Left Luggage

The socialist strategy site

What comes after Labour’s defeat?

Posted by Left Luggage on April 19, 2009

There’s an interesting little debate on David Osler’s blog about the probable eclipse of Labour in next year’s general election. He compares the current state of play, with Labour on just 26% in the polls, unfavourably to the 1931 defeat, which is viewed as the party’s worst ever result.

One comment on the blog expresses “supremely indifferen[ce]” to such an outcome, another says “the main problem for the Left in Britain is the Labour Party”, while a third says “The death of a bourgeois party is to be celebrated.” But David’s point is a little bit more nuanced than simply regretting the demise of an illusory workers’ party. He points out that both socialists in Labour hoping to “recapture” the party and sections of the Left hoping a period of Tory rule will strengthen their ranks are likely to be severely disappointed. Noting that working class self-organisation is at a historically low level, he suggests that while we may pass no tears for Labour’s demise (or at least a lengthy period in the doldrums) the possibility of the Left taking centre stage is extremely limited, noting pointedly: “[the] British far left remains organically incapable of serious politics”:

The difference between now and then is that in many constituencies, Labour exists largely on paper, and wider working class organisation in trade unions and tenants’ associations is at its weakest since the second world war.

I suspect that many on the left don’t grasp just how calamitous the coming decade could prove. I’ve spoken to revolutionary defeatists within Labour who believe that a spell in opposition will strengthen the small socialist layer that remains. Can they really be oblivious to the prospect of defeat on a magnitude from which Labour will never recover?

Doubtless others will maintain that the smack of firm Tory government will dispel illusions in reformism, providing the most propitious circumstances for the formation of a new workers’ party, or whatever other nonsense they picked up at last weekend’s cadre school.

Unfortunately, that is not the most likely trajectory, if only because [the] British far left remains organically incapable of serious politics. Working class depoliticisation on the one hand and growing support for the British National Party can be taken as given.

The point about the deterministic view of Tory rule is particularly apt, since come economic boom or bust, Tory rule or Labour, the Left has remained on the margins. Clearly, as Left Luggage has argued, we have to take the initiative, deal with the situation as we find it and build from this point, rather than forever waiting for political circumstances to change in our favour.

One Response to “What comes after Labour’s defeat?”

  1. voltairespriest said

    It was me who wrote the “supreme indifference” comment on Dave Osler’s post. I did so for much the same reasons that you wrote the article above: I think that the left has to act for itself rather than relying on others to provide vehicles. The reason why I’m especially vehement in my comments about the Labour Party is that, as an ex-member of it myself, I know that (good) people “hang in there” because of nostalgia/lazy habits, and then try to retroactively justify their decision to do so by giving it political trappings. There are no real reasons, in the present context, for believing that the Labour Party is even a potential vehicle for transformational social change of the kind that socialists and progressives would want to see, and that is what I was seeking to get across.

    I’ve done a post at Shiraz Socialist to the same effect – see what you think.

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