The following document was submitted by Alan Gibson of the Vauxhall CSLP to the journal Socialist Labour Action in reply to an article by Bernie McAdam in issue 1 of that journal. However, despite Socialist Labour Actions call for responses in issue 1, comrade Gibsons article was not published in issue 2, although other articles supporting comrade McAdam were included. Clearly, the argument was more immediately relevant before the general election, but it does cover wider concerns to do with the role and nature of the Labour Party. We print this article in the interests of debate within the party and hope that McAdam and other Socialist Labour Action supporters will take the opportunity to respond.
by Alan Gibson
A reply to Should we call for a Labour vote?
by Bernie McAdam in Socialist Labour Action issue 1
The primary task for the Socialist Labour Party in the coming general election is to use the heightened interest about politics to get across a clear message of the need for a working class party which stands for the independent interests of the working class. To achieve this aim we will be standing candidates in as many constituencies as we can and calling on all workers to vote for the SLP.
In line with that overall position our tactics towards the Labour Party must be based on the perspective of winning workers away from their false understanding that the election of a Labour Party government is in any way in their interests.
On this point comrade McAdam argues:
It seems clear that comrade McAdam is arguing here that the Labour Party is organically more likely to meet the demands of the working class when it is in power than capitalist parties such as the Tories or Liberals. This argument is one of the main props of labourism and is the worst kind of misleadership of the working class. I find it particularly disturbing coming from an SLP comrade writing in a journal professing to stand for working class revolution.
The reality is that reforms such as comrade McAdam outlines are just as likely to be won by the working class if there is a Tory, a Liberal OR a Labour government this is confirmed by even the most cursory reading of the history of the class struggle this century. All these parties will meet or not meet the demands of the workers movement as a result of the balance of forces in the class struggle. Comrade McAdam is wrong to say we fight for these demands to be met by a Labour government. This perspective is labourism. We need to fight for reforms irrespective of the particular capitalist party in power, in the full knowledge that they will not be gifted to us we will have to fight for them.
Comrade McAdam is of course correct to point out that the Labour Party is a capitalist party of a special type it is a capitalist party which has organic links to the trade union leadership; has historically claimed to stand, to one degree or another, for the interests of the working class; and support for it has tended to reflect a rudimentary class consciousness.
However, in the sense in which Labour is a workers party, it is clearly not an independent workers party, but is thoroughly tied to the capitalists. Capitalism has a special purpose for this type of party. Such a party, and its allies in the trade union leadership, will lie to workers telling us that the reforms we need are just around the corner and thereby holding back working class struggle against the bosses and the state.
Its contradictory nature does, therefore, present us with the problem of how to expose the Labour Partys false claims of acting in any way in the interests of the working class.
The tactic of critical support, which comrade McAdam seeks to apply to the coming election, can be useful in intersecting this kind of rudimentary class consciousness. When a party claims to stand in the interests of the working class and significant numbers of workers are taken in by this, we might say that we will vote with them in the interests of the working class having its own political organisations, but that we have no confidence that this party is capable of destroying capitalism and really fighting for working class interests. For instance, we might want to apply this kind of principle to Militant Labour or other working class organisations standing in seats where there is no SLP candidate.
In the case of Labour, however, we see a party that does not even pretend to stand for the interests of the working class. Workers know this. Those who vote Labour will do so out of a lesser-evil type desire to get rid of the Tories. Indeed this type of lesser-evil illusion which comrade McAdam seeks to intersect will see workers in some electorates voting for the Liberals.
I have heard other comrades in the SLP argue that we should not vote for all Labour candidates, just those on the left wing of Labour, the Campaign Group and so on, because they stand for demands in the interests of the working class. I think this perspective is also wrong. Whatever they claim to stand for, they are still a part of Blairs party and, as such, are standing in the election the same programme. We need to call on these comrades to break from this capitalist programme, whatever the organisational consequences. We could then support them on the basis of standing for the independent interests of the working class.
For the SLP to grow and become the kind of party the working class needs, we need to be an alternative to Labour, and to assert the necessity for the working class to have its own independent organisations.
A vote to Blairs New Labour Party in the coming general election will not help us win class conscious workers away from labourism towards a higher revolutionary class consciousness. To do this, and for the SLP to grow and become the kind of party the working class needs, we need to be an alternative to Labour, and to assert the necessity for the working class to have its own independent organisations. To call for a vote for New Labour would be completely counterposed to this!