After thirteen years, the Labour government has finally come to an end. No one should mourn its passing. These have been thirteen years of mass unemployment and widening inequality, of imperialist savagery overseas and of speculative bonanzas in the City of London. Civil liberties have been torn away; a violent and irresponsible police force has been granted sweeping additional powers; record numbers of people are now in prison. These, that is to say, have been thirteen years of normal service in an era of capitalist decline. And the Labour Party has been happy to preside over the whole sordid spectacle. In thirteen years there was no leadership challenge, no effective rebellion by the parliamentary party, no significant dissent at conference. Labour leaders dismantled basic freedoms, stoked up racism, shovelled money into the pockets of the millionaires, devastated lives, started war after war—and their party cheered them to the rafters.
We must never forget it. With the Coalition government gearing up for the fresh assault on our living standards that the ‘financial markets’ are demanding, Labour is bound to start presenting itself as some kind of opposition. Its record in government exposes any such claim for the squalid lie it is. The party of bank bailouts, privatization, tuition fees, and corporation tax cuts cannot now pretend it speaks for the interests of the majority. The party of imperialist war and vulgar immigrant-baiting cannot lay claim to any vestige of internationalism. The party of detention without trial and extraordinary rendition cannot pose as a defender of freedom.
Labour is not the opposition: the real opposition is struggling to be born. It will take shape in workplaces and in the streets, in study circles and in new forms of mass action. Candidates representing the hope for such an opposition contested the election in around a hundred constituencies. The Communist Corresponding Society supported these candidates, and we congratulate them for making a progressive voice heard in the campaign; the results, however, were bitterly disappointing. The small bridgehead that the popular movement had won in parliament (Bethnal Green and Bow, Blaenau Gwent) was swept away, and the overall picture was of a swing from the Left to the Labour Party. People who had switched to the Left over the last thirteen years seem often to have remained angry Labour voters at heart, rather than becoming class-conscious socialist militants; and the threat of a Conservative victory was enough to push many of them back to Labour. The Left did not manage to put forward sufficiently compelling reasons why people should vote for Left-wing candidates. We must all accept some responsibility for this failure.
Whatever the outcome of the election, the consequences would have been largely the same. All three bourgeois parties were always committed to austerity measures; the opposition was always going to be based outside parliament. The challenge that faces us now is to build up a mass extra-parliamentary movement directed not just against the Coalition, but against capitalism, as such.