Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Histomat guide to the General Election

This blog was started almost ten years ago, just after the 2005 general election - so I didn't comment so much about that election, but you can read some of my thoughts before and after the 2010 general election here, and its result here. This time round, my brief guide to the state of play is below (those wanting a more indepth Marxist analysis of what is going on should read Alex Callinicos in the latest International Socialism journal) - anyway, my take on it here:

The Tories: ''The government is led by a clique of toffs who have neither respect for their colleagues, nor empathy with the average voter. Their born-to-rule mentality means they have a greatly over-inflated view of their own capabilities, which deafens their ears to the advice and warnings of others who might actually know better. They are nothing like as good at governing as they think they are. And this...is now inflicting serious harm on the country...'' - this was the view of Tory MPs about the leaders of their party - back in 2012 - and little over the last three years has changed this basic reality. Remember that David Cameron is so posh that his career with the Conservative Party began with the help of a phone call from Buckingham Palace saying "I understand you are to see David Cameron ... I am ringing to tell you that you are about to meet a truly remarkable young man." It will be interesting indeed if we are faced with a very close election result - as looks likely - whether Cameron will just refuse to face reality and try to hang onto office as long as possible simply because as a leading member of the ruling class - related to the Queen - he just thinks that he is somehow entitled to remain in office in a position he thinks he was born to have - regardless of the small matter of the electorate.

 More critically, how can 'a clique of toffs' - who have waged open and blatant brutal class war on behalf of the rich who run Britain against the working class (both in and out of work) through austerity, massive cuts to the NHS and welfare state, and presiding over growing inequality and attacks on workers pay - still be in with a reasonable chance of remaining in office and making up the government after 7 May, five years on? Basically, because the Tories have relatively successfully pushed 'divide and rule' at every point over the past five years - dividing public sector from private sector workers, the able from the disabled, those in work against those out of work, and increasingly scapegoating immigrants in a racist fashion. Why have the Tories been relatively successful in this pernicious campaign? The answer here is...

The Labour Party, who have instead of standing up for the working class - ie. doing its supposed job as the party of 'labour' - instead gone along the 'austerity myth' and accepted the need for cuts - and more critically, gone along with every 'divide and rule' policy of the Tories - and echoed Tory rhetoric and logic - including when it is racist (eg see the Labour 'control immigration' pledge / mug). The only positive pledges of reform offered by Labour - eg scrapping the bedroom tax - have generally only come about because of the pressure of grassroots campaigners below - often undertaken against local Labour councils.   Ed Miliband's supporters and defenders will try and point to times when Ed has 'stood up' to the rich and big business - but every time Ed has say, criticised Rupert Murdoch, the right wing press have just gone on the attack the next day, and Ed has retreated and returned to eg. proudly holding up copies of the Sun. The only two people Miliband has effectively sacked from his Shadow Cabinet remember were Diane Abbott and Emily Thornberry - both essentially to appease racist voters. If Miliband is this weak in standing up to racists, rich and big business before he is elected - imagine how weak he would be once he was Prime Minister - with all the closer links to the capitalist state etc that would follow from that position - unless there was serious major pressure on his government from trade unionists etc below.

 More critically, it is important to see Labour's weakness historically, as Mark L Thomas does here, pointing out that Tony Cliff once noted that 'Since the Second World War every Labour government has been more right wing than the one before'. In fact, given the level of cuts that a Miliband government would try and carry through amidst the capitalist crisis, it is quite likely that this sorry story would continue under Miliband - even if his foreign policy would be a slight break from Blair (though the fact that Miliband is happy to have Blair himself involved and sponsoring Labour's election challenge this time around does not bode well at all). And if we do have a weak Miliband government making cuts, then only people likely to be smiling are the racist populists of UKIP - just look at the Hollande government in France and how the fascist Front National has flourished.

However, it is wrong to suggest - as Richard Seymour seems to do here - that Labour's commitment to cuts means that what we are already seeing is its 'Pasokisation' - ie like Pasok in Greece, facing its electoral demise because of its pro-austerity politics. We are not quite at this stage yet. As Mark L Thomas notes, 'millions of workers will still vote Labour — not because they love austerity but because they hate the Tories and desperately hope Labour will blunt the worst of the attack'. Labour has not (yet?) done what Pasok did in Greece and entered a 'grand coalition' of austerity with the Tories (and a UKIP style party). A 'grand coalition' of austerity in Britain might possibly be on the cards after the election (its interesting that neither the Tories or Labour have definitely ruled out going into coalition with each other) - but it seems rather unlikely as the level of the capitalist crisis is not as severe as all that (yet). However, Labour's leaders could well consider a coalition with the Lib Dems which brings us onto...

