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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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The Lessons of Spain

290. The Minority (The New Turn - a threat 57) complains that "the example of the Spanish comrades standing an independent candidate was also dragged in by the hair to justify the situation in Liverpool." Spain, they argue, "was entirely different." However, AW's report, Lessons of the Basque elections (Bulletin of Marxist studies, Summer 1984), it was stated that "the analysis of this experience provides a wealth of lessons for Marxists in Britain and other countries." According to the Minority document (The New Turn - a threat 59) "the Spanish comrades drew the necessary conclusions [after the 1984 campaign], and have not attempted to repeat the experience." However, in the bulletin report, AW report wrote:

"In any event there is no question that the decision to stand was the only correct one under the circumstances. Neither is it in doubt that the Marxists in Alava made important gains as a result of participating in these elections under a new and clean banner."

291. Moreover, the discussion on standing independent candidates has continued within the Spanish organisation. In a report on Discussion on tactics in Spain (8-15 March 1989), AW argued that "it is particularly necessary that we should stand out at this time. From that point of view, there would be a strong argument for putting up our own candidates." In a Spanish report to the International (28 February-9 March, 1991), AW wrote: "I believe it is urgent for the International to re-discuss the question of tactics in relation to the mass organisations. Even in Britain, the time may come when we have to readjust..."

292. There are differences between Spain and Britain, of course, but there are also similarities. The Minority argue that all the comrades in Spain are expelled anyway. However, as we have shown, we have reached the limits of effective activity in the Labour Party under current conditions. In Spain, say the Minority, PSOE has been in power for eight years, whereas in Britain there is the prospect of a general election and the possibility of a Labour government. The election is clearly a factor which has to be taken into account.

293. However, Kinnock has gone a long way towards PSOE-isation of the Labour Party in advance of a general election. He has imposed right-wing policies, established a bureaucratic regime based on expulsions, and the leadership has effectively opposed all major workers' struggles (the miners' strike, print workers' strike, anti-poll tax campaign, etc). If a Labour government is elected, the position would rapidly become almost identical to the current situation in Spain, with an intensified purge of Labour's ranks and a clash between a right-wing Labour government and the active ranks of the labour movement.

294. First, the Lessons of the Basque elections: the Spanish section decided to support an independent Marxist candidate, standing on the platform of the Left Socialist Candidature (CSI), in Alava, in the February 1984 elections for the Basque parliament. This obviously meant standing against PSOE, which gains approximately one-quarter of the votes in the region in general and municipal elections.

295. The background to this decision was the turn to the right by the PSOE leadership, and a purge of the Marxists and the destruction of the Young Socialists, a purge that was particularly intense in Alava. This was the situation prior to the election of the Gonzalez government in October 1982. Then Gonzalez's government began to carry out a quasi-Thatcherite policy of attacks on workers' living standards, which brought it into collision with workers who mounted a series of strikes. Under pressure from the government, the UGT leadership expelled the entire provincial executive of the union.

296. "The expulsions were political and due to Alava's implacable opposition to the sell-out policies of the government. It was at this point that the decision was taken to put up an independent socialist candidate, with the backing of the UGT, in Alava.

297. "By this means, the expelled members of the Union intended to be carried back into the enemy's camp. They judged that the leaders of the workers were hardening against the right-wing socialist leaders, that the behaviour of these elements in Alava made it virtually impossible to campaign for them in these elections (a state of virtual 'civil war' existed, not excluding, as we saw in the attempted seizure of the union building, the use of force)."

298. Does this not have strong parallels with the position in Liverpool? In Liverpool, the right-wing Labour and trade union leaders have launched an unprecedented series of attacks on the living standards of the workers and on the workers' organisations. The active layers of the labour movement in Liverpool drew the conclusion that only by standing independently could they defend their own interests and fight the right wing. Why was it "virtually impossible" to campaign for the PSOE and UGT leaders in Alava, while in Liverpool it was the case of our being "dragged down the road of an independent party"? (The New Turn - a threat 80) In Liverpool "we could have resisted putting up a candidate." (The New Turn - a threat 50)

299. In Alava, the tendency undoubtedly organised an effective and outstanding campaign. PSOE, on the other hand, had to rely on "hired hands, expensive public relations firms, and bourgeois printers."

