by Chris Kane
The much vaunted “green shoots of recovery” from the recession have been revealed to be no more than weeds in the New Labour cabinet. The only actual recovery we have seen has been the recovery of banks by the capitalist state. For the working class unemployment continues to grow: uncertainty about wages, job security and paying the rent or mortgage is on the mind of every working class person.
The main capitalist parties, Tories, New Labour and Liberals, are in disarray over the recession: they lack any clear understanding of its cause or a solution. But there is unanimity in maintaining the capitalist system and the idea that the working class should have to pay for the recession. Yet in this dire situation, where is the alternative? We have a deep structural crisis of capital which has been expressed first in the economy then the political system of parliamentary democracy, which has revealed to millions of people that there is something deeply rotten about the capitalist system.
However, the body that was founded to provide an alternative, the labour movement, is in crisis itself, with some sections in a state of virtual paralysis.
The trade unions have long fighting traditions which were built up over years by workers who joined together to promote their interests against the employers. Today the unions have become more of a prop for decadent capitalism than the fighting organisations we need. One of the main problems is the union bureaucracy, a broad stratum of officers, unaccountable leaders and unelected full-time officials. This layer stands over the rank and file members and its interests are distinct form the bulk of the membership. In some unions the whole organisation is run by ‘men in suits’ who spend their time lording it over the local members and their shop stewards, their main function being to keep a lid on things. In Unite and Unison, activism considered normal only a few years ago is viewed as ‘ultra left’ or even an ‘attack on the union’ these days.
The TUC and union hierarchy have been tied to the capitalist state and the logic of the system for years. Over 50% of TUC income now comes from the government. This situation has grown worse with their symbiotic relationship with New Labour, which unions have bankrolled no matter what it does! Having preached social partnership between labour and capital they are now stuck with the recession. Fearing the prospect of a Tory government, the official labour movement has come to terms with the recession, unwilling to rock the boat and jeopardise the current government which is carrying out its own austerity policies.
The traditional left strategy on the industrial and political front is also in deep crisis. For years activists sought to push the union leaders to the left through broad lefts capturing positions. Leadership is important, but unless it is tied to a strategy to actually transform the labour movement it is the left which is transformed – sucked into the bureaucracy itself. In some unions, it has become indistinguishable from the very people they used to oppose. On the political front, for twelve years the traditional left, especially in England, has engaged in initiatives which have repeatedly failed to solve the crisis of working class representation. The last throw of the dice, No2EU, was like a swan song of a left bereft of ideas, which in a climate of chauvinist British nationalism emanating from all parties, took the pressure off our own ruling class and contributed to further retrogression in the working class.
After years of failure and lost opportunities under New Labour by the official labour movement and the traditional left, there is a turn away from even trying to solve the crisis of working class representation. The worst example is a return to the living dead – the Labour Party. The argument has re-emerged that New Labour should be supported because it is the lesser evil; some imagine that history will repeat itself with a left revival as with Bennism in the 1980s. There is no evidence that this will happen: in the 1970s the Labour Party structures had emptied out as badly as today – but there was a 15 million strong trade union movement and militant rank and file. That movement reacted to the Callaghan Labour Government, underpinning the new Labour Left of Benn, Heffer etc. There is no comparison to our situation today. This revived Labourite perspective is a reflection of a left which has lost faith in itself and the capability of the working class to change society.
What should we do?
We should not give up on the working class: our efforts to resist the recession face difficulties and efforts to stifle initiative, but the victories at Lindsey show what is possible. On the political front we should not allow the abandonment of addressing the crisis of working class representation. The left wing RMT rail workers’ union has a policy of democratic workers’ representation committees. Activists should fight for this policy to be implemented. The question of representation needs to be tied to that of regaining control of our own organisations and using them to resist capital: we need to break the link from New Labour and from the stranglehold of the labour bureaucracy.
The failure of capitalism could not be more apparent, and the case for a new society – communism – could not be stronger. Communism is not a party, it is a new, free society fit for human beings. Nevertheless communists need to get organised. We do not have a genuine Communist Party today: the CPB is committed to its parliamentary British Road to Socialism, which means old style state-socialism. There is no genuine successor to the original CPGB which was revolutionary in the 1920s before its degeneration. There are many committed militants who do believe in a genuine communism, who are sick of the traditional left and sectarian socialism. We need to unite our forces.
The Commune is produced by a communist network, based on committees and individuals united around our platform. We advocate a plurality of ideas in the network, shedding the poisonous culture of the sects. We may be a minority for a long time, but an effective and organised minority of communists would be a step forward from our current fragmentation. We could start to make a difference in disputes and struggles of our class. Building a communist network would also be a step towards wider recomposition of the communist movement, both in terms of a vision of communism for the 21st century and developing concepts of how communist organise. A return to Labourism after the experience of the last decade is no way forward – let us throw off the dead weight of tradition and build for our own communist politics.