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

Marxists and the British

Labour Party

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

Majority Document

[Previous] [Next]

"Ultra-Left Adventure" - or Bold Experiment?

241. What is the Minority's conclusion: "It is time to call a halt." (The New Turn - a threat 185) Carry on as usual! Discuss "the problems which face us". Get down to "political education, where [there are] big gaps". What a conclusion! This is not a guide to action but a prescription for paralysis.

242. The Minority are appealing to the illusory security of "tried and tested methods", in other words, of habit and routine. They are trying to play on comrades' fear of fresh tactics, which by their very nature have yet to be proven. We will be cut off, claim the Minority, from the trade unions and the organised labour movement. We will be branded as sectarians. By appealing to radicalised, impatient youth, we will be dragged into one ultra-left adventure after another. Education will be neglected, and there will be no training of cadres. In the future, when new opportunities for work in the Labour Party open up, our miss-educated youth will baulk at entry. In any case, after open work, we will not get back into the Labour Party. This is the scenario conjured up by the Minority.

243. The Minority document pours scorn on the idea of an "experiment" and of being "prepared to take risks." (The New Turn - a threat 182) But do they really believe that the success of any new tactic can be guaranteed in advance, before it is tested by experience? As Trotsky said, a tactic can lead to success or disaster, depending on how it is put into practice. Successful revolutionary work requires an organisation, as Trotsky put it, which "knows how to manage its affairs consciously and skilfully in the swirl of events". When arguing the case for entry in the 1930s, then a new tactic which met with resistance within the ranks, Trotsky said: "I do not fear to use the term 'experiment'. We will hardly lose a single member; whether or not we win something more or less, the future will show." Trotsky's approach had nothing in common with the leaders of the Minority.

244. Let us consider some of the objections raised by the Minority.

A turn away from the organised labour movement?

245. The Minority claims "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..." (The New Turn - a threat 104) But what is their evidence for this?

246. The mass anti-poll tax movement, because of the role of the Labour leaders, was mainly organised outside the framework of the traditional organisations. Nevertheless, we have made every effort to turn the anti-poll tax movement towards the mass organisations. The struggle has been taken into the local authority unions, into CPSA and into workplaces. On the other hand, many anti-poll tax activists have been blocked from joining the Labour Party.

247. How can Walton be described as the culmination of a turn away from the organised labour movement? The Real Labour candidate was supported by an overwhelming majority of the Broad Left, which embraces the activists of the Liverpool Labour Party, who are currently excluded from the official party. The Real Labour campaign drew on strong support from within the local authority trade unions. It is the official Labour Party, in Liverpool and many other areas, which has become cut off from the real labour movement.

248. The Minority claims that "the attention of the organisation has been drawn away from the vital work in the unions..." (The New Turn - a threat 158) and assert that "if the 'turn' goes through, it will do untold damage to the work in the unions." (The New Turn - a threat 159) Undoubtedly, there has been a low level of industrial action in the last few years. But on our part, there has been no turning away from the work in the unions. Earlier this year, we held a successful national industrial meeting, which was organised precisely to bring together our leading trade union comrades, assess the work of the past period, lay down perspectives and tasks for the next period and underline the vital importance of trade union work in the next period.

249. Undoubtedly, union work is "the key to work in the Labour Party." (The New Turn - a threat 158) At the moment, however, the opportunities are within the workplaces and in the unions, not within the party. We now have crucial points of support in key unions and will strengthen our position in the struggles of the next period. When trade union activists turn towards the Labour Party in the future we will have a powerful position amongst those activists. Our comrades will be an integral part of the turn towards the party.

250. We are already conducting open work in a number of unions. With all our weaknesses, we represent the only coherent organised left wing in the trade union movement. We have no intention of adopting sectarian policies or ultra-left tactics. On the basis of correct policy and methods we will continue to grow. The attitude of workers is not determined by whether or not we hold party cards but by the content of our policies and by our approach.

251. In the past our basis of support in the party, particularly in the Labour youth organisation, was an enormous advantage in reaching wider layers of workers. But this Labour Party "legitimacy" was not the only factor: our influence has always been based on our ideas, our record of struggle, and our method of approach.

