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Britain rocked by political crisis: It is time to transform the Labour Party!
By Alan Woods
"If the people have no faith in their leaders, they cannot stand." (Confucius)
We live in an epoch of sudden and sharp turns. On Thursday night, as Tony Blair slept aboard a Boeing 777 bound from Washington to Tokyo, he was rocked by the news of the death of Dr David Kelly. In a single instant the whole situation was transformed. On leaving Washington, Blair was congratulating himself on his success, as The Independent on Sunday reported:
"After his triumphal speech to the houses of Congress, with its 17 standing ovations, the Prime Minister had a 20-minute meeting with President Bush, and a group of senior officials including Dick Cheney, Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice in the Oval Office before a joint press conference and dinner with the President.
"At this meeting, Mr Blair apparently extracted from the Americans an agreement to suspend proceedings against two British prisoners held by the US military in Guantanamo Bay. Although this is only a holding position, it was a very welcome concession which spared Mr Blair from a rising wave of protest in the UK.
"After he boarded his Boeing 777 in bright Washington sunshine, Mr Blair will have been told of yet more good news from home. There was the wholly unexpected defeat of Mick Rix, who was standing for re-election as leader of the train drivers' union, Aslef. Mr Rix was regarded in Downing Street as the most dangerous of the new breed of "awkward squad" union leaders, and this was the first significant union election in five years in which the winner was the candidate who was identifiably pro-Blair.
"More importantly, the foreign affairs committee had come out with an extraordinary attack on the BBC defence correspondent, Andrew Gilligan, branding him an "unsatisfactory witness". To Mr Blair's advisers, that was a major advance in their campaign to reclaim public trust by disposing of the BBC's allegation that they had doctored intelligence reports to buttress the case for war in Iraq.
"So in one day, Mr Blair appeared to have defeated the BBC, improved relations with the unions, proved that he was not a "poodle" of the American President and shown off his stature as a world figure. Unsurprisingly, his entourage enjoyed a celebratory drink aboard the plane - Blair had red wine - and talked over the day for about an hour before most of the party, Blair included, went to get some sleep." (The Independent on Sunday).
But just when everything in the garden seemed rosy for Tony Blair, everything has started to unravel. At around 7am London time, the Prime Minister was given the news that David Kelly was missing. Mr Blair's reaction, according to one official, was one of "shock".
Now Blair is desperately trying to distance himself from the crisis. He is looking around for scapegoats. The magnitude of these events signifies the inevitability of resignations at the highest level, so the Prime Minister is frantically looking around for friends prepared to fall upon their swords in order to protect their Lord and Master.
In boxing, sometimes a man is expected to "take a fall". It is much the same in bourgeois politics, which is about as crooked a game as professional boxing. A likely candidate for the role of the "fall guy" here is Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence and the man with overall responsibility for the several days of interrogation of Dr Kelly which followed his admission that he had spoken to the BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan. But Mr Blair also probably has several other people in mind, certainly including Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell, the men at the centre of the right wing cabal of "spin doctors" in Number Ten who deliberately engineered the confrontation with the BBC and orchestrated the campaign against Gilligan and Kelly - clearly with the full knowledge and support of the Boss.
In Tokyo, the face of the Prime Minister told its own story. In place of the shining and angelic countenance that greeted the US Congress we have the strained and gaunt expression of a man who feels that he is delicately balanced on the edge of an abyss.
"I am profoundly sad for David Kelly and his family," he said to Sky TV (as soon as all the other journalists were out of sight). "He was a fine public servant. He did immense service for his country and I am sure he would have done so in the future. There is now however going to be a due process and a proper independent inquiry. I believe that it should be allowed to establish the facts. We should set aside speculation, claims and counter-claims and allow that due process to take its proper course; and, in the meantime, all of us, politicians and media alike, should show some restraint and respect. That's all I'm going to say."
This is Mr. Blair's customary way of getting out of trouble: to assume a hypocritical attitude of pious morality and hope that people will be so impressed by his angelic expression that they will forget to ask the questions they had in mind. In addition he is trying to use the old trick of British politicians when in serious difficulties: refer the matter to an inquiry and then refuse to comment, pending the results thereof.
It is really a little late to recall the wonderful qualities of a man whom the government and its agents have just harried and hounded into an early grave. It is said that dead men tell no tales, but this one still has the potential to cause serious damage to Tony Blair and the clique of unprincipled right wing carpetbaggers who have seized the reins of power and until recently regarded themselves as above the law.
The row over the death of Dr. Kelly is not a passing incident or a little detail. It has opened up a crisis that has no precedent in recent British history. The nearest parallel would be the Profumo scandal that finished off the Conservative government of Hume in the early 1960s. If anything, this is even more profound. It has all the makings of a crisis of the regime. It has partially lifted the curtain on the functioning of the British state and shown what a rotten can of worms lies behind the façade of bourgeois parliamentary democracy, what mafia methods are used by the state to defend the monopoly on power, and with what studied brutality the voices of dissidence are silenced. This is only the tip of the iceberg.
