Marxists and the British
The 'Open Turn' debate
Majority and Minority Resolutions
Majority Resolution on Walton
1. This CC congratulates those comrades responsible for the election campaign fought in Liverpool, Walton. We congratulate, in particular, Lesley Mahmood who throughout this campaign, proved to be an outstanding representative of this tendency.
2. This campaign has enormously enriched the experience of all comrades who participated. In the street meetings, youth activity, public meetings, leafleting, house-to-house work and workplace activity, thousands of workers have seen and listened to our ideas.
3. We faced the savage onslaught from the media which, in advance, we had anticipated. We were the central enemy of Liberals, the Tories and the official Labour candidate. Against this background, our 2,613 votes were, without question, conscious votes for a fighting socialist alternative.
4. Many more agreed with our programme but voted reluctantly for Peter Kilfoyle out of loyalty to Labour and because they were reluctant to split the Labour vote in a pre-election period. The special feature of by-elections, where opinion polls can have an effect on creating or undermining a momentum behind one candidate, also had an effect. One poll showed that Lesley had 9-10 per cent. Also, great play was made locally of a telephone poll suggesting Lesley would get only five per cent of the vote. Many workers then felt that we could not win and either abstained or swung over to vote for Kilfoyle, 'holding their nose'.
5. In the local authority elections in Liverpool, after the decision was taken to stand, the announcement of cuts and redundancies by the council put the campaign in to a far sharper political focus. But for these attacks, it would have been harder at the time to have won those council seats. We have always recognised the difficulties that can face Marxists on the electoral plane. In the Walton campaign, tactical indecision by the union leaders during the campaign helped demoralise bin workers and other workers on the council, playing into the hands of the council and Kilfoyle. If the strike action had been brought to a head before the last council meeting, the entire political temperature would have risen, leading to a higher vote for our candidate. Instead, the lack of clear tactics and strategy by the council union leaders helped feed a mood of confusion and despondency among certain voters. This led a section of our pledged voters to abstain in despair.
6. Nevertheless, though we have been defeated in this election, Marxists do not judge success in elections purely in terms of electoral support. We have won valuable new recruits to this organisation. We have touched the lives of countless thousands of workers throughout the country in this campaign and we have put down a marker for the future. Under a future Labour government, workers — including many who disagreed with our ideas in this election - will say that we were right; that we took a principled stand in Walton. Kilfoyle has fostered the illusion that it is possible to work with the establishment to solve the problems of Liverpool workers. After these illusions are shattered, our credibility will be greatly enhanced.
7. We reaffirm the correctness of our decision to stand in Walton, given the situation that has developed in the Labour Party nationally and, critically, given the particular situation that had developed in Liverpool. Any decision by us not to stand would not have been understood by the best workers in the Liverpool area. It would have been seen as a dereliction of duty to our class and would have led to the demoralisation of the forces of the left in Liverpool.
8. We need now to draw upon the rich experience of this campaign in preparation for inevitable battles and campaigns that lie before us on the electoral and industrial plains, among the youth, Black and Asian workers, women workers and in the local communities.
9. We must also begin to draw conclusions for our work over the next period.
10. This election has demonstrated the mass electoral base of the Labour Party. In the run-up to the next election, this support will intensify. But we believe that this support is largely latent. The mood in society is mainly anti-Tory. There is no likelihood in the near future of any significant turn of ordinary workers towards activity within the Labour Party. The Labour leadership has little positive attraction to the best new layers of young industrial workers in industry, or to the youth at large. Moreover, where any section of the party offers even a weak challenge to the leadership or conducts serious campaigning work, they face the threat of expulsion. Because of this police regime and the lack of any semblance of a fighting stance by the Labour leadership, the activists have fallen away from the Labour Party in droves in recent years. The mass membership drive has been met with a mass exodus.
11. This situation will change completely in the future. Under the impact of major industrial and political conflicts, left reformist and even centrist currents will appear inside the Labour Party. It is impossible to precisely predict the timescale or the exact form. But however they unfold, there is no way this tendency will separated from these developments.
12. We agree that in the immediate future the majority of our forces will be engaged in openwork. We should strive to maintain all points of support we have inside the Labour Party and strive to develop aspects of this activity more tightly. In this work, however, we will not compromise our political programme. For the foreseeable future, our work in the Labour Party will be auxiliary to the open work we will carry out as an organised tendency outside the Labour Party. But the Labour Party remains the mass party of the British working class and it remains imperative that we orientate towards any developments within it.
13. We agree that the exact forms of our open work should now be discussed fully within the tendency leading to a discussion at the next CC and then to a decision by the National Congress.
Minority Resolution Proposed by EG and RS
1. If we are to develop the organisation and prepare the ground for the future, we have a duty to seriously weigh up all our actions in the light of experience and learn the lessons of our mistakes. Those who fail to recognise their errors or admit mistakes, stated Trotsky many times, will never be able to construct a viable, healthy organisation.
