5. Does disgust with New Labour rule out revival?

Submitted by AWL on 9 July, 2009 - 5:33 Author: Sean Matgamna and Martin Thomas

Our procedure is based on the idea that Marxists develop and redevelop their expectations of what will or can happen within the frame of the big shaping objective events. When the economic, social, and political framework shifts, then we must reassess everything, including, here, the prospects for change in the union-Labour relationship.

We try to map out the economic, social, and political framework of our "prediction". We combine reasonable extrapolation of present trends and postulated changes in them as a result of the big "framing" factors. We know that there are strict limits to our ability to predict, and we make "predictions" with the proper tentativeness. We spell out possible variations, and then adjust empirically to the way things shape up.

It cannot make sense to insist that "subjectively" driven hatred of New Labour is now so strong that it will not change or be affected in any important way by the changes in the "objective" economic, social, and political framework. (Or, rather, not for "several years"). To do that would be to tie ourselves to a rigid prediction based on presumed knowledge of the future psychological reactions of millions of people.

In fact, we can't know the psychology. Arguments about what is likely to happen in the future are anyway notoriously difficult. There is often passionate assertion of hopes, desires, longings, on one side; distastes, hostilities, phobias on the other. To base predictions on presumed knowledge of future psychology is to give great scope to arbitrariness.

And, of course, those who rule out a Labour revival have an easy game to play. They can plausibly insist on the solidity and force of the current facts and the current trends.

We say that the big objective framework is changing, and is likely to change further, and therefore... Others, while not denying the big changes, respond, with fierce dogmatism: no, there is no "therefore"! Not any! Not the slightest possibility that the big events will impact on union-Labour relations. None at all (at least for several years...)

The existing trend of union-Labour relations will continue as if nothing has altered. So will the collapse of the Labour Party, even when it is in opposition to a Tory government which is even more right-wing and anti-working-class than the New Labour government was, and is driving through severe cuts.

Of course, in any such situation, the previous trajectory of events looms large, immediately, concretely, like an iceberg raised out of the sea in front of us. The implications of the big changes in the objective framework are as yet only small subterranean shifts, or perhaps as yet only potentialities, and potentialities that may be offset by countervailing tendencies.

But one of two things here. Either the enormous shifts in the "objective" framework have not happened, or are not happening, or are not likely to happen. Or they are happening, or likely to happen - but cannot (at least for several years) have any important political consequences for union-Labour relations.

The first option - the assertion that nothing is changing in the slump - would be absurd, and of course no-one in AWL asserts that. But the second option is scarcely less absurd. In union-Labour relations, too, things have to change. Change how, how much, and at what tempo, that is harder to say; but they cannot but change.

It is our responsibility to try to understand the direction of the changes and their implications for what we do and try to do.

Predictions should be made tentatively, and with recognition that many things are possible that may wreck any neat picture that can be drawn now.

A stance of "my mind is made up, and I'm not going to change it, slump or no bloody slump" is irresponsible in this debate because it makes rational discussion of a changed situation difficult. It counterposes the overbearing iceberg of present and recent reality to proper consideration of shifts and changes in currents and temperature which have, most likely, started to melt the iceberg is wrong. It cannot but make rational discussion of the changed situation difficult.

(Global warming? It's a myth. I don't believe a word of it! Look at the size of that iceberg; think of all that's gone to make it what it is...)

Until the debate of the last two months, the slump and the likely Labour defeat at the next general election had not been properly factored in to all our calculations. We are still working through those implications for AWL in every aspect of our work. What we have done - somewhat belatedly - is attempt to factor them in to the union-Labour question..

Do we overstate the political difference between Labour and the Tories?

Is it not true that Labour - given the opportunity - would make cuts similar to the Tories? Indeed! But the sort of badinage one might exchange with a Blair-Brownite - Labour would do it too - will not offset the effect on the labour movement of a major Tory cuts offensive.

Those who think it would should read the exchange between Trotsky and C L R James on workers learning from "facts"! - www.workersliberty.org/node/4158.

The anti-working-class record of New Labour is important, and AWL should continue to point it out in our commentaries and agitation. However, in terms of understanding the implications of the new situation, that is about as relevant as the German Stalinists' dismissal of the Trotskyists' call for a united front between all parties based on the working class to fight the rising Nazis with the cry that the Social Democrats were the murderers of Rosa Luxemburg.

Yes, the New Labour government's record cannot but in the short term detract from the credibility of the Labour Party in opposition opposing the "Tory cuts" (that will be the labour movement catch-cry).

But will things not shift with new Labour leaders? With Labour and the unions opposing the Tories? The slump and the "Tory offensive" will be the gigantic facts of the situation after the General Election.

Propaganda about New Labour's record in government will be part of our educational work, of course, but we cannot stand on the sidelines of any Labour-linked opposition to real Tory government cuts, saying, with resigned defeatism and hopelessness: "Aw, Labour in government would be just as bad. Nothing to choose!"

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