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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

Reinforcing reaction: Quislings Starmer and Singh the progressive label on the capitalist boot

Updated: Apr 5, 2023

In a telling social democratic turn of events, after rather shamefully leading Finland away from its post-WWII neutrality -- which flowed out of Finland's participation in the genocidal Nazi invasion of the USSR in 1941 including the Siege of Leningrad which killed around a million people, mostly civilians -- by joining NATO, Finnish Social Democratic prime minister, Sanna Marin still came behind both the country's mainstream conservative party and its neo-fascist far right party in the election on Sunday, April 2. Ironically this was just as the bid to join the NATO alliance was completed.

Notably the Finnish Green League and so-called "far left" party the Left Alliance who were in coalition with the Social Democrats -- and neither of which opposed the move to join NATO --lost ground in the elections. While the Social Democrats placed third they still picked up 3 seats. The Green League and Left Alliance lost 7 and 5 respectively seeing their parliamentary presences seriously reduced.

It would appear pandering to and furthering western imperialist war narratives and alliances may not have had the intended or hoped for electoral effect.

But then, historically, such moves by mainstream social democratic and left social democratic parties seldom have. This has not prevented these parties from continuing to behave this way even as the west lurches further and further to the right and even as far right ideas become increasingly mainstream.

There are no shortage of examples from which to chose where social democrats have played this game to very negative effect. The Danish Social Democrats literally coopted fascist polices to such a degree that Foreign Policy magazine could publish a piece entitled In Denmark, the Left Has Adopted the Far-Right’s Immigration Wishlist in 2021. They succeeded in staying in "power" after the 2022 elections but they did so in part by taking the country exactly where the extreme right would have anyway which is, frankly, morally bankrupt never mind ultimately deeply dangerous.

One could go on but here I will focus on the two present egregious cases of capitalist quislings Keir Starmer and Canada's Jagmeet Singh. In slightly different ways and contexts they are doing their very best to act as the "progressive" patch on the capitalist boot providing ideological cover for the generational austerity and neo-liberal fundamentalist fait accompli socio-economic shift in both countries.

In the UK Starmer has stage-by-stage increased his attacks on the once triumphant Labour left that had grown dramatically after the surprise victory of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party in 2015. He has done so to such a degree that he has now managed to block Corbyn from even running for the party again. Starmer and his allies claim this is due to the fact that Corbyn led them to an allegedly historic defeat in 2019. The line is obvious nonsense given, as the UK communist paper the Morning Star noted, "that Corbyn also led the party to its biggest increase in vote share in 70 years two years earlier..." and that "while admittedly disastrous, the 2019 election still saw Labour receive a bigger share of the vote than under Ed Miliband in 2015, or under Gordon Brown in 2010." Neither Miliband nor Brown, of course, were ever barred from running for the party.

The real reason behind the move is clear to everyone. As Counterfire put it "Keir Starmer is determined to drive the politics that Corbyn represents out of the Labour Party...It is Starmer telling the political establishment, and members of his party too, that the interests of capital will reign supreme under a future Labour government."

There is definitely a very harsh lesson to be learned for leftists seeking to work within existing labour and social democratic parties and structures from how Starmer lied and conned his way into the leadership guised in a cloak of "unity" only to launch wave after wave of assaults on the Labour left which has increasingly meekly retreated each time. He has done so while making his utter subservience to capital, big business and imperialism more than clear.

From his shocking attempt to prevent "labour" MPs from supporting actual labourers on picket lines as the UK has seen rising levels of strikes in an environment of new worker militancy and unrest due to the cost of living crisis, to his fulsome embrace of western reactionary foreign policy and militarist narratives (he has outright said that any Labour MPs opposing NATO will be kicked out of the party), to his sniveling appearance at Davos, Starmer's agenda is proudly pronounced in its hard bank to the right versus Corbyn.

