As communists, we harbour no illusions about the electoral process in capitalist society. Our British parliament, advertised around the world as the ‘birthplace of parliamentary democracy’ is little more than a talking shop, while governments in Whitehall are formed by whichever party the ruling class judges to be most suited to carrying out its desired programme at any particular time.
Given these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that parliament is stuffed with corrupt, self-serving, two-a-penny stooges, only interested in getting the most out of the gravy train while they’re on it, and falling over themselves to prove their willingness to sell out the interests of most of their constituents in favour of the interests of the rich.
The recent expenses scandal confirmed most working people in the view that MPs from the major capitalist parties are all as ‘as bad as each other’ when it comes to corruption. (And even that story probably only got the media coverage it did because it was a timely distraction from the much more scandalous bailout of the big banks.)
Where the power is
Real power is exercised outside of parliament, with the officials in Downing Street and Whitehall simply carrying out decisions that are taken elsewhere. These decisions, which affect the lives of millions, even billions, of people, not just here, but all over the world, are taken in the boardrooms of Britain’s giant corporations, and in the clubs where the owners and directors of these companies mix and mingle.
The owners and major shareholders of such companies as BP and Shell (oil firms), HSBC, Standard Chartered and Barclays (banks), GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca (pharmaceutical companies), Vodafone and BT (communications), Tesco, National Grid (utilities), Unilever (foods etc), Rio Tinto (minerals), BAE (arms), etc are the real rulers of the country – and much of the world. Rupert Murdoch, with his vast media empire, has more real say in who will be elected and what their programme will be than most of the British electorate combined, while ‘democratically elected’ governments such as ours are merely the paid hirelings of the superrich emperors of finance capital, none of whom have been elected, and most of whose names we do not even know.
Marx put it very succinctly when he said that bourgeois elections simply gave the workers the opportunity to decide “once in three or six years which member of the ruling class [is] to misrepresent the people in parliament”. (The Civil War in France, 1871)
The only thing that’s changed since Marx’s time is that these days, as well as younger sons of ruling-class families, there are plenty of middle-class and even the odd working-class stooge willing to do the job, giving the impression that society is somehow more ‘equal’ than it used to be.
Contempt for bourgeois politicians
While the media are busy telling us that there’s been a big ‘swing’ in public opinion away from Labour and toward the Conservatives, what they neglect to mention is that the biggest swing has been away from all the mainstream parties.
During the 2009 European elections, which took place in the wake of the MP expenses scandal, only 34 percent of registered voters in England, Scotland and Wales turned out, as compared to 39 percent in 2005, despite the fact that, for many of them, there were local elections too.
The Labour vote may have dropped drastically in 2009, but, in absolute terms, so did votes for the other mainstream bourgeois parties (Conservatives by 200,000 and LibDems by 370,000 respectively). The main gainers during the European elections were the Greens and the BNP, while support for UKIP (a major pole of attraction for the ‘little Englander’ school of anti-Europe thought during European elections, although not British parliamentary ones) plateaued.
Much was made of the BNP’s increase of 135,000 votes as compared with 2005, which took them to a total of 900,000 and enabled them to take two seats in the European parliament, but the Green vote increased by twice as much, from 1 to 1.3 million. Neither of these increases made much of a dent in the number of former Labour voters who simply failed to turn out, however. The Labour vote dropped from 3.7 to 2.4 million – a drop of 1.3 million!
In all, 3.8 million fewer people turned out to vote in 2009 than had done five years earlier. Clearly, the ‘Conservative swing’ is a figment of the headline writers’ imaginations – a result of deciding not to count all those who are no longer voting at all.
Of course, voting patterns are different during a general election. Turnout will usually be considerably higher (61 percent in 2005), and fewer people are prepared to vote for the smaller parties, feeling that their votes go to waste in a first-past-the-post system. During the 2005 election, the Greens and BNP each received around 0.9 percent of the vote, and UKIP around 2 percent.
