Opinion Politics

Socialist or capitalist? Labour must quickly decide what it is

If the British left want to confront both UKIP and the Conservative Party, it must have a movement with sufficient confidence and energy to develop true socialist policies.

The British left need a Labour Party that defends its political values with the same urgency that the right wing fought for Brexit. In other words, it needs a Labour Party that breaks away from his old Third Way, pro-liberal, pro-free market capitalist political stance. A Labour Party with a new moral compass.

The myth of the centre ground.

Let’s be clear, if Labour wish to reconnect with its socialist roots and rebuild its political support among working class communities, it will have to be radical and bold.

Too often, disfranchised working class people associate the Labour Party with the establishment. A party that was once an inspirational political force for millions of people became a part of the establishment. Labour saw itself as some sort of liberal centrist party and believed in a new political mantra: New Labour.

But too many people felt completely repelled and alienated by New Labour’s pro-free market policies. They only voted Labour in opposition to the Tories. Not because they believed in Tony Blair’s new policies.

Aided by a compliant press, Blair long touted the argument that Labour won its massive election victory in 1997 as a result of embracing the New Labour banner and moving right, towards the so-called ‘centre ground’.

What he failed to grasp was that from this massive victory in 1997, Labour support declined slowly at first and then sharply after the Iraq War.

Even the great Labour landslide of 1997 can be explained by the complete disillusionment that most people had with the Tories, rather than a huge enthusiasm with New Labour.

The decline in Labour support as the reality of what New Labour meant was masked in subsequent elections by the slow recovery of the Tory vote. The main indicator of this was the sharp fall in voter turnout: in 1997 it was 71.4%, but in 2001 it had fallen to 59.4%.

Labour lost thousands of members, branch’s meetings were no longer happening everywhere, its links with the trade unions were in danger, and somehow still are.

And then, even Blair himself became a toxic brand, to be replaced by Gordon Brown who ended up losing the 2010 general election.

So when Blair and the rest of the Labour right wing talk about moving to the centre ground in order to win an election, they are pushing a myth.

By moving the party to the right, they have lost touch with the working class; or, as the Blairites call them, Labour’s core voters. Essentially, Blair has morally and politically bankrupted the Labour Party.

It is in this difficult context that Ed Miliband tried to rebuild Labour. But he did it with the same old mantra. Core voters, moving to the centre and austerity-light policies.

Miliband did improve Labour’s results slightly in the 2015 general election. But he also managed to lose Scotland, an old stronghold of the party – full of so-called core voters. New Labour’s myth of the centre ground died in 2015.

If anyone wants to understand why Jeremy Corbyn won two leadership elections, it’s mainly because he somehow managed to win back some of those who previously couldn’t support the Labour Party anymore. Corbyn wanted to rebrand it as the party that will bring change.

But if Corbyn is serious about his desire to transform the Labour Party into a credible anti-austerity one, he will have to move Labour toward a more anti-liberal political force.

A left wing, non-liberal, working class party?

It is evident that the establishment expects Labour to believe in the free market economy. But instead, Labour should re-invent itself as anti-liberal, anti-establishment party.

Labour should be the political party that seeks to abolish austerity once and for all. An anti-austerity, working class party. A party that believes in socialism, a party that can win power and transform this country.

But this transformation can only be done if Corbyn, and with him the left, believe they can bring the changes needed.

But here lie three problems for Labour’s left.

Firstly, leftists need to understand that liberal capitalism is failing a huge fraction of the British society. Miliband ran a status-quo campaign and lost Scotland. To be taken seriously, the left will need to draw clear and serious economic policies that will break the liberal mould.

Talking about equality, access to the single market, free movement and scrapping Trident are of course important issues and Labour should debate these moral issues. But it’s on the so-called ‘bread-and-butter’ policies that Labour will win an election.

The left must demonstrate that a Labour government will improve the lives of millions of people. Yes, it’s all about the economy and always will be.

Secondly, socialism is forthrightly radical. The left in Momentum or elsewhere can and do argue all day about what precisely a socialist program should be. But what they shouldn’t forget is that socialism is politically radical.

In other words, socialism isn’t the new liberalism for middle class people in their forties, who were disappointed with both the Liberal Democrats and Green Party, and are looking for a new approach to politics. Of course, there are many shared values between socialists and liberals.

For example, the high value that socialists place on humanity leads to many of them to be perceived as liberal, on issues such as the death penalty, racism and sexuality. And most socialists do share with liberals a serious hostility to xenophobia.

