Divisions surface and split beckons

What political differences lie behind the heated arguments in the Labour Representation Committee and Labour Briefing? Stan Keable of Labour Party Marxists reports on the proposed merger, and counsels against irresponsible splits

Christine Shawcroft: where are the politics? (photo: Louise Whittle)

More heat than light has been produced by the online exchanges on the Facebook pages of the Labour Representation Committee and Labour Briefing following the May 26 LRC national committee meeting. By 17 votes to 7 the NC endorsed an executive committee merger motion – that the LRC and LB should combine, to their mutual benefit: an organisation without a journal should get together with a journal without an organisation. The proposal will depend on the July 7 AGM of LB, which will debate a similar motion from editorial board member and LRC joint secretary Pete Firmin. While opponents of the merger are calling it a takeover, and warning that it will precipitate a split in both organisations, some pro-merger comrades are hinting that they may abandon Briefing if they do not get their way.

Irresponsible splits are the debilitating disease of the left. They are a crime against the struggle for unity which the left and the working class movement needs, and which both LRC and LB claim to stand for. I would urge comrades on both sides to clearly present their arguments so as to ensure that LRC members and LB subscribers and readers are fully engaged. I myself – a member of LRC and a subscriber to LB – only obtained a copy of the LRC motion three days after the NC had voted for it. And I only read about the merger proposal in the ‘for’ and ‘against’ single-page articles in the June issue of LB, which arrived in the post on the very morning of the May 26 NC meeting.

How did such a situation arise, in two mutually supportive, pro-Labour Party, left unity groups? Both seek to unite the left and to democratise and transform the Labour Party. But democracy begins at home, in our own organisations, and depends on open discussion. The problem seems to me to lie in the reluctance to air our differences in public. Many rank-and-file comrades have expressed dismay at the heated conflict which has broken out online between leading comrades, where previously differences had not been apparent. This surely points to the short-sightedness of the view that we should hide our differences, not ‘wash our dirty linen in public’, that publishing criticism will frighten away potential supporters, that we should ‘leave our guns at the door’, and so on.

In his pro-merger LB article, comrade Firmin argues that the merger will give Briefing “a bigger base, bigger readership and wider audience” and that there is “much overlap of both political views and personnel (and even more so of supporters)”. The LRC is “in need of its own publication”, but “to start one in competition with Briefing would be a duplication of effort”. LB fights to “channel the demands of the broader movement and campaigns towards the party and a Labour government”, he says approvingly, while the LRC is “committed to fighting for the Labour Party to support the resistance …”. Implicitly criticising LB for being one-sidedly orientated towards the party, to the neglect of the extra-parliamentary mass struggle, he argues: “Labour Briefing … needs to recognise that there is a layer of activists who see Labour as a neoliberal party, some seeing little point in relating to the broader labour movement at all … socialists … have to win their activists to our ranks, pointing out how political gains can be achieved through the labour movement …”

Some comrades have asked me whether the merger plan will be put to the next LRC AGM. But Pete’s proposal is “to transfer Briefing to the LRC with immediate effect, with the aim of a relaunch at this autumn’s Labour Party conference”.

Editorial board member John Stewart put the case in the June issue for LB “retaining its independence … unless others can demonstrate the superiority of their proposals”. “Briefing’s durability” – it’s been around since 1980 – “gives it a stability lacking in the LRC”. Comrade Stewart doubts “LRC claims … of over 1,000 members and dozens of affiliates”. But, although it is not a precise measure, the two Facebook pages seem to back up the claim: LRC – 1,463 and rising; LB – 120.

Comrade Stewart displays an unconscious hypocrisy with respect to democracy and open discussion. On the one hand, he worries that an article like his 2007 piece “advocating support for one of the leading lights of the soft left” – namely, John Cruddas – would not “be included in a future LRC Briefing”.

On the other hand, he holds up the bogey that LRC affiliates – the New Communist Party and the Morning Star Supporters Group – might be given space to support “the invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia … and the governments of North Korea and China”. And worse: “Recently, another affiliate, Labour Party Marxists, repeatedly criticised Briefing chair Christine Shawcroft in print during the Labour NEC election campaign.” Well, firstly, it was comradely criticism, which Christine accepted. Secondly, if criticism of leaders is out of order, I have to ask comrade Stewart what exactly he thinks is wrong with North Korea or China.

The caption to the picture selected to accompany comrade Stewart’s article gives us a pointer to the politics that appear to be involved in this dispute: “Tony Benn addresses delegates to the 2008 Compass conference at Briefing’s fringe meeting. John McDonnell MP refused to attend because of John Cruddas’s association with Compass” (the rightwing Labour pressure group “committed to help build a Good Society”).

However, we should not judge the opposition to immediate merger by the limitations of John Stewart’s arguments. But what does he mean by saying that his “greatest concern” is “that an LRC takeover may lead to negative developments on the wider Labour left”? Apparently those against the merger believe that a journal can only be genuinely “pluralist” if it is not controlled by any one group. The anti-merger leaflet, backed by comrade Christine Shawcroft and distributed at the May 26 LRC NC meeting, makes this clear.

“It’s no good saying that ‘LRC Briefing’ would be ‘pluralist’: there’s plenty of ‘pluralist’ magazines trotting out their own line; and plenty more ‘pluralist’ magazines debating the ‘pluralist’ lines within their own organisations. Above all: who will take a commitment to ‘pluralism’ seriously if you close down a pluralist magazine and set up, using its name, the magazine of your own organisation?” The implication is that LB, at present, has no political line of its own, and if it adopted a line, that would diminish the range of (left) opinions willing to write for it. If “LRC Briefing” is also to be “a journal of debate within LRC” with space for both majority and minority opinions, “will it be made clear what is the majority position? Hang on a moment – where has that ‘pluralism’ gone, then?”

Briefing’s genuine pluralism”, the leaflet claims, would be “killed off” if it were “directed exclusively by the NC of a single organisation on the left”. So what kind of left unity should we strive for? Instead of fighting to unite the left politically and organisationally, do the authors of the anti-merger leaflet advocate preserving the disunity of the left, so that the diverse tendencies can enjoy fair and equal access to the pages of LB?

This defeatist horizon seems to be a fetish arising from a unity moment in Briefing’s history. “When the [Workers Revolutionary Party] collapsed in the 1980s,” explains the leaflet, “Labour Herald called for unity of left publications. At a meeting of Herald, Briefing, International and Socialist Viewpoint, Graham Bash announced: ‘I am all for unity. Let’s have a joint magazine. The only preconditions are that it is called Labour Briefing and that no one group has control.’” The leaflet complains that Graham has not explained his reasons for abandoning “Briefing’s ethos”.

I cannot speak for comrade Bash, but there is an obvious justification for his change of heart: the circumstances have changed. The unification of several left journals to survive hard times for the left after the defeat of the 1984-85 miners’ Great Strike may well have been a positive step, but today we need to build a higher level of unity.

Comrade Christine Shawcroft has fully identified with the leaflet’s contents. I should like to hear the views of the other six NC members who voted ‘no’: Ted Knight, Jon Lansman, Gary Heather, Claire Wadey, Lois Radice and Miles Barter. And I should like to hear all NC members declaring against irresponsible splits. In other words, if you lose the vote, stay together. Accept majority decisions, insist on minority rights.

Come on over

Motion carried by 17 votes to 7 at the May 26 LRC NC

The EC notes that members of the Labour Briefing editorial board will be putting a motion to their AGM to transfer Labour Briefing to the LRC.

The EC notes the proposal by members of the Labour Briefing editorial board and if the motion is passed at the Labour Briefing AGM (on July 7), we would agree to take the magazine on.

