Should we of the Left support the Labour Party, even in their Post-Labour (i.e. neoliberal, pro-austerity, anti-worker) form? A common attitude on this question goes something like this: “We have to be realistic and compromise: if we don’t vote for Labour we will end up with the Tories back in power.” This is usually followed by a stream of citations of Labour polices which, four or more years ago, had some generally positive effect. Undeniably such accounts are erudite, but they are also conspicuous in avoiding both the many manifest failures of the Labour Party and the general trajectory of the Party, which is increasingly rightwards. Not only are Labour Councillors currently facilitating cuts, but even in opposition the Party has taken to attacking immigrants, welfare claimants and unions, whilst determinedly approving anti-worker policies (e.g. the public sector pay-freeze). Rather than presenting an alternative, Labour takes all its cues from the Right. But, even those who do see the general picture often fall back on arguments based on pragmatism and realpolitik in order to justify the necessity of voting for the Labour Party in the name of compromise (e.g. the whole SWP).
This question of ‘compromise’ must be addressed, for it presents itself in a somewhat mystified form. What is said to be important is the relation between the political parties (i.e. “Better Labour than the Tories”). The paradigm here appears to be consumption rather than political struggle (i.e. “I prefer this brand to that”). Indeed, perhaps commodity fetishism has subsumed politics? One way or another, the typical Leftist objections to this are that “You might vote for Labour and still end up with the Tories” or “Labour basically are Tories.” Both contain some truth, but both are inadequate. The point is that the crucial thing is the relation between political parties and individual and collective subjects.
The Labour Party is currently in a position where it is must prioritise the interests of capital. This is so because the balance of the class struggle is currently weighted against the working-class and its allies, who are currently quite weak. Meanwhile, despite, or perhaps because of, the economic crisis the capitalist class is really doing very well. It faces all sorts of difficulties, but it is more than coping. Whilst this situation persists, whatever the hopes of the few Lingering Left Labourites, the party is not going to be reformed. The problem is not simply the internal/institutional problems of bureaucracy, factions, ‘middle-class’ members and ‘Blairites,’ but the whole state of the class struggle in the current conjuncture. What ‘compromises’ can be wrung from the Labour Party entirely depend upon the state of the class struggle; whilst the capitalist class has the upper-hand these offerings will be very scant.
That is the problem of the relation of the Post-Labour Party to collective subjects. Let us now come to the question of individual subjects’ relation to the Labour Party with regards the question of compromise. The fact is, Labour cannot be reformed in the current conjuncture. You approach them thinking you are compromising with it (“I like that, but I don’t like this”) but you are not. The Party hears nothing from individuals. The experiential basis of this is the frustrating to-and-fro and endless back-stepping any would-be reformer of Labour will encounter. Eventually, tired of this fruitless fight, you think you are compromising with yourself. However – even here you are wrong. For your compromise simply a complete capitulation.
On these last points, I am reminded of those young children who have newly discovered the ability to lie. They think they are possessed of a secret ability, a secret cunning: the power of manipulation. They try it out on adults. In truth, whether the adult sees the lie or not, they decide to humour or scold, to accept the wheedling demand or ignore it, independently of the child’s will. Meanwhile the child triumphantly flatters themselves that they are able to wield power and control over their elders, thought in truth the reins are kept well clear of their hands. So it is with the ‘socialist Labourite’, who ‘plays the part’ of Labour supporter whilst nurturing socialist view. The truth is somewhat the other way around. They think that they push, but it is they who are pushed. Their failure to realise this is merely a self-flattery born out of the need to protect themselves from the plain truth: that they are lending their energies and support to something they detest.
None of this, of course, excuses the Post-Labour Party ministers and their cronies. They are deeply implicated not only in facilitating austerity but also in the weakness of the Left whom they have attacked and betrayed. What these insights do provide, however, is a little light to help guide our strategy. Two key points emerge: first, we must cease ploughing our energies into reforming the Labour Party; second, not only is Labour a valid target, but it must be attacked constantly if it is to be shifted. Change will come, but currently this will not come through an internal struggle within the Labour Party.