Labour Party: Safe for capitalism

Calling Miliband ‘Red Ed’ is a joke, writes Stan Keable of Labour Party Marxists

Listening to Ed Miliband and Ed Balls dispensing policies from above at party conference tells us all we need to know about the hollowed-out condition of Labour Party democracy. Conference should be the highest authority in the party, where delegates from constituency parties and affiliated organisations decide policy that is binding on representatives, on local councils and in parliament. Instead, we have a media rally, in which delegates are reduced to fawning acolytes of the leader and shadow cabinet members in a disgusting display of undemocracy.

Not only has the straightforward process of members submitting motions for conference through their local party organisation been supplanted by the opaque system of policy commissions, but this perversity itself is kicked aside when the leadership decides to announce a new policy.

And in the face of the ongoing decline and crisis of the capitalist system, what miserable policies they offer. A few crumbs and soundbites, wrapped up in firm promises of continuing cuts and austerity should Labour be elected in 2015.

As Ed Miliband put it, “It is going to be tough. We are going to have to stick to strict spending limits to get the deficit down.” Likewise, Ed Balls promised “economic responsibility and fiscal rigour”, which is somehow different from the policy of “this out-of-touch, Tory-led government”. “Labour will always make different choices. We will combine iron discipline on spending controls with a fairer approach to deficit reduction.”

Nevertheless, the rightwing press is already announcing the return of ‘Red Ed’ because of the policy changes he has announced. In place of Tory tax cuts for 80,000 large businesses, Labour will cut business rates for 1.5 million small businesses. The minimum wage has been falling in value (but so have all our wages!), so Labour will “strengthen” it – ie, restore it to its original magnificent value, and increase fines against employers who pay less – in order to “make work pay for millions in our country”. Labour will “reset the market” and “freeze gas and electricity prices until the start of 2017”. The bedroom tax will be repealed, and by 2020 “we will be building 200,000 homes a year”. To facilitate this, private developers who “just sit on land and refuse to build” will be told, “Either use the land or lose the land”. Lastly, voting rights will be extended to 16 and 17-year-olds to “make them part of our democracy”.

Ed Balls announced a “compulsory jobs guarantee for young people and the long-term unemployed”. Oh, good, you might think – employers will be forced to provide jobs. Unfortunately the “compulsory” applies to the worker, not the employer: “And we will work with employers to make sure there will be a paid job for all young people out of work for more than 12 months and adults out of work for two years or more, which people will have to take up or lose benefits.”

In his conference speech, Ed Miliband said not a word about Syria. It was left to Balls to proudly emphasise Labour’s imperialist war credentials: “It is the Labour leader,” he said, “who on Syria had the courage to stand up and say that if the case was sound and the United Nations was properly engaged, Labour would support military action … No Labour government will ever stand aside when terrible atrocities are committed and international law is broken.”

Despite the promised crumbs, the ‘next Labour government’ under the two Eds – if it happens, which is by no means certain – will be a government of British capitalism, not a government of the working class. It will be an anti-working class government because its political programme is to run British capitalism. Like previous Labour governments to date, it will be able to attack the working class ‘in the national interest’ all the more effectively because it is ‘our government’.

Socialist programme 

 

The Labour Representation Committee, which has its annual conference on Saturday November 23,1 aims to transform the Labour Party into a real workers’ party, into an umbrella organisation of all working class and socialist organisations, to fight for working class interests and socialism. It also aims for the election of a Labour government. But it needs to put these two aims in the right order.

As Labour Party Marxists argued in a motion two years ago, “A Labour government which runs capitalism will be counterproductive for the workers’ movement.” The motion continued: “History shows that Labour governments committed to managing the capitalist system and loyal to the existing constitutional order create disillusionment in the working class.” Consequently, “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”.2

Getting socialists elected to parliament, from where they can champion the movement, is a good idea. It is running a capitalist government, or joining one, which is counterproductive. The movement can only be re-educated in socialist politics and rebuilt into a mass movement in struggle against any capitalist government, whatever its political colour, until the working class is capable of sweeping the system away. It cannot be built by sacrificing socialist principles and selling out working class struggles for the electoral success of political careerists.

Seen in this light, the two Eds are clearly part of the problem, not part of the solution. That is why I take issue with comrade John McDonnell’s “verdict on Ed Miliband’s conference speech” on the website of the Left Economics Advisory Panel, which displays unwarranted hope that a Miliband government might be a stepping stone towards socialism. I have not seen this “strategy” spelled out before, so I will quote it in full. It goes a long way to explain the ambiguity of the LRC’s political behaviour:

“Since Ed Miliband became leader, the strategy of the left has been to make issues safe for him by building support within and outside the party issue by issue. Only when it’s safe is he confident about moving on an issue. Today’s speech demonstrated that we are setting the agenda, but there’s so much further to go. A major house-building programme is needed, but it needs to be public housing alongside rent controls to stop landlords profiteering from housing benefits.

