Tag Archives: Socialist Party

Socialist Party wants to affiliate to Labour

SPEW has written to the Labour Party asking to affiliate. Peter Manson looks at the background (reproduced from the Weekly Worker)

Those who do not read The Socialist may not be aware that the Socialist Party in England and Wales has applied to affiliate to Labour – a couple of weeks ago the SPEW weekly published correspondence on the matter between Labour’s general secretary, Jennie Formby, and its own leader, Peter Taaffe (September 19).

This is of particular interest, since for more than two decades SPEW insisted that Labour was now just another capitalist party – like the Tories or Liberal Democrats. But in its April 6 letter to Jennie Formby, in which SPEW expressed a wish “to meet with you to discuss the possibility of our becoming an affiliate of the Labour Party”, comrade Taaffe describes the election of Jeremy Corbyn as “the first step to potentially transforming Labour into a mass workers’ party”, standing on an “anti-austerity programme”. So now “all genuinely anti-austerity forces should be encouraged to affiliate”.

While we should, of course, welcome SPEW’s application for affiliation, it is surely pertinent to ask why SPEW stresses the need for an “anti-austerity programme” above all else. It does this even though it correctly states in the same edition of The Socialist: “When the Labour Party was founded, it was a federation of different trade union and socialist organisations, coming together to fight for working class political representation”: ie, nothing so limited as merely opposing spending cuts. I will explore this in greater detail below.

Eventually, on July 27 – ie, almost four months after receiving comrade Taaffe’s original letter – Jennie Formby replied, beginning her letter, “Dear Mr Taaffe”. She pointed out that Labour rules prevent the affiliation of political organisations with “their own programme, principles and policies” – unless they have a “national agreement with the party”. Also groups which stand candidates against Labour are automatically barred: “As the Socialist Party is part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, who stood candidates against the Labour Party in the May 2018 elections, it is ineligible for affiliation.”

In his next letter (August 23) Peter Taaffe answered the first point by saying that SPEW wanted a meeting precisely to discuss the possibility of such a “national agreement”. And, in response to the second point, he said SPEW would much prefer to be part of an anti-austerity Labour Party “rather than having to standagainst pro-austerity Labour candidates” (my emphasis). After all, while Tusc had not contested the 2017 general election, in this year’s local elections in England it stood no fewer than 111 candidates against Labour.

Following this, Jennie Formby replied rather more quickly. On August 29 – this time starting her letter “Dear Peter” – she ruled out any meeting: “Whilst the Socialist Party continues to stand candidates against the Labour Party … it will not be possible to enter into any agreement.” Therefore “there can be no discussions”.

As I have stated, it is good news that on the face of it SPEW has at last started to take Labour seriously. But obviously it needs to stop standing against Labour candidates, including those who it says are “implementing savage cuts”. As the Labour general secretary points out, while SPEW says it wants to affiliate in order to support Jeremy Corbyn and help defeat the right, “The leader of a political party is judged by their electoral success. Standing candidates against the Labour Party is damaging not only to local Labour Parties, but also to Jeremy.”

Nevertheless, Jennie Formby’s second letter appears to leave the door open to affiliation by left groups. Such a change would be highly significant, possibly marking a return to the basis upon which Labour was founded in 1900.


Let us now examine why SPEW states that what is needed is not a party of all working class formations, including both trade unions and leftwing groups, but one of all “anti-austerity forces”. This can be traced back to the changing face of Tusc itself.

Founded in 2010, Tusc was the successor to the short-lived Campaign for a New Workers’ Party, and both organisations were open in their aim – made explicit in the CNWP’s name – of establishing a new mass party to replace Labour. However, according to the ‘updated’ statement of aims on its website, Tusc was set up “with the primary goal of enabling trade unionists, community campaigners and socialists to stand candidates against pro-austerity establishment politicians” (October 2016).

But that is being economical with the truth. SPEW was, of course, the prime mover within both the CNWP and Tusc and, in the words of central committee member Clive Heemskerk, writing in The Socialist on February 3 2010:

The Socialist Partybelieves that the Labour Party has now been totally transformed into New Labour, which bases itself completely on the brutallogic of capitalism. Previously, as a ‘capitalist workers’ party’ (aparty with pro-capitalist leaders, but with democratic structures thatallowed the working class to fight for its interests), the Labour Party always had the potential to act at leastas a check on the capitalists. The consequences of radicalising the Labour Party’s working class base was always afactor the ruling class had to take into account. Now the situation is completely different. Without the re-establishment of at least the basis of independent working class political representation, the capitalists will feel less constrained in imposing their austerity policies.

While SPEW was clear that this could not come about immediately, the ultimate aim was stated by comrade Heemskerk to be: “A new mass political vehicle for workers, a new workers’ party”. He explained:

For the Socialist Party the importance of Tusc lies above all in itspotential as a catalyst in the trade unions, both in the structures and below, for the idea of working class political representation. It can also play a role in drawing together anti-cuts campaigns, environmental campaigners, anti-racist groups, etc (my emphasis).

