We really need go little farther than economically rundown town’s like Atherton & Tyldesley in the once proud Lancashire Coalfield and the North West’s industrial heartland, let alone to the wider British, Eurozone or global economy to see why we need a new political party of, for and by the vast majority of ordinary people.
We need such a Party, precisely in order to better help defend, and more effectively fight for our collective interests in the here and now, as well as in the coming period of intense attacks by the Coalition Government and the employers.
All these attacks are spurred on by the same thing: the death agony of a repeatedly state-bailed-out otherwise bankrupt global Capitalist system. Without the mass of the people acting decisively in response to these attacks in Britain and elsewhere, the vast majority will face an uncertain future involving a combination of long-term mass unemployment, much lower living standards, increased poverty and more widespread social deprivation.
Worse than that, the entire global Capitalist system threatens to transform itself in conjunction with the ecological degradation, the increasing threat of irreversible climate change, and the hideous, fake moral, hypocritical, dog-eat-dog, crass materialist ‘make it while you can’ mentality that goes with it, into a part Mad Max, part Waterworld, part Orwellian 1984 style socio-economic and political barbarism.
Over a hundred years ago Socialists such as ourselves, along with some of the Trades Union leaders at that time, set about the construction of such a Party. It became what is now the Labour Party! Millions of workers and ordinary folk subsequently voted for it, and still do. Does this, however, mean that Labour Party is, or that it has ever been a party which truly stands up for the interests of the working class and the vast majority of ordinary people, let alone lives up to its claim of being a democratic Socialist party?
MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE
Even at its inception, the Labour Party represented more a marriage of convenience between key sections of the country’s top Trade Union leadership and full time apparatus; who were primarily looking for more improved Labour legislation than they were able to obtain via their previous alliance with the Liberals; with the leaders of the various Socialist parties, societies and co-operative organisations who formed its from then on, constituent parts (e.g. Independent Labour Party, Social-Democratic Federation, Fabian Society) than it did any worked out vision of the future. This was certainly more so the case, than it being driven from the bottom up by grassroots Socialists, Trades Unionists and ordinary working class people wanting to stand up for themselves and their communities and to create a better society for everyone and in which the great mass of people would be in the driver’s seat.
As the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) grew in size it later too also became more unaccountable to, and independent of the grassroots members and Labour voters, and whenever deemed necessary, even of the Trades Unions and Trades Union leaders as well. It has since, generally acted in its own interests and increasingly that of the existing political establishment and social order. Indeed, as time went on, the PLP became ever more and more concerned with the needs of King & Empire, the wooing of so-called ‘middle class’ voters by toning down its more radical slogans, and the furtherance of Labour MPs own Parliamentary careers, than they ever did the actual needs of the great mass of the people the Labour Party purported to represent.
One of the most notable pre-WWII examples of this are the Parliamentary Labour Party leadership’s role in the 1926 General Strike, which it worked hard to prevent from the outset and then worked hard to get called off once it was underway. Another notable example, is Ramsey Macdonald’s & Railworkers’ union leader Jimmy Thomas’s and a few other leading Labour figures at the time, splitting with Labour to form a National (Coalition) Government in 1931 with the Tories and the Liberals in order to push through policies similar to those of the current Coalition Government and which were at that time precipitated by the Wall Street Crash of 1929, policies which they also said were for “the common good”and in the “national interest” at the time.
The common good they referred to here, like now however, was not that of the great mass of the population, but the common good of the British ruling class, the Banks and big business, which, like now, dominated the British economy and British society.
But even this historical betrayal by many of Labour’s former key leaders and the unprecedented austerity measures they introduced with the backing of their Tory & Liberal Coalition partners, did not lead to any improvement of the dire economic situation Britain was faced with. It made the situation worse in fact. Moreover, with most Western Capitalist Governments enacting similar austerity policies elsewhere, with similar results, it led to what’s known as the ‘Great Depression” of the 1930s which only ended, with the outbreak of World War II and a new mass slaughter of the people. It also led to the Labour Party suffering its greatest ever set back at the next elections following this betrayal by its former key leaders, losing 236 or its former 288 seats won in 1929.
