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Marxists and the British

Labour Party

The New Turn - A Threat To Forty Years Work


Minority Document


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The Labour Party - An Historical Perspective

93. The situation in the Labour Party has undergone a change in the last few years. But the Labour Party, and also the unions which are organically linked with it, change repeatedly to reflect the ebbs and flows of the working class and the movement of society.

94. To read these lines, one would imagine that this is the first time in history that the right-wing has dominated the Labour Party! The memories of these comrades are lamentably short.

95. For a period of decades, in the fifties and sixties, the Labour Party was dominated by the Neanderthal right, as were the trade unions. Hugh Gaitskell attempted to re-write the Party constitution, deleting Clause IV but was defeated by the opposition of the unions, which even at that time indicated the processes which would inevitably take place in the future.

96. In the 1950s the internal regime was marked by witch-hunts against the Bevanite left, bans and proscriptions, the repeated closure of the Labour youth organisation. In Liverpool, as elsewhere, the party was ruled by the extreme right who contemptuously told people who wanted to join that the party was full up.

97. Did all this reflect a fundamental change in the Labour Party? That was precisely the argument of the Healeyites and other sectarians, which we completely rejected then.

98. It is worth reminding ourselves what we said then. In the article Problems of Entrism, written in 1959 and published in the document on Entrism, we read:

It is true that the conditions of entry, as Trotsky outlined them, are still not present. But it would be the height of stupidity to abandon work in the Labour Party now and launch into independent adventures after a decade or more of work there. The conditions for independent work are not favourable either. Whatever may have been gained by remaining independent in the past, tremendous gains cannot be expected in the immediate future. For any such gains would be disproportionate to the future possibilities in the Labour Party.

In the meantime, to launch out with the main emphasis on independent work would damage the future work which could be conducted in the Labour Party. Thus we would obtain the worst disadvantages of both tactics. It will not be possible to re-enter easily under conditions of ferment in the Labour Party, as Transport House (now Walworth Road) would have a list of all prominent Trotskyists in the past period. In any event, it is really an extraordinary performance when the objective situation is on the eve of transformation in the next period both nationally and internationally, with tremendous repercussions within the ranks of the labour movement, to abandon the field just when the possibilities develop for really fruitful work. Trotsky had explained how, in preparing for entry, people should be sent in to get the feel, see what the possibilities were, etc. Our work now consists of preparatory work for the next period. If we were an independent organisation at the present time we should be preparing our forces for entry. Far from withdrawing, we would be sending in more and more of our forces to prepare the way for total entry. (Emphasis in original)

99. Until now, this document has been a foundation of the method on which we have developed our standing in the mass organisations. If the comrades now believe that the approach outlined above is no longer applicable, then they should say so. Some comrades, not prepared to go that far, say that this material, written in 1959, is not relevant to the present situation. Of course, every quote and example must be taken in its historical context. However, we believe that comparisons with the situation in the Labour Party in 1959, after 8 years of Tory government and a long period of economic upswing are far more relevant than the references in the Scottish document to France and Spain in the 1930s, a period of revolutionary upheavals.

100. Our tendency continued to work in the Labour Party, despite the objective difficulties, and this stand was completely vindicated by subsequent developments. As we predicted, against the nonsense of the sects who every year proclaimed the death of Labour, there was a swing to the left, first in the unions, and then, at a certain stage, within the Labour Party.

101. We were able to take full advantage of this, precisely because we had built up a unique position in the Labour Party through years of patient work. All our gains in Liverpool, Scotland and nationally were based on this work and method. By contrast, the Healeyites and other sects languished and declined.

102. Now there has been a temporary reversal of the position, with the rise of the Kinnock neo-right. The Labour Party in many areas is just a shell.

103. Precisely because we have never been advocates of deep entrism, we have adapted to the situation by an increasingly independent, or more correctly, semi-independent tactic. At the same time we have carefully maintained our link with the Labour Party and, up to the present at least, avoided ultra-left adventures.

104. Unfortunately, we have not got off unscathed from this (absolutely correct) turn to more independent work. There has been a neglect of political education, and many newer comrades have never had the case for entrism clearly explained to them. There has been a gradual drift of some comrades not just away from the Labour Party, but from the organised labour movement as a whole. This has not been corrected by the leading comrades. The culmination of this process was the adventure of Walton, and now the adventure of the Scottish turn, which potentially threatens the gains of decades of patient and careful work.

