James Marshall of Labour Party Marxists provides a rough guide to the issues and arguments that will dominate the January 30 Zoom conference
Another Labour Left Alliance conference; another massively overloaded agenda. Over the course of four hours (plus half an hour for lunch) we are going to debate the crisis in the Labour Party and decide what to do next. Doable, if the conference had been organised with a view to achieving clarity. Unfortunately that is not the case. The methods of the labour and trade union bureaucracy have been thoroughly internalised.
There is a mixed bag of eight motions – surely in a calculated attempt to dumb down, all limited to a maximum of 350 words, then nudged up to 400, by the LLA’s conference arrangements committee. This was strongly opposed by Labour Party Marxists. There is also the certainty of various amendments (with no word limit).
Movers, seconders, supporters, opposers have all been limited to five- and three-minute contributions. A sure-fire recipe for the adoption of mutually contradictory positions and in all probability utter confusion. Almost guaranteeing that outcome, the organisers insist that it is the conference chair who will choose all speakers bar movers and seconders. LPM is of the view that factions, platforms, local affiliates and other movers should have the right to choose their most competent, their preferred, advocates – basic practice with the best of our tradition (eg, the Bolsheviks). However, we find ourselves in a minority.
Since the launch of the Labour Left Alliance there have been some hugely negative developments. Labour badly lost the 2019 general election, Keir Starmer easily won the Labour leadership and the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt has not only seen Jeremy Corbyn suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party, but scores of Constituency Labour Party chairs and secretaries suspended because they dared defy instructions disallowing any discussion of Corbyn or the Equalities and Human Rights Commission report.
As a result many thousands of members have simply walked. An already weak and politically confused Labour left has been further weakened and further confused. That has – as was bound to be the case – affected LLA too. (Not that LPM has been immune – we have lost as many members as we have gained).
LPM did advocate that the LLA should be founded as an individual-membership organisation – structurally something along the lines of the British Socialist Party, the Fabian Society, the Independent Labour Party or the Socialist League. This proposal was rejected. So was our call for the LLA to commit itself to the perspectives of extreme democracy, of superseding the capitalist system that is threatening to bring about ecological collapse, of working class rule and making the global transition to a classless, moneyless, stateless communism. That would not have saved LLA from the crisis of the Labour left. But politically it would have put us in a far, far stronger position.
Instead, the majority went for a loose, federal structure; a delegate conference, which does not and cannot elect or hold the leadership to account; and lowest-common-denominator politics, which, in truth, amount to bog standard left Labour reformism.
Showing its steep, downward organisational trajectory, the LLA January 30 conference will not consist of delegates. A first. On the contrary, anyone who has signed what amounts to an LLA petition has the right to speak and vote on January 30. No dues paid, no commitments required. And, of course, given the LLA structure, votes are not binding on either the LLA’s organising group (OG) or its steering committee. So January 30 will be a four-hour talking shop … but, yes, okay, it is good to talk.
A quick tour
There are, as already said, eight motions. We shall visit them one by one in the order in which they are due to be debated.
Motion 1.1, ‘The witch-hunt and the Labour Party’, comes with nine signatures: Tina Werkmann, Roger Silverman, Daniel Platts, Pam Bromley, Carol Taylor, Matthew Jones, Ken Syme, Tasib Mughal and Robert Arnott. In essence a steering committee motion.
What should have been a routine, uncontroversial motion, is, unfortunately marred by far too many bungled, misconceived formulations.
Here is the opening paragraph:
The campaign to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn started even before he won the Labour leadership election in 2015. Millions were inspired and over 350,000 leftwingers joined the Labour Party. This posed a real problem for the ruling class – Tony Blair had worked hard to transform the party into a safe ‘second eleven’ that could be trusted to run capitalism.
The campaign against Jeremy Corbyn started even before he won the Labour leadership election in 2015 – that is beyond doubt. But the campaign to “get rid” of Jeremy Corbyn? As what? As a candidate? As an MP? As a living, breathing human being? A quibble, perhaps – but what about: “Tony Blair had worked hard to transform the party into a safe ‘second eleven’ that could be trusted to run capitalism” (my emphasis). This is straight from the ‘reclaim the Labour Party’ narrative of the official Labour left.
