Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

R.I.P. The Labour Left (1906-2006)

I suppose I should start this piece by admitting that I am not now a member of the British Labour Party, and I never have been a member of the Labour Party. But I now know something else - I never am going to be a member of the Labour Party. Let me explain why.

Once upon a time, back in 1906 when the Labour Party was formed it stood against 'wars fought to make the rich richer,' while 'underfed schoolchildren are still neglected'

Last night, there was a vote in Parliament to set up a committee of inquiry made up of seven members of the privy council to examine what went so wrong with British foreign policy with respect to Iraq. This in itself was newsworthy - as it was about the first time in two years that the war had been debated and members of Parliament had had the chance to vote on it. This is how the BBC reported the outcome:

'An attempt to force the government to hold an inquiry into the Iraq war has failed in the House of Commons. A Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru motion for an immediate probe was opposed by a majority of 25 despite support from 12 rebel Labour MPs...Plaid Cymru's Adam Price said of the motion: "The issue at its heart is far bigger than party politics - it's about accountability, it's about the monumental catastrophe of the Iraq war - the worst foreign policy disaster certainly since Suez, possibly since Munich and it's about the morass in which we regrettably still find ourselves." The government was supported by 298 MPs and opposed by 273. Twelve Labour MPs rebelled.'

The key figures to note are these:

Firstly, 298 MPs (almost all Labour) voted against the idea that there should be any sort of inquiry into the Iraq war. These 298 MPs are utter utter utter scum - careerists of the lowest order. As Respect MP George Galloway noted, 'The House of Commons today had the chance to begin to redeem itself after the vote for this disastrous war three years ago. The fact that so many armchair generals on the labour benches voted with the Government in refusing even to hold an enquiry into the decision to go to war, shows how far removed this place has become from being a genuine parliament. The conclusions we must draw are profound. We need to redouble our efforts outside of parliament and at the ballot box against these "misrepresentatives"'. Hear, hear.

Yet more shockingly, only 12 Labour MPs rebelled. Twelve! Only twelve Labour MPs put their principles before their careers and voted to hold Blair - a war criminal - to account for his crimes. I am dumbfounded. Why so few? Why did even less than those who voted against military action in 2003 now support the government?

One of these former rebels, Ian Lucas told the house: 'I cannot support this opportunistic, cynical motion ... We see the nationalists in a constant campaign to assail the integrity of the prime minister, attack the Labour government and make political capital for cheap political ends.'

But Blair - the Prime Minister - doesn't have any integrity left to assail! One wonders if Lucas isn't making some cheap political capital with the likes of Gordon Brown by voting against the idea of an inquiry which can only damage the Glorious leader in waiting.

David Blunkett, the former home secretary, said the Tories were hypocrites for turning on the government after backing the war. 'There are those who haven't changed their minds but can't miss an opportunity to have a go at this government and our prime minister, whatever the consequences in terms of demoralisation and the difficulty it causes for our troops.' But as Galloway pointed out, 'To those who claim that holding an inquiry will "demoralise" the armed forces: we got a pretty good estimation of the morale of the armed forces after the head of the British army spoke a truth that has so rarely been heard in this chamber, that the presence of British forces in Iraq is exacerbating the dangers this country faces. That was before the US suffered over 100 dead this month; before the report in the Lancet that the most likely number of people to have been killed in Iraq since the war is 655,000.'

Denis MacShane, the rabidly pro-imperialist former Foreign Office minister, admitted that 'we have not got it strategically or tactically right' in Iraq - an understatement - but described calls for an inquiry as 'part of a cheap anti-American crusade'. Clearly a cheap anti-American crusade that holds a liar and a warmonger to account for his crimes is something everyone should oppose. An expensive pro-American crusade that costs the lives of thousands of people in Iraq on the other hand - yeah, I'll buy that for a dollar!

Only 12 MPs. This surely signals the end of the road for the Labour Left. Had just 25 more Labour MPs dug deep enough and discovered their consciences then Blair would have lost the vote - and possibly be on his way out of office. The Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs are supposed to be 25 strong - less than half of them voted for an inquiry! As for the hopes some on the Left still have that John McDonnell -chair of the Socialist Campaign Group - can even make it onto the ballot sheet to stand against Brown for Labour Leader - forget it. Surely any hopes of any Labour Left challenger to Blair and Brown getting onto the ballot paper must have been snuffed out now.

John McDonnell himself tries to put a brave face on the vote last night - arguing 'rather than despair it is critical that the campaign for withdrawal goes on and the campaigning to restore the Labour Party as a party of peace continues with increased commitment and vigour' but he must know its over now. What matters now is campaigning on the streets against the war - and drawing into the anti-war movement more disillusioned Labour Party members who must know now that the idea that the Labour Party can be restored to being 'a party of peace' is over now - if indeed it ever was a 'party of peace'.