300. In Lessons of the Basque elections AW says:

"Lenin defined agitation as 'dialogue with the masses', and this perfectly describes the CSI's election campaign. The ideas of Marxism for the first time were heard by thousands of people. At the same time the countless discussions with ordinary workers and their families were of invaluable assistance in increasing the Marxists' awareness of the mood of the masses, their consciousness and their aspirations. This, in and of itself, represents a colossal conquest."

301. In Alava, it is one thing - apparently in Liverpool, another. The Minority (The New Turn - a threat 51) dismiss this advantage of the campaign. There are many other ways they claim of conducting a dialogue with the workers, e.g. NHS, poll tax, etc. This is undoubtedly true, but it leaves out of account the enormous scope for mass work provided by election campaigns.

302. "At no time did the CSI present itself as a new party, separate and opposed to the Socialist Party. At every stage the alternative of the CSI was hammered home: to fight for the regeneration of the PSOE and UGT along socialist lines."

Exactly the same applied in the Walton campaign: the election made it clear that Lesley Mahmood stood for the return of a Labour government on socialist policies, democratisation of the Labour Party and socialist policies, and the defence of the gains made in the struggle in Liverpool. It does not follow, as the Minority now claim in their document, that to stand an independent candidate automatically and unavoidably means the proclamation of an open party counter-posed to the mass party of the working class. An independent candidate can still be orientated towards the regeneration of the mass parties.

303. The bulletin report also says that "the general mood was extremely hostile to the Socialist Party." Because of the failure of the PSOE government, the nationalists had made gains in the Basque country.

"Under these circumstances, the election of a Marxist to the Basque parliament would have acted as a powerful catalyst to prevent the drift towards a split along nationalist lines."

Does this point not apply to the situation in Scotland, particularly the situation that would develop if a Labour government introduced a Scottish assembly?

304. In the event, the CSI polled 2507 votes, or about two per cent, which fell short of the five per cent necessary to elect an MP. The PSOE vote was higher than expected, undoubtedly due to the reaction against the assassination by Basque terrorists of a leading PSOE senator three days before polling day.

305. "[However] although the problem of clearing the barrier of five per cent of the votes and getting an MP was always seen as a difficult objective, in the course of the campaign hopes were raised by the excellent response of the workers and the clear signs of a fall-off of the PSOE vote. Even the representatives of the PNV [a bourgeois nationalist party] and HB [Herd Batasuna] were convinced that the CSI would get at least one MP in Alava."

306. Yet the Minority claim that we gave comrades an exaggerated impression of the likely result in Walton. On the contrary, the overwhelming majority of the leading body and the full-timers responsible for the campaign had a very sober and realistic assessment of the likely outcome. At the NEB which discussed the decision to stand, only EG raised the possibility of winning the seat (although he was opposed to standing anyway). However, as AW's comments on the campaign in Spain indicate, any enthusiastic, energetic campaign which gets a good response from a whole layer of workers inevitably raises the expectations of comrades, however sober the appraisal of the leadership.

Discussion on open tactics, 1989

307. In March 1989, AW reported on a discussion on tactics within the leading body of the Spanish section. The question of the orientation of the tendency, including the question of standing independent candidates, was posed by the complicated situation which followed the general strike of 14 December, 1988.

"14 December marked the beginning of the transformation of the trade unions and PSOE, but only the beginning. It is extremely dangerous to draw automatic tactical conclusions from general perspectives, especially in a complex, contradictory and unstable situation.

308. "Here the subjective factor once more is decisive. In the 1930s, the formation of a mass centrist current was quite a rapid process, partly because of the nature of the period - that is, a rapid movement in the direction of either fascism or proletarian revolution. On the other hand, the Trotskyists did not then face the kind of obstacles we now face in relation to entrism in the Social Democracy.

309. "The political horizon is complicated by the likelihood of early elections and our tactical position in relation to them."

The UGT leadership was divided, with the majority line undoubtedly one of abstention (that is, not advocating support for PSOE).

"But this also reflects a widespread mood among the workers and especially the UGT activists against voting for the PSOE. There is a generalised desire to 'teach them a lesson', by withholding support at the election.

