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Marxists and the British

Labour Party

For The Scottish Turn: Against Dogmatic Methods In Thought And Action


Majority Document


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Perspectives for the Labour Party

79. The method of the Minority is unfortunately to distort our position. They construct a number of straw men, all the better to demolish them.

The class character of the Labour Party

80. The Minority claim we have made "extremely serious errors of a theoretical character" (The New Turn - a threat 71) in relation to the Labour Party. They refer twice to Eric Heffer's "dodo" quote (The New Turn - a threat 71, 111-112) and four times to the US Democratic Party. According to the Minority, these show that we have written off the Labour Party as the traditional party of the working class and will be putting ourselves on the same level as the sects. This, allegedly, is the theoretical root of our "false tactics".

81. However, this is based on a crude misrepresentation of our position. Scotland: perspectives and tasks, 1991, states: "there has been a fundamental change in the situation which cannot be ignored or underestimated." (Scotland: perspectives and tasks 19) This clearly means the situation in the Labour Party. Nowhere do we "speak of a 'qualitative change' in the nature of the Labour Party." (The New Turn - a threat 70) There is no question of our joining the chorus of the sects' old melody. At the outset, the Scotland document (Scotland: perspectives and tasks 4) states: "In the long term, especially in Britain where there exists an unbreakable link between the Labour Party and the trade unions, entrism will remain a central plank in our strategy to build a powerful revolutionary party."

82. Eric Heffer's point, that "without the left, the Labour Party will become like a dodo - extinct", was quoted in an article on page 6 of the paper (5 April, 1991), not a 'centre page' article (The New Turn - a threat 111). The article reported on the Broad Left's decision to put up six independent candidates in the local elections. It quoted Heffer to make the valid point that the witch-hunt had reduced the official Labour Party wards to empty shells in Liverpool. The quote was not used in a one-sided way to argue that the Labour Party in general was finished as the traditional party of the working class. In the very next paragraph, the article stated: "The real Labour candidates fighting in the local wards are not intending to set up an independent party. They are fighting for democratic rights, for the right to select candidates of the members' choice, and for a socialist alternative."

83. This point was taken up in the latest edition of the theoretical journal, as the Minority points out (The New Turn - a threat 112):

"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 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'."

This was done not to correct "a fundamentally incorrect perspective", as the Minority suggest, but to correct the distortion of our position by the Minority.

84. In a similar way, the Minority distorts the reference to the US Democratic Party in the Scotland document. At one point (The New Turn - a threat 106), they say '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." Later (The New Turn - a threat 108), the Minority put "like the Democrats" in quotation marks, as if the Majority somewhere stated that Labour was no different from the Democrats.

85. However, a little earlier (The New Turn - a threat 92c) they produce the actual quotation from the Scotland document: 'The collapse of the left has enabled Kinnock and cohorts to move the Labour Party closer to the model of PSOE in Spain and even the American Democratic Party." (Scotland: Perspectives and Tasks 17)

86. Who can deny that Kinnock wants to move closer to the model of the Democratic Party and establish a presidential-style leadership for himself? Kinnock has also tried to ape the media-orientated campaigning methods of the Democrats. Nevertheless, it remains true that the Democratic Party is a capitalist party while the Labour party is tied to the labour movement, and no one has said anything different.

87. Kinnock would like to loosen the ties with the trade unions. The 'one person, one vote' changes in the constitution are aimed at reducing the trade union influence within the party, while the unsuccessful campaign to increase individual membership to one million was aimed at giving the party greater financial independence from the unions. However, with the prospect of a general election soon and the need for trade union cash, Kinnock has been forced to compromise with the key union leaders, allowing all trade union members to vote in ballots to select constituency parliamentary candidates. The outcry of the Labour Co-ordinating Committee reflects the direction Kinnock and Co really want to travel in. They have denounced the compromise as "dangerous, undemocratic, damaging, unfair", etc, in leaving the trade unions with too much influence. The Guardian commented: 'That is Neil Kinnock's sort of language and, in private, he will probably agree with every word of it." (8 August, 1991)

88. The Labour leaders also favour state funding for political parties, and would undoubtedly attempt to introduce this in the event of a Labour government. Their aim would be, as with the PSOE leadership in Spain, to distance themselves from the trade unions. How far they will be able to move in this direction remains to be seen. Moreover, even if the right wing were able to sever the close TU-Labour Party links at local and national level, thus moving the Labour Party nearer to the position of many European socialist parties, this would not in itself end the traditional ties between the Labour Party and the trade unions. Nowhere have we argued that the link between the Labour Party and the trade unions has been broken.

The witch-hunt

89. "Only 250" have been expelled, say the Minority (in case we forget, this is repeated four times: The New Turn - a threat13, 58, 121, 177). "Despite 16 years of witch-hunts and expulsions they have largely failed, to date." (The New Turn - a threat 28). It is as though they were a seasonal hazard, nothing new. "However," according to the Minority, by extending our open work, "we are now playing into their hands."