Since then, and the end of WWII, we’ve had of course the great so-called Attlee ‘reforming’ Labour Government of 1945-1951 which amongst other things brought us the NHS, nationalisation of the mines, steel and the railways, a massive Council house building programme throughout the land, and which saw the start of the formal end of the British Empire, etc. Many of the Attlee Government’s policies were indeed socially progressive. However, their introduction had less to do with any new found ideological commitment by Labour’s leaders, many of whom served in Churchill’s wartime Coalition (which banned strikes and greatly restricted democratic rights) to egalitarianism, more widespread social justice and a vision of a democratic Socialist society, than it did with the real threat of revolution throughout Europe encouraged and spurred on by the emergence of the USSR as military victors of the War in Europe, and one of the World’s two new ‘Superpowers’. Especially, this would include the millions of Soviet troops and many thousands of tanks still stationed in Eastern Europe immediately after the War, whose ‘liberation’ and subsequent occupation of Poland, Czechoslavakia, Hungary, Romania & Bulgaria, along with the seizure of power by Tito’s Communist Partisans in Yugoslavia, and those in Albania, was already resulting in the overthrow of Capitalism in those countries.
Additionally, it had less to do with any ideological commitments on the part of the Labour Party to a better future for ordinary folk, though this obviously did play a part for some, such as for example, Labour’s Health Secretary Aneurin Bevan and those who supported him (often referred to as the “Bevanites”), than it had to do with the growing demand for change from below on the part of ordinary working class people.
This would especially include the overwhelming majority of the then comparatively huge, mostly conscripted, British armed forces who had fought the War, many still then overseas, who voted for Labour as the only Party broadly supporting the proposals of the famous Wartime “Beveridge Report” which called for a welfare state “from cradle to grave” and a land genuinely ‘fit for heroes’.
Combined with the dire situation of Britain’s War wrecked economy, including the near bankruptcy of many of its key industries such as the railways, and the continuing shortages and rationing the entire population of the country was faced with, anything other than a massive continuing state intervention into the economy, has had already partly taken place during the War, additionally backed by massive loans from the newly formed IMF and World Bank, rather than a continuance of the pre-War policy of cut backs and austerity, became completely untenable, even if the Tories had won. So much so in fact, that even the next Tory Government under Churchill elected in 1951 did not undo any of the nationalisations and social reforms enacted by the Attlee Government.
LABOUR’S RESIDUE OF SUPPORT FROM ATTLEE PERIOD
This is what Labour’s current residue of working class support is firmly based on, along with the so-called ‘post-war economic consensus’ established by it, a consensus the Tory PM Edward Heath in 1970-74 called “On Nation Conservatism” which lasted up until the late 1970s and the Callaghan-Healy Labour Government which faced the notorious “Winter of Discontent” as a result of its abandonment of it, followed soon afterwards by Margaret Thatcher’s ‘Neo-Liberal’ juggernaut which sought to kick the whole thing into touch, and her subsequent defeat of the the Miners’ and Printworkers’ strikes in the mid 1980s necessary to achieve that.
The nationalisations undertaken by Labour during the Attlee period were not, of course, of the nature as we might have called for then, and would do now, involving ALL the key sectors of the economy, nor did they include workers’ control and management of production and overall centralised planning of the economy, but generally were only of the least profitable or bankrupt parts of it, which were needed to keep the rest of the economy going. They were managed by state appointed bureaucrats who were unaccountable to the work force, and operated outside of any centralised planning of the economy as a whole. i.e were in reality State Capitalist nationalisations similar to the recent bank-bailouts only without the latter’s £multi-million bonuses for their CEOs and any initial intention at least, to sell them back off to the private sector, once they could be restored to a suitable level of profitability.
