Marxists and the British
The need for an ‘Open Turn’
It is important to record here that the process of bourgeoisification of the Labour Party went much further than anticipated in the documents presented in this section. The perspectives for the Labour Party continued to be discussed and reassessed through the 1990s.
As the Labour Party became a totally bourgeois party in the 1990s, new tasks confronted Marxists: especially popularising the idea of the need to form a new workers’ party as well as defending and arguing for the basic ideas of socialism. As part of this process, and as part of the break from the entrist tactic of the past, the Militant changed its name, first to Militant Labour in 1993 after the ‘Open Turn’ and then later, in 1997, to the Socialist Party and launched a new weekly paper, ‘The Socialist’.
By the late 1990s there were generally no longer any mass traditional parties of the working class in most countries around the world, both in the advanced capitalist countries, and the neo-colonial world. The former bourgeois-worker parties of the Second International had become purely bourgeois formations, emptied out of working class members, socialist content, and meaningful democratic rank and file input. The Communist Parties had all but collapsed in many cases, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and those which remained had moved sharply rightwards.
However in 1991 this was not clear, and ‘Scotland: Perspectives and Tasks’ paragraph 4, quoted above, concludes:
It is no longer the case that there is an unbreakable link between the Labour Party and the Trade Unions. At this stage the ‘Open Turn’ was seen as a "tactical improvisation" (para 5.) The Militant had to "make any detours necessary" (para 6) and yet retain a "stubborn orientation to the labour movement." (para 6.)
Nevertheless, the significance of the ‘Open Turn’ was not underestimated:
The ‘Open Turn’ debate did indeed rapidly proceed throughout the sections of the Committee for a Workers’ International. There was indeed a reassessment of the orientation to the traditional mass parties of the working class.
Nevertheless, it is important to emphasise again that the Committee for a Workers’ International did not pursue only one tactic, entrism, and neither did it then turn from this one tactic to open work. On the contrary, the example of the Prc (Party of Communist Refoundation) in Italy given above indicates that the Committee for a Workers’ International pursues a multitude of tactics.
Later, as it became clear that the parties of the Second International were ceasing to be working class parties, a dual tactic developed in Britain and elsewhere – to build the revolutionary party independently, and at the same time to work for the formation of new mass parties of the working class, based on class struggle. These new mass workers’ parties were seen as the first political step for the mass of workers, something Trotsky spoke about in the late 1930s in relation to using the slogan of a "labor party" in the USA, and within them or alongside them Marxists would campaign openly for Marxist policies.
When the Majority document ‘For the Scottish turn’ was written in 1991, it could still – at a stretch – be argued that the Labour Party "remains the traditional party of the working class in Britain." (para 3.) Today, however, the possibility of reclaiming the Labour Party for the working class remains very remote. The path to reclaiming the Labour Party is blocked, and the working class will most likely take a different route, building a new class-based mass party through which to struggle to gain representation and change society, and within which genuine revolutionary Marxists will represent a trend fighting for socialist policies.
If the trade union leaders were to be really serious about ‘reclaiming’ the Labour Party that task would involve a complete purging of both the Blairite tendency and of the Party apparatus, in effect the creation of a new party albeit under the old Labour Party banner.
‘Scotland: Perspectives and Tasks’ outlines the processes in the early 1990s causing this change in the Labour Party, and also in the ‘reformist’ parties in Europe and elsewhere:
The Majority document ‘For the Scottish turn’ gives a fuller description of the processes at work. For instance: