Tuesday, 19 September 2006

Why The British Left Sucks in 2006: Episode VIII - The Labour Party pt 3

The Labour Party pt 3: Deep Entry

Not the latest Jenna Jameson 'spectacular', unfortunately, but the conclusion to our trilogy within a trilogy of trilogies. We now poke our heads towards a dying breed - those far leftists still entered in the Labour party.

The only remaining group of any significance is the Grant(RIP)-Woods faction, which is one of the split-spawn from the old Militant Tendency. Militant, once upon a time, were big fish. Apart from the communist party, they were the largest far-left organisation in Britain - and unlike the communists, they even had three members sitting in parliament at one stage.

Well, sort of.

Because, thanks to the bureaucratic regime inside the LP, you're not allowed to organise openly as a faction. But what you are allowed is a newspaper. So, Militant was "officially" Militant, a party magazine of Trotskyist leanings. The "central committee" was the editorial board of said magazine. And because of these conditions, things were often awkward for them. Of course, nobody was fooled. And it only took until the mid-80s for someone to grow a testicle or two and decide to propagate a good old stalinist purge. Fighting on many fronts, including the excellently-named Operation Icepick, a motley coalition of tankie Stalinists, eurocommunists and proto-new labourites basically booted them all out.

But the thing with booting someone out of an open-membership party is that, well, they can always just join again. And they did, over and over and over again. Then, in the early 90s, the majority of the "editorial board" and the "readership" got fucking tired of this shit. It was agreed that entrism would be abandoned. A small group around golden-age main man Ted Grant were too attached to Labour, and broke off to pursue their deep entry fantasies.

Nowadays, the 'open' party is led by Peter Taaffe, and goes by the name Socialist Party of England and Wales - which can be appropriately shortened to SPEW - and has gone through all manner of strife and fragmentation. The Grant group has remained homogenous and split-free, although Grant finally bought it two months ago (me and Ted share a birthday! freaky deaky...), bequeathing it all to his disciple, brusque Welsh polyglot Alan Woods.

And what does the scion inherit? Well, a small national organisation, a paper called Socialist Appeal, a natty website and a rather larger and more influential international organisation. The thing with the Grant-Woods group is this - they are completely, deeply committed to entryism in the most passionate sense. A young Swedish comrade recently declaimed to the "Marxism" myspace group "ENTRISM IS MY LIFE!" which is, admittedly, an extreme (and likely extremely badly translated) example. But what obviously does not get considered is the specific conditions - the difference between entering the Labour Party and the Pakistan People's Party. In applying the tactic scattershot to everything, they obviously get varying success - they had an MP in Pakistan for example, a veritable Dave Nellist of the subcontinent, but they're hilariously irrelevant in the States. Apart from the rather random distribution of their support, there are other consequences of their fixation. Back when the geocentric universe was starting to look shaky, desperate orthodox astronomers started creating incredibly complex "orbits" for the various heavenly bodies, trying in vain to shore up an increasingly obvious folly. And so Woods continues to grasp nettles with the determination of a retarded ginger child - socialism can be achieved at the ballot box, with an 'enablnig bill in parliament'; chavismo is a "revolution" in progress; etc, etc, etc. But what he cannot countenance is the most important truth of all - strategy and tactics are not metaphysical constants. You pick them according to their utility. Entry in Britain is not a useful strategy, and - as it happens - has almost never been.

The story of Militant and Socialist Appeal is an important one, and tells us much about the Labour party. They failed because the host organism had no truck with symbiotes and parasites - they were forced to operate clandestinely, and as a result could not be open to anyone. If you hide from the Party bureaucrats, you hide from the proletariat by the same stroke. They couldn't win - should they become significantly successful, their enemies on the right (and for that matter, as in Operation Icepick, the left) would simply boot them out, and so it came to pass. Sneaking around in a club, violating the entire dress code and being obnoxious will not result in a long night out. Being a Trot in the labour party is simply not worth the arse-pain.

