Debate: Should socialists call for a Labour vote?

Issue section: 

Socialist Review readers respond to the debate over voting Labour at the general election.

Under pressure

The pressures to vote for Labour are massive. Senior trade union stewards are actively campaigning for Labour. In Unite Against Fascism groups there are not only calls to vote Labour, or even campaign for them, but many are actually calling for socialists to join the Labour Party. This is something I've not seen for a very long time.

This is not so much due to people being attracted to the policies of the Labour government. People are scared of a Tory victory.

If we wake up the morning after the election to a Conservative victory, and the champagne drinking-celebrations of the ruling class, it will be hugely demoralising. If we see Gordon Brown win the election we will still need to build the resistance to Labour's attacks on workers, but we will not see the same level of ruling class arrogance that would come with a victory for David Cameron.

On election night, think of the sinking feeling as Labour loses each seat to the Tories. People may say that they would not advocate a Labour vote as long as they live, but what if there is no alternative?

People may hate the likes of Ed Balls, but I would vote for him to stop the BNP or the Tories being elected instead.

Sally Kincaid

Nightmare on Cameron Street?

I think most socialists would want to avoid the horror of a Tory government making really savage cuts and potentially pushing up unemployment even higher than it is. The Conservatives will wield their axe on public spending and make us all suffer. Vote Labour I think!

Graeme Kemp

Don't ignore the actuality of parliament

In his review of, Historical Actuality of the Socialist Offensive (Books, Socialist Review, February 2010), Dan Mayer fails to outline problems inherent in István Mészáros's polemic which "argues that the working class movement urgently needs to stop looking to parliament as the centre of social change".

Protesters often march on parliament, where what Karl Marx called the "executive committee of the ruling class" makes decisions that affect our lives.

So the Stop the War Coalition had literally to fight to get to march past parliament calling for troops out, and last year workers in Iceland marched on parliament against the government's decision to make massive cuts. For socialists to proclaim that parliament does not matter would isolate us from the real movement.

In the consciousness of workers, elections to parliament do matter. That is why millions do vote and why socialists must engage in the difficult task of constructing coalitions of candidates to stand for and represent the real interests of workers. Of course, Mészáros is right in his description of the betrayal of workers by too many "left" parties once elected, from Tony Blair's Labour Party to the Italian Communist Party.

Mészáros recalls that in 1991 Mikhail Gorbachev dissolved the Russian Communist Party, which he describes as "once upon a time Lenin's own party". But those who built Lenin's Bolshevik Party were physically annihilated, and the party later rebuilt by Stalin had ceased to be a workers' party after 1928. No wonder Russian workers were indifferent to its liquidation.

The one example Mészáros gives of successful "extraparliamentary action" in his book is the anti poll tax movement. Yet this was characterised by mass protests outside and inside local parliaments and town halls, and a riot in Trafalgar Square near the London parliament.

Lenin's actual party did not ignore parliament. Tony Cliff, in his introduction to the book Bolsheviks in the Tsarist Duma, states that "for the Bolsheviks parliament was never the central focus for political activity" but "a platform for agitation amongst workers and as a means of organising their struggles".

For those who really do want to "change the world rather than interpret it" parliament cannot be ignored.

Mark Krantz

Class credibility

"Holding your nose" while voting Labour is not an option. It is the same approach that Labour politicians have used during their misuse of power and that Gordon Brown will use if he wins the election. "I do not want to make cuts, I support working people; but do not worry, I will 'hold my nose' while I wield the axe." It is the same hypocritical argument.

What are you going to say to those people who you urge to vote Labour in 2010 at the general election in 2014 - after four more years of betrayal by a Labour government, after cuts in public expenditure and after they have lost their homes and jobs? To them your credibility as a supporter of working class morale, as a source of alternative resistance, will have been shot through. You will be seen as an opportunist riding the election bandwagon. That is why Lenin was so convinced that we should have nothing to do with bourgeois elections and of the need to build an independent working class movement.

