Category Archives: Conference 2019

Out with the new, in with the old

David Sherriff says that, while it is right to vote for the old Fabian clause, the task of Marxists must be to win the Labour Party to Marxist socialism

Clause four – rewritten under Tony Blair in 1995 – carries a totemic status for partisans both of the right and left. But while it is correct to support the rule change proposed by Rochford, Southend East, Doncaster Central and Wallasey (which would reinstate the old Fabian 1918 clause four), we need to be far bolder, far more radical about our vision for the future.

Strangely the moving spirit behind the restoration of the old clause four is Socialist Appeal, the British section of the International Marxist Tendency. Its Labour4Clause4 campaign has garnered support from the likes of Ken Loach, the leftwing film director and MPs Karen Lee, Dennis Skinner, Ian Mearns, Chris Williamson, Dan Carden and Ronnie Campbell. Alongside them there are like-minded trade union leaders such as Steve Gillan of the POA, Ian Hodson and Ronnie Draper of the bakers’ union, and Mick Cash and Steve Hedley of RMT.

A bit of history

Our February 1918 conference agreed a new constitution. Clause four (objects) committed the Labour Party to these aims (subsequently amended in 1959):

  1. To organise and maintain in parliament and in the country a political Labour Party.
  2. To cooperate with the general council of the Trades Union Congress, or other kindred organisations, in joint political or other action in harmony with the party constitution and standing orders.
  3. To give effect as far as possible to the principles from time to time approved by the party conference.
  4. To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.
  5. Generally to promote the political, social and economic emancipation of the people, and more particularly of those who depend directly upon their own exertions by hand or by brain for the means of life.
  6. To cooperate with the labour and socialist organisations in the commonwealth overseas with a view to promoting the purposes of the party, and to take common action for the promotion of a higher standard of social and economic life for the working population of the respective countries.
  7. To cooperate with the labour and socialist organisations in other countries and to support the United Nations and its various agencies and other international organisations for the promotion of peace, the adjustment and settlement of international disputes by conciliation or judicial arbitration, the establishment and defence of human rights, and the improvement of the social and economic standards and conditions of work of the people of the world.

These formulations – crucially the fourth – are too often celebrated as being a defining socialist moment. Yet, when first mooted in November 1917 – amidst the slaughter of inter-imperialist war – Sidney Webb, its principle author, Fabian guru and social climber – had no thought, no wish, no intention of promoting genuine socialism. Parliament, the courts, enlightened civil servants and the liberal intelligentsia provided his road to a reformed British empire. Webb wanted a government of magnanimous experts whose decisions would be no more than ratified in elections: even referendums were ruled out as impeding the will of the educated elite.

Top leaders of the Fabian Society – eg, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Annie Besant, Sydney Olivier, HG Wells and George Bernard Shaw – considered themselves social engineers of the highest order, intellectual princes, prophets of the future. The role of these ever so clever people was to slowly, patiently, courteously persuade the great and the good of the benefits of ‘socialism’ … hence their organisation’s chosen name (taken from Quintus Fabius, the Roman general who avoided pitched battles with Hannibal’s superior Carthaginian army and instead pursued a strategy of attrition).

No surprise, Marxists have long considered Fabianism to be the crassest expression of opportunism. Fredrick Engels showed particular contempt for this “well-meaning gang of eddicated middle class folk.”[1] True, he credited them with enough wit to realise the “inevitability of the social revolution.” But the Fabians could not possibly entrust this “gigantic task to the raw proletariat alone.” Engels concluded that “[f]ear of revolution is their guiding principle.[2]

The real class war was denounced by the Fabian ladies and gentlemen. The underlying social contradiction in society, according to them, was not between labour and capital, but the idle rich and the industrious masses … of all classes. Managers and entrepreneurs provide an invaluable service to society. As long as they honestly paid their taxes, fat profits and fat salaries are fully justified. In other words original Fabianism amounted to nothing more than a form of bourgeois socialism.

The Fabian Society was not only elitist. Their leaders were thorough-going eugenicists too. Friedrich Nietzsche provided a warped inspiration. HG Wells urged the death penalty for those suffering from “genetically transferable diseases”. Defective men, women and children were to be dealt with by the means of a “lethal chamber”.[3]

As for the “swarms of black, and brown, and dirty white and yellow people” who did not match his criteria of intelligence and efficiency: “they will have to go”. It is their “portion to die out and disappear”.[4] With that noble end in mind Shaw demanded that “[e]xtermnation must be put on a scientific basis if it is ever to be carried out humanely and apologetically and well as thoroughly”.[5] Meanwhile, the working class was to be lifted out of their ignorance. The more stubborn sections herded into “human sorting houses” to be trained for work. Those who refused would be packed off to semi-penal detention colonies.

The Fabians were committed pro-imperialists too. According to their Fabianism and empire (1900) tract, Britain needed to get its fair share of the spoils from the division of the world:

The partition of the greater part of the globe among such [great] powers is, as a matter of fact that must be faced, approvingly or deploringly, now only a question of time; and whether England [sic] is to be the centre and nucleus of one of those great powers of the future, or to be cast off by its colonies, ousted from its provinces, and reduced to its old island status, will depend on the ability with which the empire is governed as a whole, and the freedom of its governments and its officials from complicity in private financial interests and from the passions of the newspaper correspondents who describe our enemies as ‘beasts.’[6]

Fabian socialism valued politeness and good manners on all occasions, even in the midst of a voracious imperialist war of conquest. Over the years 1899-1902, as good patriots, the Fabians backed Britain’s war against the Boer republics: the “native races” must be “protected despotically by the empire or abandoned to slavery and extermination.”[7]

The British empire was portrayed as a benevolent bringer of democracy to the white dominions and a saviour of the ‘lower breeds’. The best interests of ‘black, brown and yellow’ peoples lay in being ruled over by young men fresh out from Britain’s public schools. Under their guiding hand they would eventually be led to “adulthood.”[8]

Interestingly, as an aside, the Fabians thought that the South African war demonstrated the “superiority of a militia” system over the professional army.[9] An idea that much of the contemporary left refuses even to contemplate.