252. We are an independent, revolutionary tendency, whether inside or outside the Labour Party. Our orientation is a question of the most favourable tactics for building the tendency. There can be no "umbilical cord" (The New Turn - a threat 184) between a revolutionary tendency and a mass reformist organisation. It is false to claim that we have established "Trotskyism [as] a recognised legitimate section of the Labour movement" (The New Turn - a threat 13, 25) purely on the basis of our position within the Labour Party. How many sectarian organisations have there been in the Labour Party and yet never established their "legitimacy" in the eyes of workers?

253. The Minority even claims (The New Turn - a threa t119) that "there are thousands of workers who are not at present active in the Labour Party who nevertheless looked towards us as being, in effect, the Marxist wing of the Labour Party, even though they knew we had a separate organisation (they also knew why we denied it)." At the time when we played a prominent part in the struggle of the Labour Party left for reselection of MPs, radical policies, etc, there may have been an element of truth in this. At the present time, however, workers and youth seeking a radical alternative look towards us in spite of our position within the Labour Party.

A danger of ultra-leftism and sectarianism?

254. According to the Minority, a turn towards open organisation inevitably means a turn towards ultra-leftism and sectarianism. Their method is repeat, repeat and repeat again!

255. The new turn "signifies a break with the policy of entrism, and a turn in the direction of an ultra-left, sectarian policy..." (The New Turn - a threat 4) The Labour leaders will be able to "brand us as one of the sectarian groups on the fringes." (The New Turn - a threat 13) We will be no better than "the sects, who try and create phantom 'mass' revolutionary parties outside of the time, experience, and consciousness of the masses." (The New Turn - a threat 21) Our anti-poll tax work has led to ultra-leftism (The New Turn - a threat 33). Walton is the beginning of an ultra-left and adventuristic turn (The New Turn - a threat 34,35). Apparently, it is only "a solid base and tradition in the mass organisations" which has "set us apart from the sectarians who inhabit the fringes of the labour movement." (The New Turn - a threat 63) The workers will "see little difference between us and say, the SWP" (The New Turn - a threat 120) And so on, and so on (e.g., The New Turn - a threat 101, 109, 159).

256. But surely it is ideas, perspectives and methods which determine whether or not a tendency is ultra-left or sectarian. Is it only our work within the Labour Party that has separated us from the SWP and the Healyites? The Minority accuse us of a "desire to reap where we have not sown" (The New Turn - a threat 67), a classic definition of sectarianism. But it is precisely the need to reap where we have sown, in the anti-poll tax movement, amongst the youth and in the unions, that requires a detour at the present time. Another definition of sectarianism is: turning your backs on the masses. Which is sectarian? Bold, open work amongst the workers and youth? Or emphasising Labour Party work, when there is no activity within the party?

Winning the youth

257. According to the Minority, we will inevitably miseducate our membership in an ultra-left manner if we adopt the Scottish turn, "...having miseducated the youth in a sectarian spirit, any attempt to put the process into reverse would cause a massive split in the organisation." (The New Turn - a threat 179) In any case, we have apparently already seriously erred in this direction, "...neglect of theory and political education... constant emphasis on 'campaigns'... 'commandism'..." (The New Turn - a threat 180) And so on, and on.

258. It is not clear, however, who will be miseducating whom? The Minority suggest that the tendency will be dragged down the ultra-left track by "raw workers and youth." This is somewhat paradoxical, as they also believe that "To imagine that there is a huge constituency of workers and youth... just waiting to join us at the moment we leave [the Labour Party] is false from beginning to end." (The New Turn - a threat 72) But of course, in the Minority's sceptical eyes, we are grasping for "easy solutions, short- cuts, organisational panaceas" (The New Turn - a threat 86) and we will continue, they allege, to feed them "a steady diet of slogans, activism and campaigns, without attending to their political education." (The New Turn - a threat 88)

259. What is this, but a crude ploy to counter-pose political education to political action? Moreover, does it not reveal the Minority's contempt for "raw workers and youth", who can apparently be won merely with a few slogans! Their document has nothing to say on the mood of young people, and puts forward no strategy for building amongst youth.

260. In the past the Labour youth organisation was the main vehicle of our intervention among youth. However, we were long ago forced by the right-wing Labour Party regime to use our own independent campaigns (YTURC, FELS, YRC, etc). The youth are not attracted to the Labour Party at the moment, and many feel contempt or hatred for the right-wing Labour leaders, who they rightly see as part of the 'establishment. Perhaps, for the Minority, this is what makes them "raw" - their failure to see the need for a Labour Party card? But why, without Marxist ideas, should young people join the Labour Party at the moment?

