Tag Archives: Labour Party Marxists

Red Pages @ LP conference: Monday, September 25

Click here to download the September 25 issue of Red Pages in PDF format.

Articles in today’s issue:

  • Brexit: To debate or not to debate?
  • We need a positive vision for Europe, not a pro-business one
  • Protest against Iain McNicol
  • Labour First rally: all about Marxism
  • Conference Arrangements Committee: Death throes of the right
  • Success! NPF document on Israel/Palestine is amended

Brexit: To debate or not to debate?

Comrades should be wary of the ‘Labour Campaign for Free Movement’: many of its leading lights do notsupport the free movement of labour

If the anti-Semitism furore in the party has shown one thing, it illustrates that the developing fault lines between left and right in the party produce some strange configurations.

Conference has been seeing an odd debate/non-debate around Brexit. The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) and Momentum really did not want this thorny question discussed at conference and urged delegates not to choose the issue in Sunday’s priorities ballot. (This decides which ‘themes’ are allocated time for discussion).

The CLPD argued that, “it serves no purpose to debate the different views on Brexit at this stage. The NEC’s statement and the plenary session on Monday morning are quite enough at the moment. We should try and limit the damage the right can inflict upon conference”, as Barry Gray said at the CLPD fringe meeting on Saturday.

Ranged against them, you have the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (in formal terms, also on the left) who sided with none other than Labour First’s Luke Akehurst to urge delegates to vote in favour of a Brexit debate.

As a general principle, Marxists argue that organisations in the workers’ movement should be able to have frank and transparent discussions on any issue, even uncomfortable ones. Political differences should not be viewed as a problem per se. A thinking organisation will always have disputes, and it is almost always right to argue them out publicly.

We need to be concrete, however. Labour First and Akehurst wanted this issue discussed because they perceive Corbyn and the left are vulnerable on it. For instance, at the Labour First rally on Sunday, the CLP delegates in the audience were strongly urged to give their first vote in the priorities ballot to a debate on Brexit. Apart from any other considerations, it was given this importance by LF because Momentum is politically fractured on the issue, with deep disagreements between its “Stalinist” and “Trotskyist” factions. (LPM comrades who braved the wrath of the angry rightists at this gathering report that our organisation also warranted a few mentions from the platform. None complimentary – though we would have been mortally offended if any were, of course.)

So, the right has correctly identified Europe as one of Jeremy’s weak spots. While the Labour leader has been reasonably successful in simply standing back and giving the Tory government sufficient Brexit rope to hang itself, the Labour Party’s position is hardly coherent or convincing. Thus, Labour First, Progress and the whole rightwing gang in the party are jostling for a chance to attack Corbyn on the issue and show him up for the benefit of their allies in the yellow press. Concretely, therefore, the demand for a debate on Brexit is a rightwing tactic, another attempt to beat up Corbyn and his allies. 

Balance of forces

Thankfully, they have not succeeded: during Sunday’s priorities ballot, conference voted overwhelmingly to follow the advice given by CLPD and Momentum. Contemporary motions on Brexit will not be discussed, after that subject received 72,000 CLP votes. As a comparison: The NHS and housing received 187,000 votes each, social care 145,000 and the railways 120,000. This gives a useful snapshot of the balance of forces at this year’s conference. 

Mindful of this background, it may seem strange that an ostensibly left organisation like the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty should prioritise building a campaign (‘Labour Campaign for Free Movement’) that offers platforms to the likes of Tulip Siddiq (who in January resigned as a shadow minister following Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to impose a three-line whip on Labour MPs to vote in favour of triggering Article 50) and Clive Lewis MP, who has of course spoken out against free movement.

In response to Jeremy Corbyn stating publicly that he saw “no need” to curb immigration or impose more controls, Lewis said: “We have to acknowledge that free movement of labour hasn’t worked for a lot of people. It hasn’t worked for many of the people in this country, where they’ve been undercut, who feel insecure, who feel they’re not getting any of the benefits that immigration has clearly had in our economy.” 

Now, it would be foolish in the extreme to argue – in the manner of a sect like the Socialist Worker Party – that mass immigration always and everywhere brings unalloyed economic benefits and social harmony to indigenous working class communities. However, this in no way implies that we should oppose the right of working people to free movement; to be able to seek a life for themselves and their families in any part of the world they choose. 

Voluntary unity

The key is unity, won from below. We need to fight for the integration of migrants into the culture of struggle of a native working class (a reciprocal process of learning, of course), into common organisation and unity against our class enemies. 

This voluntary, combative unity is a million miles away from what the likes of Clive Lewis advocate when they call for obligatory union membership for migrant workers (as a precondition of their right to enter the country) to stop them “undercutting wages” – a proposal motivated, he admits, by his core concern to “have an impact on the number of people coming to this country”, to “make it more difficult for employers to bring people in” and thus to push companies to “begin to take people more often from this country”. Fairly bog-standard Brit nationalism masquerading as ‘internationalism’, in other words.

The very fact of the AWL’s involvement in the ‘Labour Campaign for Free Movement’ should set alarm bells ringing for Labour comrades. This is an organisation infamous for arguing against the right of Palestinian people to free movement – concretely the right to return to areas they were forcibly ejected from by the colonialist Israeli state.

Among their leaders are people who are happy to call themselves “Zionists” and this softness on reaction saw them support the purging of Jackie Walker as vice-chair of Momentum. Their ‘fellow traveller’ on the Labour Party NEC, Rhea Wholfson, voted to refer Jackie Walker’s case to Iain McNicol’s compliance unit – and happily speaks at meetings organised by the Jewish Labour Movement, an affiliate to the World Labour Zionist Movement, a loyal supporter of the state of Israel and home to many of those who have been so keen to save the Labour Party from its ‘unelectable’ leader.

This campaign needs to be given a very wide berth. As with every other issue and debate in the Labour Party these days, context is everything.


We need a positive vision for Europe, not a pro-business one

Keir Starmer has succeeded in getting the shadow cabinet to come out in favour of staying in the single market (though in an interview on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning, Jeremy Corbyn seemed to backtrack somewhat from this again). Still, there remains a striking paradox. On Europe, Labour is articulating the interests of big capital. Not that big capital will reciprocate and back the Labour Party. It is, after all, led by Jeremy Corbyn: pro-trade union, pacifistic and a friend of all manner of unacceptable leftists.

For the sake of appearances, Keir Starmer pays lip service to the 2016 referendum result. There is no wish to alienate the minority of Labour voters who backed ‘leave’. More through luck than judgement, ambiguity served the party well during the general election campaign. The contradiction between Corbyn’s historical hostility towards the EU – now represented in the Commons by the Dennis Skinner-Kelvin Hopkins rump – and the mass of Labour’s pro-‘remain’ members and voters resulted in a fudge.

However, instead of getting embroiled in the argument about what is and what is not in the ‘national interest’ – eg, staying in the single market versus leaving the single market – Labour needs a class perspective. We should have no illusions in the European Union. It is a bosses’ club, it is by treaty committed to neoliberalism and it is by law anti-working class (note the European Court of Justice and its Viking, Laval and Rüffert judgements). But nor should we have any illusions in a so-called Lexit perspective.

On the contrary the EU should be seen as a site of struggle. We should aim to unite the working class in the EU in order to end the rule of capital and establish socialism on a continental scale. That would be the biggest contribution we can make to the global struggle for human liberation.


LPMers happily joined the 30 or so protestors outside Labour Party conference this morning to demand that general secretary Ian McNicol should resign (actually, he should be sacked!). Not only is McNicol responsible for the suspensions and expulsions of thousands of leftwing Labour Party members, he is also in the frame for attempts to sabotage Labour’s electoral challenge in June’s snap election. He and other right wingers were clearly hoping for a Labour result so dire that Jeremy Corbyn would have to fall on his sword. Thus, many CLPs were woefully under-resourced and a large number received not a single penny. (For example, Sheffield Hallam, where the pro-Corbyn left managed to oust Lib Dem luminary Nick Clegg and win the first ever Labour MP in the constituency, received precisely zip from either the region or HQ).

The rightwing response to the protest was predictable. Johanna Baxter expressed to conference her tremulous outrage at this protest and railed that a demo against “an employee of the party should not be allowed”. Deservedly, she was booed.

Of course, the issue wasn’t really Ian McNicol’s employment rights, but Baxter’s solidarity with his politics. Before she was booted off the NEC last year, she managed to use the then wafer-thin right wing majority on the NEC to push through changes to give Wales and Scotland two extra NEC seats. This was not prompted by democratic concerns around regional devolution. No, Baxter was confident that the vacancies would be filled by supporters of the right in the party.

Subsequently, of course, Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale has resigned and been replaced (temporarily) by leftwing deputy leader Alex Rowley. This produced a small left NEC majority. In turn, this was enough to push through the ‘Corbyn review’ and expand the CLP representation from six to nine, producing a leftwing majority on our leading body for the near future. Clearly, the right is in some pain. Happy days!

