29 June 2010

Is Labour worthwhile for the future?

The Tory-LibDem government’s attempt to reduce the state deficit is disadvantaging most heavily the poorest sections of working people. The unemployed, ever growing in number, who now subsist on state benefits of less than ten pounds per day (out of which they should feed and dress themselves and pay utility bills) will have their income cut. New Labour allowed Britain to become its most socially unequal since 1945; and the bourgeois coalition is now set to drive millions into penury, with Britain’s social profile increasing resembling that of a South American country.

On the left there are two responses, both of which deserve serious consideration.

First, there is the view that however awful New Labour was between 1997 and 2010, nonetheless it is the only political organisation that working people have to advance their interests. We should, therefore, work for a Labour government to be elected in 2015 or earlier because even the worst Labour government is better than this. Of course in the meantime we can campaign and try to move Labour leftwards.

Second, there is the view that the Blair-Brown governments crossed the Rubicon. New Labour in office abandoned social democracy, built up capitalist power and inequality, sought to diminish personal and civic liberties and actively promoted a sycophantic pro-Americanism around the globe. The people actively engaged in this project lead the Labour Party today and will after the September leadership election. Asking working people to put their faith and aspirations in Labour is therefore dishonest and futile.

Something like this is bound to be the core argument on the left in the 2010s

21 June 2010

Is working in the Labour Party worthwhile?

Even though I was active on the left of the Labour Party in the early 1980s, I doubt today whether socialist involvement in the Party can be effective.

In the 1980s our complaint against the Wilson/Callaghan governments (1964-79) was that they had been staffed by men with over modest objectives. Nevertheless Roy Jenkins had secured a raft of liberal reforms in the 1960s and the left had strengthened inside the Party and the trade unions. It seemed possible in the early days of Thatcher that a more left-wing Labour government was both possible and meaningful.

New Labour’s (1997-2010) main feature was not the modesty of its reform, but its desire to consolidate Thatcherism under new management. That required a different sort of Labour Party as Blair realised from the outset. Party internal democracy was undermined till it no longer existed, top-down management was imposed leading to choreographed conferences and left-wing activists either resigned or became marginalised eccentricities.

Socialism and social democracy are now too long dead in the Labour Party to be revived. I think I’m right, though I wish I were wrong.

That said, activity in the Labour Party is better than doing nothing or engaging in self-marginalisation through climate camps.

My hope would be that Britain could build a left-wing reformist party to the left of Labour which would win support for itself and prevent Labour from moving to the right. It would have to watch its left flank.

The absence of PR and the fractious left make that difficult in Britain; but nevertheless I believe it should be attempted.

Perhaps we should look to the experience of the German Left Party.

17 June 2010

Liberalism & Work

A few remarks in defence of liberalism

Bourgeois liberalism does indeed stop at the factory gate or office door, but that is no reason to reject liberalism. On the contrary that is a reason to take the language of individual choice into corporations; i.e. for the rights of individual workers to trump obligations imposed by de facto imposed employment contracts.

Let me give one small example: give individual workers the right not to wear a tie, or to appeal against uniforms which are unnecessary or demeaning.

Socialism is more likely to be popular by taking the freedoms outside work into the workplace than by extending the discipline of work (even after the revolution!) into other areas of life. I don’t oppose collective action; but I support the collective action of free individuals.

16 June 2010

The aim of socialism

The downside of capitalism, it seems to me, is that it denies to many sufficient resources and/or financial security as well as providing a horrible time at work. This is true even though the resources of the economy are sufficient to abolish these evils.

A socialised economy is not an end in itself, but merely the economic base on which liberal freedoms can become available and meaningful for all. It is not the job of socialists to tell people how and for what purposes they should live, or to try and mould human personality, but to provide the means by which they can be free.

Confronting New Labour's authoritarianism

In the Labour Party, now in opposition, there is talk about moving on but one aspect of their term in office needs careful examination. It is easy to explain how New Labour presided over the highest levels of social inequality in Britain since 1945: Labour sought political power, but in reality existing capitalist power found Labour. Blair et al were the ideal instruments.

Harder to explain, though, was New Labour’s assault on civic and personal freedoms. People incarcerated without trial or public evidence. Wide scale intimidatory use of stop and search powers against people on the street, especially photographers. People threatened with prosecution for criticising religion. Mass registration of people on the pretext of combating paedophilia… and so on. By 2009 it was possible to talk about the lights going out on liberal democracy in Britain.