So campaigning against cuts, etc was most definitely seen as secondary. First and foremost was the need to lay the basis for a new workers’ party – the nature of which was made clear in the above quote: “working class political representation” primarily for the unions – in other words, a ‘Labour Party mark two’, as we in the CPGB have always called it.

How things have changed since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader. In her article, posted on the SPEW website following the May local elections, deputy general secretary Hannah Sell writes:

… the support for Corbyn has created the potential for a mass democratic party of the working class, which is desperately needed. If it is not to be squandered, it is vital that there are no more retreats, but instead the start of a determined campaign to transform Labour into a party capable of opposing austerity with socialist policies, in deeds as well as words.

Since SPEW now apparently agrees that the Labour Party itself ought to be transformed, it is unsurprising that it has dropped the call for “a new workers’ party” to replace it – Tusc was supposed to provide the basis for that, remember (always wishful thinking, of course).

So now we find that the purpose of Tusc is suddenly “to stand candidates against pro-austerity establishment politicians” – as if the original aim of “a new workers’ party” had never existed. And, I suppose, that is why comrade Taaffe feels obliged to emphasise the need for all Labour candidates to stand on an “anti-austerity programme” and for the party to welcome “all genuinely anti-austerity forces”. Only if that happened could Tusc shut up shop!

In its statement following the May 2018 election results, Tusc claimed:

This was the most selective local election stand that Tusc has taken in its eight-year history, following the general recalibration of its electoral policy after Jeremy Corbyn’s welcome victory as Labour leader in September 2015.

There was not a single Tusc candidate on May 3 standing in a direct head-to-head contest with a Labour candidate who had been a consistent public supporter of Jeremy Corbyn and his anti-austerity policies. Tusc only stood against rightwing, Blairite Labour councillors and candidates. The Labour candidates in the seats contested by Tusc included 32 councillors who had publicly backed the leadership coup attempt against Jeremy Corbyn in summer 2016, signing a national open letter of support for the rightwing challenger, Owen Smith.


In a situation where Labour is still so clearly two-parties-in-one … – with many local ‘Labour’ candidates standing more ferociously against Jeremy Corbyn than they do the Tories – the task is still there to make sure that politicians of any party label who support capitalism and its inevitable austerity agenda are not left unchallenged.

So that was the position in relation to the (‘pro-austerity’) Labour right – expose them by standing against them. But what did Tusc (and SPEW itself) recommend in wards where there were pro-Corbyn candidates? The truth is, there was no call for a Labour vote anywhere – how was that supposed to aid the Corbyn wing?

What about the unions?

So has SPEW really changed its approach to Labour? For example, why do its comrades in unions like the PCS and RMT still oppose their affiliation to the party? SPEW has argued that, until the Labour right is defeated, it is just a ‘waste of money’ for the unions to spend thousands on affiliation fees. Yet, in its August 23 letter to Jennie Formby, comrade Taaffe wrote:

We see a very urgent need to organise and mobilise all those who support Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity policies into a mass campaign to democratise the Labour Party, allowing the hundreds of thousands who have been inspired by Jeremy’s leadership to hold to account, and to deselect, the Blairite saboteurs.

Surely, if that is the aim, the affiliation of left-led unions like the PCS and RMT could only but help the process.

Perhaps I am being cynical, but the possibility does suggest itself that the principal purpose of Tusc was always something other than its stated aims (either original or amended). Maybe SPEW wanted to work within a broader formation primarily in order to win recruits for itself? It is almost as though SPEW would actually prefer a right-led Labour Party.

However, irrespective of what SPEW is really up to, at least we should be grateful that the affiliation of left groups has been broached once more; and that the Labour general secretary – no doubt after consultation with the leadership team around Corbyn – has left the door open to that possibility.

The Labour Party rules must be changed, so that all the current bans and proscriptions are scrapped. The aim must be to transform Labour into a united front for the entire working class.

RMT union: Join us in battle!

The RMT is debating whether or not to affiliate. Jim Grant of Labour Party Marxists says get back in

“You can take your distance from America,” Tony Blair told the Chilcot inquiry years ago, “but you might find it is a long way back.”

So, also, it seems, is the case with taking of distance from the Labour Party. Close to 15 years after being expelled from Labour, thanks in large part to Blair’s many crimes, the Rail, Maritime and Transport union is to decide whether or not to apply for re-affiliation. The crunch moment comes on May 30, at a special general meeting.

“For many years I myself wouldn’t have dreamed that I would ever be campaigning to rejoin Labour,” Steve Hedley tells us. “So what has changed? Well, in a word, Corbyn.” Hedley is not a nobody in the RMT – he is assistant general secretary, and a long-standing militant and official in the union. He has spent most of that time on the fringes of the far left, briefly joining the Socialist Party in England and Wales (and the article quoted above was published on the Socialist Appeal website). If he has changed his mind on the matter, no doubt many others have too.

