By Dave Parks
Socialists should ask ourselves when we engage in activity whether it helps the working class prepare for its historic mission in the slightest. If it doesn't then what on earth are we doing it for?
I see two important reasons for standing in elections, although elections should be only the tip of the iceberg of our activity.
- To build class consciousness within the working class.
- To help build organisations which can be used to further the class struggle and fight for the independent political interests of the working class.
Instead of looking to how we raise class consciousness and form organisations that can fight for the politically independent class interests of the working class we are turning to "left forces" and ignoring the working class and its central role. This is a rejection of socialism - it is left bourgeois politics.
Some reluctantly justify the "Respect" coalition on the grounds that the BNP are about to get sweeping successes in local elections. This perspective is wrong, wrong, wrong! The BNP are implanting themselves in working-class areas precisely due to the failure of socialists to do two things: raise class consciousness; achieve implantation within the class.
Some in the SWP enthuse about how socialist the "Respect" policies are. They tell us they are similar to the policies of the Socialist Alliance. Well, if so, why the hell do we have to rebrand ourselves as "Respect"?
The first response of your average working class voter on receiving a "Respect" leaflet will be: "Who the fuck are these people?" They won't think: "Look at their opposition to war and privatisation, oh, I must vote for them".
In areas where the SA has been engaging in activity in between election times, the vote has been much higher than areas that have worked hard in the weeks before an election. The voter needs to form a relationship and understanding of who and what the organisation is. This requires something much more than an electoral front. It requires the building of an organisation which working class people know and can identify with as fighting for their interests.
Unfortunately the BNP understand this only too well. They work hard in elections - canvassing several times and speaking to electors. What is more, love them or hate them, people know who the BNP are and what they stand for. Who really knows what the SA is and what it stands for? Who knows what "Respect" is and stands for? Who knows what it will be six months after an election or even now? We certainly don't.
Working-class people in their swathes are rejecting mainstream politics. Where do they turn ? If they are persuaded that the main contradiction in society is "race" then they will go with the BNP. If they are convinced that the main contradiction is class, then they will turn to any viable socialist alternative.
In terms of defeating the BNP we need to be putting our emphasis on fighting the local elections on a class basis. Instead we are being urged to pour our energies and resources into the European elections on some wishy-washy basis that might be attractive in theory to the middle classes, but not to the disgruntled white worker who the BNP are targeting. This is a purely propaganda election campaign which will do nothing to give us implantation into the class.
"Respect" has all the hallmarks of the worse forms of electoral cretinism. The justification for it, that it will tap into the millions who took to the streets on the anti-war protests, is pie in the sky. "Respect" will flop - and socialists will have abandoned the two primary aims of standing in elections.
The people who promote "Respect" want some kind of alliance that will get bigger votes than the SA and so give New Labour a bloody nose by, if it is successful, electing George Galloway to the European parliament. Is that what our socialist politics has been reduced to - trying to get a career scumbag like Galloway into parliament? Who will he represent there? If his record in the British parliament is anything to go by, he will be the enemy of the working class in the European parliament.
The SA's focus should be on the local elections with the aim of getting implantation within the working class on the basis of class politics that emphasise the antagonistic relationship between the working class and capital.
The most essential requirement facing the class today is the need for a new workers' party tied in with organised labour - or at least those unions who could be on the verge of breaking with Labour if there was something viable for them to break towards. If the SWP and the SA is not to do this work, then it is left to genuine socialists to find a way to do this. That is our task.