Many of these measures were due to a cynical populism (detention of supposed would-be terrorists) or a desire to outflank the Tories and the Daily Mail. The security industry is a strong lobby (ID cards and E-Borders); yet there is something else, something more fundamentally rotten.

When the Tories managed Thatcherism 1979-97, they defeated the trade unions and local councils and imposed market fundamentalism. What happened to the victims did not worry them too much; they had scraps of welfare thrown at them and lived in junk estates. New Labour, using the language of ‘responsibility’ and for Blair ‘communitarianism’ attempted to weld everyone into their place in Britain's class-divided capitalist society. This, I believe is the true origin of New Labour’s would-be totalitarianism, and is a foul ideology which needs to be exposed and trashed.

My point is this: the left has the task not just of confronting capitalist power in the economic domain to secure a greater share of the social product for ordinary working people, but it needs to assert universalism (as opposed to cultural relativism) and political liberalism, both of which have been so stained by New Labour.

15 June 2010

Nick Cohen: worth reading even if you don't agree

Information can be valuable even if it originates from a person who has diametrically opposed views to ones own. Indeed had Marx not used the works of non-Marxists, Marxism would never have been born.

In recent years one of my favourite political commentators has been Nick Cohen, and in fact I am in the middle of his latest offering “Waiting For the Etonians” – who have now actually arrived. I don’t agree with Cohen on several points (his justification of the Iraq and Afghan wars, of course, or his carte blanch rejection of Historical Communism 1917-89). Nevertheless mentally arguing against him on these points is more intellectually stimulating than having what one already believes recited back in a text. On other matters – such as Cohen’s criticism of the cultural relativism that permeates the left today – I do agree with him.

Jon Cruddas: friendly critic of New Labour

Jon Cruddas is a man who has always liked to straddle the official New Labour line and flirt with the left as his voting record in Parliament shows.

It is no surprise that he did not wish to run for Labour leader. His personality seems to dispose him to be friendly critic of the Labour establishment only.

• Voted very strongly for introducing foundation hospitals.votes
• Voted moderately against laws to stop climate change.votes
• Voted moderately against introducing student top-up fees.votes
• Voted very strongly for a stricter asylum system.votes
• Voted a mixture of for and against a transparent Parliament.votes
• Voted strongly for Labour's anti-terrorism laws.votes
• Voted very strongly for more EU integration.votes
• Voted very strongly for removing hereditary peers from the Lords
• Voted strongly for a wholly elected House of Lords.votes
• Voted very strongly for the hunting ban.votes
• Voted a mixture of for and against introducing a smoking ban.votes
• Voted very strongly against replacing Trident.votes
• Voted very strongly for allowing ministers to intervene in inquests.votes
• Voted very strongly for the Iraq war.votes
• Voted very strongly against an investigation into the Iraq war.votes
• Voted strongly for equal gay rights.votes
• Voted moderately for introducing ID cards.votes
• Voted strongly against greater autonomy for schools.

14 June 2010

Public Debt and Expenditure Cuts

Much of the debate is constructed around false alternatives: unsustainable public indebtedness OR cut the services and incomes of the least well-off.

Yes, public debt levels do need to be reduced, but that can be done in ways that do not leave the worst-off relatively worse off. There should be tax increases on wealth and income and cuts in those areas which do not injure the worst-off or impede future economic growth; e.g. tax rebate on private pension contributions, or the defence budget.

Real differences of class interest are being hidden behind a false alternative, an alternative which is repeated again and again by the media.

11 June 2010

Diane Abbott

The trouble is that Diane Abbot is not going to win. If she stood a chance and had a powerful movement behind her, then David Miliband, Jack Straw and Harriet Harman wouldn’t have nominated her. Her role seems to me to legitimise the election.

Yes, if were still in the Labour Party I would vote for her, even though I wasn’t satisfied with her lining up behind those in the Party insisting that Cameron should be Prime Minister rather than try to build a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

The fact that she’s female and black doesn’t concern me much. I’m interested in her politics and I would like to be convinced that she adhered to a liberal universalism and not the currently fashionable pseudo-left cultural relativism. We’ll see.