The EC notes that Labour Briefing – like the LRC – has always followed a pluralist line, promoting discussion within the labour and trade union movement. We would pledge to maintain that tradition.

We also believe that having a magazine associated with the LRC would be beneficial for the following reasons:

  • It would create more space for discussion and debate within the LRC and wider movement.
  • It would give the LRC more visibility, and would help us to recruit and retain membership and affiliation.
  • It would assist in organising the Labour left and trade union movement.
  • We could develop a coordinated and integrated communications strategy, incorporating the website, magazine, email, Twitter and Facebook – as well as to reach LRC members who are digitally excluded.

In taking on Labour Briefing, the LRC would agree to maintain its pluralist traditions and coverage of Labour Party, trade union, social and international struggles. We believe becoming a magazine hosted by the LRC would broaden the base of Labour Briefing and help it to develop as a useful tool in organising the labour movement left.

We believe that the correct structure to run the magazine would be an editorial board accountable to and delegated from the national committee, though with the authority to coopt (subject to NC approval).

Dreaming of 1945

The time for reformist timidity is long passed, argues Maciej Zurowski in his report of the Labour Representation Committee’s annual conference

Stan Keable: reject gradualism (photo: Louise Whittle)

The Labour Representation Committee, rather than being a single tendency body, serves as an umbrella for a variety of groupings and individuals, primarily those in the Labour Party who consider themselves to be on the left. As such, it hosts an array of left Labourites, Marxists, Stalinites and Trotskyites, all of whom enjoy an uneasy alliance under what is essentially a ‘British socialist’ platform.

Nominally, its function is what Andrew Fisher, the opening chair at the November 19 LRC annual conference, held in the University of London Union, vaguely described as pushing the Labour Party “in a more socialist direction”. In contrast to the staged and stitched-up ‘conferences’ of the ostensibly revolutionary sects – take, for instance, the Socialist Workers Party’s annual rallies – the LRC’s annual conference does provide some room for contending viewpoints, even if motions have to be proposed in three and a half minutes and subsequent contributions squeezed into two.

Labourite unity

And so, the first half of the day was kicked off by John McDonnell’s typically eloquent account of the technocratic euro zone coup. Comrade McDonnell demanded we support direct action and Occupy protests, while simultaneously advocating sustained, traditional trade union and political party organisation to the new blood of resistance – this was echoed later on by an Occupy guest speaker who admitted that his movement might have “the energy, but not necessarily the brains, experience and leadership”.

Beyond November 30, McDonnell argued, there should be more days of industrial action, and a dialogue about an unspecified “new model of society” should be held – a view that, for better or worse, no-one in the hall could disagree with.

Graham Bash of Labour Briefing spoke in a similarly crowd-pleasing fashion, rallying the assembled LRC members to a “fight for a Labour government ready to take on capital”. It was unclear what type of Labour government he meant and how we would get it. Even more ambiguously, comrade Bash alluded to necessary “alliances with those who will not be with us all the way”.

Despite the sometimes vagueness of their statements, most speeches from the straightforward Labourite camp were competent – although a breathless contribution from Hackney LRC offered vapid agitprop worthy of an SWP rally: capitalism is in crisis, we were thunderously informed (who would have guessed?), so it was time we “reclaimed our party”.

If the latter was an instance of intellectual underkill, the Islington North CLP’s motion was a textbook example of political sneakiness. Sound bites such as “Inequality is bad and is something that we should do something about” – a truism if there ever was one – should have rang everybody’s alarm bells. The motion itself contained a lot of fluff about setting the budget in a way that does not hit black people and women the hardest, but effectively amounted to an underhand attempt at whitewashing cuts deemed to be ‘fair’. A ‘fairness commission’ is what these slippery comrades would like to set up, and we are pretty sure they could even get George Osborne to sign up.

Labour Party Marxists delegate Stan Keable took the opportunity to alert even the most somnambulant socialist in the house to the motion’s treacherous content. But, in a surprising and highly unfortunate development, the motion was carried. That’s right – ‘Labour’s resistance’ had no trouble voting for a motion that Ed Miliband might have slipped in when he thought no-one was looking. The climate thus set, MP Katy Clark could get away unchallenged when she naively stated that now even the Blairite Progress group was “changing” and coming out “in defence of the workers” – as if the leftish posturing of career politicians in opposition was some act of great significance. The Tories, argued Clark, just don’t provide the “growth that we need” – and that’s about as militant as it got.

Following this, not even NEC candidates Gary Heather, Christine Shawcroft and Patrick Hall could shock us when they announced that they would not publicly condemn Labour councillors who implemented cuts. Further contributions, advocating good old bureaucratic voluntarism as a method to overcome the organisation’s poor gender balance (“we need to be more inclusive”), gave this part of the conference precisely the soft-left sheen that it deserved.

Marxist confusion

The only left groups to submit motions in their own name were the New Communist Party, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, and the new kids on the block, Labour Party Marxists. The good news first: the AWL’s very decent motion for Europe-wide working class unity and against EU withdrawal was carried by 72 votes to 60, with several dozen abstentions. That’s no mean feat, seeing as the hard left in and around LRC is still considerably tainted by nationalism and, in more than a few cases, nostalgia for Stalin’s failed national-socialist model.

Despite pleas to abandon this “divisive” motion, one contributor from the floor correctly pointed out that the time to raise the question of Europe is now – in fact, with the background of the euro zone crisis, there has never been a more pressing time. This, we are happy to conclude, must have dawned on more than a few LRC comrades, giving the organisation a position on Europe that is now to the left of the SWP/Alex Callinicos line. Of course, we have many points of contention with the third-campist AWL, but we do welcome the call to “organise public meetings and debates about Europe across the country”. If the LRC leadership makes this a reality, such events would provide us with plenty of opportunity to debate the AWL’s less appetising Atlanticist birthmarks.

On to the bad news: a motion by tankie survivors, the New Communist Party, which painted Gaddafi’s regime in quite agreeable colours, was carried by an impressive majority. Gaddafi provided a decent living standard for his pool of wage-slaves; he gave generous famine relief to other African countries. You’ve heard the song before, and it would not be worth further reciting, were it not for the fact that the motion also managed to call on that principled anti-imperialist body known as the United Nations to “defend the sovereignty of small nations”.

“There’s been a lot of compromisin’ on the road to my horizon,” sang Glen Campbell in his country pop classic, ‘Rhinestone cowboy’ – words that must ring particularly true if your theoretical road led from studying Marx and Lenin to endorsing Gaddafi and the UN. Is the fawning before Gaddafi’s achievements just plain, second-camp ‘idiot anti-imperialism’? Or have these people actually arrived at the conclusion that the working class will never emancipate itself and can therefore only hope to be policed by benevolent autocrats?

Whatever the case, the NCP was not alone in fostering illusions in bourgeois forces. It was when arguing against the Libya motion that the AWL came into its own, pushing its trademark ‘We don’t call for imperialist intervention, but refuse to condemn it’ line. Sometimes (most times?) Nato invasions create favourable conditions for working class struggle, we were told once again; so who are we to condemn the imperialist bloodbath in Libya? One AWL comrade gave us an allegory on the way: if the police attack fascists at a demonstration, he claimed, we don’t call upon them to stop because, after all, that’s where the repressive state apparatus hits the correct target. According to his twisted logic, it follows that we don’t oppose imperialist mass murder if a dictator is removed in the process.

