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The problem for the Labour left

The Labour left will find it very hard to beat back the right wing turn, argues Simon Hardy

THE LABOUR Left, aka John McDonnell MP, was outraged by the new turn. The left union leaders from non–Labour affiliated unions; Bob Crow and Mark Serwotka,have denounced Balls and Miliband in even sharper terms. But, again, there is no political alternative on offer.

Owen Jones, writing in the New Statesmen, bemoans the gloating triumphalism of the Tory right and the helpless surrender of the Labour front bench. After hearing a Labour shadow minister accept that Labour had overspent and had caused the deficit (not the massive bank bailout) Jones admits; “I felt that if senior Labour figures were happy to accept dishonest blame handed out by the Tories, then it was hopeless.”

He concludes, “If a broad coalition of Labour activists and trade unions unites around a coherent alternative and puts concerted pressure on the leadership, this surrender can be stopped in its tracks.” Maybe, maybe not – but even if the Labour leadership shifted left again, it would still face a fundamental problem. As long as it accepts the logic of the markets, under the shadow of Goldman Sachs and the IMF, it cannot develop a truly independent alternative.

The problem facing all left reformist solutions is that the capitalists don’t want to play that game any more. The entire post war edifice of the welfare state, the massive public sector, expanded higher education, grants for students, growing wages and a free health service, were all the result of a historic compromise between labour and capital. At that time, the capitalists were willing to make concessions because of the threat of communism and the militancy of the working class. In short, they were scared of being overthrown and grudgingly accepted the kind of social democratic model that the Labour Party implemented between 1945–1951.

Today, those fears no longer exist for them. The energy and confidence of the Tories comes not just from naive bullishness, it comes from the sense of urgency and strength of the ruling class itself. If a left Labour government tried to turn the clock back to the 1950s then they would face militant resistance from the ruling class, the kind of resistance that a parliamentary party, even with the best will in the world, simply could not break.

Can we reform Labour?
The Labour Party is not a vehicle for the alternative to the coalition. It is lost to the “third way”, social liberal model. That is not to say that there are no good activists or even MPs who are still committed to the movement – people like John McDonnell. But they are few and far between, they are the last remnants of a Labour left that has been ineffective for years.

Of course, the anti–cuts movement should continue working with the beleaguered few in the Labour Party in parliament, in the constituencies, that are against the cuts. But we have to face facts, the main battle is not going to be in the Labour Party with the hope of ‘shifting it left’. The key battle is in the unions and in the communities faced with cuts. It is the battle to unite the anti–cuts movement, to create a new sense of energy and activism that UKUncut and Occupy exemplified. But it is also a struggle for a political alternative to making workers pay the costs of the crisis, an alternative to capitalism.

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