Blair certainly “worked hard” to transform the Labour Party into something resembling the old Liberal Party of William Gladstone. In other words, capitalism’s first eleven. But, before him, apart from Keir Hardie, George Lansbury and maybe Michael Foot, every leader of the Labour Party had been a thoroughly trustworthy servant of British capitalism. That is certainly the case with every pre-Blair Labour prime minister: Ramsay MacDonald, Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson and James Callaghan. Capitalism was safe in their hands.
So delete “to get rid of” and replace with “against”. Delete: “Tony Blair had worked hard to transform the party into a safe ‘second eleven’ that could be trusted to run capitalism”. Hopefully such amendments will be accepted with good grace.
Then in the third paragraph we are told this:
The ‘leaked report’ shows that in the process they displayed an inability to recognise real anti-Semitism, while eagerly trying to get rid of activists like Marc Wadsworth, Jackie Walker, Tony Greenstein, Ken Livingstone and Chris Williamson, none of whom can be accused of even a trace of anti-Semitism. This campaign quickly snowballed out of all control. Thousands of members have been thrown to the wolves in the process.
Well, what the ‘leaked report’ showed was not an inability to recognise “real anti-Semitism”. Rather that the Labour Party bureaucracy under general secretary Iain McNicol deliberately sat on what we are told were the few cases of real anti-Semitism, in order to discredit Corbyn and provide media ammunition. As to the idea that the “campaign quickly snowballed out of control”, this is a badly misconceived formulation.
The ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ campaign was and remains an operation run out of the offices of the CIA, MI5, Shin Bet and the London Israeli embassy. The Board of British Deputies, Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, Labour Friends of Israel, Jewish Labour Movement, the baying media, the Labour right – and finally Labour’s governance and legal unit under pro-Corbyn general secretary Jennie Formby – were all considered assets.
The campaign was well planned, well directed and never ran out of control. The aim was always much bigger than the defenestration of one man, Jeremy Corbyn. The aim remains to smother, outlaw, kill criticism of Israel and US-UK wars in the Middle East in ‘defence of Israel’.
So another amendment is needed. Firstly, delete “The ‘leaked report’ shows that in the process they displayed an inability to recognise real anti-Semitism”; replace with “The ‘leaked report’ shows that the Labour Party bureaucracy under Iain McNicol sat on cases of real anti-Semitism.” Also delete “This campaign quickly snowballed out of all control”; replace with a cropped “This campaign quickly snowballed.”
Another mistaken formulation – the idea that Starmer and Evans are trying to “get rid of the entire left” – is dealt with below, in the discussion of motion 2.4. As we shall argue, it is wrong – so another delete.
Finally, the movers of motion 1.1 come to what they call their demands/principles. We read:
In order to avoid making the same mistakes again, we believe the Labour left must learn some lessons and maintain certain demands/principles:
– Appeasement never works.
That is the first of the comrades’ demands/principles.
True, in British history the word ‘appeasement’ is forever associated with the policy of Neville Chamberlain’s government and its Munich Pact with fascist Germany (and Italy), agreed in September 1938. In the name of “peace in our time” Germany was allowed to slice off the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia. The capitalist class, the royal family, the mainstream press, the BBC and most Tory MPs fully supported this attempt to appease the Hitler regime.
But what does ‘appeasement’ mean? The Cambridge dictionary defines appeasement as “the action of satisfying the demands of an aggressive person, country or organisation”. With this in mind, the statement “Appeasement never works” transforms the rejection of what is, what can be a legitimate tactic into a timeless principle. A basic error.
Vladimir Lenin’s celebrated pamphlet ‘Left wing’ communism, an infantile disorder (1920) goes to some lengths to patiently explain to the fledgling communist parties that not only should they participate in reactionary parliaments and trade unions, they should also be prepared to make all manner of concessions, compromises and retreats. Put another way, ‘appeasement’ can be made to work in the interests of the working class and the cause of socialism.
Imagine for a moment being held at knifepoint by some boozed-up loser. Not wanting to get stabbed to death, you appease them. You politely hand over your mobile phone and whatever cash you happen to have on you. It works: thank god the robber staggers off down the road and you live for another day.