But in reality, those aren’t liberal values but true socialist ones.

Liberals may think they believe in equality but they will refuse to support true economic equality.

Can the working class be really free, when they have to sell their work force so that someone else can make a profit out of their work and without working?

Socialist understood a long time ago that true equality can’t be achieved without changing the nature of our economy. That’s why socialism is a radicalism.

But unless Labour can translate this new radicalism into concrete and practical policies, Labour will not win the trust back from working class communities that have been destroyed by years of the free market.

A full-blooded programme to tackle the chaos of capitalism, one which ensures that the wealth created by the labour of working class people is at the disposal of society at large, is required. It is such a programme that would enthuse both Labour supporters and working class communities.

Both Brexiteers and UKIP said they wanted to take back control of pretty much everything. Let’s oppose them by saying that a Labour government will take back control of the economy and save Britain from them.

Therefore, Labour’s economic policies should be built on the vision of a planned economy with nationalisation of some essential economic sectors (transport, part of the banking sector, energy for instance) and coupled with a direct intervention of the government in the management of the economy when it is required and essential, specially to save or create more jobs.

Of course, the liberals, the right wingers and with them all the press barons will scream in fear “Bankrupt!” “Cuba!” “Socialist failures!”. Let them cry.

The last point, and certainly the most important of all, is immigration and Brexit.

Brexit: a socialist opportunity

For months now, both immigration and Brexit have divided the Labour Party. Some Brexit deniers have failed to understand that Brexit will happen. But on the other hand, some who agreed that Brexit will happen, have interpreted the defeat of the Remain campaign as an evidence that British society was ready to turn its back to free movement of labour.

In reality, both try to interpret the world without trying to address the real issues.

If Labour believe in democracy, it will have to respect the decision made by the British people. A majority decided that the UK was better off leaving the EU. This decision must be respected. But it also means that Labour must act now, and understand what the Brexit vote really meant.

Brexit won in most working class areas of the north of England, as it was perceived as a way to destabilise the establishment. But many, including those on the left, think Brexit was a signal that old Labour strongholds were moving against both free movement and immigration.

They are wrong. It was a sign that core voters had had enough of the establishment. Racism has always existed in British society. It didn’t suddenly appear in June 2016.

But if Labour wish to win again, it will have to choose between supporting or opposing Brexit, and supporting or opposing free movement. But it can’t sit on the fence forever.

Let’s be frank, it is time that we all became a bit more positive about Brexit. Labour must support an ambitious plan that will protect working class communities up and down the country without accusing foreigners of taking British jobs.

In all the talk about hard or soft Brexit, of market access and so on, workers need to know that someone is looking out for them. And Corbyn should be clear. No matter what is happening in the coming months, jobs must be protected and workers’ right must be at the top of the agenda.

But if capital is free to move, workers must have the right to leave their country and work where they want.

The fact that unscrupulous bosses use cheap labour to pay their staff less than the minimum wage should not be tolerated in 2016.

But this capitalist exploitation will not stop if we put an end to free movement. On the contrary, companies who can’t hire who they want, when they want will simply leave the country if nothing is done to stop them.  And in our world, free movement of capital will not stop even if we close the borders.

Immigration and free movement wouldn’t be a problem if the government was ready to fight fat cat bosses that exploit foreign workers. It isn’t migrants that drive down wages. It’s exploitative employers and the politicians, who deregulate the labour market and rip up trade union rights, that are responsible for it.

If capitalist exploitation is associated with free movement, it is mainly due to political choices made by successive governments, including Labour ones, which have created a society where good and well paid jobs have become a thing of the past.

As we can’t expect the Tories to stand up for the working class, it is the job of the Labour Party to take the fight to those companies who pit foreigners against British workers in an attempt to pay less their staff.

In other words, Labour politicians, and with them the Labour left, should be clear: the problem isn’t immigration. The free markets are the issue.

Labour should fight for new safeguards to stop companies cutting costs by slashing workers’ wages. The party must transform a race-to-the-bottom culture into a rate-for-the-job society.

Simple measures, such as extending trade union organisations and collective bargaining protections, will address concerns about the impact of free movement.

This would be a step forward for Labour’s left. But Corbyn, and with him his closest allies, can’t fudge or confuse these matters.  A clear socialist approach is required to transform the Labour Party into a left wing, non-liberal, working class party.

Labour must put the working class back at the heart of its programme and break away from its old liberal pro-free market stance.

Let’s never forget that Labour can only serve one master. And its master is the British working class.

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