Monday, September 15, 2008

Parliamentary Fetishism

As the election campaign hots up an all out shitfight between the Labour Party and the National Party is blowing up. It is clear that the ruling class is tired of Labour’s Blairite compromises and wants a National government to finish off the more-market agenda and eliminate any remaining controls over foreign investment and the deregulation of the labour market. We argue that despite Labour’s attacks on workers, most workers will vote Labour because they think of it as the ‘lesser evil’. For that reason we argue for a tactical vote for Labour and against those whose vote for a ‘left’ alternative or ‘non-vote’ as a vote for National.

National has promised to get back onto the more market road but first it has to get support for what are still unpopular market reforms. Its not-so-hidden agenda is to win power on a centrist or Blairite program and then work to shift the electorate back to the free-market right. To do this it needs to get rid of MMP and proportional representation which since 1993 has forced National into coalitions that moderated its free-market agenda, and since 1999 has allowed Labour to stay in power.

Meanwhile, on the fringes of this shitfight the anarchists are calling for “no vote”, and sundry other left fragments are calling on workers to vote for them rather than Labour. We argue here that the main task at this time is to get Labour re-elected, and that non-voting, or splitting the Labour vote, is a vote for National.

Class Struggle has many times explained why critical support for the Labour Party is a tactic to get Labour elected and exposed before those workers who still have illusions in it. To reject this tactic as the Workers Party does, is to take an ultraleft position that workers illusions in Labour have been broken already (not true); or can be broken by voting other worker MPs into parliament (unlikely right now even under MMP), or as the anarchists argue, that not voting, and organizing for direct action instead, will bring about a rejection not only of Labour, but of parliament itself.

First, let’s take the argument that workers have already broken from Labour, and only vote for them because there is no other party to the left that can win office and meet the needs of workers. Those who argue this think that Labour is no longer a bourgeois workers party and workers only vote as a ‘lesser evil’. Thus all it needs is for a true workers’ party to give workers a ‘greater good’ choice.

This is wrong. The reason no workers party exists to the left of Labour is that there is no great support for such a party among those workers who are most organized in unions and who still retain the belief that Labour is a workers’ party. This is because social democracy functions as a wing of the labour aristocracy and bureaucracy with strong ties to organized labour. It is a statist party with its set of bureaucratic class institutions that continues to control the working class. Before a new workers party can arise to replace Labour, organized labor has to throw out the labour bureaucracy and rebuild the unions on a militant, democratic, rank and file basis.

Second, let’s examine the chances of a new workers party entering parliament under MMP, to pull Labour to the left. History shows that new parties that try to replace social democratic parties with reformist programs, (Socialist Alliance in Australia, Left Party in Germany, Alliance in NZ) never got more than a small minority of voters. Where they got MPs elected under proportional representation MMP (MMP as in Germany and NZ) they had very little impact in pulling social democracy to the left. The reason is that to push further left would bring down the government and with it the opportunity of the left to influence its policies. The fate of the Alliance in NZ is particularly telling. Had the New Labour Party stayed inside the Labour Party, or returned to it in 1993, Labour would have won in 1993 and probably 1996. (See Class Struggle 78 Review of No Right Turn). Thus even when left alternatives do get elected they adapt toe social democracy and prolong the death agony of social democracy, rather than the quick execution Lenin had envisaged.

Again, we come back to the fact that until the labour movement has broken from the labour bureaucracy no real workers party will emerge to challenge social democracy’s hold over the labour movement. To repeat, Labour Parties are the parliamentary wing of the labour bureaucracy and the labour aristocracy. They will only be challenged by the emergence of a radical, militant, democratic rank-and-file based labour movement.

Third, anarchists are syndicalists and do not think that workers should contest the bosses in parliament as it is part of the bosses’ state. Syndicalists mistake the real economic power that workers have in the workplace and the direct action that mobilizes this power, for the armed concentrated political state power of the ruling class. In NZ the syndicalist Red Fed was defeated in the general strike of 1913 by the bosses’ state force, which included “Massey’s Cossacks”, the farmers who were sworn in as armed special constables.

While it is true that the bosses’ state must be smashed, anarchists overlook the fact that in order to mobilize a militant majority capable of doing that, it is necessary to utilize the democratic institutions that have been won by past generations of workers’ struggles with much blood spilled. Capitalism presents itself as a society of equal opportunity in the market and equal citizenship rights in parliament. This ideology is reproduced by the labour process itself as commodity fetishism. Since it is imbibed with ‘mothers’ milk’ it can only be destroyed by class consciousness arising out of class struggle. This means contesting the bosses’ rule in parliament and proving that so-called ‘workers parties’ serve the bosses by deceiving the masses. This will only happen by voting such parties into power to expose them and destroy the bourgeois ideology of equal rights and citizenship.

Sadly, by ignoring the need to expose the parliamentary fraud in struggle, anarchists have historically ended up joining bosses governments, or building their own bourgeois states. For instance, in Russia during the revolution the anarchists formed a state in the Ukraine based on the peasantry and opposed to the Soviet state. In Spain in the 1930s the anarchists joined the bosses’ government in Catalonia. Despite much talk of rejecting the state as universally repressive, anarchists end up forming states, usually in opposition to workers states.

We can see that parliament is a fetishised form of capitalist rule which cannot be jumped over to form an alternative socialist or anarchist society without breaking with the ideology that underpins it. Capitalist rule rests heavily on reformist ideology, and the majority of workers will not be broken from it until parliamentary rule is thoroughly exposed and opposed by a class conscious revolutionary vanguard. Social democracy will retain its hold over the majority of workers until its attacks can be opposed and defeated by a revolutionised labour movement led by a revolutionary Marxist party. Bourgeois parliament has to be smashed and replaced by workers democracy – that is, a workers state. Meanwhile, that revolutionary labour movement has to be built by taking this fight to the masses with illusions in labourism and parliamentarism.

1 comment:

Renegade Eye said...

American Trotskyists come from a tradition of militant unionism, and being good organizers. Unfortunately they were not good Marxist theoreticians, and while holding power in some unions, they never went beyond militant unionism.

I would probably join the labor party, and caucus.

I agree with you on alternative parties.

I don't think this downturn is a revolutionary situation. It certainly is interesting.