Soviet Russia did much the same with the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, the Ottoman empire). Under the terms of the March 1918 Brest-Litovsk treaty huge tracts of territory were surrendered in the name of securing a ‘breathing space for the revolution’. Of course, the cost went far beyond losing land, industry and people. Brest-Litovsk divided the central committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) into three factions and lost them their Left Socialist Revolutionary allies too … and therefore their majority in the soviets. Nevertheless, in my opinion, on balance Leon Trotsky’s decision to throw in his hand with Lenin and sign the Brest-Litovsk treaty was probably the right thing to do.
Corbyn’s appeasement of the Labour right, the Zionist movement, etc, proved an abject failure. That is for sure. Despite that, appeasement should not be rejected as a matter of principle. So delete “Appeasement never works”.
Motion 1.2, ‘Lessons of Corbynism’, comes from LPM and should be read in conjunction with LPM’s ‘Theses on Keir Starmer’s Labour Party’. It should be pointed out that it was LPM which proposed this LLA conference. Against some opposition we won the vote on the LLA’s ‘ruling’ OG.
Our intention was to debate out areas of agreement and disagreement between the various factions, strands and trends. Hence we submitted our hardly overlong ‘Theses’.
Presumably, there are those comrades who fear debating out areas of agreement and disagreement between the various factions, strands and trends. The conference arrangements committee decided to go with neither the word nor the spirit of the OG resolution, but, instead, imposed a bureaucratic 350-word limit on motions and five- and three-minute speaking restrictions.
As a result, the two LPM motions are mere shrunken fragments of what began as a coherent whole. More than a pity. Anyway here is LPM’s first motion:
- Declining capitalism is reaching its ecological limits. The threat of nuclear war is increasing. Lasting, meaningful reforms that benefit the working class can no longer be gained. Reformist programmes of transforming capitalism into socialism through winning a parliamentary majority have been replaced by the ever more hopeless illusion of a nicer, kinder, fairer capitalism. Humanity faces the stark choice posed by Frederick Engels: socialism or barbarism.
- The failures, cowardice and treachery of the official Labour left, its constantly repeated pattern of becoming the official Labour right, must be explained in materialist terms – not put down to individual oddity, personal weakness or some congenital tendency to betray. The official Labour left remains the natural home for many trade union militants, socialist campaigners and those committed to working class liberation. But Labour’s position as the alternative party of capitalist government makes the official Labour left a breeding ground for careerists who, starting with good intentions, slowly or speedily evolve to the right. The way is smoothed by the lure of elected positions, generous expenses, lucrative sinecures, sly backhanders, mixing with the great and good and, eventually, entry into the lower ranks of the bourgeoisie.
- The official Labour left serves to keep hopes alight that the Labour Party can be won for socialism, that the next Labour government will actually introduce socialism. Meanwhile, the right puts forward what is acceptable to the capitalist class and its media, in the name of forming a government that ‘really makes a difference’. So long as the left does not cause too much trouble and the right is firmly in command, there is a symbiotic unity. The official Labour left is useful to the official Labour right because it fosters illusions below and supplies a steady flow of high-profile converts to capitalist realism above.
- Both the official Labour left and the official Labour right share a common sense that politics is about winning elections. Policies are selected which can be sold to the electorate. Ultimately, though, the mainstream media determines what is sensible and what is dismissed as sectarian craziness. Anything that appears to obstruct electoral victory is avoided like the plague. Hence, while the Labour right attempts to restrict and muddy debate, impose bureaucratic controls and sideline awkward minorities, the official Labour left behaves in exactly the same anti-democratic manner.
The importance of agreeing this motion is obvious. Firstly, the official Labour left is engaged in a permanent kabuki dance with the pro-capitalist Labour right. It is no longer even reformist and therefore it is categorically incorrect to describe it as socialist. The LLA must choose between the socialist left (the principal example being LPM itself, of course) and the official left.
Secondly, the struggle for socialism cannot be put off to the far-distant future. It is an urgent necessity. Calls for reforms must be linked to the perspective of socialism.
Thirdly, our movement needs democracy and the fullest debate, as the human being needs food and air. Starved of democracy and the fullest debate, our movement withers and eventually dies.
Here things begin with the motion on trade union work, proposed by 12 comrades: Pam Bromley, Steve McKenzie, Carol Taylor-Spedding, Bob Allen, Vince Williams, Jonathan Cooper, Maggie Gothard, Ross Charnock, Craig Murphy, Peter Grant, Alec Price and Anna Hubbard.
