The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 68/No. 48           December 28, 2004  
Why communists don’t call for
a vote for British Labour Party
(Reply to a Reader column)
LONDON—“What happened to the character of the Labour Party?” asks Kristoffer Schultz in a letter to the editor published in last week’s issue. “What changes have occurred in the Labour Party” that underlie the position of the Communist League in the United Kingdom not calling for a vote for Labour in the next election in contrast to the general election of 1997?

The answer to the first question is that there has been no qualitative change in the Labour Party’s character for 90 years. That is true of all the social-democratic parties that mobilized support for the war efforts of “their own” bourgeoisies in World War I. Their record ever since has confirmed, and reconfirmed, their character as social imperialist parties. From that moment in August 1914 when the social democracy betrayed the working class, the decisive task facing the workers’ vanguard has been to build communist parties in each country and a new revolutionary international.

The answer to the second question about what to do in a general election lies in the realm of tactics: how to advance the building of a communist party. And tactics change depending on the conditions of the day in the class struggle.

In the general election of 1997, the Communist League campaign centered on our own candidates who campaigned for a revolutionary working-class program and course of action, independent of the capitalist class. As an aid to advancing this program, the League joined with masses of workers who voted to dump the Conservative Party that had been running the government for 18 years—a period marked by the politics of the Reagan-Thatcher assaults on working people. We said to workers at the time, “You have great expectations that Labour will advance the interests of working people. We don’t agree. But let’s agree on the program we need, vote together as a class, and fight together for this program.”

As we said in this column in the November 30 Militant, millions of workers celebrated Labour’s electoral victory in 1997. “But hopes have been dashed. Today, workers engaged in resistance to the bosses attacks on wages and working conditions are not looking to Labour. Those voting Labour at the next general election will not be casting a ‘class vote.’”

A vote for Labour in 2005 will reflect quite a different dynamic than it did in the 1997 election. It will come in the context of eight years of the Labour government acting as the main instrument in the British ruling class’s march to war against working people at home and abroad. The coming general election will be more akin to what happened in Spain in March of this year. Then, two days after gigantic reactionary mobilizations against alleged “Basque assassins”—mobilizations of millions supported by the Socialist Party and Communist Party of Spain—the social democrats won the election. In no way could this possibly be described as “workers casting a class vote” against representatives of the boss class.

This gives a pointer to answering Kristoffer Schultz’s third question: is there any basic difference between Labour and what he calls “social democratic parties in Germany, Denmark or Sweden—parties also based on the unions”? The answer is no. All are social imperialist parties with years of experience in administering their respective imperialist states. While they continue to have organized relations with the trade unions and receive financial backing from the union bureaucracy, they less and less base themselves on or appeal to the mass of workers organized in the unions. Their composition and orientation is more and more in line with their bourgeois program and structure. You don’t find any Marxist currents developing in these parties today—as was the case with the British Labour Party in the past.

The biggest change since the 1990s, however, isn’t what’s happened to these parties per se. It’s the decline of Stalinism as a force within the workers movement, a consequence of the shattering of the Stalinist apparatuses in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. It was Stalinism that gave a second lease on life to the working-class credentials of these parties and their links to the unions, something that would have been buried decades ago if genuine revolutionary parties with substantial weight in the working class had developed. With the decline of Stalinism, the appearance of the Labour Party to vanguard workers has changed.

Today the Labour Party looks far more like the Democratic Party in the United States than the party of labor it pretended to be. That is why militant workers today seeking to organize unions and mobilize union power to defend the interests of workers and farmers don’t turn toward the Labour Party to generalize their struggles and get help in resisting the bosses’ offensive. Calling for a vote for these parties today would be an obstacle, not an aid, to winning vanguard workers to a communist program and course of action.  
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