Naturally, come the 1914-18 great war, the Fabians did their best to serve the imperial cause. Europe had to be saved from the Junkers and Prussian militarism.

However, as the war dragged on and the corpses piled up, any initial popular enthusiasm turned into discontent. The February 1917 revolution in Russia galvanised the hopes of many. Workers, including those in the munitions industry, took strike action. Demands for a negotiated peace grew and amongst sections of the ruling class there were serious worries that Britain stood on the edge of revolution. Reports came of mutinies in army base camps and the killing of military policemen. June 1917 saw a big labour movement conference in Leeds. Famously delegates called for a national network of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Soviets on the model of Russia. Then came the October Revolution which shook the whole capitalist world to its very foundations. Bourgeois politicians rushed to make concessions. Hence, Sidney Webb and the drafting of clause four.

By cynical calculation he had three goals in mind.

Firstly, his clause four socialism could be used to divert the considerable rank-and-file sympathy that existed for the Russian Revolution into safe, peaceful and exclusively constitutional channels. Not that that stopped prime minister David Lloyd George from declaring, in his closing speech of the 1918 general election campaign, that the “Labour Party is being run by the extreme pacifist Bolshevik group”.[10]

Secondly, by adopting clause four socialism, the Labour Party could both distinguish itself from the exhausted, divided and rapidly declining Liberal Party and please the trade union bureaucracy. Since the 1890s the TUC had been drawing up various wish lists of what ought to be nationalised: eg, rails, mines, electricity, liquor and land. Clause four socialism also usefully went along with the grain of Britain’s wartime experience. There was steadily expanding state intervention in the economy. Nationalisation was, as a result, widely identified with efficiency, modernisation and beating the Austro-German foe. It therefore appealed to technocratically minded elements amongst the middle classes.

Thirdly, clause four socialism had to be implicitly anti-Marxist. Webb well knew the history of the Social Democratic Party in Germany. And, of course, Karl Marx savaged various passages in its Gotha programme (1875), not least those which declared that every worker should receive a “fair distribution of their proceeds of labour” and that “the proceeds of labour belong undiminished with equal right to all members of society”.[11]

Contradictory and vacuous, seethed Marx. What is fair? What about replacement means of production? What about the expansion of production? What about those unable to work? More than that, Marx explained these and other such woolly formulations as unneeded concessions to the followers of Ferdinand Lassalle. His Workers’ programme (1862) called for “an equal right to the undiminished proceeds of labour”. Obviously Webb wanted to give clause four a distinct Lassallean coloration not out of admiration for Lassalle, but because he wanted to distance the Labour Party from Marxism.

Red ribbon

Almost needless to say, clause four was mainly for show. A red ribbon tied around what was Labourism’s standing programme of social liberalism. In parliament Labour supported Liberal governments and their palliative measures of social reform. Because of its alliance with the Liberal Party, the party even found itself divided over the abolition of the House of Lords and the fight for female suffrage. While a minority – eg, George Lansbury and Keir Hardie – defended the suffragettes and their militant tactics, the majority craved respectability. As Ramsay MacDonald wrote, “The violent methods … are wrong, and in their nature reactionary and anti-social, quite irrespective of vote or no vote.”[12]

Yet, even if it had been put into effect, clause four socialism remains antithetical to working class self-liberation. Capitalism without capitalists does not count amongst our goals. Railways, mines, land, electricity, etc, would pass into the hands of the British empire state.

Capitalist owners might well be bought out – eased into a comfortable retirement. But, as they vacate the field of production, a new class of state-appointed managers and supervisors enters the fray. In terms of the division of labour, they substitute for the capitalists. The mass of the population, meanwhile, remain exploited wage-slaves. They would be subject to same hierarchal chain of command, the same lack of control, the same mind-numbing routine.

Marxism, by contrast, is based on an altogether different perspective. If it is to win its freedom the working class must overthrow the existing state. But – and this is crucial – in so doing the proletariat “abolishes itself as a proletariat, abolishes all class distinctions and antagonisms, abolishes also the state as state”.[13]

Capitalist relations of production and the whole bureaucratic state apparatus are swept away. Every sphere of social life sees control exercised from below. All positions of command are elected or chosen by lot and are regularly rotated. Hierarchy is flattened. Alienation is overcome. What is produced and how it is produced radically alters too. Need, not exchange, is the ruling principle. And alone such an association of producers creates the benign conditions which allow for the full development of each and every individual.

Doubtless, the old 1918 clause four resulted from progressive political developments. Opposition to the horrors of World War I and the inspiration provided by the October Revolution have already been mentioned. But there is also the formation of the Socialist International, the world-wide celebration of May Day, the considerable influence of the socialist press, the increased size of trade union membership, the formation of the shop stewards movement and the election of a growing body of Labour MPs. Then there was state intervention and regulation of the economy. Capitalism was widely considered abhorrent, outmoded and doomed. Socialism more and more became the common sense of the organised working class.

By contrast, Fabian socialism meant arguing against unconstitutional methods, slowly expanding the provision of social welfare and persuading all classes of the benefits that would come to the nation, if the commanding heights of the economy were put in state hands. In other words, the Fabians consciously sought to ameliorate the mounting contradictions between labour and capital … and thus put off socialism. Rightly, Lenin denounced Fabianism as the “most consummate expression of opportunism.”[14] And, needless to say, the years 1918-20 witnessed colonial uprisings abroad and a massive strike wave at home.

