The world would be much better off if certain leftists dared to stick their necks out and give full-throated resistance against imperialist aggression without prefacing it with umpteen excuses, extrications and disavowals designed to keep them in at least some of the good graces of ‘polite society’.
A General Election has been called for December 12th, and it gives us much reason to fear.
We fear that Boris Johnson will win with a majority, enabling his government to push a suffering working class even further into hardship. Brexit aside, his plans to accelerate the sell off of the NHS, deregulate the economy and gut workers’ rights, impose even more brutal border controls, and push us to the brink of ecological breakdown are terrifying. He is hurtling us towards crisis after crisis, and it's the working classes that will suffer.
The Labour Party is offering itself as the “socialist” alternative to this horror. Without for a second withdrawing criticism from the Tories, who have been carrying out a brutal war against the working class for the past 10 years, we must simultaneously expose this lie. Labour is not and has never been socialist. We cannot pretend that anything offered at this election is getting us out of this nightmare.
And what a nightmare it is. The capitalists are robbing workers blind – workers in the UK put in over £32 billion worth of unpaid overtime last year. There are 151 billionaires living in Britain, and the country’s top 1,000 richest individuals and families hold a total wealth of £771,300,000,000; while 14 million people are living in poverty and over a million are unemployed.
What is the so-called socialist Labour Party’s response to this crisis, driven by the capitalist class? At the 2018 Labour Conference, Corbyn made it clear which side they are on: ‘I say to businesses large and small: Labour will also deliver what you need to succeed and to expand and modernise our economy’. All the prominent Corbyn supporters – Paul Mason, Ash Sarkar, Owen Jones – have emphasised how ‘moderate’ the new manifesto is, reassuring the business interests with which the government must deal. Corbyn himself admits he aims to stake out the “centre ground”. Labour’s corporate policy aims only to reverse the Tories’ reduction of corporation tax rates while keeping them lower than in 2010; and lower than current rates in France, Germany and Japan. Labour can’t serve the robbers and the robbed at the same time; it is the second capitalist party, the second wing of the same bird of prey.
Indeed historically, the Labour Party has always defended capitalist interests to the detriment of the working class. In the 1970s Harold Wilson’s Labour government, elected on a more left-wing manifesto than Corbyn’s, shortly set about accepting International Monetary Fund loans to save the financial sector in exchange for £3 billion worth of ruthless spending cuts, including to the NHS, and unemployment rapidly rose by a million. There’s a reason the working-class poor don’t vote for Labour governments, and it’s not absence of political awareness.
Corbyn’s Labour Party has nowhere near sufficient plans to address housing, employment or workplace rights, merely tinkering at the edges of these crises. Labour claims it would build a million new homes over the next decade – but with the severity of the current social housing crisis a million new homes are needed immediately; and several million are needed over the next 20 years. There are presently some 600,000 empty houses in Britain, including 200,000 that have been unoccupied long term – homelessness in the country could instantly be solved with a true social housing policy that abolished the profit motive. Labour’s ‘ambitious’ projected spending plan is, as a share of Gross Domestic Product, less than in many other European countries, including Greece, Italy, Sweden and neoliberal France. The pledged spending increases for the health service are less than the Blair government implemented. Labour proposes to nationalise just a few industries –far less than earlier Labour government have implemented. State-controlled industry itself is not socialism if the state is owned by capitalists, nor by itself sustainable given the cyclical history of de-nationalisations and job losses in the country. Neither does having workers own 10% of companies, as Labour proposes, amount to either ownership or control: it’s just another means to incorporate some workers into the system and undermine avenues for real change. Real socialism places all industries and all economic and social institutions directly in the hands of the working class, and dismantles capitalism entirely. The Labour Party is not socialism; it is a snake in the roses.
