack of of united left slate, around a minimal set of demands in the interets of the working class, in these elections. The near-absence of the Left from the electoral field was one important reason - though far from the only one - that such a large number of the protest votes against the main parties went to the hard right UKIP and the fascist BNP. It is shameful that the Left abandons so much of the electoral field to the far right because of nothing more than hardened, bone headed, factional idiocy - topped off by bureaucratic exclusions and anathemas.

There was of course the No2EU slate, supported by the CPB and Socialist Party and promoted by Bob Crow and the RMT. This made some impact, but not much - around about 1% in most places. It's very unfortunate name gave rise to wrong impressions and in its headline - although not of course its policies - seemed indistinguishable from UKIP. But more than this, the No2EU was a temporary lash-up, a new name, and not something easily recognisable and established, as a real political party or long-term electoral front has to be.

In London the Socialist Labour Party (sole proprieter A. Scargill) got 17,000 votes, nearly as many as the No2EU. Scargill is playing the role of a spoiler and disrupter of real Left progress in elections by using big money at his disposition to continually stand a party that does not in reality exist. But why did the 'SLP' get this vote - because of the name, Socialist Labour Party.

In the absence of a credible united left slate, the field is not just open to the right, but many of the Left's core voters vote for the Greens as the least bad credible alternative. Everyone but the Left and the working class benefits from what Sheumas Milne described last week in his Guardian column as 'a prostrate left'.

In his recent article replying to Francois Sabado and Panos Garganas, Alex Callinicos strikes a realistic note:

" I also express my disagreements in some humility: the disastrous recent experiences of the radical left in Britain do not exactly set up any of the participants in these catastrophes to preach to their comrades elsewhere in Europe ".

Quite so: these disasters are the experience of the Socialist Alliance, Respect and the split in the Scottish Socialist Party. I will not dwell here on the role played by the SWP in each of these disasters: that is something that has to be put behind us. The SWP was not uniquely responsible for these disasters either. The problem is that they have led to a scepticism and disillusionment among many people who went through these experiences.

The legacy of the failure of these projects is that starting again to build something unified on the left that can seriously intervene in elections will be a difficult job. But there is no option but to attempt it, and rapidly before the general election. If UKIP coming second to the Tories in England and Wales and the election of two BNP Euro MPs doesn't wake up the British Left, nothing will.

In the face of events like these there is a temptation to take refuge in fairy stories, and myth number one is that we are on the verge of a huge industrial upsurge that will dwarf elections in its importance. We are not. Elections of course are not the final arbiters of the political outcome of social struggles, but they play an enormous role in modern bourgeois democracies. Without solid electoral intervention the Left fights with one hand behind its back.

It would also be quite wrong to take a quietist and resigned attitude, noting that more or less every kind of left has done badly in Europe and mostly (though not in France) the far right has done well. It's true that it's mainly the right who have gained from the appalling crisis of pro-neoliberal social democracy. That is something that is not inevitable, nor is it irreversible, but the Left has to analyse its basis and social meaning. In the next couple of weeks we shall post a further article here on the reasons for the success of the right and hard right. For the moment we should note that the push to the right will not be prevented by abandoning the electoral field of battle.

A further temptation would be to think that the rise of the hard right could be thwarted by anti-fascist mobilisations and a repeat of the 1970s Anti-Nazi League. Anti--fascist mobilisation will continue to be important, but in the long term only an alternative that can appeal to significant section of disilusioned working class voters can prevent the rise of the right.

Pitfalls and obstacles

Left sectarianism is not the only problem that has to be fought to build a united electoral front. Exclusions and anathemas, especially coming from sections of the trade union leaderships, are also a major problem. Hostility towards the SWP has reached irrational levels, especially among former revolutionary leftists who now try to act as advisors to left bureaucrats. The SWP have in may ways themselves to blame for their bad reputation; they have alientated plenty of people by high-handed and undemocratic pratices. This is a problem that will not be easily overcome. But the SWP in England and Wales is easily the most important part of the far left and in the medium term the construction of a new left alliance must engage them. This problem shows that the issue of democracy is not a secondary consideration but a sine quo non of successful alliances.

Right now the leadership of every part of the left-of-Labour Left has to stop and think. Calculations on the basis of a 'small capital' basis, eagerly counting the number of new recruits and papers sold, hopelessly fails to meet the situation. Left leaders have to start talking to one another, irrespective of past conflicts and prejudices. The Left has many activists and immense resources of talent, experience and political capacity. But being stuck in the narcissistic bunker of narrow minds and narrow organisations won't make any impression on the national political map.

Of course the Left faces an almost total ban on publicity in the national media, and indeed the right wing domination of the media more generally. But we start from where we are, not from where we would like to be. We are much further behind where we ought to be in building a united left alternative. We now have to rapidly build a new Alliance for Socialism.

It'll be the first name on any ballot paper.