Labour Party Marxists

Labour Party Marxists submitted a relatively brief motion, which rejected Labour governments that are backed by a minority of the population, loyal to the constitutional order and do not have a “realistic prospect of implementing a full socialist programme”. Such Labour administrations merely pave the way for the next Tory government and further attacks on the working class. The idea that no workers’ party should administer capitalism in the hope of handing down some reforms is, of course, socialist ABC dating back to way before the Second International. Short of being able to implement a “full socialist programme” backed by the majority of the people – which by definition involves breaking up the institutions of the capitalist state – it should continue to act as a party of extreme opposition.

In the run-up to the LRC conference Stuart King, a member of the Permanent Revolution group, referred to the LPM’s motion as a combination of “ultra-left abstentionism and parliamentary cretinism” which fails to address the question of the state and the armed people. I am in no position to tell whether the comrade’s remark was a genuine misunderstanding or a disingenuous put-down, though it is hard to imagine how a rejection of Labour governments that are “loyal to the constitutional order” could have escaped him. A political group which explicitly rejects the constitutional order, you would think, must aim to break up that order: ie, smash the state, including its extra-parliamentary institutions. How else could you interpret that formulation?

Either way, Labour Party Marxists can be grateful to the comrade for providing a test run ahead of the conference, illustrating how someone could ‘misunderstand’ what is being said in the worst possible way. Far be it for me to insist that one should, as Hitler recommended, always tailor one’s speeches to the biggest fool in the hall, but with only three and a half minutes to move a motion – let alone one coming from a new group that not many will have heard of – it is imperative to take great care about one’s choice of words.

Although the LRC has, as we have seen, more than its quota of reformists, Labour Party Marxists might have won over a good section of those present by a more comprehensive motion. A clear statement on the tasks of the working class vanguard operating in and outside the LP – rather than just a list of things that socialist should not do – may have gone a long way to clearly distance the group from Socialist Party of Great Britain-type utopians, who, with pure hearts and arms folded, have been waiting for the masses to vote for socialism for over 100 years.

LPM members appeared acutely aware that they will be judged by what they proceed to do and say in the forthcoming months. In my opinion, this should include an elaboration of their position on the state question. But they are on the right track – LPM comrade Jim Moody was elected onto the LCR’s national committee – but they will need to make their positions understood to many, including in two-minute sound bites.

Pedantry aside, the reason why the motion was not carried was, in all likelihood, due to concerns from the right wing of the LRC, not from its left. For all their socialist speechifying, the overriding leitmotif of the organisation is, before everything else, to get a Labour government elected. Despite the historical experience of the 20th century and, it stands to reason, against their better knowledge, the comrades hope that bad Labour governments will be followed by less bad ones, until one day – hey presto – we get a socialist one.

In this gradualist approach, our Permanent Revolution comrade does not differ significantly from the traditionalist Labourites who extolled the virtues of the 1945 Attlee government – you know, the NHS and all that – in speaking against the LPM motion. How much more, one wonders, must the European economy deteriorate to convince these comrades that there is just no point in dreaming of another 1945?

LRC Annual Conference 2011: Labour’s resistance

The Labour Representation Committee’s 2011 AGM takes place this Saturday, 19 November, 10:00am to 4:30pm ULU, Malet Street, London. Labour Party Marxists have submitted the following motion:

The Labour Representation Committee does not aim for a Labour government for its own sake. Bad Labour governments do not lead to good Labour governments. They lead to Tory governments.

History shows that Labour governments committed to managing the capitalist system and loyal to the existing constitutional order create disillusionment in the working class.

The aim must be that the Labour Party should only consider forming a government when it has the active support of a clear majority of the population and has a realistic prospect of implementing a full socialist programme.

We’ve also published the first edition of the LPM bulletin – please let us know what you think.

Suffocating lack of democracy

Delegate Jim Moody gives his impressions of the Liverpool Labour Party conference, 25-29 September 2011

Miliband: Blairism without Blair?

New Labour is dead: long live the refounded Labour Party! Well, that’s not quite what happened in Liverpool last week. In fact, the Blairite legacy is alive and well and functions to destroy real debate within the party, especially at what should be its ultimate decision-making body, annual conference.

The other side of this coin was illustrated on the Mersey too: that the unions are decisive and if their bureaucracies wanted they could change the present state of affairs, for the betterment of party democracy. In actual fact, conference functions largely as a PR presentation for the media, with stage-managed speeches absent of contention with respect to any proposal on the table, since almost everything has been decided beforehand, beyond the conference hall.

Attending conference as a delegate for the first time was an almost joyless experience for me. Unsurprisingly and perhaps even unremarkably, the attenuated (ie, denial of) democracy beloved of New Labour persists. Those of us active in the party know how democratically eviscerated it has become since the time of Blair’s takeover in the mid-1990s. When it comes to what would be usual for conferences of trade unions and all kinds of democratic organisations, Labour now does things differently. We have arrived at a situation where, instead of a conference at which affiliates’ and constituencies’ delegates debate motions and amendments to motions, there are the deliberately impenetrable and abstruse policy forums and subsequent empty rhetoric and pointless conference speeches. Once the national policy forum’s (NPF) report is accepted by the national executive committee, that is that: the report, section by section, can only be accepted or rejected by conference; no amendments are allowed. As expected, it was passed as the leadership intended following conference ‘debate’. In conference itself, there were only flashes of real discussion, mainly centring on attempts to reference-back the morning’s conference arrangements committee (CAC) reports on a couple of occasions.

Constituency Labour Parties and affiliates such as trade unions are allowed to submit one so-called contemporary motion (and CLPs can only do that if they have not submitted a rule change proposal). However, if a contemporary motion is to stand a chance of appearing on the conference order paper at all, its subject matter must not already have been discussed by the NPF or its commissions before the cut-off date (the NPF’s last meeting in late July). Obviously, this considerably constrains what CLPs and affiliated organisations can put forward. At conference itself this thin slice of permitted motions is squeezed into a few composites, only eight of which can be moved. On the first day two groups – CLPs and affiliates (overwhelmingly the unions) – each choose four composites.

But this year, through overlapping choices and the restricted interpretation of the CAC, only five composites actually made it onto the agenda. The unions chose ‘Jobs, growth, employment rights’; ‘Health and social care’; ‘Phone hacking’; and ‘Public services’. CLPs in the main disregarded advice given in the first bulletin put out by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, so their votes were largely wasted when they were cast for three dead certs (ie, three of the union-backed composites), plus a composite on ‘Housing’. This meant, for example, that the ‘August riots’ did not get taken: a glaring omission. Although there were challenges to the CAC’s morning reports on its recommendations, none was successful and chairs of sessions refused calls for card votes.

What constitutes an emergency motion to conference was even more tightly defined: so much so that none of those submitted this year cleared the hurdles placed in their way. All the proposed rule changes that were accepted onto the agenda, none of which was earth-shattering, fell on card votes after CAC recommendations against their acceptance.

Of course, arguably the most important item at conference has been the culmination of discussions on the Refounding Labour document first proposed by Peter Hain in March on the instigation of Ed Miliband. Branches and CLPs spent considerable time and effort on this project, submitting thousands of responses. But these appear hardly to have been given more than a nod in the end; we are still waiting to see if the responses will be published in full; the only feedback so far, apart from standard bland letters of acknowledgment from Hain, has been bare statistics on the number of responses that were made.

The NEC finalised a reformulated version days before conference after secret recommendations were made by its organisation committee in the light of trade union objections. Then last-minute negotiations between party and union officials on the day before conference started ensured that the leadership’s key proposals were retained in Refounding Labour.