As deeper economic crisis looms, political elites know the working class will resist. Britain has a consistent recent history of inner-city uprisings, including in 1980-1, 1991-2, 2001 and 2011 –political expressions of contempt for decades of economic onslaught and racist harassment. But both Labour and Tories are preparing for the inevitable; Corbyn is no break from Labour’s historical commitment to defending capitalism by force. In 1950, Attlee’s Labour used troops against the national dockers’ strike. Callaghan’s Labour launched a massive police offensive against the trade union movement in the run up to and during the Winter of Discontent in 1978-9; and even considered drafting in the army. Two anti-fascist activists, Blair Peach and Kevin Gateley, were murdered by the police under Labour rule in the 1970s. Corbyn’s manifesto pledges to hire even more police than the Tories, a total of 22,000, with an emphasis on community infiltration (‘local intelligence’ gathering). The police only exist to enforce “peace” on behalf of the ruling class. They are especially oppressive to the most marginalised members of society: working-class people of colour, migrants, the disabled and LGBT+ people, especially trans people.
And no one should be surprised by Labour’s attacks against those most oppressed by capitalism. After all, they are the party that implemented plans to cut single-parent family benefits and Job Seekers Allowance, imposing 100 percent benefit sanctions for those that did not comply with JSA requirements. And Corbyn’s Labour bringing disability assessments in-house wouldn’t solve the underlying issue that these assessments are an oppressive tool forcing claimants to repeatedly “prove” their disability to assessors who have little understanding of their conditions. Labour are the party that, in 1968, passed an immigration bill to block the entrance of Kenyan refugees – who were British citizens (not that this should matter). Labour is complicit in the Windrush Scandal. This approach is not just historical but persists in the present: simply observe Labour’s continued commitment to the immigration regime of racist labour hierarchies and cruel deportations. A month after the Grenfell tragedy in which many of the at least 72 that were killed were immigrants, Corbyn made a chauvinistic talking point on The Andrew Marr Show against the “wholesale importation of underpaid workers from central Europe in order to destroy the conditions in the construction industry”, in favour of “jobs in the locality first”. This is nothing more than appeasing the reactionary far-right to win votes. It is capitalist bosses and establishment politicians, not immigrants, who are to blame for the immiseration of the working classes, and socialism can only be effective if it is uncompromising in its internationalism. Nor has Labour made any sustained effort to combat racial discrimination in the workplace, or curb police harassment of Black and Asian communities: any progress in these areas has been principally achieved by sustained resistance from these communities themselves. In his speech “The ballot or the bullet”, Malcolm X questioned black people voting for the Democrats:“you put the Democrats first and the Democrats put you last”. This can be extrapolated to the working class in Britain, particularly its most precarious elements, and how the Labour Party views us. It does not care about any of us.
Labour’s imperialism is alive and well
For centuries, Britain has been functioning to a large extent through the economic extortion of the oppressed nations of the world. Many of the reforms enacted by so-called progressive governments in Britain have been paid for out of super-profits extracted from the labour and resources of the colonised. The same remains true today – the majority of national revenue comes from dividends on capital exports to the Global South and financial services, i.e. British imperialist super-profits, and fees for transacting the imperialist super-profits of other countries. The Labour manifesto portrays British imperialism as something historical that needs to be come to terms with through education, but British corporations continue to ransack the wealth of Britain’s former colonies. Britain also benefits from centuries of colonialism and slavery that fuelled its rapid industrialisation and enabled its global dominance. Labour has never truly challenged this, but used it to its advantage. What social security gains were made, such as the post-war ‘welfare state’, were either directly or indirectly funded through exploitation.
Neither were they ever ‘gifted’ out of the kindness of Labour’s heart. They were a pacification measure, coming on the back of intense class struggle during the inter-war years, and aimed at preventing truly radical transformation of society. The capitalist exploiters were kept safe, and the welfare state was funded by Britain’s economic extortion of its colonies and neocolonies. To take it from the horse’s mouth, the British imperialist and white supremacist Cecil Rhodes declared that “If you want to avoid civil war [at home], you must become imperialists.” Corbyn's government would still build its programmes on the blood and labour of the Global South: imperialism is going nowhere as long as capitalist parties rule. Under these conditions, to accept seemingly ‘progressive’ reforms from a party willing to pay for them with imperialist super-profits amounts to accepting a bribe. Either we are internationalist and fight for liberation, or we lose the right to call ourselves progressive.
