The International Bolshevik Tendency criticised CWG’s call for critical support for the NZ Labour Party http://www.geocities.com/communistworker/ scroll down to ‘Vote Labour Now to Smash Capitalism Later’. The IBT article is on its website http://www.bolshevik.org/ scroll down to ‘Spoil your Ballot’
Labour gone awol
First, the IBT says that workers no longer have illusions in Labour as a party that represents their class interests. It is therefore no longer a bourgeois-workers party. Its program hasn’t changed but it ha lost its historic roots in the labour movement. This is the result of a rightward move of the Labour Government since 1984 and the defeats suffered by workers over that period. The Labour Party no longer embodies a class contradiction between its bourgeois program and an organised labour base.
Is it true that class contradiction no longer exists? Has there been a qualitative change in the Labour Party? The moderate unions formed the Labour Party in 1916 as a reformist alternative to the Red Fed and IWW program of expropriation. While it’s program talked about the ‘socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange etc’ this was no more than the nationalisation of some key industries like coal, transport like rail, telecom and a central bank plus some income redistribution. The ‘welfare state’ made huge subsidies to private capital reducing their risk and boosting their profits in the period of the formation of the New Zealand capitalist economy.
Thus the historic class compromise of 1930s Keynesian policies of state intervention from the 1930s onwards partially suppressed the contradiction between the bosses program and Labour’s working class supporters for another generation. Where necessary Labour could back up these reforms with emergency legislation to break strikes and lock up dissidents. Despite periodic outbreaks of dissent, economic insulation created relatively full employment and a generous welfare state to keep workers loyal to Labour right up to 1984.
In 1984 the Fourth Labour government abandoned this compromise as the bosses demanded deregulation and restructuring to open the economy to the global market. This ‘revolution’ was necessary to overcome the barriers to profitability resulting from a limited domestic market. Cutting costs to become competitive on the world market meant cutting jobs and wages. While National continued these attacks in the 1990s it fell short in its attempts to complete the new right agenda and fully open the country to free trade and foreign capital investment.
Since 1999 Labour has reforged a new Blairite class compromise to suppress the basic contradiction once again. Labour uses state intervention to steer away from a ‘quarry’ economy where MNCs rip out unprocessed commodities for the global market in favour of increased productivity in a ‘knowledge’ economy. The state picks ‘winners’ by subsidising high tech industries to ‘add value’ to exports. Of course this extra productivity is due to the rising rate of exploitation of skilled workers, as well as the deteriorating wages and labour conditions of casualised workers.
Under Labour profits and CEO incomes have continued to rise rapidly. Skilled workers in the EPMU, the PSA and education unions, and the SFWU, have been able to claw back a small part of the extra surplus value they produce. Low paid or casualised workers, and long term unemployed, have their falling incomes partially made up by income transfers and Working for Families. While this Blairite compromise continues to suppress the class contradiction, critical support for Labour is necessary to put it in power in order to activate the class contradiction.
The question of the popular front
The second IBT criticism is that critical support for Labour under MMP is not permissible because Labour (assuming it were a bourgeois workers party) must enter a popular front with bourgeois parties like the Greens or NZ First. The reason we call these parties bourgeois parties like National, is that they were not formed out of the labour movement and have no claim to represent the interests of workers. Even the Greens who try to squeeze out of monopoly capital policies that favour small business is still a bourgeois party because the tendency of small business is to become big business at the expense of workers.
The IBT correctly opposes popular fronts because bourgeois workers parties can shift the blame for failing to implement a workers’ program onto their bourgeois partners and thus still suppress the class contradiction.
Since we do say that Labour is still a bourgeois-workers party, should we refuse it critical support because it may have to form a popular front? No, we call on it to govern without bourgeois partners. Obviously Labour would need bourgeois or petty-bourgeois partners if it failed to get a majority of seats itself. That’s why we called for the maximum working class vote for Labour, and at the same time oppose workers votes for any of the minor bourgeois parties.