It is the Stop the War Coalition in Britain that remains central to any rebirth of the Left in Britain at the moment. The Iranian socialist Ardeshir Mehrdad recently asked Alex Callinicos about this:

Q: 'How do you see the anti war movement? By its powerful appearance in the prelude to the Iraq war it raised hopes in a huge way. You reflected those hopes in your excellent book The New Mandarins and American Power, which came out that same year. Yet a few years later, not only did this movement not grow and spread, but we have indeed witnessed its downturn. Why? In your view can we be optimistic for a resurgence of this movement? How and in what direction?'

Alex Callinicos: 'It is a common error to use the gigantic protests of early 2003 to proclaim the death of the anti-war movement. One of our greatest achievements is used to hang us! The 2003 protests were on such a scale that they could only go forward by bringing down governments - which did in fact happen in Spain in March 2004, albeit in an indirect and complex way. The failure to achieve such an outcome on a broader scale - and therefore prevent or end the Iraq war - did lead to a certain ebbing of the anti-war movement relative to the high point of 15 February 2003, but the extent varied enormously depending on national conditions. Thus in the US the mainstream of the anti-war movement (including figures as principled as Chomsky) made the fatal error of putting their efforts in defeating Bush in 2004 by backing the pro-war Democrats under John Kerry, a mistake from which they are only beginning to recover.

By contrast, I think it is completely wrong to describe the condition of the anti-war movement in Britain as one of ‘downturn’. The Stop the War Coalition has been able to sustain an astonishingly high level of mass mobilization for the past five years - a succession of big demonstrations, usually twice a year, all very big by historic standards, if not on the scale of 15 February 2003 - and to gain very deep roots in British society. This is reflected in its ability to mount two large marches against the Lebanon War at very short notice and at the height of the summer holidays. More generally, his central role in engineering the Iraq War fatally damaged Tony Blair’s government and his complicity in the destruction of Lebanon is helping to end his premiership.

This contrast suggests that the fate of the anti-war movement has varied according to the state of the left in different countries. In the US the left has been crippled by its dependence on the Democrats. The British anti-war movement has been led by forces of the radical left that have been able to sustain it in a way that has combined consistent opposition to imperialism with an emphasis on building on a broad and inclusive basis. Elsewhere the pattern is confirmed by, for example, the decline of the Italian anti-war movement, which in 2001-4 mobilized on even a bigger scale than in Britain, but which has been very negatively affected by the entry of Rifondazione Comunista into a centre-left coalition government that is sending troops to Afghanistan and Lebanon.

The international anti-war movement in any case faces a very big challenge. The Lebanon War confirms that the Bush administration is telling the truth when it says that it is waging a global war. Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon are all fronts in this war. Iran may be the next one. The involvement of European troops in both Afghanistan and Lebanon requires a response for the left throughout the EU. Let us hope that this very threatening situation will produce an upsurge of anti-war activity, not just in Europe but globally.'

It is this movement that has to built - and from that movement new parties of the Left - like Respect in Britain - that challenge neo-liberalism and imperialism can emerge.

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At 8:58 pm, Blogger Shamik Das said...

As you've said, you're not a member of the Labour Party, and thank f*ck for that!

Your lionising of Galloway beggars belief - have you no recollection of his arse-licking of Saddam?

One thing's for sure, when the Labour Party was set up a century ago, it's aims certainly weren't to appease dictators, oppose democracy and serenade murderers.

At 9:02 pm, Blogger High Power Rocketry said...

: )

At 10:52 am, Blogger Snowball said...

Sham - yes, I am relieved that I am not associated with the Labour Party too - a Party which while declaring itself a 'democratic socialist' party has singularly failed to hold its leader to account for killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

Galloway may be accused of praising Saddam - but Galloway has also done more for ordinary Iraqi people over the course of his time as an MP - campaigning against the genocidal sanctions and bombing - than any other member of Parliament.

As for serenading murderers, it is a bit rich for a Blairite to talk given Blair's praise for Ariel Sharon, Olmert, George Bush etc etc etc. As for the idea of the Labour Party having a tradition of standing up to dictatorships - I suggest you read about the Labour Party's history of supporting the British Empire and colonial rule. It is not pretty.

At 11:17 am, Blogger Snowball said...

The twelve were:

1. Cohen, Harry
2. Corbyn, Jeremy
3. Fisher, Mark
4. Godsiff, Mr. Roger
5. Jackson, Glenda
6. Marshall-Andrews, Robert
7. McDonnell, John
8. Simpson, Alan
9. Soulsby, Sir Peter
10. Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
11. Wareing, Mr. Robert N.
12. Wood, Mike

I saw Diane Abbott on 'This week' and she says that the Labour Left 'weren't organised enough' to go and vote for this as they didn't think the Tories would vote for an Inquiry. I think this just shows how out of touch with the anti-war movement - and the mood of the country - so many Labour Left MPs are.

At 5:34 pm, Blogger Adam Marks said...

And to think Sham's going to inherit the earth. He's the cream of the crop. An MP in waiting.



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