Labour First rally: all about Marxism

The crowd at the Labour First rally on Sunday afternoon was a pretty riled up bunch. Luke Akehurst and his mates are clearly feeling under pressure from left-wing delegates at this year’s Labour Party conference … and they are not handling the stress at all well. The chair launched an attack on LPM as “not real Labour” – unlike the rows of Tory-lite manikins in the hall, for whom genuine Labour principles are as expendable as autumn leaves. Furthermore, our very name is a “a contradiction in terms” – a short course in dialectics might clear up any confusion.

The ever-delightful John Mann MP scowled at our comrades, but didn’t deign to speak to them – presumably because there were no cameras nearby. However, he did prevail upon a minion to pick up a copy of the latest issue of Labour Party Marxists Bulletin.

Not surprisingly, given the general election result and Jeremy’s huge spike in popularity and profile, Luke Akehurst and his chums didn’t attack Corbyn directly. Instead, they concentrated their attacks on his supporters – the organised Corbynistas particularly. These were “Stalinists” who “fetishise military dictatorships” like Venezuela and Cuba. The June poll was run down, however – “We have even fewer seats than under Neil Kinnock”, Chris Leslie MP complained. He went on to illustrate his encyclopaedic ignorance of Marxism, which he dismissed as a “destructive, hate filled ideology”. In comments that must have shocked many in the audience, he also revealed that Marxism is “revolutionary” and wants to “overturn capitalism” (well spotted).

Akehurst suggested that the Labour Party should “purge the Anti-Semites” (for this, read “the left”) and “stand up to the bullies” (that is, “silence all criticism of the right”). Pretty classic -and pathetic – tactics of bureaucrats who are politically incapable of answering critics and are aware the game is moving away from them. For instance, in one of his more honest moments, Akehurst had to acknowledge that the right’s forces are now too weak to “stop the McDonnell amendment”.

Conference Arrangements Committee:
Death throes of the right

The Conference Arrangements Committee reported two records: there have never been so many delegates at Labour Party conference – almost 1,200. And over 1,000 of these are first timers. Of course, that reflects the tremendous sea change within the party. But it also presents the left with a problem. We have the numbers, but we do not have the organisation yet to halt the undemocratic shenanigans by the right.

Take the CAC, which is still dominated by the old guard. Their report on Sunday morning provoked angry responses from conference floor. Two disputed issues should really have led to votes being taken to refer the report back; but the left was not organised enough to see this challenge through.

First was the CAC’s sneaky move to provide time for London mayor Sadiq Khan to address conference, although this is clearly not within the CAC’s remit. The NEC had previously decided not to allow any of the city mayors to speak, to give more space for delegates to contribute. Once the CAC had made its invitation public, the NEC caved in, presumably for fear of media ridicule and scathing headlines. If Khan uses his allotted time to undermine Corbyn or belittle the scale of the party’s achievement in June, then we trust delegates will not be shy about voicing disapproval.

The other issue is related to the CAC’s implementation of last year’s rule change to allow the partial reference back of National Policy Forum documents. Any delegate can now challenge part of the NPF’s (extremely long-winded) documents and demand that the issue is revisited by the body. Of course, if the chair is happy with a challenge, s/he will simply “ask conference if the reference back is agreed”, as it says in the CAC report.

However, if the chair is not happy about the issue in dispute, then it will be up the person chairing that session to decide if a vote is conducted by show of hands or by a card vote.

The difference between the two is crucial. The unions and other affiliates have 300 delegates at conference, the CLPs have sent 1,200. But in a card vote, the affiliates’ vote counts for 50% of the total vote, ditto the CLPs’ vote (which is then further divided according to how many members a CLP has). Roughly, a union delegate’s vote counts four times as much as the vote of a CLP delegate – and that can make all the difference in a dispute.

This chair’s discretion over the format of voting is within the current rules, but normal practice in recent years – when it comes to reference back of a CAC report, composite motions etc – has been to allow any delegate to make a call for a card vote, which the chair is then obliged accept.

This posed almost no problem in the Blairite period of the party: real disputes were absent from conference floor, which had become a tedious, stage-managed affair. The election of Jeremy Corbyn has changed all that. Last year, a huge row broke out at conference over the NEC’s “reform package” that snuck in two additional NEC seats for the leaders of Welsh and Scottish Labour. Delegates were on their feet, shouting “card vote, card vote” – but the chair simply refused and declared that the hand vote had “clearly won”. In a card vote, the result would have gone the other way, as the unions were firmly against the addition of two right wingers.

This shows how important it is for the left to show its muscle in every party arena – including the middle layers of the party bureaucracy, of which the CAC is a part. Yes, Momentum and CLPD successfully campaigned for two leftwingers, Billy Hayes and Seema Chandwani, to be elected onto the committee by direct ballot of the membership. But the CAC is made up of seven members, five of whom will be elected by other methods. Therefore, we are not entirely confident that the left will actually be running next year’s conference.

Success! NPF document on Israel/Palestine is amended

The National Policy Forum is a relic of the dark days of Blairism; a body Blair established to outsource the party’s policy-making. When it published its dire, 90-page annual report in June, Palestine campaigners quickly noticed a glaring omission. The 2017 election manifesto called for an end to Israel’s blockade, illegal occupation and settlements. But these basic democratic demands had been dropped from the NPF document, along with the pledge that “A Labour government will immediately recognise the state of Palestine”.

Had conference supported this document, it would have overridden the pledges in the manifesto, as conference is – at least on paper – the sovereign decision-making body of the party. This omission was no ‘oversight’. Campaigners went into overdrive; LPM joined others calling on delegates to refer back this section of the document.

But page 14 of yesterday’s Conference Arrangements Committee report includes, without explanation, this small paragraph:
“The following text, as agreed in the Labour Party Manifesto 2017, is now included in the National Policy Forum Annual Report 2017. On page 56, column 2, line 43, add:

‘There can be no military solution to this conflict and all sides must avoid taking action that would make peace harder to achieve. That means both an end to the blockade, occupation and settlements, and an end to rocket and terror attacks. Labour will continue to press for an immediate return to meaningful negotiations leading to a diplomatic resolution. A Labour government would immediately recognise the state of Palestine.’”

It is not the kind of programme we would write on the Middle East (there is clearly a tendency to equate the violence of the oppressor state Israel with the struggle of the oppressed Palestinian people – note the mention of “rocket attacks”). But a return to the original formulation is a victory against those (like the Jewish Labour Movement) who want us to take the side of the Israeli state. The fact that the JLM has perversely been given the ‘best practice award’ by Ian McNicol serves as a reminder of how well connected this organisation is to the party bureaucracy.

Red Pages @ LP conference: Sunday, September 24

Click here to download the September 24 issue of Red Pages in PDF format.

Articles in this issue:

  • Voting recommendation: today’s priorities ballot
  • ‘Corbyn review’: Now keep up the pressure
  • Vote against the NEC ‘compromise’ on anti-Semitism


Voting recommendation: today’s priorities ballot

Yesterday’s meeting of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy was so packed that a few dozen delegates were briefed on the lawn outside Friends’ House.  Barry Gray urged CLP delegates to vote for the following four thematic issues, so that they can be debated by conference throughout the week: Social care; NHS; Housing; Railyways.

The unions have already decided on the following four subjects, which means delegates should not vote for them, as they will be discussed anyway:

Growth & Investment; Public sector pay; workers rights; Grenfell. 

Comrade Gray explained that a staggering 185 ‘contemporary motions’ had been submitted by CLPs. As usual, about a third had been ruled ‘out of order’ – mainly because the motion was dealing with issues already “substantially covered” by the documents produced by the National Policy Forum (to which Tony Blair outsourced policy-making in the party). However, the NPF documents are incredibly vacuous and bland and, as comrade Gray said, the application of this rule tends to be “very flexible” – ie, the conference arrangements committee rules out whatever it likes. This means we will not be hearing motions on, for example, Saudi-Arabia, grammar schools, fracking and nuclear weapons.

While left-wingers Seema Chandwani and Billy Hayes have been elected onto next year’s CAC, this  year’s proceedings are unfortunately still dominated by a right-wing CAC. Incidentally, it was also this body that went well beyond its remit and offered  Sadiq Khan a speaking slot at conference, despite the NEC having previously decided against it.

We believe that conference should be the sovereign body of the party: The NPF should be abolished, as should the practice of “merging” all contemporary motions that fall into the same theme. The end result tends to be final motions that are so bland and uncontroversial that they really clarify nothing.



‘Corbyn review’: Now keep up the pressure
Labour’s NEC has opened the door for much-needed change – now the left needs to take advantage of that opening

Meeting on September 19, Jeremy Corbyn and his allies on the Labour Party National Executive Committee (NEC) made good use of their wafer-thin left majority, which is down to the resignation of Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale and her temporary replacement by leftwing deputy leader Alex Rowley.

The NEC agreed to put a ‘reform package’ to this year’s conference that sees a compromise on the so-called McDonnell amendment (see below) and, crucially, an increase in the number of NEC delegates from Constituency Labour Parties from six to nine, to be elected by the whole membership within the next three months. The unions will get one additional seat and, despite the fact that this seat will go to the ‘moderate’-led Usdaw union (which will take up the seat in three months’ time) it is looking good for the left. Even if (and that’s a big if) Labour Party members in Scotland vote for a rightwinger to replace Dugdale on the NEC, this leaves the left in a majority on the NEC, albeit a very slim one.