90. This ignores the current intensity and scope of the witch-hunt. The organisational repression used by the Kinnock leadership could not by itself succeed in politically isolating the Marxists from the active rank and file of the Labour Party. But the right wing's policies and methods have led to a severe decline in the level of activity within the party. On this basis, Kinnock and company have been able to take the witch-hunt much further than in the past. The reality is that wherever comrades are effective within the party, they are expelled or their parties are suspended. The Marxists are tolerated within the party only where they do not pose a threat at the moment. Moreover, comrades are also expelled for their activities outside the party.

91. The Minority resorts to sweeping generalisations and repetition: there is no analysis of successive witch-hunts.

92. The Underhill report, the first major enquiry into the tendency, was buried (by 16 votes to 12) by the left majority on the NEC in November 1975. Another enquiry, following the appointment of a Marxist as Labour's Youth Officer in 1976, was similarly ignored in May 1977. A second Underhill report in January 1980, which fuelled a blaze of publicity in the press, was also rendered ineffective by the left on the NEC.

93. After Foot became Labour leader, the NEC (December 1981) set up the Hayward-Hughes enquiry. This followed a swing to the right on the NEC at the 1981 annual conference, which in turn marked the beginning of the right-wing counter-revolution against the democratisation of the party. At that stage, it was painfully difficult for the right wing to carry through the witch-hunt/purge. The proposal for a register of party groups was pushed through the 1982 conference, but it was only in February 1983 that the right were able to expel the five members of the Editorial Board. We delayed the expulsions through legal action and used the time to mount an energetic campaign within the Labour Parties and trade unions. Even our enemies acknowledged that we ran circles around the Labour leaders. But the conditions were entirely different from today. While the right wing, using the trade union block votes in a bureaucratic manner, had recaptured the NEC, the Labour Party's active rank and file was overwhelmingly dominated by the left. It was not only because of adroit tactics that we were able to outmanoeuvre the right, but because we had the support or sympathy of a wide section of the rank and file. Our tendency was seen as defending the gains within the party of 1979-81, and through our campaign against the witch-hunt we were able to recruit both inside and outside the party.

94. The next big wave of expulsions came in 1986 when the NEC, by that time dominated by the Kinnockite right, expelled the leaders of the Liverpool council struggle. Unlike today, when it would be rushed through the National Constitutional Committee in a few minutes, this required two marathon NEC sessions in May-June, 1986. There were still six NEC members voting against expulsion. We were able to draw on support within the party, as well as outside. The year-long miners' strike of 1984-85, created a favourable situation for us, and the Liverpool struggle drew support for the Marxists from within the Labour Party and the trade unions.

95. There is no comparison between the witch-hunt procedure prior to 1987 and the procedure following the setting up of the so-called National Constitutional Committee in January 1987. In response to our legal challenges, the leadership steadily tightened the rules. Anyway, in most cases, the judiciary was not even prepared to give us a hearing, however strong our legal case. Today, the NCC rubber-stamps the expulsions of those referred. Moreover, the range of expellable offences has been steadily widened - it is no longer merely a question of membership of the tendency, but support for the anti-poll tax campaign, or even political statements. One person was expelled for participating in a Trotsky memorial picnic. Another was expelled purely on the 'evidence' of a photo in the sales column, which was not in fact a photograph of the person concerned. These arbitrary methods are not just the result of changes in procedure. They reflect the defeat of the left and the stifling of rank-and-file activity within the party.

Closing the youth organisation

96. Nor is the witch-hunt just a question of individual expulsions. The key bodies within the party which, were able to use as a base for our campaigning activity have either been closed down or drastically restricted by the leadership. Above all, this applies to Labour's youth organisation (LYO). From the time we gained the majority, the youth section provided an unprecedented vehicle for our activity. When we were a tiny, unknown tendency, it provided an opening into the wider labour movement, as well as giving us significant financial and organisational resources.

97. The advantages of our Labour Party youth work should not be forgotten. Youth branches had delegates to Labour Party conferences, and our delegates successfully moved resolutions on key policy issues. In cooperation with trade unions nationally, we were able to run campaigns to organise young workers. Our policies were included in the Labour Party youth broadcasts, and other policies (e.g., on H-blocks, youth rights, trade union rights for the police/armed forces, etc) were adopted by the NEC when the left was in a majority. Through the Labour youth organisation we were also able to undertake a large number of international visits.

98. The LYO reached a high point in 1985, the year of the miners' strike and the Liverpool struggle. The number of branches rose to 573 with a membership of 12-15,000. However, in 1985, the attacks on the youth organisation began in earnest, beginning with a "consultation" launched by Sawyer and the NEC Youth Committee. We used YTURC to circumvent the bureaucracy, and we ran a campaign in the Constituency Labour Parties against the consultation. Nevertheless, in 1987, the age limit was cut to 22 and all regional structures were abolished. The youth paper was closed down. In 1988, the youth conference was abolished and replaced in 1989 by a "Labour Youth" conference with an electoral system which ensured the right wing would take the NEC position (despite the fact we had an actual majority of votes).