310. "Thus, the traditional position of the tendency presents us with some difficulties. We must bear in mind the following factors: (a) the PSOE itself is an empty shell, dominated by bureaucrats. More that 16 per cent of its members have, or have had, public positions, 39 per cent hold offices in the party itself, and according to the 'lefts' one in three are on the payroll of the Administration, one way or another; (b) while we still have one or two points of support, the overwhelming majority of our comrades are expelled from the PSOE or never belonged to it; (c) the vicious Thatcherite policies of the government, and its union-bashing before, during and after 14 December, has led to a sharp drop in support and a feeling of repulsion bordering upon hatred among workers; (d) this is particularly acute among union activists both in the CCOO and in the UGT who for the first time will almost certainly not support the PSOE in the elections; (e) the big majority of the youth is alienated from the PSOE; (f) in the Basque country, support for the PSOE is virtually seen as support for the police, tortures and Spanish domination among wide layers, especially the youth."

311. The report raises the possibility that the Communist Party's electoral coalition, "Izuierda Unida", would pick up some support in the election campaign:

"If we ask the question: where will we find the youth and the more active and militant workers in the election campaign? I believe there is little doubt that a significant number will be looking towards IU - not with great illusions or enthusiasm, but as a possible option to consider. The question therefore arises how to reach this layer."

312. One of the leading Spanish comrades, R,

"was in favour of putting up our own candidates throughout Spain for the European elections (June 1989). The idea would be to make use of TV time to get across our ideas, including the transformation of the PSOE, etc. Although on national TV we would get limited time in off-peak periods, in the regions and localities we would get considerable coverage.

313. "This would be backed up by a campaign which would not be designed to win votes but to recruit members.

314. "R opposed the idea of advocating a vote for PSOE on the grounds that we would be isolated. Not even the rank and file of the organisation would participate. (In fact, we had this experience in 1987 in Alava, where the centre managed to convince the Basque comrades to support PSOE, against their wishes. There was formal acceptance, but the rank and file 'voted with their feet'. We have clear indications that more than one worker of the UGT voted HB! This campaign was a disaster from the point of view of the tendency."

315. Summing up the discussion, AW wrote:

"From the point of view of principle, there is nothing against us putting up our own candidate. However, the strain that this would suppose would not be compensated by the results we could gain. Access to TV, etc, is important but not decisive." And later: "I believe it highly unlikely now that we will stand - although the question of standing separately in the Basque Country is still very much on the agenda. My own inclination would have been to postpone a final decision... We may have to find ways and means of 'ducking' the issue of the European elections, preserving our main forces for the general election which will surely come shortly after...

316. "In any event... the main thing is to stress the building of our own organisation - recruitment, consolidation, the paper, finance, plus of course, a drive into the youth and the unions, where big possibilities undoubtedly exist.

317. "However, given the rottenness of the existing traditional organisations, if ever there was a case for independent (or semi-independent) work, this is it. While it is necessary to stress and repeat the need to orient towards the mass organisation, there is in my view a danger of overlooking opportunities which exist for winning workers and youth directly to our organisation under the banner of Marxism.

318. "The experience of the Spanish group has shown that it is possible to exaggerate the dangers of tactical turns and independent (semi-independent) work. When we launched Youth For Socialism, the question was raised that this might damage our (future) work in the YS. After many years, these fears have been shown to be groundless.

319. 'In Alava and Navarra, we were compelled to adopt a tactic which appears to be against the ABCs of union work, setting up independent unions. Now, the comrades in Navarra are strongly of the opinion that it was a mistake to wind up the CST so early and enter the CCOO. Certainly to date, the balance sheet has not been positive. We have gained precious little and lost quite a few activists who probably would have stayed with us on the old basis.

320. "Of course, these are only transitional forms which cannot have a long-term future. We have been compelled to 'make a virtue of necessity'. Of course, sooner or later we will have to enter (that goes for the SE as well). But the moment you enter (as the experience of the CCOO (Workers' Commissions) in Navarra shows) is a not unimportant factor.

321. "In my view, we would only contemplate sending most of our force into the PSOE when there was a serious possibility of the crystallisation of a mass left wing, or at least a split leading to the vomiting out of FG and Co. There is a case even now for sending in 'scouting parties'. But no more than that. We have to monitor closely the development of the PSOE, UGT and CCOO, and also IU, but we may have to manoeuvre and tack for a certain period of time.

322. "No one can say how long it will take before there is the development of a mass left wing in PSOE. It could take a couple of years, or could be next month. In the meantime, we have to build to establish which orientation, tactics and slogans will help us build more swiftly among those layers we can reach.