Revealingly, before 1918, attempts to commit the Labour Party to socialism met with mixed success. The 1900 founding conference rejected the “class war” ultimatum tabled by the Social Democratic Federation.[15] Despite that, conference voted to support the “socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange”. The next year a socialistic motion moved by Bruce Glasier was defeated. In 1903 another socialistic motion fell, this time without debate. Two years later conference passed a motion with the exact same wording. In 1907 the previous endorsement of socialism was overturned at the prompting of … Bruce Glasier. The same conference agreed to set the goal of “socialising the means of production, distribution and exchange”.[16]

The explanation for the seesawing doubtless lies with electoral calculation. While most in the party leadership considered themselves socialists of a kind, they were mortally afraid of losing out in the polls. What appeared acceptable to likely voters – in other words, the popular press – set their limits. So, instead of fearlessly presenting a bold socialist vision and building support on that basis, Sidney Webb, Arthur Henderson, Ramsay MacDonald and co, chased the vagaries of popularity. With the growth of militancy and radicalism, socialist declarations were considered a sure way of adding to Labour’s ranks in parliament.[17] Forming a government being both a means and an end.


Nevertheless, the Blairising of clause four in 1995 was hugely symbolic – the ground having been laid by the Eurocommunists and their Marxism Today journal. Socialism was declared dead and buried, the working class a shrinking minority. Only if Labour accepted capitalism and reached out to the middle classes would it have a future. Neil Kinnock, John Smith and finally Tony Blair dragged the party ever further to the right. Out went the commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament, out went the commitment to comprehensive education, out went the commitment to full employment, out went the commitment to repeal the Tories’ anti-trade union laws, out went the commitment to “the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange”.

By sacrificing the old clause four in the full glare of publicity, Blair and his New Labour clique sought to appease the establishment, the City, the Murdoch empire, the global plutocracy. Capitalism would be absolutely safe in their hands. A New Labour government could be relied upon to not even pay lip service to a British version of state capitalism. Leftwingers such as Tony Benn, Dennis Skinner, Diane Abbott and Ken Livingstone protested, trade union leaders grumbled, but the April 1995 special conference voted by 65% in favour of Blair’s clause four.

Needless to say, his version is stuffed full of managerial guff and classless nonsense. Just what one would expect from the architect of New Labour. After all, one of Blair’s big ideas was to replace ‘socialism’ with ‘social-ism’. Another was communitarianism. But, of course, the media glowed with admiration. Crucially, Rupert Murdoch agreed to unleash his attack dogs. Within a few months John Major was almost universally derided as a total incompetent, heading a sleaze-mired government.

Riding high in the opinion polls Blair inaugurated a series of internal ‘reforms’. Conference was gutted. No longer could it debate issues, vote on policy or embarrass the leadership in front of the media. Instead the whole thing became a rubber-stamping exercise. Then there were the tightly controlled policy forums, focus groups and the staffing of the party machine with eager young careerists (most on temporary contracts). Blair thereby asserted himself over the national executive committee … considerably reducing its effectiveness in the process.

Calls for a return of the old clause four are perfectly understandable. But having done that, we need to persuade members to adopt something far more radical. This is the formulation championed by LPM.

  1. Labour is the federal party of the working class. We strive to bring all trade unions, cooperatives, socialist societies and leftwing groups and parties under our banner. We believe that unity brings strength.
  2. Labour is committed to replacing the rule of capital with the rule of the working class. Socialism introduces a democratically planned economy, ends the ecologically ruinous cycle of production for the sake of production and moves towards a stateless, classless, moneyless society that embodies the principle, “From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs”. Alone such benign conditions create the possibility of every individual fully realising their innate potentialities.
  3. Towards that end Labour commits itself to achieving a democratic republic. The standing army, the monarchy, the House of Lords and the state sponsorship of the Church of England must go. We support a single-chamber parliament, proportional representation and annual elections.
  4. Labour seeks to win the active backing of the majority of people and forming a government on this basis.
  5. We shall work with others, in particular in the European Union, in pursuit of the aim of replacing capitalism with working class rule and socialism.


Real Marxists, not fake Marxists, have never talked of reclaiming Labour. It has never been ours in the sense of being a “political weapon for the workers’ movement”. No, despite the electoral base and trade union affiliations, the Labour Party has been dominated by career politicians and trade union bureaucrats: a distinct social stratum, which in the last analysis serves not the interests of the working class, but the continuation of capitalist exploitation.

Speaking in the context of the need for the newly formed Communist Party of Great Britain to affiliate to the Labour Party, Lenin said this:

… whether or not a party is really a political party of the workers does not depend solely upon a membership of workers, but also upon the men that lead it, and the content of its actions and its political tactics. Only this latter determines whether we really have before us a political party of the proletariat.

Regarded from this – the only correct – point of view, the Labour Party is a thoroughly bourgeois party, because, although made up of workers, it is led by reactionaries, and the worst kind of reactionaries at that, who act quite in the spirit of the bourgeoisie. It is an organisation of the bourgeoisie, which exists to systematically dupe the workers with the aid of the British Noskes and Scheidemanns [the German social chauvinist murderers of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht – JM].[18]

Despite all the subsequent changes, this assessment remains true. Labour is still a “bourgeois workers’ party”. Of course, once Corbyn was formally announced leader of the Labour Party, on September 12 2015, things became more complex. Labour became a chimera. Instead of a twofold contradiction, we have a threefold contradiction. The left dominates both the top and bottom of the party.

