Left voting for Labour

The position of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! is simple: no socialist, no anti-imperialist, no anti-racist, no democrat should vote for Labour under any circumstances in the forthcoming general election. A vote for any Labour candidate is a vote to return a racist, imperialist, war-mongering government no matter how left-wing or anti-war that candidate is. Yet as the election campaign gets underway, already many on the left are urging us to vote for Labour, either to support anti-war candidates, or to oppose the BNP.

Respect supporter Gary Younge set the grounds for this in an article in The Guardian (21 February 2005) entitled ‘We cannot vote Labour’. Younge says that we might have expected Blair ‘as the political representative of a movement founded on the principles of international solidarity and equality’ not to have followed Bush in invading Iraq ‘under false pretences’. But, according to Younge, New Labour is now no longer ‘an imperfect conduit for social change’ but ‘an active obstacle to it’. In such circumstances, ‘to vote for it is to abandon any hope that such change will ever come’.

But all is not as it seems in Younge’s arguments. When he turns to consider the electoral alternatives, he says that these will ‘most likely be shaped by local factors’. And what is the first such ‘factor’? ‘Labour candidates who opposed the war should not be punished’, he declares. So having started with a ringing opposition to voting Labour, Younge ends up urging support for Labour hypocrites who refuse to break from a party dedicated to war.

Younge’s is not an isolated voice. The whole strategy of Respect is founded on an alliance with the Labour left, and receives its justification from the entirely bogus claim that the Labour Party was once a force for progress. In ‘An Invitation to Labour Party members and supporters’ issued on 8 March, four Respect leaders (including John Rees of the SWP) describe the Labour of the past as ‘a natural home if you were a trade unionist, if you were poor, or if you were from an ethnic minority. For many it was the obvious party to join if you believed in equality, peace and justice’. However, ‘Tony Blair has transformed Labour into New Labour. And New Labour no longer stands for those traditional working class values’.

The implication is clear: New Labour is qualitatively different from Old Labour; Old Labour was a force for progress, and the Labour left today embodies Old Labour values. So Respect is anxious to reassure Labour members and supporters: ‘There is no reason why the growth of Respect should harm the Labour left. We are deliberately not standing against left wing Labour MPs like Jeremy Corbyn or Diane Abbott’. Far from it: ‘if Respect grows in strength it will make it easier for the left in the Labour Party’.

Yet Labour has always been a racist, imperialist and war-mongering party. Between 1945 and 1951 Labour:
• Brutally suppressed the Malayan national liberation struggle;
• Committed British troops to aid the restoration of French colonial rule in VietNam and Dutch rule in Indonesia;
• Continued military intervention in Greece against the ELAS, and blockaded Iran following the nationalisation of the British-owned Anglo-Persian Oil Company;
• Ruthlessly exploited the British empire in Africa to aid post-war reconstruction in Britain.

Later, between 1964 and 1970, it:
• Defended apartheid South Africa, blocking calls for sanctions in the UN. It capitulated to the racist settler regime in the former Rhodesia;
• Sent troops into Ireland in 1969;
• Was responsible for the routine torture of suspected freedom fighter detainees in Aden.

Between 1974 and 1979, it:
• Continued to defend apartheid South Africa in the UN;
• Began the infamous sales of Hawk aircraft to Indonesia at the height of the genocidal war in East Timor;
• Implemented a ruthless regime of torture against republican prisoners in the North of Ireland.

This is the tradition that Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott belong to. How can we possibly vote for them?

Respect’s electoral support for Labour will not be restricted to left-wing candidates. Respect cannot be separated from Unite Against Fascism (UAF): both involve alliances between SWP and Labour. A briefing paper at a recent UAF conference assessed the outcome of the European elections last year and UAF’s strategy in trying to mobilise votes against the BNP, which has recently said it will stand over 100 candidates at the general election. The paper claims that ‘The BNP’s rise has gone hand in hand with falling voter turn out: reversing that trend is critical to defeating the BNP.’ It concludes that:

‘Halting the BNP...will require a campaign uniting the labour movement, the black, Asian, Jewish and Muslim communities, gay and lesbian voters, trade unionists and everyone that supports democracy and freedom. At the heart of the campaign’s strategy must be the aim of mobilising every vote possible against the BNP, and a key part of this must be the votes of those who are at the front line of the BNP’s racist offensive – black, Asian and minority ethnic voters’.

So the ‘heart’ of the UAF strategy is to get ‘black, Asian and minority ethnic voters’ to vote for anyone other than the BNP – and that must mean for Labour where Respect is not standing. The SWP then is not just committed to supporting left-wing Labour candidates at the forthcoming general election, but a much wider spectrum.

How can this pose any sort of challenge to Labour warmongering, racism and imperialism? It cannot; it is not designed to. Its purpose is to create career opportunities for SWP leaders and their allies. Hence Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! will not support Respect. We demand a complete and unconditional break from Labour as the precondition for building a new movement.
Robert Clough

FRFI 184 April / May 2005

 

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