Accordingly, from now on non-members can become registered supporters of the Labour Party, able to vote in the leadership election and otherwise participate within the party alongside individual members; levy-paying trade union members will have to register to have these rights. The unions pushed through a concession, whereby this is not achieved solely at the expense of their representation, as was originally proposed. The last-ditch deal allows registered supporters, once their numbers reach 50,000, to gain 3% of electoral college votes, with 1% taken from each of the three former electoral college components: individual members within Constituency Labour Parties; those paying the political levy in the trade unions; and MPs. If registered supporter numbers increase beyond the minimum 50,000, the proportion of electoral college votes they control will rise progressively up to a maximum of 10%, to be allocated on the same basis: ie, a 30:30:30:10 split.

In addition to the dilution of membership rights, both individual and trade union, another step away from democracy was contained in the document. The longstanding right of Labour MPs to elect members of the shadow cabinet is now abolished. Instead, the Labour leader while in opposition now has the right to select whomsoever he wishes independently of any Labour body, just as a Labour prime minister already does. This further adds to the dictatorial powers of the leader, who, instead of acting like an elected monarch, should be accountable to and recallable by the NEC. And no-one should be fooled by all those full seats during such set-piece, key PR moments as the leader’s speech: officials will put anyone and her brother in empty ones to ensure the hall looks full. There were more media and PR people attending conference than delegates, which is nothing out of the ordinary these days.

Of course, given the way things are carved up in the Labour Party, neither CLPs nor affiliates were able to intervene openly to change Refounding Labour at conference; once again, no amendments were allowed. It was again ‘take it or leave it’ time. A minority of delegates followed the logic of opposition to these objectionable proposals, as well as to the undemocratic process as a whole, and voted against the entire document when it came to a card vote on the first day of conference.

The bitter pill had been sweetened for conference delegates by offering incentives. Constituencies will no longer have to pay a fee for the first delegates they send. In addition, local councillors and Young Labour will in future have representation at annual conference and distinct rights in leadership elections. But why should councillors – or MPs, for that matter – be granted special powers and rights? This is another example of the tail wagging the dog, since they allegedly represent us.

However, there may be some unintended positive consequences for party democracy. It all depends upon how members press the point. For it now may be possible, as a consequence of the rule changes brought in by Refounding Labour to win (its new name), for branches and constituencies to allow affiliate (eg, trade union levy-paying) members, as well as the new registered supporters, to attend their meetings.

Unable to amend it, on the usual ‘take it or leave it’ basis CLPs overwhelmingly supported the final NEC-approved version of Refounding Labour to win: voting was 112,286 in favour, with 14,842 against. Affiliates, which numerically are mainly the trade unions, voted 2,459,269 for and only 11,822 against.

The high point for real debate at conference has to be its fringe meetings, where all sorts of groups – within and without the Labour Party – vied for delegates’ attention at lunch breaks and at the end of each day. Single-issue campaigns provided plenty of scope to discuss questions where debate was squashed out of the agenda in the conference hall itself.

The best fringe meeting that I attended was organised by the Labour Representation Committee in a nearby hotel. Over 200 comrades crammed into a sweltering room to hear platform speakers John McDonnell, Tony Benn, PCS’s Mark Serwotka and Unite’s Len McCluskey lambast politicians of all stripes, including Labour ones. The speakers’ main focus was on the forthcoming strike on November 30, but they and contributors from the floor called for the resistance to the cuts to be built beyond one-day events and to include civil disobedience.

Comrade McDonnell stated that class struggle is “at its bitterest for generations”, while Len McCluskey wanted the widest “coalition of resistance”. Mark Serwotka was very clear: “We should say there should be no public spending cuts … We should say we’re not having austerity.” Were the mood and tenor of the LRC meeting to have been that of even a large minority at the conference itself, there could have been a direct challenge to the pro-capitalist cliques that currently vie at the top of the party to control it.

As well as those organised by unions and other groups from the working class movement, there were fringes put on not just by charities, but by overtly pro-capitalist bodies. The very well-funded Blairite Progress group held several, in conjunction with ‘partners’ such as the Chemical Industries Association; Progress had a platform speaker at one fringe meeting from Nato’s London Information Network on Conflicts and State-building. One of the Fabian Society fringes was supported by EEF, “the manufacturers’ organisation”. Businesses and commercial organisations holding fringe meetings included Aviva, the Nuclear Industry Association, Reuters, The Times and The Observer.

Refound Labour as a real party of labour

Peter Hain, chair of the national policy forum, was commissioned by Ed Miliband in November 2010 to write a consultation paper with the aim of reorganising the Labour Party, so that it could regain “the trust of British people”. Refounding Labour (PDF) has been widely discussed in the mainstream press, web forums and numerous Labour Party meetings. Submissions have been asked for. This is the contribution of the Labour Party Marxists

Refounding the Labour Party is long overdue. There have been too many wasted years. It is a crying shame then that Peter Hain’s consultation paper is so timid, so uninspiring. No damning critique of capitalism, no bold socialist vision, no proposals to radically democratise the party. Instead we are offered managerial, tokenistic, superficial tinkering. The continued existence of capitalism goes unquestioned. The deepest, most protracted economic crisis since the 1930s gets a mention, but no commensurate conclusions follow.

Our party, our society, our species face huge challenges. No-one objects to using the internet, tweeting, community campaigns or organising an annual “summer weekend” festival. Yet, given the ongoing massive cuts programme of the Con-Dem government, the sovereign debt crisis in Europe, the terrible wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the drift into new ‘humanitarian’ interventions, the abject failure to counter the danger of ecological collapse, the urgent necessity for a socialist transition and a complete transformation of all existing conditions, more, much more, is needed.

There are those amongst us, of course, who fondly look back to what they imagine to be a golden age. The old clause four (part four) of our constitution committed us: “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.”

Mistakenly, this is interpreted as a sincere commitment to socialism. But when it was first adopted, in February 1918 – during the slaughter of inter-imperialist war – the idea of Sidney Webb and the Fabians was to divert the considerable sympathy that existed for the Russian Revolution into safe, constitutional, channels.

Needless to say, clause four was mainly for show. However, even if it had been taken seriously and put into practice, Fabian socialism is antithetical to working class self-liberation. Industry, banking, transport, etc, would be bureaucratically nationalised. The mass of the population, however, remain exploited wage-slaves. Capitalism without capitalists.

Nevertheless, the old clause four resulted from mass pressure. Because of World War I, because of the Russian Revolution, capitalism was widely discredited, viewed as inherently irrational, warlike, prone to constantly recurring crises. Socialism was seen as the answer. What was true of 1918 is increasingly the case in the 2010s.

There is a widespread rejection of capitalism; even in the United States an April 2009 Rasmussen poll showed only 53 percent of American adults rating capitalism “better than socialism” (www.rasmussenreports.com).

Showing how badly out of touch he is with the growing anti-capitalist mood, Peter Hain actually celebrates what he calls the “reforming” of clause four in 1994. A “hugely important political symbol”, he emphatically declares. Indeed it was.

Tony Blair and New Labour were trying to assure the establishment, the City, the Murdoch empire, the global plutocracy that capitalism would be safe in their hands. That a New Labour government would not even pay lip service to what was in fact a British nationalist version of state capitalism.

Whatever differences Peter Hain has with New Labour, he is impeccably New Labour on this score at least … meanwhile Ed Miliband flirts with Blue Labour.

Calls for a return of the old clause four are understandable, but totally misplaced. We need to go forwards, not look backwards. Labour needs to organise on the basis of an explicitly socialist, as opposed to a social democratic, neoliberal or Blue Labour programme. Only then can we fulfil our responsibilities.