Corbyn is not the equivalent of George Lansbury or Michael Foot – an elementary mistake. They were promoted by the labour and trade union bureaucracy after a severe crisis: namely Ramsay MacDonald’s treachery and James Callaghan’s winter of discontent. Corbyn’s leadership is, in the first instance, the result of an historic accident. The ‘morons’ from the Parliamentary Labour Party lent him their nomination. After that, however, Corbyn owes everything to the mass membership.

That gives us the possibility of attacking the rightwing domination of the middle – not least the councillors and Parliamentary Labour Party – from below and above. No wonder the more astute minds of the bourgeois commentariat can be found expressing profound concern over the prospects of Labour being dominated by leftwing socialists, militant trade unions and Marxists.

Not that Jeremy Corbyn is a Marxist. Politically, he is a run-of-the-mill left reformist, albeit a left reformist with an enduring commitment to workers involved in economic struggles, campaigners for democratic rights and liberation movements in the so-called third world. Inevitably, not least given his Straight Leftist advisors, he is more than prone to compromise with the PLP right and trade union bureaucracy. Indeed his strategy amounts to seeking out allies on the soft right, while attempting to neutralise the hard right. He fears going to war against the right. He therefore seeks to hold back rank and file self-activity against the right. The ‘big idea’ is to concentrate on bread and butter issues, ie, ending austerity.

The result can only but be a series of rotten decisions. We have already seen the tacit backing of Jon Lansman’s bonapartist coup in Momentum, the retreat over Trident renewal and the disgraceful silence that reigns over the ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt.

In other words, it would be fatal for the leftwing majority at a grassroots level to content itself with playing a support role for Corbyn. No, the left needs to fight for its own aims and its own principles

[1].  K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 48, London 2001, p449.

[2].  K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 50, New York 2004, p83.

[3].  D Stone Breeding superman Liverpool 2002, p115.

[4].  HG Wells Anticipations of the reaction of mechanical and scientific progress upon human life and scientific thought London 1902, p317. See –

[5].  GB Shaw quoted in J Carey The intellectuals and the masses London 1992, p63.



[8].  G Foote The Labour Party’s political thought London 1985, p29-30.

[9].  AM McBriar Fabian socialism and English politics: 1884-1918, Cambridge 1962, p130.

[10].  Quoted in R Miliband Parliamentary socialism London 1973, p64n.

[11].  K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 24, London 1989, p83.

[12].  Socialist Review August 1912 – quoted in R Miliband Parliamentary socialism London 1973, p25n.

[13].  K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 25, London 1987, p267.

[14].  VI Lenin CW Vol 21 Moscow 1977, p261.

[15].  Though it had two guaranteed seats on the LRC’s leading body, the Social Democratic Federation disaffiliated in August 1901.

[16].  See RT McKenzie British political parties London 1963, pp465-71.

[17].  Labour gained 15 seats in the December 1918 general election, making it the fourth largest party in parliament after Bonar Law’s Tories, Lloyd George’s Coalition Liberals and Sinn Féin. It had a total of 57 MPs.

[18].  VI Lenin CW Vol 31, Moscow 1977, pp257-58.


One small step forward…

The Labour Left Alliance held its first national networking meeting in Brighton. Carla Roberts of Labour Party Marxists reports

Almost 100 people crammed into the first networking meeting of the Labour Left Alliance on September 25, which took place after the close of Labour Party conference in Brighton. Despite the fact that conference finished early, with Jeremy Corbyn’s speech having been moved one day forward because of the recalling of parliament, there clearly was a huge desire to find the way forward for this nascent organisation.

The meeting started with a useful discussion on this year’s conference, which can probably best be summed up as a ‘mixed bag’ from the left’s point of view: on the one hand, Jeremy Corbyn delivered a rousing speech, designed to please the much-neglected left in the party. We also saw conference voting for the free movement of people (though Dianne Abbot seems to have immediately backtracked on this and it remains to be seen if this policy makes it into the election programme), plus the disaffiliation of the rightwing Labour Students in the run up to conference, and we witnessed the first organised intervention of the LLA, calling for a protest against Tom Watson, who then cancelled his conference speech (more on that below).

On the other hand, there were also a number of setbacks and problems for the left:

LAW fringe conference 2019In the run-up to conference, a vicious campaign against the anti-witch-hunt left had led to the cancellation of various venues booked by Jewish Voice for Labour, Labour Against the Witchhunt and the Labour Representation Committee. However, in record time, comrades from the newly established Brighton Labour Left Alliance worked absolute miracles and booked the Rialto Theatre to allow some of the cancelled meetings to take place. They even worked out a programme of ‘Free Speech events’ that went beyond what was planned in the first place. Over three days, they managed to put on a range of exciting events, featuring Chris Williamson MP, Jackie Walker, Kerry Anne Mendoza and others. The venue of LAW’s main fringe event had to be kept secret, but, with almost 200 people attending, it was standing room only. The left showed that it will not be cowed or intimidated.

Conference itself saw a tightening of the disciplinary procedures, which gives the national executive committee the right to fast-track the expulsion of members accused of having been “inconsistent with the party’s aims and values, agreed codes of conduct, or involving prejudice towards any protected characteristic”. No doubt, the NEC hopes that this will finally put an end the ‘anti-Semitism crisis’ in the Labour Party, but many people at our meeting feared that this is likely to lead to exactly the opposite: “We expect there to be many more vexatious complaints being made by the right against Corbyn supporters”, as LAW’s Tina Werkmann put it. Also, as the NEC last year adopted the highly disputed definition of anti-Semitism published by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which conflates anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, we can expect to see a rise in allegations made against those who are critical of Israel, rather than guilty of any actual anti-Semitism.

