Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Monday, May 04, 2015

Kick the Tories Out - but sorry Russell, you are wrong about Ed Miliband

 Kick Out the Tories (Socialist Worker)  badge (black)

The Marxist theorist John Molyneux wrote an excellent piece back in 2013 in which he noted the tendency for the ostensibly opposing political currents of autonomism and left-reformism to come together to find common ground - and how this was because both political tendencies had more in common with each other than they did with any kind of strategy based on working class self-emancipation and building revolutionary democracy based on workers' power - which is at the heart of revolutionary Marxist politics. To quote Molyneux:

  an anarchist/autonomist type strategy which downplays the role of the state (Hardt and Negri) or rejects the taking of state power altogether (see John Holloway’s ‘How to Change the World without Taking Power’) can more easily coexist with a strategy of a reformist government of the left than either of these strategies can coexist with a revolutionary Marxist perspective of building a revolutionary party and smashing the capitalist state. They, the anarchist/autonomists, do their thing at the base, in the localities etc., while the reformists do their thing at the level of government. Two interesting historic precedents for this are: 1) the early 20th century ‘economist’ tendency in Russian Social Democracy who argued that the job of Social Democrats was to restrict themselves to supporting the economic struggles of the working class and not get involved in political struggle which, as Lenin explained at the time, meant leaving politics to the liberal bourgeoisie; 2) the Spanish Revolution where the anarcho-syndicalists refusal to take state power (on the grounds of being opposed to any kind of dictatorship) morphed into support for the bourgeois liberal/ Communist/reformist Popular Front government.

 Russell Brand's dramatic switch from a kind of eclectic autonomism (mixed with spirituality) which was highly critical of electoralist compromises and parliamentary corruption and instead called for a 'Revolution of Consciousness',  to now openly calling for radicals to vote en masse for Ed Miliband's Labour Party (except in Scotland and Brighton where he is obviously happy to go with the tide and support the SNP / Greens respectively) is just one more demonstration of the political truth (or 'trewth' to use Brand's term) highlighted by Molyneux. Another was relayed at a meeting the veteran socialist theorist Colin Barker did in Leeds earlier this year - he recalled meeting a young unknown Spanish anarchist academic who came over to the UK a few years ago to give a talk on Rosa Luxemburg, and who was highly critical of parliamentary politics. When Barker next heard the name of this young anarchist academic he was surprised to learn that he was now an MEP and the leader of the left-reformist Podemos party in Spain - his name was Pablo Iglesias.

 Today serious revolutionary politics - which understand the strategic problems posed by any perspective of the left thinking it can try and take control of the capitalist state as though that state was somehow neutral - are so apparently intellectually unfashionable in Britain that even the likes of Richard Seymour give their support for the left-reformist Green Party (incidentally, in Leeds, many of the 'autonomists' I know personally joined the Green Party during their recent membership 'surge' while one is now standing as a parliamentary candidate for the even less radical single-issue party Yorkshire First).

 And so now we come to the spectacle of Brand endorsing Ed Miliband -  with Miliband being surely one of the very few people who thinks the blood soaked war criminal Tony Blair might still be an electoral asset to the Labour Party - and someone who would apparently prefer a Tory government than going into coalition with the SNP to keep the Tories out - and someone who has just decided to effectively build his political gravestone - sorry 'Ed stone' - which is a pitiful mixture of platitudes ('a better future') and racism ('controls on immigration'). I guess we should be grateful that Ed Miliband didn't raise Gordon Brown's 'British Jobs for British workers' slogan but nonetheless Miliband's vision is so uninspiring he can't even bring himself to write phrases such as 'welfare not warfare' or 'no to privatisation' on his headstone, let alone (God forbid!) the words 'democratic socialism'.

Of course in many places on Thursday radicals and socialists will have to hold their noses and vote Labour to either try to block the Tories or UKIP - or try to punish the Lib Dems - but lets be honest -there are only a handful of Labour MPs and prospective candidates that are actually worthy of the votes of socialists.  In safe Labour seats - what on earth is the point of the Left voting for careerists who like their leader Miliband himself (during the 100 day Care UK strike which took place in his own constituency of Doncaster) - wouldn't go near a local picket line of striking health workers to show solidarity but would find time to travel all the way up to Scotland in an effort to save the Trident nuclear submarines and to save the British imperialist state from breaking up? In Leeds for example we have the likes of Shadow minister Rachel Reeves, who wants to cut benefits for the unemployed, and another Shadow minister Hilary Benn, who was part of Blair's cabinet which took us into the criminal and disastrous Iraq war, surely it is absolutely right for socialists to stand against them as part of TUSC?  And that is before we get to some of the real renegades, racists and charlatans who exist among the roster of Labour MPs standing again as parliamentary candidates, at least one of which (Frank Field) is so right wing he has worked happily with the Tory government as a 'poverty tsar'  and others (like Simon Danczuk) who were considering defecting to UKIP not so long ago...and may well still do so in future if UKIP is not blocked.   My goodness, even Blair's partner in war crime Jack Straw - whose arrogance, ignorance and pomposity are legendary- would have liked to have run for parliament again until his own greed meant he was gloriously hoisted by his own petard recently.