Using the super-profits of imperialism and neocolonialism to defuse working-class anger has always been the goal of the Labour Party. It never made any promises of socialism, as it was founded specifically as a means of quelling real revolutionary activity.In a previous article on the futility of supporting Corbyn, we said:
The Labour Party is in alliance with the ruling class, winning temporary privileges which disproportionately benefit the labour aristocracy [i.e the well-off sectors of the working class]. These privileges, which are never adequate or available to the full working class, are paid for with the blood, sweat and tears of globally oppressed nations and are subject to recall as soon as the ruling class hits a crisis – at which point we get austerity.
Of course, the pound is secured by the bullet, and the Labour Party has never hesitated to participate in imperialist wars and interventions, or aid reactionary, violent regimes. The greatest trick that “blue” Labour of the Blair years ever pulled was cementing the myth of “red” Labour. The left’s short-sighted focus on the Iraq war has entailed a dangerous forgetting that Labour never had ‘benevolent’ roots. From the bloody Anti-British National Liberation War (or "Malayan emergency"), in which thousands were killed, to setting the stage for the Iranian coup that led to a regime of repression and political tortures under the Shah, or reaping enormous profits from mining interests in apartheid South Africa, Labour has always been on the side of imperialism.
Perhaps the most radical vow in Labour’s manifesto is to cease arms sales to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen and to Israel “in violation of the human rights of Palestinian civilians”. But the implications of the latter pledge are blurry, given Labour takes a “both sides” approach which obscures the genocidal practices Palestinians are subjected to by the highly militarised Israeli state. And there is no indication Labour wishes to break from its violent history. Labour supports the renewal of Trident nukes, and commits to increasing spending on the armed forces. Refusing to challenge the ethno-nationalist violence of the Indian government, Labour have backpedalled on its initial opposition to the occupation of Kashmir in an attempt to win votes. Today, Corbyn says nothing about global wealth redistribution, debt cancellation or reparations, and he seems committed to preserving Britain’s exploitative role in the world. We can do better.
Orbiting a black hole
Even if the Labour Party does win, the fear we hold will not stop but continue to grow. Practically, the only viable victory they can obtain is in the form of a minority government where neoliberal MPs from Labour, the SNP and the Lib Dems would sway the power. The reality of bourgeois parliamentary politics necessarily prevents meaningful change, even if that was what Labour were offering; it demands the defence of the ruling capitalist class and squashes any meaningful threat. A Labour government would face barrier after barrier, from outside and within, for the little progress it offers.
The Labour Party itself, as an institution, creates its own internal barriers to progress. We see once somewhat radical individuals and movements reduced to nothing. Corbyn himself, once a rebel often on the right side of history, is now forced to rampantly defend the Labour Party he once criticised so freely; his opportunism outweighed his pacifism and any embers of socialist principles he may have once had. This is clear from his capitulation on Trident and NATO, and enabling his MPs to vote to bomb Syrians. At the local council level, Corbynites have continued implementing austerity. For instance, Laura Pidcock, then councillor for Northumberland, voted for £36 million worth of cuts in 2017-20. In the 1980s left-wing Labour councils at least launched a serious political campaign against austerity, but Corbyn and his right-hand-man John McDonnell, on taking leadership of Labour, instructed councils to enact pro-cuts budgets. McDonnell, often regarded as the most left-wing member of the front bench, has also met with the transphobic hate group Woman’s Place UK.Take also the example of the purportedly anti-racist Labour Campaign for Free Movement, which was jubilant about a nonbinding resolution a few months ago, and ‘betrayed’ by the new manifesto which is void of any commitment to ending restrictions on labour mobility. Labour appropriates demands and disposes of them when they prove inconvenient. Similarly, the campaign for net zero emissions by 2030, while not truly radical in its aims, was still let down by the new manifesto. The hypocrisy of Labour is astounding. Moreover, it admits climate catastrophe will hit the Global South hardest and fastest, while spearheading a new green imperialism, in which the “metals and minerals needed to build our wind turbines, our solar panels and electric batteries will be ripped out of the earth”, to provide western elites with the illusion of a guiltless conscience while the poor continue to suffer and the planet dies. Any radicalism within the recent years of the Corbyn project are being pressed into the bourgeois conformity that the party and its parliamentary arena demands.
