The revolutionary left: Still on the sidelines

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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.