Three letters responding to Sacha Ismail’s “Peter Tatchell and voting Labour” (Solidarity 3/111).
The specific issue of whether or not to support Tatchell clarifies a number of positions upon which the AWL’s line in the past has been something of a fudge.
Sacha says that “If Tatchell were standing as part of a socialist and working-class coalition (such as the old Socialist Alliance), or even perhaps as an ‘ecosocialist independent’” then the AWL would be in a position to support him. In the meanwhile socialists in Oxford East should vote Labour, because Tatchell is standing for the Green Party. The Greens do not have Labour’s organic connections to the organised working class (via the union link).
But if what matters is the Labour Party’s connections with the organised labour movement, then logically there should be no situation in which the AWL would offer backing to any extra-Labour candidacy, unless the campaign was backed by a significant section of (at least) the local labour movement.
This would rule out supporting candidates such as Dave Nellist in Coventry, or other principled left-wing candidates around the country, who nevertheless do not have significant labour movement backing for their extra-Labour electoral challenges. Logically the AWL’s line should be changed to support for Labour candidates in most of those cases. I would not agree with such a change of line, but it would make the AWL’s politics more consistent.
Sacha says Tatchell’s record is a principled one. How then backing him any different from backing some of the candidates in the Socialist Alliance, still less any different from backing an “ecosocialist independent”, is not quite clear to me. Again, presuming that his platform accords with his previous political record, I don’t see any of these arguments as a reason not to back him.
In terms of the respective records in office of the Greens and Labour, Sacha makes my argument for me. Both parties have poor records in local government — the main difference being that the Greens have never held national office and have therefore not had the chance to do anything like starting wars. Again, the real difference here brings us back to the nature of each party, not its record — so Sacha really ought to be arguing for auto-Labourism.
Oddly Sacha seems to be disinclined to exhort people to act based on his argument. He asks people to quietly vote for Andrew Smith, the Brownite MP for Oxford East, not campaign for him, and if people say nasty things about Tatchell, they should be publicly debunked! This may enable Sacha to square a circle in his own political worldview about voting Labour, but how such quietism helps “our central battle, the fight for working class representation in politics”, is beyond me.
You can either take the view that supporting Smith by campaigning for him (and fighting within the LP) and building Labour as the party of the organised working class will help you to do that, or you can take the view that supporting Tatchell positively helps to advance the same goal by building a radical left challenge to the Blairites. But taking a stance as Sacha does, that seems to advocate doing nothing much at all, would seem not to advance things in the slightest.
I can see arguments on both sides, but they have to be consistent.
Alan Thomas, Coventry
Engage with ecosocialism
The electoral orientation of the left over recent years has not been littered with success, nor has it driven forward any meaningful project. Despite the ruptures in the labour movement over New Labour the left, when it has stood in elections, has only been able to get meagre votes, the same it has received outside of the Labour Party for decades. Socialists should be asking themselves whether or not candidates, independent of the Labour Party can make any headway and if so what interests will they serve in developing socialist politics and workers’ representation?
Arguments against anti-Labour Party candidacies have revolved around the idea that it gives the right wing the green light to expel and witch hunt and it ducks the fight to transform the political arm of the labour movement.
But it is true that there have been significant changes within the Labour Party and that the process underway implies a de-Labourisation of the party. Under these conditions, all manner of left-leaning electoral alternatives have crystallised, some organised by the activist left, others independent of this.
In this situation Workers’ Liberty has sought to orient itself towards a changing situation where automatic support for Labour ebbs and experimentation with independent candidates exists as a concrete reality with a focus on rebuilding working class political representation. If there is an argument for standing independent candidates, it should lead to something other than the opportunity to flog a few left-wing newspapers.
The Green Party has benefited from the changes in the Labour Party. The Greens have gone through a certain shift to the left recently and present themselves as an alternative to Labour from the left. Sacha points to some negative aspects of the party, such as support for small business and clearly its lack of roots in labour movement or socialist politics, but it is necessary to examine this in more detail.
The Greens have been relatively successful, with over 100 councillors elected and a string of other electoral advances. As this process takes place the party swings leftwards. Both principal speakers of the party are part of the eco-socialist Green Left caucus and individuals such as Peter Tatchell have a commitment to socialist politics. Ecosocialism also presents a challenge to more traditional Marxism in terms of its conception of how a post capitalist society would be organised, criticising notions of super abundance as pre-requisite for socialism.
In this context it is necessary to engage seriously with eco-socialists in the Green Party and pull this wing, as imperfect as it may be, towards the perspective of independent working class politics.
The likes of Green Party principal speaker Derek Wall or Peter Tatchell will instinctively and actively support workers in struggle and other progressive causes and have a less authoritarian socialism than the majority of those in the old Socialist Alliance.
We need to develop a coherent programme for the environment as the central issue of our times. This needs to move beyond an extra tick box on the programme; it needs to be central to our thinking and practice.
If we support candidates outside of the struggle in the Labour Party (which is a debate in of itself) then we certainly should support eco-socialists in the Green Party, as part of a strategy for winning them to our politics and perhaps engaging in a process of learning ourselves.
Lawrie Coombs, Stockton-on-Tees
The Greens in Oxford
In Oxford there isn’t much debate about voting Green in the likely absence of a Socialist Green Unity Coalition candidate.
It is true that the Greens are not a working class organisation but they do try to “orientate” toward the trade union movement. In Oxford the Trades Council Secretary is also active in the Green Party and one of their city councillors is an experienced Unison shop steward. Derek Wall spoke at “Ecosocialism and Barbarism” (and has contributed to Socialist Outlook). Martin Wicks and I spoke at last year’s Green Party Trade Union Conference.
In the previous Liberal-Democrat administration the Greens didn’t always oppose cuts and privatisation. But now they’re active in Keep Our NHS Public and are supporting the Trades Council’s anti Academy campaign, unlike the Labour left councillor.
The pathetic McDonnell campaign is only useful in terms of trade union democracy. The RMT’s National Shop Stewards Network is where we should be concentrating our activity.
Personally, I would never advocate voting for the Labour Party and the “struggle for indpendent working class politics” is almost entirely outside the Labour Party, which hasn’t been a workers’ party for at least twenty years. Despite our differences with Tatchell we could be working towards an Ecosocialist Alliance.
Andy Gibbons, Oxford