Britain - After June 7th - Blair's second term, the revolutionary left and the working class

Jul/Aug 2001

The general election results should leave no doubt in anyone's mind. Despite Labour's re-election, it was unquestionably a vote of no confidence against Blair's policies in government. Significantly, Blair had his share of the vote reduced by nearly 7 points in his own Sedgefield constituency and so did Prescott in Hull East. Overall, nearly 3 million of those who had voted Labour into office in May 1997 deserted its candidates this time round - more than one in five!

And with good reason too. After four years of Labour's so-called "radical" reforms, which have merely aggravated the attacks of the previous two decades of Tory governments against working people and the jobless and increased the gap between the rich and the poor, why should anyone have expected Labour's working class electorate to vote obediently for more of the same? In the last part of his election campaign Blair himself showed that he feared a significant drop in Labour's popular vote when he gave a "social" edge to his campaign and, above all, when he took the old "lesser evil" argument out of the cupboard.

There was never any risk of Labour losing the election, of course, but Blair's fears were vindicated by the results.

Such is the main fact of this election. No amount of media spin about an alleged "landslide" can change it. Nor can politicians conceal it by blaming contemptuously what they call the "passivity" of the five million additional voters who turned their backs on the ballot box on June 7th compared with the previous general election. As if their political system, in which all parties and policies seem interchangeable, had nothing to do with it!

So like it or not, this may be a largely passive vote of no confidence, but vote of no confidence it is!

A weak government

If Labour won this election, it was not due to the electorate's support for its policies. Just as, in 1997, it was the Tories' collapse which brought Blair into office rather than a wave of enthusiasm for his policies, today it is the Tories' inability to rebuild their credit so early which allows Blair to remain in government.

From the point of view of parliamentary arithmetic, Blair's new government seems as strong as ever. Indeed, despite the disaffection of its electorate, Labour lost only six seats in the election and managed to retain its enormous majority in the Commons.

But this only highlights how effectively this so-called "democracy" shields the system's institutions from the electorate. Indeed, never has the first-past-the-post system been so blatantly biased in favour of the party in office. In this year's election, each percentage point obtained by Labour in the national vote gave it an unprecedented 10 seats in the Commons, compared with just over 5 for the Tories and just under 3 for the Lib-Dems. While Labour would have won 270 seats under straight national proportional representation, it won an additional bonus of 143 seats thanks to "British democracy".

Not that working people should regret that Blair does not have to contend with a "substantial" parliamentary opposition, as has been argued by some commentators, including people posing as "left" opponents of his policies. As if the Opposition in the Commons had ever protected working people against government attacks in the past!

Besides, if the Tories and Lib-Dems did so poorly in their attempts to capitalise on the discontent generated by Blair's government, it is primarily because they were seen by the electorate as representing exactly the same policies in favour of the rich and the same vested interests - and rightly so. Few took seriously the Lib- Dems' proclaimed "social" concerns for public services and the poor. As to the Tories, Blair had stolen so many of their clothes that Hague was left with only a fig leaf to fight his election campaign - his anti-immigrant stance - which was hardly convincing as a programme of government, even among the Tories' traditional electorate. So that many of the former Tory voters who had switched to Labour in 1997 decided that retaining Blair in office was probably the safest "blue" option for the time being.

As to those voters who would have liked to express their opposition to Blair's anti-working class policies but also wanted to use their ballot paper to vote for a party which had a chance to be represented in Parliament, they saw no option other than to vote Labour once again, no matter how reluctantly. Without these reluctant votes, Labour's score would probably have gone down quite dramatically.

However, the fact that Blair can rely on the Commons' automatic support is one thing, but it is quite another thing to claim that he can take for granted the support of a majority of the population as a whole, nor even that he will be able to carry on subjecting working people and the jobless to the same policies for another term without sparking off major reactions.

A government which was returned into office with the lukewarm support of less than a quarter of the electorate, can hardly claim to represent a majority of the population. To all intents and purposes it is a weak government. And it may well be only a matter of time before the working class, which is at the receiving end of Blair's policies, comes to realise his weakness and starts recovering the necessary confidence to oppose his attacks.

The political meaning of abstention

The second main fact of this election was the sharp rise in abstention, from 28.6% in 1997 to 40.6% this year - a 12- point increase which is almost double the 6.4% rise already registered between the 1992 and 1997 general elections.

As most commentators pointed out, this was the lowest turnout since the 1918 general election - that is, since an election which was held in the general chaos of wartime conditions.

