Workers Hammer No. 202
Elections for London mayor:
No choice for workers!
No vote to Livingstone, Respect or the Left List!
The local elections due to be held on 1 May in England and Wales will be New Labour’s first test at the polls since Gordon Brown took over as prime minister from Tony Blair last year. In London, in addition to choosing the 25-seat London Assembly, voters will also elect the mayor, who is likely to be either New Labour incumbent Ken Livingstone or his Conservative opponent Boris Johnson. Some choice! Boris Johnson is certainly bad news. He is notorious for using foul racist epithets to describe black people and has condemned “the tyranny of black majority rule” in South Africa. When the 1999 report of the Macpherson inquiry into police conduct following the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence concluded that the police are institutionally racist, Johnson described this as a witch hunt. This arrogant, arch-Thatcherite toff is quite open about his multiple prejudices, which include class hatred for working people, expressed in rants against Liverpool as well as English chauvinism in his diatribes against Scottish people.
For his part, Livingstone has run the capital for eight years as a loyal servant of the Labour government and the capitalist ruling class. As mayor, with some responsibility for policing, Livingstone has championed the Metropolitan Police, most grotesquely in the face of public outrage over the cold-blooded police slaying of Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes in July 2005. This heinous act was perpetrated as part of Labour’s racist “war on terror” which particularly targets the Muslim population. Back in 2000, when he first stood for the newly-created office of London mayor, the Spartacist League was virtually alone on the left in saying no vote to Livingstone. At that time Blair’s New Labour prevented him from running as the official Labour candidate, but that did not prevent Livingstone from openly declaring his fulsome support to the Blair government. And it certainly didn’t stop the reformist left such as the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) from calling for votes to Livingstone, knowing full well that he had supported the bombing of Serbia in 1999 and backed the cops when they bloodied the anti-capitalist protesters on Mayday 2000. In an article titled “Ken Livingstone: 100 per cent New Labour”, we wrote: “Without a doubt, a vote for Livingstone in the May London mayoral elections is a vote for New Labour: he supported the government’s imperialist bombing of Serbia, he is for the British Army in Northern Ireland, and he is emphatically for the racist police” (Workers Hammer no 172, Spring 2000). Today we also say categorically: No vote to Livingstone! A vote for Livingstone is an affront to the memory of Jean Charles de Menezes!
The fact that Johnson, who was widely seen as a buffoon, is now a serious contender for mayor speaks volumes about the aggressively racist climate that exists in Britain today. Forty years on from Enoch Powell’s racist “rivers of blood” speech, the BBC television series titled the “White Season” shows that today Powell’s anti-immigrant views are being regarded as “respectable”. Responsibility for generating this racist climate lies squarely with the Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown of the past decade, during which they have taken the ground from under the Tories’ feet when it comes to anti-immigrant racism and have fuelled anti-Muslim racism under cover of the “war on terror”.
Johnson’s campaign has been aided by a vicious witch hunt of Livingstone, conducted particularly by the right-wing Evening Standard which forced Lee Jasper, Livingstone’s race adviser, to resign amid corruption allegations. As part of this, the Observer ran a rabid article by Nick Cohen on 20 January, which was followed the next day by a Channel 4 Dispatches programme presented by the New Statesman’s Martin Bright. Livingstone’s opposition to the occupation of Iraq makes him a hate figure for the likes of Cohen, a “liberal” who passionately defends the imperialist occupation of Iraq; the fact that Livingstone cultivates relations with Muslim and other minority community leaders makes him a target of frenzied Islamophobia.
Cohen and Bright rather laughably tried to red-bait Livingstone, mainly because some of his advisors — such as John Ross, who has worked for Livingstone for around 19 years and who now reputedly earns in excess of £100,000 a year — they say are former Trotskyists. Journalist Seumas Milne was scathing about this, not least the notion that Ross & Co constitute a “secret Marxist cell”. Rather, he notes, these Livingstone aides have in fact “been working happily with the police and City grandees for the past eight years” (Guardian, 24 January). We have no truck with the witch hunt being conducted against Livingstone by the most reactionary enemies of the working class. But that hardly translates into a reason for advocating electoral support for this proven traitor to the workers’ cause.
Showing their utter bankruptcy, the reformist left are lining up in support of the despicable Livingstone. Yet even the most incorrigible Labourites among them have to admit that voting for Livingstone is unpalatable. Alan Thornett of Socialist Resistance, which is inside George Galloway’s Respect, admits that “Livingstone has systematically championed the police including over the Jean-Charles de Menezes shooting” and points out that, as employer in the London public transport system, in June 2004 Livingstone “attacked the RMT for striking over pay” and “said if he was an RMT member he would cross the picket line and break the strike”. But the hapless Thornett sees no alternative to voting for Livingstone, at least as second choice (second-preference votes are transferred after the first count to the best-placed candidates). Thornett argues that “in the 2004 mayoral election Respect stood Lindsey German and called on its supporters to cast a second vote for Livingstone, and many of them did. The same should apply this time” (“Socialists and Ken Livingstone”, 28 January, socialistresistance.net).
