Communists and the Labour Party

Sun Aug 11 14:34:26 MDT 1996


I've split this message to make it more manageable (I hope)....

Jim Kane writes:

> Nick Holden scolds the CPUSA for having the temerity to support the
> Democrats. Don't they know, they should be upholding the revolutionary
> independence of the working class. He's right, of course, but then both
> Godena and Charlotte Kates (both CPUSA members) admitted as much in their
> original posts.

SO no-one has yet explained to me why this happened. I would suggest, and
have done in previous messages, that even Louis and Charlotte's
representation of the CPUSA's "dilemma" illustrates incorrect thinking which
leads to the decision to support Clinton, i.e. it does not appear to be a
one-off mistake, but the culmination of a political line.

No-one has yet explained why this in wrong...


> What gives Nick's criticisms a hollow ring is the fact that they are
> formulated by a man who openly proclaims his support for the Labour Party
> Britain. What is more, he berates the leaders and supporters of the newly
> formed Socialist Labour Party for having made a dreadful error. They
> have stayed inside the Labour Party and fought the battles there.
> This is an old one on the left in Britain. As if Scargill had not fought
> enough battles inside the Labour Party already!

Comrade, in my world view, you never fight enough battles to absolve you
>from the responsibility of thinking critically about the world around you.
No matter how good your credentials in the class, you are always capable of
making a mistake. It is a shame that you (and Arthur, it appears) do not
share this view, I fear.

>					  Does Nick not recall the slow
> hand-clapping that the Labour Party gave to Scargill last year when he had
> the audacity to stand up for socialism? Does Nick really think that Labour
> will be won to socialism? Or does he have some other project up his sleeve
> justify his party card?

Once again, we have the appearance of the word "support", as though the
relationship between Marxists and the Labour Party (or the Democrats in the
USA) is a passive one. All we can do is choose from among the existing
political formations, or start a new, pure, one. The idea that we can change
the existing creations of the class into something different does not occur
to you. Why not? Don't want to be sullied by close contact with reformists,
possibly? That is certainly the cry of the SWP - if you join the Labour
Party, they say, you will be forced to compromise. Really? Who by? And
through what process? Ah, well, that's just the nature of the Labour Party,
they say, it's because they want power.

But I want power, too. State power for the working class. I do not believe
that a dictatorship of the proletariat will lead to lots of compromised
workers. So why should I believe that proletarians in the Labour Party will
be unable to function as Marxists?

> There has been a very long tradition on the revolutionary left here in
> Britain of support for the Labour Party. It is important to examine the
> reasons why. Mostt groups cite Lenin's advice to the infant Communist
> of Great Britain in the 1920s, when he advised the CP to support Labour in
> the way that "a rope supports a hanging man", and to take the Labour
> by the hand in order that they could better "take them by the throat."
> Lenin's reasoning was straightforward enough: Labour had never been in
> office, and its leaders (even Ramsey MacDonald) were going around making
> radical speeches and promising great things. As a result, there was
> widespread illusion in the Labour Party among the working class. Masses of
> workers thought the election of the Labour Party would bring socialism.
Whereas these days, of course, the electoral success of the various
'Marxist' sects is well known.

Get a grip on reality, not a text book.

The LP does still comand massive illusion in the workng class. Not only
that, but it also, albeit tenuously, retains a link, structurally,
organically to the idea of the class acting collectively for political
reasons - the trade unions. Comrades in America may like to speculate on
what they would do with a political formation that was made up of 4,000,000
working class people, infused with trade union consciousness, and in a
position to struggle for some forms of power against the political wing of
the ruling class (in our case the Tories & Liberals, in yours the
Republicans and Democrats). I would suggest you would fight to control it,
to win positions within it, and to try to turn sections of it (as large as
you could manage) towards Marxism - Jim asks you to leave it, and let the
Democrats take control of the workers' only mass political organisation.

> In this context, Lenin argued for affiliation - open affiliation, that is,
> not the semi-clandestine "entrism" of the various Trotskyist groups. It
was a
> tactic, no more. It was a tactic, moreover, which the CP never had the
> opportunity to implement, since (perhaps unsurprisingly) Labour refused
> application.

Err, not quite. Lenin proposed 'affiliation to the Labour Party however it
was possible'. I think that it perfectly possible from his writings on the
LP to contstruct a case for entrism by means other thank knockin on the door
and saying, "We are the CP - we want to break up your Party" which is in
essence what they did. The SDF (precursors of the CP in Britain, remember,
had been in the Labour Representation Committee, but walked out (!) when the
initial conference of the Labour Party refused to adopt a maximum communist
programme - sectarian, or what?

> I mention this prehistory for a particular reason: rather than treating
> Lenin's writings on Britain at this time as a conjunctural intervention,
> left has instead elevated them into timeless strategic imperatives. I will
> give two examples from the Marxist-Leninist left.

You yourself said ful frontal affiliation was a tactic. Surely the logic of
your submission also makes entrism a tactic, permissable where circumstances
allow. But for some reason, those who follow the affiliation tactic (even if
the results are poor) are correct, while those who use an entrist tactic are
wrong - why?

