“Left” politics without class struggle?

Submitted by Anon on 27 April, 2006 - 1:55

The Euston Manifesto, launched on 29 March, proposes a “fresh political alignment” of “democrats and progressives” reaching “beyond the socialist left towards egalitarian liberals and others of unambiguous democratic commitment”. It claims to want “to draw a line between the forces of the left that remain true to its authentic values”... But against whom do they wish to “draw a line”, asks Pete Radcliff?

There are a lot of lines to be drawn in this period of faith schools, accelerated dismantling of the welfare state, the glorification of capitalist greed and privilege by New Labour, the brutal and arrogant occupations by re-invigorated imperialist powers, the attack on civil rights in Britain. But for the Eustonites there is only one line to be drawn — the line against the pro-Islamist left.

The AWL are very happy to draw, and redraw, the line against accommodation with political Islam. That is necessary if we are to help build an independent and internationalist working-class movement. And we don’t do it because we want to give any credence either to what Blair’s government is doing in this country or to what they do with their US right-wing Republicans friends throughout the world.

But the Euston Manifesto is not interested in such delineation. The alignment it seeks is markedly different.

The re-alignment we call for is defined by what the manifesto pointedly does not mention — class. Working-class struggle and interests. For the Eustonites, maybe in their younger days, history was the history of class struggle, but today it has become the history of the struggle of “genuine democrats” against... the SWP and its friends!

Having completely dispensed with class as a political criterion — the only glancing reference to class is where “working people” are included as one of various groups deserving better treatment — what do they propose to replace it?

The new credo is in line with one of the Manifesto’s authors, Alan Johnson, and his behaviour in relation to the 25 March “March For Free Expression” against the Islamist attempt to ban mockery or lampooning of religion.

The AWL, protested and demonstrated against that de facto ban, with others such as the Worker-communist Party of Iraq. We did it on an independent working-class basis, not as part of a coalition with the strike-breakers, free-marketeers, and British nationalists who promenaded on 25 March.

Alan Johnson first gullibly offered his name to be a “left-wing” buttress and balance to the “right-wing” Freedom Association in the coalition for “freedom of expression” against those who wanted to suppress the Muhammad cartoons. But he then withdrew. Good. But if this is his credo, on what logical basis did he then withdraw? He offered no explanation at the time, and the manifesto does not make it clear either.

The manifesto desires a bloc of “genuine democrats” of all class alignments — and leaving questions of economic organisation aside as something utterly secondary — it also declares: “we pay attention to liberal and conservative voices and ideas if they contribute to strengthening democratic norms and practices and to the battle for human progress”.

Now, any scrupulous investigator will “pay attention” to serious right-wing thinking, whether it can be reckoned “progressive” or not. So either they are issuing an empty manifesto for know-nothingism — i.e. paying no attention to any thinking that clashes with their basic prejudices — or by “pay attention to” they mean something more than that. Ally with?

Presumably they would say that Peter Risdon (the 25 March organiser), the Freedom Association, etc. are not “genuine democrats”, and their call is for “making common cause with genuine democrats, whether socialist or not”.

But who are the “genuine democrats”? After 7 July last year, Alan Johnson, speaking in the name of another of their regroupments, Unite Against Terror, hailed Tony Blair as “bloody marvellous”. So Blair - anti-union laws, anti-”terror” laws, and all - is a “genuine democrat”. Who else?

There is a wide constituency on the left in the UK, understandably repelled by the degeneration of the SWP, and their associated brain-dead ideologues, into apologia for political Islam. The crisis that this has brought on, particularly in the British left, tragic though it is in many ways, is a challenge and throws up opportunities.

But this is a manifesto for leading people away from a working-class-based socialism back towards bourgeois liberalism.

Some of the writers of the Euston Manifesto, notably Alan Johnson and Jane Ashworth, learned their opposition to “reactionary anti-imperialism” from us. That was many years ago. It is as long ago as 1994 that Alan Johnson quit the AWL (to join the SWP, and he has oscillated frequently since then!), and much longer ago that Jane Ashworth and others left us to join the tame-Labourite remnants of the Independent Labout Party.

But they turned against us in a big way, with heat and vehemence, more recently, in 2004, when they denounced us for not giving critical support to the US/UK occupation of Iraq. They refused to collaborate with us on building towards the launch of Iraq Union Solidarity, and instead launched their own Labour-leadership-loyal outfit, Labour Friends of Iraq, oriented towards the most “moderate” wing of the labour movement in Iraq (IFTU) to the exclusion of other wings (FWCUI, UUI, IFOU).

They exulted that they were now in the big time. Why, New Labour had cited Labour Friends of Iraq as its “website of the week”!

We replied politically, in our pamphlet Solidarity With Iraqi Workers.

And what do we see now? No political reply. But Johnson and Ashworth have quietly quit Labour Friends of Iraq, leaving it to tick over even more quietly.

Why have they quit? Even with their naively over-optimistic faith in Bush and Blair bringing democracy to Iraq, they can hardly believe that the Iraqi unions are in less need of support now than they were in 2005 or 2004.

They have announced no reason. In effect, however, what they have done is shy away from the sharp issue of Iraq — where events have so cruelly confirmed our polemics against them — and retreated to a “blogosphere” of liberal abstractions.

The “blogosphere”, which the statement draws encouragement from, includes many socialists who have already made a semi-withdrawal from active politics into commentary and independent journalism.

A movement, though, cannot be built from web commentaries no matter how witty or scathing. A political movement is built from people organising internationally around their class interests. But the Euston Manifesto does not call for people to organise on the streets against the callous disregard of its own government and for the international class interests of the working class. What does it do?

• It calls, in the abstract, for recognition of labour rights, but says nothing about Blair's maintenance of anti-union legislation.

• It condemns tyranny, but only mentions Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and rendition in passing as it defends the US administration from Amnesty International’s comparisons of those acts with the human rights violations of the Gulags.

• It defends liberal and pluralist democracies whilst acknowledging their “deficiencies and shortcomings”. But says nothing about their international role that couldn't be said by most Labour or Liberal MPs. Fair trade, more aid, debt cancellation — good; reform (but only reform?) of the WTO, IMF and World Bank.

• It opposes anti-Americanism without mentioning once the nature of the Bush regime, its economic driving force, its promotion of religious reaction and most notably its foreign policy. It merely mentions, almost painfully, the fact that the US is not a “model society” and “has often supported regressive and authoritative governments”. Note the use of the past tense here.

• It condemns racism but doesn’t attack the inhuman treatment of asylum seekers by the UK regime.

Whenever and wherever a clear denunciation of the UK and or US government — or, call it by its right name, the capitalist class! — might be called for, the Euston statement backs away.

The Euston statement utilises obvious truths about the stupidity of the SWP-led left, which the AWL has articulated for many years, as a means to make peace with the establishment. It is a latter-day version of the apologies and explanations with which, during the Cold War, socialists used truths about the horrors of Stalinism - including those which some of them had learned from the Trotskyist movement - to rationalise rallying to US-led capitalism.

Euston may be a station to catch fast trains to the North West of the UK but it seems also be a congregation point for former socialists travelling fast to oblivion.