From an LPM viewpoint the motion is motherhood and apple pie. We agree, we agree, we agree. No socialist worthy of the name could disagree. (But would that apply to Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Len McCluskey, Diane Abbott, etc? Hardly.)
Motion 2.1 should quickly be voted through. There ought to be unanimity.
By contrast, 2.2. is a confused mess. The motion in support of proportional representation is put forward by Andrea Grainger, Liv Singh, Chris Donovan, Shiraz Hussain, Richard Crawford, Reuben Ramsay, John Bernard, Barry West, Jon de Rennes, Graham Burnby-Crouch and Jenny Almeida.
Things begin badly, when the motion states: “That the UK, Belarus, USA and Canada are the only western democracies to not have a form of proportional election system.” Well, it is good to know that Belarus counts as a ‘western democracy’. A sloppy formulation then.
As for the UK, USA and Canada, they can only be called democracies with some very considerable reservations. ‘United Kingdom’ should give the game away: monarchy and democracy are opposite principles. Nor can the House of Lords, the established Church of England, the standing army, MI5, corporate domination of the media, etc be called democratic. As for the US, it is at best a semi-democracy. We have certainly seen over recent months how an indirectly elected president, the Senate, the Supreme Court and state rights are used as checks and balances against democracy. The founding fathers wanted an oligarchic republic with the least democracy they could get away with.
Of course, LPM does not object to PR. Quite the reverse. But the motion is too muddled, too overegged: ie, “That our electoral system forces all far-left, leftwing and centre-left activists into one party, which inevitably leads to massive internal party conflict and division, which damages morale, demotivates activists and weakens our movement.” It is hardly the situation that “all” far-left organisations are ensconced in the Labour Party. Nor is it necessarily the case that “internal party conflict and division … damages morale, demotivates activists and weakens our movement”. It can be the exact reverse.
It might be worth voting for the motion simply because of its call for the LLA to “apply to join the Labour for a New Democracy group, which is bringing together different pro-PR groups in the party” – a motley collection of Labour centrists and official lefts. It would be interesting to see whether or not the LLA would be made welcome as an affiliate. But, no, while it is a good idea for the LLA to “publicly endorse PR”, it is delusional to imagine that PR is “a progressive solution to problems in the British left.”
The comrades cannot see beyond narrow electoralism.
‘Republican Labour and the LLA’ (2.3) is proposed by Robin O’Neill, Peter Morton, Steve Freeman, Ken Syme, Tina Werkmann, Paul Collins, Leigh Bacon, Carol Taylor-Spedding, Lewis Nesbitt, John Henry, Larry Hyatt, John Beeching, Dave Hill and Kevin Ware.
Here we have a factional declaration … and there is nothing wrong with that. It is, though, an opportunist attempt by Steve Freeman, the main author, to hitch the “driving force in the struggle for socialism” to the ideas of Keir Hardie and Tony Benn. We are told that Republican Labour “has its origins in the ideas of Keir Hardie and developed more fully by Tony Benn, with reference to, for example, the struggles of the Levellers, Chartists and suffragettes”.
Well, maybe some of the comrades are old-time Bennites. Others – most – are attempting to dress their republicanism in the sheep’s clothing of Bennism in order to make it acceptable to the “mainstream consciousness of the Labour left”. As a marketing device, doubtless clever, but surely it falls into the category of ‘false advertising’ – after all, it attempts to conceal the motion’s factional origins. But, perhaps I am being unfair, perhaps the comrades have undergone a latter-day conversion, perhaps they now count as true Bennites.
Anyhow, in May 1991 the right honourable Anthony Wedgewood Benn presented his Commonwealth of Britain Bill to the House of Commons as an early day motion (the movers have the year wrong).2 Inevitably, it sank without trace. Nonetheless, Benn bravely proposed to replace the monarch with a president, devolve powers to Scotland, Wales and the English regions, replace the House of Lords with a House of the People with equal quotas of men and women, separate church and state, etc.
Whatever our particular criticisms, it is clear that Benn had undergone an unusual journey from right to left, instead of the usual left to right. In 1964 he was the technocratic postmaster general in Harold Wilson’s first Labour government. By the 1980s he was the established leader of the Labour left … and still moving to the left.