Given the exceptionally undemocratic nature of the first-past-the post system, even in bourgeois terms, none of these parties was anywhere near being able to win a seat. Two independents standing on the single issue of health care did manage to get elected, however, as did George Galloway, the most high-profile antiwar candidate. These victories reveal, more than any other election results, the simmering anger against Labour and Tory policies alike of public service cuts and imperialist warmongering – and the willingness of the electorate to vote where a high-enough profile opposition candidate is standing.
During the Norwich North parliamentary by-election in July 2009, the Tories won, not because more people voted for them than previously – in fact, they won 2,000 fewer votes than at the last general election, but because nearly 15,000 people who had voted Labour in 2005 stayed at home. Despite all the media interest in the campaign, the turnout was 46 percent, as opposed to 61 percent at the last general election.
What choice for workers?
What’s clear is that the lack of a real alternative force that clearly represents workers interests, combined with a general feeling that ‘all politicians are the same’ is keeping more and more people at home on election days.
And this is hardly surprising. For a century, the working class has been told by trade unions and by most of the left that Labour is the party that represents the working class. Yet, despite voting Labour into power many times in the last hundred years, there is mass unemployment, working conditions are worsening, public services have been privatised in droves, and there is a desperate shortage of housing. Workers today have fewer trade-union rights than they did in 1906! Since 1997, they have had to bear 13 years of the continuation and extension of what used to be called ‘Thatcherism’, but is in fact just capitalism of a more rapacious kind than British workers have been used to since the end of the second world war.
They have seen more privatisation, more attacks on welfare and social provision, the further decline of British industry, criminal wars against Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, the introduction of draconian anti-terror laws, the imprisonment and persecution of immigrants and asylum seekers, and a host of other anti-worker measures.
They have seen the blatant lies of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown et al totally exposed, although there is no sign of these criminals being held to account for their actions. To serve the interests of the oil and arms companies who seek domination over the Middle East, our leaders told lies which led Britain into unjustified and barbarous attacks that have led to the deaths of over 1.5 million people in Iraq alone.
They have seen the double standards of our leaders brought into stark relief as the massacre of Gaza and use of banned weapons by Israel against it were supported, while Iran’s perfectly legitimate development of a nuclear power infrastructure is bringing ever-more hysterical threats of war from the US, Britain and Israel.
Now, to cap it all, they have watched a government who claimed not to be able to find money to save British industry or to provide adequate social housing, pensions, health care or education provision stump up a grand total of £850bn (so far) in the great banking robbery – and every mainstream party agrees that not only was this necessary, but that the working class must now foot the bill. And this despite the burdens already heaped on them as a result of imperialist wars and the capitalist world crisis of overproduction.
Following ‘cash for questions’, ‘cash for peerages’ and the parliamentary expenses scandals, it is hardly surprising if most working people should feel confirmed in their view that mainstream politicians and parties are all equally corrupt and self-serving.
Economic crisis, war and racism
Given the state of the global capitalist system generally, and British capitalism in particular, the ruling class is very keen for workers to turn their attention away from the real cause of their ills: the inability of capitalism to continue without crises and wars, and the system’s inability to provide a reliable, decent standard of living to all.
So there is little or no talk about how and why it was possible for Labour to find money to bail out the banks when it claims not to have money for public services. Nor is there much in the way of explanation about how money continues to be found for waging aggressive wars for control of raw materials and domination of markets and sources of profit abroad.
And there is definitely no mention of the fact that even poor socialist countries like Cuba and north Korea, under decades of embargo and blockade, are able to provide free education of a high quality at all levels, free health care on demand and virtually free housing to all their citizens. Instead, we are asked to put the blame for lack of jobs, homes and adequate services onto immigrants, whose presence is alleged to put an ‘intolerable strain’ on our ‘finite resources’.
Even as economic commentators are asserting that the worst of the crisis is over and that the ‘green shoots’ of recovery are already appearing, all the mainstream parties and media alike are unified in telling us that in order to start paying off a national debt that now stands at over £850bn (ie, roughly the same amount as has been given to the banks over the last 18 months), we need to ‘tighten our belts’ by several notches in the coming years.