2. To characterise the Walton result as some type of Victory' is to completely misread the situation and miseducate the ranks of the organisation. Our first responsibility is to tell the ranks what it is, and not what we would like it to be. To dress up a setback in this fashion is the worst kind of deception for a Marxist organisation.
3. In making these criticisms, we do not for a moment take away the sterling efforts and sacrifice of the comrades involved in the election campaign who sought against all the odds to secure an electoral victory.
4. The problem lies squarely with the false policy of standing independently.
5. The policy was rushed through the C.C. after it was given a completely exaggerated, and therefore erroneous, view of the position in Walton. The majority of comrades, unfortunately, allowed themselves to be influenced mainly by subjective considerations, i.e. their hatred of Kilfoyle. It is true that Kilfoyle is a gangster, but this is the case with most of the right wing candidates nationally.
6. The argument, used by the majority to justify their position, that we must orient our work for the next period 'independently' is nothing new. We have to a great extent, both nationally and internationally, been forced to do so by the collapse of Left reformism, the boom, the swing to the right by social democracy and the virtual collapse in many countries of Stalinist parties. But our orientation towards the mass organisations was crucial. To put up a candidate in Walton was to break with the method, perspectives and theory formulated over forty years. As is the suggestion now that, despite the defeat in Walton. candidates may be put up in Scotland and elsewhere.
8. Our greatest gain over a period of decades was that we became a crucial and component part of the left. Despite the collapse of the left in both the trade unions and the Labour Party. We would have been strategically placed to become an important and even dominant part of the left.
7. A great part of the political capital of the tendency in Britain and internationally was the fact that we were conceived as a component part of the labour and trade union movement. We were entirely different to the sects, who try and create phantom 'mass' revolutionary parties outside of the time, experience and consciousness of the masses.
8. Apart from a few countries the classical conditions for entrism have not existed for forty years. This was certainly the case in Britain. All our trade union and political work has to be determined by our orientation towards the Labour Party.
9. The classical conditions for entrism will undoubtedly arise during the next epoch - two, three, five or even ten years — as the crisis of world capitalism, and especially British capitalism, unfolds.
10. These conditions are:
11. But by putting up a candidate or candidates this work is jeopardised. It can lead to a complete miseducation of the new layers, especially the youth, who may move towards us in the next few years. It is a complete miseducation of the cadres, who can draw dangerous conclusions. They can become ultra-left and adventuristic, this in its turn rapidly leading to passivity and substitutionalism.
12. There could be an argument for an independent revolutionary party, though incorrect. But to put forward the idea of an 'alternative' or 'real' Labour Party would necessarily be still-born. To be neither fish, nor flesh, nor fowl is to get the worst of all worlds. A few years ago we had a good laugh at the expense of the Lambertists (an alleged Trotskyist sect) in France who tried to create a substitute Socialist Party. Like the Lambertists, the attempt to create a 'substitute' Labour Party in Liverpool can only end in tears.
13. The perception of many workers in the trade union — who regard the Labour Party as their party — would be that of regarding us as alien to their political aspirations. The propaganda in the Militant over the last four weeks would reinforce this impression.
14. Up to now workers have recognised that we are organised, but as a component part of the Labour Party. But now the setting up of an 'organisation' or Party in Scotland will break this view. The illusion that such an organisation or Party could gain affiliation to the Labour Party, like the Independent Labour Party (ILP) or the Co-op, is false and even dangerous.
15. The ILP and the Co-op, despite the former adopting a centrist policy for a time, had an affinity with the Labour bureaucracy. They were not afraid of the ILP, but regarded it as a possible left flank when the workers moved left, preventing them drawing revolutionary conclusions. They would be terrified of a revolutionary Marxist organisation or Party. The bureaucracy changed the constitution to prevent the affiliation of the CP in the immediate post-war period. There is no possibility of even the most leftward Labour Party accepting the affiliation of a Marxist party or organisation.
16. Now if before or after the general election Kinnock launches a mass purge nationally the results could be disastrous. Formerly if a mass purge was launched we would have retained the sympathy and support of wide layers in the Labour Party and trade unions. Now they would be indifferent. If you have an independent party or organisation go ahead and organise it. You can paddle your own canoe without being linked to the line of Labour.
17. The argument that when the conditions for entrism arise we can switch policies will not hold water. Youth and industrial workers, miseducated by an 'independent' orientation would not be prepared to change. We would have a crisis in the organisation of massive proportions. Moreover it would be very difficult to get back under these conditions. At the same time we would lose many if not most of the new movement.
19. At best this has been jeopardised by the ultra-left binge in Liverpool and now in Scotland. The full effects of the defeats in Liverpool and nationally will be shown in the next few years.
20. As predicted the 'Broad Left' did very little apart from our own comrades. Now it will fall apart The Broad Left in any event comprises around 400 people — 100 in Walton, 300 in the rest of Liverpool.
21. The mistake of the majority comrades was not to understand that the 'left' in the trade unions and Labour Party was running in advance of the broad mass of workers. Now the entire Liverpool Labour Party and trade unions have been handed over to the right wing for a number of years.