99. At the 1990 Labour Youth conference, there were only 15 youth section delegates present. We still have a majority on the National Committee and, until recently, also had the chair. However, during the Easter 1991 YRC [the Labour Youth conference] conference, the right wing called a snap meeting with three present and elected a right-wing chair. In all probability, the National Committee will not meet again.

100. This is not the result of our withdrawal from activity within the youth organisation. We tenaciously fought the witch-hunt at every stage. It is because of the overall change in the party that the right wing has been able to strangle Labour's youth organisation.

101. A similar picture emerged in the Labour Women's Organisation (LWO). During the miners' strike in 1984, the left was strengthened, and a democratic constitution was carried. A leading comrade was elected to the National Women's Committee. Between 1984 and 1988, we had between 60 and 70 delegates at the annual women's conference, and were able to use a number of women's councils for campaigning activity.

102. After 1987, the witch-hunt intensified. In 1985-87, a whole series of women's councils (e.g., Hull, Southwark, Bermondsey, Ipswich, Stevenage, Cathcart, etc) were either suspended or effectively closed down through the expulsion of their officers. In 1989, the leadership introduced a new constitution which, in effect, took the leadership of the women's organisation out of the hands of the rank and file. Our delegates were increasingly ruled out of order. Debates were rigged, with our resolutions being arbitrarily removed from the agenda. A report on this work in July 1990 indicates what was happening: "This field of work is increasingly affected by the position in the Labour Party. The councils and sections are falling in to disrepair. Although we had a good political intervention at the 1990 conference, our delegates and resolutions are being ruled out." Another report later in the year stated: "The work in the LWO has become less fruitful as the LWO has generally mirrored the decline of the Labour Party with very few activists other than our own comrades and a collapse in the women's sections and councils... Whilst we have tried to maintain our position in the LWO, it has been on a scaled-down basis. Many of our sections and councils are affected by closures and witch-hunts."

103. As a result of these developments, the comrades redirected our work in to the anti-poll tax campaign, and a number of key unions, like CPSA, NUPE, and NALGO. We also organised independent campaigns on other issues.

104. The trend in the CLPs is the same. In the early to mid-eighties, we had fifty to seventy delegates to the Labour Party annual conference, and we dominated many of the key debates. By 1987-88, this had been reduced to between thirty and forty delegates, and is currently down to a small handful. This has not come about because of any deliberate withdrawal from work within the constituencies. It reflects the decline in activity within the CLPs and the witch-hunt against our comrades.

105. In all areas where we have been effective, there have been witch-hunts. Both Liverpool District Labour Party and Broad-green CLP have been suspended for long periods. The suspension of Brighton Labour Party, in September 1990, in response to left-wing councillors opposing rent increases and cuts, shows the way things are going. In Liverpool, 27 activists were expelled before Walton, six in Bermondsey, seven in Tower Hamlets, fourteen in Pollok, eight in Bradford, etc.

106. There are also scores of supporters who are excluded from Labour Party membership, with the right-wing refusing to consider their membership. In Pollok, 180 new members were blocked from joining the North Pollok ward, which was suspended in 1988, thus excluding its 300 members from participation in the party. This means that in one ward party, approximately 500 people had either been expelled, blocked or suspended. In Liverpool, over 600 members are currently excluded from the party by suspensions.

107. The Minority argues that we should maintain nominal positions in the party, while continuing our independent work. In reality, it is impossible to separate the two. Our independent work has inevitably brought reprisals from the Labour leaders. For instance, we organised YTURC [Youth and Trade Union Rights Committee] (now YRC) and FELS [Further Education Labour Students] in order to by-pass the bureaucratic obstacles in the official youth and student organisations. Immediately, association with YTURC or FELS activity became expellable offences and led to new measures against our comrades.

An intensive purge

108. The anti-poll tax campaign has been outside the framework of the Labour parties, but it has inevitably brought us into collision with the Labour councils locally and Labour leadership nationally. The recent wave of expulsions has been aimed primarily at the leaders of the anti-poll tax campaign: Pollok, Cathcart, the suspension of Brighton Labour Party. Comrades with positions in the Labour Party have to fight for non-payment and non-implementation of the poll tax, which are now expellable offences. Should councillor comrades in Liverpool, Brighton, and elsewhere have retreated on collection and enforcement (sending in bailiffs, jailings, etc) when it came to the crucial votes? That is the only way they could have avoided suspension, investigation, and expulsion. That would clearly have discredited them in the eyes of the anti-poll tax activists and wider circles of workers.