Comrade Werkmann explained that only four members of the entire NEC had voted against the proposals: Darren Williams, Rachel Garnham, Yassamine Dar and Ann Henderson – all CLP delegates, who had been elected as part of the ‘left slate’ backed by the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance.

However, the four other CLGA members representing CLP members on the NEC voted in favour of fast-track expulsions: Momentum owner Jon Lansman (no surprise there) and his hangers-on, Navendu Mishra (now selected as a prospective parliamentary candidate in the safe seat of Stockport), Huda Elmi and Claudia Webbe. The latter’s vote is perhaps the most worrying, as she is the current chair of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy – whose secretary, Pete Willsman, of course, remains suspended from the party (and the NEC) on utterly bogus charges!

No doubt, Willsman’s case (and those of Chris Williamson MP, Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker, etc) is exactly the reason why Lansman voted for these changes: there is no love lost between the Momentum owner, Willsman and many of the other veteran Corbyn supporters who have been witch-hunted and smeared, and Lansman is keen to get rid of Williamson and Willsman – he has openly said so, after all.

Conference also voted to dramatically reduce the input of Labour Party members into the Local Campaign Forums. LCFs bring together local party branches and are responsible for selecting Labour’s council candidates, while also giving members at least a chance to question their councillors (though they have not been accountable to members for a long time). They are now to be called ‘Local Government Forums’ and the composition will change quite dramatically. There will be three “sections”, made up of members of the local Labour group of councillors, CLPs and locally affiliated trade unions. While those sections might differ dramatically in size, they will have equal voting rights.

This rule change was snuck through conference as part of a number of proposals by the NEC that were supposed to ‘tidy up’ any outstanding issues from last year’s so-called ‘Party Democracy Review’. In reality, very few rules in the party have been democratised as part of this exercise – but many have been made worse. This no doubt reflects the pressure from the right and the unions on Labour HQ.

Many LCFs have been taken over by the left in the last two years, mirroring the slow but persistent growth and organisation of the left within Labour. In many areas, councillors have come under increasing pressure from the local members to reflect the changing nature of the party. Labour councillors have not only implemented the draconian cuts imposed by the Tory government, but have done so willingly and without even the hint of a fight-back. Many Labour-run councils have enthusiastically embraced outsourcing – ie, bringing cut-throat private companies in to take over services that the council used to provide. As these companies are based on the need to make a profit, they end up providing fewer and worse services, while charging more money for it. That is the basic logic of capitalism.

Worryingly, both these rule changes were submitted by the NEC and were only presented to delegates (as part of a 225-page report by the conference arrangements committee) a few hours before they were meant to be voting on them. There is clearly a huge democratic deficit when it comes to conference, and especially many first-time delegates at our LLA meeting reported feeling utterly confused and overwhelmed by this experience. We discussed setting up a working group that could help to better prepare delegates for next year’s conference and to help LLA members get to grips with the party’s rule book. We also discussed the need for the LLA to prepare some decent rule changes from the left that CLPs could adopt for next year’s conference.

What to do about the unions?

The meeting also discussed the huge and very visible divide at conference between the union block and the CLP delegates. The tightening of the disciplinary rules, for example, was – very encouragingly – rejected by a majority of CLP delegates. But an overwhelming majority of the unions voted in favour. Ditto when it came to the efforts to re-establish the old clause four, abolished by Tony Blair: a majority of delegates from CLPs voted yes – but the rule change was defeated by the affiliates.

There were in fact a number of occasions when, for example, a clear majority of people in the hall raised their hand in favour of a motion, but then the chair ruled that the vote had in fact been lost. This was down to the fact that the party’s affiliates’ vote counts for 50% of the entire vote at conference – even though there are far fewer delegates from the affiliated unions and socialist societies present. This led to huge dissatisfaction among particularly first-time CLP delegates, who felt that they were being disenfranchised.

Unsurprisingly, a number of speakers at our LLA networking meeting therefore raised how important it is to democratise the unions and their input into party conference as well as the Labour Party more generally. Some comrades in the room volunteered to produce a draft campaigning strategy on what is a huge issue.

After this discussion, Lee Rock (a representative of Sheffield Labour Left on the LLA organising committee) gave a very useful report about the current state of the Labour Left Alliance. Over 1,400 individuals have now signed up to the appeal (“when we launched the appeal, we were hoping to have 1,000 by conference”) and over 20 LLA local groups have affiliated, with another dozen or so being currently set up. In addition, LLA is supported by four national organisations: LAW, LRC, Red Labour and the Campaign for Chris Williamson. The LLA organising group has grown to over 30 members, which, according to comrade Rock, “can make it very difficult to come to decisions”. In his presentation, he raised the need for the organisation to have elected officers with clearly defined roles.

This was a theme that was reflected in the next session: how the LLA should move forward. Three discussion papers had been drafted and circulated to all LLA signatories in the run-up to our meeting and were dealt with at some length:

Kevin Bean of Merseyside Labour Left Alliance spoke on the proposal coming from LAW, Sheffield Labour Left and Merseyside LLA itself, which argues that the LLA should swiftly move to a “more accountable structure”, with a constitution and elected officers. “The tyranny of structurelessness is very dangerous,” he warned. “There are always some people in charge – but without proper structures, elections and accountability, we cannot hold them to account.”

Cathy Augustine outlined the proposal of the Labour Representation Committee that the LLA “should remain a network for the time being and without any elected officers”. She thought that “the current system of volunteers taking on various aspects of the work functions well”.

