Not Waving, RA Vol 3, Issue 2, Aug/Sept '98

The Trotskyist Dilemma over Support for Labour
A defining feature of the Trotskyist left has been its continual support, albeit supposedly 'critical', for the Labour Party. Over recent years, some of these groups such as Militant (now the Socialist Party), have concluded that this position is no longer tenable, particularly in the light of Labour's wholesale adoption of anti-working class policies. While a step in the right direction, most of them still cling to a more 'radical' version of Labourism while calling for a Labour vote at elections.

This stance, dubious for at least half a century, has now become even harder to sustain. When Labour is perceived as being anti-working class by a hefty section of those who were once its supposed natural constituency, it's time to change the marketing strategy.

As Andrew Marr pointed out in the Observer recently, 'Crucially Blair does not believe in equality. He is not a social democrat. He has no enthusiasm for organised labour, no sentimental attachment to the post-war settlement. He feels himself to be a different kind of politician, responsive to middle England, rather than Labour Scotland. In his speeches he almost fetishises change and modernity; leadership for Blair is not about rendering social democrats more electable, but vaulting the whole idea between Left and Right. His Third Way is vague still, but Blairism, thus far means the three Cs - Christianity, community and competition. He is a market radical with decent social instincts. But he,s no kind of socialist'.

This now appears to be the position of the SWP, according to a report from a recent delegate conference. "Next year's elections to the Scottish parliament have already become the focus for official politics. The Scottish National Party is putting on a left face. We should not abstain from the argument. We are in a position to put forward class politics and stand candidates on a class basis." Lindsey German, Socialist Worker 23rd May 1998.

The catalyst for their change of heart appears to lie in a fear that they will get sidelined, not only by the Scottish National Party, but more importantly for them, by Scottish Militant Labour and the Scottish Socialist Alliance. Any call for a vote for Labour would be suicide in the current climate and to support the SML and SSA, who, incidentally, will probably have fused into one organisation by the time of the elections in 1999, would be an admission that they just can't cut it. They would run the risk of total wipeout in Scotland, an area where they've always been weak.

The only solution is to stand themselves but this creates a real presentation problem. As recently as last May they claimed a vote for Labour was a 'class vote'. To make things worse for them, much of their membership and wider support come from layers around the trade union and student left who wouldn't have touched the SWP with a barge pole when there was a substantial Labour soft left. That is why it is likely, that though they will stand in the Scottish elections out of pure necessity, they may get cold feet when it comes to future local elections. German herself inserts an instant get-out clause in the next paragraph:

"Elections are only a small part of what we do and standing underlines the need to deepen our roots, set up more workplace sales and build a layer of working class militants around us. We have no idea what vote we will get. We can look big in some workplaces and on demonstrations but elections are not the best area for us. The most important question for us is not the elections. It is building our branches for the important battles to come."

In other words, the most important thing is still to recruit new members, so they can, in turn ...recruit new members. This is backed up by a quote from a 'leading' student, who says: "We've got to use the next few weeks to sign up students to Marxism. We have got to find them in the libraries and coffee bars. The more students we sign up to Marxism this year, the bigger our SWSS (SW student societies) groups will be next year. "
The 'new road' turns out to be the old road with an extra lane on it.
Colin O'Brien

Reproduced from RA Vol 3, Issue 2, Aug/Sept '98