In the election, if there is not a socialist option in your area, of course do not vote for the Tories, Labour, Liberals or BNP. If there is no one you can support then regrettably you cannot vote. It is essential that as socialists we maintain our independence, integrity and honesty.

Jonny Jones alleged that if the Tories win, workers will be demoralised. The implication is that working class morale is high after 13 years of Labour government. Of course not. So what will have changed? Nothing. The mountain is still as steep. We must continue to build an independent working class movement.

Peter Crack

A question of tactics

Daniel Gott's attack on calling for a Labour vote is certainly passionate. But it is wrong, and in some instances comes from the wrong starting point.

It seems to start not from the tactical position revolutionaries should take when facing an election, but instead who revolutionaries should vote for. In order to formulate a stance in relation to the general election, we must start from the best way of intervening in current debates in the working class. The election in May is a huge debate which will intensify as we get closer.

The issue of how I vote or indeed how Daniel votes is not the point. A key question for many working class voters on 6 May will be whether they stay at home or trudge down to the polling station and vote Labour. Many will do the latter and if we are to be involved in the debates that will rage in the Labour Party post-election, we have to have some kind of engagement with those who vote Labour.

Linked to this is Daniel's insistence on viewing revolutionaries' position on the Labour Party in the general election as based solely on policy. He correctly points to the "war on terror", attacks on the public sector and many other things as reasons to not vote Labour.

However, we must view the bourgeois parties not just on policy but also class composition.

The Labour Party's social base is still working class and, whoever wins, we cannot simply wish Labour away. By not calling for a Labour vote of some description (therefore having no comment on it) we seriously cut ourselves off from the millions who, whatever the Socialist Workers Party says, will vote Labour. This is not a risk the revolutionary left can afford to take.

Simon Byrne

"Tribally Labour"

I share the revulsion many Socialist Review readers will have at the prospect of voting for this moribund Labour government. But working in a large NHS workplace where many staff describe themselves as "tribally (Old) Labour" poses some questions about how we engage our colleagues in the run-up to the general election.

It's already clear that not to have a position on the question of voting Labour risks remoteness from the debates that have already begun. They are going to continue, whatever the outcome, after the election.

I'm under no illusion that the cuts being proposed for the NHS will not be swingeing whether they are imposed by Labour or the Tories. The key issue is how we are best placed to fight them. My argument would be that confidence to challenge these under a Labour government, even given the dead hand of the union bureaucracy, will be higher in my workplace than it will be if the Tories get in.

Most people I work with remember the Tories as the party that stole our milk from us as kids and started cutting our grants as students. In the face of this hatred it is easy to forget that Labour governments can drive down pay and conditions at least as quickly as any Tory regime.

However, Labour will be swift to repackage itself as leading the opposition to these cuts if it isn't imposing them from government. As someone in our SWP branch said, "They are like a stinking fish and it's better to have them out of your fridge where you can see them." When they are in office it is clearer that Labour is not an alternative to fighting for our services and jobs ourselves.

Beth Greenhill

Dangerous illusions

I acknowledge that the question of the attitude towards Labour is complex and seemingly intractable. But implying that a Labour victory would represent a victory for "organised labour and for the more progressive attitudes in society" and that it will "give confidence to the best militants" is perhaps going too far. Indeed, it risks fostering dangerous illusions and a rapid disillusionment.

The fear of the Conservative bogeyman is exactly the only argument with which Labour tries to get from progressive voters a renewed democratic mandate for further pro-war and neoliberal policies.

Paolo Chiocchetti

Use your head

I suggest that in the general election people think for themselves. Look at all the local candidates and vote for whoever's views come nearest to their own. Perhaps Socialist Worker could bring out a pre-election supplement endorsing a candidate in each constituency? I suggest the slogan "A Labour government - a socialist opposition!"

M J Taylor