Tony Greenstein, a member of the newly established Brighton Labour Left Alliance, admitted that his proposal was more of a “stream of consciousness” born out of the desire to move forward quickly. He suggested that the LLA should swiftly establish a membership structure and start employing a part-time worker to move the organisation forward.

In the somewhat unfocused discussion, most people seem to support the need for better and more democratic structures. Glyn Secker of the affiliated Dulwich Labour Left (and secretary of Jewish Voice for Labour) argued that we should adopt a “clear and short constitution as soon as possible”. JVL had got off the ground within a few short months, but we had to act quickly to “counter the attacks by the right”. LAW’s chair, Jackie Walker, suggested that we need structures, but could, for example, do without a permanent chair and vice-chair: “Why don’t we simply pull a name from a hat?” That suggestion would only work, of course, if the person is up to speed with all the arguments, motions and amendments that have been submitted.

Tom Watson walkout

The most bizarre intervention was made by Andrew Berry of the LRC. In his three minutes, he solely argued against a comrade who had earlier congratulated the LLA on its hastily produced leaflet, ‘Shun Tom Watson’.

Shun Tom Watson 3This leaflet explained that a number of delegations were planning to walk out during Watson’s speech, while others were planning to sing “Oh Jeremy Corbyn”. (As an aside, Unite delegates were apparently intending to ‘sit on their hands’ – a rather lame tactic, which, as one sarky commentator at conference put it, “sounds like it could be a Monty Python sketch”.) A WhatsApp group with over 60 people from various delegations and left groups swiftly sprang up during conference and worked closely together to plan for the action. Almost 1,000 copies of a quickly produced LLA leaflet were handed out to delegates and visitors by LLA supporters – and the reception was overwhelmingly positive. Funnily enough, the only negative reaction came from members of (how to say this nicely?) longer established groups on the Labour left, who angrily told us, “unless we can win this, we should not organise such stupid stunts”. Self-defeating attitude or what?

In any case, when the CAC reorganised the conference agenda after the recall of parliament, it moved Tom Watson from Tuesday to Wednesday and offered him the opportunity to close conference. But we have been told by a journalist that at the Tuesday morning press conference Labour’s press officer, James Schneider, let slip that Watson was literally begging the CAC to take him off the agenda altogether, because he did not fancy much being left alone in the conference hall with a bunch of hostile lefties.

The Metro, which has a reach of 3.65 million readers, reported it this way: “Tom Watson has pulled the plug on his proposed speech at the Labour Party conference after reports that activists were planning to stage a huge walk-out.” Next to the article, they published the whole LLA leaflet. Watson later announced in the Jewish Chronicle: “I was going to attack Corbyn’s failure to address anti-Semitism in my Labour conference speech.”

TUESDAY 2019 PDFFrom our interaction with delegates and observers (LPM comrades handed out the LLA leaflet and our daily Red Pages bulletin with a similar front page), we believe that such a speech would have gone down at conference like the proverbial fart in a space suit. We have no doubt that many of those who were a bit wary about walking out might have changed their mind if they had witnessed such an attack from the platform. So it seems a no-brainer that we should celebrate such an early success for the LLA, even if the Metro might have simplified the issue a bit.

However, Andrew Berry thought we were “fooling ourselves if we think this has anything at all to do with the LLA or its leaflet” (which he opposed). With this negative attitude we will never build anything worthwhile.

Of course, this was only a networking meeting without any decision-making authority, but it was an important start to discuss the way forward for the LLA. We also heard proposals:

  • To hold a proper, decision-making LLA launch conference in early 2020 (this is now being planned).
  • To set up a working group that helps to prepare for next year’s conference, produces guidelines for (new) delegates and draws up a number of useful rule changes for CLPs. There was also a suggestion that the left has to make sure it books a ‘safe space’, where it can hold events without having the meetings cancelled or disrupted by pro-Zionists and rightwingers.
  • To approach all prospective Labour Party candidates with the simple question, ‘Will you support Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister?’ and then publish their answers to help comrades decide which candidates they should be campaigning for. Not a bad idea, in our view.

A pro-active approach is certainly better than the empty calls for ‘unity’ we have heard from the ‘moderates’ or the self-defeating view that, unless we “win”, we should not even try to fight

Red Pages, September 23 2019

Click to download today’s issue in the PDF version here.

Tom Watson speech:
 Delegates plan protests

Union votes vs CLP votes: Democratise the unions!
One thing has become pretty clear at this year’s conference: the huge increase in membership and consequent radicalisation sparked by the election of Jeremy Corbyn in 2015 has not found much reflection within the trade unions.

Our Europe, their Europe
No to a second – or any – referendum

Labour Party Marxists goes viral


Tom Watson speech:
 Delegates plan protests

There have been some interesting ramifications since the Labour Party’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, briefly faced the prospect of his job disappearing from under him. The threat to Watson’s livelihood came in the form of a motion from Momentum’s number one, Jon Lansman, to abolish the post of deputy altogether (precisely the type of bold ‘revolutionary’ method that Corbyn should be deploying in the inner-party war).

Comrades who read us yesterday will be aware that we were profoundly sceptical about the real motivations of this rather strange move by Lansman. The specific issue of the disappearing deputy leader quickly vanished. However, we are left with some interesting developments in the aftermath of the original spat.

First, we have the response of Corbyn himself. In yesterday’s bulletin, we characterised his general approach to the concrete question of the post of deputy and the threat to Watson as “supine” and Ghandi-like. Sadly, but predictably, this dismally timid method was carried over into the ‘positive’ solutions that he proposed for the structure of the leadership henceforth: ie, two deputy leaders … with the stipulation that one must be a woman. ‘Underwhelming’ would be an overstatement.