But the NEC is also proposing to conduct a review of party rules, to be led by Corbyn’s political secretary, Katy Clark. It is a shame that the NEC is strong-arming CLPs to withdraw all rule changes submitted, even those dealing with issues not covered by the ‘terms of reference’ of the review. An open and frank discussion on various issues like the leadership elections, and, of course, the various amendments moved on the question of the entirely fabricated ‘anti-Semitism scandal’ in the party would have been very useful, in our view (see page 3 of this issue).

Unhappy CLPs

We also hear that at least two of the CLPs who moved the original ’McDonnell amendment’ are refusing to remit their rule change. Currently, 15% of the “combined Commons members of the PLP and members of the EPLP” must nominate a candidate for leader or deputy leader of the party. The original rule change suggests reducing it to 5% per cent; the NEC compromise is 10%. In our view, it should actually be 0%. The relatively tiny numbers of Labour MPs and MEPs should not have any inbuilt constitutional right to thwart the democratic will of our mass membership!

We therefore urge delegates – if they get the chance – to vote for the original McDonnell amendment. It seems Corbyn and his allies on the NEC were forced to agree to the 10% compromise in order to get the increase of CLP reps onto the NEC through.

But if Momentum’s “survey”, which apparently shows that of the 1,155 delegates chosen by CLPs, 844 “back reforms proposed by Momentum”, is half-way correct, then we do have enough delegates to fight for a more serious change.

Temporary compromise

The “terms of reference” of the “Party Democracy Review”, which “will aim to produce a first report within 12 months”, includes a review of the method on how to elect the party leader (“including the role of registered supporters and the issue of nominating thresholds”) and the “composition of the NEC”. In other words, much of the compromise agreed at the September 19 NEC meeting is temporary. The battle is not yet won.

This is, however, a watershed moment for the future of the party. The left must make sure that it uses this review to full advantage, pushing for the kind of changes needed to transform it into a real party of the working class. The review could easily become a pseudo-democratic exercise, where thousands of people send in their blue-sky thoughts and we end up with another compromise between the left and the right. This is, of course, the way the national policy forum (to which Tony Blair outsourced policy-making in the party) currently works. The NPF report produced in time for this year’s conference is truly atrocious – full of waffle about the wonderful “process” employed in compiling it, but devoid of any concrete policies.

Unfortunately, judging from Jeremy Corbyn’s performance so far, we are not hopeful that he is prepared to fight for some of the reforms that are urgently needed to transform Labour into real party of the working class. Corbyn’s method of operation is still characterised by the ill-conceived attempt to appease the right in order to win some kind of ‘party unity’. But the right, with the energetic aid of the bourgeois media, will not rest until they get rid of him (and the entire left). It is high time he came out fighting – and the left needs to push him along in this fight to transform the Labour Party.

Meaningful reforms

ï All elected Labour representatives must be subject to mandatory selection based on ‘one member, one vote’. MPs must be brought under democratic control.

ï We need a sovereign conference once again. The cumbersome, undemocratic and oppressive structures, especially those put in place under the Blair supremacy, must be rolled back. The joint policy committee, the national policy forums, etc, must go.

• Scrap the Compliance Unit “and get back to the situation where people are automatically accepted for membership, unless there is a significant issue that comes up” (John McDonnell). We say, allow in those good socialists who have been barred, reinstate those good socialists who have been expelled or suspended.

• Winning new trade union affiliates ought to be a top priority. The FBU has re-affiliated, the RMT is in the process of doing so. But we should also fight for the NUT, PCS, NUJ and others to join.

• We need to remake every branch, every constituency – only then can we sweep out the right from the NEC, the HQ, the councils and the PLP. Elect officers who support genuine socialism and who are committed to transforming all LP units into vibrant centres of socialist organisation, education and action.

• Our goal should be to transform the Labour Party, so that, in the words of Keir Hardie, it can “organise the working class into a great, independent political power to fight for the coming of socialism”. The left, communist and revolutionary parties should be able to affiliate. As long as they do not stand against us in elections, this can only strengthen us as a federal party.

• Being an MP ought to be an honour, not a career ladder. A particularly potent weapon here is the demand that all our elected representatives should take only the average wage of a skilled worker – a principle upheld by the Paris Commune and the Bolshevik revolution. Let them keep the average skilled worker’s wage – say £40,000 (plus legitimate expenses). They should hand the balance over to the party.



Vote against the NEC ‘compromise’ on anti-Semitism

The Jewish Labour Movement claims its rule change has been adopted by the Labour Party NEC. That’s not the whole truth – and the left has to be very vigilant

The Guardian (September 18) claimed that Corbyn would be “backing” a Jewish Labour Movement-motivated rule change to this year’s Labour Party conference. This was a real worry: The JLM is an affiliate to the World Labour Zionist Movement, a loyal supporter of the state of Israel and home to many rightists in our party who have been keen to deliver the Labour Party from its ‘unelectable’ leader.

The next day, the Jewish Chronicle happily reported that the Labour Party’s NEC had “unanimously” passed the JLM’s proposal. However, leftwing NEC member Darren Williams wrote on social media that  the NEC approved a “rule change on dealing with prejudiced views and behaviour that avoided the more draconian approach favoured by the Jewish Labour Movement”.

So, what’s what?

Well, that depends on who you ask and what you ask them. Clearly, the JLM’s fingerprints are all over the NEC compromise formulation. The Jewish Chronicle quotes “a spokesman of Corbyn” passing on Jeremy’s “thanks all those involved with drafting this motion, including the Jewish Labour Movement and Shami Chakrabarti.”

It is also true, however, that the original JLM motion was not accepted. One of the key aspects of the original motion was rejected: the JLM wanted a “hate incident” to be “defined as something where the victim or anyone else think it was motivated by hostility or prejudice based on disability, race, religion, transgender identity, or sexual orientation” (our emphasis).

This was a clumsy JLM attempt to hijack the recommendations of the MacPherson report, established after the killing of Stephen Lawrence. This found the police to be “institutionally racist” and went on to recommend that when the victim or someone else feels an attack or hate incident is racially motivated, the police are obligated to record it as such and frame their investigation within these parameters.

So, there’s no question that JLM has failed in its attempt to lodge in the party rules the notion that the Labour Party is institutionally anti-Semitic. The NEC formulation requires some concrete evidence on “any incident which in their [the NEC’s] view might reasonably be seen to demonstrate hostility or prejudice”. The JLM also failed in its attempt to enable the disciplining of members for comments or actions made in “private” – a truly Orwellian proposal.

If it had been successful, this motion would have handed Iain McNicol and the Compliance Unit a devastatingly effective witch-hunting app, to be used of course against the left: members could have been punished for what others perceived to be their motivation for specific comments or actions, not what was said or done.

Why a ‘No’ vote

Yes, the worst excesses of the JLM motion have been removed. But the fact remains that the NEC – and Corbyn – now seem to implicitly accept the premise that Labour does have some sort of chronic anti-Semitism malady to be addressed. This is palpably untrue.

The response of Corbyn and his close allies to the flurry of crudely mendacious ‘anti-Semitism’ charges against the left has been deeply disappointing. Clearly, the belief in these leading circles is that rightwing saboteurs can been pacified and ‘party unity’ consolidated by giving ground to them on this issue. This is dangerously naive. The outcome of the Chakrabarti enquiry showed the opposite to be true. The witch-hunters’ appetites grow in the eating.

This is why – despite the fact that we recognise the healthy motivations of the comrades – we would also oppose the Hastings & Rye amendment stipulating that all accusations of anti-Semitism be based on concrete factual evidence. Implicitly, it still concedes too much to the falsehood that Labour has a serious problem with prejudice in the first place. But we understand why many delegates will probably vote for it, if given the chance: we hear the CLP has refused to remit their rule change.

First up, we should remember that the party already has sufficient powers to discipline members actually guilty of anti-Semitic comments or actions. Their vexatious nature aside, the suspensions of Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker, Tony Greenstein, Naz Shah and others clearly demonstrate this. The rulebook has lengthy sections on the disciplinary measures available to the NEC.

Further, the NEC compromise accepts the JLM’s suggestion that the following sentence in the rule book needs amending: “The NCC shall not have regard to the mere holding or expression of beliefs and opinions.” The JLM wanted to expand this sentence to include “except in instances involving anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or racism.”

The NEC compromise now reads: “The NCC shall not have regard to the mere holding or expression of beliefs and opinions, except in any instance inconsistent with the Party’s aims and values, agreed codes of conduct, or involving prejudice towards any protected characteristic.”

This formulation could still see party members disciplined for holding what are perceived to be prejudicial views – even without them acting on or articulating them publicly. What would be the basis for conviction? A hunch? Telepathy? Are we perhaps talking about petitions you have signed or Facebook posts you have ‘liked’? This formulation is wide open to abuse – it all depends on who looks at the rules, who interprets them for what purpose.

