THE LABOUR PARTY, PARLIAMENTARY DEMOCRACY, AND THE POTENTIAL FOR ALTERNATIVES

by George Laver

There is an ongoing split within the Labour Party, and it is one that will not be able to reconcile itself easily. Two trends have emerged from amongst its ranks. One is keen on maintaining a centralist position, whilst the other is determined to sweep the party further to the left – and therein lies its abject failure. In order to secure itself behind the levers of authority, it will first need to secure a majority within its own ranks and further at the polls. Even within the confines of its own parliamentary rank-and-file, it will necessarily require the submission of opinion to a “general will” of the Party, epitomised in Eagle’s comment that the party must “come together so we [they] can have one candidate”. This is designed to be able to carry it forward for any degree of credibility in the eyes of government supporters, although it loosely translates to a restriction of voice for the sake of a higher count at the ballot box.

How does this correspond to the broader social atmosphere? Well, it reflects the manner in which political parties aim to secure themselves: if it wins power, it is to the detriment of the millions of other voices which have not found themselves expressed, and instead must submit to the will of segment of society. It is another form of tyranny, which wraps itself up in a false legitimacy. Government relies on the presupposition that it can successfully assimilate a broad swathe of opinion into the lowest common denominator to facilitate a party platform, which in turn breeds unhealthy habits. Take, for example, the eventual outburst of rebellious voices. Every community thrives precisely because of its diversities, which is why a belief in the governmental specie is like attempting to attach two magnets at the same pole. It is no secret that contradiction inevitably produces synthesis in like proportion – and it is owing to this formula that political dissidents such as ourselves exist.

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But it is not just the political which must be considered. It is also the economic. The choice between state and private ownership are but two different shades of tyranny: on the one hand, there is compliance with the rules set by the proprietary regime to achieve economic efficiency, which is null by way of the abuses that property sets upon the collective; on the other, there is the assimilation to the state, which necessarily strengthens the pre-existing compact between political and economic despots. Government is notorious for its unaccountable bureaucracy, which is just an extension upon its very nature of being; and, in voting to hand economic privilege over to statesmen, we are merely enabling the thief to change suits. In legislating on welfare and public services, it is merely trying to put a plaster over a gaping wound, which was first caused by the friction of capitalism. In terms of class war, the capitalists have repeatedly sent artillery in our direction, and so we need to defend ourselves however we can. So, in this instance, we are left with the choice of a dispersal of tyranny, or its concentration into a confined, monolithic form. Are there any possible alternatives?

In terms of class war, the capitalists have repeatedly sent artillery in our direction, and so we need to defend ourselves however we can.

There are, and it isn’t even necessarily outright revolution. Although many would agree that a revolution is the only surefooted path left open (and I am one of them), there are alternatives which enable a preparatory stage to a self-governed society. I am speaking of an alternative called “association,” or cooperative labour. After a long while in the dark, the relevance of cooperatives is coming forward again. Although competition with a global capitalist hegemony will create difficulties, we cannot work from the assumption that there exists as yet a dual-power structure; until then, the true impact of cooperative models cannot be measured with a degree of fairness.

However, it is important to consider the success of cooperative economic models already and the implications of such frameworks. First and foremost, there is the principle of associative labour and collective reimbursement for labour time, which instead of being usurped and left unpaid by the proprietor goes directly into the hands of employees. Secondarily to this is the way in which capital is secured to the shop, usually by way of mutual and zero-interest (or, at the very least, low-interest) banking designed to eliminate the proprietary right of increase – or, interest in the name of profit-reaping simply for investment – and something which usually guarantees some security to workers whilst remaining an efficient choice with the current apparatus. Finally, but by no means the least important, are the broader implications of cooperative labour: the way in which it acts a preparatory school for labourers and familiarises them with the idea of associative, mutual-benefit labour within a shop that operates according to equal participation and community decision-making.

In legislating on welfare and public services, it is merely trying to put a plaster over a gaping wound, which was first caused by the friction of capitalism.

I should clarify now that this is not a total saving-grace. There are still many issues to consider and, as always, much to change insofar as the regime is concerned. Questions arise insofar as markets, capital, and even labour itself is concerned. However, my argument here is that the cooperative model is an option that could, in some respect, establish a mode of dual-power within the current society. One of the biggest lies that capitalist sympathisers will tell you is that there is nothing else; on the contrary, there is everything left for us to reclaim. We do not need to rely on the pretended benevolence of politicians to achieve our ends. As radicals, we should be looking for ways in which our constructive work can impact progression around us, and this is one of those models in which there lies great potential to build a new society in the shell of the old.

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