Of course, one should be cautious in trying to find a general explanation for such a level of abstention. As always there may have been all sorts of local reasons, such as, for instance, the "parachuting" in of candidates by the main parties' central offices against the wishes of local members, which seems to have caused more aggravation this year than in 1997.

However, since this rising abstention has been a trend in every election, since and including the 1997 general election, it cannot be reduced to this year's circumstances either. And in fact, just as in the 1997 general election, a majority of this year's new abstentions seem to have come from disgruntled former Labour voters in urban working class areas.

For instance, leaving aside Northern Ireland where Labour had no candidates, one can look at the results in the 97 seats where the turnout dropped by 15% or more.

The vast majority of these seats - 90 - are Labour seats, including 72 which were held by Labour before 1997. Abstention did not affect all parties equally in these constituencies. In 77 of these 90 Labour constituencies, Labour's share of the vote went down by an average 3.7% - more than Labour's 2.2% loss on a national scale. In other words, the proportion of the Labour electorate which abstained was larger than that of the other parties. Significantly, these 77 constituencies include Liverpool Wavertree, Birkenhead, Stockport, Bootle, Newport East, Liverpool Riverside (the lowest turnout in the UK with 34.1%), Eccles, Knowsley North, Basildon, Ellesmere Port, Pontefract, Derby North, Ashton- under-Lyne, Dudley South, etc.. - that is, areas which are among the poorest (and therefore among the worst affected by Labour's squeeze on public services) as well as among the worst hit by the current wave of factory closures and redundancies.

It may be true, as it has been argued, that a number of voters of every allegiance did not bother to vote simply because they saw the election outcome as a foregone conclusion - which it certainly was. However, among Labour's working class voters, who still have a strong tradition of exercising their right to vote, this attitude probably reflects the level of disgust caused by Blair's policies in office.

More generally, the reality is that millions of working class voters felt disenfranchised in this election because none of the three main parties was addressing the real issues which they have to face. They saw no way to use their ballot paper to condemn the shortage and dereliction of council housing, the new poverty trap concealed by Brown's Working Family Tax Credit, the long hours and low pay of Blair's casualised "flexible labour market", the punitive New Deal imposed on the unemployed, etc.. Nor did they see any means to voice their opposition to the health service and other public services being handed over piecemeal to profiteers at the expense of the poorest.

The results of the Left

In part at least, it is this feeling of being disenfranchised that was reflected by the spectacular increase in abstention. Whether it also reflects, as some among the revolutionary Left are now arguing, that a "shift to the left" is taking place among the working class, is quite a different matter.

Of course, one can imagine situations in which a radicalisation of the working class would result in a sizeable section of workers dismissing the ballot box consciously because they see other, more effective ways of defending their interests by using the methods of the class struggle. However no one can claim seriously that there is any sign of this today. So if, nevertheless, a "shift to the left" is taking place in the working class, it should be visible at least in the scores made by the candidates who appeared distinctly opposed to Blair's policies on the left of Labour. But was this the case?

There were two lists of candidates which appeared clearly opposed to Blair from the left.

The Socialist Alliance - formed by the SWP, the Socialist Party and four other revolutionary groups - stood 98 candidates in England and Wales only (out of 569 constituencies). In total, these 98 candidates won 57,553 votes, or an average 1.6% of the vote where they stood.

At the same time, Scargill's Socialist Labour Party stood 114 candidates across Britain (including 12 in Scotland) who won 57,289 votes, or an average 1.4% of the vote.

It is worth noting, that in the 36 constituencies where both lists had candidates, the Socialist Alliance and the Socialist Labour Party both did slightly worse than average, but their scores added to an average 2.78%. In other words the two lists seem to have attracted two almost distinct sets of voters - something which is not altogether surprising given the credit still enjoyed by Scargill among the trade union and ex-Communist Party milieu, whereas the groups involved in the Socialist Alliance are probably better known among a younger layer of white-collar workers, students and professionals.

The case of Scotland should be treated somewhat separately. There, the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) - which was originally formed by activists coming from the revolutionary Left - stood candidates in each of the 72 constituencies, with the support of the Socialist Alliance. Altogether these candidates won 72,518 votes, or an average 3.1% of the vote. However, despite their socialist sounding language, the SSP's narrow nationalist line (to the extent that its paper did not invite Scots living in England and Wales to vote for the Socialist Alliance, no doubt because this was an election taking place in "foreign land") and their open electoral orientation towards the Scottish National Party, makes it difficult to consider their votes in the same league as those of the Socialist Alliance or Socialist Labour Party.