From the standpoint of the ruling class this is highly unfortunate. After all, it is important that the masses should not be aware of the real situation and that the illusion be maintained that it is the will of the people that decides everything. But it was not the will of the people to go to war in Iraq and this was shown by the biggest demonstrations in British history last February. In order to swing British public opinion in favour of a war, Blair and his stooges resorted to brazen lies and the falsification of official documents. They temporarily succeeded in this deception, but now the chickens are coming home to roost.
The clumsy attempts to silence the press and divert public attention away from the government's lies and falsifications involved strong-arm tactics against a troublesome BBC journalist and his alleged source inside the Ministry of Defence, a shy civil servant called Dr. David Kelly. Kelly was subjected to a vicious interrogation by a kangaroo court disguised as a government committee. The scenes of bullying and intimidation by Blair's stooges on the committee have shocked the nation. There can be no doubt that this led to the suicide of Dr. Kelly - an action that was not in the original script written by Alistair Campbell.
Prominent British civil servants are not supposed to commit suicide, and least of all be driven to their death by government persecution. This has caused a wave of revulsion that now threatens the stability of the government. At the very least there will have to be resignations at the highest level of government. Almost certainly Campbell will go, and maybe Hoon also. But the finger of suspicion continues to point to the Prime Minister himself.
The immediate tactic adopted by Number Ten Downing Street is to refer everything to a committee of inquiry. The very fact that Blair has agreed to this shows just how desperate he has become, since up till now he has refused to call an inquiry over the scandal about weapons of mass destruction. Privately, Downing Street is hoping that Lord Hutton will extend his inquiry to look into whether the BBC, and the journalists who besieged Dr Kelly's Oxfordshire home, contributed to his state of mind.
Meanwhile, is Mr Blair was hypocritically pleading for "restraint and respect" from British journalists. Having hounded Kelly to his death, these people are suddenly most concerned about the feelings of his family! This blatant hypocrisy has not prevented the "gentlemen of the press" from attacking the Prime Minister in unprecedented language. During his press conference with Junichiro Koizumi, the Japanese Prime Minister, at the spa resort of Hakone a reporter shouted at him: "Have you got blood on your hands, Prime Minister? Are you going to resign?" A white-faced Mr. Blair was hastily bundled off the platform by his Japanese host.
The present crisis is important for what it tells us about the regime in Britain and other western "democracies". Marxists have no illusions about bourgeois legality and parliamentarianism. It is clear that in an age when a handful of super-rich bankers and monopolists dominate society and take all the important decisions, the powers of parliament are in the best case severely restricted. The Blair government is even more firmly in the pocket of big business than the previous Tory administrations.
Nevertheless, we defend democracy because it gives the working class a more favourable context in which to develop the class struggle and build its organisations. In the epoch of imperialism the democratic rights that were conquered by the working class in the past are constantly under threat. The rule of the big banks and monopolies is really incompatible with democracy, and they try to limit and stifle it at every step. At the present time the rights of parliament - such as they are - are being systematically eroded, not just by the bankers and monopolists (who, in any case, hold the real power) but by the right wing clique around Tony Blair who act as if they were above all laws and all democratic control and restraints. Power has passed from parliament to the Cabinet and from the Cabinet to an clique of functionaries like Alistair Campbell, who take all the important decisions together with the Prime Minister, although they are not elected and responsible to nobody.
This is no accident but flows from the very nature of the right wing Labour leaders. People like Tony Blair keenly sense their inferiority before the people who really rule Britain - that tiny handful of super-rich men and women who own and control the means of production. Blair and co. are always anxious to "prove" themselves to be "fit to rule". That is to say, they feel the need to prove themselves to Big Business. And in order to do this, they must show themselves to be "strong" when standing up to the working class and the trade unions, and to "special interest groups" - that is, single parents, the old, the sick and the unemployed.
This is even more the case in the arena of world politics. Just as Blair grovels before the bankers and the City of London at home, so he feels an irresistible compulsion to give uncritical support to the most powerful imperialist nation - the USA. Blair has even shown himself willing to risk his political career and the future of his government in his anxiety to please the man in the White House.
The truth is that Tony Blair has nothing whatever to do with the Labour Movement, the working class or socialism. He only joined the Labour Party as an accident. Moreover, he is the first Labour leader in history that does not believe the Party should have been created! Therefore he is making it his business to destroy the Labour Party from within. This is a kind of bourgeois "entrism" that seeks to undermine Labour by depriving it of its socialist identity, split it away from the unions (an aim that is ironically shared by most of the ultra-left lunatics) and destroy its credibility with its working class supporters.
