Particularly since it expelled the bulk of its founders and trade union activists in 2006, the Workers’ Power group has been notable for combining rhetorical ultra-leftism with opportunism and wild political zig zags. Now the r-r-revolutionaries have surprised even the most jaded sectarian-watchers by supporting a first preference vote for Ken Livingstone, rather than Lindsey German of the SWP/Respect, in the upcoming London mayoral elections.
Workers’ Liberty is advocating a first preference vote for German and a second preference for Livingstone. While the threat posed by Boris Johnson is real and serious, Livingstone’s record is too bad and his links to the labour movement are too weak to override the need to stand independent working-class candidates against Labour. Essentially a front for the SWP, post-Galloway Respect is a highly inadequate instrument for promoting a workers’ voice in politics, but in this instance it is the only one we have.
The need to stand candidates against Labour is not something that Workers’ Power would, in general, deny. As long ago as the 2004 Euro election, where there was no independent socialist standing, they advocated workers should not vote Labour but instead write “Troops out of Iraq” on their ballot papers. Long before Gordon Brown’s abolition of Labour Party conference began the final (though not yet consolidated) destruction of the party’ s ties to the labour movement, Workers’ Power demanded union disaffiliation from the Labour Party. These issues were an important part of the reason for the group’s split and the expulsion of what is now Permanent Revolution.
But scratch an ultra-leftist and you find an opportunist. When it looked like McDonnell might get on the ballot paper for Labour Party leader, Workers’ Power, having abstained from the struggle, declared that the left should make the contest into a referendum on the future of the workers’ movement.
In other words, if they judge the wind is blowing a certain way, Workers Power bend to get in on the action. Which, of course, is exactly what they are doing here with Livingstone.
The pro-Livingstone article by Jeremy Dewar in the March issue of their magazine does not even attempt to argue that Lindsey German/Respect’ s faults rule out voting for them; in fact, it does not mention the SWP candidacy at all! This is bizarre but not surprising, since any comparison between the records of German and Livingstone would demonstrate the ludicrousness of Workers Power’ s position. Nor does Dewar attempt to locate support for Livingstone in terms of Labour’ s residual links to the labour movement. Instead he glosses up Livingstone’ s record and advocates a vote for him in lesser-evilist terms.
“Right wing go for wounded Livingstone,” we are told. Meanwhile “a broad coalition of Muslim, African Caribbean, lesbian and gay and trade union forces have rallied behind Livingstone”. Sounds good, doesn’t it? And don’t forget the £7.20 London Living Wage (which is not even paid to most cleaners on the Tube), more “affordable” housing, cheaper buses, Oyster Cards and Livingstone’s opposition to war and racism. These are things that any liberal or even conservative populist could have done, yet they constitute the basic justification for Workers’ Power’ s support.
To be fair, the article does go on to indict Livingstone’ s shocking record, finishing with the usual sort of phrases about the need for “a revolutionary programme aimed at the overthrow of the capitalist system itself and the transition to a socialist planned economy”. But, Dewar claims, this goal can best be served by “putting Livingstone back into office.”
By putting it in this way, and refusing to even discuss the issue of Respect, Workers’ Power evidently hope to benefit from a tide of pro-Livingstone sentiment about to engulf the left. Not very revolutionary, comrades!