261. The burning grievances of young people, their hatred for the Tories and other symbols of wealth and power, and their alienation from the Labour leaders are the raw material for a desire to change society. A section of youth are instinctively searching for a revolutionary path. It is vital that we develop methods of recruiting among this layer of youth, and this requires clear policies, effective tactics, and bold action.

262. The Minority has plenty to say about the dangers of this work - but nothing to say on how we should build amongst the youth. The new turn will be an extension of our independent work in the trade unions, amongst young workers, amongst working class women, among black workers and youth, and in the movement for gay and lesbian rights. We have to have an approach that will allow us to take up all the issues which concern young people - nuclear weapons, the destruction of the environment, the crisis in the third world -and put a rounded-out Marxist position on such issues. From this work we will recruit fresh comrades, who will enormously strengthen the tendency and provide new forces with which to intervene in the Labour Party in the future.

How do we educate cadres?

263. Another recurring Minority theme is the alleged neglect of political education and cadre building. Repetition is again the essence of the style, with variations on this theme in about 17 paragraphs. We would have grown far more in the recent period, they claim, if "more attention had been paid to political education, cadre building and consolidation." (The New Turn - a threat 87) There has been a "neglect of theory and political education" with a "constant emphasis on campaigns". (The New Turn - a threat 185)

264. No one would disagree with the need to pay more attention to political education. Over the last few years, we have been leading a mass movement, and as a result political education has suffered as compared to previous relatively quieter periods. The whole of the leadership agreed on the need to stress education and cadre building, and began to take steps in this direction last year (for example, stressing the need for leading comrades to delegate routine in the anti-poll tax work and concentrate on consolidating the tendency). Are the Minority saying that we should not have been so involved in the anti-poll tax struggle? That is the logic of their criticism. Yet many of the best cadres we have were won and developed through that struggle, and are now playing a key role in the tendency. It has not been those comrades who have been lost through the "revolving door syndrome", but in the main a layer of comrades who were not to the forefront of recent struggles.

265. What lies behind the Minority's stress on the "neglect of education"? There are two things.

266. Firstly, it is a ruse to substitute generalities about education and cadre building for argument on the political issues at stake - the question of the entry tactic and open work. This slips out in a number of comments: "...we have neglected to educate the newer members on perspectives for the Labour Party." (The New Turn - a threat 155) "...the general political level of the organisation has gone down considerably... That fact is unfortunately reflected in the present discussion, where the fundamental ideas of the tendency have been lost sight of." (The New Turn - a threat 89) But the Minority's real allegation is that the majority of the leadership has "lost sight" of the "fundamental ideas of the tendency". This precisely comes back to the issues of perspectives, strategy and tactics which are currently under debate. If the Minority fundamentally disagrees with our position, they have to argue their case. It is no argument to attribute our position to "a neglect of education"!

267. Secondly, the Minority are incorrectly counter-posing the need for education and the development of cadres to active intervention in the workers' movement. For good measure, they characterise the leadership's direction of this campaigning work as "commandism". (The New Turn - a threat 180)

268. The Minority's approach is completely one-sided. We need to strengthen theoretical education and correct weaknesses in the training of cadres. We have to respond to comrades' need for theory and ensure that all comrades study the fundamental ideas of Marxism and apply theory to contemporary developments. However, cadres are not developed only through study and theoretical discussion, but also through experience of participation in the struggle of the proletariat and through the work of building the organisation. For every cadre there is a vital interaction between theoretical development and practical activity. The monotonous stress of the Minority on one side of the equation reveals that they have a poor grasp of dialectics.

269. Pursuing campaigning activity at the expense of education and cadre work would undoubtedly lead to 'activism', which cannot provide a secure base for the growth of the tendency. But the Minority's approach would lead to impotent abstentionism.

Physical power of thought

270. What is the Minority really saying? On the one side: "our work in the actual party structures has been minimal in recent years... The importance of this presence lies not in the present gains..." (The New Turn - a threat 64) Yet they warn that we will find "life outside the Labour Party... far tougher" than we imagine. (The New Turn - a threat 8) There is no "huge constituency of workers and youth... just waiting to join us..." (The New Turn - a threat 72) Stripped of the frills and leaving aside the attempt to caricature our position, this means: it is difficult to make gains in the Labour Party at the moment, but it would be just as difficult outside, therefore let us concentrate on political education and cadre building.