In the beginning

The story of the RMT’s relationship with the Labour Party is a long one – indeed, it is about as long as any such story could possibly be. For it was a motion originating in a branch of the Amalgamated Union of Railway Servants, one of the RMT’s ancestors, that led the Trades Union Congress to kick-start the Labour Representation Committee in 1899. Within a couple of years, there were MPs in parliament answerable, in theory, to the labour movement; and, though independence from the Liberal whip was largely a theoretical matter for Labour’s first MPs, the break was nonetheless decisively important in the history of the British workers’ movement – and for that matter in the history of ‘bourgeois’ politics in this country as a whole.

For the next century, the AURS and its successor, the National Union of Railwaymen, were core affiliates to the Labour Party; no less loyal was the National Union of Seamen, the other component part of today’s union. Even 20 years ago, with Jimmy Knapp still in the general secretary’s seat of what was by then the RMT, a break with Labour would have been quite unimaginable.

Knapp presided over some significant industrial battles, but aided and abetted Neil Kinnock and John Smith, as they paved the way for Tony Blair. In 2001, in a move reflecting deep disappointment with the first Blair government in the RMT ranks, the top job was taken by Bob Crow, an avowed communist and militant organiser. Under his leadership, RMT members in Scotland used the union political fund to sponsor candidates of the Scottish Socialist Party, which was riding high at the time; this can only have been a calculated provocation, and the inevitable result – expulsion from the ranks of Labour’s affiliates – followed in 2004.

Since then, the RMT’s political fund has been put to highly eclectic uses. The SSP, of course, collapsed into irrelevance within three years, when it split over Tommy Sheridan’s attempts to sue the Murdoch empire over allegations about his sex life. It continues to exist, just about, today; it is merely a tail of the nationalists, and a well-docked tail at that. The RMT sponsors a smattering of MPs on an individual basis – mostly Labour, but also including leftish nationalists and Greens. It has also been a primary sponsor first of the now disbanded ‘No to the EU’ ‘Lexiteer’ slate in the 2009 and 2014 European elections, and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition on an ongoing basis. Electoral returns for both have been generally awful – which is to say, below the pretty poor historic standard of far-left candidates in Britain’s hostile electoral system.

Though many on the far left greeted the RMT’s break with Labour – in the context of the invasion of Iraq, top-up fees and the rest – as a great step forward, it is clear, on the evidence of the last 15 years, that it was in fact a step backpolitically for the RMT and the labour movement as a whole. The most successful use of the RMT political fund in these years, apart from supporting some Labour MPs, has been boosting petty bourgeois candidates (a matter on which those who urged disaffiliation, like SPEW, are tellingly silent).

Transformed Labour?

On the RMT’s side, then, the opportunity is there to step back into the central terrain of British labour movement politics. But not only that. As Hedley tells us, there is a serious class struggle going on for the very future of the movement itself, and the place where the battle rages is the Labour Party. Merely by making that move, Britain’s most militant union would send a very clear message. The impact of the return could – almost– be worth the wasted years in the political desert.

We are told by another advocate of reaffiliation, however, that “RMT branches are divided, and the vote at the SGM is likely to be close.”1)Jeff Slee in Labour Briefing Indeed, all the signs are of a close contest. Hedley begins his article with a disclaimer – “I refuse to fall out with anyone over the debate in the RMT about reaffiliation to the Labour Party” – that suggests in itself that fur is likely to fly.

A document outlining the terms offered by the Labour Party has been circulated among RMT branches with a covering letter from general secretary Mick Cash 2)Cash’s letter is available here. The document itself is marked “private and confidential”, but seems to have been inadvertently published on the RMT website for a brief period and, at time of writing, was still in Google’s cache. Drawn from the response of the Labour Party to the RMT’s advances, it reads – admittedly to an outsider – like a document written by an advocate of reaffiliation who takes great pains to reassure opponents that their fears are unfounded.

So who are these opponents? We find many grumbles in the comments beneath comrade Hedley’s forthright Facebook posts, but a more systematic argument comes – where else? – from our comrades in SPEW. An article in their RMT members’ bulletin puts their case. “Socialist Party members of the RMT welcome the fact that a dialogue with the Labour Party has begun,” the comrades tell us:

A transformed Labour Party, with full democratic rights and due weight in its structures for trade unions – the collective voices of workers – would take forward the objectives of the RMT, as defined in our rule book: to “improve the conditions and protect the interests of its members” and “to work for the supersession of the capitalist system by a socialistic order of society”.

