by David Broder
Yesterday afternoon Ed Miliband loomed large on a TV screen near where I was sitting. The sound was turned off, so there were only subtitles. “Whatever your view on the Iraq war it led to an appalling loss of…” A few seconds before the next word flicked up on the screen. ‘Life’, right? No. “Whatever your view on the Iraq war it led to an appalling loss of trust for us”.
But never fear, Ed, there are many on the left who opposed the war but are now pushing the anti-cuts movement towards Labour. Not just saying we need to pull Labour voters into our struggles, but focussing on the structures of the party and making plaintive appeals for Labour leaders to fight the cuts and fulfil their promises to the Trades Union Congress.
The fact that union leaders support Ed Miliband says more about them than him. I received a letter from the GMB saying he had their backing. They did not bother to explain how his leadership would advance the interests of the membership.
Socialist Worker quoted – without comment – the Unite bureaucrat Tony Woodley: “Ed has won by hitting the issues people care about – stopping the assassination of public services, fighting for a living wage, standing up for manufacturing, for a better future for young people”. Empty rhetoric.
Where the Socialist Workers’ Party do criticise Labour it is to appeal to them to change tack: the 25th September editorial was titled ‘Labour must break from Blairite past’. Ed Miliband declared that “the New Labour era has passed” without the need for such revolutionary advice, but quite why this posture is desirable is a rather murkier question. His intention in saying this is to make a nebulous promise of “change” while committing to nothing concrete, helping position his party to feed off anti-Tory sentiment.
Socialists should be arguing that Labour are no alternative to the Tories and would have implemented similar cuts, given the chance. But incredibly, at a recent anti-academies meeting in Lewisham, SWP members argued that even if Labour introduced academy schools and themselves planned harsh attacks on public services, we should not bring up the past since this would prevent unity with them against the Tories. They used to say ‘vote Labour with no illusions’, now they sow illusions in Labour which people don’t have already.
This typifies the view that the way to win campaigns is to get ‘big names’ in Parliament, the media and the trade unions to voice their support and build civil society pressure on the government. All criticism of these luminaries is unacceptable since it might put them off joining in the immediately pressing campaign. ‘Of course Labour isn’t socialist, of course we’re for movements from below, but we need to fight the Tories’… thus establishing a firm separation between our revolutionary fantasies and our means of organisation in the here and now.
That is why they could champion the “anti-war” credentials of various liberals and Islamists, or even Tory right-winger Michael Ancram; that is why they gave the platform to “anti-fascist” Liberal Democrat councillors at the 31st October Leeds anti-English Defence League demo, at the same time as refuse workers in the city were engaged in an 11-week strike against the Lib Dems’ effort to cut their pay by up to £5,000 a year.
The implication is that the important thing for socialists is to support the ‘right side’ of splits in ruling-class circles. It leads to an unprincipled ‘drift’: support Diane Abbott because she’s the least bad Labour leadership candidate… but since it’s clear she has no chance, make your second choice Ed Miliband (as Workers’ Liberty argued). Had David Miliband won they would have supported him for next Prime Minister anyhow: fortunately instead we can “rejoice, but not naively” at the younger brother’s victory.
This lesser-evilism places undue confidence in the workings of parliamentary democracy and change emerging within establishment politics. The language of fighting “Tory cuts” and insisting that the capitalist state ought to balance the books with more tax, or cutting weapons spending, implies that the problem is the individuals leading this particular government, not the state itself. It is thus not a huge jump to asserting that, yes, there is an alternative to “Tory cuts”, and its name is Ed Miliband.
This call for support for least-worst leaders is diametrically opposed to building a culture where the mass of people take their movements and the task of changing society into their own hands. A critique of the capitalist state and the changing position of the working class is instead subsumed to reacting to events and the “alternatives” provided by our rulers.
Do you support David or Ed? Labour or the Tories? Israel or Iran? Like a Tesco superstore, establishment politics offers us an enormous array of “choices”. The left should not be picking between these choices, but rather, questioning why the alternatives offered are all so unpalatable.