However, just like his hero, Keir Hardie, Benn was a committed Christian: my “political commitment owes much more to the teachings of Jesus – without the mysteries within which they are presented – than to the writings of Marx whose analysis seems to lack an understanding of the deeper needs of humanity”.
And Benn remained firmly within the frame of left reformism: he was a “quintessential House of Commons man”, not a revolutionary. His republicanism was correspondingly a reformist republicanism. Something fully in line with his Christian, ethical and national socialism.
According to Benn, Britain became a colony when it joined the Common Market on January 1 1973. He even described Britain “the last colony of the British empire” and called for a “national liberation struggle” to free the country from the “embryonic western European superstate”.
The LLA ought to commit itself to militant republicanism. That would be a big step forward. But we should have as our foundations not the muddled ideas of Hardie and Benn, rather we need the scientific clarity of Marx and Engels.
Nonetheless, LPM welcomes the call for LLA to “set up a working group to examine how we can and should give more emphasis to democratic republican issues in theory, policy and practice and invite contributions from all sections of the Alliance.”
We would also vote for this: “1. The working group will circulate a report within two months for further discussion and policy decision-making at a future meeting”; and “2. One or more educational meetings will be organised on the theme of republicanism and its relationship to socialism” … if they were presented separately. But we cannot vote for the Hardie-Benn rubbish.
Motion 2.4. ‘Building a socialist alternative inside and outside the Labour Party’ is crass, reductive and frankly politically worthless. Sponsored by Matthew Jones, Tina Werkmann, Roger Silverman, Ken Syme, Sandy McBurney, Tasib Mughal and Pam Bromley, it is in essence based on this contention:
We have to understand the attack on party democracy and the membership structure of the Labour Party (LP) as part of a wider trend of attacks on democratic rights by the ruling class on a world scale. The depth and acute nature of the economic and social crisis of capitalism – given another twist by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic – has meant the ruling class has had to resort to increasingly autocratic methods, as social inequality has increased to grotesque levels. The LP cannot afford membership democracy when its leadership and elected representatives are being instructed to take responsibility for increasingly savage measures against the working class.
Doubtless, democratic rights are under attack. But the blunt conclusion that the Labour Party “cannot afford membership democracy” because of austerity is vastly overstated.
Remember, individual membership was introduced in 1918, towards the end of World War I. Capitalism was mired in horrendous slaughter, the economy had been largely militarised, young men forcibly conscripted and strikes outlawed. Yet individual membership went hand in hand with Sydney Webb’s Fabian clause four. Both a step forward and a means of exerting control over an increasingly restive and increasingly militant rank and file. The Labour leadership could not afford not to give “membership” and “membership democracy”. Nor could they afford not to give that membership a binding rule-book commitment to ‘socialism’.
Similar observations can be made about 1917 Russia … but in spades. Acute economic, military and political crisis triggered a popular revolution and far reaching concessions by the bourgeoisie, from the Provisional government down to the factory floor. There were soviet elections, local government elections, the election of officers, the election of managers. And everywhere there was debate, debate, debate. There is, in other words, no one-way line of development.
Throughout the 1920s the right sought to wreck and undermine the Labour Party as a united front of the working class. Most members of the newly formed Communist Party in 1920 came from the affiliated British Socialist Party. Many BSP members were already individual Labour Party members. Like those of the Fabian Society and the ILP, they were dual members. Despite that, the CPGB affiliation applications were turned down one after another. The right wanted to halt the Bolshevik contagion.
With that in mind, a concerted witch-hunt was launched. CPGB members were barred from standing as Labour candidates; constituency parties that stood or supported communist candidates were closed down. CPGB members were then purged; CLPs who resisted were closed down. It went on and on throughout the 1920s and happened again in the mid- to late 1930s. On a smaller scale, there was the purge of the Bevanites in the 1950s, the Healyites in the 1960s and Militant in the 1980s.
So attacks on the democratic rights of the rank and file amount to an almost a permanent feature of Labour Party politics. However, there have also been advances: eg, mandatory reselection in the 1980s. Certainly, to primarily explain present-day attacks with reference to the “economic and social crisis” and Covid-19 is reductive in the extreme.