In contrast, Tom Watson pin-pointed precisely the key issue that political life in our organisation revolves around – there is a “battle for the future of the Labour Party”, he stated, in which members must “resist the destructive, corrosive impulse of factionalism”. (For ‘factionalism’ read ‘fighting for principled working class politics’.)
Thus far in this crisis in Labour, the members have been passive observers. So it is very encouraging that word reaches us of provisional plans for some sort of protest against Watson when he rises to his feet on Tuesday to address conference. Even better, there are reports that this may include not simply individual delegates, but also CLP and union blocks. Much like the reaction to the original Lansman/deputy leader incident, these provisional plans have caused dissent and divisions on the left.

The essential lines of demarcation were delineated in an exchange between two comrades online. First a member expressed the worry that the walkers would “look like those Brexit MEPs turning their backs at the EU”. No, came back the answer – “there’s a civil war going on and one side is doing all the attacking!”

The world view of our readers will probably not shatter if we tell you that we support the fighting stance of the latter, rather than the timid approach of the former. However, we do understand that comrades are sensitive to the danger of providing the venal media with more ammunition with which to smear our party and thus are wary of scenes of division and conflict on conference floor.

Understandable, but wrong. In fact, we should think of the battle within Labour as being over a project of political hygiene rather than some self-indulgent “factionalism”, as the deputy leader puts it. We urge comrades to support any protest that may be organised against the treacherous Tom Watson – a man who has been intricately involved in the witch-hunt against members of the party and attempts to undermine the leader. He is a disgrace and should be shamed not simply out of the Labour Party, but the wider workers’ movement too. He should be given the heave-ho, pronto!

We urge comrades to support any protest that may be organised against the treacherous Tom Watson – a man who has been intricately involved in the witch-hunt against members of the party and attempts to undermine the leader. He is a disgrace and should be shamed not simply out of the Labour Party, but the wider workers’ movement too. He should be given the heave-ho, pronto!

Understandable, but wrong. In fact, we should think of the battle within Labour as being over a project of political hygiene rather than some self-indulgent “factionalism”, as the deputy leader puts it.

We urge comrades to support any protest that may be organised against the treacherous Tom Watson – a man who has been intricately involved in the witch-hunt against members of the party and attempts to undermine the leader. He is a disgrace and should be shamed not simply out of the Labour Party, but the wider workers’ movement too. He should be given the heave-ho, pronto!

Union votes vs CLP votes: Democratise the unions!

One thing has become pretty clear at this year’s conference: the huge increase in membership and consequent radicalisation sparked by the election of Jeremy Corbyn in 2015 has not found much reflection within the trade unions.

This is hardly surprising, of course. Corbyn’s election had little effect on the bureaucracies’ control over their unions and this is exemplified by the way they vote at conference. On matters that have not been decided in advance, all union delegations are simply instructed on how they should cast the vote of their hundreds of thousands of members.

That was the case on Saturday in a series of card votes over proposed rule changes, and two in particular stand out. First, there was the vote on the NEC’s proposal to “fast-track” expulsions of party members whose behaviour is judged to be irredeemably unacceptable – without the need for any hearing, for example. Understandably, most individual delegates were less than convinced by this proposal and CLP representatives voted narrowly to reject it (52%-48%). By contrast, the vote of affiliates (ie, overwhelmingly the unions) was 97% in favour! The CLPs and affiliates have equal weight, of course, both accounting for 50% of the total vote.

Then there was the card vote on ditching the 1995 Blairite version of clause four in favour of the original (Fabian) version. We have made clear our criticisms of the 1918 wording, but it is self-evident that its reinstatement would have marked a substantial advance. CLP delegates voted 56% in favour. But over 99% of the affiliated unions and socialist societies voted against!

On Sunday a series of national policy forum documents were put before conference. As delegates cannot amend these documents, the only option they have is to propose a ‘referencing back’ of particular sections of these for the NPF to reconsider (clearly, the whole undemocratic NPF should be abolished). In relation to the NPF document on education there were several such proposals, one of which specified that it should be reconsidered on the grounds that it did not contain a clear commitment to abolish grammar schools.

Incredibly, none of these reference-back proposals are put before conference in writing – delegates have to listen really carefully about what is being proposed. Perhaps even more incredibly, it was a full three hours later when the chair, Andi Fox, put them to a vote – without even a reminder as to their contents. Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of confusion in the hall. And when the unions overwhelmingly rejected every single reference back, this caused a huge ruckus and eventually Andi Fox agreed that the votes would be revisited.

Sitting at the back of the hall, it did indeed look incredibly undemocratic: in vote after vote, a clear majority of people voted in favour of a particular reference back – but then the chair ruled that the vote was, in fact, lost. Why? Because in the areas where the union delegates sit, most had voted against. The chair explained that as she knew “certain stakeholders” hold more votes than the CLP delegates, she had taken that into consideration to make her decision.

Numerous delegates got up to express their dismay at these rulings – should the chair not actually be counting all the hands? “What is the point of me being here?”, one delegate asked? “Everything us CLP delegates are trying to get through is opposed by the unions over there!” Encouragingly, there was also discontent within the union delegations and members were seen arguing amongst themselves over the wisdom of voting against the abolition of grammar schools, for example.

So what is the solution? Certainly Labour should remain a federal party – indeed in our view it should encourage the affiliation of all working class organisations, including left groups, and grant them the right to participate in its decision-making process. But, when it comes to trade unions in particular, we are talking about mass organisations with less than vibrant forms of democracy and accountability. All too often the bureaucracy is given a free ride.