The NEC compromise also references “codes of conduct”. Again, these already abound in the Labour Party: Last year, our leading committee published a ‘Social Media Code of Conduct’; there is a code of conduct for “membership recruitment and retention” and there is one solely for the “selection of local government candidates”. Even the Parliamentary Labour Party has agreed on a set of “pledges” to facilitate its good behaviour. (We eagerly await the first evidence of its success.)

Notwithstanding this, it seems we might now have another ‘code’ to look forward to – on “hostility and prejudice”. Rumours circulate that a bone thrown to the JLM is the undertaking that some of its original draconian formulations could be shoe-horned into this new code of conduct. Word also reaches us that the JLM might be pushing for the controversial ‘Working Definition of Anti-Semitism’ produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance to be included in the new conduct protocols. The short IHRA definition is designed to conflate and confuse anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism and has been criticised by many anti-Zionist campaigners.

No anti-Semitism problem?

Of course, there are a minuscule number of individual members who hold anti-Semitic views – most of whom you would expect to find on the party right,  by the way. Labour is not some chemically pure ideological sect of a few hundred acolytes. We are a mass movement and therefore, to varying levels, may find in our ranks trace elements of irrational minority prejudices that exist in wider society. The party – or, more specifically, the Labour left – has no more of an institutional anti-Semitism ‘problem’ than we have a problem with paranoid notions that 9/11 was an inside job or that shape-shifting space lizards run the world.

Clearly, the scale of the ‘scandal’ that broke over members in 2016 (and still reverberates) is in inverse proportion to the real size of the problem itself. Even at the height of the feverish hunt for ‘anti-Semites’, the NEC only ‘identified’ and took action against a grand total of 18 members. Quite a few (like MP Naz Shah) were fully reinstated. Others, like Ken Livingstone and Jackie Walker, should be fully reinstated – nothing they said was even vaguely anti-Semitic.

Sections of the right of the party have attempted to rebrand as ‘anti-Semitism’ even the discussion of some sensitive but accurate facts of Zionism’s relationship with the early Nazi regime or the left’s critical stance on the Israeli state’s savage oppression of the Palestinian people.

The latter is a particularly smart move on behalf the witch-hunters. With a few dishonourable exceptions, the Labour left is highly critical of the Israeli state’s ongoing colonial/expansionist oppression of the Palestinians and the appalling discrimination, displacement and denial of basic democratic rights that go with it. However, it is a crude and transparently false conclusion to draw from this that the left wishes to see the poles of oppression simply reversed. There are different strategic approaches amongst comrades in solidarity with the Palestinian people (a single secular state, two viable state formations, etc). But a common theme is the need for democratic consent of these two peoples to live side by side, sharing equal, substantive democratic rights. In other words, the left in the party is overwhelmingly anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic.

These two very distinct categories have been conflated for the most contemptible of reasons. In the struggle between the left and right for the soul of the party, ‘anti-Semitism’ has been “weaponised”, as Chris Williamson MP quite rightly put it. It has been a successful tool in the drawn-out campaign to destabilise Jeremy Corbyn. Historically, Corbyn has been an ardent supporter of Palestinian rights. We are not so sure where he stands now. It is probably fair to say that his stance has become more ‘flexible’.

We sincerely hope he has not come around to the viewpoint of the National Policy Forum. The NPF is recommending a document this year that would dramatically alter the party’s position on Israel/Palestine. The 2017 election manifesto called for an end to Israel’s blockade, illegal occupation and settlements. But these basic democratic demands have been dropped, along with the pledge that “A Labour government will immediately recognise the state of Palestine”.

We urge delegates to vote against the NEC compromise and to reference back the NPF international document. They come before conference on Tuesday.

Uncritical support for Corbyn

David Shearer of Labour Party Marxists reports on last weekend’s LRC conference.

The February 20 ‘special general meeting’ of the Labour Representation Committee was a strange affair, not least because of the poor attendance of only around 150 comrades. The leadership had gone out of its way to insist that there could be no annual general meeting – the 2015 AGM should have been called in November – because of the election of Jeremy Corbyn.

The new circumstances apparently meant that no motions from members or affiliates could be entertained, and there could be no elections for the executive or national committee. But, apart from that, the meeting had all the features of an AGM – officers’ reports and constitutional amendments, for instance.

The reason why only the leadership’s own motions were permitted was obvious. You and I might propose an ‘extremist’ policy or course of action that might embarrass comrade Corbyn and his number two, John McDonnell, at a time when they are under constant scrutiny and attack in the media. So the membership was permitted only to move amendments to the leadership’s own motions.

Having said that, however, the NC’s statement – ‘After Corbyn’s victory – building the movement’ – contained some useful points. For example, it correctly stated: “While participating in, and encouraging, industrial and social struggles, at the present time the LRC has to emphasise the internal battles in the movement.” It also declared: “… we need to work at every level in the unions to encourage participation, democracy and transparency …” Once again, quite correct – although the leadership was not best pleased by the attempt of Labour Party Marxists to add some meat to the bones when it came to union democracy (see below).

However, there was certainly some ambiguity over the LRC’s original and continued purpose. The statement claimed that, unlike others on the left, the LRC had always accepted that “the radicalisation of working people will at some point attempt to create a mass left wing within Labour”.

However, NC member Mike Phipps usefully pointed out that the “origin” of the LRC actually lay in the possibility of an “alternative to Labour” during the days when the right was firmly in control. In fact I seem to recall comrade McDonnell himself hinting on more than one occasion that such a possibility was not ruled out. But let’s not talk about that!

Nevertheless, taking into account such an “origin”, what today is the LRC’s purpose, now that the mass-membership Momentum has come into being? The statement read: “There is no contradiction between the LRC participating fully in the creation of a national network of local and internet-based Momentum groups and maintaining the existence of our own organisation – for the time being.” Indeed it foresaw a time when the LRC “has outlived its usefulness”. This point was also made by comrade McDonnell himself in his address to the conference. He thought that “maybe in the future” there will be “just one organisation”, but apparently we are “not ready for that yet”.

Mick Brooks, in presenting the leadership’s statement, said that Momentum was a “genuine mass movement” and we “have got to be in there”. The LRC has a “critical political role to play”, he continued – it is our job to help shape Momentum’s politics, it seems (even though the NC wants to keep those politics within safe bounds – ie, bounds determined by the rightwing media and its eagerness to blacken the name of the new Labour leadership in whatever way it can).

As the statement put it, our aim is to “advance the Corbyn agenda in the party as a whole” (my emphasis). The overwhelming majority at the meeting favoured more or less uncritical support for Corbyn – there was a clear consensus that the most important thing was to get him into No10 in 2020. According to Jackie Walker, speaking for the NC in the afternoon session on Momentum, we should “go to meetings, knock on doors” to “get Jeremy elected as prime minister”. There were several other such comments. Many were couched in the language of socialism – including the Labourite ‘socialism’ of the 1945 Attlee government.

Despite this, the meeting accepted an amendment to the statement, moved by Sacha Ismail of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, which called on Corbyn and McDonnell to be “politically bolder” – it specified “taxing the rich, nationalising the banks, reversing all cuts” and explaining how such demands fit into a vision of a “different society from capitalism”. Within Momentum, the amendment proposed, the LRC should fight to go “beyond ‘progressive’ and ‘new politics’ towards a clearer political programme based on class politics, working class political representation and socialism”.

One comrade said the amendment “misunderstands where we are” – Corbyn and McDonnell are in a “precarious position”. We shouldn’t tell them “we know better”, that “they’re not being bold enough”. Our task is not to advise – “our task is to build”.


While there were guest speakers from the junior doctors and Heathrow 13 campaigns, the star speaker was undoubtedly the shadow chancellor. John McDonnell was pleased to bring a message of “solidarity and thanks” from Jeremy Corbyn – who had, after all, been a “founder member” of the LRC.

Comrade McDonnell stated that the shadow cabinet was an example of the Labour “left, right and centre working together” – the implication being that this can only be a good thing. But the left was gaining ground: “When they realised we had momentum, they started taking some of our ideas.” According to him, most of the Labour right had now “bought into our idea of Labour becoming a social movement again”.

So Labour as a whole, it seems, is now attempting to “transform the social and economic system” and establish a “radically fairer and more equal economy”. And the LRC’s role should be “to the fore” – that of “campaigning to develop policy”. We should “aim for the election of a socialist government” in 2020. It was the “opportunity of a lifetime” – what he had been waiting for all these years: “Now it’s here, let’s grab it with both hands.”

Following a standing ovation, it was announced there would be questions from the floor, although only three were taken. In response, comrade McDonnell stated, among other things, that if there was a challenge to the Corbyn leadership, the left would “organise just as hard” as last time – but it would “do it in a way that holds the party together”. Answering a question from Pete Firmin on the party’s attitude to the European Union and the coming referendum, comrade McDonnell said that Labour should be “working with socialist and social democratic parties across Europe” in order to achieve “a workers’ Europe, a social Europe”. Otherwise we would be left with a “capitalist club”.

He ended by saying: “Now we are the Labour Party. We’re the mainstream!” Which earned him a second standing ovation.

