Labour parties

Philip Ferguson plf13 at
Sun Sep 22 23:31:49 MDT 2002

Jose wrote:
> The plain fact is, as distinct from Lenin's time, the ideological hegemony
> of the ruling class among working people is qualitatively stronger. People
> don't vote for a run-of-the-mill labor party or U.S. Democratic Party
> candidate because they have illusions that this will somehow bring about the
> kind of fundamental social change they want, even if its precise character
> isn't yet too clear in their own minds. In fact, they do not believe
> fundamental social change is either possible or desirable.

I think this is one of the most imortant aspects of contemporary society
and voting patterns that the paleo-Trotskyist supporters of LPs don't
take on board.

Moreover, perhaps the single most important characteristic of LP
election campaigns these days is to *lower the horizons of the working class*.

Labour leaders like Blair and Clark do this quite consciously.  Far from
making any specific appeal to class, in terms of workers, they make a
non-class appeal (which is really an appeal to the middle class elements
Jose identifies below), while lowering any lingering expectations
workers might have.

During the recent NZ elections, one of the leading Labourites (the one I
ran against as it happens) spoke to a meeting at varsity.  Now, she is
one of the 'lefts' and addressing a student audience.  So you might
expect a little leftie rhetoric.  But no, nothing like it.  She
explicitly stated that Labiour was making no big promises and only
offering verty small things (she said this was so they could make sure
they delivered!).

So no workers or students vote Labour these days with heightened
expectations.  This is why there is no big fightback when Labour gets
into power.

The old Trotksyist view that Labour in power meant raised epxectations,
Labur would fail to fulfil these and whammo, big class struggle, just
doesn't hold any more (if it ever did!).  This was the daft line put
forward by Tony Cliff and his group in Britain to justify voting for
Blair in 1997.

However, Labour had already lowered workers' expectations so much that
there was no way Labur culd really disappoint workers anyway.  No
workers believed Blair was going to deliver anything, much less
socialism.  The mian result of five years of Labour in power in Britain
has been historic levels of working class abstentionism.  The result of
the last three years of Labour in power in NZ is the biggest level of
voter abstention in NZ history.  basically a large section of the
working class has gone on strike against voting Labour.  And who could
blame them!

As against Bob's pro-Labour argument, I think we need to engage these
people and show them there is an alternative way forward, not try to
corral them back towards the Labour Party.

> The typical labor/Democratic Party candidate presents mostly an appeal to
> the managerial, professional and middle class layers. Their program is to
> ameliorate some of the contradictions of capitalism, sand off some of the
> rough edges in order to preserve the status quo.

Absolutely, Jose.  You have the NZ LP down pat.  And even the
amelioration is pitiful.

Take NZ.  In 1991 the new National Party government cut unemployment
benefit, solo parents' benefit and widows benefit by around 25 percent.
It would not exactly break the bank for Labour, when it came to power in
1999, to have restored benefit levels even just to 1991 levels.  They
refused flatly to do so.  They even refused a Green proposal to give
beneficiaries a Xmas present of oe week's extra benefit in 1999.  Under
the current Labour government of Clark and co. the people on the NZ Rich
List saw their wealth increase by 17 percent last year alone.  Real
wages over the entire course of this government (three years) rose by
0.1 percent.  Under National in the 1990s, workers' real wages rose 60 -
yes, sixty! - times as much.

In Britain Labour cut benefits in the first Blair term.  If the unions
really had any clout in the British LP it is odd that they couldn't even
prevent this.

We might also note that the British LP national conference each year now
features stalls from the CBI (the employers' federation) more
prominently than trade unions, while the Tories can't get anywhere near
as many CBI stalls at theirs and are left whingeing.  In NZ, the
National Party was left cash-strapped durig the elections because most
business money went to Labour.

Why on earth would anyone serious about revolutionary politics want to
give any support to these awful bourgeois parties?

There is *no sense at all* in which these parties are *independent*
working class parties these days.  Far from being independent of the
bourgeoisie, they are totally wrapped up with it.  Trade union
involvement in them, minimal as it is, is now merely a form of class collaboration.

Philip Ferguson

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