That is why Labour Party Marxists advocate extreme democracy in society and throughout the labour movement, working class rule and international socialism.
Historically – in terms of membership, finances and electoral base – our party has largely relied on the working class. This has been our greatest strength; and here is the source of our hope and confidence in the future. Because of its constantly renewed social position the working class tends towards collectivist, socialistic solutions.

Despite Blairism, New Labour and the public sacrifice of the old clause four, we remain a distinctly class party. The historic relationship with the trade unions survives, there are still 2.7 million affiliated members and the working class “core vote” stood up well in the last general election.

Peter Hain is right, of course, when he points to a long-term decline of our mass base. Between 1997 and 2010 we lost five million votes.

However, there must be more to this than three terms in government, changing patterns of work and the “growth of sports and other leisure interests.” Maintaining Tory anti-trade union laws, widening inequality, Iraq and Gordon Brown’s fawning before the market, big business and the banks caused dismay and demoralisation. Our voters did not in general desert to other parties. They simply stopped voting.

We are asked how “better working class representation” can be achieved. Refounding Labour registers an aspiration to “re-create a much more organic link between the party and the trade union movement”. Underlined by Ed Miliband’s introductory statement that he does “not want to break the party up, but build it up”.

Unlike New Labour, he harbours no ambition to break the link with the trade unions. Nowadays, that would certainly result in a financial catastrophe – debt crippled our election campaign in 2010 and donations from the super-rich have almost entirely dried up. Yet, whatever the motivation, a commitment to retain the trade union link is to be welcomed.

So how to re-engage our traditional base, how to reinvigorate the relationship with the trade unions? We say the Labour Party can and must be refounded as a real party of labour. By that we mean rebuilding and thoroughly democratising the Labour Party. We want to make Labour into a common home for all workers and working class organisations – the goal of the founders of the party in 1900.

As a party we should commit ourselves to energetically campaign to revive the trade union movement. The fall from 12 million trade union members in the late 1970s to some seven million today can be reversed. Party members should take the lead in recruiting masses of new trade unionists and restoring the strength of the unions in the workplace and in society at large. Every level of the party needs to be involved. That includes our councillors and MPs.

Strikes must be unashamedly supported. There ought to be a binding commitment to back workers in their struggle to protect jobs, pensions and conditions. Inevitably the anti-trade union laws will have to be defied.

In parallel all trade unions ought to be encouraged to affiliate to the Labour Party, all members of the trade unions encouraged to pay the political levy to the Labour Party and join as individual members.

Unions that have either been expelled or have disaffiliated need to be welcomed back: eg, the RMT and FBU. But there are unions which have never had an organised relationship with the Labour Party: eg, PCS and NUT. Indeed of the 58 unions affiliated to the TUC only 15 are affiliated to Labour. Winning new trade union affiliates would help transform our present situation.

While Labour Party Marxists support the idea of making membership affordable for those who are students, unemployed or are on low pay, we oppose the suggestion of blurring the distinction between those who are members – with the right to elect, be elected and decide policy, etc – and those who are supporters. Membership of the Labour Party should be something to value, to be proud of.

Naturally, the fight to refound and rebuild the Labour Party cannot be separated from the fight to democratise the trade unions. All trade union officials ought to be subject to regular election and be recallable. No official should receive pay higher than the average of the membership. Moreover, rules which restrict the ability of the rank and file to organise and criticise must be swept away. They bring discredit to our movement.

Trade union votes at Labour Party conferences should be cast not by general secretaries, but proportionately, according to the political balance in each delegation. Conference cannot be dominated by four or five men in suits.

The Labour Party should be reorganised from top to bottom. All socialist and communist groups, leftwing think tanks and progressive campaigns ought to be allowed to affiliate. Towards that end the undemocratic bans and proscriptions must be rescinded. Clause two (five) must be reformulated. A whole raft of new affiliated socialist and other such organisations would not bring in hundreds of thousands of new recruits, it would though bring in many highly valuable men and women of talent and dedication. The culture of our party can that way be greatly enhanced.

The Parliamentary Labour Party has to be brought into line. We must end the situation where Labour members vote for one thing and the PLP does another. Musings about minimal parliamentary attendance and codes of conduct are a dangerous diversion. What is needed is not further measures of bureaucratic control from above, but democratic control from below.

Our ward and constituency parties will continue to wither and die if they remain under the thumb of regional organisers and are expected to act as mere transmission belts for Victoria Street. Local autonomy enlivens, educates and lays the basis for growth and national influence. All officials in the Labour Party must be subject to regular election and re-election.

Labour Party Marxists want the present post of Labour leader abolished. While our party has to fulfil the statutory requirements laid down in the thoroughly undemocratic Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act, the Führerprinzip can be left to others. The leader of the Labour Party should be a nominal position. Instead of a Bonaparte with the power to appoint shadow ministers, the National Executive Committee should be responsible for electing chairs of the PLP, shadow ministers, etc.

Members are deeply alienated. The Joint Policy Committee, the National Policy Forum and the whole Partnership into Power rigmarole have demonstrably failed. Instead of reforming them they should simply be abolished. The NEC must be unambiguously responsible for drafting Labour Party manifestoes. And, of course, the NEC needs to be fully accountable to annual conference.

Annual conference must be the supreme body of the Labour Party. We need democratic debate and binding votes. Not a happy-clappy rally designed for TV producers. Make officials and shadow ministers report as humble servants. No more preening media stars, no more control-freakery, no more business lobbyists, promotions and exhibits. An authoritative, honest, no-holds barred conference would certainly guarantee an immediate increase in CLPs sending delegates to conference: numbers fell from 527 in 2002 to 444 in 2009 and only 412 in 2010 – under two thirds the total entitled to attend.
As with the trade unions, our elected representatives must be recallable by the constituency or other body that selected them. That includes Labour MPs, MEPs, MSPs, AMs, councillors, etc.

Likewise, without exception, our elected representatives should take only the average wage of a skilled worker. When it comes to existing salaries, the balance should be given to the party. On current figures, that means around £40,000 from each MP (at present they are only obliged to pay the £82 parliamentarians’ subscription rate). That would give a substantial fillip to our depleted finances.

It should be a basic principle that our representatives live like workers, not pampered middle class careerists. If that was done, no longer would people say, ‘All politicians are the same’ or that they are ‘all in it for personal gain’.

Our task is refounding the Labour Party as a real party of labour: a workers’ party.

Fight the bans and proscriptions

Jim Moody examines the damage caused by the leadership’s witch-hunts and calls for the Labour Party to be transformed into a united front of the whole working class

Established in February 1900, the Labour Party was initially a federal party composed only of affiliated trade unions and other organisations, such as socialist societies. One of the latter, the British Socialist Party (formerly the Social Democratic Federation), helped found the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1920. It was only in 1918 that the Labour Party permitted individual membership; before that time its activist base had been provided by affiliates, including the BSP and the Independent Labour Party.

Thanks in large part to its affiliate structure, the Labour Party continued for some time after World War I to have CPGB comrades as full individual members, though all CPGB requests to affiliate as an organisation were refused. In 1922, two CPGB members won parliamentary elections as Labour candidates: JT Walton Newbold was elected MP for Motherwell and Wishaw at a by-election in November; and Shapurji Saklatvala joined him by becoming MP for Battersea North at the general election later that same month.

Labour’s national executive committee had been forced to drop its attempt to ban members of the CPGB becoming conference delegates, so that at the 1923 annual conference there were “36 party members as delegates, as against six at Edinburgh”, the previous year.1 This conference again considered, and rejected, CPGB affiliation on a card vote of 2,880,000 to 366,000.