109. By itself, the figure of 250, repeated like a litany, means nothing. (Until August 1991, in fact, the figure was only 219.) It is a question of the actual regime within the Labour Party, and of the scope for activity. The current position is completely different from 1984-85, when our influence and activity in the Labour Party was at its height. The possibility of gaining a decisive influence in major city councils like Liverpool, because of the bureaucratic control of selection procedures, has been closed off for the foreseeable future.

110. The Minority claim that a qualitative difference in the intensity of the witch-hunt has been brought about by our support for the independent parliamentary candidate in Walton. "As long as we did not put up candidates against the Labour Party, there is not much they could do about our position." (The New Turn - a threat 184) "In effect, we saved them the bother of expelling us, by practically 'placing ourselves outside the party'." (The New Turn - a threat 147) By standing parliamentary candidates, they claim, "we will give the Labour bureaucracy a perfect excuse to empty all our comrades out of the Labour Party." (The New Turn - a threat 121)

111. However, the Minority's picture of a routine level of witch-hunting prior to Walton and then a dramatic intensification, because we stood an independent candidate, does not correspond with the facts.

112. The comrades in the Minority supported the decision to stand independent candidates in the local elections. However, the Minority document (The New Turn - a threat 39) says: "There is a fundamental difference between council elections and a national parliamentary by-election." (The New Turn - a threat 40) But this distinction between supporting local candidates and supporting a parliamentary candidate is completely artificial. The victory of five of the Real Labour council candidates led to an intensification of the witch-hunt. The candidates, the nominees, and their agents were immediately expelled. Others were referred to the NCC. Moreover, following the May elections, 27 left councillors were expelled from the Labour Party.

113. Many of the comrades threatened with expulsion as a result of work in Walton were already, under threat. For instance, in one Yorkshire constituency, comrades were not surprised at moves to expel them at the General Management Committee [of the labour Party constituency] following the by-election. However, they had already frequently been photographed selling papers in the street. The only way to have avoided disciplinary action would have been to stop selling the paper. However, the constituency party is a shell compared to two or three years ago. When the comrades turned up to the General Management Committee, bracing themselves for disciplinary moves, they found that the right wing could not proceed against them: the meeting was inquorate!

114. The Minority also claim that the decision to stand in Walton shows that we are light-minded in relation to Marxists in public positions (The New Turn - a threat 126 and following). We recognise the gains they achieved in this area, and do not for a moment underestimate the enormous advantages provided by these platforms. It is totally false to say that we accept that they would have been lost anyway (The New Turn - a threat 127). We have defended past gains every inch of the way, and will continue to do so.

115. Nevertheless, it is necessary to base ourselves on a realistic assessment of what is going on in the Labour Party. We also have to be clear what the role of our public representatives is.

116. Dozens of councillors have been expelled, and there is absolutely no doubt that Kinnock has been for some time gunning for a number of MPs. The campaign to remove them intensified long before Walton. The evidence being used against some of them goes back to 1983! The question of non-payment of the poll tax was unavoidably a decisive issue. The leaders of the Minority have argued that parliamentary representatives, when it comes to the crunch, should retreat and pay their poll tax to avoid removal. Our position on this certainly had to be weighed up. However, having considered it from all sides, the majority came to the conclusion that we had to back up the decision of any MP who refused to pay his poll tax. To advise any councillor or MP to retreat on this issue would destroy the credibility of any representative who followed such advice. For the tendency to have called on MPs or councillors to pay, moreover, would have seriously damaged the tendency in the eyes of anti-poll tax activists and millions of workers. They would have concluded: "They are no different from the rest!"

The situation in the Labour Party

117. The situation in the Labour Party has completely changed over recent years. The Minority accept that there has been a swing to the right, but nowhere do they concretely examine the changed situation. The section of their document headed The Labour Party in historical perspective' (The New Turn - a threat 93 and following) offers neither historical analysis nor perspective. The objective conditions in Britain and internationally were entirely different in the 1950s and 1960s. Moreover, the subjective factor, the strength of the Marxist tendency, has also changed significantly.

118. They say (The New Turn - a threat 26) that "we gained a small glimpse [of the big gains which could be made in a period of crisis]... at the end of the last Labour government and after 1978-81, when the left wing in the Labour Party began to develop." There was a swing to the left in the unions and the Labour Party (The New Turn - a threat 100) and "we were able to take advantage of this, precisely because we had built up a unique position in the Labour Party through years of patient work." (The New Turn - a threat 101) Now, they admit, 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." (The New Turn - a threat 102)

119. However, we are reminded that this is not "the first time in history, that the right wing has dominated the Labour Party! The memories of these comrades are lamentably short." (The New Turn - a threat 94) They say that "for a period of decades, in the 50s and 60s, the Labour Party was dominated by the Neanderthal right, as were the trade unions." (The New Turn - a threat 95) In other words, this is just a cyclical swing to the right: We should sit tight in the party, hold on to our positions, and await a new turn to the left.