We are told that there is no option other than to make massive cuts to social provision and welfare benefits, but these cuts can only lead to ever greater rounds of redundancies in both the public and private sectors. People who currently work providing services in the public sector will lose their jobs, and many more people who provide them with goods and services will follow. All of which will take even more demand out of the economy, leading to still further lay-offs, and exacerbating and deepening the crisis we’re allegedly recovering from.
In fact, like the phoney war in 1939, the effect of the crisis has hardly been felt yet by most British workers. The true extent and impact of the cuts in jobs, housing and benefits, cuts in education, health care, child care and provision for the elderly, as well as cuts in pay and pensions, combined with the devaluation (through printing of money and inflation) of the pay, pensions and savings we do still get, are yet to be revealed.
Moreover, in their desperation to find and hold onto sources of profit and vital raw materials abroad, unjust imperialist wars are only set to increase; wars that will waste huge amounts of material resources and millions more precious lives. The US, Britain and Israel have made it clear that they would like to attack Iran, which has the cheek to pursue an independent policy. North Korea is also high on the hit list. China and Russia are the main targets long term, possessed as they are of massive resources, and standing as they do in the way of unfettered imperialist looting of large parts of the world. And, as the crisis deepens and competition over sources of profits increases, the chances of war between rival imperialists or groups of imperialists will only get higher.
It is clear that we are on the edge of a downward spiral, the effects of which will be many times more severe than most people in Britain currently imagine.
Labour the main enemy at present
Over the last 13 years, the Labour party has ramped up racist hysteria and anti-immigrant legislation (which only exists to give workers the impression that immigration is ‘a problem’) to unprecedented levels. Alongside this, and in order to justify its wars against the people of the Middle East, targeted repression of British muslims and the branding of entire communities as ‘terrorists’ has created a particularly virulent new form of racism, islamophobia, very similar to the persecution that Irish people have endured during their centuries of struggle against British imperialism.
And, of course, all this racism has been amplified a thousand fold by the corporate British media – from the Sun to the Guardian, from Sky to the BBC.
Anti-immigrant and anti-terror legislation, repressive policing and hysterical reporting have all combined to create a climate in which openly racist outfits like the BNP can thrive.
However much we abhor such overt and crude racism, however, we must recognise that it is the mainstream, ‘respectable’ parties’ insistence on scapegoating immigrants as a ‘problem’ and branding them as ‘leeches’ and ‘criminals’, as well as these parties’ continued assertions that muslims present a ‘threat to our way of life’, that have created this atmosphere and fooled many British workers into believing that their declining living standards are somehow connected with the brown people who live next door, rather than with the rich people who exploit us all.
Racism is an age-old tool used by imperialism to divide and rule. The twin problems the British working class must overcome if it is to build a strong anti-capitalist movement are the racism that keeps us weak and divided, and the century-old connection with the imperialist Labour party, which represents the interests of the capitalist elite and has nothing to offer the working class of Britain or the world.
Therefore, the main enemies of British working-class unity and advance today are not the thugs of the BNP, however disgusting these bigots are, but the criminal, racist, imperialist-supporting stooges of the Labour party. We do not need to be scared into voting Labour ‘to keep the BNP out’. On the contrary; getting Labour out of our movement is the first step towards overcoming and sidelining the racists in the BNP.
Approach to elections
Ultimately, the only cure for the many ills of capitalism – for economic crisis, poverty, homelessness, joblessness, racism, war, imperialist plunder and environmental catastrophe – is a revolution by working people that takes public control of the means of production and uses them to create a decent, sustainable, cultured and rising standard of living for everyone. And we won’t get that by voting in even the most revolutionary set of parliamentarians.
A Marxist-Leninist understanding of the state teaches us that it is necessary for workers, in Marx’s words, not merely to take over the existing state machinery with a view to wielding it in its own interests, but rather to smash it and replace it with the workers’ own state. Whenever the election is called, and whatever the outcome, the working class and its allies will be exploited and oppressed on the day before polling, on polling day, and on the days after. The election cannot make any fundamental difference to our revolutionary goals or tasks.
