Marxists and the British Labour Party
The 'Open Turn' debate
The New Turn - A Threat To Forty Years Work
[Note on the text for the readers of Marxist.net
Where the word "marksism" appeared in the original this has been altered to "Marxism", as it is clearly a transcribing error from a dictated original. A few similar errors have been corrected.]
1. The declaration of the Scottish turn, and the repercussions of the Walton bye-election, have confronted the tendency with the most serious challenge in its history.
2. After decades of successful work in the mass organisations, which have permitted us to make unprecedented gains, an attempt is being made to launch the tendency on an adventure which threatens to undermine the entire basis of the tendency.
3. The original idea of the turn was presented as a mere extension of our existing tactic, i.e. as a further development of more open work, whilst maintaining our link with the Labour Party.
4. However, Walton clearly showed that the advocates of the turn had something else in mind - the establishment of an open organisation, putting up independent candidates against the Labour Party. Now this is being extended with the Scottish turn. No matter what they say, this undoubtedly signifies a break with the policy of entrism, and a turn in the direction of an ultra-left, sectarian policy, which we are convinced would have disastrous effects on our organisation.
5. For the first time in our history, we have been compelled to declare the formation of an Opposition, to fight the turn. This move is justified by the extreme seriousness of the situation. What is being discussed here is not a secondary tactical question, but something which calls into question the whole basis of our work.
6. The idea that we should not form a faction at the start of the discussion is false from beginning to end. The declaration of the formation of the Opposition is aimed precisely to enable the opponents of the turn to participate in the discussion at all levels, with the necessary democratic rights and safeguards. To wait until after the decision was taken and then declare a faction when it was already too late is a self-evident nonsense. The time to oppose the turn is now, when we are still in a position to do something about it.
7. The supporters of the turn enjoy all the advantages of their majority position on the leading bodies of the organisation. It is clear that individual comrades who pose the turn are at an extreme disadvantage. Only by organising as a formal Opposition will it be possible to redress the balance to some extent, and permit a debate with some semblance of fairness.
8. It is not true that there has been a full and democratic debate on these issues. To date, the only position which has been put to the comrades from the leading bodies has been in favour of the turn. This is not a debate, but a monologue.
9. Only now has a clear opposition standpoint emerged, with written documents to oppose the turn. We believe that this fact should be taken into consideration, and sufficient time be given to permit the membership to listen to both sides before a final decision is reached. That is why we argued in favour of a 12 week period of discussion before a national conference.
10. This discussion can be enormously beneficial to the whole organisation, clarifying ideas and raising the political level, on one condition: that it takes place in a democratic, calm, and comradely atmosphere, without personal attacks and attempts to distort the ideas of the other side.
11. If this is done, there is absolutely no reason why the present discussion should have negative effects one the work. On the contrary, it should serve to strengthen the organisation.
12. We are confident that, at the end of the day, the comrades will understand the need to reject the turn and continue to build on the successes of the past four decades, basing ourselves on the tried and tested ideas, methods and tactics of Trotskyism.
13. We have made great steps forward in our work, especially over the last ten years. Because of correct strategy and tactics, avoiding the pitfalls of ultra-leftism and opportunism, we have recorded successes on many fronts. Again due to our "correct approach and work in the mass organisations in Britain, we began to make Trotskyism a recognised legitimate section of the labour movement. As a result of our patient work within the trade unions and Labour Party we broke down the barriers between Trotskyism and the Labour workers and sympathisers. Despite the strenuous efforts of the Labour and trade union leader ship and bureaucracy, they found it extremely difficult to brand us as one of the sectarian groups on the fringes. This is colossal capital, particularly for the future. To date, despite all their efforts over the last decade, the bureaucracy have succeeded in actually expelling only around 250 comrades.
14. Our correct strategy and tactics have allowed us to build the greatest Trotskyist force ever seen in Britain, and probably internationally outside of the Russian Left Opposition. We have conducted marvellous pioneering work in the trade unions, in Liverpool, and with the mighty poll tax struggle that brought down Thatcher herself. We have made important gains too in the parliamentary field, which could deliver significant rewards for us in the future. We have much to be proud of.
15. However, we must also have a sense of proportion. We are still extremely small in terms of membership, especially our active base. We are still at the very early stages of constructing a mass party in Britain. To exaggerate our real strength at this time, despite our successes, would be a dangerous mistake, and miseducate the ranks as to what is realisable at each stage. Chest-beating to raise our morale is no substitute for a sober and scientific approach to the realities that face the organisation.
16. We believe the decision to stand against the Labour Party in Merseyside was a fundamental mistake. Taken together with the "new turn" it can wreck our work. The decision is a fundamental threat to the last 40 years of our work in the mass organisations. It places at risk many of our fields of work in the short, medium and long term. All caution is being thrown to the wind, not least in the parliamentary field. It is the most serious situation facing the organisation for decades -if not in our history.
17. 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.
18. To characterise the Walton result as some type of "victory" as was the case with the post-election edition of the paper, is to completely misread the situation and miseducate the ranks of the organisation. Our first responsibility is to tell the ranks what the real situation is, and not what we would like it to be. To dress up a set-back in this fashion is the worst kind of deception for a Marxist organisation.
19. 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. It shows in practice the quality of comrades we have in the ranks. On the basis of correct policy and perspectives such experience will bring us great rewards in the future.
20. The argument, used by the EB 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 stand a candidate in Walton was to break with the method, perspectives and theory formulated over forty years.