“Challenging the scapegoating of unemployed and disabled people needs to be made a reality by scrapping the rigged capability tests associated with Atos and abolishing workfare. Time-limited price controls won’t end the rip-offs. A clear commitment to end privatisation is needed, especially in the NHS, and to bring rail, water and energy back into public ownership, plus, if it goes ahead, Royal Mail.

“To tackle low pay, we need to make the minimum wage a living wage by right, re-establish trade union rights and restore a commitment to full employment. People already suspect this is a recovery for the rich and ongoing recession for the rest. This is exactly the time when people want more radical action. Make today’s speech a beginning.”3

Such faith in Ed Miliband’s socialist potential is quite touching, but I must remind you, John:we are talking class struggle and socialism; Ed Miliband is talking ‘one nation’ class-collaboration and capitalism – including imperialist war, as Ed Balls made explicit.

Union link

 

Harriet Harman opened the ‘debate’ on the interim report by Lord Ray Collins published immediately prior to conference, entitledBuilding a one nation Labour Party – perhaps an appropriate title for a process designed to weaken the Labour-union link and bury the class struggle.

“You could not have anyone better than Ray,” she told us, “to listen to everyone’s views and to draw them together.” And there, in a nutshell, is the method of Labour Party ‘democracy’ today. You get to express your views, as in an employer’s suggestion box. Those above “listen”, so you feel grateful and wanted. Then they cherry-pick the ideas they want, and tell you it’s what you have collectively chosen.

Lord Collins stressed how proud he was to be a trade unionist and told us not to worry – Labour should “retain the constitutional collective voice of the unions”. Ed wanted to “mend the link, not end the link”, he claimed. But it has to change, so that it is “open and transparent”.

The interim report covers more than the union link, however. It sets out what ‘Ed wants’ in a renewed relationship with the unions, in which, Ray assures us, collective affiliation will not be touched; the development of standardised constituency development plans (more central control?); primaries, starting with the London mayor contest; and “fairness and transparency” in the selection of candidates. Each section has a series of questions along the lines of ‘How shall we fulfil Ed’s idea?’ Everything will be settled at the special conference in March 2014.

GMB general secretary Paul Kenny, speaking on behalf of all 14 Labour-affiliated trade unions, organised in the Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Organisation (Tulo), said: “The removal or sale of our collective voice is not on the agenda. We are certainly not going to accept any advice on democracy and transparency from the people who brought us the ‘cash for honours’ scandals or whose activities are funded by cash from wealthy outsiders who refuse to give to the party, but prefer to lay cuckoos in CLP nests.”

He went on: “We think the real debate this week is about jobs, homes, living standards, employment rights, not irrelevant navel-gazing about internal party structures, which frankly the British public do not give a fig about … Now let us get on with the real business of winning back millions of voters to ensure we bring the hope and social justice the British people deserve.”

Eerily, this philistine approach of belittling the vital question of the struggle for real democracy – in our movement, as well as in society at large – is common to both the left and the bureaucracies of the trade unions and of the Labour Party. For the working class to liberate itself from capitalism, democracy in our own movement is a precondition. Only through a combination of open discussion and unity in action can we sort out our differences, develop class-consciousness and become capable of leading society out of the abyss of declining and crisis-ridden capitalism.

Transforming the Labour Party into an instrument fit for working class purpose necessarily means democratising the trade unions which form its base. The status quo, with unions dominated by entrenched bureaucracies, makes them ineffective as a means of defence. Democratising the unions to make the bureaucracies into servants instead of masters is “the real debate” – and will make all the difference in the world to the struggle for “jobs, homes, living standards, employment rights”.

Notes

1. See www.l-r-c.org.uk.

2. LRC AGM, January 15 2011. The motion was defeated.

3. http://leap-lrc.blogspot.co.uk.

STWC: Main enemy is at home

Stan Keable of Labour Party Marxists reports on the September 14 Stop the War Coalition AGM
Despite the war threat against Syria. Despite the temporary boost given to the anti-war movement by the August 29 parliamentary vote against a military attack on Syria. Despite David Cameron’s humiliation, attendance at the 2013 annual conference of the Stop the War Coalition at Westminster University was down to less than 100. This was compared to the 200-plus in March 2012 and over 300 at the 2010 conference. That was the first year in which the Socialist Workers Party no longer mobilised its rank and file to attend, after John Rees, Lindsey German and Chris Nineham split off from the SWP to form Counterfire.

The coalition has been suffering from a lack of foot-soldiers ever since, and the appearance of new faces on local demonstrations immediately prior to the parliamentary vote was not reflected in attendance at conference. Although the SWP’s Judith Orr chaired half of the conference, few SWPers were present and the organisation’s Party Notes circulated two days later made no mention of Stop the War.

The coalition’s lack of numbers, however, is now compensated for by its gain in prestige, with official recognition by the Trades Union Congress. In 2003, although the TUC had opposed the invasion of Iraq, STWC vice-president Andrew Murray explained, it had “stood aloof from the movement”. Now, in its September 11 statement on Syria, the TUC general council committed itself to “strongly oppose external military intervention” and to “work with civil society organisations, including … the Stop the War Coalition.”