All the same, communists do not boycott all capitalist elections on principle. Instead, they view them as a prime opportunity to talk to people at a time when political issues are being talked about far more widely than usual. And parliament itself, while not capable of delivering meaningful change, provides one of many platforms that communists have a duty, if they are able, to use to expose the true nature of the capitalist system and of capitalist dictatorship (also known as ‘bourgeois democracy’, ie, democracy for the capitalist ruling class).
At the present time, our own party has neither the base nor the resources to stand candidates in a serious way during the coming election. To put up candidates under the British system requires plenty of money and a huge local machinery of volunteers for publicising and spreading awareness of the policies of the party, especially when you can guarantee that communist candidates will be ignored as much as possible by the mainstream media – and lied about the rest of the time!
That being the case, our evaluation of the coming election campaign is as follows.
Since continued illusions in and affiliation to Labour by trade unions and antiwar organisations is the major obstacle to advance for the British working-class movement at this time, we believe the main work of communists and progressive workers during the election should be to help shatter those illusions, certainly not in attempting to preserve some vestiges of them by claiming voting Labour can somehow help to diffuse the ‘threat’ posed by the BNP (which in fact stands absolutely no chance of securing more than one seat at most (and is highly unlikely even to get that..
It is not the BNP, but Labour that has spent the last 13 years locking up immigrants and their children in concentration camps, dehumanising and slaughtering millions of innocent people in the Middle East, Afghanistan and elsewhere, terrorising and demonising muslims and asylum seekers, removing our civil liberties and criminalising those who protest against these crimes. It is not the BNP, but Labour that uses ‘anti-terror’ legislation against peaceful protests and has given billions to the banks while slashing and privatising our public services.
But, despite all the publicity it receives, and the recruiting work that the Labour party and corporate media does for it, the BNP is not currently anywhere near to power. The real threat to working people right now is the Labour party. And the best way to explain that, and to keep people away from the BNP too, is to ditch Labour and become part of a real workers’ movement against the failed system of capitalism and for socialism – the only system that is capable of abolishing all forms of inequality and putting workers’ interests and needs first.
We therefore call for:
* No vote for any of the main, bourgeois parties, who are all as racist and pro-capitalist as each other.
* Workers should, however, consider giving support to credible candidates who stand against Labour and the other main capitalist parties and who they consider to fulfil enough of the following criteria:
1.Antiwar – a candidate who calls for a complete British withdrawal from Afghanistan; one who supports the struggle of the Iraqi and Palestinian peoples against imperialism; one who stands against British participation in any new imperialist wars (eg, against Iran).
2.Pro-worker – a candidate who calls for the repeal of the anti-trade union laws; one who stands against closures and privatisation of schools, hospitals etc; one who stands against making the working class pay for the capitalist crisis; one who stands for unionisation of low-paid migrant workers (whatever their official status).
* While single-issue campaigners (eg, around health care) might not fulfil all of the above, if they are putting serious pressure on Labour and highlighting an issue of importance to working people, they might well be worth endorsing.
In the north of Ireland, we call for a vote for Sinn Fein, as the most consistent and credible anti-imperialist force, whose struggle to end British occupation of the six counties has put Irish unity and independence firmly on the agenda.
Whether endorsing a particular candidate or not, this is an important time to get out and expose the racism of all the ‘respectable’ parties. At a time of heightened racism, it is vital that we explain to British people that it is capitalism, not other workers, that is to blame for economic crisis, joblessness, cuts in services, benefits, pensions and housing, privatisation etc.
With the bank crisis fresh in people’s minds and the prospect of a serious assault on workers’ jobs, houses, pay and pensions that all the main parties are openly offering to carry out after the election, there has never been a better time to get involved in the real struggle for workers’ rights: the anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist struggle for socialism.
And if you would like the opportunity to vote for a credible communist candidate at the next general election, then now is the time to join us and get active in building a party capable of leading a really effective, anti-capitalist, mass revolutionary movement.