The Lib Dems: What is there to say here? Its worth remembering that liberals (eg the Guardian, Laurie Penny etc etc) urged the Left to vote for the Lib Dems in 2010 in order to keep the Tories out. That worked out well. However, Nick Clegg's basic 'category error' when forming a coalition with the Tories was that he thought he was still living in the 19th century - when an electorate might well have looked more kindly on a Tory - Liberal coalition forming in the 'national interest' (code for the interests of the British capitalist class) - because the electorate back in the 19th century was essentially just rich men of property. However in a mass democracy when rich men of property are a minority of the electorate, the Lib Dems face being punished very harshly for Clegg's basic category error here - and rightly so. I would love to see students in Sheffield Hallam flood to the ballot box to 'decapitate' Clegg himself in 2015 - this really would be a highlight of the election night if it happened...

As a postscript, it is worth noting that if Labour go into coalition with the Lib Dems, that will go down very badly with the trade union leaders who fund Labour so generously - and could lead Unite union for example to end their funding of Labour - which all bodes well for...

The Green Party / SNP / Plaid Cymru: The 'new kids on the block' as it were, even if none of them are particularly new parties. The rise in popularity for these currently effectively social democratic parties have been a very welcome and refreshing new addition to British politics, given how far the Labour Party has moved away from not just socialism but just basic social democracy over the years. The 'election debates' on TV have been actually almost watchable affairs in this election precisely because of the inclusion of these party leaders and their rhetorical attacks on austerity and the racism of UKIP - which have pulled the whole tone of the election debates at least to the Left (even if the corporate media ensures that a right wing narrative dominates in the press - see Richard Desmond of the Express giving £1 million to UKIP and pushing UKIP propaganda in his 'paper').

However - with the possible exception of Plaid Cymru about which I know little - while the Greens and SNP have challenged the need for cuts in their official policy - they have both implemented Tory cuts at a local level over the last five years (eg cutting council jobs in the case of the SNP - and attacking refuse workers in the case of the Greens in Brighton council). Though some socialists - like Richard Seymour - urge the Left to vote Green in this election, and while some Greens are excellent socialists - in reality the Greens are not a socialist party who can be guaranteed to fight for workers - in Leeds where I live for example, it was not so long ago that the local Green Party councillors joined the Tories and Lib Dems in a 'Rainbow coalition' which attacked refuse workers pay - forcing them to take strike action (as in Brighton more recently). The Greens have apparently ruled out joining a Tory coalition after May 7 - which is very good - but socialists should only vote Green if there is no socialist candidate standing, if the local Green candidate is worth voting for, and actually better than say the Labour Party candidate - not all Greens are.

UKIP: Essentially right wing Tories, but more dangerous as the growth of this racist populist party has followed wider European trends which has seen the growth of racist and fascist parties - and UKIP have pulled much of official British politics to the right - as the mainstream parties go out of their way to try and 'out UKIP-UKIP'. The importance of building opposition at the grassroots like Stand Up to UKIP are doing will be critical in the weeks, months and years ahead.  The long term division and crisis of Conservatism over the European Union means that UKIP are sadly likely to be around for a while (however many times their leaders and candidates shoot themselves / machine gun themselves in the foot through idiotic beliefs and grotesque behaviour flowing from their blatant and disgusting racism / sexism / homophobia etc). The rise of UKIP is also dangerous in that it will give confidence to the currently very fragmented and splintered British fascists - and give them an audience and milieu around which to try and re-group and re-organise - which is why there can be no complacency about the threat and potential threat they pose.

TUSC / Left Unity / Scottish Socialist Party / Respect - Almost if not quite as fragmented as the far-right, the socialist left in Britain is nonetheless mounting a timely and important (if inevitably rather ignored by the state and corporate media) challenge as 100 percent anti-austerity parties in this election, with the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) leading the charge with a remarkable 136 parliamentary candidates, 600 local council candidates and an election broadcast - the sixth biggest party in this election. It remains shameful and tragic however that the left is not stronger and more united so that radicals and socialists could raise the red banner of resistance and hope amidst the prevailing cuts, misery, racism and despair even higher and in every constituency. However the crisis and debate over the lack of working class representation in Britain is not going to go away - and indeed is likely to intensify after May 7th - and the fact that there are quite a few joint 'TUSC / Left Unity' joint campaigns underway in this election shows the potential exists already to begin to form a more united left after the election. This is surely the task for revolutionary socialists in Britain in this election - building independent working class organisation and building the vote for the Left - not tailing the SNP or Greens.  Whoever wins on May 7 - the cuts will continue to come - and the need for a united working class fightback in response will be as great as ever - voting for TUSC and the wider Left will send a clear signal that the mood to resist is there.

 Watch the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition broadcast on Friday April 17th..... BBC2: 5.55pm... ITV: 6.25pm... BBC1: 6.55pm... Channel4: 7.55pm - and join the TUSC campaign on the streets!

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