I understand that Russell Brand is still learning about politics - and to be fair to him he is a good learner and no doubt he will ultimately come to chalk this one up to experience and come to realise the error of his ways sooner rather than later after Thursday - so I don't want to be too harsh on the lad - especially given his eloquence and brilliance in using the platform he has as a celebrity to amplify all manner of critical struggles and providing a powerful moral critique of the capitalist system and the destruction it causes to people's lives and to the planet - all of which is so badly needed in the current period - but it is not as if these political questions of revolutionary organisation, strategy and tactics are all completely new - there is a whole history of the Labour Party and what Labour governments are like in power out there on the record - which it might be interesting for Brand to begin to acquaint himself with at some point.   As as aside, one of the limitations of left-reformist thinking is how it is so intrinsically a-historical  - its kind of ingrained - one simply has to place the whole past record of failure where Labour governments are concerned in the 'memory hole' and believe naively that somehow, almost mystically, the next Labour government will be better than the last - just because they can't imagine how it could be any worse.  Even though the record of Labour governments ever since 1945 have all been worse than their predecessors - and a Miliband government will be even worse than Blair's given the scale of cuts and attacks on workers that he will have to drive through given the depth of the capitalist crisis.

Given this, reading some of Ed's dad Ralph for example might be well worth Russell Brand (and others) sitting down and doing at some point - Parliamentary Socialism not being a bad place to start.

'Milibrand' - if only Russell was more into Ralph than Ed...

 When Ed Miliband became leader of the Labour Party - I highlighted some of Ralph Miliband's words which Brand might reflect on if he genuinely believes that Ed Miliband is going to be interested in listening to voices like his - and wider democratic grassroots movements - once he is in power:

 In 1966, Ralph Miliband for example, commenting on Harold Wilson, noted that 'when Mr. Wilson so unexpectedly became leader of the Labour Party, many people on the Left thought that their situation had been drastically changed, and that left-wing voices would at long last be effectively heard at the highest reaches of Labour policy-making.' Such illusions were soon to be proved wrong - not least after Wilson became Prime Minister in 1964.

But for Ralph Miliband, the idea of 'parliamentary socialism' itself brought about through the Labour Party was a flawed strategy - and socialists would be better off trying to build up a socialist alternative to the Labour Party from below:

 'It is absurd to think that the men who now rule the Labour Party, and who will go on ruling it, will ever want, or would agree under pressure, to push the Labour Party in socialist directions, and to show the resolution, single-mindedness and staying-power which such reorientation would require. Carthorses should not be expected to win the Derby. To believe, against all the weight of accumulated evidence, that the Labour leaders can, for instance, be made to adopt a “socialist foreign policy” if it is presented to them in sufficiently alluring terms is pure delusion, on a par with Robert Owen’s hope that Metternich would act on the plan for a Co-operative Commonwealth of Europe which Owen presented to him at the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1818...'

Miliband went on:

'What this amounts to is that the Labour Party is and will remain as much of a non-socialist party as it has ever been, with its leaders providing a Lib-Lab, non-socialist alternative to the Conservative Party. This does not mean that the two parties are now “the same”. They are in fact very different, in terms of the kind of people who mainly vote for each party, in terms of their membership and the aspirations of their activists. But the parliamentary leaders of the Labour Party (and the point applies, though to a lesser degree to the leaders of the Conservative Party) have always been able to attenuate the political expression of these differences to the point where they do not, in concrete terms, endanger the “neo-capitalist” framework which both party leaderships now accept as permanent... This reproduces, though at a different level, a situation which endured for the best part of the nineteenth century as between the Tory and Liberal parties. These parties were not by any means “the same”; but, as Lord Balfour noted in a famous Introduction to Walter Bagehot’s The English Constitution, their “alternating Cabinets, though belonging to different Parties ... never differed about the foundations of society”...'

The task for radicals and socialists in the current period is surely not to line up behind Labour ala Brand but to try and unite to build a genuine socialist alternative to this cosy capitalist consensus - and prepare for the class struggles to come whoever wins on Thursday. The more votes that the genuine socialists, radicals and revolutionaries like TUSC get the stronger the Left will be to fight austerity and cuts after the election. Our slogan should be - 'Vote to Kick the Tories Out - but vote Left to build the socialist alternative where you can'.

That said and done, I should really stop blogging about Brand and get out there campaigning for TUSC myself.  I will leave you with some more reading which is timely - a critique of the first five years of Tony Blair's government from 1997-2001 (so pre-Afghan and Iraq wars) by the late socialist journalist Paul Foot - Why You Should Vote Socialist (2001).

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