In the December 1923 general election, Walton Newbold (in Motherwell) and William Gallacher (Dundee) stood as Communist Party candidates. However, fellow CPGBers Ellen Wilkinson (Ashton-under-Lyne), Shapurji Saklatvala (Battersea North), M Philips Price (Gloucester), William Paul (Manchester Rusholme) and Joe Vaughan (Bethnal Green SW) were official Labour Party candidates, while Alec Geddes (Greenock) and Aitkin Ferguson (Glasgow Kelvingrove) stood as unofficial Labour (there being no official Labour candidate in either constituency). Despite an increase in votes, none was elected.2 A ban on CPGB members standing as Labour Party candidates followed.

However, although Labour Party support was forbidden for communist candidates, in the October 1924 general election, Battersea North Labour Party endorsed Saklatvala overwhelmingly; Joe Vaughan was unanimously endorsed by Bethnal Green SW CLP and William Paul similarly by the Rusholme CLP executive committee. Saklatvala was once more elected an MP.3

The 1924 annual conference decision against CPGB members retaining their LP membership was reaffirmed the following year. “At the same time, trade unions were asked not to nominate communists as delegates to Labour organisations.”4 Despite these moves, at the end of 1926 1,544 of the CPGB’s 7,900 members were still individual members of the Labour Party.

After the 1926 General Strike, rightwing Labour and trade union leaders wanted the movement to draw the lesson that the only way to make gains would be through increased cooperation with the capitalists – combined, of course, with the return of a Labour government. As an essential concomitant, the Labour leadership moved to impose a stifling central control and clamp down on the left, including the communists, who could be expected to fight their class collaboration.

The assault on CPGBers’ individual membership began in London, where “434 communists out of a total London membership of 1,105 were active in their local Labour Parties or as delegates to them.”5 In exposing the leading attacker, Herbert Morrison, secretary of London Labour Party, summarised his views thus: “When the workers of London are prepared to lead, we of the London Labour Party will possibly consider whether it is desirable or convenient or respectable or constitutional to follow.”6

Despite claiming that ‘communists were splitting the movement’, the Labour leadership did just that, by disaffiliating the existing Battersea LP for choosing Saklatvala and refusing to expel communists, and setting up an alternative. A similar prohibition was carried out against Bethnal Green LP, where communist ex-mayor Joe Vaughan was the right’s bugbear. This pattern continued elsewhere, too, with unrecognised and official Labour Parties existing side by side for some years in several areas.

The Labour left fought back in the form of the National Left Wing Movement, which was set up in late 1925 not only to fight the bans but to hold together disaffiliated Labour Parties. The NLWM insisted it had no aim to supersede the Labour Party, but to bring it nearer to rank and file aspirations and in this it was greatly aided by the newly established Sunday Worker. Despite being set up on the initiative of and funded by the CPGB, the Sunday Worker was the voice of the NLWM and at its height achieved a circulation of 100,000. The NLWM’s 1925 founding conference had nearly 100 divisional and borough Labour Parties sending delegates. Of course, as the right’s campaign of closures and expulsions remorselessly proceeded, the NLWM found itself weakened in terms of official Labour Party structures.  Hence at the NLWM’s second annual conference in 1927, there were delegates from only 54 local Labour Parties and other Labour groups (representing a total of 150,000 individual party members). Militant union leaders, such as miners’ leader AJ Cook, supported the conference.

As the decade advanced, CPGB relations with the Labour Party were to change markedly, as Stalinism took hold in the Soviet Union. Communist parties around the world slavishly followed the Soviet-run Comintern’s turn against social democratic parties in 1928, loyally parroting the ‘social-fascist’ label of the ‘third period’. In Britain, the CPGB was no different: theoreticians such as Rajani Palme Dutt led its relatively small membership into self-imposed exile outside the Labour Party.

In countries like Britain, where there was a small Communist Party, the Comintern line inevitably led to isolation from the rest of the politically organised working class. As part of this self-inflicted madness in 1929 the Sunday Worker was closed and the NLWM wound up. Ralph Miliband notes: “It was only in 1929 that the Communist Party, on instructions from the Comintern, came under the control of the erstwhile minority and adopted the new line of total opposition to all non-communists in the labour movement. From then until 1933, the CP held to a ‘revolutionary’ policy, which isolated it ever more strictly from the labour movement and brought it to the nadir of its influence.”7
Widening bans

In 1930, 10 years after the foundation of the CPGB and 12 years after the Labour Party introduced individual membership, the Labour Party produced its first ‘proscribed list’, although it was not issued under a section of the constitution.

By this means, members of proscribed organisations became ineligible for individual membership of the party and local Labour branches were prohibited from affiliating to proscribed organisations; these included the influential National Unemployed Workers’ Movement and the National Minority Movement. At the time when the restrictions were introduced, it became a condition of Labour Party membership that members already active in proscribed organisations had to leave them forthwith. Nevertheless, it took a further three years’ intense activity by the Labour Party right before it was able to change the constitution to prohibit individual members of the CPGB from joining as and remaining members of the Labour Party.

Of course, this was just when real fascism came to power in Germany and Comintern’s line changed again. But, with this turn, the CPGB’s new cross-class popular frontism was hardly destined to win influence for revolutionary politics in the Labour Party in any case. A formal proscribed list was to remain in place in the Labour Party for the next four decades.
Not only was the CPGB proscribed, but a whole raft of organisations fell foul of the Labour leadership’s attack on anything smacking of the revolutionary or even radical left. Those affected included organisations of the unemployed, international solidarity bodies and trade union defence committees. The League Against Imperialism (1927-36) was also proscribed. The LAI’s secretary was Reginald Bridgeman, a former British diplomat in Iran, who had contested Uxbridge for Labour in the 1929 general election. But he was expelled from the party because of his membership of the LAI. More organisations continued to be added to the proscribed list throughout the 1930s.

The Independent Labour Party formally joined with the CPGB and the NUWM on September 29 1931 to fight unemployment. After years of battling the right in the Labour Party from within, a special conference of the ILP in 1932 disaffiliated from the Labour Party; that section of its members which stayed in the LP helped found the Socialist League. This was not the first time the SL had campaigned with the CPGB, of course. “From 1931, the CP-led National Unemployed Workers’ Movement captured the field as the leading champion of the unemployed, and large number of Labour Party SL members were caught up in demonstrations led by CP members (by November 1932, of 5,400 Communist Party members, 60% were unemployed).”8

A bare few months after Hitler’s Nazis had taken over in Germany, anti-communist prohibition and the threat of proscription were still the paramount issues for Labour’s right wing: “Labour leaders warned SL members against any form of collaboration with CP members in anti-fascist organisations under CP control or influence.”9

Led by Stafford Cripps, the Socialist League was a continual thorn in the side of the right. In 1936 Cripps and the SL were pulled in behind the Unity Campaign by the ILP and the CPGB. The aim was to oppose the growing forces of the far right and fascism. Spain became their great cause. In January 1937 Labour’s national executive disaffiliated the SL, on the basis of the organisation’s alleged ‘disloyalty’ to the Labour Party. Two months later, the NEC delivered the body blow and declared membership of the SL incompatible with that of Labour.

The majority of the SL decided to disband the organisation and remain as individual LP members. “It was on the advice of the Communist Party that the SL was ‘invited’ to disband; it was on CP advice that joint meetings between Labour Unity supporters, the ILP and the CP were terminated. There were discussions in the Unity Campaign committee as to SL tactics, and CP leaders urged the SL to prove the sincerity of its desire for unity ‘within the framework of the Labour Party’ by accepting the ultimatum of the NEC and voluntarily dissolve itself.”10

Clearly scenting blood, Labour’s NEC went further at its June 1937 meeting in witch-hunting everyone associated with the Unity Campaign. “Women’s sections and constituency parties were forbidden even to discuss ‘unity’; divisional party officers were told to ensure the UC’s defeat; party membership was refused to applicants whose husbands were communists …”11 Although Cripps complied with the NEC’s ruling and subsequently organised the members-only Labour’s National Unity Committee, this too was added to the list of ‘crimes’ that eventually led to his expulsion at the May-June annual conference in 1939.