323. "The present situation is still very favourable, despite the complications. It is possible to win people from the UGT, CCOO, IU, perhaps even from PSOE, or from no organisation. But it is particularly necessary that we should stand out at this time. From that point of view, there would be a strong argument for putting up our own candidates. But shortage of both human and financial resources virtually rule this out.

324. "As far as the general orientation in the general election is concerned, it would have to be something along the lines of: Stop the Right! Not one vote for the bourgeois parties! For a PSOE-IU government with a socialist programme! Vote for the workers' parties!

325. "In any case, the main slant would have to be on the programme, not on the issue of the vote - though we have to have a position on this.

326. "As I say, there are many variants in the situation which can alter the general election. For example, if, as is possible, the bourgeois parties get a majority in the European election, this may jolt the workers (and the UGT) into moving back towards PSOE. Thus, the slogan of 'Vote for the workers' parties' (including PSOE) would be better received even by those workers who are now on a bit of an ultra-left tack.

327. "The possibility of a serious split in PSOE is not ruled out even before the general election. But most likely it would come later, particularly in the aftermath of a defeat.

328. "In any case, our main priorities at this stage are the youth and the unions. The road to the PSOE runs through the UGT youth committees. We already have a significant foothold in these in the Basque Country and Catalonia."

329. It is hardly necessary to comment. Virtually point for point, AW of yesterday answers AW's arguments of today. It is dangerous to draw automatic tactical conclusions from general perspectives: yet in Britain, apparently, it is imperative for us to continue forty years of "tried and tested" methods. AW recognised new kinds of obstacles to entrism in the Social Democracy: yet in Britain, it seems, we are merely experiencing just one more witch-hunt. In Spain, particularly in the Basque Country, union activists have turned away from PSOE and a majority of the youth is alienated. Yet in Scotland, there is apparently no need for a change in tactics to take account of a similar situation. Spain shows that it was "possible to exaggerate the dangers of tactical turns and independent (semi-independent) work". Yet the Minority document's arguments against the Scottish turn is based almost entirely on exaggerating the danger of a tactical turn. In Spain, AW considered that it would be correct to stand candidates against PSOE, without in any way prejudicing a future turn towards the socialist parties.AW argues that "Spain is different". While, of course, there are differences, many of the factors on which AW bases his arguments for more open tactics in Spain also apply in Britain, especially in Scotland.

More discussion on open tactics, 1991

330. Earlier this year, AW wrote a further Spanish report (28 February-9 March 1991). Once again he addressed the problem of orientation and tactics. "There is no doubt that the Spanish sections campaign against the war was a resounding success... The comrades had a major impact on the political life of the country. They have built up a colossal authority and prestige." However, the challenge is to recruit the youth influenced by our campaign. "There is, unfortunately not an automatic relation between leading masses in struggle and getting them to understand the need to join a revolutionary party once the struggle is ended." Of course, the growth of the organisation is influenced by the objective situation, the capabilities of the organisation's cadres, the policies of the tendency - but it also depends on adopting effective tactics."

331. "The Sindicato de Estudiantes has shown itself to be an extremely important weapon in our hands. It occupies an analogous position to the YS in Britain in the past... In effect, the SE is now accepted by the workers (and even by the trade union and Communist Party leaders) as part of the official movement. That is an extremely important conquest. In practice, we are applying the tactic of the united front in Spain."

332. The report then goes on:

"The question of entrism does not arise. This is not from any conscious decision... This is not a drawback, but, if anything, an advantage. The PSOE is... dominated by a corrupt bureaucracy which depends on state handouts, which in turn gives it a large degree of independence from the class.

333. "This is not the traditional situation of reformist parties in the past, and we must take it into account when working our future perspectives. Because of the openly pro-bourgeois, imperialist policies, the PSOE stinks in the nostrils of the advanced workers and youth. Whilst not ruled out that it may in the future be the basis of a mass left current (which could only be on the basis of a split), this is by no means the only perspective. The unceremonious ejection of Guerra from the government may possibly be the basis of a future split, to the degree that he begins to reflect pressure from below (that is, from the UGT). That is not ruled out. However, such a perspective will take time to emerge. In the meantime, we have to give the comrades a perspective and a tactic which enables us to connect with the most advanced workers and youth.