So far, so good. However, “are the terms of affiliation currently on offer – losing our political independence and handing £240,000 a year to a largely unreconstructed party machine (if we affiliate our full membership) – really the best way to pursue the RMT’s objectives at this moment?” Phrasing the question in that way, naturally, presumes an answer in the negative. The article continues:

There is nothing on what the party will do to stop Labour-controlled authorities implementing driver-only operation (DOO) and sacking guards on Merseyrail and Rail North, massive funding cuts in Transport for London, or privatisation plans for the Welsh railways. The RMT has AGM policy supporting local councils setting no-cuts budgets by using their reserves and borrowing powers. Yet rightwing Labour-led councils continue to slash jobs and local services and nothing is said about it.

There follows a fairly accurate description of the bureaucratic obstacles to Labour Party democracy, and so on, and the conclusions write themselves: “once the cheque is handed over, it’s no longer our money”; worries about the “(extremely limited) opportunities and (still considerable) overheads that affiliation would bring”.

We should start by pointing out that what the SPEW comrades are engaged in here is the spread of what public relations professionals call “fear, uncertainty and doubt”, or FUD. Note that the RMT would “lose its political independence”, apparently: the confidential document, to which the SPEW article refers, explicitly repudiates this, except in the case of standing candidates against Labour. And indeed there is nothing in the Labour Party rules that excludes (say) campaigning for immediate rail renationalisation simply because Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are too timid to call for it themselves.

If we are to identify standing candidates against Labour as the blocker issue, however, then the high-minded openness to reaffiliation affected by the SPEW article is revealed as a sham, for there is exactly zero point in even a politically healthy federal party of the labour movement accepting affiliates who stand against it in elections. It seems that we founder on the great socialist principle of SPEW being permitted to do whatever the hell it likes.

There is something more troubling yet, however, about the SPEW approach to this question, which is its petty bourgeois character. We mean this in the narrowest possiblesense – SPEW behaves exactly like a provincial estate agent, obsessed with getting the better of some petty transaction. £240,000 doesn’t buy enough influence in the Labour Party.


In a more expansive sense, the petty bourgeois attitude expresses itself, in the trade union movement, as sectionalism– the pursuit of the narrow aims of the union over and above those of the movement as a whole. It is thus highly regrettable that SPEW constantly encourages such sectionalism – what does the RMTget for its money? – above the general interest, which is hardly ideal from the point of view of an organisation that considers itself Trotskyist.

The best exemplar of this is the apparent expectation that an acceptable set of terms for affiliation should contain policy on driver-only operation. The proper way to settle such questions is not in market-stall haggling between the Labour Party bureaucracy and its RMT counterparts, but at conference. (Things are more commonly settled in the now smoke-free rooms of backstage stitch-ups, of course.) Say that there was Labour Party policy to nationalise the insurance industry and, as part of negotiations to get an insurance clerks’ union on board, that policy was struck off. I, and hopefully SPEW, would be less than pleased. Yet it seems to think that the RMT should expect just that sort of behaviour.

Can it really be the case that purported Trotskyists – who aspire to be the most conscious vanguard of the labour movement – should promote sectionalism as a matter of principle? Probably not. The truth is that these sad little contortions are designed for internal consumption; the lukewarm participation of the RMT in Tusc is all that keeps it afloat and, once it is gone, the last 25 years of SPEW strategy are basically buried.

But for the moment SPEW is committed to Tusc. The April 25 edition of The Socialist urged readers to “Vote Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition” in the May 3 local elections in England – without exception, it seems: the front-page article makes no mention of voting for any Labour candidates in the vast majority of seats, where Tusc is not contesting. After all, “Today Blairite councils around the country are implementing huge cuts to public services. That is why the Socialist Party is standing, as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, against some of the worst Blairite cutters at local level.”

Yet, in the same article, we read this:

As we have repeatedly warned, making concessions to the pro-capitalist wing of the Labour Party, and attempting to conciliate with them, will only give them more power to try and defeat Corbyn. Not one inch should be conceded to them. Instead urgent measures are needed to completely transform the Labour Party into a mass socialist, working class party, with a revitalised trade union movement involved at its core through democratic, representative structures.

So how are those “urgent measures” to be won? How about winning the unions to fight for them within Labour itself? Oh no – that would be a waste of money.

Yet, as SPEW’s perspective of creating a Labour Party mark two is progressively invalidated by events, so SPEW comrades are voting with their feet and condemning themselves to a life of ‘poor value for money’ in the Labour Party – those left behind are more and more the irreconcilable and the delusional. The silver lining is that – in precisely the far-sighted spirit of the Communist manifesto– SPEW tends to find it amenable to take its political lead from the RMT, so perhaps a well-advised decision on May 30 will bring Peter Taaffe’s merry men and women finally to the same conclusion.

As already noted, however, a good outcome is far from guaranteed. If it is a close vote against reaffiliation, that will hardly cover SPEW in glory – and we shall say no more than that. To RMT members, we commend the larger view of politics, and hope that those of us wanting to truly transform Labour, rather than wait passively for it to be transformed for us, are soon to be joined by the battered British labour movement’s most militant contingent.