In 1942, the Labour Research Department (which had originally been founded in 1912 as the Fabian Research Department, an offshoot of the Fabian Society) was accused of being controlled by the CPGB; it too was proscribed and remained so until 1971, though many branches of Labour-affiliated trade unions in struggle continued to find enormous value in its publication of companies’ accounts and directorships in the intervening decades. While some LRD staff members were CPGB members, it was financed and controlled by its 592 affiliated bodies, only 11 of which could be described as largely communist-influenced organisations.

Cold war hysteria

Following the end of World War II, anti-communism took on hysterical proportions. Propagandists from Voice of America to the BBC denounced the largely imaginary Soviet threat. This was the age of Winston Churchill’s ‘iron curtain’ Fulton speech and Joe McCarthy’s House Committee on Un-American Activities. The cold war had begun.
In that atmosphere the Labour Party right was able to step up its moves against the left under the guise of acting against ‘red sympathisers’. The new wave of proscriptions continued well into the 1960s.

In 1951, for example, annual conference endorsed a ban on the Socialist Fellowship, which had been founded in 1949 on a programme that “included increased public ownership, workers’ control of industry, heavier taxation of the wealthy and a more equal distribution of income, reduced compensation to the former shareholders of the nationalised industries, greater efficiency in industry and improved social services”.12 This was surely a pretty clear left Labourite platform. The World Federation of Scientific Workers (1946-96) was proscribed in 1953, along with another 17 groups newly investigated that year by the national agent’s department, which had overall responsibility for compiling the proscription list. In 1954 the publication Socialist Outlook was proscribed and as a result folded the same year.

In 1958, John Lawrence, who had been its editor, and several dozen other leading members of the St Pancras Labour Party, including councillors and aldermen, were expelled for activity that party bureaucrats described (without evidence) as “inimical to the best interests of the Labour Party”. One of the group’s crimes was to have flown the red flag over the town hall in place of the union jack on May Day in 1958, prompting Mosleyite fascist and Tory physical attacks. In a protest letter to the NEC, Lawrence proudly remarked that he had been the “leader of a borough council which has earned itself a reputation for defying the Tory government and for refusing to meekly acquiesce in Tory policy”.13

As the 1950s came to an end, the number of proscribed organisations continued to grow. In 1959 the Socialist Labour League, of which Gerry Healy was a leading member and whose comrades were also Labour Party members, was proscribed. SLL influence over the Labour Party’s youth organisation, the Young Socialists, led to the Labour right closing YS in 1964.14 In the 1960s, proscribed organisations included the British-Soviet Friendship Society, the World Peace Council and the World Federation of Trade Unions. In 1965, Labour’s NEC expelled 18 members of Paddington South CLP following allegations of a Trotskyist takeover.

When Ron Hayward replaced Harry Nicholas as Labour general secretary in 1972, he called into question the effectiveness of the proscribed list. In a circular to party members in July 1973, Hayward wrote: “The national executive committee conducted a complete review of the list of proscribed organisations, during which it became apparent that the list was unsatisfactory. While some political organisations had been formally placed on this list, others which advocated policies of a like nature were not included.
“Difficulties have been experienced in keeping a current record of the many political organisations that are established, many of which are of short life, change their names or merge with other organisations. Moreover, the existence of the list had created an impression that if an organisation were not listed it was in order for affiliated and party organisations to associate with it.”15

Hayward’s careful use of words in the transmission of the NEC’s decision cannot disguise the underlying belief in the continuing entitlement of the party right wing to rule the roost by administrative means. The right’s weapon of prohibition against the revolutionary left organising in party groupings remained, but reforged into something other than a simple list of proscribed organisations. It meant, too, that this weapon was no longer to be wielded by the party’s organisations from branch level up, but only by the central bureaucracy. Despite the feeling then that the right was beleaguered on the NEC, it still had a majority, but one which had to be more subtle in swinging the axe against elements of the left.
As one academic study shortly after these events commented, “The NEC has not diminished its powers. The change is one of policy, not a constitutional amendment, and the proscribed list could therefore be reintroduced by the NEC at any time without notice. In the meantime it can act against any organisation of which it disapproves on the basis of the existing rules on ineligibility that remain in force.”16 It was in fact on the basis of ineligibility that the next battles commenced.

Expulsion of Militant

At the end of 1975 the party’s national agent, Reg Underhill, drew up a report on Trotskyist groups in the Labour Party. However, Underhill’s established reputation as a witch-hunter notwithstanding, the balance of forces in the party was not sufficiently tilted to the right to enable it to act quite so crudely against the left as before.

In recalling these events later, the current general secretary of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, Peter Taaffe, who was then editor of Militant, noted: “At the NEC organisation sub-committee Underhill called for action to be taken. He was answered by left MPs Ian Mikardo and Eric Heffer. Mikardo declared that there were ‘good articles in their paper – good material in Militant. Reg’s evidence says that they are pretty small in numbers. With 30 full-time organisers to only have 800 members is not very good.’ Eric Heffer declared: ‘My party [Walton] in the past was run by the Deane group [who pioneered Marxist work in Liverpool before the establishment of Militant], but that was nothing to get upset about … What is wrong with selling Tribune or Militant in preference to Labour Weekly? … don’t react to pressure from outside for a witch-hunt … don’t push youngsters into a corner.’ Underhill interjected, saying that ‘all the denials under the sun were made by the Socialist Labour League when they controlled the Young Socialists’. Eric Heffer angrily hit back: ‘They were a bunch of gangsters. Militant are totally different.’ The sub-committee decided not to proceed with Underhill’s enquiries.”17

While he was leader (1976-80), James Callaghan continued the rightwing imperative to stifle dissent in the party by calling on both the Tribune and Manifesto groups to disband. Quite correctly, they ignored him.

However, the campaign against Militant in the Labour Party gathered apace in 1981 under the leadership of Michael Foot, one of the most prominent figures on the Labour left. At the end of that year the NEC set up an inquiry under Hayward and national agent David Hughes into Militant’s activities within the party. It reported in June 1982, in part proposing a register of non-affiliated groups that would be allowed to operate within the Labour Party. This was a new variation on the old proscribed list theme.

The Hayward-Hughes inquiry’s definitive finding on Militant was that is was a “well-organised caucus centrally controlled … with its own programme and policy or separate and distinctive propaganda”. This latter phrase is a direct reference to a prohibition in clause two, section five of the Labour Party constitution; the inquiry found Militant in breach of this rule. To put it another way, Militant “would not be eligible to be included in the proposed register”, which it had applied to join. In fact, the register was never actually drawn up, leading to the inevitable conclusion that it was an undemocratic and bogus device to expel Militant and its members from Labour ranks with a gloss of legitimacy.
“Both Foot and Mortimer18, then, saw themselves engaged in a delicate balancing act: on the one hand, to curb Militant’s influence, whilst, on the other, devising a strategy which would both mobilise a solid vote at conference and avoid large-scale expulsions. Hence the register, whose application, it was anticipated, would lead to the removal of Militant’s ‘inner organising group’ (Mortimer’s phrase) and extend no further.”19 Initially, then, only a handful of Militant members were expelled: the editorial board of Militant – the only clear and avowed members of the Militant Tendency who could be identified with certainty. This restriction was partly a result of the unsuccessful legal action taken by Militant members, which had this side-effect, on party lawyers’ advice, forcing Mortimer to adhere more closely to party rules, rather than acting ultra vires and against ‘natural justice’. But eventually the attack widened.