As we know, Ed Miliband had agreed to back an attack on Syria, but had a very late change of mind. This, and the rebellion of some Tory MPs, can only be due to the anti-war pressure of public opinion, with sitting MPs fearing loss of votes. No doubt the campaigning by Stop the War over the years has played its part, but it is the transparent horrors of the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq which have disabused public opinion of the illusion of humanitarian intervention.

“We stopped Cameron, but Obama still plans war,” proclaimed STWC’s August 30 statement. But by the time they reached conference, the ‘officers group’ had sobered up, tempered their triumphalism somewhat, and recognised that public opinion against an attack on Syria had other sources besides their campaigning. “What produced that vote?” asked comrade Rees. “We helped. But the mass experience of war did not match the media story. And the resistance over there played its part.” STWC had “mounted effective opposition”. It was “not just public opinion,” he argued. “Compare the privatisation of Royal Mail”, which is going ahead despite being very unpopular. And why did opposition break first here, and not in France, not in the US? “Because of the consistent campaigning of STWC,” he claimed.

There were attempts from the various STWC officers to characterise the significance of the August 29 vote. Jeremy Corbyn, chairing, said the vote had been a “mea culpa” for many MPs, who felt guilty about voting for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. “We are into a historical change in relations between the west and the rest of the world,” he claimed – but then hedged: “But not for ever”. Chris Nineham, in similar vein, spoke of “a breakthrough in the movement”. STWC had “mobilised thousands in last few weeks”, he gushed. “Lindsey now gets invited onto TV. We need clarity and unity, to unite all the forces against austerity and war.” All the forces? At last, I thought, Hands Off the People of Iran will be able to take its rightful place in Stop the War – not!

Guardian journalist Seamus Milne said that the western powers are in disarray – “but was this a body swerve, or a retreat?” Public opinion does matter, he said. The ‘war on terror’ had become “an orgy of torture, not human rights”. It had also “revealed the inability of the US to impose its will – the limits of the first truly global empire”.

The British ruling class always and everywhere does foreign policy in its own selfish, exploitative and oppressive interests – never in order to ‘save lives’. What a pleasure it was to see the arrogant bourgeois persuaders, after confidently pumping out their war propaganda, suddenly brought to a grinding halt on the buffers of obstinate public opinion. As Abe Lincoln said, “You can’t fool all of the people all of the time”.

The famous aphorism of Clausewitz is that “War is the continuation of politics by other means”. In other words, war is a form of politics. But politics is always class politics. In war, the interests of one ruling class is pitted against the interests of another ruling class. The working class is mobilised in support of our own rulers, thereby strengthening their power over us. The independent politics of the working class means opposing the foreign policy and military adventures of our ‘own’ ruling class, preventing them from strengthening their hold over us by exploiting and oppressing others. The main enemy is at home.

So the struggle against imperialist wars, and to end war once and for all, should be seen as part and parcel of the political struggle of the working class to supersede capitalism and class society. The anti-war struggle needs independent working class politics . And working class politics can only be thrashed out through thoroughgoing democracy – freedom of discussion, unity in action.

Unfortunately, freedom of discussion is not the method of the bureaucratic clique which runs the Stop the War Coalition. It evidently prefers to keep conference – and local groups – free of sharp political debate. God forbid that political differences should be thrashed out openly. But their war on politics can only mean protecting their own politics from being challenged.

‘Guidelines for local groups’, submitted to conference by the ‘officers group’, waxed eloquent about the breadth of opinion in the coalition: “Stop the War represents the opinion of the vast majority of people in this country on foreign policy.” This is indeed a strange phenomenon, since it is led by a variety of self-styled Marxists.

Local groups must “work hard to ensure the widest possible participation in order to reflect this breadth of opinion”. Stop the War has “very wide backing, symbolised by the recent support from the TUC congress”. Groups must “get as broad a leadership as possible, always looking to involve new activists”.

Groups must “maximise the … impact of … our arguments”. While we should “encourage wide discussion”, public meetings should “focus on the key campaigning issues and on the main task of ending western intervention, not on potentially divisive political debates”.

Well, which political debates, I wonder, are not “potentially divisive”? And what exactly are to be “our arguments”, if not ones arrived at through “potentially divisive political debates”? And what if ‘ordinary people’ turn up to our public meetings, and start asking “potentially divisive” questions or expressing “potentially divisive” views?

Several speakers had raised issues which they thought should be linked to opposition to military attack: anti-austerity, anti-racism, immigration, defence of whistleblowers, freedom of information and the stifling of debate.

Chris Nineham, in moving the guidelines, said: “The left will have its political debates, but not inside Stop the War, because that would be divisive.” Matt Willgress from North London, under the rubric of teaching us ordinary folk ‘How to build a local group’, explained that “people would rather lobby MPs than debate about the Syrian left with the usual suspects”. Philistinism rules OK!