The Attlee Labour Government also in keeping with the Tories and Liberals before them, continued to waste countless £million on expensive overseas military bases. It also joined with the US in intervening militarily in Korea (including by extending post WWII conscription in the form of ‘National Service’ by six months to two years). This of course, is not unlike what the Labour Party has done subsequently in supporting British and French action during the Suez Crisis, Britain’s own action under Thatcher in the Falklands War, as well in North Ireland, Aden and elsewhere. Also, alongside the US & other NATO powers military actions and wars in Yugoslavia, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq and recently in Libya. Also in supporting Israeli military actions in the Middle East and the Israeli states continuing oppression of the Palestinians.
For a party which says it stands for international solidarity and to be working towards global peace in the interests of all humanity, Labour’s record both in Parliament and outside of it, almost since its inception, both in and out of office, barring a relative few exceptions, is far from showing much evidence of that.
END OF THE ‘POST WAR CONSENSUS’
Later on in the late 70s, despite having announced at a previous Labour Party Conference that the Labour Government “would squeeze the rich until the pips squeak” to much applause from Conference delegates, Labour Chancellor Dennis Healey having gone to the IMF to solicit a bail-out loan for the UK economy, instead agreed to all their stringent conditions, which obliged the Labour Government to implement precisely the type of Government tax, spending and privatisation policies, currently being called for by the IMF, the World’s Banking system and the various ‘Rating Agencies’ in every country requiring their ‘assistance’ i.e. to almost exactly the same type of Neo-Liberal policies which are being implemented by the present Coalition Government, of essentially making ordinary folk pay for the repeated crises of the Capitalist system, here as everywhere else, and as a consequence showed where Healy and the Callaghan Labour Government’s true class loyalties ultimately lay when the chips were down.
Son of Thatcher, and “New Labour” Tory Blair wasn’t really that new at all, only in his new forms of opportunism and political betrayal. Despite taking power in comparatively less austere times, indeed holding office during a period which saw increased Government spending and the introduction of a Minimum Wage rather than Government cut backs, Tony Blair nevertheless presided over a period of greater social disparity and division than any of his predecessors, in stark contrast with the narrowing of social inequality he pledged to help eradicate. In terms of the ‘Neo-Liberal’ privatisation programme of state owned utilities, companies, land and buildings initiated by Healy and Callaghan in the late 1970s, and later more rigorously pursued by Thatcher in the 1980s, the Labour Government he led also very much continued where the previous Tory administration left off, combining the latter’s privatisation programme with/via a big increase in PFI (Private Finance Initiative) schemes and tax breaks for the rich.
When it came to waging further wars this time in Afghanistan & Iraq, his and the Labour Cabinet’s slavish support for US foreign policy and its alleged global war on terror, and in relation to Iraq in particular, primarily in support of US Oil, Military and other commercial interests, but also including British ones as well, masquerading under the pretence of disarming Saddam Hussein of his WMD and bringing about the ‘enduring freedom’ of the Iraqi people, reached an all time low; demonstrating his and their ultimate subservience to interests of global Capital and the depth of the lies Labour was prepared to peddle in order to justify it.
In the case of Labour’s support for UK domestic Oil, Military and other commercial interests, this is evidenced no more disgracefully than in Tony Blair’s burying of the BAe-Saudi Arabia EuroFighter bribery scandal prior to leaving office, and his let’s kiss, hug and make-up rapprochement, including the release of the Lockerbie bomber al-Megrahi, in 2007 with the now fallen Libyan tyrant Gaddafi, to help secure a favourable, potential £13 billion oil contract for BP with his regime. With that kind of dosh involved who gives a shit about freedom and democracy?