The 1950s

120. In fact, the Minority paint a one-sided, exaggerated picture of the situation in the Labour Party in the 1950s when they say that: "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." (The New Turn - a threat 96) During that period the right wing Labour Party leaders relied on the support of the leaders of a number of big unions to maintain their domination over the party. However, they never managed to destroy the left within the constituency parties, as Kinnock has. "At the present time," commented Problems of entrism (March 1959), "the Transport House bureaucracy relies only on a thin stratum of its members for its machine. The experience of the last decade has had its effect on the rank-and-file... quite a big section, in various parties, supports the left."

121. In fact, from 1952, the Bevanite-dominated left held a majority of the CLP seats on the National Executive. In 1956, the left won all the seats in this section. In 1956 and 1957, Bevan won the party treasurer's seat with the support of a number of the trade unions, including the NUM, USDAW, NUR, ETU, NUPE and others. There were witchhunts, but not on the scale of the current witch-hunt. The right wing failed to expel Bevan in 1955, for instance. During the 1950s, moreover, the left began to gain ground within the unions, preparing the way for the emergence of a number of left trade union leaders in the 1960s such as Jones and Scanlon.

122. The situation in British society was entirely different in the 1950s. It was a boom period, when the working class were making gains in living standards and rank-and-file trade union organisation was being strengthened. The softening of the class struggle on the basis of a long-term economic upswing provided the basis for the convergence of Tory and Labour policies on the basis of Keynesian economics and social reform. That was the period of 'Butskellism' (that is, Tory Butler plus Labour Gaitskell). Today we have the position of a move to the right at the top of the Labour Party in a period of growing contradictions for world capitalism, when working class living standards and rights are under attack from the ruling class.

123. However, it is completely mechanical to argue, as does the Minority, that the Labour Party leadership has swung to the right, "reflecting a general swing to the right within society..." (The New Turn - a threat 68) There has undoubtedly been a swing to the right by the capitalist class, the petit-bourgeoisie, and the Labour leaders themselves. This partly reflects the growing economic difficulties faced by the capitalist class, which is no longer prepared to underwrite the liberal, reformist policies of the boom period, especially in the case of diseased British capitalism. It also reflects the failure of reformism, as demonstrated by the 1974-79 government, which was a government of crisis and counter-reform.

124. Since 1979, there have been a series of struggles (the miners, print workers, Liverpool, nurses, teachers, etc) which show the workers are prepared to fight. The role of the Labour leaders played a crucial part in the defeat or partial defeat of most of these struggles. This in turn reinforced the swing to the right of the Labour leaders. But while there is little confidence in Kinnock and Co, social surveys indicate continued if not increased support for radical policies, and even for the idea of socialist solutions, among wide sections, especially working women, youth, and black workers and youth. The anti-poll tax movement demonstrated the latent radicalism and readiness to struggle - when a lead was given. This situation is entirely different from the 1950s.

125. The developments following the defeat of the Labour government in 1979, did, as the Minority say, give us a glimpse of the changes that could take place in the Labour Party. As a result of the failure of the 1974-79 Wilson-Callaghan government, the majority of Labour's ranks drew the conclusion that only socialist policies could solve the problems facing the working class. The left dominated the CLPs, and was also strengthened within the trade unions. There was a struggle to commit a future Labour government to radical policies, and to democratise the party. This led to the new procedures on reselection of MPs and the leadership elections adopted in 1981. We were to the forefront of this struggle and played a key part in pushing through the reforms.

The Kinnock reaction

126. Before that period, the tendency was relatively small, with a limited influence in the labour movement, though we made a significant intervention in the industrial battles of 1978-79. But the prominent role we played in the struggle to transform the Labour Party brought us to national prominence, and extended our influence within the labour movement generally - which is why the right-wing's attempts to rollback the gains of 1979-81 centred on the witchhunt against our tendency. However, the drive to expel the Editorial Board in 1982-83 actually led to a further strengthening of the tendency.

127. Kinnock was elected leader in October 1983, after the 'Falklands Factor' had given the Tories a landslide victory. Labour's share of the vote fell to 28 per cent and the Labour leaders drew the false conclusion that there had been a profound swing to the right in society.

128. Kinnock was elected as a 'left' leader, but rapidly shifted to the right, adopting right-wing policies and pulling the soft left with him. During 1984-85 the Labour leaders began to shed radical policies, reverse the gains on party democracy, and oppose workers' struggles. Kinnock came out against the year-long miners' strike and urged the left Labour councils to capitulate and accept rate-capping and cuts. In contrast to the 1950s and 1960s, the tendency played a key role in events. In particular, through our position on Liverpool city council, we led the biggest mass struggle and the only one that was taken to the end. Apart from trying to distance himself from policies based on nationalisation, unilateral disarmament, etc, Kinnock fought the June 1987 election on the basis of an attack on the organisation. Incredibly, clips of Kinnock's 1985 Labour Party conference speech attacking the leaders of Liverpool city council appeared in Labour's election broadcast.

