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Eyes Left No ceasefire, no vote

In light of the mass movement in solidarity with Gaza, there is a simple metric to assess whether a Labour candidate deserves your support on July 4, explains ANDREW MURRAY

“NO ceasefire, no vote” has been probably the most powerful slogan to emerge from the mass movement of solidarity with the Palestinian people.

That movement is itself the most important factor in progressive British politics today. Its significance may come to outweigh any likely outcome of the general election.

Its main fighting slogan expresses the connection between the mass opposition to Israeli genocide and the role of British politicians in enabling it. It seeks to hold the imperialist Establishment to account.

Throughout the eight months or so since it was first raised, it has secured vast approbation at national demonstrations and meetings across the country alike.

Unsurprisingly, almost no force on the left has seriously challenged it or suggested that the movement take a more “nuanced” approach to electoral tactics.

Until, of course, it actually becomes a concrete question at the head of the immediate agenda. Now we find that is in practice negated on two sides, by both sectarians and opportunists, the ever-familiar Scylla and Charybdis of Marxist politics.

Take first the ultra-left problem, those who in effect argue for “ceasefire, but still no vote.” This position holds that no-one concerned about Gaza should vote for any Labour candidates whatsoever, no matter how volubly they have stood up for the Palestinian people.

So, no vote for Zarah Sultana, Richard Burgon, Andy McDonald or Apsana Begum, to name but four.

The logic here is that any Labour MP will form part of a majority sustaining a Keir Starmer government, which itself will offer no relief to the Palestinian people and will be headed by an outspoken supporter of Israel’s actions.

But this is flawed reasoning. The brutal fact is that it is not possible in this election to vote in an anti-imperialist government. That option does not exist — and pretending otherwise is fanciful.

Under those circumstances, it is vital that as many strong voices of opposition to imperialism, war and genocide are nevertheless heard in Parliament. That means voting for candidates who have expressed the demands of the movement.

Where there is more than one such candidate in a particular constituency, then vote for the one best placed.

Evidently, that will be the sitting Labour MP when he or she broke the Labour whip to vote for a ceasefire last November, have spoken out against arms sales to Israel, have backed recognition of a Palestinian state and have vocally opposed Israeli aggression and British state indulgence of it.

Whose interests would be served if Sultana, for example, were to be defeated? Failing to vote for her en masse would not elect a more pro-Gaza candidate, if such were possible, but likely enable the triumph of a more pro-Israeli politician. Would her downfall be cheered in Palestine?

One does not need to believe that Keir Starmer would be a better premier, in general or on the Palestinian issue, than Rishi Sunak. It is only necessary to recognise that keeping anti-imperialist voices in the Commons is vital, and that punishing politicians who have supported every impulse of the mass movement makes no sense whatsoever.

Then there is the position of the opportunists, who argue in effect for “No ceasefire, but vote anyway.”

This asserts that we need a Labour government, which therefore means voting for Labour MPs by and large regardless of their record on Gaza.

There may be caveats and particular exceptions, but it is essentially held to be acceptable to vote for most of those Labour MPs who voted against a ceasefire in November and subsequently, until told by Washington that it was OK to pose for peace.

This applies also to the array of Starmeroid candidates in safe seats who will shortly be Commons voting fodder.

The critical importance of support for Palestine and opposition to genocide is thus degraded as an issue. A benchmark of internationalism is subordinated to domestic political strategies, a perennial hallmark of opportunism.

In its more elaborate variations, this argument does not hinge on any great expectations regarding what a Starmer government might or might not do. Its nullities are conceded upfront.

No, there is the belief that under Labour the conduct of the class struggle may go more merrily, and installing Starmer in No 10 will raise the morale and expectations of the masses.

This is a tenacious argument in spite of its lack of historical foundation. The election of a Labour government — it has happened four times since the war — has never led to an upsurge of mass struggle.

To review each would be onerous here, but 1974 is a particularly clear example, when Harold Wilson’s return to office was designed to, and actually did, divert and divide the mass working-class action against Edward Heath’s Tories and, through the social contract and incomes policies, demobilise the class struggle.

Of course, to point out that something has never happened is not the same as asserting it never could. Would a Labour victory on July 4 be different?

Here one should consider the actual movements in play. There are two. The great strike wave of 2022 has generally abated and Labour ministers will probably move to extinguish it altogether through limited concessions.

Trade unions, far from raising their sights under Labour governments, tend more to be grateful for whatever they are given. There may be welcome exceptions, but generally, unions have acquiesced in Labour’s abandonment of radical policy commitments and generally give higher priority to seeing the back of the Tories than fighting for socialism.

As for the great Gaza solidarity movement, the issue is still clearer. Voting for Labour candidates that have openly supported genocide will not assist that movement, but risks demoralising it. It relegates the choice last November — to back a ceasefire or not — to a second-order consideration, just as the ultra left does.

Historically, one could justify supporting Labour on other grounds — the promise of progressive reforms, its trade union base — and weigh those against its inveterate imperialism and conciliation of the bourgeoisie.

Those considerations cannot be dismissed, but their balance is clearly different today than it was 40 or 50 years ago, and not in a positive way. Anyway, this is not the argument made now.

The key question is the interplay of mass politics and electoral campaigns. Most on the left would assign priority to the former in terms of changing society and the world.

But merely ranking them in that order says nothing. The crucial dialectic is how mass politics condition and shape electoral interventions, and how the latter articulates the dynamics of the former and carries them forward.

Sometimes that connection is attenuated. There may be no mass struggles of significance, leaving the politicians free to ply their trade unconstrained by the streets. Think 1997.

Today, the largest possible vote for pro-Gaza candidates is the expression of mass politics on July 4. Mutely re-electing genocidaires with a pinkish rosette is not.

This is a teachable moment on the nature of social democracy. There is a huge and sustained movement of solidarity with the oppressed, a movement for peace, democracy and equality, that has turned its cutting edge of anger at British politicians complicit in a historic crime.

Many of them are Labour, whose betrayal is acutely felt in communities which have long given them support.

To vote for any such, on any grounds of sophistry, undermines not only the Palestinian people by dismissing their struggle to the periphery but also the most serious movement for change in Britain today.

Stand with Palestine. No ceasefire, no vote.

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