So far Mr. Blair has performed his tasks admirably. And as long as he is carrying out Tory policies under a false flag and keeping the Labour rank and file under control, he will continue to get the support of big business and the media. They do not need the Tories, whose basic problem is that Blair has stolen their clothes.
Those who argue that because of Blair the Labour Party has undergone a qualitative change and is now a "bourgeois Party" have understood nothing. Despite everything, the Labour Party remains the mass party of the British working class. It is still rooted in the unions who pay its bills and control half the votes at Party Conference. The unions in Britain are moving to the Left and have launched a campaign for the transformation of the Party. The mood in the ranks and even the Parliamentary Party is increasingly rebellious. Even before the present events Blair's control was beginning to weaken. The resignations of Cook and Clare Short show the beginnings of splits at the top. The number of Labour MPs voting against the government is constantly increasing.
It is in this context that we must see the behaviour of the press in the present crisis. The ruling class is following events in the unions and Labour Party with growing concern. Despite the nonsense of the ultra-lefts, the attitude of Big Business to the Labour Party has not changed. Its policy towards the Labour Government is: "use and discredit". They will use Blair and the right wing to carry out policies that would have provoked a storm of protest under a Tory government, and when they have sufficiently discredited Labour, they will turn against the government, organising a campaign in the press to bring it down and prepare for an even more viciously reactionary Tory government. What we see now is the opening shots in such a campaign.
The Labour right wing is full of middle class careerists who have no principles and no interest in the Labour Party except as a vehicle for their personal advancement. A typical specimen of this breed is Alistair Campbell, the Rasputin of the Downing Street clique. Campbell will probably lose his job in the fall-out from Dr Kelly's death. His loss will not be mourned in the Labour Movement. But it will not, in itself, solve the central problem.
Despite all Blair's attempts to distance himself from the scandal, the issues raised will not go away. The rumblings of discontent inside the Labour Party are getting stronger every day. On the other hand, to the degree the ruling class sees that he is no longer able to control the working class and keep discipline in the Party, they will drop him like a hot potato. The Blairites will find themselves attacked both from the Left and the Right.
The well-known actress and Labour Left MP Glenda Jackson called on Saturday for Blair's resignation. She publicly accused him of lying over the question of weapons of mass destruction and personal responsibility in the Kelly affair. There is no doubt that she was saying what many Labour Party members are now thinking.
The support for Blair and his right wing faction inside the Labour Party and the unions has virtually collapsed. The road is therefore wide open for the Left to take back control of the Party. As always the key is the trade unions where left-leaning general secretaries have already raised the demand for the unions to reclaim Labour. What is required is an energetic campaign at all levels to kick out the right wing that has done colossal damage to the Labour Party. It is not only a question of foreign policy and the war, but the adoption of Tory policies in the health service, education and the public sector in general that has infuriated Labour's rank and file. This year's Labour Conference promises to be a hot one.
Those misguided elements who have advocated abandoning the Labour Party and even demanded that the unions disaffiliate have been shown to be wrong. What is necessary is to carry the fight for socialist policies into every Labour and trade union branch, to pose the question of getting rid of the right wing and regaining control of the Party. This is the only serious way of fighting against Blair! In the coming period the fight inside the Labour Party will become intense. The branches and conferences will come alive again as people se that there is a real possibility for change. The Marxists will not stand aside from this struggle but will participate actively in it, push it forward and simultaneously fight for the adoption of genuine socialist policies.
The growing social crisis in Britain must be reflected in a growing right-left polarisation in the Labour Party. At a certain stage the right wing will be vomited out. They are really alien elements who have infiltrated the Labour Party for careerist purposes. But when they realise that the situation in the Party is no longer conducive to their careers, they will leave in droves.
The ruling class will not sit idly by while this process develops. They will support the right wing against the Left while simultaneously undermining the Labour Party. They would prefer a Tory administration, but at the moment this is not likely. Therefore, at a certain stage, they will try to split the Labour Party, using the Blairites for this purpose. The stage will be set for a repetition of the split of 1932.
Great convulsions are being prepared. At bottom the storms and stress in the political sphere reflect the turbulence on a world scale that is only an expression of the organic crisis of capitalism. This is the most turbulent period in history since 1945. Sooner or later it must be reflected in the consciousness of the working class and in its mass organisations.
For a long time the pendulum of history has swung far to the right, and this has coloured the whole situation of the workers organisations. But now the pendulum has begun to swing violently in the opposite direction. The stage is being set for a massive swing to the left. The Marxist tendency must be prepared for this. We must not be swayed by ephemeral developments and cross-currents but fix our mind firmly on the task in hand. The way to build a powerful Marxist current lies through the mass organisations of the working class.
July 20, 2003