334. "We have a large periphery of older industrial workers. We have led many strikes, for example the battle in Val d'Hebron, the biggest hospital in Catalunya (7000 workers), where we won against the 'official' trade unions - UGT and CCOO. Many of these contacts are ex-CPers - activists in CCOO who say to us: 'We think the paper is good, you are good people with good ideas, but... Isn't this an organisation for young people?' or, 'Isn't this something to do with the PSOE?' The latter problem is magnified 100 times in the Basque Country where our support for PSOE in elections has been used very effectively by HB to besmirch our image with the radical youth we need to win.

335. "It is clear that we cannot find 'instant' solutions of an organisational character to what are essentially political problems, but I believe that we are in some ways creating unnecessary obstacles between ourselves and the people we seek to win. This is not an argument against entrism in the future. But as the Spanish proverb goes: 'You cannot feed yourself today with the bread of tomorrow.'

336. "I believe that in Spain - and perhaps not only in Spain - a bold turn is necessary if we are not to lose a series of opportunities. At the moment, what we are offering our contacts is far too diffuse: neither fish nor fowl. The argument about 'entrism' is not readily understood by many advanced workers (I'm not talking about the mass), who loathe the PSOE.

337. "We allow ourselves to be too intimidated by arguments about 'security'. In Britain, where we have a number of comrades in key public positions, there is a case to be made. In Spain, where 97 per cent of us are expelled, there is none at all. When the mass 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.

338. "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 the majority, which he later wrecked. There is no question of our Spanish comrades launching on an ultra-left adventure like Healy. But I believe the time is over-due for a bold initiative in launching 'Iz-quierda Marxista' ('Marxist Left') as an open organisation which could appeal to young people and workers (especially disaffected CPers and CCOO activists) who are looking for an alternative, in a situation which also has some analogies with 1941 in Britain.

339. "The Spanish comrades, conscious of the need for a strong external projection, are organising a public campaign to launch 'Youth for socialism'. I confess to having doubts about this. The main part of our youth work is done very effectively through the SE (which also caters for apprentices, technical and night-school students). It cannot reach the older industrial workers we have to win.

340. "I believe it is urgent for the International to re-discuss the question of tactics in relation to the mass organisations. Even in Britain, the time may come when we have to readjust... for example if Kinnock comes to power and then there is a large-scale ('Spanish') witch-hunt, including the expulsion of MPs. That is not immediately posed here. In Spain, it very definitely is, and needs to be discussed."

Political schizophrenia

341. Once again, AW on Spain answers AW on Britain. In Spain, open work today does not rule out entry tomorrow. In Spain, all our comrades are expelled - but when the mass turn back to PSOE, "it will not be possible for the bureaucracy to exclude us." What is so fundamentally different in Britain, where "only 250" have been expelled - but where there is currently very little possibility of revolutionary work within the Labour Party? How will the British Labour leaders be able to keep us out, when the mass moves back into the party?

342. Or is the crucial difference in Britain that "we have a number of comrades in key public positions"? Is AW arguing that we should hold back for fear of losing public positions? Why did we work for positions in the first place, if not as a platform to strengthen our intervention in the labour movement? We were never deluded that we would hold all our positions indefinitely. In any case, since when has it been possible to defend gains on the basis of a defensive stance? We may lose some positions, but we will gain new positions in future struggles. Surely we cannot decide our strategy and tactics on the basis of holding on to positions? The positions that we hold will be even more vulnerable if we allow opportunities for growth to slip away through inflexible tactics.

343. Earlier this year, AW considered that it was "urgent for the International to re-discuss the question of tactics in relation to the mass organisations. Even in Britain, the time may come when we have to readjust..." But when the question was re-discussed, on the basis of the new conditions that have developed in Scotland, AW completely rejected the proposal for a change in tactics on the basis of arguments that he had just demolished in relation to Spain.

344. Is this not a case of acute political schizophrenia? One position in Spain, another in Britain?

Conclusion

345. The Minority opposes the Scottish turn. But they offer no way forward for the tendency in the next period. They adhere to dogmatic methods in thought and action.

346. Theory should be a guide to action. In contrast to the Minority's position, Scotland: perspectives and tasks, 1991, together with this document, outline perspectives, strategy and tactics which correspond to the situation we currently face. We are confident that, on the basis of the ideas outlined in these documents and elaborated in the debate, we will build on the successes of recent years, strengthen the tendency, and greatly extend our influence within the working class.

12 September, 1991

 

 

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