He went to Davos to tell the global finance bigwigs in attendance that a Labour led UK would be "open for business" and in doing so further reassured his domestic capitalist class that he would be there for them too. While it certainly represents a terrible shift from Corbyn's tenure, Starmer is less a break and more a reversion to Labour-social democratic norms in the UK (and the west more broadly) where social democratic leaders have played this game for a very long time and without fail have shifted right as the society around them did enabling the shifting in a kind of awful pas de deux.

Corbyn has said that he will not give up the fight:

Momentum, however, is entirely on Starmer's side. While Corbyn and his allies could have and should have read the writing on the wall and acted sooner to launch a new leftist electoral project in the UK, now they are simply reeling and utterly lacking a coherent strategy of any kind to push back.

Starmer's actions in service of the capitalist class and its political needs could not possibly have been more direct. He has ended and completely defeated the only serious electoral challenge to neo-liberal austerity ideological hegemony in the UK in a generation and he did so entirely from within.

Jagmeet Singh did not need to recapture Canada's New Democratic Party (NDP) from the left at all. He has perfectly continued to lead it along its essentially driftless course while acting in Canada's latest parliament as a toothless, powerless and impotent junior partner in a de facto

Singh and the federal NDP represent what I would call the Walmartization of Canadian social democracy. Instead of developing a serious ideological alternative to neo-liberalism, let alone capitalism, they focus on the rubbish and reactionary line of "making life more affordable" for people as if they could somehow be a government of perpetual cost rollbacks in the unlikely event they were to ever win an election.

Even when they allegedly push for positive steps such as greater dental care coverage -- which is not to be universal but rather means-tested -- or pharmacare they do so within this ideological framework actually labeling them as "affordability" issues in their platform as opposed to human rights issues.

The reason I say "allegedly push" is the ongoing farce of the party claiming to be fighting for these things while keeping a government in power that will not implement them in any serious way, especially in the case of pharmacare.

When they say in their platform that "Trudeau has broken his promise of universal pharmacare. Only the NDP will deliver comprehensive drug coverage for everyone" they conveniently leave out the part about how they are propping Trudeau up. The absurdity of their constant line equating the Liberals and Conservatives in juxtaposition to themselves is transparent in this context, not that this prevents them from engaging in this mental pretzeling stupidity repeatedly playing perhaps at keeping their most delusional supporters on board despite being in bed with the hated Liberals.

In Canada federally Singh does not face anything remotely like a real, mass and meaningful left within the NDP or outside it. Any overtly left formations within the NDP are totally marginalized and irrelevant while much of the left outside of the NDP has adopted a conveniently useless non-strategy of going on about "social movements" in a way that abandons the electoral field altogether. In doing so they act, intentionally or otherwise, as sheepdogging gatekeepers for the party as what they are basically saying is that there is no point in building anything left-wing or anti-capitalist electorally at all. This ends by default leaving the NDP the only game in town. It is absurd for any serious leftist or Marxist to think that a coherent, anti-capitalist mass left movement can arise to actually challenge the power of the capitalist class without a mass electoral vehicle of some kind attached to it even if the goal of that vehicle is not necessarily to win bourgeois elections per se. It is like dreaming of a future Bolshevik style revolution but without a Bolshevik style party to get us there or seize the moment should it arise.

Both Starmer and Singh are playing their roles propping up the system in service of reactionary stability at a time of rising mass disenchantment with the political and capitalist status quo. By totally embracing and reinforcing the ideological and political underpinnings of the neo-liberal order as well as capitalism as a system they are ceding the ground very dangerously to the far right and far right ideas which many are turning to as the seemingly only real "alternative" to a crushingly oppressive and cruel day-to-day reality.

When social democrats overtly and aggressively embrace "open for business" ideas and policies while viciously fixating on attacking their left flank as Starmer is doing now or engage in the kind of Walmartization of "progressive" policy and overt hypocrisy vis-à-vis Canada's Liberal government as Singh and the NDP do, they disenfranchise by narrowing the space open to people for meaningful change. As played out in the US in 2016 with the election of Trump and has historically in many other cases, this sense of disenfranchisement and powerlessness all-too-often becomes a catalyst for rising fascism and the alarming fictions it uses to channel and harness mass anger and disempowerment.


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