Mortimer and the party leadership were in something of a dilemma and, “short of abandoning the fight, the NEC had no option but to proscribe Militant. This it did, by 18 votes to nine, in December 1982. The tendency’s members were now ineligible to remain within the Labour Party. Given that Militant denied having any members (only ‘supporters’), the next step was to devise a workable definition of Militant membership. To comply with legal requirements, the definition finally approved by the NEC in January was wide-ranging. It stated that, in seeking to establish membership of Militant, the executive ‘shall have regard, in particular, to their involvement in financial support for and/or the organisation of and/or the activities of the Militant Tendency.’”20

Labour’s right now had to keep its powder dry and gather evidence against the mass of Militant supporters who were Labour Party members sufficient, if need be, to satisfy the bourgeois courts and thus stall any legal challenge to expulsions. And anyway the mood of non-Militant rank-and-file members in the 1980s was not to accept demurely the diktats of the leadership, but rather to question its authority. Mass expulsions of Militant members would likely have produced widespread membership refusal to accept NEC decisions, leading to a breakdown in the leadership’s ability to manage the party.

In September 1982 annual conference endorsed the Hayward-Hughes report, declaring that the Militant organisation was ineligible to affiliate to the party and that its members were thus banned from operating in any way within it. Many on the Labour left were not happy with this result, especially as it dawned on them that the weapon it handed to the right could be wielded in a similarly unprincipled way against members of any left grouping within the party that was not already an affiliate. Although the soft-left Tribune group supported (albeit by a narrow margin) Foot’s and the right’s attack on Militant, others declared strongly against it. The Labour Coordinating Committee and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, among others, denounced it as unacceptable and an attack on party members’ democratic rights. But it was in the end approved by the NEC by 16 votes to 10. In an editorial, New Socialist declared strongly against witch-hunts in the Labour Party, stating that, “The Labour Party always has been a broad collection that includes Marxists amongst its ranks.”21 There was, however, clearly insufficient opposition to effect a reversal, which gave the right added incentive to press on.

Controversially, as a last desperate stand, in December 1982 Militant tried for a court injunction to restrain the NEC, but was unsuccessful. Comrade Taaffe subsequently claimed: “Militant did not believe that this was the main way to fight the witch-hunt. At best it was an auxiliary which could temporarily stay the hand of the right wing and allow time to build up support amongst the ranks to prevent a purge, or at least limit its scope.”22

At the end of February 1983, the NEC had expelled the five members of the Militant editorial board: Taaffe, Ted Grant, Keith Dickenson, Lynn Walsh and Clare Doyle. When all five appealed this decision to the September 1983 annual conference, they lost largely thanks to the trade unions. While two thirds of constituency delegates voted against expulsions, the block votes wielded by union general secretaries assured rejection of their appeals; card voting was 5,160,000 for expulsion to 1,616,000 against for four of the appellants, though Ted Grant got 175,000 votes extra in his favour.

Neil Kinnock’s address to the 1985 annual conference marked the beginning of the second wave of the attack on Militant. The committee of enquiry into Liverpool council, a Militant bastion, produced a damning majority report.23 The Liverpool party was suspended and its Militant members expelled; more expulsions around the country followed. A realignment of the left in the party meant that much of the opposition evident three years earlier was absent and conference voted by 6,146,000 to 325,000 to expel Militant’s members.

End the bans

This is the catch-all prohibition against organisations that the right does not like in clause two, (section 5a) of the Labour Party constitution: “Political organisations not affiliated or associated under a national agreement with the party, having their own programme, principles and policy for distinctive and separate propaganda, or possessing branches in the constituencies, or engaged in the promotion of parliamentary or local government candidates, or having allegiance to any political organisation situated abroad, shall be ineligible for affiliation to the party.”

Obviously this is very much a moveable feast and open to interpretation, like much bourgeois law – with the NEC judging when it might be politic to utilise it.

Clearly there is no problem with groupings on the Blairite right – which is why there are no moves, for example, to ban Progress, even though it is not an affiliate, but has its own principles and carries out distinctive and separate propaganda.On its website, the group proclaims: “Progress is the New Labour pressure group which aims to promote a radical and progressive politics for the 21st century. Founded in 1996, we are an independent organisation of Labour Party members and trade unionists. Through our national and regional events and regular publications, we seek to promote open debate and discussion of progressive ideas and policies.”24

It all comes down to how “distinctive and separate” an organisation’s programme and propaganda is considered.

In a statement submitted to the 1986 annual conference, the NEC was forced to acknowledge that now, “if challenged, our basic rules and long-standing procedures may well be deemed by the courts to be incompatible with natural justice in certain respects.”25

It was fear of the bourgeois courts that made the right more circumspect than it might otherwise have been over the Militant affair.

Notes

1. JT Murphy, ‘The Labour Party conference’ The Communist Review August 1923, Vol 4, No4: www.marxists.org/archive/murphy-jt/1923/08/labour_conf.htm.
2. J Klugmann History of the Communist Party of Great Britain Vol 1: Formation and early years, 1919-1924 London 1968.
3. Ibid.
4. N Branson History of the Communist Party of Great Britain 1927-1941 London 1985, p5.
5. Ibid p5.
6. Ibid p6, quoting Workers’ Life December 2 1927.
7. R Miliband Parliamentary socialism London 1960, p153.
8. M Bor The Socialist League in the 1930s London 2005, p154.
9. Ibid p272, summarising rightist Ernie Bevin in TUC report September 1933, appendix C, p434.
10. Ibid p374.
11. Ibid p380.
12. D Rubinstein, ‘Socialism and the Labour Party: the Labour left and domestic policy, 1945-50’ in What Next? 1978: www.whatnextjournal.co.uk/Pages/history/Lableft.html.
13. Quoted by Bob Pitt in his Red flag over St Pancras: www.marxists.org/history/etol/revhist/otherdox/whatnext/spancras.html.
14. The Socialist Labour League became the Workers Revolutionary Party in 1973.
15. R Hayward, ‘Discontinuation of the proscribed list’ (circular to secretaries of affiliates and Labour Party organisations, July 1973).
16. P McCormick, ‘The Labour Party: three unnoticed changes’ British Journal of Political Science Vol 10, No3, July 1980.
17. P Taaffe The rise of Militant: Militant’s 30 years London 1995, chapter 12. Taaffe’s internal quotes are taken from The notes of Nick Bradley. Nick Bradley was the Labour Party Young Socialists’ delegate on the NEC and Militant was at the time heavily involved in the LPYS.
18. Jim Mortimer, Labour general secretary 1982-85, had himself been forced to leave the party for a period in the early 1950s, when he was vice-chair of the proscribed Anglo-Chinese Friendship Society.
19. E Shaw, ‘The Labour Party and the Militant Tendency’ Parliamentary Affairs (1989) 42(2), p183.
20. Ibid p185.
21. New Socialist September-October 1982.
22. Quoted by Bob Pitt in Red flag over St Pancras: www.marxists.org/history/etol/revhist/otherdox/whatnext/spancras.html.
23. Labour Party NEC Investigation into Liverpool District Party 1986.
24. www.progressonline.org.uk/about/who.asp.
25. Labour Party rules 2010, quoted on p194: www.leftfutures.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Labour-Party-Rule-Book-2010.pdf.

Refound Labour as a real party of labour

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