Following this, Mick Brooks presented the leadership’s statement. He began by stating that we were attending a special general meeting, rather than an AGM, because it “was not a question of business as usual”. Since the 1980s Britain had been dominated by rightwing politics, where the situation for socialists was unfavourable. But now there is “radicalisation to the right and to the left”. In contradiction to McDonnell’s claim of a growing unity, comrade Brooks said that within Labour Corbyn is “surrounded by enemies”. Our job was to mobilise his potential support and “channel it into the Labour Party”.

Liz Davies spoke next from the platform. She was delighted to be “back in the Labour Party” after a couple of decades in organisations like the Socialist Alliance and Left Unity. Then she had thought that Blair and Brown had “changed Labour irrevocably”, but “I am delighted I was wrong.” Now Labour was once again opposed to the “wicked” Tory policies on welfare, housing, migration and so on.


The first amendment to the NC statement was moved by Pete Firmin representing Brent Trades Council. This mandated the NC to “call the overdue 2015 AGM within three months”. The last AGM had been in November 2014 – when comrade Firmin himself had been elected political secretary – and there was no real reason why we should not now have a proper conference, where a full range of motions are heard and the leadership is elected/re-elected.

The excuses given by a range of NC and EC speakers opposing this were truly abysmal. The intention was to “call an AGM as soon after the Labour Party conference as possible” – didn’t comrade Firmin know that an AGM “takes time and money to organise”? It had been “a difficult year” and now was not the time for “the usual resolution-passing” (unless they are resolutions from the leadership, of course). It would be “an enormous distraction” to organise a “second major event”.

But Graham Bash, LRC treasurer and editor of Labour Briefing, was the most embarrassing: “For goodness sake, in the next three months there are local elections”, plus lots of local Momentum meetings, he said. Organising the AGM would “take the LRC out of politics” and we shouldn’t let such things “get in the way of the struggle outside”!

Other comrades, including Andrew Berry, pointed out that democracy was not a “bolt-on extra” and there was no reason why we could not fully engage in politics while preparing for an AGM. Although the amendment was defeated, the vote was close enough to necessitate a count – there were 35 in favour and 57 against.

This was followed by the LPM amendment mentioned above. This stated: “The fight to democratise the Labour Party cannot be separated from the fight to democratise the trade unions.” It was essential to ensure that both Labour and union officers are fully accountable and recallable, and are paid only the average wage of a skilled worker. The amendment put forward several other concrete proposals – we should, for example, aim to abolish the Bonapartist post of Labour leader.

In introducing the amendment, Stan Keable insisted that democracy must be seen to be implemented. Democracy was our best weapon against the class enemy, in that it could help to transform our movement into a genuinely powerful force. That applies to the trade union movement as well as to the Labour Party.

Once again there were some very weak arguments against such a basic proposition. One comrade said that it was “not for us to tell our affiliates how they should organise”, while another said that at last we have our own leader and yet here we have Labour Party Marxists making the “mad” proposal to abolish the post! Surely everyone knew it was our job to “get behind Jeremy’s agenda”? And you would have to be “bonkers” to expect him to get by on a worker’s wage.

LPM’s Jim Grant argued that if it was wrong for us to tell the unions how to organise, presumably we should not ‘interfere’ in their affairs by calling on them to support the junior doctors, for example. But it was to no avail: the amendment was defeated, with about 25 comrades voting in favour.


After the lunch break NC members Michael Calderbank and Jackie Walker introduced the session on Momentum. Comrade Calderbank said that Momentum was “crucial to the Corbyn movement” and to “getting Labour elected” in 2020, while comrade Walker stated that the aim must be to double Momentum’s membership. She was very enthusiastic about her local Momentum group and its ‘consensus democracy’ – “and, you know, it works!” What is more, “If you say something unpleasant, we ask you to leave!”

Comrade Walker also thought it was better to have “more people who don’t have experience” coming into Momentum than members or ex-members of the organised left. But there were “too few blacks and too few women” – which was all down to people (like members of the experienced left, no doubt) “saying unpleasant things” and others (like herself, it seems) “being intimidated”.

In a similar vein Andrew Berry had raised a point of order in an earlier session objecting to the use of certain words – he specified “losers”, “mad” and “bonkers” – the last two having been directed against LPM. We don’t mind, Andrew, honestly!

The final session dealt with organisational matters, which revealed the poor state of the LRC. As Norrette Moore for the executive said, “Last August we got down to about £100 in the bank.” This was one of the reasons why the “very large national committee” had to be streamlined. The ‘streamlining’ consisted, amongst other things, of a constitutional change that would end the current two-tier structure, whereby the executive committee “takes proposals to a national committee”. Instead there would be a single national executive committee. The NC was proposing that the AGM (when it is eventually called) should elect not only the NEC, but eight individual officers (at least four of whom “should identify as female”), including a “treasurer”, “web manager” and “administrator”.

Our amendment called for all officers to be elected by the NEC itself, not the AGM. In moving it, I pointed out that very few LRC members knew which of those standing for election would make a good “web manager”, for instance. What is more, if the comrade elected turned out to be a total incompetent, then, under the current method of electing officers, there would be nothing anyone could do – they had been elected by the membership and could not be removed until the next AGM.

But comrade Moore said that if we elected the committee as a whole and gave them the job of allocating the various responsibilities from amongst themselves, that would make them a “clique”. No, I’m not sure how she worked that one out either. In any case, the amendment was lost, with, once more, around 25 voting for it.


Don’t go back, go forward

The post-leadership battle has already begun. James Marshall of Labour Party Marxists calls for the adoption of new principles and decisive measures.

Once Jeremy Corbyn is officially declared winner, a review of our constitution is surely on the cards. Understandably, clause four – agreed in 1918 and then rewritten under Tony Blair in 1995 – has been singled out. It carries totemic status for partisans both of the right and left.

But should the left seek to raise the 1918 Lazarus? Or should we audaciously reach out for another future? Asked if he wanted to bring back the old clause four, comrade Corbyn said this: “I think we should talk about what the objectives of the party are, whether that’s restoring clause four as it was originally written or it’s a different one. But we shouldn’t shy away from public participation, public investment in industry and public control of the railways.”1

Very moderate. Nonetheless very welcome.

Of course, there are those now outside our ranks who are determined to look back. Dave Nellist – former Labour MP for Coventry South East, national chair of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition and a leading member of the Socialist Party in England and Wales – reportedly insists that the old clause four must be “reinstated”.

As an aside, comrade Nellist says, when Corbyn is elected, he is “going to have to create a new party in the same way Tony Blair did in the 90s.”2 A good king/bad king contrivance forced upon SPEW because of its abject failure to recognise the underlying continuities amidst the retrogressive changes imposed during the 1990s. However, even the most blockheaded Victorian worshipper of royalty did not claim that, having succeeded his brother, the ‘good’ king Richard, the ‘bad’ king John founded a brand-new English kingdom.

SPEW seriously wants us to believe that Labour pre-1995 was a “political weapon for the workers’ movement” and that post-1995 it became a “British version of the Democrats in the USA”.3 Nonetheless in 2015 our supposedly capitalist party is preparing to announce Corbyn as leader. A strategic misjudgement on SPEW’s part, to put it mildly. And, let us never forget, even after Corbyn had actually made it onto the ballot, SPEW was arguing that, the “sooner Unite breaks from Labour …, the better”.4 The unkind will call this a premeditated wrecking attempt; kinder souls will put it down to blundering idiocy.

Suffice to say, when it comes to clause four, SPEW is far from alone. As well as exiles, the mainstream Labour left also looks back to what is, in fact, an anti-working class tradition.


True, the 1918 clause four (part four) 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 often fondly remembered as a defining socialist moment. But when it was first drafted – amidst the slaughter of inter- imperialist war – the calculated aim of Sidney Webb, its Fabian author, was threefold.

Firstly, clause four socialism must be implicitly anti-Marxist. Webb well knew the history of the workers’ movement in Germany. Karl Marx famously mocked various passages in the Gotha programme (1875), not least those which declared that every worker should receive a “fair distribution of their proceeds of labour” and that “the proceeds of labour belong undiminished with equal right to all members of society”.5 Contradictory and vacuous, concluded Marx. What is fair? What about replacement means of production? What about the expansion of production? What about those unable to work? More than that, Marx put these and other such woolly formulations down to an unneeded concession to the followers of Ferdinand Lassalle. His Workers’ programme (1862) called for “an equal right to the undiminished proceeds of labour”. Obviously Webb wanted to give clause four a distinct Lassallean coloration not out of admiration for Lassalle, but because he wanted to distance the Labour Party from Marxism.

