Philip Ferguson plf13 at
Sun Sep 22 02:39:52 MDT 2002

Steve painter wrote:

> The problem with Phil's analysis is that it doesn't tell us what to do about
> the fact that most of the working class still votes Labour, even in NZ,
> where Labour has been most gutted by its betrayals of working-class
> interests.

I'm not sure that most workers do vote Labour.  A quarter of the
electorate abstained.  Nearly half Maori abstained.  These groups would
be overwhelmingly working class.  A chunk of the working class also
voted NZ First.

If you look at the Tory constituency seats you also see an interesting
trend.  The Tories won 22 constituency seats, yet in 16 of these - ie
two-thirds - the party vote went to Labour.

In other words to the extent that any significant chunk of the working
class votes Labour it is little different to workers in the US voting
for the Democrats.  Meanwhile most of the middle class vote Labour.  And
the ruling class here frequently prefer Labour, and finance it.

If you want to argue that some kind of support for Labour is necessary
because more workers vote Labour than for any other party, then this is
an entirely different position than the approach taken by Lenin, Trotsky
and so on.  it is the approach the CPUSA takes to argue for voting for
and working inside the Democrats.

> All the leftie feel-good stuff about how rotten Labour is gets us nowhere if
> it leads to no tactical conclusions other than exposure and denunciation by
> tiny groups of Marxists. That hasn't worked for the past 80 years or so, and
> there's little sign of it working now. Even the Scottish Socialist Party is
> not seriously challenging Labour's hegemony over working class votes.

Well, I would argue we have had 80 years of Trotskyist 'critical
support' for Labour and it hasn't broken any significant section of
workers from Labour.  I think writing off the SSP challenge might be a
bit premature.  It took LPs a couple of decades to win most workers away
from Liberal parties, so I think you might hold off judgement on the SSP
for a few years yet in terms of whether it can challenge Labour's
hegemony over workers in Scotland.

> Even in NZ it's not at all clear that the working class is finished with the
> Labour Party, and it's even less the case in Australia and Britain. This is
> reflected in phenomena such as the rise of the "awkward brigade" of militant
> trade union officials in Britain over the past couple of years (for more,
> see ) and the development
> of militant leaderships in some Victorian and WA unions in Australia.

> The main leaders of the awkward brigade are mostly Labour Party members,
> with one or two Socialist Alliance supporters. The political outlook is
> similar in the new militant leaderships in Australia. Most of the leaders of
> this current are in the Labor Party, or at least recognise that the forums
> of the Labor Party can't be ignored, if only for defensive reasons.

> In immediate terms, the awkward brigade and others in the British Labour
> Party are causing difficulties for Blair in his support for Bush's Iraq war
> drive. This is not a small question. If war is to be avoided, the position
> of Britain as Bush's only reliable imperialist ally of importance (on this I
> agree with Labor leader Simon Crean, if Britain is the bulldog among US
> allies, Australia is the lapdog).

Steve, are you really suggesting 'the awkward brigade' are going to take
any effective action against Blair if he and Bush invade Iraq?

I think a re-read of 'Leon Trotsky On Britain' might be useful to put
the 'awkward brigade' in perspective.

> So the "middle-class yuppies" etc, in the British unions and Labour Party
> (in combination with independent antiwar movements, of course) may yet prove
> vital in stopping war in the Gulf -- one of the major objectives of the most
> powerful sector of world capitalism. That's still being played out, and one
> of the important battles is being fought inside the Labour Party.

There is no important battle over the war being fought inside the
British LP.  And the union bureaucrats at the TUC basically rolled over
Blair at the actual TUC conference.

The 'left' in the LP couldn't even defeat Kinnock, they've not got a
show against Blair - the balance of forces in the LP mean that there is
little left of anything that could be described as serious left social democracy.

> Theories about the labour parties are useless if they're not a guide to
> practice, and practice would seem to dictate at the moment that Marxists
> should support the antiwar wing of the Labour Party. It certainly looks like
> contradictions between working-class support and capitalist policies are
> still being played out in the British Labour Party.

The need is to build a *real* alternative on the ground, through
campaigns in working class areas that seriously begin to undermine the
LP.  In Britain the only left currents which have made any progress
against the LP - the SSP, the SP and the Independent Working Class
Association - have all done so by building militant local struggles.

My criticism of the local work done in Britain would be that too often
it is too localised and doesn't link with the big political questions.
But building real struggles on the ground *within* the working class is
the way to fight Labour.  Otherwise what happens is permanent lesser-evilism.

> Incidentally, Phil, what is your definition of working class and middle
> class? I thought those who relied on selling their labour power to make a
> living were the working class. You seem to have some refinement on this
> definition that excludes quite a lot of people in this category.

Lawyers, academics, business managers, for instance - the kind of people
who provide the bulk of Labour MPs in NZ and are the biggest bunch of
delegates at Labour conferences.


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