The 'Open Turn' | Home | News | Donate | Join | Print

Marxists and the British

Labour Party

The New Turn - A Threat To Forty Years Work


Minority Document


[Previous] [Next]

The Experience Of The ILP

129. All the historical analogies in the Scottish document are false, or else prove the opposite of what the authors intended. We have already mentioned the CR The analogy with the ILP is even more incorrect. The ILP left the Labour Party with 100,000 supporters. They left at the wrong time and on the wrong issue, proclaiming that the Labour Party was "dead". They maintained a confused centrist policy, which the workers could not clearly distinguish from the Labour Party, especially when it swung back to the left. A section joined the Stalinists, and the rest collapsed back into the Labour Party, as Trotsky had predicted.

130. There is absolutely no analogy between the ILP - a mass centrist party - and our own organisation. When hundreds of thousands of leftward-moving workers broke away from the Labour Party, it was correct of the Trotskyists to participate in it, to try to fertilise it with the genuine ideas of Marxism. Even so, Trotsky's firm advice to the ILP was to turn back towards the Labour Party. (On the basis, of course, of a genuine Marxist programme).

131. The reason why the Labour bureaucracy so readily moved to accept the readmission of the ILP (in 1938) was that, despite their "left" phraseology, there was no fundamental difference between them and the right reformists. A Trotskyist revolutionary current which attempted to rejoin the Labour Party could not expect such a friendly reception - from the right or the "left".

132. It is entirely false to argue, as does the original draft of the Scottish document presented to the NEB members (page 4), that the fundamental consideration for breaking with the Labour Party, or staying inside, is whether we are permitted to function like the ILP which "at that time, was able to organise as a party within a party, organise its own separate conferences, elect its own leadership and produce its own paper. If Marxism could operate under these conditions within the Labour Party today, there would be no question of the tendency breaking with Labour, irrespective of the treachery of the leadership." (Our emphasis)

133. The EB found this formulation too straightforward and altered it to the vague wording in the EB version: "was able to organise as a party within a party, organise its own separate conferences, elect its own leadership and produce its own paper. If Marxism could operate under these conditions within the Labour Party today, the question of open work would be looked at in a different light,"(para 40 - our emphasis). But the underlying false idea is the same.

134. This poses the whole question in an entirely wrong way. The forces of genuine Marxism (unlike left reformism and centrist groupings) have never been permitted to function freely by the Labour bureaucracy. That no more prevents us from conducting work in the mass organisations than the restrictions imposed on us by the bourgeois state in periods of illegality. Compare this false line of argument to the flexible tactics advocated by Trotsky and Lenin, on the basis of the entire historical experience of Bolshevism, and we see the gulf which separates the two.

135. Moreover, it is still possible in many CLPs and wards to do Marxist work. Even now many Labour Parties are not totally repressive or completely empty. In any case, we have always interpreted the Labour Party work in a flexible way. For some years we have had to conduct the bulk of our work outside the Labour Party, not because of the restrictions placed on us by the bureaucracy, but because, in many areas, there was little to be gained from it. We have been conducting semi-independent work, and to great effect, notably in the Anti-Poll Tax campaign. What more do the advocates of the "turn" require?

An Open Organisation Or Party?

136. They talk about a "higher profile" and "openly displaying our banner". But have we not had such a profile? Who has been concealing our banner? Neither the Labour bureaucracy nor the bourgeois press, nor our periphery is in any doubt as to who was behind the Anti-Poll Tax campaign.

137. The only thing which we have not done is to break from the Labour Party and proclaim ourselves an independent party or organisation. So that the argument for the "turn" boils down to this and nothing but this. The argument that we will not call ourselves a party is devoid of meaning. Whether we call ourselves a party or merely an "independent organisation", it will be seen as a party, and this is the intention of the "turn" as the comrades explained at the NEB.

138. This semantic "concession" has been made, in part, to deflect the criticisms of the opponents of the "turn", and, in part, because the supporters of the "turn" cannot agree among themselves whether to call it a party or not.

139. The supporters of the "turn" want to claim all the alleged advantages of an open organisation - a clear banner, distancing ourselves from Labour, a high profile, standing candidates. But it cannot then be imagined that it will not be seen by the class as a new party, whatever name it is given.

140. Maybe the comrades really believe that after breaking from Labour and setting up an open organisation in Scotland, which among other things will stand candidates against the Labour Party, that this will still not be seen as a "party". This is to fool ourselves, but it will not fool the workers, who will see it for what it is. We repeat: to take such a step in Scotland would inevitably lead to the liquidation of the entry tactic nationally and the beginning of an ultra-left adventure which will completely undermine the work of decades.

