by Chris Ford
The coalition government has been heralded as the start of a ‘new politics’ and a ‘new era of pluralism’. But for many the buzzwords offer little consolation, there is dread at the return of the Conservatives and resentment amongst those who voted Liberal-Democrat to stop them, some thinking they were ‘to the left of Labour’.
Far from marking a new beginning the election and the coalition has been a demonstration of deception, a deception that there is a ‘national interest’, a deception of political-pluralism and the reality of Parliamentary democracy.
In the days leading up to the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition, all the conniving leaders, Brown, Clegg and Cameron declared their scheming to govern was in the ‘national interest’. This idea of the national interest masks the reality that the UK, far from being unified is divided into social classes, where the majority, the working class, are exploited through a system of wage slavery. Compelled to sell their capacity to work, wage-workers are dependent on employers providing them with employment. Out of the fact that employers depend on workers labour power to create profits the myth of a common or national interest in this relationship is propagated.
This capitalist matrix not only conceals the class character of the state but masks the vast extra-parliamentary power of capital, in whose interest the legislative, executive and judicial bodies serve. The owners and directors of BP, Shell, Barclays, Glaxo, BT, Tesco, Rio Tinto, and BAE etc are the unelected senior partners taking and influencing the key decisions on our lives. It is these forces which called the shots in the cohering of a coalition for ‘stable government’ to safeguard ‘the markets’.
The election afforded the 45 million eligible voters an apparent participation in the management of the state. This is a passive role in political life, detached from those elected who are irremovable for years. The class bias is further revealed in application of electoral law. Trade unions are bound to a 50% + 1 requirement in their ballots for strike action. The Tories secured a vote of 36% and the Liberal-Democrats 23%: if the principles applied to unions were enforced on these parties their election would be void.
Defenders of capitalism have long criticised communists as being against political pluralism. But if the election and coalition has revealed anything it is the pseudo-pluralism of capitalist politics. There are clear differences between Labour, Liberals and Tories but there is an essential overarching unity confirmed by the coalition of what appeared to be antagonistic wings of bourgeois politics.
The Tories and Liberals are longstanding parties of the British ruling class; the Labour Party abandoned any pretence of social-democratic reformism and openly embraced neo-liberalism. All these conniving politicians agree that ‘there is no alternative’ to capitalism and that the principle role of parliament and government is the stabilisation and re-stabilisation of the system. Capitalist pseudo-pluralism amounts to changing governments who all operate within the parameters of the system, differing on how best to manage the needs of capital, fluctuating between varieties of monetarism and Keynesianism.
We can expect pseudo-pluralism to continue, even institutionalised with by electoral reform. Despite the bleating of stability as self-justification by Cameron/Clegg it may be wishful thinking as the structural crisis of capital extending through the body politics.
Austerity socialism and the working class
Gone is all talk of an end to the recession. The coalition is set to enforce £6 billion ‘efficiency savings’ on public spending, even though the Liberal Democrat’s manifesto pledged their postponement. This will have a major impact on the jobs and social welfare of millions of workers. Austerity policies mean making the working class pay for the crisis, to safeguard capital and attempt to revive the profit rates. Such measures will utilise the armoury of existing laws and if necessary beef them up to ensure the capitalist state is in a position to carry through the capitalist offensive. How will the working class respond?
A key feature of the New Labour years has been the political disenfranchisement of the working class. For the last 13 years repeated efforts to constitute a new independent working class force have ended in failure. To reforge the political and organisation independence of our class remains an unfinished but necessary project. Due to this failure the majority of the labour movement remains tied to the Labour Party. The new leadership will no doubt adopt a pseudo anti-Tory radicalism and seek to re-harness the movement to the Labour Party. But Labour has no realistic alternative to offer but austerity socialism because it accepts that capitalism is here to stay. Despite rhetoric about callous Tories, they were prepared to go down the same route if they had remained in government. Workers do not vote Labour because they believe it will defend their interests but to keep the Tories out.
What is shocking today is the amnesia and complacency of the traditional left. It is prepared to rehash a state-socialist Labourite alternative that failed in the past and can’t provide any answers to the present. Some, including self-proclaimed Marxists, are ‘calling on all socialists to join or rejoin the Labour Party to fight against the cuts and to defeat New Labour.’ This is ignoring the transformation under Blair/Brown and how it is viewed by millions of workers. Those who argue the dogma of Labour as the lesser evil or that it can be reclaimed, are retarding an alternative to capitalism. Instead of encouraging the working class to build the sort of movement it needs, they restrict horizons to make do with the grand illusion of the lesser evil.
The development of independent united workers’ fronts to defend our class irrespective of the electoral fate of Labour should be primary. But this is clearly not enough: militant trade unionism and left-wing reformist socialism may contribute to resistance but it cannot provide a solution. The real issue is not which parcel of rogues comprises the coalition or replaces Brown. The real issue we face is which social class can impose its interests on society. The real choice is which needs to be posed is that between different forms of society – capitalism or communism.
