Election time is once again upon us. Time for the politicians to polish up their ideas and parade before us in an attempt to convince us that they, and they alone, are best suited to rule over us for the next five years or so. This time around, the Marxist left in its many shades are united in their opposition to Labour. Last time, they were almost united in arguing that the Labour Party, as the mass party of the working class, should get our vote. Now, the all embracing Socialist Alliance has taken its place alongside the SLP and the Socialist Party, urging us to vote for them and kick out the Thacherite ex-mass party of the working class.
In a number of recent bye-elections the various “socialist alternatives” have had some success, gaining a credible share of the vote. At first sight, it is tempting to applaud the fact that the undoubted hard work but in by committed activists is paying off. Maybe there is the first sign of a revival of the left in Britain, after the bleak years since the defeat of the miners. This is a seductive argument, but it completely misses the real point. The moral demise of the Labour Party indicates the stark reality. It is the end of the political line for a set of ideas that held sway over the British labour movement for most of the 20th century.
The central feature of the left party idea was that the trade unions should limit themselves to the day to day economic struggles, while the wider political struggle could be left in the safe hands of the politicians in the form of the party. The aim was to capture control of the state, which would then be administered by the politicians on the workers' behalf. What we are being asked to believe now by the various socialist alternatives is that is not the idea that failed, but the Labour Party itself.
But, if it is just the Labour Party that was flawed, why did all the various Marxist parties, dating right back to the Communist Party from the Second World War onwards, spend decades urging us to vote Labour? The reality is that there is no difference between how the Labour Party was and how the new “socialist alternatives” are now. It was not the Labour Party that failed, but the ideas upon which the party was based. In requesting our vote, they are asking us to start again and build a new socialist party build on the very same set of ideas that culminated in Tony Blair. Do we really need another Tony Party? One can be forgiven for making a mistake once, but to make the same mistake twice is just plain stupid.
Fortunately, there is a different set of ideas to those of the “socialist alternative”. It involves forgetting about political parties. Instead, it means choosing direct action against electoral politics; for workers' control against state control; for self-organisation, against leaving power with politicians and bosses. These ideas reject the view that capitalism can be voted out of power. Only through self-organisation can we all start setting our own agenda for change. A vibrant movement of confident struggle is the only one which will be capable of sweeping away capitalism and creating a self-organised society, based on freedom and liberation rather than profit. This is the true alternative to Labour.