22. The Liverpool organisation will have to maintain two apparatuses — the 'real' Labour Party and Militant.
23. The Labour Party nationally has been reduced to a skeleton. But it is not Labour which will 'wither on the vine' but the artificial Labour Party which is being created in Liverpool.
24. The 'left', having stubbed their toes on the reactionary policies of the reformists on the councils, in the unions and the national bureaucracy in their 'impatience' can draw for a while ultra-left and 'radical' conclusions, only later to go back to reformist conclusions because the mass of workers 'let them down.'
25. On the industrial front we have the example of Pilkingtons in the early 1970s, when the selling out of a strike by the national leadership of the GMBU under Lord Cooper led in desperation to the setting up of an 'independent union'. This was supported by the SWP, WRP, CP and the Tribune lefts. We alone opposed it and pointed out the consequences. The majority of workers did not support it and the employers and union bureaucracy joined together to smash the union.
26. Unfortunately many of the Liverpool comrades, on the basis of their success in the council elections, thought they could repeat this on the parliamentary plane. Instead of most of the leading comrades of the tendency firmly opposing this they capitulated to this mood. This will have grievous consequences for the tendency in Liverpool and nationally.
27. That is the lesson of the attempts to create independent 'left' Labour Parties in the pre-war and post-war period. All such efforts were doomed to failure. This new adventure on the part of the Liverpool comrades will inevitably fail, and will have as a spin-off a bad effect on the Liverpool organisation which right up to the present has to be subsidised by the national tendency.
28. The new layers in the trade unions, even with a right wing Labour government will not orient toward us but towards the Labour Party in order to change it. Far from being a 'detour', it is a blind alley to which the comrades are being led.
29. The argument that there was no alternative to standing is false from beginning to end. The fact that 500 workers attending Eric Heffer's funeral wanted a candidate to stand showed the lack of objectivity and sense of proportion of the Liverpool and national leadership. Liverpool has a population of 500,000 - Walton is a constituency of 70.000.
30. The idea that we had to stand, due to pressure from the working class, was proved to be false given the vote and the lack of participation by the Broad Left. In effect, the organisation substituted itself for the Broad Left.
31. At each stage, the majority comrades had to change their over-exaggerated views and expectations given the response from the workers of Walton. As the campaign progressed, reports varied from Victory' to 'neck and neck', then 'substantial vote', down to 10,000 votes, 5,000 votes, then lastly to 3,000 votes. Of course this change was not alluded to in our public material and seemed to disorient our comrades and supporters.
32. Big concessions were made to the non-comrades in the Broad Left: not to sell papers openly, collect F.F., etc, no Militant leaflets on the official canvass. Recruitment was not seen as the priority despite the majority targets of doubling and trebling the membership on Merseyside. Everything was subordinated to maximising the vote. Even the programme that we stood on was not a revolutionary one. There was no explanation of the capitalist crisis and the need for a socialist planned economy, etc. The programme we offered the workers of Walton was in effect a left reformist one. Our ideas were sacrificed to preserve the 'unity' of the Broad Left - which refused to participate in the campaign in any case. It 'appears now they are preparing to attack us for undermining the campaign!
33. The argument that if we had refused to stand the rest of the Broad Left would have nominated a candidate is specious. We had a majority of the Broad Lefts and could have exerted pressure against this. In reality we pushed the issue. On the other hand if a splinter 'Broad Left' had stood we could have disassociated ourselves from them. We could have supported the official Labour candidate while criticising Kilfoyle and the local and national bureaucracy of the Labour Party and putting forward a socialist and revolutionary policy.
34. There is nothing 'new' in this. We have maintained this position in contra-distinction to the sects for many years. A campaign of 'education of our tendency in Liverpool could have prevented the fiasco of Walton. In the next period we could lose members and supporters in Liverpool as the futility of maintaining a dead 'real' Labour Party becomes obvious to all.
35. For the last decades we have been criticised by the sects for alleged 'passivity' and 'adaption' to the bureaucracy because we refused to break with the Labour Party. We laughed at this stupidity. Now for want of a better argument the majority have adopted the same spurious criticism of the minority. A continuation of the tried and tested policy of Marxism is hardly passivity.
36. We have been to the fore in advocating that the tendency takes initiatives and independent work, but always with the proviso that all the work is subject to our general orientation, perspectives, strategy and tactics.
37. The action has undoubtedly played into the hands of Kinnock, Kilfoyle and Rimmer, who were able to portray the result as a victory for them and a rejection of the organisation by the workers of Walton. It will now be used, as was predicted beforehand, as the excuse for a purge in Liverpool and elsewhere.
38. In order that we can avoid disastrous mistakes of this type in the future, it is necessary to recognise the reality of the situation and draw out all the lessons concerning the medium and long-term development of our work.
39. Above all we must strive to avoid the sickness of ultra-leftism and impatience. The Walton episode can only be seen in this light. That is why the proposed 'Scottish turn' - the launching of an independent organisation — would be a grave mistake and result in the abandonment of 40 years of entrist work.