129. Labour's defeat in 1987 gave a further impulse to the right wing's counter-revolution. They were assisted by the capitalist media but above all by the defeats of working class struggles - defeats to which the policies of the Labour and trade union leaders significantly contributed. The struggle for change in the party in 1979-81 had drawn new members into activity, mainly from the ranks of petit-bourgeois and white collar workers, but also a sprinkling of workers and youth. The swing since 1987, however, together with the bureaucratic regime, has led to a drastic decline in rank-and-file activity and party membership.

130. Immediately after the 1987 general election defeat, the right wing launched a so-called 'policy review'. The essence of this was the rewriting of Labour's programme to drop nationalisation, openly embrace the market, accept membership of the European Community, accept NATO and drop unilateral nuclear disarmament.

131. The left has been routed on the NEC and within the parliamentary party since 1987. When Benn at the May 1985 NEC meeting tried to commit the party to more radical policies, he was defeated by only 14 votes to 12. Now the hard left vote on the NEC has been reduced to two: Tony Benn and Dennis Skinner. Tribune can no longer be regarded as a journal of the left. It is now a Kinnockite rag, financed by the unions, and read by very few.

132. The soft left swung over to Kinnock as a 'left leader' capable of winning the next general election. When Kinnock congealed with the right, the soft lefts either moved right or themselves dropped out of activity. The non-Marxist, so-called 'hard left' -Benn, Livingstone, Huckfield, Skinner, the Lambeth council leaders, etc - have been routed and isolated. Kinnock has concentrated policy-making and organisational control into his hands to an unprecedented extent. Kinnock dominates the NEC, and has neutralised the left in the Parliamentary Labour Party. Through his own personal staff, he is attempting to turn the Labour Party into an election machine, less dependent on the trade unions, and with a passive rank and file.

133. Any number of recent developments illustrate these trends. During the Gulf war, for instance, Kinnock and Co clamped down on the so-called 'supper club', a group of soft left MPs including Prescott, Richardson and Meacher, with mild criticisms of the Kinnock-Kaufmann line on the war. The enforced retirement of Jimmy Allison, the Scottish organiser for 14 years, shows that Kinnock will tolerate only completely tame party functionaries.

134. In June 1991 Kinnock intervened in a battle over control of the Labour Party's Directorate of Communications (that is, the publicity machine). The new director, who favoured wider involvement of NEC members, was forced out in favour of a Kinnock acolyte. This "represents the latest and most crushing example of Mr Kinnock's dominance over Labour's policy-making National Executive, most of whose members favoured Mr Underwood's retention." (Financial Times, 6 June 1991) Critical MPs were claiming that "Mr Kinnock's Moderate Tendency has been imposing the policies of pragmatism and a caring society by autocratic methods." (Financial Times, 8 June 1991) An anonymous "shadow cabinet colleague" said: "Neil is a genius at controlling the party and he has accumulated a greater concentration of power than any leader in the hundred-year history of the Labour Party."

Decline in Labour Party activity

135. This concentration of power at the top has been accompanied by a drastic decline in the membership of the party, particularly the active membership.

136. After the 1987 general election, the party membership fell to an all-time low of 260,000. This is in contrast to the membership of over one million in the mid-1950s (though the figure was probably slightly inflated by the minimum affiliation requirement of 1000 members per CLP) The leadership launched a campaign for a million members before the next general election. They claim that the 1990 membership was 311,000. However, in July 1991, the Labour Party headquarters admitted that only 104,000 had paid their 1991 subscription. The decline was blamed on administrative and computer problems following the abolition of local subs collections. In reality, it undoubtedly reflects the drastic decline of activity in the constituency and branch parties, many of which have small, inquorate meetings, and cannot find the activists to organise even election campaigns.

137. A survey of Labour Party members last year (Labour Party News, October 1990) revealed the social composition of the party membership - which is now dominated by petit-bourgeois and white collar workers. 'The typical Labour Party member is a middle-aged male, working in a professional occupation in the public sector of the economy. Just over one half of the membership is male (male 59 per cent, female 41 per cent). The average age of a party member is 46 - few are under the age of 25.

138. 'There is a very high concentration of members of the salariat (e.g., lecturers, teachers, social workers). Only one in five of the membership are manual workers. In fact, there are more school teachers than any other single occupational grouping... two-thirds of members are trade unionists but, not surprisingly in the light of the occupational profile, it is the white collar unions, often not affiliated to the party, to which they belong.

139. "The average household income of members is 18,600, but there are very wide income disparities. About 16 per cent live on less that 5000 and about a similar number take home 30,000 or more. What is clear from this data is that there is a stark social divide amongst the membership between the relatively well off and the well-qualified, and the poor and under-qualified." There is no doubt, of course, on which section the Kinnockite leadership rests.