1 Jeff Slee in Labour Briefing
2 Cash’s letter is available here. The document itself is marked “private and confidential”, but seems to have been inadvertently published on the RMT website for a brief period and, at time of writing, was still in Google’s cache.

The revolutionary left: Still on the sidelines

Organisations such as SPEW, SWP, CPB and Left Unity are not only draining members, says Robert Matron: they are profoundly disorientated politically

Having dismissed the Labour Party as nothing more than a British version of the US Democrat Party, having backed the left-nationalist Scottish Socialist Party, having fought for trade unions to disaffiliate from Labour, having promoted the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition as a Labour Party mark two, Peter Taaffe, general secretary of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, has been busily backtracking. Now he says, quite rightly, that Labour should open up to affiliation by the likes of SPEW.

Yet comrade Taaffe cannot frankly admit that for nearly two decades he has been wrong about the Labour Party. That for nearly two decades he has misled his organisation. Hence, instead of urging his members and supporters to join Labour, join in order to defend Jeremy Corbyn from the right, join to fight alongside other leftwingers to transform it into a permanent united front, comrade Taaffe resorts to all manner of ultimatums, posturing and subterfuges.

Labour councils should stop blaming the Tories for austerity; they should agree illegal budgets. Labour should allow the RMT union to support whatever election candidates it happens to like. Labour should accept the collective demand for readmittance from Militant members expelled in the 1980s. Labour should issue an affiliation invitation to SPEW.

Till such demands are met comrade Taaffe will claim the necessity of standing “against rightwing, cuts-inflicting Labour candidates”.[1] Till such demands are met SPEW will continue with the farcical Tusc project. Till such demands are met SPEW will continue to oppose the growing numbers arguing for the RMT to reaffiliate and PSC to affiliate. Till such demands are met SPEW will stand aloof from the historic battle that is raging ever more fiercely inside the Labour Party.

Comrade Taaffe seems to imagine himself akin to Mohammed, the prophet of Islam – that he can order the Labour mountain to come to him. But, of course, so the story goes: “If the mountain will not come to Mohammad, then Mohammad must go to the mountain.” In other words, Mohammed, as recounted by the philosopher Francis Bacon, was a lot cleverer, a lot more realistic, than comrade Taaffe.

However, comrade Taaffe is a towering genius compared with Robert Griffiths, the general secretary of the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain. When not promising to shop “entryists” to our witch-finder general, Iain McNicol, what he displays is a completely imbecilic attitude towards Labour’s civil war. He says there are more important issues … like routine strikes and protest demonstrations.

Echoing him, Morning Star editor Ben Chacko is just as witless. He sees “a task far bigger than the Labour Party”. Fighting for a mass revolutionary party? No. Forging the links necessary for establishing a new workers’ international? No. What comrade Chacko, laughably, wants is “organising at a local level in groups such as the People’s Assembly, Keep Our NHS Public, Black Activists Rising Against Cuts and many more”.[2]

Where we in LPM strive to elevate local struggles to the national and the international level, comrade Chacko’s sights are set on “saving an A&E or a youth club”. That he does so in the name of Marxist politics and creating a mass movement on the scale of the Chartists shows an inability to grasp even the A in the ABC of communism.

Left Unity condemned itself to irrelevance in February 2016 when it rejected any active involvement in the Labour Party. In fact, many prominent members believed the election of Jeremy Corbyn was a total disaster. Their illusory project of building a left-reformist “alternative to the main political parties” had just hit the rocks of reality. Since then one resignation has followed another. Many who once greeted Corbyn’s election as a total disaster are now members or want to be members of the Labour Party.

Under national secretary Felicity Dowling, what remains of Left Unity is reduced to voting Labour – except maybe in Scotland – and issuing banal calls to support this campaign, that protest: Another Europe, Stand Up to Racism, the People’s Assembly demo, etc. No wonder its entire London membership now meets in the snug little room provided by Housman’s bookshop.

Then there is Charlie Kimber – indicating the Socialist Workers Party’s crisis of leadership, he is now joint national secretary and Socialist Worker editor. Anyway, showing a modicum of common sense, the SWP “suspended” its involvement with Tusc (reducing it in the process to just two affiliates – SPEW and the RMT).

As might be expected, comrade Kimber called for a Labour vote on June 8 – except in Scotland – but, the more SWP members leave for the Labour Party, the more he too stresses localism, the latest demonstrations, economic strikes and fake fronts.

In his ‘Letter to a Jeremy Corbyn supporter’, comrade Kimber warns that “there’s a great danger that you could be drawn into endless internal battles”. The “crucial arena” of struggle is not “the long slog” of “endless meetings to (perhaps) get rid of a rightwinger”.[3] No, its is economic strikes and street demonstrations.