TONY BLAIR THE SOCIALIST
Since standing down as Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who in his maiden speech to Parliament in 1983 said “I am a Socialist […because it] stands for equality” has amassed a considerable personal fortune estimated to be worth between £25 and £60 million. As a Senior Advisor at US Investment Bank JP Morgan, he also earns an annual salary estimated to range between £500,000 and £2.5m, advises the Swiss insurance firm Zurich Financial Services on climate change issues for a reputed £1m a year and also holds a consulting role with luxury goods firm LVMH for a further substantial annual figure. If Blair was ever at any point a Socialist, then I reckon I’m a Banana!”
It was also Blair’s successor Gordon Brown’s liberalisation and lighter regulation of the Capitalist Banking system, which started under Blair’s own Premiership, few in Parliament opposed, and which Brown heralded as the beginning of a “New Golden Age of Banking”, along with the increased prominence placed on the finance sector within the UK economy by Labour at that time, which led us directly to the 2008 Banking crisis and subsequent recession.
2008 BANKING CRISIS & SUBSEQUENT RECESSION
The entire Banking crisis from a UK perspective had its origins in both this lighter regulation and the attendant huge increase in the speculation by some UK banks in a whole array of to say the least ‘dodgy’, and in some cases outright fraudulent ‘investments’, including US sub-prime mortgage backed ‘financial derivatives’ and other new types of ‘bundled’ investments created primarily by US & UK Banks, which all the World’s so-called ‘Rating Agencies’ as well all the other Banks and investors in them, all equally failed to recognise earlier than they did, the near worthlessness of, following the collapse of the US sub-prime mortgage market. The huge scale of the potential losses arising from of it are what directly led the global financial crisis of 2008 which is still ongoing, as well as to the subsequent multi-£billion state bailouts of those banks affected, by a number of Governments, including those of the US, the UK and Ireland.
It is also Labour under Gordon Brown, with the acquiescence of all other parties, who rather than simply nationalising at the very least all the residual assets of all the various banks who where effectively bankrupted during the 2008 crisis, without paying a single penny of compensation to the shareholders, at the same time as taking on the liability of all the small deposit and current account holders, but none of the other creditors – something which might have cost us nothing, instead decided to take on itself on behalf of us all, the £850 billion ‘Sovereign debt’ that most economic commentators say was the overall cost of the UK bank bailouts, and most of the additional £150 billion debt built up since, which has arisen mostly as a consequence of the recessionary economic knock on effects of the 2008 Banking crisis, and the last and the current Governments attempts to address that.
LABOUR’S APPROACH TO DEBT & WORSENING ECONOMIC CRISIS LITTLE DIFFERENT FROM COALITION’S
Former Labour Chancellor Alastair Darling’s plan to half the Government’s deficit by cuts in public spending over 5 years if Labour had been re-elected in 2010, rather than instead making the Bankers and the ultra-rich pay for the mess they and their system has got us into, via a more progressive taxation system, as well as Ed Ball’s current “slower, less deep cuts approach” although arguably less harsh economically in the shorter term for the majority of people than the more draconian proposed cuts and privatisation policies of the current Government, is in reality, in the longer terms little different an approach to both the burgeoning state debt and stagnant economic condition as the current Coalition Government. This is because their objective is essentially the same: the maintenance of the overall status quo and existing social order at the expense of the vast majority of the people, contrary any Labour claims to the opposite, via cuts and privatisations detrimental to the latter rather than making the Bankers, huge corporation and ultra-rich foot the bill instead.
The MP’s expenses scandal involving the likes of Hazel Blears and other Labour MPs, their consultancy work for large companies, receipt of peerages and other ‘honours’, more and more shows what most Labour MPs are actually in politics for, which is little other than their own self-advancement, the possibility of obtaining some High Office and a degree of political clout, and of course, the kudos and the dosh that goes with it! It has little if anything ultimately to do with improving, and currently even maintaining, the lot of the vast majority.
WHY DO MANY ORDINARY FOLK CONTINUE TO VOTE LABOUR?