We do not have a significant, coherent communist force today. The old ‘official’ Communist Party is essentially a social-democratic party and became absorbed into the labour bureaucracy. Its perspective is to support groups that can “enhance the possibility of reclaiming the Labour Party’. Instead, we urgently need the recomposition of communists into a more unified organisation. We cannot wait on the traditional revolutionary left, they have proved a hindrance.
Is communist refoundation possible?
The discussion around the subject of communist recomposition and organisation is one of the most important that is taking place in the pages of The Commune at present. Having managed to effectively bring together a very diverse current of communists of different ideas is an achievement in itself. In most organisations there would have been expulsions or a split by now. Some have made the proposal that the next step in the development of our network should be towards a communist league, a federation of communists.
A league must be an organisation which allows plurality of tendencies and opinion, and be open to the experiences of others, which guarantees the widest possible participation and democracy; a league whose policies and political positions will be a reflection of social struggles and discussion between various members, tendencies and platforms in the league. But we should seek to change the understanding of factions and bodies of opinion as not an expression of a desire of one group to conquer or capture positions but as a furtherance of ideas, a contribution to the formation of theory and practice of the organisation.
Such a communist pluralism should not be seen as internalising within the league the pluralism associated with bourgeois democracy. Gyorgy Lukacs was of the view that that to successfully participate in the struggle for working class emancipation organisation is indispensible, so that ideas have a possibility of becoming a material force that can change society. This has consequences for inner-working of communist organisation in not being cut off and aloof, of not recreating the alienated social relations of a capitalist environment inside our own organisations. For Lukacs this must more than the pluralism of bourgeois democracy but a participatory self-management, where it is a “world of activity for everyone of its members”:
“True democracy, the abolition of the split between rights and duties is, however, no formal freedom but the activity of the members of a collective will, closely integrated and collaborating in a spirit of solidarity’.”
Lukacs also cautioned that that “every communist organisation” must have the “ability to learn from every aspect of history. It must make sure the weapons used to gain a victory yesterday do not become an impediment in future struggles.”
The proposed league is nowhere near the scale of organisation Lukacs was discussing; however the principles if an organisation is to be sustained are helpful. It is my view that a new league should be built on the principles that:
« It should be an organised form of communist class consciousness, its relationship to the working class being to assist in generating communist consciousness through agitation and educational activities.
« A league should also be subordinate to the working class and not substitute itself for it as the actual revolutionary subject nor as the future instrument of workers’ self-government. Its role should be to assist in developing the self-organisation and self-management of the class, giving impetus to its revolutionary potential.
« Communism as a movement towards de-alienation of society requires that communist organisations institute communist pluralism and a diversity of opinion engaged in the creation and coordination of the league’s theory and practice.
« The league would be a voluntary association, of full and free discussion for every member: this direct-democracy implies selection of officials/holders of responsibilities by the membership and complete accountability and recallability.
In issue 13 of The Commune Ed Griffiths of the Communist Corresponding Society cautions against premature unity. In light of the failures of repeated unity initiatives, caution is understandable but there is also room for optimism. The process of convergence of those engaged in communist discussion and agitation is more achievable in the near future than perhaps thought. Furthermore for such a project of recomposition to succeed it needs to be projected from the earliest opportunity by communists.
How could a league of communists come about? It is my view that The Commune with individuals and organisations facilitate through our network a convergence. We have a political platform which certainly lays the basis to move beyond our current level of organisation. There is of course a question of trust. An attraction of The Commune is the absence of many of the negative traits of the left, including the environment of its forums and reading groups, its pluralism and diversity.
Furthermore the fact that we are still developing organisationally is a statement that our project is not a finished work which is to placed before others in a take-it-or-leave-it manner, but a genuine invitation to participate in a creative process of developing a new communist initiative.
My views of a new communist league can be summarised:
« That we open up dialogue with fraternal communist organisations and individuals to discuss our invitation to unite with us in a federation, based upon the principles contained in the political platform published in The Commune.
« That The Commune should play a unifying role in becoming the joint publication of the new league, establishing a central editorial collective elected by an all-members conference, with reserved seats for amalgamating organisations. Prior to such a conference a joint editorial collective may be necessary.
« That existing publications of individual communists and amalgamating organisations should in the spirit of unity and organisational growth, also declare in each issue that it is part of the federation and a publication of this or that organisation/platform, part of the league.
« That the structure of a new federation comprise local communes and circles, these branches being essentially communist unity committees, regular aggregates, a national conference, and an elected editorial committee.
« That the process of convergence in a federation recognises the importance of the development of a perspective of both theoretical and practical activities.
Many activists may justifiably consider launching yet another organisational initiative premature. My response is that we cannot continue to wait for the traditional left regrouping or a spontaneous new development. Far from being premature a new communist organisation is long overdue. At the present time we are speaking of very small beginnings but the possibilities are great, and with positive steps and increased membership, over time activity can be extended.