Evidently, comrade Kimber does not have a clue about transforming the Labour Party or even how it could be opened up to affiliation once again. How the Parliamentary Labour Party could be made into the servants, not the masters, of the labour movement. How Labour could be armed with Marxist principles, with a new clause four. How Labour could be made into Britain’s version of soviets: ie, a permanent united front of all working class organisations.

Comrade Kimber’s myopic claim that what really matters is not changing the Labour Party through the long, hard slog, but the “fightback in the workplaces and the streets”, is a Bakuninist, not a Marxist, formulation. For the 19th century anarchist leader, Mikhail Bakunin, direct action – ie, strikes and protests – were the key to revolution. By contrast, Marxists have always placed their emphasis on programme, consciousness and the patient work of building a mass party and digging deep social roots.

In Marxist terms, because the Labour Party is historically established, because it is a class party, because it involves all big unions, because it has a mass electoral base, because it has drawn in hundreds of thousands of new members, what is now happening in Labour is a far higher form of the class struggle than mere economic strikes, protest demonstrations – let alone the ephemeral fake fronts established by this or that small left group.

In point of fact, the ongoing civil war in the Labour Party is a concentrated form of the class struggle, because above all it is a political struggle. Labour’s leftwing mass membership is confident, is learning and is determined to take on and defeat the smug middle class careerists, the pro-capitalist warmongers, the defenders of Zionist oppression in Palestine and, behind that, the Anglo-American imperialist alliance.

To belittle what is happening in the Labour Party, to abstain from the struggle to transform the Labour Party, is inexcusable for any socialist.

[1]. ‘What we think’ The Socialist September 20 2017.

[2]. Morning Star September 10-11 2016.

[3]. Socialist Worker September 20 2016.

PCS conference: Fudging the Labour Party

Carla Roberts and William Sarsfield of Labour Party Marxists spoke to Hudson Leigh, a leftwing delegate to the 2017 annual conference of the Public and Commercial Services union in Brighton (May 22-25)

With just two weeks to go before the general election, what was the mood at conference?

Delegates weren’t exactly buoyant, I have to say. I think that is a reflection of the savage cuts that the Tories have inflicted on the civil service. Tens of thousands of jobs have been cut, which means that branches are much smaller and are entitled to fewer delegates. To make matters worse, delegates now have to take annual leave to attend. Consequently, conference is getting smaller and smaller. And more boring.

With the exception of the debate on the Labour Party?

Well, yes, that hour on Wednesday afternoon was the most interesting 60 minutes at this year’s event.

Talk us through the three main motions dealing with the general election.

Motion 304 was moved by PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka – it was the NEC’s position. It states: “Conference believes that the worst possible outcome of this election … is another Tory government.” It stops short of recommending a vote for Labour Party candidates, but notes that “this election is very different” and that “for the first time in many years the leadership of the main party of opposition in Westminster, the Labour Party, is committed to ending austerity.” It asks conference to “step up campaigning” and to “use the final days of the election to urge members to get involved in PCS campaigns”. In effect, that is what the PCS has always done; so nothing new there.

Motion 305 was seconded by a supporter of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and Independent Left, and was also supported by the NEC at conference. This commits the leadership to “issue correspondence

to members highlighting how they would benefit from Labour’s manifesto commitment”. In effect, a general overview of the party’s policy positions and where they coincide with PCS policy.

Motion 328 was a different kettle of fish. It explicitly called on “members to vote Labour in England and Wales, and encourage members to get involved in their localities, where possible, to support such an outcome”. Motions from Sheffield and East London, which I supported, did not have that reference to England and Wales, which I think made huge concessions to nationalism in Scotland. But these motions were incorporated into 328 by the standing orders committee.

How did the debate and voting go?

First, I should say that there was some manipulative chairing of this session (or perhaps, if I’m less charitable, something worse). We had an hour to discuss this pivotal issue, but president Janice Godrich – who is a prominent member of the Socialist Party – made no attempt to draw out the arguments properly. She let the discussion on motion 304 drag on interminably. And that despite the fact that it did no more than restate long-standing PCS policy. As such – and given its deliberately vague formulations – it would have made no difference at all whether it had been voted through or not.

Motion 328, however, was dependent on motion 305 not getting majority support. It would have been fairer, in my view, to have a proper debate on the issue, which would have entailed all three different perspectives being properly moved and debated. But, with time running out, it became clear we would not get to hear motion 328 at all. As the realisation of this dawned on many delegates, its appears that a lot of them just settled for a vote in favour of 305, which pushes existing PCS policy a little further forward.

I’m not saying that motion 328 and blanket support for Labour Party candidates would necessarily have won – the NEC and Mark Serwotka carry a lot of weight – but now we’ll never know. We really should have been able to have that debate – no matter which individuals or political groups in the conference hall would have been made to feel uncomfortable.

The Socialist Party in England and Wales, which is highly influential in the union,
is clearly disoriented. In the PCS they vote against supporting Labour outright. But the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, which SPEW effectively runs, has just decided to support Labour Party candidates everywhere.