Nevertheless, Andrew Murray, agreeing with my assertion that “the main enemy is at home”, conceded that “No-one is saying we can’t debate differences, but we must keep our eye on the ball.”

Sami Ramadani urged us to “distinguish patriotic resistance from terrorism in Iraq (where I was born)”. The most popular platform speaker, he advised us to “celebrate a great victory – but do it quickly, as they will get back at us very soon”. He congratulated the British parliament “for listening to British people, for once”, and the US people “for not listening, for a change, to Fox News”. The more ‘peace president’ Obama preached war, the more the American people wanted peace, he said. And he happily dished out congratulations to the French people, the Syrian people (“Yes, there is a democratic opposition”), the Iranian people and the Egyptian people, who all “forced their government to oppose an attack on Syria”. Congrats to STWC too, he said: “Unity is the key to opposition to imperialist intervention, and support for the struggles of the people for democracy.”

So steer clear of “divisive” debates. 

Labour and unions: Democratise the link

Stan Keable of Labour Party Marxists takes a look at Ed Miliband’s attack on trade union influence

Ed Miliband at TUC 2013
Ed Miliband: his Clause 4 moment?

When Ed Miliband tells the Trades Union Congress to “show courage” by backing his proposals to neuter the collective political role of affiliated trade unions within the Labour Party, we should understand the word ‘courage’ in the same way as we understand, the phrase, ‘difficult decisions’, when he and Ed Balls promise to continue with economic austerity under a Labour government. ‘Courageous’ and ‘difficult’ are the words of praise heaped on Labour leaders who attack the working class and the workers’ movement.

Where was Miliband’s courage in face of millionaire media hysteria over the totally legitimate, now vindicated, participation of trade unionists in Falkirk Constituency Labour Party? But he has found the ‘courage’ to refuse to apologise for the baseless suspensions of Karie Murphy and Stevie Deans, on the spurious grounds that “at each step the general secretary and the NEC have acted quickly to protect the interests of the party” (Labour Party statement). Although “no organisation or individual has been found to have breached the rules as they stood at the time”, Falkirk CLP is still under ‘special measures’, and “Labour intends to impose a centrally decided shortlist of candidates for 2015”.1

Throughout the Blair years of New Labour government, the misnamed pro-capitalist Progress organisation funded by Lord Sainsbury packed the selection meetings of numerous CLPs, with never a murmur of protest from Murdoch or the Tories – or Labour HQ – so that now the parliamentary Labour Party is dominated by smart-suited careerists with barely a genuine trade unionist in sight. And Ed Miliband is one of them.

In fact, far from being “panicked under ferocious Tory fire” into a knee-jerk response to the manufactured Falkirk ‘scandal’, as Mark Seddon claims,2 Miliband was quick to take advantage of the opportunity to announce his plans to diminish the influence of trade unions within the party, through a consultation about the relationship (the Collins review) ending with a special party conference in April 2014.

Of course, the attack on collective affiliation, by requiring individuals to ‘opt in’ in place of the right to ‘opt out’, is couched in beguiling language: “I want to make each and every affiliated trade union member a real part of their local party, making a real choice to be part of our party, so they can have a real voice in it,” said Miliband in his September 10 speech to the TUC. And, by making those who ‘opt in’ to the affiliated political levy full party members, Miliband hopes to raise Labour’s individual membership from around 200,000 to more than 500,000.

Those of us, like my comrades in the Labour Representation Committee,3 who are campaigning to defend the Labour-union link and the principle of collective decision-making – in working class politics as much as in workplace matters – should take note what an easy target is the status quo. See how Miliband was able to denigrate the existing arrangements when he spoke to the TUC: “Some people ask: what’s wrong with the current system? Let me tell them: we have three million working men and women affiliated to our party. But the vast majority play no role in our party. They are affiliated in name only”.4 It has to be said, of course, that this is also true of the vast majority of Labour Party members, and only a small percentage play an active role even in canvassing, let alone decision-making.

So we have to have the “courage to change” – but not in the way Miliband proposes, by liquidating collective decision-making and collective action (‘united we stand’) in favour of individual choice (‘divided we fall’). On the contrary, we must aim to rebuild our collective strength, not dismantle it. Revitalise the trade unions by thoroughly democratising them: officials at all levels must be paid the average wage of their members, and be elected from below, not bureaucratically appointed from above. Bring the Rail, Maritime and Transport union and Fire Brigades Union back into the party, win the Public and Commercial Services union to affiliate, bring all trade unions and all socialist and working class organisations into the party, make the Labour Party into a permanent united front of the whole working class.

With this perspective, we must reject Miliband’s ‘opting in’ proposal, and overturn the existing ‘opting out’ system. As Hazel Nolan of London Young Labour told the September 3 launch meeting of the Defend the Link campaign, “When you buy a bottle of coke, you can’t opt out of paying the tax on it. Why should you be able to opt out of paying your share of your union’s democratically agreed political spending?” The right to opt out of the union’s political fund is a legally imposed right to scab, which should be overthrown, along with all anti-trade union laws.

