Defeatism and a deficit of agency

Submitted by AWL on 17 March, 2015 - 5:04 Author: Andy Forse

Len Glover's response to my article 'Why I'm not voting Green' (Solidarity 356) seems to sidestep my argument. I wondered at the time of writing if I was too repetitive in places. Obviously I was not repetitive enough!

Yes Len, I agree, Labour's programme is inadequate and lacks inspiration, that's why I explained that we are socialists fighting within Labour for a working class programme. Your letter appears to begin by arguing not against me, but against the Labour front bench, from whom I have already distanced myself when I argued that to socialists, Labour is an arena for our intervention, not for a game of "follow the leader".

The tone of your letter appears to suffer from defeatism and a deficit of agency. As a socialist do you believe the working class can become capable of revolutionising society? It doesn't appear that you do if you think it is unlikely that "trade unionism will ever revive". If it is true as you say that many young people are "uninterested" or "hostile" to trade unions, then again, for us this identifies an area of struggle, not a reason to turn our backs. Furthermore, Len, 6 million plus trade trade union members is a lot of people, and a reason for hope.

Even if the argument that the Labour Party is a lost cause was granted, it would still remain unexplained how exactly the Green Party can facilitate class struggle. It is not a party founded on principles of workers' interests in any sense, or connected to the workers' movement. Despite their many faults it would make more sense to support Left Unity or TUSC in the election.

Yes, the "conduit" — the structural relationship by which Labour can be influenced by the ranks of the trade union movement — is impaired and largely in a state of cryogenic sleep, but it has not been severed — yet.

How is the "precariat" represented by this conduit? Well, take Len's example of zero-hours contracts. They have been campaigned against by unions and a weak reflection of that campaign has got into Labour's manifesto. We fight for better campaigns, and a better reflection; but the answer to zero-hours contracts must come through the movement, through building solidarity amongst us, looking out for the interests of a class as a whole. That is how migrants, pensioners and so on are represented.

If the unions' input into Labour amounts to nothing, why are the Blairites so keen to weaken or end the link? There remains a fight for us to have, and the strength which that fight musters and the form it takes will decisively shape the future of the labour movement. A socialist abandoning this critical struggle before it has reached a head is akin to the captain departing a sinking ship before his fellow passengers.

In respect of the Clay Cross housing dispute, I cite it not because I hark back to any "good old days" (indeed, I'm too young to know them) but because it clearly illustrates a struggle that we can learn from. Insofar as the nature of creativity, courage and solidarity and the potential of action centred around the trade union movement.

And finally, yes, politics is also about being "moved, angered and inspired", but it is also about actually being able to effect change of the kind we both want in the real world. Pinning one's colours to the mast of any passing ship that appeals will only get us lost. Class struggle remains the key ingredient of change.