271. This is a formula for stagnation. If it were adopted, it would lead not to the education of cadres but to the disintegration of the tendency. The proponents of this approach recall those characterised by Trotsky as:

"satisfied to sit at home and criticise the mistakes of the official party, without setting themselves any broader tasks, without assuming any practical revolutionary obligations, converting the revolutionary opposition into a title, something akin to an Order of the Legion of "Honour. There are, in addition, sectarian tendencies that express themselves in splitting each hair into four parts. It is necessary to struggle against this." (From The Bulletin of the opposition, June 1929, quoted in Writings, 1934-35, p216)

272. On another occasion, Trotsky wrote:

"A revolutionary needs the physical power of thought... [This] consists in analysing the situation and perspectives to the very end and, having come to the necessary practical conclusions, defending them with conviction, courage, intransigence, not fearing someone else's fears, not bowing before prejudices of the masses but basing oneself on the objective course of development." (Writings, 1933-34, p190)

273. This is the approach we must adopt. The Minority's plea for "education" has nothing in common with revolutionary Marxism.

How will we get back into the Labour Party?

274. The Minority claims that through more open work we will only make "ephemeral short-term gains" (The New Turn - a threat 66, 183), and will miss out on future opportunities within the Labour Party (The New Turn - a threat 64, 100 and following). 'The argument that it will be easy to get back in the future is false to the core... Had we continued on the same basis, we could have reaped the benefit in the future. Now we will find an almost insurmountable barrier blocking the way." (The New Turn - a threat 184)

275. This is no different from the arguments used by those who opposed the entry tactic when it was first raised by Trotsky in the 1930s. The critics of entrism said: "They will not let us in. They will expel us." Trotsky replied that whether cadres were working in a trade union or in a traditional reformist party:

'You do not shout: I am a revolutionist... You educate your cadres who carry on the fight under your directions. You keep educating new forces to replace those expelled, and so you build up a mass opposition." (Writings, 1935-36, p206)

276. When the issue was under discussion in Spain earlier this year, AW took the same position as Trotsky, contrary to AW's current position on Britain (Spanish report, 28 February-9 March, 1991, page 4): "When the masses turn back to the PSOE, it will not be possible for the bureaucracy to exclude us. The leading comrades may be kept out, but that is not an insurmountable obstacle." AW also gave the example in Britain of Healy's raiding tactics in the 1960s: "An historical point. In 1960, Healy, who was on an ultra-left binge and understood nothing about the Labour Party, nevertheless put all his forces inside the YS and got a majority, which he later wrecked."

277. The Minority also gloss over the experience of Greece. Interestingly enough, the Minority's draft document, said: "(83) But won't we get back, like in Greece? (Need an answer)." However, in their document (The New Turn - a threat 165) they skate over what happened. The Greek comrades were all expelled but, "never set up an independent organisation", merely organising work around the paper. "They regularly campaigned for the PASOK candidates at elections, despite being expelled, which was undoubtedly an important factor which facilitated their readmission."

The Greek experience

278. Virtually all the Marxists were expelled from PASOK in 1976. While the tendency naturally orientated towards PASOK members, its work was independent, open work under its own banner. In 1984 the tendency launched an independent campaign to put pressure on the right-wing PASOK leaders to contest the presidency against Karamanlis, whom they were previously going to give a clear run. However, the PASOK leaders were forced to change their position. Our intervention, through an independent, open campaign from outside PASOK (because of previous expulsions), had a decisive effect in galvanising working-class pressure for a PASOK candidate against the reactionary Karamanlis. As a result, the right was defeated and PASOK took the presidency. Nevertheless, Papandreou imposed a repressive, PSOE-type regime on the party. During the PASOK government's austerity measures between 1985 and 1987 the party leadership moved to stifle all opposition within the ranks, leading to the closure of many local branches. For a period after the end of 1986, the tendency had no links with PASOK branches.

279. It was the mass radicalisation of the Greek working class during the political crisis of 1989 that produced a revival of activity within PASOK, and created conditions for our comrades to re-enter the party. The Marxists' return was "based solely on the support of the rank and file and despite the opposition and the resistance that many local bureaucrats put up, and without any restrictions or conditions imposed on them." (Workers' International News, number 5) The Marxists were readmitted to PASOK, not on account of any self-imposed limitations on their open work, but because events produced a mass turn by the workers towards PASOK, and a fresh layer of party activists welcomed the Marxists into the ranks.