After all, the main explanation of today’s witch-hunt surely lies in the realm of international and national politics – specifically (a) Israel and the UK alliance with US imperialism, and (b) the election of Corbyn. The same goes for Tony Blair’s attacks. It was politics that drove him and his cronies to undermine conference and roll back the gains of the 1980s. Only in the last analysis does economics come into it.
Hence, this claim is equally dubious:
That the degree of economic, social and political crisis of capitalism means that democracy and free speech are increasingly being closed down, including in political parties.
That the intention of the Starmer/Evans leadership is to drive out the left from the LP and largely destroy the membership structures and democratic mechanisms of the LP. This is effectively a means of splitting the LP.
There is no one-to-one correspondence between attacks on democratic rights, including free speech, and the “economic, social and political crisis of capitalism”. Things, as already argued, can work in the opposite direction.
What was Corbyn’s leadership election victory caused by? Not just the accident of the “morons” – the Labour MPs who ‘lent’ him their votes in the nomination process. No, there existed mass anger with Blair’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, mass anger with David Cameron’s austerity, mass anger against Lib Dem lies over student fees. Hence, once Corbyn made it over the nomination threshold, there was a sudden mass surge into the Labour Party. Discontent found a focus, a means of expression. No matter how raw, no matter how volatile, no matter how diffuse, a real movement of the working class.
As for the proposition that “the intention of the Starmer/Evans leadership is to drive out the left from the LP”, this is probably a considerable over-dramatisation. The Labour Party needs votes, needs local fixers and movers, needs functionaries and a career ladder that turns student union activists into government ministers. It also needs an official left which can inspire, spread illusions and supply its own quota of popular (especially amongst the rank and file) councillors, MPs and ministers.
What is going on today is an attempt to tame, whip into line, the official Labour left. But is this “effectively a means of splitting the LP”? Unlikely. Is it about destroying the “membership structures and democratic mechanisms of the LP”? Again, unlikely.
Anyone who knows the Labour Party at a constituency level must be aware of the considerable layer of active members on the centre and right. Some are councillors, some are friends of councillors, some want to become councillors. They will also know that there is a steady process whereby yesterday’s leftwing firebrand becomes today’s safe realist (eg: Jon Lansman, Owen Jones, Paul Mason).
As for Labour Party democracy, well, it would be a good idea. Remember, the election of the leader by the rank and file was an initiative of the right. In the name of extending democracy, the Collins review was meant to give power to The Sun, the Mirror, The Guardian to choose the Labour leader. That backfired with Corbyn, but worked a treat with Starmer. Meanwhile, the reality is that the Parliamentary Labour Party is to all intents and purposes autonomous. MPs are not servants of the labour movement. The leader can afford to ignore conference, the NEC and CLPs. Labour prime ministers have certainly done that time and time again.
Tens of thousands of leftish members – mostly muddled, confused and unorganised – will leave. But they constitute a formless, disparate mass, not a ready-made organisation. To think otherwise is illusory.
The comrades say the LLA should “promote by all means the self-organisation of the left inside and outside the LP”. Sounds very militant, very Malcolm X-ish. But concretely all they can offer is the mouse of the Labour in Exile Network. An organisation of experienced, committed, Labourites. Technically these exiles are outside the Labour Party, true, but they hardly constitute a “socialist alternative”.
In fact, the comrades deliberately leave their “socialist alternative” vague. Do they want a properly reformist Labour Party, a Marxist-led Labour Party, a Marxist party which can lead the Labour Party, but does not rely on the Labour Party?
Keeping quiet on such vital questions constitutes an opportunist fudge.
So, although we like the suggestion of promoting “the discussion of political theory and which lessons we need to learn from the Corbyn leadership of the LP”, what the comrades have to say amounts to diddly squat.
‘Transforming Labour requires a Marxist Party’ (2.5) can speak for itself:
- The Labour Party, as presently constituted, is not a “true mass organisation of the working class”. Doubtless, Labour still has a mass membership and relies on trade union finances and working class voters. But, in the last analysis, what decides the class character of a political party is its leadership and its programme. The election of Corbyn as leader did not produce fundamental change in the party. Neither the 2017 nor 2019 election manifestos questioned the monarchical constitution, judge-made law, the US-dominated international order or the system of wage-slavery. So, even under Corbyn, Labour was neither a democratic nor a socialist party. It was, and remains, a bourgeois workers’ party, objectively serving as one of capitalism’s many defensive walls. Indeed, Corbyn and Corbynism acted to divert mass discontent away from what is objectively needed – the urgent superseding of capitalism.