In any case, leaving out the SSP, if one is to add the scores won by the latter two lists, as the expression of the left opposition to Blair, this gives a total of 114,842 votes, or an average 1.8% in 176 constituencies across Britain. This may be a modest result, but it is far from negligible. It is significantly more than the scores normally achieved by candidates who are not affiliated to the main parliamentary parties, and this despite the very limited media coverage given to these lists compared to the main parties. Above all, it shows that there was indeed a current among the electorate which was determined to use their ballot papers to vote clearly against Blair and his policies. The fact that this current has been able to express its opinion, albeit on a limited scale due to the number of candidates, is, in and of itself, a positive development for the future. If only because for all those who voted for either of these two lists, it is comforting to know that there are over 100,000 others who feel the same way.

It would be useful to be able to measure whether this current is growing or not, specially in view of the "shift to the left" assessment referred to earlier. This is made difficult by the fact that this year's election is the first one in which so many candidates were standing to the left of Labour. Nevertheless, in 1997, the Socialist Party (today part of the Socialist Alliance) stood 23 candidates and the Socialist Labour Party stood another 64. So it is possible to make a limited comparison in the 53 constituencies in which there were left candidates in both elections. In these 53 constituencies the combined average score was 1.91% in 1997. This year, it is 1.99%.

In other words, the electorate of the 1997 left candidates seems to have voted for this year's left candidates, and to have remained more or less stable. This again is an encouraging fact, since it shows that these left votes are not purely circumstantial.

But what this shows as well, is that there has been no significant increase in this left electorate between 1997 and 2001 - something which certainly contradicts the likelihood that a "left shift" has been taking place in the electorate, for the time being at least.

An ambiguous attitude to Labour

There is, obviously, nothing to expect beyond this election from Scargill's party. It never claimed to be anything but reformist and despite its present radical-sounding language, its only perspective is to turn the clock back by building an "old Labour"-style party, on the same reformist basis.

However one is entitled to expect something else from the revolutionary groups which formed the Socialist Alliance. And yet their language and attitude towards the Labour party during the election campaign was, to say the least, ambiguous.

In the election flyer circulated in every constituency where it had candidates, the Socialist Alliance presented itself as "The socialist alternative to New Labour". Each word counts in a political slogan. By presenting itself as an alternative to"New Labour" rather than to "Labour", the Socialist Alliance was already giving its game away: its objective was not to set itself up as a political force opposed to reformism in general and to the Labour party in particular, but only to challenge Blair's leadership of the Labour party.

The Alliance's attitude to Labour was indeed spelt out in May by Action for Solidarity, a paper published by Workers' Liberty, one of the Alliance's components: "In the Socialist Alliance today (..) some, like the Socialist Party, believe that we should recommend no vote in the constituencies where no proper socialist candidates is standing. Workers' Liberty, the SWP and others believe that we should vote Labour in these constituencies, and also that we should not stand candidates in the few areas where there are genuinely left-wing Labour candidates." (n°42 - May 2001)

A majority of the Alliance - since the SWP is by far its largest component - was therefore unwilling to challenge Labour's candidates beyond certain limits. So, for instance, the Alliance refused to endorse the Socialist Party's candidate in Walthamstow on the ground that its outgoing MP, Neil Gerrard, was considered "genuinely left-wing". Nor did it stand candidates in such heavily working class strongholds as Bolsover and Islington North, among others - not because it was not present in these areas, but because the outgoing MPs, Dennis Skinner and Jeremy Corbyn, were also considered as "genuinely left-wing". And yet not one of these "left- wing" MPs is known to have risked losing his seat by using it as a platform to call on the working class to fight Blair's attacks!

More generally, the 98 constituencies where the Alliance stood were carefully selected. Out of these 98 constituencies, one was a Tory marginal and 97 were Labour seats in which the sitting MP enjoyed an average 36% majority. In only one of these constituencies was Labour's majority less than 5% - Gillingham. Given the likely score of its candidates, this was the only constituency out of the whole lot in which the Alliance took any risk of threatening the outgoing Labour MP. In a number of working class constituencies where it could stood candidates, the Alliance chose not to do so when Labour's majority was slim - including where the Labour candidate was an outspoken Blairite.

Finally, when election time came, the Alliance found absolutely nothing to say to workers in constituencies where it did not have candidates. Nor were the Alliance's components more explicit in their respective press.