That bureaucracy knows which side its bread is buttered. Its role as the intermediary between the employers and their workers requires that it must appear ‘reasonable and acceptable’ to both sides. In reality, left to itself, it acts as a stalwart of the current capitalist order. And it follows from that that the union bureaucracy tends to side with the ‘moderate’ wing of the Labour Party – in other words, the right.

The solution therefore must lie in the ability of the union membership to control and hold to account their leaders. We need the great mass of that membership to get actively involved – in the Labour Party as well as in the unions – to demand that their interests really are represented and that the bureaucracy upholds democratic principles. And such mass participation would make it less likely that the bureaucracy continually votes with the right at Labour conference.

Our Europe, their Europe

Marxists are by definition internationalists. Therefore we are opposed to nationalism in all its variants, whether it be the classic Little-England type or the ‘left’ version of socialism in one country (national socialism) – something normally associated with Stalinism.

How does this impact on the Brexit debate? For a very large part of liberal opinion, and the left which tails it – such as Another Europe is Possible -, the actually existing European Union has become an emblem of everything that is progressive – the cherished ideal of anti-racism harmony in marked contrast to the increasingly rancorous nationalism of the UK Independence Party, the European Research Group (headed by the weird retro-Victorian Jacob Rees-Mogg), the desperate Boris Johnson, etc. A social democratic refuge from the onslaught of neo-liberalism and the market.

Does that mean Marxists are enthusiastic about today’s EU or would consider voting ‘remain’ in any possible future referendum? The answer to both these questions is no. In reality, the bloc is committed heart and soul to market values, for all of the flummery about “human dignity”, “tolerance”, “fundamental rights”, and so on. The whole project marches according to the rhythm, requirements and restrictions imposed by capital. Indeed, the EU constitution is a paean of praise for the market and the virtues of competition.

Then remember how the European Commission – in cahoots with the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – imposed a regime of savage austerity upon Greece for daring to defy its diktats, driving millions into penury, homelessness and even suicide.

However, it does not follow that Marxists call for the UK to pull out of the EU because it is a “bosses’ club”, or because it is not “socialist” – silly and also a criminal desertion of internationalism. One might just as well suggest pulling the working class out of the “bosses’ club” of Britain. Or is the pound sterling more socialistic than the euro?

Capitalism and the capitalist state, as it historically presents itself in the here and now, is where the socialist project starts – in this case, the EU. The idea that the working class and the fight for socialism would be collectively strengthened if one or two of our national battalions aligned themselves with this or that faction of the bourgeoisie with a view to forcing a Britain, a France, a Spain or an Italy to withdraw from the EU displays a complete lack of seriousness. Disastrously, we would be weakening our forces.

Instead, Marxists argue for a positive programme. A Europe without unelected bureaucrats, technocrats, monarchies, and standing armies. Communists strive for working class unity within, but against, the existing EU – ultimately we want to overthrow it, just like the British state. Winning the battle for democracy in the EU and securing working class rule over this relatively small but strategically vital continent is the best service we can do for our comrades in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australasia – as opposed to building “Fortress Europe”.

In other words, we are for a republican United States of Europe. Armed with a continental-wide programme, the United Socialist States of Europe can be realised – the “bosses’ club” is replaced by a workers’ club. In turn, such an internationalist perspective directly points to the necessity of organising across the EU at the highest level – crucially a revolutionary Marxist party covering the entire European Union.

No to a second – or any – referendum

Referendums, by their very nature, are undemocratic. At first, this might sound paradoxical or counter-intuitive – you get to vote in an act of ‘direct democracy’, after all. But, whilst referendums have the great virtue of appearing to be the epitome of democracy, the reality is quite the opposite. They bypass representative institutions and serve, in general, to fool enough of the people enough of the time. Often complex issues are simplified, drained of nuance and reduced to a crude choice that cuts across class loyalties. Hence today, thanks to Brexit, one half of the working class is found in the ‘leave’ camp – the other half is with ‘remain’. That is hardly a situation to be celebrated.

There are very few situations where there is a simple binary choice in politics, and that can be illustrated by what followed the referendum. Yes, a relatively small majority voted ‘leave’, but on what terms – hard Brexit, soft Brexit, Brexit-in-name-only? If there had been a ‘remain’ victory, as most people had expected right to the wire, we would have been confronted by the same conundrum – ie, how to interpret the result.

Furthermore, what about the long-term validity of that result? For example, many of those who argue against a second referendum today claim that ‘the people have spoken’ and so their verdict must be regarded as final. But in fact the 2016 poll was itself the ‘second referendum’ on the subject. In 1975 Harold Wilson called one to decide whether Britain should remain in what was then called the ‘European Community’ (or ‘Common Market’), even though it had only joined two years earlier. There was a substantial 67% majority to stay in the EC. Clearly people can change their minds.

The problem is that referendums are totally inadequate compared to representative democracy. The latter is based on the election of well-tested working class representatives, who must be made accountable to those who elected them. Under such a system we should trust those representatives to take the necessary decisions – and ensure that they face the consequences if they embark on a path that is not in our interests. Referendums, on the contrary, tend to divide the working class, weaken its party spirit and produce the strangest of bedfellows. For example, in 2016 committed socialists were urging the same vote as the far right, while others were aligned with the liberal establishment. Now we find Nigel Farage on the same side as George Galloway.

In 1911 Labour leader Ramsay MacDonald called referendums “a clumsy and ineffective weapon, which the reaction can always use more effectively than democracy, because it, being the power to say ‘no’, is far more useful to the few than the many”. Yes, a couple of decades later he completely sold out by agreeing to lead a national government with the Tories, but in 1911 he was totally right.

The Labour Party should be opposed to referendums as a matter of principle.