Of those people who continue to vote Labour, a great many do so purely because their parents and grandparents did so when Labour did appear to stand up for them more than any other party. Clearly, this group of Labour voters would not yet themselves appear to recognise this is no longer if ever historically the case, or alternatively appear to accept them as still being more pro-ordinary folk than any of the other parties are. Alternatively, they agree with a great deal of what Labour says believing it the more socially just and less obviously harsh than that of the political Right, and a less radical and potentially catastrophic option to that of the ‘Luny Left’. Certainly, at General election time, a great many vote Labour simply due to them being the least worst option and because there is no credible pro-majority of the people alternative to it
On a local level, Labour’s poor defence and championing of the interests of ordinary folk is all the more revealing. It not only almost willingly succumbs to instructions from on high in terms of national policy leading to the implementation of ‘less harsh cuts than the Tories or any other Party’ on a local level, but combines this with a strategy of simply ‘grin and bear it’ until the next General election when Labour might hopefully get back in. Even if it does, this would simply be in order to carry on with the cuts necessary to balance the Government’s books and to pay off the near £1.5 trillion debt it will inherit, only less harshly than any of the other traditional parties might over a longer period.
In other words a strategy, and a practice which does not challenge how we got into the economic and financial mess we’re in in the first place, does not address the failure of the Capitalist market to create the necessary jobs and decent living standards we all need, which does not seek to make the Bankers and the ultra-rich pay through a much more progress system of taxation for the mess their system has got us into, which fails to address environmental sustainability and the threat of climate change, and which continues to support military interventions overseas in the interests of US foreign policy and predominantly US based multi-national oil, military and other commercial interests.
If people think things are bad now in places like Atherton & Tyldesley, Platt Bridge, Bryn, Worsley Mesnes, Golborne and other parts of our Borough, then they should ponder on how much worse its going to get under such a further regime of austerity and cut backs after the one currently being pursued by the Tory-Lib-Dem Coalition, even were Labour to get re-elected.
In Atherton, we can complain all we want about how Labour, even in better times, closed our youth club and sold off the land, run down our youth service, closed our baths and sold off the land, closed down our high school without giving us a better replacement, sold off the Formby Hall, is shutting Libraries, cutting back staff in every department – as we’ve really seen nothing yet!
Without seeking to build an alternative ordinary folk will get nowhere other than closer to the edge of an abyss.
The answer lies not in supporting cynically opportunist ‘popular’ so-called ‘Independent’ candidates who are nothing of the sort, who make up their policies as they go along and try to suit everyone, and who in places like Atherton, are really Tories masquerading in disguise and don’t have the guts to stand openly as such.
Nor does the answer lie in the one by one recruitment to an ultra-Left ‘neo-Stalinist’ fringe group which has the same characteristics as a Life of Brian political sect combined with a complete detachment from political reality! The answer lies in the conscious building of a new broad, pluralist, democratic party of, by and for the mass of the people. Only the People themselves can build such a Party.
We see our own role in this within the Wigan area as not too dissimilar to that of yeast in the process of making of bread. This is why we do not ourselves claim to be such a party, or indeed to be a proper political party at all, but rather a group of people prepared to work with others in the Wigan area and wider afield towards the building of such a Party.
As Green Socialists we obviously have our own slant on things and believe such a party would need to be consistently both in order for it to objectively defend the interests of the vast majority in the face of the ever worsening decay and ultimate collapse of the Capitalist system and the growing threat of a global environmental catastrophe perpetuated by it. However, we do not believe that agreement with our particular view should be a pre-condition of membership of a new broader Party, or for agreeing to work with others towards such a Party, or even for working together on more lose a basis outside of such a new broader party framework.
If you agree with our view of course, then you might consider joining us and adding your weight to the cause. Failing that you might simply want to work alongside us towards in the fights ahead. Either way we aren’t going away!
Part II Will look more at how we might practical go about building such a new Party, locally and nationally!