At the same meeting the Communication Workers Union’s Maria Exall struck the right note, combating the idea that the campaign should merely defend the status quo and postpone political disagreements until this latest attack on the link had been defeated, or that criticism of union leaders who might support the campaign be muted. “There is a problem within the trade unions – the bureaucracy. How come we still have anti-union laws? The unions let New Labour through,” she said.

The campaign must not be left in the hands of overpaid trade union bosses like Len McCluskey of Unite, Paul Kenny of GMB and Dave Prentis of Unison, who do not practise the anti-bureaucracy, anti-careerist principle that officials in the workers’ movement should live on the same wage, or the average wage, of those they represent, and who each preside over an army of appointed officials. 

Notes

1. ‘No Miliband apology over Falkirk vote row – Harman’:www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-23999869.

2. ‘The battle for Labour’s soul’ Morning Star September 9.

3. l-r-c.org.uk.

4. Full speech at www.labour.org.uk/speech-by-ed-miliband-to-the-tuc.

Falkirk: Defend the union link

Stan Keable of Labour Party Marxists looks at the latest attack on the union link with Labour and reviews its history

So Len McCluskey’s prediction was right. The police found nothing wrong in Falkirk. They looked at the report on Falkirk Constituency Labour Party’s selection process for its prospective parliamentary candidate – disgracefully handed to them by Labour’s HQ – and found “insufficient evidence to support a criminal investigation at this time”.

Instead of accepting this result, lifting the suspension of the CLP and reinstating chairperson Stephen Deans and Unite’s preferred parliamentary candidate, Karie Murphy, Ed Miliband announced that the party – ie, the bureaucracy – will now pursue disciplinary action using party rules instead of the law. Meanwhile, the local Labour Party is disenfranchised. Individual members, trade union delegates, socialist organisations and any others affiliated to Falkirk CLP are deprived of any opportunity to discuss and resolve the matter collectively themselves, and Karie Murphy remains barred from becoming a candidate.

Far from being stampeded by Tory pressure, as many naive leftwingers would like to believe, the media union-bashing furore over Unite’s campaigning in Falkirk is an opportunity not to be missed. Ed Miliband and Ed Balls want to turn a ‘crisis’ into an opportunity. But the simple fact of the matter is that Unite did nothing more than pay the first year’s Labour Party membership fee for some of its local members. This, it should be pointed out, is a practice that the party had encouraged trade unions to adopt in order to draw trade unionists into active involvement. No rules had been broken.

So, seeing his moment, Miliband closed down the membership scheme by diktat, and upped the stakes by throwing the whole Labour-union link into the melting pot. He has now asked former Labour general secretary Lord Ray Collins to organise a “consultation” (‘the Collins review’) on the relations between affiliated organisations (principally the trade unions) and the party, which is to culminate in a special party conference in April 2014 to amend party rules.

Do not be fooled by Miliband’s declared aim – to “mend, not end” the link. His proposals, in his notorious July 9 speech,[1] smearing Unite’s legitimate involvement in Falkirk CLP as “closed”, “hated”, “damaging” and “part of the death-throes of the old politics”, will certainly weaken the link, preparing the way for its abolition, if we allow it. Perhaps he is consciously setting the scene for the introduction of state funding for political parties, along with the further extension of legal interference in the internal affairs of the workers’ movement. Socialists should aim to get the law out of the workers’ movement altogether. We should as a matter of principle decide our own affairs.

Miliband’s main proposal, to replace the legally imposed individual right to “opt out” of your trade union’s affiliated political fund by the right to “opt in”, will certainly lead to a loss of affiliated members, cutting the party’s finances at a stroke. More importantly, however, under the slogan of increasing individual choice, he is further undermining collective decision-making by trade unions, weakening their political strength. The principle of solidarity – united we stand, divided we fall – is the key to working class strength against capitalist class power just as much in political struggle as in the workplace. Opting out of the Labour-affiliated political fund after a union has decided to affiliate amounts to political scabbing, just like strike-breaking after a collective decision to strike.

Separating political affiliation from union membership divides union members into two camps: politically affiliated and not. This is already the case in Unison, where (as a result of the 1993 merger of non-affiliated Nalgo with affiliated Cohse and Nupe) only about one-third of the membership subscribe to the Labour Link political fund, with two thirds opting for the general (ie, non-party) political fund (and a tiny minority opt out of both funds). The result is collective depoliticisation, the exclusion of party-political matters from trade union branch meetings. A well-attended local branch meeting can deal with general trade union matters, but cannot take party-political decisions about Labour Link matters – such as who to delegate to the constituency management committee of the local CLP, and what motions to propose there; or who to delegate to the union’s regional and national Labour Link structures. Branch-level Labour Link meetings in Unison are usually tiny or non-existent, as is Unison’s affiliated membership input into the Labour Party locally, leaving control of the union’s political input into the party firmly in the hands of the bureaucracy at regional and national level.