280. Given the right-wing policies of the Labour leadership in Britain, the defeat of the left, and the prevailing internal Labour Party regime, it would take a massive change to create the conditions for fruitful work within the Labour Party. This will only come about on the basis of events which would impel the trade union rank and file, youth, tenants, and other sections into the Labour Party.

281. When these sections turn back towards the Labour Party, we will go with them. We will be active in the factories, in the trade unions, on the estates, amongst the youth -just as we have been during the anti-poll tax struggle. The advanced layers who first turn back towards the party will include our comrades, cadres who will play a leading role in the struggles of the next period.

282. The Minority are straining for arguments when they say that these workers will reject us because of our open work and independent candidates. Hostility towards our standing candidates at the present time comes from the Labour leaders, Labour councillors, and current Labour Party members who are under the political influence of the leadership. New layers moving into the party in the future would, from the start, be in opposition to the present leadership. They would judge us on the basis of our policies and our record.

283. Trotsky also dealt with this issue in the 1930s:

"It is completely wrong to believe that in the present struggle the workers will be influenced exclusively or even mostly by legalistic considerations - who initiated the split, etc. This element naturally plays some role, but what is decisive in this extremely critical situation is the political content, the merit of your accusations and denunciations, and finally the tone of complete confidence in your position that must pervade your newspaper and all of your activity." (Writings, 1935-36, p287)

284. Of course, "the Labour Party leaders have all the information they need..." (The New Turn - a threat 184) This is the position whatever tactics we pursue. We can never go back to the position of the 1960s or 1970s, when even the leaders of our tendency were only known to relatively small circles of activists, and the Labour leaders did not regard us as a serious threat. We have now led mass struggles, and are regarded by the bourgeois strategists and the Labour leaders as a factor in the political situation in Britain. It is unlikely, therefore, that even with the mass turn back to the party, all our leaders will be readmitted to the party. But the majority of our ranks would turn back to activity in the party and, on the basis of a renewal of the membership and a swing to the left, the Labour leadership could not exclude them.

Development of a mass left wing

285. It is not possible to say at this stage exactly how a mass left will develop in the Labour Party. No one has advanced a rosy, abstract "tidal wave" theory, with "the Labour left welcoming us back with open arms." (The New Turn - a threat 143) This is the Minority's own invention.

286. Under certain conditions, there could be a rapid turn towards the party by active layers of workers. On the other hand, it is possible that it could "take place over a period, with ebbs and flows..." (The New Turn - a threat 122) There is also the possibility, of a right-wing split-away from Labour under conditions of crisis, with the renewal of the rank and file of the party through an influx of workers. There could also be left-wing split-aways. Even if it were of an episodic character, it could be necessary temporarily to orientate towards such a development in order to win leftward-moving workers going with such a movement, without abandoning our strategic orientation towards the traditional parties.

287. However the development of the left takes place in the party, we do not see our task as that of organising the left, as the Minority seems to imply. We have always had the perspective that an influx into the party would strengthen the left reformists, and under certain conditions, a centrist current. We have never had the idea that "the Labour left [would] welcome us back." (The New Turn - a threat 143). It is not a question of participating "in the creation of the left from the beginning..." (The New Turn - a threat 125) In whatever way a mass left wing develops, the left-reformist and centrist leaders will be hostile to Marxism, and we will have to conduct a struggle to break their influence over big sections of workers.

288. The Minority put forward the scenario that, unless we are firmly entrenched in the Labour Party well in advance of a swing to the left, "we will in effect hand over control of the left wing, at least in the crucial early stages, to the Bennites and others." (The New Turn - a threat 123) This is a peculiar innovation in perspectives. Have we not always recognised that the "Bennites and others", who will represent the line of least resistance for most leftward-turning workers, are likely to be in the majority in the early stages? Our success in winning workers away from left-reformism and centrism will depend, not on the length of time we have been in the party, but on our ideas and programme, and on the strategy and tactics that we pursue. When there is a turn to the left in the Labour Party, we will be there as a revolutionary tendency fighting for our ideas within the development of a mass left current.

289. We will be in a far stronger position to fight for revolutionary ideas within the Labour Party in the future, if in the mean time we have strengthened our forces through bold intervention in the struggles of workers and youth. We cannot simply await future developments!






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