140. The Labour Party's own survey also shows the lack of youth in the party. Only two per cent of members are between 18 and 21, and only three per cent between 22 and 25. In August 1991, moreover, it was reported that "the Labour Party Young Socialists... has collapsed to a membership of 250 with only 25 branches nationwide." (The Guardian, 16 August) In London it was estimated that less than one per cent of Labour Party members are under 25.

141. From the time it was introduced in Scotland, in April 1989, the Labour leaders signalled their refusal to support an effective struggle against the poll tax. They were 'against the poll tax', of course, but opposed a non-payment campaign and supported the moves of Labour councils to collect the tax. Support for non-payment rapidly became an expellable offence.

142. It was therefore inevitable that the anti-poll tax movement, the biggest campaign of mass disobedience in Britain's history, would develop outside the Labour Party. The mood of opposition to the poll tax was grounded in the unfairness of the tax, the burdens faced by working class families, and the enormous reservoir of grievances that had accumulated under Thatcher's government. Nevertheless, it was the policies and organisational methods of this tendency which transformed a mood of revolt into an effective mass campaign - which defeated the poll tax and brought the removal of Thatcher.

143. This struggle has been almost entirely outside the Labour Party. The forces we used to launch the struggle were previously accumulated within the Labour Party and the trade unions. But our involvement in the struggle has led to many of our most active comrades being driven out of the party.

144. We also used our positions on local councils, particularly the position we retained on Liverpool city council after 1985, as a lever in the non-payment struggle. However, this too has led to punitive measures against individual councillors and the suspension of Labour Parties.

145. It is clear that both the objective conditions and the subjective conditions are entirely different from the 1950s. We have taken the lead in major battles, particularly in Liverpool and against the poll tax. We are no longer a small propaganda group, patiently winning ones and twos within the party. While not exaggerating our strength, we have lead mass struggles against the Tories and the bosses in the last few years: now we must find a way of effectively continuing this struggle.

The approaching general election

146. Does the approach of a general election (which must be called before June, 1992) rule out a change in tactics? The Minority argues that it does. But once again, they give no clear perspectives for the period leading up to a general election and immediately afterwards. Their position takes no account of the mood of different layers of the working class and it particularly does not come to grips with the more complicated situation in Scotland.

147. Their document says:

"With the approach of the general election, the position nationally at the present time is a move towards Labour. The anti-Tory mood is beginning to turn towards a pro-Labour one (but not pro-Kinnock). This will develop increasingly as we get nearer to the election. Already the opinion polls, which partially reflect this process, have revealed a growth in Labour's support (although Kinnock personally languishes in the polls)." (The New Turn - a threat 43)

148. They also talk of "the class... moving towards Labour..." (The New Turn - a threat 45). But what does this mean? There has been no turn towards the Labour Party in terms of membership. Writing in The Marxist (number 3, p12), in May 1991, RS wrote that the Labour Party's "organisations are empty" and referred to a "dead" or "empty" situation in the mass organisations (p12). "The Labour Party in many areas is just a shell." (The New Turn - a threat 102)

149. On the electoral plane, the slight increase in Labour's performance in the opinion polls and a turn towards Labour in a number of by-elections clearly arises from the desire of workers to defeat the Tory government.

150. The very mixed results for Labour in recent by-elections show, however, that it is an anti-Tory mood rather than a pro-Labour mood which prevails. For instance, in the Monmouth by-election in May 1991, there was a 12.6 per cent swing to Labour, and Labour took the seat from the Tories. This was because Labour was seen as the party to defeat the Tories. However, in the earlier by-election in Kibble Valley in March, there was an 8.3 per cent swing against Labour, with a massive swing of 25.8 per cent to the Liberal Democrats, who in that case were seen as the party to defeat the Tories.

151. In Walton, the 37.4 per cent fall in the Labour vote compared to the general election, in this safe Labour seat, indicated the mood of scepticism if not outright hostility towards the Labour leaders.

152. In Scotland, Labour has consistently lost votes to the SNP in safe Labour seats. In Govan, in November 1988, there was a 27.9 per cent fall in the Labour vote, with a 33.2 per cent swing to the SNP, when Sillars gained the seat. In November 1990, in Paisley North, there was an 11.5 per cent fall in the Labour vote and a 14.0 per cent swing to the SNP and in Paisley South, there was a 10.1 per cent fall in the Labour vote and an 11.8 per cent swing to the SNP. In other words, Labour held these 'safe Labour seats', but at the expense of a big loss of votes to the nationalists.