This debilitating division of Labour (pun intended) is a cornerstone of the ideology of Labourism which the workers’ movement must ditch: leave politics to the party, and workplace matters to the trade unions – a reactionary principle of non-interference, which cripples both wings. On the contrary, we need freedom of expression, freedom to discuss all issues in our unions and in our party, without interference by the courts of the capitalist state or the bureaucrats of our own movement.

A look at our history is in order, to remind us that democracy is alien to the capitalist class, for all their hypocritical talk. It interferes with the rights of property, just as working class collective organisation does. From the campaign for the 1825 Reform Bill and the Chartists in the 1830s and 40s, the main driving force for the extension of the right to vote was the workers’ movement, while our wealthy rulers regarded ‘democracy’ as a dirty word. Likewise, from the earliest days of working class self-organisation, they have always tried to use their law to hold us back. The common law of conspiracy was first used against industrial action in 1721. After 150 years of struggle, legal immunity from criminal conspiracy was eventually achieved in the Employers and Workmen Act 1875 – so the employers turned to civil conspiracy legislation, with the potential to bankrupt trade unions daring to take illegal industrial action.[2]

When, in 1901, the Taff Vale Railway Company won huge damages in a court action against the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, this triggered a flood of trade union affiliations to the Labour Representation Committee, formed by the Trades Union Congress the previous year. The LRC already had two MPs, and by 1906, with 30 MPs, it changed its name to the Labour Party, and achieved further statutory immunities from prosecution for striking.

From 1900 to 1913, affiliated trade unions funded the LRC and then the Labour Party without legal interference. But in 1909 the House of Lords intervened with the notorious Osborne judgment, ruling that “political action was outside the definition of trade unions, and that they were no longer allowed to make any financial contributions to political parties”.[3] This judges’ ruling was reversed by parliament in 1913, but only with conditions – not ending legal interference in our unions and party, but institutionalising it, as part of the ongoing process of incorporating the workers’ movement into the capitalist state. Trade unions were permitted to set up political funds, on condition that they first ballot their membership, and that individual members were entitled to “contract out” of contributing to the political fund – the thin end of the wedge aimed at undermining collective political decision-making.

When the workers’ movement is weak, our enemies take the opportunity to further undermine our solidarity. So, in the aftermath of the defeat of our class in the 1926 General Strike, Stanley Baldwin’s Tory government enacted the 1927 Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act, enforcing the compulsory disaffiliation of the civil service trade unions, and substituting “contracting in” for “contracting out”.[4] Contracting out was restored by Clement Attlee’s 1945 Labour government. Despite its celebrated landslide parliamentary majority, Labour did not take the opportunity to repeal the right to opt out, and remove legal interference in trade unions altogether. We have been stuck with it ever since.

__________

Notes

[1]. www.labour.org.uk/one-nation-politics-speech,2013-07-09.

[2]. See Alastair J Reid, ‘Trade unions: a foundation of political pluralism?’: www.historyandpolicy.org/papers/policy-paper-05.html; and GDH Cole A history of the Labour Party from 1914 London 1948, pp192-95.

[4]. See GDH Cole A history of the Labour Party from 1914 pp192-95.

Russian Krasnoe TV interview

Russian Krasnoe TV video report of SWP’s Marxism 2013

Thanks to Russian Krasnoe internet TV (krasnoe dot tv/node/19020#comments-info), who interviewed Stan Keable about Labour Party Marxists, as part of their upbeat video report of the Socialist Workers Party’s ‘Marxism 2013’ educational event:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ptuqoql7Es

Socialist Appeal: Waiting for the class to move

Stan Keable of Labour Party Marxists reports on Socialist Appeal’s third Marxist summer school

Allan Woods
Allan Woods: appealing

Like Labour Party Marxists, the Socialist Appeal group (the remnant of the Militant Tendency which chose to remain in the Labour Party) is an affiliate of the Labour Representation Committee. When LPM was launched in June 2011 in response to Peter Hain’s Refounding Labour consultation document,1 we affiliated to LRC and, although I did not come across any SA comrades in London, I was aware that they were playing their part in trying to build the organisation, setting up local LRCs elsewhere – and they were always represented at national committee meetings.

Not so today, unfortunately. An LRC national committee member told me recently that they had made a decision to go elsewhere about 18 months ago. This seems to be something of an exaggeration, however. A young activist at the group’s summer school explained that SA had put the LRC “on the back burner”, as it “didn’t seem to be going anywhere”, and was torn by “sectarian strife”. SA seems to have shied away from the conflicts which erupted in the LRC in 2012 in the form of its merger with Labour Briefing, which turned out to be a split at the top of both Briefing and the LRC itself, with the loss of Labour Party national executive member Christine Shawcroft, and the publication of two competing versions of the journal.