We did not do what the left political ‘commentator’ Matt McCarten did, which was to assume that Labour could not get a majority itself and call for votes for minor bourgeois parties like the Greens, Maori Party and NZ First to provide Labour with coalition partners. (He even called for a vote for the National Candidate in Eden to stop ACT from winning seats and increasing National’s ability to form a government).
In the event that Labour does form a government with bourgeois partners we make this fact a fundamental criticism of the Labour Party to expose the class collaboration of the popular front and condemn its betrayal of the class interests of workers. In other words, we do not run in terror from the prospect of a popular front but try to block it in advance, and failing that, to oppose it in practice to explode the suppressed class contradiction.
Why does the IBT make these criticisms?
The IBT criticizes the Anti-Capitalist Alliance failure to offer transitional demands or means of moving from the most basic democratic or immediate demands to the seizure of power and a socialist republic. Yet the IBT then falls foul of the logic of its own critique when it is applied to critical support for Labour. Rather than follow Lenin’s method from the 1920s – that of communist workers entering a united front with reformist workers – the IBT fixates on superficial ‘facts’ that workers do not ‘see’ Labour as their party, because Labour’s attacks on workers have exposed it as an open bourgeois party.
Yes, the world situation is very different today from 1920. In 1920 a revolutionary situation existed in Europe. The majority of workers had not joined the communist party and despite being much further left than today, still had illusions in the Labour Party. Lenin argued that it was necessary for the mass communist party to vote the Labour party into government to expose it in practice and split reformist workers away from its bourgeois leadership and program. The tactic of critical support was a special form of united front in which the revolutionary movement would demand that the Labour bureaucracy and the Labour Party leadership implement a revolutionary workers program. When it failed to do so, its program and leadership would be exposed and detached from its working class body of support like a “rope supports a hanged man” so that these workers would then join the Communist Party.
Critical support and democratic counter-revolution
Today no such revolutionary situation exists, and there is no revolutionary party to put pressure on Labour parties to explode the suppressed contradiction. Since 1989, global capitalism has entered a period of democratic counter-revolution. This means that its attacks on workers are typically made under the cover of bourgeois democracy. In the former degenerated workers states workers voted for capitalist restoration. Capitalism has used right-wing social democratic parties to solve its crisis at the expense of their working class base. The large majority of workers who retain any trade union consciousness still vote for social democracy to defend their fundamental gains because they are caught up in a defensive reliance on bourgeois democracy. As yet there is revolutionary situation to put pressure on social democracy, and explode the class contradiction.
However, if the world economy enters a new period of depression and the isolated revolutionary upsurges today are generalised into new revolutionary period, we can expect pressure from below to split the Labour Party. Rather than write off Labour as already bourgeois it is necessary to prepare for its revival as a barrier to rising workers’ expectations. To both activate and to take advantage of a coming revolutionary upturn it is necessary for communists to maintain the united front tactic with social democracy to split its working class base from its bosses program.
The failure to understand this, and to argue that Labour Parties have become open bourgeois parties in the last two decades is an ultra left response to the democratic counter-revolution. It rejects social democracy as necessarily counter-revolutionary when in fact it still plays the critical role of suppressing the class contradiction. It is this contradiction that will be activated first by the renewal of revolutionary movements and to ignore it is to abstain from revolutionary politics. It is a sectarian fear of becoming tainted by the almost universal opportunism, that today paints democratic imperialism as a progressive force. Instead of contesting opportunism and bourgeois democracy inside the gigantic malls where workers consume. the sectarians preach to passing workers from their boutique shop front about the picture of the revolutionary party in the window.
As we argue in our original article, workers will not break from social democracy until a revolutionary upsurge and a revolutionary program exposes the open treachery of the social democratic program and leadership, and the formation of independent working class dual power organs are in place capable of taking and holding onto power.
From Class Struggle 63 Sept/Oct 2005