No vote to Galloway’s Respect or the Left List!
Following the spectacular blow-up in the Respect coalition late last year, both wings are standing rival candidates in the upcoming elections. The two wings are politically indistinguishable: the Galloway-led Respect is calling outright for first preference votes for Livingstone in the mayoral elections, while the SWP-led wing of Respect — which is standing as the “Left List” — is running SWPer Lindsey German for mayor, and calling for a vote to Livingstone on the second round. In a 2 February article in Socialist Worker titled “Respect’s fight for Londoners”, German gushes: “I have many points of agreement with Ken Livingstone — his anti-racist and anti-imperialist policies are a credit to London and he has seriously attempted to cut car use in the city.” German would be well advised not to enthuse too much about Livingstone’s sterling “anti-imperialist” credentials in, for example, Belgrade given his rabid support for NATO’s bombing of Serbia in 1999. And even the fawning SWP has to grudgingly accept that Livingstone has some “pretty indefensible policies” like “arguing tube workers should cross picket lines during disputes, or backing Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair when there were calls for his resignation after the killing of Jean Charles De Menezes”.
We revolutionaries would consider giving critical support to working-class tendencies running in elections if their candidacy drew a class line, even partially, on an issue of importance for the working class. But as a matter of principle we would not consider giving critical support to either wing of the former Respect coalition, both of which claim to stand in the true tradition of Respect. Respect has never even pretended to be a working-class formation, but was founded as a cross-class, popular-frontist coalition. As we wrote in our article “SWP wanted the post-Soviet world, now they’ve got it”:
“Respect purports to represent Britain’s Muslims, who are among the poorest sections of the population and are foremost targets of the government’s racist ‘war on terror’ at home. Far from representing the interests of any oppressed minority, Respect is based on a bald-faced acceptance by the SWP of racist British capitalist rule, based on the monarchy, the House of Lords, the established Protestant churches and parliament. Respect certainly does not represent the interests of the working class, minorities or women. It ought to repel young activists who want to fight to overthrow the racist system of capitalist exploitation and to liberate women from the yoke of oppression and religious reaction — whether it comes from church, temple or mosque.”
— Workers Hammer no 194, Spring 2006
Down with executive offices of the capitalist state!
George Galloway is leading Respect’s list of candidates for the London Assembly, and says: “We want to hold Mayor Ken Livingstone to account” (Respect, March 2008). The office of mayor is an executive office of the capitalist state, which can only be held “to account” by the capitalist rulers. Revolutionaries would not take up executive offices such as that of mayor, nor that of president in a bourgeois republic such as Ireland, France or the US. For the same reason Marxists would not take over the running of a local council — a section of the capitalist state — as Militant proudly did in Liverpool in the 1980s. As the city’s bosses, Militant became the employer of Liverpool city’s 30,000 workers and had to administer budget and job cuts. Neither would we run for executive office, because to do so lends legitimacy to the kind of illusions that Galloway and other reformists peddle about the capitalist state.
We do not oppose taking seats in parliament, indeed we seek to use parliament as a platform from which to convince the working class of the need for revolutionary struggle to overthrow the capitalist system. Such was the policy of Lenin’s Bolsheviks, who were elected to and organised a parliamentary fraction within the reactionary tsarist Duma before the 1917 October Revolution. Bourgeois parliaments, as well as local councils and assemblies, are merely a “democratic” facade that masks the fundamental nature of capitalist society as the class dictatorship of the bourgeoisie over the working class and oppressed masses. Behind the facade of parliamentary democracy is the mailed fist of the capitalist state, which consists at its core of armed bodies of men — the police, the army, the courts and prison system and all the coercive forces which the capitalist class has at its disposal to crush any real challenge to its domination. The dictatorship of the bourgeoisie cannot be reformed away by reformist “socialists” getting elected to parliament or to offices such as mayor. It can only be overthrown through workers revolution, which will shatter the capitalist state and establish organs of workers rule — workers councils (soviets), defended by the armed bodies of a workers state.
The City of London is a citadel for international finance capital. Much of the vast wealth that passes through it is produced by the sweat and blood of toilers around the world who endure desperate poverty, neo-colonial subjugation and wars, which are endemic to the world system of capitalism. The most basic needs of the working class and oppressed masses cannot be met within the framework of capitalism, which is based on production for private profit, not for human need. To end poverty and secure decent jobs and services for all, to put an end to racism and imperialism’s perpetual wars of plunder requires ripping society’s means of production out of the hands of the capitalists internationally through workers revolution and establishing a collectivised, planned economy and the construction of an egalitarian socialist society based on a massive expansion of the productive forces. Our task is to forge a Bolshevik party to lead the proletariat in the struggle to end the nightmare of British imperialist rule and replace it with an egalitarian socialist society where production is to meet the needs of all the toilers, not a handful of super-rich exploiters.