The Labour Party is a black hole. It demands the commitment of all the left as an inevitable force of nature; comrades, organisers, friends and people in need are all sucked into its orbit, and naysayers are cast into the void. What else could people on the left do but commit ourselves to Labour? Endless ‘radical’ groups, from Trotskyite parties to unions to various campaign movements, have joined the circulation with the belief that they will be the ones to fundamentally shift the balance leftwards. And yet what sells itself as a habitable planet is a vacuum lacking in all substance, drawing in energy, work, time and hopes and dissipating them into nothingness. The fact that we must address the problems of Labour over and over again shows that Labour pulls even its critics into its orbit.
Even if Labour do win and pass a moderately-progressive agenda, how long before Corbyn’s Labour lose an election and all progress is reversed? 2 years? 5 years? 10 at the most? Bourgeois politics will always swing back rightwards at some point, it's always only a matter of time. Eventually another “socialist” Labour leadership will emerge to appropriate and redirect radicalism. Reforms are needed to survive, and we recognise their use; we support improvements and will celebrate what wins are made. Nonetheless, socialists must seek to go above and beyond them, and utilise them for the purpose of building revolution, with meaningful and permanent progress. Lenin wrote that “the liberal bourgeoisie grant reforms with one hand, and with the other always takes them back, reduce them to nought, use them to enslave the workers, to divide them into separate groups and perpetuate wage-slavery. For that reason reformism, even when quite sincere, in practice becomes a weapon by means of which the bourgeoisie corrupt and weaken the workers”. The Labour Party execute their role in maintaining this capitalist merry-go-round perfectly.
Be it December 12th or another point further down the line, those who have, understandably for lack of alternative, placed their hopes and faiths in the Labour Party will be forced to come to terms with the fact that the hope of the Corbyn project and the Labour Party broadly is empty and hollow. They will get no apology, just a demand to pledge faith in the Labour Party once more. Round we go again.
The way out
Damage mitigation can be an understandable motivation to vote if you live in a marginal seat where your vote can affect the outcome; no socialist wants to see Boris Johnson in power. Voting under these circumstances is one thing; however, most times, a vote in a ‘safe’ seat means little more than an implicit mandate to be governed. As Lenin said, in capitalist or bourgeois democracy, “the oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class shall represent and repress them in parliament”. Besides, voting isn’t ever just an isolated act; it’s tied up with the whole parliamentary democracy circus and it helps legitimise it as a form of political praxis. Neither would we recommend going out and canvassing for the Labour Party, placing your hopes in them, or putting effort into organising with the Labour Party. This is neither revolutionary nor is it socialism. Do not, for one second, allow yourself to think that a tick on a ballot paper is fixing anything. Whether you decide to vote or not, we must break through the illusion of lesser-evilism and fight for a revolutionary alternative.
The revolutionary socialist approach is the only authentic working-class solution to the violence of capitalism, and this is impossible to achieve by any ballot box vote. It is the long road less travelled, but compelling in its direction and assuredness. With each step up the mountain, we gain another footing; we have far to go and no shortcut to building solidarity, raising consciousness and driving the working class forward together. More and more people join the climb; the shape of the footprints might change but the path will inevitably be followed all the same. For the longest time it is a slow march that climbs the mountain, and yet, step by step, the path we climb grows shorter. We are an avalanche ascending. And one day, we will look around us and see that the mountain is now not in front of us but below, and that we stand at the top as the united working class.
We can see alternatives seeping through the cracks all around us. Globally, class struggle is on the upswing; the imperialists have built a stronghold, but the walls are caving in. Here, ongoing strikes in the education and transport sectors as well as by migrant workers are grounds for optimism. Even the hundreds of thousands involved in climate strikes, while reformist in nature, show the capacity for mass extra-parliamentary mobilisations.
Red Fightback is committed to revolutionary socialism, and recognises that the working classes can only achieve victory by creating its own instruments of power. This is our way out.