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

Thirdly, clause four socialism could be used to divert the considerable rank-and-file sympathy that existed for the Russian Revolution into safe, peaceful and exclusively constitutional channels. That did not stop prime minister David Lloyd George from declaring, in his closing speech of the 1918 general election campaign, that the “Labour Party is being run by the extreme pacifist Bolshevik group”.6

Almost needless to say, clause four was mainly for show. A red ribbon around what was the standing programme of social liberalism. Yet, even if it had been put into effect, clause four socialism would remain statist, elitist and antithetical to working class self-liberation. Capitalism without capitalists does not count amongst our goals. Railways, mines, land, electricity, etc, passes into the hands of the British empire state.7 Capitalist owners are bought out. Eased into a comfortable retirement. But, as they vacate the field of production, a new class of state-appointed managers enters the fray. In terms of the division of labour, they substitute for the capitalists. The mass of the population, meanwhile, remain exploited wage- slaves. They would be subject to the same hierarchal chain of command, the same lack of control, the same mind- numbing routine.

Marxism, by contrast, is based on an altogether different perspective. If it is to win its freedom, the working class must overthrow the existing state. But – and this is crucial – in so doing the proletariat “abolishes itself as a proletariat, abolishes all class distinctions and antagonisms, abolishes also the state as state”.8 Capitalist relations of production and the whole bureaucratic state apparatus are swept away. Every sphere of social life sees control exercised from below. All positions of command are elected or chosen by lot and are regularly rotated. Hierarchy is flattened. Alienation is overcome. What is produced and how it is produced radically alters too. Need, not exchange, is the ruling principle. And alone such an association of producers creates the benign conditions which allow for the full development of each and every individual.

Admittedly, the old clause four resulted from a far-reaching cultural shift – the Russian Revolution has already been mentioned. But there is also the 1867 Reform Act and the extension of the franchise, the considerable popularity of socialist propaganda, the growth of trade unions, the formation of the Labour Party and the horrors of World War I. Because of all this, and more, capitalism was widely considered abhorrent, outmoded and doomed. As a concomitant, socialism became the common sense of the organised working class.9

Of course, what the Fabians meant by socialism was a self-proclaimed extension of social liberalism. The Fabians would gradually expand social welfare provision and harness the commanding heights of the economy with a view to promoting the national interest.

In other words, the Fabians consciously sought to ameliorate the mounting contradictions between labour and capital and thus put off socialism. As Fredrick Engels damningly noted, “fear of revolution is their guiding principle”.10 And, needless to say, the years 1918-20 witnessed army mutinies, colonial uprisings, a massive strike wave and brutal Black and Tan oppression meted out in Ireland.

Interestingly, before 1918 attempts to commit the party to socialism met with mixed success. The 1900 founding conference rejected the “class war” ultimatum tabled by the Social Democratic Federation.11 Despite that, conference voted to support the “socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange”. The next year a socialistic motion moved by Bruce Glasier was defeated. In 1903 another socialistic motion fell; this time without debate. Two years latter conference passed a motion with the exact same wording. In 1907 the previous endorsement of socialism was overturned at the prompting of … Bruce Glasier. Despite that, the same conference agreed to set the goal of “socialising the means of production, distribution and exchange”.12

The explanation for the seesawing doubtless lies with electoral expediency. While most in the party leadership considered themselves socialists of a kind, they were mortally afraid of losing out in the polls. What appeared acceptable to likely voters set their limits. So, instead of fearlessly presenting a bold socialist vision and building support on that basis, Sidney Webb, Arthur Henderson, Ramsay MacDonald and co chased the capricious vagaries of popularity. With the radicalisation of 1918-20 socialist declarations were considered a sure way of adding to Labour’s ranks in parliament.13 Forming a government being both a means and an end.

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

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

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

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

Class lines

Demands for a return of the old clause four are perfectly understandable. But why go back to a Fabian past? Instead we surely need to persuade members and affiliates to take up the cause of “replacing the rule of capital with the rule of the working class”. Our socialism would (a) introduce a democratically planned economy, (b) end the ecologically ruinous cycle of production for the sake of production and (c) move towards a stateless, classless, moneyless society that embodies the principle, “From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs” (Labour Party Marxists alternative clause four).

Towards that end our party must be reorganised from top to bottom. A special conference – say in the spring of 2016 – should be called by the NEC with a view to overhauling the constitution and rules and undertaking an across-the-board political reorientation.

As is well known, Labour members loathe the undemocratic rules and structures put in place by Blair. The joint policy committee, the national policy forums, the whole sorry rigmarole should be junked. The NEC must be unambiguously responsible for drafting manifestos. And, of course, the NEC needs to be fully accountable to a sovereign conference.

The chances are that in the immediate aftermath of Corbyn’s victory there will be another huge upsurge in membership. At the very least 100,000 more can be expected to join. But in order to reach out to the millions who are angry, the millions disgusted by corrupt career politicians, the millions who believe that somehow a better world is possible, the Labour Party ought to establish its own mass media. Nowadays that must include internet-based TV and radio stations. Relying on the favours of the bourgeois press and media worked splendidly for Tony Blair. But we will get nothing but lies, distortion and implacable opposition. The dull-as-ditchwater publications of the trade union bureaucracy and the confessional sects are a model of what to avoid. They turn people off. But a media which strives to tell the truth, which encourages debate, which deals with difficult questions, is another matter. We can surely do better than the BBC, Al Jazeera and Sky.

Branding people as ‘infiltrators’ because, mainly out of frustration, they supported the Greens, Tusc or Left Unity in the last general election, does nothing to advance the socialist cause. Such a snarling response is worryingly reminiscent of the cold war bans and proscriptions. New recruits ought to be welcomed, not cold-shouldered.

We are proud of being a federal party. Therefore securing n ew affiliates ought to be at the top of our agenda. Indeed we should actively seek to bring every leftwing group or party under our banner. Labour needs to become the common home of every socialist organisation, cooperative and trade union – the agreed goal of our founders.14 In that same spirit, unions which have either disaffiliated or been expelled must be brought back into the fold.

We are proud of being a federal party. Therefore securing new affiliates ought to be at the top of our agenda. Indeed we should actively seek to bring every leftwing group or party under our banner. Labour needs to become the common home of every socialist organisation, cooperative and trade union – the agreed goal of our founders.14 In that same spirit, unions which have either disaffiliated or been expelled must be brought back into the fold.

At the last Fire Brigades Union national conference, general secretary Matt Wrack asked those proposing reaffiliation “what their strategy” of changing Labour was, “because he had never heard it”.15 Well, Matt, for the moment that strategy goes under the name, ‘Operation Corbyn’. Of course, today both the Rail, Maritime and Transport union and the FBU are backing him … from outside Labour. Moreover, there are unions which have never had an organised relationship with us. Regrettably, Mark Serwotka, Public and Commercial Services union general secretary, was one of those turned away. But, instead of impotently complaining about it on Twitter, he should turn the tables on the Blairites by bringing in his entire membership. Mark, fight to get PCS to affiliate.

For our part, we should commit the Labour Party to reviving the trade union movement. The drop from 12 million members in the late 1970s to some seven million today can be reversed. Labour members should take the lead in recruiting masses of new trade unionists and restoring union strength in workplaces and society at large. In line with this, strikes must be unashamedly supported. There ought to be a binding commitment on councillors, MPs and MEPs to back workers in their struggle to protect jobs, pensions and conditions. Those who refuse ought to be subject to deselection.

The opt-in proposals contained in Sajid Javid’s Trade Union Bill are part of a crude attempt to starve us of funds. But adversity can be transformed into opportunity. Necessity will oblige us to campaign for hearts and minds if the bill passes into law. Nevertheless, the principle we fight for is perfectly clear. All trade unionists should be obliged to pay the political levy. Worryingly, we have met opposition to this within the Labour Representation Committee and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. But the obligation to pay the political levy was agreed practice from 1900 till 1909 and, more importantly, flows directly from the basic requirements of working class collectivism.16

Because of history, because of numerical weight, because of financial contributions, transforming the Labour Party is inseparably linked with the fight to democratise the trade unions. All office-holders in the trade unions ought to be subject to regular election and be recallable. No regional organiser, no president, no general secretary should receive a salary higher than the average wage of their membership. Frankly, Len McCluskey’s £140,000 pay and pension package is totally unacceptable. Rules which serve to blunt, restrict or outlaw criticism of the trade union bureaucracy must be rescinded. Put another way, no more ‘monkey trials’.17

Then there is the trade union vote at conference. It should not be cast by general secretaries, but proportionately, in accordance with the agreed political make-up of each delegation. We have no wish to go back to the days when conference was dominated by four or five men in suits.

Obviously the Parliamentary Labour Party has to be brought into line. No- one knows exactly what will happen after September 12. But we should expect a campaign of manoeuvring, resistance, non-cooperation and if that fails outright war. In fact the first shots have already been fired. Blair’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ opinion piece in The Observer had nothing to do with a final plea in the leadership campaign.18 We all know what the result is going to be. No, its purpose is perfectly clear. Rally the Blairites and their corporate, state and international allies.

Given present circumstances, it is unlikely that the hard right will go for a breakaway. Another Social Democratic Party is an outside possibility. But at the last general election the Lib Dems were hammered. The centre ground has virtually disappeared as a parliamentary force. Hence the Blairites have nowhere to go except the government benches. But, being dedicated careerists, they know their constituents would turf them out at the first opportunity if they switched to the Tories. Instead of the glories of high office it would be the musty corridors of the Lords. So expect them to wage a prolonged, sophisticated and utterly ruthless fightback.