Taafe said of the LP at the time of the 'open turn' that it had previously been a worker's party and thus worth entering, but had now degenerated beyond recovery. He was unable to face a more crucial truth - Mili could never have gotten further than they did with entry work. Labour didn't change, but he did.
Grant, god rest his soul, was nothing if not consistent.

Tuesday, 5 September 2006

Why The British Left Sucks in 2006: Episode VIII - The Labour Party pt 2

The Labour Party pt 2: The Pink Brigade

Contrary to popular belief, and the wank fantasies of Stephen Byers, there is still something which can be called a Labour Left. It's not what it was, of course - most of the fiery, inspiring old guard are long retired or six feet deep, and the labour Right's force-march has had the knock-on effect of dragging most people, to some extent, with it. But there is something nonetheless.

When tories began to accuse the Labour party of being in thral to the "Marxist left" around the turn of the 80s, Raymond Williams noted with a certain bitterness that the motley bunch encompassed by that somewhat wishful phrase - left-Fabians, fellow travellers, CND activists and so on - used to just be called "social democracy". And such are things today. On the one hand you have serious committed socialists - Tony Benn may no longer be in parliament but he is Labour through and through, and John McDonnell (the man charged with mounting a suicidal leadership challenge against Gordon Brown) is notably red, one of the few MPs to call for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq. But then, one hears Ken Livingstone described as a Labour left, which he manifestly isn't, and never really has been for that. Frankly, if you claim "Red" (hah!) Ken, then there's no reason not to include Roy bloody Hattersley, and your definition of the "left" of the party amounts essentially to "anyone who isn't Stephen Byers".

The principal factions involved nowadays, apart from the ever-deteriorating Tribune milieu (which, incidentally, is a fucking shit paper - I mean, do they bother to spend more than 5 minutes writing it? Is proofreading just one of those things that happens to other people?) are probably the Labour Representation Committee, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and those around the Labour Left Briefing rag. Refreshingly, these groups are porous and perfectly capable of co-operation. They, and others, sponsor a small parliamentary fraction (the Socialist Campaign Group), which will be useful on the McDonnell warpath. The LRC has even managed to get a youth section going (although, so has the 50-strong trot group Workers' Power...).

But none of this makes their fight significantly easier. As noted in pt 1, the energy for their activism is generated by the conviction that New Labour is an aberration, a cancerous growth distinct from the normal tissues surrounding it, and removable with few after-effects for the host. Au contraire, mon petit cherie! They face a bloody struggle, not only against the overt neoliberal elements but also the ballast, the soft-left of the party who are terrified of losing their posts, seats and their salaries. They will soon run up against their blinkers and the enormity of their task. How successfully they can respond will likely determine their fate over the next generation or more.

My Favourite Rightwingers: The British Chav

You can see that shit on the beck of a coin, can't you? Fabulous. Yes, it's the wonderful phenomenon of the "chav" under discussion here - sort of. And thing one about them - back in the day, there were plenty of names for the sportswear-clad, alcopop supping youths that fill shopping districts after dark up and down the country. Down 'ere in Devon, they were kevs. Glasgow had neds, Belfast spides, and so on. But then! Something horrible happened. Yes, it's the liberal middle-class Londonistas again. (Yep, that's what this is really about.)

Looking up from her bowl of Country Crisp one morning, Jenny Guardianista noticed that young Toby had come home from school with a bloody nose - probably as a result of being a smug twit called Toby - and, upon asking the neighbours who these strange creatures who worshipped Fred Perry actually were, discovered in horror that they were people who paid for ringtones, smoked and ate food that probably wasn't organic. The local term happened to be chav (a sort of portmanteau of "cheltenham 'ave-not", or perhaps "Council-Housed And Violent", which should clue you in to the real content of the mass-hatred they receive). And because she's godawful yuppie scum, it became everyone's local term.