On the eve of the election, for instance, the editorial of the SWP's weekly, Socialist Worker, invited voters to "Put anger in the ballot box" by voting for the Socialist Alliance candidates (as well as those of the Scottish Socialist Party). For those readers who voted in one of the 471 constituencies where there were no such candidates, this editorial had nothing to say other than: "In some other constituencies there are also left wing candidates. A peace campaigner is standing against Blair. Some Green candidates are standing for socialist policies. Voting for these candidates will also help build the resistance." One can only wonder how workers could have "put anger in the ballot box" by voting for a peace campaigner or a Green candidate (even one adorned with a touch of red)! But while a whole page was devoted to discouraging those who might have been tempted to vote for the Lib-Dems, what about those workers who might have chosen to vote against the Tories by voting Labour, for lack of any other choice? The very least that revolutionaries should have said was that these workers should know that their vote would ultimately be used against them. But the SWP did not.

Clearly both the Socialist Alliance and the SWP chose to say nothing - not even such a minimal and obvious warning - that might be construed as discouraging a Labour vote, for fear of being accused of reinforcing the Tories.

But this is precisely where the ambiguity - and inconsistency - of the Alliance's attitude to Labour lies. On the one hand it stood 98 candidates against the Labour party and presented itself as a "socialist alternative to New Labour" but, on the other hand, in the remaining 80% of England and Wales, it stopped short of acting as such an "alternative" by saying nothing to workers for fear of appearing as opposing Labour.

Indeed, to exist as a political current to the left of Labour, there are only two possible options.

One option is to act as a lobby group on Labour's left flank. This was the position adopted by most of the revolutionary Left for many decades, when, in every election, they invariably called for a Labour vote, with or without qualifications. In today's conditions, this means giving credit to the illusion, represented by the so- called "genuinely left-wing" Labour MPs, that labourism has something to offer after all, if not in the form of the Labour party as it stands today under Blair, but at least in the form of an amended version of it. It means pandering to, and encouraging the illusions generated by the ghost of "old Labour", instead of getting workers to realise that Blair and the present leadership of the Labour party are nothing but by-products of this very same "old Labour".

To all intents and purposes, this is the option chosen so far by the Socialist Alliance. But shouldn't revolutionaries leave this option to the likes of Scargill? Shouldn't they, on the contrary, choose the other option - the only one which is consistent with a revolutionary perspective - by asserting themselves clearly as a determined political opposition to the Labour party, which is fighting for the leadership of the working class?

A reformist detour

Of course, the revolutionary groups involved justify the "soft" option chosen by the Socialist Alliance with all sorts of "tactical" considerations.

Behind the approach of the Socialist Alliance is the example set in Scotland by the "success" of the SSP, which seems to have mesmerised most of the British left - to the point where they have now dissolved their Scottish branches into the SSP, including the SWP itself.

The SSP, it should be recalled, came out of the transformation of an electoral front, similar to the Socialist Alliance, into a political organisation which, while still claiming to be socialist, is first of all a nationalist organisation with a largely electoralist agenda. Since its launch, it has been able to attract a new layer of recruits, which has allowed the SSP to expand significantly beyond its original core of mostly revolutionary activists. The trade-off, of course, is that this new membership is largely both nationalist and reformist.

It is this pattern of development that the promoters of the Socialist Alliance would like to reproduce in England and Wales and which justifies its "soft" option attitude towards the Labour party, in the hope of attracting into its ranks the layer of disgruntled labour supporters and activists who hark back to the days of "old Labour".

So, for instance, in his introduction to the Alliance's election manifesto, Dave Nellist, its national chair and a Socialist Party member, writes: "We are a broad church, built from the bottom up(..) We believe we can grow and offer a greater and greater challenge to the established parties." In its balance sheet of the election, the SWP's journal Socialist Review (July-August issue) is even more explicit when it talks about a "united front strategy of winning the base of the Labour movement to a new political home." And the same article comments on the Alliance's election results, "Election results are a lagging indicator - they reflect the past. The Greens had a weak campaign but traded on their past (..) There seems to be no reason to suppose that having now created a nationwide alternative to New Labour, largely in the course of the campaign, we should not do as well as the Greens next time out."

The objective is, therefore, for the Socialist Alliance to develop in the electoral sphere so as to offer "a new political home" to the "base of the Labour movement", and in particular to current members and supporters of the Labour party, particularly in the unions.

However, the revolutionary groups involved in the Socialist Alliance deny that this implies in any way abandoning the task of building a genuine revolutionary party. On the contrary, they claim, it is a step in that direction.