We must respond by constitutionally reversing the domination of the party by the PLP. Tory collaborators, saboteurs, the plain corrupt, must be hauled up before the NEC and threatened with expulsion. If they refuse to abide by party discipline the whip must be withdrawn. We should democratically select and promote trustworthy replacement candidates. If that results in a smaller PLP in the short term that is a price well worth paying.

Another potent weapon against the hard right is the demand that all our elected representatives should take only the average wage of a skilled worker. Here is a principle upheld by the Paris Commune and the Bolshevik revolution. 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 put a break on careerism and give a substantial fillip to our finances. It ought to be a basic principle that our representatives live like workers, not pampered members of the upper middle class.


Real Marxists, not fake Marxists, have never talked of reclaiming Labour. It has never been ours in the sense of being a “political weapon for the workers’ movement”. No, despite the electoral and trade union base, our party has been dominated throughout its entire history by professional politicians and trade union bureaucrats. A distinct social stratum which in the last analysis serves not the interests of the working class, but the nation, ie, British capitalism.

Supporting the newly formed Communist Party of Great Britain applying for affiliation, Lenin said this about the Labour Party:

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

“Regarded from this, the only correct, point of view, the Labour Party is a thoroughly bourgeois party, because, although made up of workers, it is led by reactionaries, and the worst kind of reactionaries at that, who act quite in the spirit of the bourgeoisie. It is an organisation of the bourgeoisie, which exists to systematically dupe the workers with the aid of the British Noskes and Scheidemanns.19”

Despite all the subsequent changes, this assessment retains its essential truth. Labour is still a “bourgeois workers’ party”. However, once Corbyn is formally announced as leader on September 12, things will become rather more complex. Labour will become a chimera. Instead of a twofold contradiction we will have a threefold contradiction. The left will dominate both the top and bottom of the party.

Corbyn is not the equivalent of George Lansbury or Michael Foot. It would be an elementary mistake to assume he was. They were promoted by the labour and trade union bureaucracy after a severe crisis: namely Ramsay MacDonald’s treachery and James Callaghan’s winter of discontent. Corbyn’s leadership is, in the first instance, the result of an historic accident. The ‘morons’ from the Burnham camp lent him their vote. After that, however, Corbyn owes everything to the mass membership. Those already in and those coming in.

That gives us the possibility of attacking the rightwing domination of the middle – the councillors, the apparatus, the PLP – from below and above. No wonder the more astute minds of the bourgeois commentariat can be found expressing genuine concern about what will happen to their neoliberal consensus.

Of course, there is the danger that Corbyn will be drawn into a series of rotten compromises. After all, many advisors will argue that he cannot form a shadow cabinet that mainly draws on the Campaign Group and still keep the PLP right wing on board.

We say, do not try to stop the right if it wants to make a suicide jump. Corbyn should appoint a small, politically tight shadow cabinet. The right should be kept out. Certainly the generous offer by Labour’s “most senior MPs” to make Corbyn into their prisoner ought to be rejected outright. The idea of the “most senior MPs” is to declare an 18-month truce; that is, if Corbyn agrees that the PLP should elect the shadow cabinet. They then want everything put through the shadow cabinet, so as to prevent Corbyn from pursuing “loony left policies”.20 Shadow cabinet collective responsibility would gag him.

While we Marxists want to see the Bonapartist position of leader abolished, it is crystal-clear that today’s situation is extraordinary and therefore requires extraordinary measures.

Corbyn should be urged in the strongest terms to temporarily maintain the leader’s power to appoint the shadow cabinet. A civil war is about to erupt and the left needs every weapon it can get its hands on. So Corbyn should appoint a shadow cabinet and – once again as a temporary measure – maybe seek a mandate for his choice from the NEC or the annual conference.

Corbyn is still talking in a way one would expect from a left reformist, His team have been sending emollient messages about party unity and taking on the Tory government together. But have no doubt: the right will resort to unconstitutional methods in an attempt to undermine, discredit, isolate and then finally oust Corbyn. In this it will be aided and abetted not only by the City, the military-industrial complex and the capitalist press and media. Special branch, MI5 and their American cousins will provide information, advisors and coordination. If he is going to succeed, Corbyn will have to resort to revolutionary methods.

Three clause fours

Original agreed in 1918 and subsequently amended in 1959


1. To organise and maintain in parliament and in the country a political Labour Party.

2. To cooperate with the general council of the Trades Union Congress, or other kindred organisations, in joint political or other action in harmony with the party constitution and standing orders.

3. To give effect as far as possible to the principles from time to time approved by the party conference.

4. To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.

5. Generally to promote the political, social and economic emancipation of the people, and more particularly of those who depend directly upon their own exertions by hand or by brain for the means of life.

6. To cooperate with the labour and socialist organisations in the commonwealth overseas with a view to promoting the purposes of the party, and to take common action for the promotion of a higher standard of social and economic life for the working population of the respective countries.

7. To cooperate with the labour and socialist organisations in other countries and to support the United Nations and its various agencies and other international organisations for the promotion of peace, the adjustment and settlement of international disputes by conciliation or judicial arbitration, the establishment and defence of human rights, and the improvement of the social and economic standards and conditions of work of the people of the world.21

Blairite version agreed in 1995

Aims and values

1. The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that, by the strength of our common endeavour, we achieve more than we achieve alone so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.

2. To these ends we work for:

* a dynamic economy, serving the public interest, in which the enterprise of the market and the rigour of competition are joined with the forces of partnership and cooperation to produce the wealth the nation needs and the opportunity for all to work and prosper, with a thriving public sector and high quality services, where those undertakings essential to the common good are either owned by the public or accountable to them;

* a just society, which judges its strength by the condition of the weak as much as the strong, provides security against fear, and justice at work; which nurtures families, promotes equality of opportunity and delivers people from the tyranny of poverty, prejudice and the abuse of power;

* an open democracy, in which government is held to account by the people; decisions are taken as far as practicable by the communities they affect; and where fundamental human rights are guaranteed;

* a healthy environment, which protect, enhance and hold in trust for future generations.

3. Labour is committed to the defence and security of the British people, and to cooperating in European institutions, the United Nations, the Commonwealth and other international bodies to secure peace, freedom, democracy, economic security and environmental protection for all.

4. Labour will work in pursuit of these aims with trade unions, cooperative societies and other affiliated organisations, and also with voluntary organisations, consumer groups and other representative bodies.

5. On the basis of these principles, Labour seeks the trust of the people to govern.22

Alternative proposed by Labour Party Marxists


1. Labour is the federal party of the working class. We strive to bring all trade unions, cooperatives, socialist societies and leftwing groups and parties under our banner. We believe that unity brings strength.

2. Labour is committed to replacing the rule of capital with the rule of the working class. Socialism introduces a democratically planned economy, ends the ecologically ruinous cycle of production for the sake of production and moves towards a stateless, classless, moneyless society that embodies the principle, “From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs”. Alone such benign conditions create the possibility for every individual to fully realise their innate potentialities.

3. Towards that end Labour commits itself to achieving a democratic republic. The standing army, the monarchy, the House of Lords and the state sponsorship of the Church of England must go. We support a single- chamber parliament, proportional representation and annual elections.

4. Labour seeks to win the active backing of the majority of people and form a government on this basis.

5. We shall work with others, in particular in the European Union, in pursuit of the aim of replacing capitalism with working class rule and socialism.


1. The Independent August 21 2015.

2. Coventry Telegraph August 19 2015.

3. P Taaffe, ‘Can Jeremy Corbyn’s challenge help to develop the socialist left?’ The Socialist June 19 2015.

4. The Socialist July 1 2015.

5. K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 24, London 1989, p83.

6. Quoted in R Miliband Parliamentary socialism London 1973, p64n.

7. The Fabians supported the British government in the 1899-1902 Boer War. They justified their stand in a pamphlet, edited by Bernard Shaw, Fabianism and the empire (1900). They did not want Britain to lose out when it came to the divi- sion of the world by the great imperial powers. As might be expected, the Fabians wanted a civilising British empire. The white dominions should be given self-government. However, “for the lower breeds” there should be a “benevolent bureaucra- cy” of British civil servants and military officials guiding them to “adulthood” (G Foote The Labour Party’s political thought London 1985, p29-30).

8. K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 25, London 1987, p267.

9. ‘Common sense’ being the continuously chang- ing but widely held outlook of various classes and strata. Gramsci called it “folklore of philosophy”, because it exists “halfway between folklore prop- erly speaking and the philosophy, science and eco- nomics of the specialists” (A Gramsci Selections from the prison notebooks London 1973, p326n).