- We must draw the sharpest line of demarcation between the socialist left and the official Labour left. The socialist left must stand for extreme democracy – the only realistic road to socialism. There should, therefore, be no falling into line with nor reliance on ministerial or shadow-ministerial ‘socialists’: ie, those who, in pursuit of their pathetic, middle class careers, sit in a capitalist or shadow-capitalist government. No-one who calls themselves a socialist should sit in a capitalist or a shadow-capitalist government. No socialist should call for ‘socialist’ representation in, or reinstatement to, a capitalist government or shadow-capitalist government. Those who do so betray the cause of socialism.
- Despite the failure of Corbyn and the election of Starmer, we remain committed to struggle for the complete transformation of the Labour Party, forging it into a permanent united front of the working class and equipping it with solid Marxist principles and a tried and tested Marxist leadership.
- However, transforming Labour can only be realised if socialists are organised in a mass Marxist party: a party that can operate within Labour, if necessary despite the rules; a party which seeks to transform Labour, but whose strategy for achieving socialism does not rely on Labour. The creation of a mass Marxist party is therefore our central objective. Without such a party, we are doomed to continue to suffer one Sisyphean defeat after another.
Despite the limitations of January 30 we can still say this:
Alone LPM wants to bring to the fore the ecological crisis. Alone LPM champions socialism and the transition to a stateless, moneyless, classless communism as the only feasible answer. Alone LPM champions revolutionary republicanism. Alone LPM sees the necessity of distinguishing between the official left – from Keir Hardie to Jeremy Corbyn – and the principled, socialist left. Alone LPM is committed to a mass, democratic and centralist party that can re-establish the Labour Party as a united front of the working class. Alone LPM fights against so-called socialists sitting in capitalist or shadow capitalist governments. Alone LPM disdains to conceal its views and aims. Alone LPM declares that its ends can only be achieved through the revolutionary overthrow of all existing social conditions.
2.6, ‘The way forward (for the LLA)’, is drafted by Daniel Platts and comes under the name of Rotherham Labour Left. Politically, however, the inspiration clearly comes from the International Marxist Tendency (Socialist Appeal): ie, the minority rump of Militant Tendency.
It is good, despite the reluctance, that the comrades have presented a contribution – it will hopefully help to sharpen debate.
If it wanted, Socialist Appeal could easily dominate LLA. All it would take is sending in some 80 or 90 trained or half-trained cadre. But, of course, that would mean arguing things out with real Marxists. A risk the IMT dares not take.
The SA motion contains some useful tactical suggestions. Instead of a direct confrontation with the Starmer/Evans regime, go for CLP motions of no-confidence in Starmer, call for rule changes to allow a challenge to Starmer, a special conference, etc. Not that any of that will happen, but it avoids the head-on confrontational politics that has seen so many CLP chairs and secretaries suspended in what amounts to individual acts of political suicide. SA leader Alan Woods is far from stupid.
But what distinguishes the SA/Rotherham motion are its commitments to clause-four socialism and to staying in the Labour Party no matter what – a strategic conception that has its origins with Michel Pablo (Michel Raptis), secretary of the so-called Fourth International (1943-61), and the chameleon politics of deep entryism.
One would guess that, if it had been around in 1920, SA would have opposed the formation of the CPGB. If not, after the first, second or third affiliation attempt had been defeated, they would have advocated CPGB liquidation for a bottom-living existence confined to Labour Party committee rooms and narrow trade unionism.
SA inexcusably, dishonestly, pictures Corbyn as “a socialist” and the Corbyn influx into Labour as showing the “popularity of socialist ideas”. More to the point, SA is tied hand and foot to remaining in the Labour Party. Hence Rotherham’s point 8: “Keep organising in the Labour Party; avoid support for ‘competitors’ to avoid being ineligible for membership.”
While IMT is a typical oil-slick international, it wants to steer clear, avoid the danger of coming to the attention of, falling foul of, being targeted by the labour bureaucracy. Sadly, that amounts to the politics of surrender.