Unfortunately, Socialist Party members don’t identify their political affiliation and – what is even more frustrating – they don’t argue their politics openly: you have to read between the lines.

It seems to me pretty clear that it was the RMT’s decision to offer blanket support to Labour that by default decided the issue for the SP. The RMT is the only the serious union affiliate that Tusc has and in reality they call the shots in the organisation.

At January’s Tusc conference, the RMT were still insisting on only case- by-case support to Labour candidates and, as a result, the SP withdrew its suggestion to suspend Tusc’s electoral campaigning. They were even prepared to see the Socialist Workers Party walk out of Tusc over the issue in March. But, now the RMT has changed its view, the SP loyally follows suit.

This, presumably, is the model of what their ‘new workers’ party’ to replace Labour would be like – a lash-up where the trade union bureaucrats have the last word on everything! What’s the point of that?

But wouldn’t they call that tactical flexibility?

They can call it what they want. I call it a lack of principle.

What about the role of Mark Serwotka? He moved a successful motion last year, which instructed the NEC to review its relations with the Labour Party, “including the issue of affiliation”. He told the 2016 conference: “The debate about affiliation is one we should have next year. But we can’t be on the sidelines. It is members’ direct interests – their jobs, pay and pensions – to support [Corbyn] against the attacks from the right wing of the Labour Party.”

Given the lack of transparency in the union, it’s hard to know what happened on the NEC. Why was this important issue quietly dropped? I don’t know. We can speculate about deals with, and pressure from, the Socialist Party members on the NEC, who are still against affiliation to Labour. But, given the fact that the SP has a lack of confidence in openness much of the time, it has to remain speculation for the time being.

Of course, it also has to be said that no branch moved a motion for affiliation. It just shows how painfully weak the left is.

The left and the snap election: Total intellectual collapse

Theresa May’s snap election call brought forth no end of statements, editorials and rallying cries from every little group going. e details di er, but the overall picture is of dreary homogeneity. May has called the election because she is in a position of weakness. Never mind the polls: Jeremy Corbyn can lead Labour to victory. His policies are popular. All he needs to do is take a strong line on such-and-such an issue which is our group’s particular hobby-horse, and the great escape is on.

Take, for example, the Morning Star and its ebullient April 22 editorial. “When Theresa May says that the general election result is ‘not certain’ despite opinion polls giving the Tories a huge lead,” writes (presumably) editor Ben Chacko, “for once her words can be taken at face value.” May is bottling debates with the leaders of other parties because she is scared: after all, “many Labour policies are popular with the electorate”; better to concentrate “on flimsy pretexts such as parliamentary frustration of the ‘leave’ decision”. “Corbyn and his team have hit the ground running”, and “[May’s] lead may dwindle more quickly than expected.”

On closer inspection, Chacko does not seem sure – may dwindle more quickly than expected – how much more, and expected by whom? You know the polls are looking bad when this is the best the Star will do; anyone who got all their news from this grovelling daily could be forgiven for thinking that the last two years have consisted entirely of a single, continuous red tide of Labour success, and a statue of Jeremy was already on order for Parliament Square.

The final words of the editorial – “all labour movement activists need to give full backing to Corbyn, move beyond media obsessions with establishment obsessions and image and argue the case for a Labour victory” – at least nod to the problem, which is that the whole labour movement is not at all united in giving full backing to Corbyn, but instead riddled with saboteurs. All along, of course, the Star has acted as a mouthpiece for the leader’s office line of compromise, which is what has landed us here, with Labour’s electoral campaign beset constantly with outright and unchallenged sabotage.

Bold tendencies

The Star seems to think that Corbyn’s programme is acceptable in itself: abolishing grammar schools, raising the minimum wage and four entire new bank holidays – a cornucopia of socialist progress! Backsliding on Trident is, at least, regretted, although blamed on “an anonymous party official”.

Other groups, in the grand Trotskyist tradition of positioning oneself a meagre few seconds of arc to the left of the prevailing Stalinist wisdom, demand more. From the Socialist Party in England and Wales comes the call for a “bold socialist campaign” (The Socialist, April 25). Socialist Resistance cries out for a “radical left programme” (April 19). Socialist Appeal wants a “bold socialist alternative” (April 18) … and so on.

What counts as a socialist programme nowadays? SPEW provide some details, as comfortingly familiar as a pair of slippers – “renationalisation of [all] privatised public services”, and the banks, and the pharmaceutical industry, all of which should be “linked to the need for fundamental socialist change”. The last phrase sounds radical, but is actually entirely meaningless – linked how, comrades? When Theresa May ‘links’ such plans to the gulag, will that count? If the ‘link’ is so important, why not just demand Corbyn puts the actual transformation in his programme?