10. K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 50, New York 2004, p83.

11. Though it had two guaranteed seats on the LRC’s leading body, the SDF disaffiliated in August 1901.

12. See RT McKenzie British political parties London 1963, pp465-71.

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

14. At the 1899 TUC, JH Holmes, a delegate of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, moved this resolution: “That this congress, having regard to its decisions in former years, and with a view to securing a better representation of the interests of labour in the House of Commons, hereby instructs the parliamentary committee to invite the cooperation of all cooperative, social- istic, trade unions and other working class organ- isations to jointly cooperate on lines mutually agreed upon, in convening a special congress of representatives from such of the above-named organisations as may be willing to take part to devise ways and means for securing the return of an increased number of Labour members to the next parliament” (www.unionhistory.info/ timeline/1880_14_Narr_Display.php?Where=Nar- Title+contains+%27The+Labour+Par- ty%27+AND+DesPurpose+contains+%27Web- Display%27).

15. The Socialist May 20 2015.

16. In 1909, the Tory law lords tried to snuff out the emerging Labour Party through the notorious Osborne judgement. Affiliated trade unions were prevented from funding the Labour Party until Herbert Asquith’s minority Liberal government legalised trade union political funds. But the 1913 Trade Union Act also imposed the condition that individual members could opt out of the union’s political fund – legally backed political scabbing.

17. See Weekly Worker September 9 2009.

18. The Observer August 30 2015.

19. VI Lenin CW Vol 31, Moscow 1977, pp257- 58.

20. www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/senior-la- bour-mps-offer-jeremy-6346452.

21. www.labourcounts.com/oldclausefour.htm.

22. Labour Party rule book London 2013, p3.

Nation, class unity and political strategy

Despite the ‘no’ vote in the Scottish referendum the national question has not gone away. Roger Freeman argues for self-determination and a federal republic

Unlike the narrow economism that passes for common sense on too much of the left, the LPM does its best to take a Marxist approach to the UK state. As a minimum demand – ie, within the technical limits imposed by the capitalist system – we emphasise, bring to the fore, class (as opposed to sectional) demands that challenge the logic of the market, such as the provision of health, education and benefits based on need. We give no less emphasis to political demands which challenge how we are ruled. Hence we demand the abolition of the monarchy, the secret state and the House of Lords; we demand a people’s militia, disestablishment of the church of England, election of judges, etc.

What about the national question? Once again we take an approach which seeks to forge class unity and challenge how we are ruled. Hence the demand for the abolition of the acts of union, self-determination for Scotland and Wales, and a federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales (the initial form we envisage working class rule taking in Britain).

Doubtless, John Major, Tony Blair, Peter Hain, Gerry Adams and Alex Salmond have unwittingly done us a great service here. They have shown that the UK constitution is neither timeless nor natural. It is plastic, a product of historical making and contemporary remaking. What has been rearranged from above can be transformed from below.

While there must be an objective dimension when it comes to assessing what is and what is not a nation – eg, a common territory – that hardly means discounting what people think. The coming into being of a British nation in the 18th century cannot be put before the palpable feelings of masses of people in Scotland and Wales today. Millions sincerely believe they are nationally disadvantaged, held back or even oppressed. A subjective factor that only a hopeless dogmatist would discount and therefore fail to harness by offering positive solutions.

Those who rigidly adhere to third-worldist anti-imperialism cannot possibly bring themselves to countenance self-determination for ‘unworthy’ peoples – the most obvious example being Israeli Jews and the British-Irish in the six counties of Northern Ireland. Given its junior role in founding, administering and exploiting what was a vast British empire, that should logically include Scotland too. After all, historically even “left-of centre”1 Scottish nationalists sought not to end that empire, but demanded, as a “mother nation”, equal rights with England to rob and plunder it.2

Interestingly, though the motivations are transparently different, a similar argument can be heard coming from cosmopolitan liberals. According to the ethical philosopher, Allen Buchanan, self-determination for non-oppressed nations risks endless fragmentation. Unless there has been “a long train of abuses”,3 there ought to be no justification in international law for the “right of self-determination”.4 Only if “serious injustices” have occurred can a case be made for secession as a “remedial right”. Without that safeguard, without that restraint, every region, every community, every street could claim their right to self-determination and thus bring about the complete breakdown of society. Territorial integrity must therefore be upheld.

Marxists are not interested in preserving the unity of capitalist states, but in winning allies and neutralising enemies. After all, the Bolsheviks were prepared to grant self-determination even to the Cossacks. Not, of course, because the Cossacks were deserving, kind and suitably oppressed. No, on the contrary, they were the tsar’s chosen oppressors. A privileged military estate or caste. But that is exactly the point. The Bolsheviks needed to split, if possible win over, the Cossacks. Hence they started to treat them as “an ethnic or national group”.5 Without such a shift the camp of revolution could only but be weakened and the counterrevolution strengthened. In March 1920 Lenin can be found delivering a thoughtful speech on the international situation to the first all-Russia conference of working Cossacks.6

So the demand for self-determination is not some unwarranted sop to petty bourgeois reactionaries, or an unrealisable panacea, a cure-all for capitalism’s national antagonisms. Rather self-determination is one of many weapons in the armoury of Marxists. If properly applied, it advances the interests of the working class.

One can legitimately debate whether or not the Basque country, Kosovo, Quebec, Kurdistan or Scotland tick all the boxes of a classic bourgeois nation. The main point in each and every such case is what people inhabiting each specific territory think. We neither invent nor ignore national movements. We positively deal with problems where they exist, overcome national resentments, conflict and antagonisms by ending involuntarily unity and move towards voluntary unity through the struggle for socialism. That is how the positive dialectic runs, and through winning a wider and wider democracy the majority needed to secure the proletarian revolution is engaged, organised and made ready for decisive action.

Having left no room for doubt that the right to self-determination is fundamentally a political, not a moral question, let us proceed. To state the obvious, when Marxists advocate Scottish self-determination it is not the same as advocating independence.

An oft used metaphor is divorce. Saying a woman should have the legal right to split from her husband is not the same as recommending that contented wives should end their marriages. Of course, as shown by the September 18 referendum, Scotland is far from contented. If Scotland is really ‘better together’ with England why did 45% vote to finish the 300-year union? What was a marriage of convenience has clearly soured.
Scotland, as a matter of principle, ought to have the right to freely decide its own future. That is elementary democracy. However, it does not follow that Marxists are indifferent to how that right is exercised. The unacceptable status quo must be ended. Nowadays it fuels division and disempowers the working class. That is why the various left-loyalist ‘no’ campaigns were so badly mistaken. The marriage has to be renegotiated and renewed on a democratic, socialist basis.

Marxism favours the closest possible voluntary unity of people in general and workers in particular. That means accepting the right of people in Scotland to vote for whatever constitutional arrangement they happen to choose. But at every stage Marxists should resolutely fight for their programme.

Under our specific circumstances the federal republic slogan fits the bill perfectly. It encapsulates the democratic right to self-determination and the radically transformed unity of the working class in Britain against the Cameron-Miliband-Clegg devo-max constitutional monarchy. In addition, the demand for a federal republic encapsulates the unity of the working class in Britain against the divisive nationalism of Salmond, Sauter and Sheridan.


1 . http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Party_of_Scotland.
2 . The policy committee of the National Party of Scotland – one of the forerunners of the SNP – passed the following resolution on November 17 1928: “The party, having regard to the large contribution made by Scotland in building up the British empire, is desirous of increasing the affairs of the empire to the extent her contribution warrants and, as a mother nation, thereby demands complete recognition of her rights as such in the empire … the party cannot, in these circumstances agree to acquiesce in any situation that does not permit of a mother nation excursing her right to independent status and her right in partnership in that empire on terms equal to that enjoyed by England.” In other words, Scottish nationalists wanted a partnership based on the model of Austria-Hungry after 1867 (resolution quoted in C Kidd Unions and unionism: political thought in Scotland 1500-2000 Cambridge 2008, p287).
3 . American declaration of independence 1776.
4 . AE Buchanan Justice, legitimacy, and self-determination Oxford 2003, p331.
5 . P Holquist Making war, forging revolution Harvard Mass 2002, p121.
6 . See VI Lenin CW Vol 30, Moscow 1977, pp380-400.


For a federal republic
Motion proposed by Labour Party Marxists

As declining post-boom British imperialism attacked post-war concessions, in the absence of a viable socialist movement resistance in Scotland and Wales often took a nationalist form, deploying a mythologised past.

We socialists stand for:
● working class internationalism, not cross-class national unity; unity with the world’s working class, not with our ruling class;
● opposition to all forms nationalism, exclusiveness or superiority; in particular, British/English national chauvinism and Scottish or Welsh nationalist narrow-mindedness: these obscure the fundamental antagonism between labour and capital;
● replacing the hierarchy of capitalist states by world socialism – working class rule – in transition to classless, stateless, communist society: socialism cannot survive in one country or continent;
● the voluntary merging of nations; the right of all peoples to fully develop their own culture; a democratic solution to the national question, wherever it arises, through upholding the right to self-determination, including the right to merge, stay together or separate.
As the immediate democratic solution to the national question in the UK, we socialists stand for:
● unconditional support for the right of the people of Ireland to reunite: the struggles for socialism in Britain and national liberation in Ireland are closely linked;
● replacing the existing UK constitutional monarchy, along with its House of Lords, established church and secret state, with a radical federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales, with the right of Scotland and Wales to secede.


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:


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.


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?


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.