At the summer school, held at University of London College Union, over the weekend of June 28-30, I was not surprised to learn that this reluctance to engage in a real conflict within the revolutionary and socialist left is entrenched in SA’s proclaimed “anti-sectarianism”. Marxist unity is “impractical”, because the “sectarians” always split hairs and use up all their energy in pointless arguments – “We don’t want to waste time in endless debate with sectarians.” When the class moves, it will choose which ‘Marxists’ to follow.

Nevertheless, I was made very welcome by the participants and speakers, all of whom were friendly, and I was able to intervene freely in all of the sessions I attended. In each I noticed that, after the opening lecture, the first person in discussion seemed to give a prepared supportative intervention rather than raising any differences, and very few people challenged the speakers’ views. The only other political group represented, as far as I could see, was the Socialist Party in England and Wales, whose comrade had nothing to say except that the Labour Party was “an out-and-out capitalist party”, and quoted the Falkirk candidate selection row to prove it. So I enjoyed the role of fall guy for the ‘sectarian left’, and having my views ‘corrected’ by a succession of naive students (most of those attending were students).

Several told me that they read the Weekly Worker, usually online, and were fascinated by the goings-on in the various groups of the revolutionary left, especially the Socialist Workers Party, which the WW seemed to concentrate on. They also remarked on how accurate the paper was in detailing their politics. But why on earth bother? What is the point? Some told me how, in joining SA, they had escaped the “noise” of sectarian left arguments and been directed to the more beneficial systematic study of Marxist classics – including, of course, the “legacy of Ted Grant”, upholder of “the unbroken thread of Marxism”, and “the leading theoretician of Marxism” since World War II.

Leninism

I was hoping to attend the session on ‘The rise and fall of the Militant Tendency’ on the Saturday evening, but the timetable had been changed so I had missed it. As I arrived, the group’s leader, Alan Woods, was telling a lecture-theatre full of nearly 100 mostly younger comrades about “the real Lenin and Trotsky”. Fred Weston stood in for Socialist Appeal editor Rob Sewell, who was off sick, and on the Sunday I attended comrade Weston’s presentations on ‘Marxism and the Labour Party’ and ‘History of the Fourth International’.

It was only after Lenin’s death that Zinoviev, when he was siding with Stalin, coined the term ‘Trotskyism’, explained comrade Woods. “We are Leninists,” he told his young followers. “Trotsky said nothing that Lenin had not already said” – but, somehow, “in 1905, only Trotsky had the theory of permanent revolution: that the Russian proles can come to power before the Germans or the French.” However, before 1917 Trotsky had been a “unity-monger” – comrade Woods’s shibboleth against seeking Marxist unity today.

I was pleased to hear comrade Woods decry bureaucratic centralism and claim to uphold democratic centralism, freedom of expression and the right to form factions – but, unfortunately, there were always compromising caveats. “Freedom of discussion” leads to “clarity of ideas”; but this was undermined by what we might call the Callinicos principle: “We make a decision and move on”. For the Bolsheviks, “there was always freedom of factions”. But Bolshevism was “always a school of internal discussions”, and the right to form factions should apply “in certain circumstances”. Mixed messages.

Comrade Woods evidently misses the fundamental point that, for Lenin, Trotsky and both the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, political differences – including factional struggles – had to be fought out in public, not internally, so that everyone can learn. This misconception underpins his repetition of the myth that “the Bolshevik faction” of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party “transformed itself into the Bolshevik Party in 1912”. The logical implication, of course, unspoken by comrade Woods, is that the party allegedly formed in 1912 was monolithic, and that the revolution was led by a party without factions.

Comrade Woods had not mentioned the ban on factions imposed in 1921 by the 10th party congress, so I brought it up in discussion time, and challenged the misconception of the 1912 Bolshevik party, pointing out that it was the liquidators, not the Menshevik faction, who had been excluded in 1912, and that the chair of that congress was in fact a Menshevik.

Reclaim Labour

Opening the Sunday morning session on ‘Marxism and the Labour Party’, Fred Weston described the party, like the trade unions, as a mass organisation of the working class, but underlined that “joining does not mean supporting its bourgeois leaders”.

SA’s ‘What we stand for’ column includes “Labour to power on a bold socialist programme”, and “Trade unions must reclaim the Labour Party!” As Weekly Worker readers will know, Labour Party Marxists prefers the term “transform” to “reclaim”, because: “From the beginning the party has been dominated by the labour bureaucracy and the ideas of reformism.”2 But, happily, comrade Weston made that point himself: “Labour has always been reformist” – so SA is not pining for an imagined golden age when Labour was a socialist party. It is “democratic fighting trade unions” which must reclaim the party, with “election of all trade union officials, with the right of recall” and the wage of “the average skilled worker”.