153. There are sections of the workers who, while hating the Tories, are disillusioned with the Labour Party because of the leadership's right-wing policies. Many workers, working women, young people, black youth, etc, desperately want to see a political change, but have a hatred for Kinnock and Co. Unlike workers of an earlier generation, they will not automatically look towards the Labour Party at this stage. Mass loyalty to the traditional organisation has been undermined over the last decade, not least by the role of the Labour leaders themselves. This does not mean that the historic role of the traditional organisation has fundamentally changed. But it does mean there are layers who will not necessarily move towards the Labour Party in the next few years who nevertheless could be won to Marxist ideas. Moreover, there are other, more advanced workers, who hate the Tories, want to see the return of a Labour government, but also understand the role of the right-wing Labour leaders - and understand the need for socialist policies. There is also a section of workers and youth, a minority at the present time, who are striving to find a path to the revolutionary transformation of society.

154. We have to strive to draw the advanced layers into the tendency, to win the support of a wider layer of class-conscious workers, while at the same time striking a chord with the mass of workers who want to see the defeat of the Tories. The differences in mood between different layers of workers is particularly sharp in Scotland. We can win the most advanced workers with an open campaign for Marxist policies, while our call for the return of a Labour government on socialist policies will have a much broader appeal.

155. To this, the Minority are in effect counter-posing the idea of "a mood for unity" (The New Turn - a threat 44). But how many times in the past has the "mood for unity" been used against the Marxists advancing a bold programme and pursuing independent strategy and tactics? 'The advantage of the vanguard over the masses," wrote Trotsky, "is that we illuminate theoretically the march of events and foresee all its future stages. The formless passive longing for 'unity' will receive blow after blow." (Writings 1933-34, p190). We have to respond to the most advanced workers' desire for a socialist alternative, as well as the generalised anti-Tory mood.

156. Even in a pre-election period, moreover, we have to warn the workers of what will happen in the event of a Kinnock government being returned. We have to outline perspectives and policies for the struggles that will develop after the general election.

After the general election

157. If a Labour government is returned, it would be a government of crisis, to a far greater extent than the 1974-79 government. This would especially be the case if it were a minority government. The right- wing Labour leaders would immediately attempt to secure themselves from criticism and pressure by an even more intense purge of the party, which could mean the emptying-out of the Marxists and what remains of the left.

158. The underlying position of British capitalism and the social crisis are far deeper than under the 1974-79 Labour government. On the basis of their attempt to manage the capitalist system, they could carry through only the most minimal reforms, and would rapidly move to counter-reforms, driving down workers' living standards in an attempt to salvage capitalism. This would inevitably bring a Labour government into collision with the trade unions, including a section of the union leaders. The timescale of developments cannot be exactly predicted. But there is likely to be a 'honeymoon period' before an opposition would emerge from within the trade unions. Much depends on the direction of the world economy. A recovery in 1992, which is possible, could extend the honeymoon period for a while.

159. However, a clash between a Labour government and the unions has even been anticipated by the collision on a local level between local authority trade unions and Labour councils, which are currently pushing through massive cuts, privatisation and redundancy. To date (August 1991) 65 people have been jailed for non-payment - 46 of these by 18 Labour-controlled authorities.

160. If, in the event of a collision between the unions and a Labour government, the trade union leaders had the policy of directing their rank and file into the Labour Party to transform it, there could be rapid changes within the Labour Party. However, most of the trade union leaders will attempt to hold the line for a Labour government for as long as possible, though sections of the trade union leaders would inevitably begin to reflect the pressure from below. It will take time for trade union opposition to have an effect within the Labour Party.

161. If Labour is defeated in the general election, the most likely consequence would be the removal of Kinnock by the right wing, and the consolidation of the right for a period. In the aftermath of another Labour defeat, workers would tend to turn away from the party and look for solutions on the industrial plane. In time, this would reflect itself within the Labour Party.

162. Whether the Labour Party wins the general election or is defeated, therefore, it is likely to be some time before there are developments within the party.

163. Before he came out in support of the Minority, RS wrote:

"A Tory victory could result in a further shift to the right in the Labour Party... A Labour victory could also push the party leadership further to the right and would mean two or three years of witch-hunts and stagnation in the Labour Party but growing opposition to Kinnock's policies amongst the trade union rank and file. At a certain stage, this radicalisation would reflect itself in the party. Opportunities would then arise for more fruitful work." (The Marxist, May 1991, number 3, p12)

164. Thus, in May this year RS had an entirely different position from the one he now takes. He recognised then that it would take time before a radicalisation amongst the trade union ranks reflected itself in the party. He wrote:

"In the meantime, it would be false to wait upon events. While maintaining a presence in the mass organisations, Marxism must project a far bolder open face if it is to take advantage of the favourable opportunities that will emerge in the short term on the industrial plane and in the working class generally."

165. RS understood things a lot better in May than he did in June! Before he did a political somersault, he recognised that the tactic of entrism, as carried out successfully by our tendency in the 1960s, 70s and early 80s, could no longer be carried out in exactly the same way today. 'The party is largely being PSOE-ised," he said, and recognised that the situation within the party was not likely to change for several years. Yet RS now denounces the Scottish turn as the "liquidation of the entry tactic" (The New Turn - a threat 140).

 

 

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