The chav is the generic signifier for absolutely everything that is a square peg for contemporary ideology. They are not interested in living healthier lives, reducing their carbon footprint or "ethical consumerism" - which is to say, in the self-aggrandising asceticism which has temporarily displaced political discourse in the West. (Slavoj Zizek notes that what really bothers us about smoking is not any genuine concern for our own health - sitting in a smoky cafe for an hour is no more toxic than walking down a busy road - but that the Other has the temerity to place a cigarette to her lips, inhale deeply and enjoy it.)

There is, of course, a dark side to this - the average chav is racist, although it is not the systematic racism of the fascist so much as the insecure lashing out of the playground bully. They are pulled, as the disavowed excess on the social body, in extreme political directions - and this means fascism as much as anything else. But again, it must be acknowledged that this is our fault too - the Left has become dominated by this suffocating Liberal smugness, a middle class ideology intent on keeping those below down there. These lost, benighted souls are precluded from the club ultimately because they fail to show sufficient enthusiasm for hybrid cars.

They tell the elitist not so much things about herself as her inadequacy confronted with the realities of life - total impotence in the face of capital. When we hear the old line about more votes being cast for Big Brother than in the general election, it underscores the unmentionable - that they're right not to vote in (these) general elections, that the choice between Gordon Blair and David "look at my shiny bike" Cameron is so utterly insignificant that the outcome of X Factor really will make a bigger difference to their lives, and ours.

Leaving these millions of people to the BNP might be the last mistake we ever make.

Monday, 4 September 2006

Why The British Left Sucks in 2006: Episode VIII - The Labour Party pt 1

The Labour Party Pt 1: The Head Of The Snake

It will not have escaped even the slow members of the class that the current prime minister of our fair, binge-drinking, puke-stained isle is a fellow called Tony Blair. The astute reader will know that he is one of the most hated men in the entire world. Somewhere between lining up behind George Bush in Afghanistan and Iraq and...no, that's pretty much it, it has become abundantly clear that this man is a bit of a chode. The British and other interested parties will also have acknowledged that he rules in the name of Labour. You know, us. The workers. And also that he really, really, really hates us.

Now, the question on everybody's lips is - how? How did a large group of allegedly leftwing people somehow let this apocalyptic scumbag have the keys to the Jeep? I mean, you can hardly accuse the fellow of not giving fair warning. The rabid support for Neil Kinnock's purges, the business with clause 4...every chance he has been given, Tony has said in essence "I am right-wing, and I consider you, party comrades, to be the worst kind of belly-crawling insectoid shit. I will ignore you when I am not abusing you. And still you will bow to my will when the crunch comes, every time."

Of course, that's a little unfair on the party...sort of. Because, although you'd never know it from the sort of coverage the issue gets from Labourite and ex-Labourite lefties, it ain't just Blair. To start at the head of the snake, it's worth a look at the parliamentary party. There are 23 MPs in the "Socialist Campaign Group". These vary from Michael Portillo's platonic lovebird Diane Abbott to the genuinely leftist likes of John McDonnell. That leaves, ooh, 330 MPs unaccounted for. Take away a handful of tribunites, and we are left with 300, say, who are Blairite, Brownite or "soft left". For the most part, the soft lefts will toe the government line in their adorably spineless manner. In that sense, it makes it difficult to estimate exactly how many hardcore New Labourites sit on the benches. But it is not hard to see that they add up to a significant number. Just think of every cabinet minister Blair's ever had - all his own chaps or sops to Brown. Must be about 50-80 there alone. Add in the victims of the Guardian's old "Top Toadies" feature, and you have another 20. Nowadays, the blairite-to-brownite proportion is shrinking, but they're both, in their essentials, exactly the same. With a reliable buttress of 200 or so yellerbellies as cannon fodder, they're well-rooted, well-organised and well-entrenched. When Tony Benn tells his audiences that the Labour party has somehow fallen into the hands of these strange interlopers and it is enough to ditch a few choice scumbags, he deludes himself. Doesn't matter how the Party got here - it's still seriously, royally fucked.