> The New Communist Party (to which Richard Bos belongs) still advocates
> affiliation to the Labour Party. Why? Is Labour still an organisation made
> of affiliated organisations? Frankly, no. There are the unions and there
> the individuals members. How anyone could seriously think that a party
> is embarrassed by its links to the unions would contemplate the
> of a Communist organisation is beyond understanding. Of course, Richard
> offer the defence that it is only a tactic, and that no-one really thinks
> that it is feasible at this stage. Perhaps. But the NCP has also tailored
Sorry? What do we understand by the word tactic? I thought that tactics were
the practical application of theory, in specific circumstances, in order to
use the specific circumstances to further the policy. Applying for
affiliation *expecting* to get turned down
 is not a tactic, it is a misjudgement. What happens if they let you in? More
importantly what do you tell your contacts - that you do want to get in, and
the P leaders are a disgrace, or that you don't want to get in? Do you tell
contacts one thing, and comrades another?

> But it is not only Straight Left and the NCP who call for a vote for
> come what may. Just about every Trotskyist group, including the few that
> not entrist groups within Labour, call for a vote for Labour every time,
> "with no illusions" (of course). And most of them are persisting in this
> despite the creation of the SLP. Workers Power, for example, called for a
> vote for the official Labour candidate in the recent Hemsworth
> despite the fact that the SLP candidate, Brenda Nixon, was leader of the
> Women Against Pit Closures (formed during the great 1984-5 Miners Strike)
> a respected and tested class fighter. The largest group on the
> left, the Socialist Workers Party (the equivalent of the International
> Socialists) was rather thrown by the creation of the SLP, but finally
> on the policy of supporting SLP candidates except where this coulc cause
> Labour candidate to lose. In other words, they will support the SLP except
> when it matters. The CPB, NCP, Straight Left, Communist Party of Britain
> (Marxist-Leninist) etc etc etc agree. Whatever we do, we must not stand in
> the way of our precious Labour Party. Militant Labour is an exception (at
> last), as are a number of smaller Marxist-Leninist groups (including my
> group).
> Again, we must ask: Why support Labour?

Again I must ask, why reduce the relationship between Marxists and the
Labour Party to the level of "support" or not support? Everything that you
have written impleas that all the communists can do is decide which of the
available politicians to advocate a vote for. Wouldn't have been much use in
Tsarist Russia, would it, that line?

>                                                                The
argument cannot possibly be that
> there are still any illusions about the Labour Party bringing about
> socialism. No-one thinks this. No-one has thought it for years, actually,
> even if they did, the Blair leadership has made it abundantly clear that
> is not the case. If such illusions persist, it is on the part of
> self-proclaimed Marxists, not the working class. If people vote for Blair,
> is because they believe that life will be a bit better than it is under
> Major, or because they are sick of this corrupt and incompetent Tory
> administration. Or because they support capitalism and they think that
> will run it better than the Tories.

OK. But I am not interested in "people". I am interested in "workers", In
fact, I am interested in the working class.
The working class which created the trade unions to defend them at work,
and, later, the Labour Prty to defend them more generally. It has done a
patchy job of that - at best, it created the welfare state, at worst it took
part in dismantling it again. But it is the creation of the class - in fact
it is the creation of the most politically conscious members of the class.
The question of how workers relate to the Labour Party is not about who we
call on workers to vote for, but how we intervene in the actually existing
political formations of workers.

Lenin called the LP a bourgeois workers' party. It still is - mass working
class support, but far more importantly, mass working class membership and
orientation to. That is, workers don't merely vote for it as the lesser of
two evils, but as 'their' party - the organisation that wil protect their
interests. They may well be wrong. They are wrong, currently. The bourgeois
part of Lenin's analysis explains that the leadership (and the rank and
file) are influenced massively by bourgeois ideology. But they are right
about it being potentially useful as part of their struggle with the ruling
class. But they have to fight the class war inside the Party as well as
elsewhere. I belive Marxists should help them conduct that struggle, not say
to them, you cannot win inside the Labour Party - fight the class struggle
somewhere else.

If the workers cannot hope to win the class struggle inside a political
structure their class created, how can they hope to win it in the rest of
society, shaped as it is by decades of bourgeois rule?

> Now, it may well be an illusion to think that capitalism will offer more
> the workers under Blair than under Major. But that is hardly the kind of
> illusions that Lenin was so keen to expose in the 1920s. It is certainly
> grounds for continuing to support Labour today. Still less is it grounds
> supporting openly pro-capitalist official Labour Party candidates against
> genuine class fighters in the SLP.

Support, support, support.

> Nick offers the explanation that the Labour Party is still the mass party
> the working class. Richard Bos makes the same point. But who are they
> kidding? What proportion of fully paid up members of the Labour Party
> from the proletariat? Do they have any figures? There are about 4,000,000
> union members who pay the political levy, and so are affiliate members of
> Labour Party. This compares to the full membership of 260,000. As a result
> a recruitment drive in 1994/5, Labour signed up 80,000 new members of
which a
> little over 6,000 were union members. If we add to this the fact that the
> union movement today is increasingly white collar in this country, are we
> seriously conclude that New Labour under Blair is a mass partyof the
> class?

Huh? Arw white-collar workers not proles? How sweaty do you have to get at
work in order to be pure enough to join your party, Jim?

What do you do for a living?

> Lenin used a different phrase to characterise the Labour Party, actually.
> Rather than call it the mass party of the working class, he emphasised
> it was a bourgeois workers party: a party with mass working class support,
> but led by the worst kind of opportunists. The only question today in this
> respect is whether we can still call it a bourgeois *workers* party or if
> is time to recognise it as a straightforward *bourgeois* party.

Note, please, that he said it was led by the "worst kind of opportunists".
Not that it was led by the bourgeoisie.
Opportunists. What did Lenin do with opportunists in the Labour movement?
Run away from them and set up his own sect?

Or fight them for the right to lead the class in struggle?


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