Socialism is the Best Medicine

Socialism is the Best Medicine

Postmortem – Labour’s devastating defeat

January 23, 2020

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Why did Britain’s Labour Party suffer such a devastating defeat? The explanation offered by Socialist Review left me disappointed and angry. From the defeatist heading, A Bloody, Bitter Pill, to the floundering, academic analysis, Joseph Choonara fails to provide a marxist analysis that can take us forward.

Choonara attributes the Labour Party’s decades-long decline to its “continued adherence to neoliberal policies.” Why the Labour Party embraces such policies and why the working class submits is not explained.

Nor is there any mention of the capitalist class. The Tory and Labor Parties are treated as stand-ins for the two great classes. As Lenin pointed out, despite a mostly working-class membership, the British Labour Party is not a working-class organization. It is led by a managerial class whose loyalties lie with the capitalist class and their State.

Managerial albatross

As with all reform parties, the Labour Party takes a managerial approach to social problems, that is, ‘elect us and we will solve your problems.’ Warring factions inside the party disagree on what problems need solving and how to solve them; however, all agree that the solving properly belongs to social managers and not to the people and communities who actually suffer those problems.

Managerial solutions are limited to what capitalists will accommodate. With the balance of class forces in their favor, capitalists feel no pressure to alleviate workers’ problems. This leaves the managerial class accommodating to capitalist priorities until mass revolt compels them to switch sides, from offering to manage capitalism to offering to manage the revolt against it.

Choonara identifies the challenge – how to turn the tide of class struggle and “restore hope within the working class.”

Restoring hope rests on a clear explanation of why things are as they are. Despite periodic mass rebellions, the level of class struggle remains low for two reasons: the lasting impact of the defeat of the Russian Revolution; and the subsequent entrenchment of managerialism in all social organizations, including unions and the left.

A managerial approach to social problems holds back the working class by keeping them subordinate to elites, experts, authorities, officials, and ‘betters.’ Without a clear understanding of this obstacle and how to overcome it, we can only wait for workers to solve the problem, which leads to blaming them when they do not.

In order to shed the managerial albatross, socialists must resurrect the revolutionary principle of working class self-emancipation by insisting, without compromise, that workers can solve their problems only by taking collective control of the social resources needed to solve them.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Dr.Rosenthal,

    Greetings from Greece. I apologize in advance for my poor English.

    I have carefully read both your article and Joseph Choonara’s. Comrade Choonara suggests that most working class are no longer blue-collar workers.

    I am not aware of the hard figures for Britain, but in Greece, a well-documented report compiled by GSEE (General Workers Confederation of Greece, Vol.221, Jan.-Mar. 2015) showed that in a general population of about 10 million, active labour-force was about 2.28 million. These 2.28 million comprise 11% industrial workers, 8% health workers, 17% retail trade employees, 13% education employees and 9.8% tourist industry employees. Of these 2.28 million workers, only 0.5 were in public sector.

    In my opinion, Choonara’s assertion is mistaken, and this not accidental. Almost all far-left organizations (I belonged to SWP in Greece for two decades) have strong relationships with public sector labourers but very feeble ones with retail or industrial workers.

    I have a couple of questions for you: Do you agree with this notion of modern working class being by far “white collar”?And do you think that far-left militants are doing well by sneering unemployed workers movement? In Greece, far-left (ANTARSYA- Anticapitalist Left Alliance for the Turn-Over) barely pays any attention to the unemployed movement. Thank you in advance.

    Reply
    • Elijah, thank you for your comment.

      Capitalism continues to revolutionize the mode of production, which changes the composition of the working class. These changes have spawned much debate on the left over who are the working class and if they have the power to end capitalist rule. Much of this debate is academic and not useful.

      The working class are those who do not benefit from capitalist rule, yet whose labor is essential to that rule. This is the majority of humanity, and they are more powerful than ever.

      Increasing productivity: Ten workers can now produce what it took 100 workers to produce in the past. While this can decrease the proportion of industrial workers, it vastly increases their power to halt production.

      Globalized production: Giant corporations connect hundreds of thousands, even millions, of workers in internationally integrated production and distribution chains. Disrupting any link in these chains has the potential to bring down the whole.

      Standardized production imposes uniformity: In most nations today, factories function in the same way, stores carry similar goods, and young people listen to the same music, watch the same films, wear the same clothes, and want the same things.

      In short, capitalism not only produces its own gravediggers, it has handed them high-tech shovels and sophisticated systems of global communication and organization.

      Regarding ANTARSYA: The political weakness of the unions and the revolutionary left has created a vacuum which is being filled by mass protest groups such as the yellow vests in France and the democracy movement in Hong Kong.

      In order to challenge the capitalist class for power, social rebellion must become rooted in the workplace. This will not happen as long as protest formations adopt a managerial approach to struggle that bypasses the central role of the working class.

      We must return to first principles: emancipation from capitalist rule can only be achieved by an international working class that understand the need to take power and are organized enough to do so. It is the task of socialists to build that clarity, confidence, and organization – step by step. (See: https://labornotes.org/blogs/2020/01/strikes-are-hard-work )

      Reply

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