The Class Basis Of The Labour Party

105. It is impressionism to argue that because of Kinnock and the witch-hunt there has been a "fundamental change" in the Labour Party - so significant as to warrant the de facto liquidation of the entry tactic -because that is the inevitable result of what is being proposed.

106. It is no accident that the advocates of the "turn" compare the Labour Party to the US Democrats. This has always been the argument of the sects - that the Labour Party was not a workers' party at all.

107. If we refer to the programme of the Labour leaders, then this has always been the case. Lenin, even before 1914, referred to the Labour Party as a "bourgeois Labour party", i.e. bourgeois in its programme, policy and the class composition of a big part of its leaders, but a workers' party because of its links to the unions and its relation to the class in general.

108. The position of the Democratic Party is fundamentally different. This is one of the two main parties of the American capitalist class. If Labour was "like the Democrats," far from advocating entry, we should be calling for the setting up of a "real Labour Party", not just in Liverpool and Scotland, but everywhere.

109. To be sure, the advocates of the "turn" do not openly state that the Labour Party has ceased to be the political expression of the organised working class in Britain. But by repeatedly referring to a "fundamental change", and drawing theoretically incorrect comparisons with the US Democrats, they further increase the confusion in our ranks and miseducate the comrades on this question, leaving the door open for even bigger sectarian blunders in the future. Their position has a logic of its own, irrespective of their good intentions.

110. The main mistake flows from a complete lack of any sense of proportion. It is true, as the Scottish document says, that we have been responsible for a "series of dazzling victories" (para 23) in Britain. But a Marxist leadership must not allow itself to be "dazzled", or to quote Stalin "dizzy with success", but must work out our policy and tactics in a realistic and sober-minded fashion, bearing in mind the real balance of forces.

111. The truth is that the advocates of the turn have very contradictory perspectives for the Labour Party. In April the centre page article in the paper stated, "As Eric Heffer pointed out, without the left the Labour Party will become like the dodo - extinct." It is absolutely clear from the words "As Eric Heffer pointed out" that we were supposed to agree with the-formulation. Indeed, to emphasise the editors' solidarity with the point, it was repeated in the middle of the article in large bold type. In June we were told that the "official party is withering on the vine." With this perspective, standing candidates and setting up open political organisations independent of the Labour Party is an understandable conclusion.

112. However, it is a fundamentally incorrect perspective, as was acknowledged in the latest edition of the Theoretical Journal:

"We have argued that the mass of the working class will again and again turn first to their traditional organisation for a solution to the conditions that they face. For this reason it is wrong to argue, as in the words of Eric Heffer, that without the left the Labour Party would become "as extinct as the dodo"...as long as the links between the trade unions and the Labour Party are preserved, it is going too far to say that the Labour Party will become "extinct"." (Our emphasis)

113. It is also necessary, however, to correct the organisational conclusions that were based on this false perspective.

114. The fact remains, for all our successes, that we are still a small organisation with limited resources. Trotsky once referred to a party of 100,000 as a sect. We have only begun the work of penetrating even the active layer in the trade unions and shop stewards committees, let alone the mass. That fact should be borne firmly in mind when we justly draw attention to the brilliant success in the anti-poll tax campaign.

115. The comparison to the Communist Party in the past is also misleading. The CP had behind it all the authority of the October Revolution and the Communist International. Even that did not prevent it from turning into a sect on the basis of false policies and methods. Our Scottish organisation has done marvellous work, but we are far from being in a comparable position to the CP in the 1920s and 1930s.

116. As far as the objective situation is concerned, the comrades' arguments stand logic on its head. They repeatedly emphasise the difficulties in the present situation: the boom in capitalism, the peculiar situation arising from the collapse of Stalinism, the collapse of the left, the shift to the right. The Scottish document states that in 1990 there was the lowest number of strikes in Britain for 54 years. Yet they decide that this is the moment to launch an open organisation to which - they alleged at the NEB - "hundreds and thousands" of workers will be queuing up to join!

 

 

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