A new initiative, the Socialist Campaign to Stop the Tories and Fascists, attempts to resolve the dilemma facing socialists in the May election: what should we want the outcome to be?
What government of the available possibilities do we want to emerge from the general election?
Of course we would like a workers’ government — a government that would serve the interests and needs of the working class as the Tories and the Blair-Brown governments have served the bankers and the rest of the capitalist ruling class.
That is not an option.
The handful of candidates being fielded by the would-be left organisations, the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers’ Party, even if every one of them is elected, would not create such an option. The practical “governmental” question is: do we want a Tory or a Labour government?
In this, the thirteenth year of Blair-Brown government, is there for us a meaningful difference between the Tories and New Labour? We think there is. A Labour government, should the Labour Party win the general election, will impose cuts; its record in office is foul. Yet a Tory government will very likely impose far more drastic cuts, and, moreover, attempt to smash the civil service and other public service unions: the commitment to speedier repayment of the national debt implies very drastic cuts.
One of the biggest scandals of the New Labour government’s 13 year rule has been their refusal to repeal the Tory anti-trade union laws. A Tory government may impose new additional anti-union laws — for instance, a ban on public-sector strikes.
These are important differences between Labour and the Tories. The decisive difference, however, is that New Labour is still backed and financed by most of the unions.
The unions have the strength in the Labour Party, if they choose to use it, to remodel Labour — to put an end to the wretched neo-Thatcherite New “Labour” experiment.
The Labour Party-trade union link, drastically modified and without the RMT and FBU, has survived the period of New Labour government. The nearest thing to a mass labour movement presence in the 2010 general election, unfortunately, will be the union-backed Labour Party of Gordon Brown.
Should Brown win the general election — though it seems very unlikely that he will — socialists will certainly have to organise resistance to a Brown government.
How does the SCSTF propose to resolve the dilemma socialists face in the general election? It proposes that the left in the unions — and in the Labour Party, such as it is — and in independent socialist organisations, should unite to conduct as big a campaign as we can muster for a Labour vote. We should combine that with educational and preparatory work against New Labour, and an attempt to organise working-class forces to fight whoever wins the election, Labour or Tory.
If this seems an impossible, self-contradictory, oxymoronic formula for action, that is because the situation we face is contradictory.
But it is not as self-contradictory as it may seem. There is a precedent for such an enterprise.
In 1978–9, the left did something very like what the SCSTF is attempting to do now. We organised a “Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory” (SCLV).
The SCLV produced literature and held meetings that combined criticism and opposition to the policies of the outgoing Labour government of Jim Callaghan with militant opposition to the election of a Thatcher Tory government.
It sharpened the fight against the fascists of the then big and growing National Front.
It made a considerable impact in the labour movement.
It organised an important part of the forces that would campaign for left-wing policies in the fight against the Tory government after the 1979 election.
It allowed us to organise unofficial Labour campaigns even in areas where the Labour candidate was obnoxious to socialists and defeatist toward the Tories and the fascists.
It allowed us to stake out the political ground for a left-wing fight against Thatcher combined with a fight against the right-wing of the Labour Party.
It was a policy that could have been summed up in the slogan: “Vote Labour and organise to fight!”
Of course much is different now.
It would be foolish to imagine that a mechanical re-enactment of the SCLV experience is likely now. Most important, the Labour Party now is a mere shell. There is no populous, disaffected Labour Party.
The scope, “traction”, of the SCSTF is likely to be considerably less than that of the SCLV. Even so, changing what needs to be changed for our circumstances, the SCLV indicates what should be attempted now.
The SCSTF can be a focus for a sharper fight against the fascist BNP in the general election.
But what of the revolutionary left candidates standing in the general election, including the AWL’s Jill Mountford in Camberwell and Peckham? What of places like Liverpool and Leeds where there may be broad-left candidates?
The SCSTF takes no stand on that. It is attempting to relate to broader labour movement forces. The case for supporting these left candidates will be made by the revolutionary organisations as such, including the AWL.
Some of these candidacies may do important political work in their area: the SCSTF is concerned with the broad, overall shape of things, and by what can be done in areas where there are no socialist candidates.
The unpleasant reality, however, is that the would-be revolutionary left groups do not cease to be what they are, politically, just by standing in the general election. They do not thereby acquire political adequacy in the fight against the Labour right wing and the Tories.
To think they do, or to behave towards them as if they do, would be a variant of what Marxists have called, in its broad reformist-socialist manifestation, “electoral cretinism”.
Socialists concerned with the broad labour movement and with what government comes out of the May 2010 election should back the Socialist Campaign to Stop the Tories and Fascists.