Comrade Weston castigated SPEW for splitting Militant Tendency by choosing to leave the Labour Party. The pitiful votes obtained by SPEW’s Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition showed the folly of its attempt to find a short cut to mass support outside Labour. Militant had not been forced out of that party, he insisted. With a claimed membership of 8,000, only 200 or so had been expelled when Peter Taaffe and co decided to jump ship (a couple of older comrades told how they had been victims of Neil Kinnock’s witch-hunt). Although a ‘star chamber’ team of witch-hunters had travelled the country picking off Militant activists, they were only expelled where their local constituency party allowed it. Some had followed bad advice not to turn up at the disciplinary hearing and fight their corner. Later, after a couple of years, they were able to rejoin online without a problem.

What is SA’s perspective for Labour? Ed Miliband “does not want to win outright” in 2015, but would prefer a Lib-Lab coalition. We will probably get a Labour government continuing Tory policies, and intensified class struggle. Labour is rooted in the working class, and “will be changed by the radicalisation of the class”. When it, inevitably, fights back, the class “will try to use the trade unions to fight” and this will move the unions left, as it did in the 1970s. That in turn will move the party left, as happened in the 1980s. That is why the bourgeoisie fear Labour’s trade union link, explained comrade Weston. (Militant Tendency benefited from this leftward shift in Labour, not because it had defeated the other revolutionary left groups in argument, but simply because it was the ‘last man standing’ within Labour. Others had pulled out round about 1968.)

In a “downswing” period, like the present, participation in the movement is low, and the bureaucracy moves rightwards. But SA has “absolute faith in the working class”, which will, sooner or later, fight back. A “mass revolutionary party” will be achieved through patient work in the mass organisations (which comrade Weston counterposed to Marxist rapprochement). We have no crystal ball, said comrade Weston. Maybe we will win Labour, maybe splits will occur, to the right and/or to the left. If a mass left split occurs, we should go with it, and win them for Marxism. The Marxist party that arose would be in a position to win over the masses.

Fred Weston again substituted for the absent Rob Sewell in the session on the Fourth International. He said that Trotsky analysed the failure of the Russian Revolution, and did his most important theoretical work in the 1930s, struggling against the distortion of Marxism. Comrade Weston took us quickly through the Left Opposition; the International Left Opposition, which called itself an “expelled faction” of Comintern; Trotsky’s estimation, when Hitler was elected to power in 1933, that the communist parties were “dead for revolution”; and the formation of the International Communist League.

In truth, said comrade Weston, the Fourth International “had not taken off”. Strangely, he did not mention its 1938 programme, The death agony of capitalism. After World War II, the Fourth International was disorientated, and collapsed “because of its crisis predictions”. In 1946, Ernest Mandel and Gerry Healy were predicting “worldwide crisis”, and that the Soviet Union was “on the verge of collapse”. In 1951, Pierre Frank (France) and James Cannon (USA) were predicting “the coming World War III”, and some were claiming World War II “had not ended”. Even today, said Weston, the Lambertists claim that “capitalism has not developed the productive forces beyond their 1938 level”, desperately trying to defend the 1938 programme as dogma.

Until 1938, said comrade Weston, Trotskyism had a clean banner. Since World War II it has had a stinking banner, and we must cleanse it. And who better than the upholders of “the unbroken thread of Marxism” to do that?

Notes

1. For the LPM response see http://labourpartymarxists.org.uk/refound-labour-as-a-real-party-of-labour.

2. labourpartymarxists.org.uk/aims-and-principles.

Self-determination

The following letter from Bob Davies appeared in the July issue of the Labour Representation Committee’s Labour Briefing (http://labourbriefing1.wordpress.com/):

I was interested to read Vince Mills’ article, ‘Socialists and Scottish Nationalism’ (Labour Briefing, June 2013).

The comrade is absolutely correct to point out the inherent dangers in the arguments of those who pursue independence as a means to counter government austerity. Striving to cement and develop an already fragile unity of the peoples and working-classes of Scotland, England and Wales to resist such attacks is hardly going to be strengthened by political trajectories which enhance the separation of people facing an attack from the same source – the British state – even if we acknowledge that that separation may well be given a radical left political twist and bent.

But let’s not kid ourselves either that a reliance on the ‘Union’ as it’s currently constituted is sufficient enough to provide long term solutions to genuine grievances which the Welsh, Scottish and English experience on a regular basis – grievances which are political, as well as economic in nature. Indeed, why on earth should socialists, in an attempt to counter the divisive political trajectory of nationalism, remain somewhat muted when exposing the weaknesses and failures of a unionism that has curtailed democratic aspirations and goals of Britain’s nationalities over the years?

The (just) furore over issues relating to self-determination since the mid-1990s highlights the need for socialists to take not only the question of self determination seriously but the question of unity too. With this in mind, it is surely incumbent upon socialists operating in whatever country they find themselves in within GB to fight for that country’s, and its neighbours’, right to full self-determination – a parliament with full powers with the right to secede – as well as advancing demands that challenge unionism yet strive to achieve the highest organisational unity of our class? Agitating for a federal republic would fulfil such a political perspective.

In solidarity,

Bob Davies, supporter, Labour Party Marxists, South Wales

Refound Labour as a permanent united front of the working class

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