Where The Turn Will Lead To

141. Ultra-left adventures inevitably end up in their opposite. We predict the following result, if this course is embarked upon. At first, it is possible there may be some gains, though not at all of the magnitude being predicted. We should recall that when the SWP and WRP declared themselves a party, the initial fanfare resulted in some recruits. These, however, will not be long-lasting. Particularly in the event of a Labour government, we can expect some difficulties for a period whether in or out of the Labour Party. There will be an initial tendency to give Labour a breathing-space, especially, as seems likely, if Kinnock grants some reforms in pensions and child benefit. Then the inevitable move towards counter-reforms can create moods of despair and pessimism for a time, before giving way to a movement of opposition in industry which, at a certain stage, will find an expression in the Labour Party.

142. The comrades are entirely mistaken if they think that we can escape from these moods by cutting adrift from Labour, and "unfurling our banner". They will find that life outside the Labour Party is far tougher than they imagined. The new recruits who joined in the first flush of enthusiasm, miseducated in an ultra-left spirit and not understanding the real perspective for the Labour movement, will tend to become demoralised and drop out.

143. Having burned their fingers with the tactic of ultra-leftism, the advocates of the "turn" will inevitably drift back towards the Labour Party. The danger will then be posed of an opportunist trend developing, especially as the rosy perspective of the "tidal wave" and the Labour Left welcoming us back with open arms does not materialise. Thus, having abandoned the uniquely favourable position built up over decades, they will have no alternative but to try to get back at any price. No matter how indignantly they reject this perspective, and irrespective of their subjective intentions, the advocates of the "turn" will find that their cavalier attitude towards the basic ideas and methods of the past will drag them in a direction they least of all suspect or desire. That is the lesson of ultra-leftism throughout the entire history of the movement.

144. It is characteristic of an ultra-left mentality that every action, every tactical turn, is presented as a "matter of principle". Thus it was a "matter of principle" to stand against Kilfoyle, in order to show the workers we are "prepared to fight," "go to the end", and so on. The workers know very well that we are prepared to fight. WE have shown that many times. But they also want leaders who show that they understand how to fight and when to fight.

145. What would we say of a general who only knew one word of command: "CHARGE!" What would we say about a shop steward who reacted to every provocation of the employers by immediately calling a strike, even though he knew it was doomed to defeat? Such a general would deserve to be court-martialled, and such a steward would deserve to be removed.

146. The idea has suddenly materialised -first in Walton, then in Scotland - that the only way to "fight" the Labour right wing is by putting up independent candidates - no matter how derisory the result, and irrespective of the expulsions which would follow.

147. Far from "fighting" the Labour right, such tactics clearly play into their hands, putting the Marxists out on a limb, exposing our weakness, and strengthening the hold of the bureaucracy. In effect, we save them the bother of expelling us, by practically "placing ourselves outside the Party."

148. The theoretical journal quotes the articles of the "Socialist Organiser" sect, which criticises the "turn", but remains silent on the lavish praise of the SWP and all the other sects, who are rubbing their hands at the fact we have gone down this road.

149. Similarly "Tribune" cannot contain its glee at the fact that we have finally "come out", thereby leaving the field open to the trendy "lefts". Not least, Kinnock has commented that it was worth losing votes in Walton in order to have us out in the open, where he has wanted us all along.

150. And this is what the advocates of the "turn" describe as "fighting" our political enemies!

151. And for opposing this ultra-leftism, the opponents of the "turn' are being accused of "cowardice", "opportunism1 and even "deep entrism". Frankly it is not worth dignifying these remarks with an answer. But these incorrect methods of argument will make it more difficult to have a rational discussion on tactical issues in the future, with disastrous results for the work of the organisation.

152. The leading comrades should have argued against the Walton "turn", but the majority went along with it. They subsequently presented the Walton result as a great success and as "proof that the Scottish "turn" was correct. In this way, we go from bad to worse, because the comrades were not prepared to admit they had made a mistake.

153. The general argument put forward is that "we have no alternative". This is entirely incorrect. We can continue and deepen the flexible tactics in relation to the mass organisations which have given marvellous results up to the present time.

154. Does that mean, as the comrades try to argue, that we have to shut ourselves up in the Labour Party, hiding our ideas and passively waiting for the masses to arrive? That is a complete caricature and falsehood, which bears no relation to the work we have done up till now and which we were all agreed on.

 

 

[Continue...]

 

 

The 'Open Turn' | Home | News | Donate | Join | Print