Remarkably, neither Resisting Socialism’s Alan Thornett nor the relevant issuers-of-statements of Socialist Appeal have anything much to say on the matter of “radical left” or “bold socialist” policies. Both, however, urge Corbyn to permit the Scottish nationalists their second referendum (and indeed both endorse a ‘yes’ vote, though neither say so in their election statements). Socialist Worker went further in an article prior to May’s election call, suggesting that Labour’s poll ratings could in part be repaired by “backing Scottish independence”.

The SWP version of this is useful as an extreme point of the sheer madness of this method. If Jeremy Corbyn came out tomorrow with a statement backing Scottish independence, the immediate response would likely be a unilateral declaration of independence of the Scottish Labour Party. Theresa May would gladly cash the blank cheque, and denounce Labour on the basis of English chauvinism. Labour would be crucified both sides of the border.

We need to be clear about the point of all this. If it were a matter of principle to support Scottish independence, then that might be a sacrifice worth making. But Socialist Worker sells it not as a sacrifice at all, but as a sure means of victory; and likewise do SA and SR sell their milder versions of the same as a promising electoral gambit; and so also does SPEW claim that wide nationalisation is the royal road to popularity … This logic is so common on the far left that it barely passes notice, but under the circumstances we must insist that it is nonsensical; for it consists of utterly marginal forces in society imagining that their particular combination of shibboleths already possesses enormous mass support which has somehow heretofore gone unnoticed.

A particular case of this syndrome is Brexit, where our comrades are at sixes and sevens, having taken entirely different lines on the matter. Thornett demands that Labour “present an alternative to the hard Brexit being planned by May, including the retention of free movement in the event of access the single market [sic – presumably this should be ‘losing access to the single market’ – PD]”. In similar mood the ultra-remoaners of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty call “for opposition to the Tories’ Brexit plans, for defence of free movement and migrants’ rights, for remaining in the single market” – otherwise “Labour will go into the election echoing, or scarcely contesting, the Tories’ main message” (April 18). Equal and opposite are the left Brexiteers of the Morning Star and SPEW.

Both sides argue that a clear line on Brexit is fundamental to success – their line. And for both sides the argument is substantially negative, in that choosing the opposite line is an error. For the AWL, a firm perspective for Brexit will leave Labour indistinguishable from the Tories; for The Socialist a ‘soft’ Brexit or ‘remain’ position would alienate “workers who voted for Brexit [who] did so primarily because they were in revolt against all the misery they have suffered over the last decade”. The problem is that they are both right: if Corbyn drifts towards the remainers, he will be torn apart for being ‘out of touch’ with ‘ordinary people’, in his ‘cosmopolitan elite bubble’. If he hardens on Brexit, the pace of Blairite sabotage will be accelerated, and he will be lambasted for losing control of his party.

In short, the game is rigged, and all this ‘tactical advice’ from well-meaning lefts is utterly facile. It reveals the serried ranks of Britain’s Marxists as what they are, which is to say, merely pale echoes of Labourism. What has Corbyn been up to, after all, if not casting around for wizard wheezes and gimmicks to shore up his short-term popularity? The Corbyn office’s strategy has been to give all the ground asked of them on issues of ‘high politics’, and fight purely on a platform of modest economic reforms. The result is that he and his allies refuse to confront the actual arrangement of power against him, leading to the present situation, where he must fight a general election under constant assault from his own side. The far left does not seriously confront this problem, merely recommending a different slate of gimmicks.

We live in strange times, and it may be that there is a startling reversal before June 8. Yet that is in many respects besides the point. The left so fears defeat that it refuses to even think it possible, insisting that May could come unstuck, or isn’t as strong as she looks, or whatever other comforting delusions are available. But, on the basis of all currently available evidence, the left will not wake up on June 9 with a friend in Number 10. What then, comrades? Do we go back to our papers, and write in sadness that everything would have been different if Corbyn had promised to nationalise Pfizer under democratic workers’ control? Or do we fight to purge the labour movement of traitors and build it into a social force that can withstand the attacks of the bosses’ media?

We would hope for a renewed commitment to the latter. Yet we must admit it is probably a more forlorn hope than the most dewy-eyed Corbynite expresses for June’s election. The Morning Star and its Communist Party of Britain are incapable of political lines that seriously oppose the left wing of the bureaucracy; SPEW prefers to obey the orders of the RMT union rather than actually get involved in the Labour Party struggle; the SWP actively discourages its members and periphery from engaging in such internal struggles; the AWL involves itself, but often on the wrong side; Socialist Appeal has fallen so utterly into flighty eclecticism and millenarian crisis-mongering that we cannot be sure when their attention will stray elsewhere; and Resisting Socialism is reduced to hopeless liberal philistinism, and will abandon Labour as soon as they deem something else sufficiently attractive to ‘the youth’ they (and, these days, most of us) so conspicuously lack.

Thus the paradox of the situation: the greatest opportunity the left has had in a generation coincides with its political nadir.