So, for instance, an article published in Socialist Worker (7 June 2001) entitled "providing a revolutionary alternative" reasserts the need for a "mass revolutionary party". But, it adds, building such a party involves "what Lenin describes as a process of splits and fusions' within the existing mass organisations of the working class, Labour-type parties and the trade unions."

This, however, is bending Lenin's reasoning a bit far. When Lenin formulated it, the Russian revolution was only a few years old, the postwar revolutionary wave still a living experience and the mass organisations of the working class were living bodies - unlike the sclerotic machineries of today's trade unions and Labour party, with their tight integration into the state machinery. While it is self-evident that no revolutionary party will be built without winning over a large section of today's Labour and trade union working class activists, the idea that this process will have to involve "splits and fusions" within these bureaucratic organisations is a lot more questionable. What is more likely is that these organisations will be brushed aside by the first large- scale social explosion and that the building of the revolutionary party will depend on the capacity of revolutionaries to provide a leadership to the fighting masses.

And this is not a secondary point, because what it really means is that today's revolutionaries cannot afford to allow their organisations and programme to disappear out of sight into reformist fronts.

And yet, this is what the revolutionary left has done in Scotland and this is again what the SWP proposes to do in the above- mentioned article, although with some nuances, when it says: "Many of those now supporting the Socialist Alliance and the SSP, or considering switching support, will not agree with the need for such a revolutionary party. Over time and in practice, revolutionaries have to demonstrate that their strategies, tactics and ideas are necessary to arm the working class. (..) There are no short cuts. (..) The SWP wants to be part of a mass movement in which we can win a mass hearing for revolution. Revolutionary socialists cannot afford to sit on the sidelines, but need to be at the centre of the debate."

Except, of course, that at this stage in any case, the Socialist Alliance is largely reduced to the left groups involved, their milieu and a small number of trade-union and ex-Labour officials. To describe it as even the embryo of a mass movement, is a huge exaggeration - even if a convenient one for the sake of the SWP's argument.

But the SWP is right to say that there are no "short cuts" to build the revolutionary party. And yet what the SWP proposes - that is, for revolutionaries to immerse themselves within a Socialist Alliance whose policies are adjusted to the reformist outlook of the potential supporters it targets - is nothing but a "short cut" to.. a dead-end. Indeed how will revolutionaries be able "demonstrate that their strategies, tactics and ideas are necessary to arm the working class" if they bury their programme so as to devote themselves to building an organisation on a reformist basis and if, in order to adapt to this reformist basis, they put on kid gloves when dealing with the enemies of the working class, as was the case for the SWP with the Labour party during this election ?

On the contrary, the demonstration that the SWP proposes requires that revolutionaries show their faces openly in front of the whole working class and that, instead of trying to lure workers with a reformist language, they defend in front of them the need for a radical policy based on using the weapons of the class struggle. And even if the working class is not yet ready to go down that road, the only way to prepare for the future is to use every opportunity to develop the idea that it is a vital necessity.

What perspective for the working class?

And indeed, the other major weakness of the Socialist Alliance has been its failure to use the election as a platform to outline clearly what will be at stake for the working class in the coming period and what policy would be needed to respond to the attacks which it is bound to be confronted with, judging from Blair's announcements and from the rising wave of redundancies in many industries.

The election manifesto of the Socialist Alliance contains a 20-page long list of proposals and demands, covering just about every aspect of social life. According to the introduction, this was not meant to be an "alternative programme of government" but "an indication of all the issues, policies and campaigns which the Socialist Alliance, and our supporting organisations and individuals, will raise in (and more importantly beyond) the general election."

Whether it was really not designed to have the look and feel of an "alternative programme of government" is in fact questionable, judging from some of the formulations used, such as (p.16), on law and order, "the Socialist Alliance will deal with crime by building strong communities, expanding youth facilities and improving public safety."

Unquestionably, however, this manifesto was not mainly designed to address the most urgent problems faced by the working class. Or rather it was designed to address these problems, but without infringing on the unions' territory.

For instance, the only references to wages are a demand for an increased minimum wage - which would not be much use for those forced to work part-time or for those earning more than this new minimum wage - and for a salary increase for teachers and NHS workers. But there is no demand for a general wage increase for all workers, to make up for the ground lost over the past period - as if this was a secondary issue! But then of course, such a demand would go against the very foundation of the union machineries' power - sectionalism.

Nor is there any reference to the punitive treatment of the unemployed. Instead, the demand of a "35h week without loss of pay" is presented as a means to fight unemployment. As if a shorter working week could, in and of itself, force the bosses to take on more workers. After all, in many companies, like some of the privatised train franchises, workers have a relatively short working week on paper, but are contracted to work a massive amount of compulsory overtime. But then again, the 35h week is a demand formulated by a number of unions, even though it is a delusion as far as reducing unemployment is concerned.

The same preoccupation not to tread on the union leaders' toes is shown by the absence of any indication of how all these demands are supposed to be won. Forcing any government to increase the minimum wage to £7.40/hr, for instance, would, in and of itself, certainly take a massive mobilisation of the working class across the country. Likewise for the Alliance's policy of taking "all companies threatening closure and redundancies into public ownership, managed by those who work in them and democratically accountable to working people as a whole." There is not a word in the Alliance's manifesto about the general fight back this would require.

Not that the Socialist Alliance did not pay lip service to the need for fighting back. Its manifesto did commit the Alliance to "help build and support the day to day struggles of working people in defence of jobs, living standards, trade union organisation, living standards, health, education and welfare, democratic and human rights and against racism, national chauvinism and the exploitation of the Third World by big business and the banks."

But that is something very different from arguing for the need of a general fight back of the working class. Why this silence, if not because the Socialist Alliance was reluctant to antagonise both the union machineries, which are so jealous of their prerogatives over their respective constituencies, and those Labour supporters who would much prefer to see all these issues resolved by "peaceful" means, without the intervention of the fighting masses?

In fact there is probably another reason behind this silence. An organisation like the SWP has often expressed its confidence that, at some stage, low-ranking union officials would initiate the fight back against Blair's policies. Now, according to its journal Socialist Review (July-August 2001) it is saying that this is beginning to happen: "The election results come on the back of an important realignment of sections of the union bureaucracy under the first Blair government. In the ASLEF and RMT rail unions, in the PCS civil service union, in the CWU leadership election and the FBU vote on the political fund, the left began to reassert itself. This in part reflected the beginnings of a revival of industrial action, particularly in the post office and the London tube. All these developments mean that Blair's second term will see the broadening of the opposition to the government that began during the last couple of years of the first Labour term."

Here again, the SWP's picture of the reality is rather embellished. For instance "industrial action" in the London tube mostly involved threats of strikes which were cancelled at the last minute. But whatever may be the case, this shows that the SWP obviously relies on "left" union bureaucrats to take the initiative and leadership of any fight back. So why should the Socialist Alliance try to popularise the idea of a general fight back of the working class?

There is undoubtedly a certain logic to this approach, but it is not a logic that belongs in the revolutionary tradition - in that rather than relying on the masses to bring about change, it relies on machineries which will certainly not undertake to impose changes favourable to workers. The SWP may well have written in its journal that "Winning the biggest possible socialist vote (..) will encourage workers to fight back against the attacks we face now and after the election." But what will be the outcome of these fights if, once again, the union machineries (whether they are under a "left" or "right" leadership does not change much in their outlook in this respect) are allowed to control and isolate them?

Today the working class has to deal with an over-confident capitalist class which has been having an almost free ride for two decades. Turning the tide of attacks which the working class is subjected to, will take a counter-offensive on a scale that has not been seen for many decades, both against the bosses and against their trustees in government, whoever may be in Downing Street. And this counter-offensive will only be possible if it is based on a clear programme of action, which can unite all sections of the working class by providing an effective and credible solution to the degradation of its conditions and standard of living.

This year's election could have been an opportunity for the revolutionary left in the Socialist Alliance to popularise such a perspective. But the organisations involved in the Alliance did not trust the ability of the working class to understand such language. Instead they decided to orientate their campaign towards the "left" of the reformist organisations while adapting their language to its reformist prejudices.

Maybe - although we are not at all convinced of this - these comrades are right and a radical language would have been understood by only a smaller number of working class voters. Maybe by campaigning for this radical programme, the Alliance would have won fewer votes. But so what? As the SWP says, there is no short cut. The responsibility of revolutionaries is to prepare the working class for the future battles it will have to wage in order to stop the rot, start regaining the ground lost and reversing the social balance of forces to its advantage. If revolutionaries fail to do this preparation work, no one else will do it for them, least of all the "left" union bureaucrats and MPs that the groups involved in the Socialist Alliance court with such enthusiasm. And without such battles, not only will the working class - and therefore the revolutionary movement as a whole - be weakened, but there will be no way for revolutionaries to "demonstrate that their strategies, tactics and ideas are necessary to arm the working class", no way, therefore, to build a revolutionary party.

30 juin 2001