Marxists & Labour

Tue Aug 13 19:29:08 MDT 1996

More on Marxists and the LP in Britain (stop me if you're getting bored)....
Incidentally, I think there's something significant in the way Jim and I are
labelling these messages. Jim said previously that I was wrong to
characterise him as thinking all LP members could be painted with the same
brush as Tony Blair. And yet, when I post messages, headed, Marxists and the
Labour Party (because I am interested in the relationship between Marxists
and the LP), he renames his responses, 'Blair and the Labour Party'. Now you
can call me a Fruedian, but I would suggest that shows something about how
Jim relates to the Labour Party, what he perceives as most significant.

Anyway, on with the debate...

Jim says:

> I invite you to produce these quotes from Lenin to justify entrism of the
> kind practised by the Trotskyists. Quotes do not settle the argument,
> though they at least establish what Lenin put forward. I am no expert on
> Lenin quotations, but I don't recall a single word arguing for entryism. I
> am open to be convinced otherwise, in which case we can discuss why I
> Lenin wrong on the point (hypothetically at this stage)

In the interests of time, I will come back to this later - I've been out
meeting the class tonight, and it's gone midnight already. I have to be at
work in eight hours. Remind me, though, if I forget.

> Yes, the SDF were sectarian. But they split, you know. The minority went
> to form (in 1911) the Socialist Party of Great Britain, which still exists
> (there are two with the same name claiming the same heritage, in fact!).
> The majority went on to form the British Socialist Party. And they were
> *not* sectarian. It was the BSP majority which was a precursor of the

I'm pleased to hear that the BSP were not sectarian. I'm not sure what
relevance that has, though, to my point, which was that deliberately
counterposing *revolution* to the political activities of the working class
(instead of operating within those activities to promote and win people to
revolution) was sectarian behaviour. Jim seems to have conceded that point
without comment.

I am not concerned about proving which tendencies or groups were or are
sectarian. I am concerned about establishing what *actions* amount to
sectarianism, so that we can avoid them. If you want a debate about which
were the best sects on the left, I'm not your man.

> Actually, I did not say that I thought the affiliation tactic was correct.
> In fact, I am not at all convinced that it was the correct tactic at any
> time - my mind is open on the matter historically. But I do think that
> entryism is an incorrect approach. To enter in a clandestine manner,
> without declaring what you are after, without openly stating what you are,
> definitely contradicts what Marx and Engels wrote in the Manifesto - that
> Communists distain to hide their views, etc. Pretending that you are not a
> party within a party when everyone knows full well that is what you are,
> a pretty daft tactic. And unprincipled, in my opinion. With entryism,
> Communists are forced to operate on the basis of an undeclared faction,
> I am against factionalism inside the working class. Open affiliation at
But I thought you said that the Labour Party was not *the class*?

> least avoids that. If you are going to win people to Marxism, then it has
> to be done up front in a bourgeois democracy (under fascism the situation
> is different. If that is what you mean, then, yes, I do accept that
> clandestine entry into mass organisations is at times justified). I do not
> think there should be factions within the Communist Party, either, by the
> way.

So you are opposed to the right of individuals who disagree with the party
line to organise in order to change it?

The general attack upon entryism is very common, though. It is however
mostly employed by the right wing of the Labour movement. They say, "People
like the SWP are alright - they may be mad, but at least they're honest. You
know where you are with them. Not like these evil entryists."

What they mean, it seems to me is that they (as petty bourgeois usurpers of
the Labour movement, if that isn't a bit grand) know where they are with the
SWP. Working class militants are plenty well aware of the regime inside the
Labour Party, and my guess is that they well understand the need for
clandestine methods.

Put it this way. If the trade union leadership of the union you were in
managed to win policy in the union which said "membership of the CAG is
against the principles of this union", would you leave? Or would you unfurl
your banner, stand proud and isolated, and get expelled, or would you devise
ways to continue the work you were doing.

My submission is that you would do either the second or third based on
whether you thought you could take the class with you. If you thought you
could, you should force the right wing to expel you, and take as many
members who would come into a new union. But if you though you could not,
you should stay and fight *where the class are*, rather than *where you
would like them to be*.

There is a fourth option - Militant allowed certain key members to be
expelled, then pulled the rest of their members out of the LP, formed an
open tendency and declared themselves a revolutionary alternative to Labour.
As yet, very few workers seem to have followed them.

> I agree that it would be a mistake to reduce the
> question to one of support or not. Yes, people like you are actively
> to change Labour. But you do, at election time, *support* Labour. This
> cannot be denied.

> Secondly, I have never written a single word that says a Communist's only
> role is to choose which bourgeois misleader to support. So please refrain
> from pretending otherwise. I was referring to elections, and what
> Communists should be doing then. You say call for a vote for Labour. I say
> don't. But we both think that Marxists should be engaging in the class
> struggles, don't we? The difference iis that you say that should be
> out now in the Labour Party, and I say what is needed is above all
> regroupment of Communist forces in a Communist organisation which actively
> fights against the Labour Party. Elections are only a very small part of
Comrade, apart from the last four words, I agree with what you want, too. I
want regroupment in an organisation which fights for the class. I also want
that organisation to conduct part of its fight inside the mass political
organisation of the class. You don't.

That is our difference.

> Nick's next forray is to piously tell me that he is "not interested in
> "people". I am interested in "workers", In fact, I am interested in the
> working class."

> Empty bombast, Nick, and you know it. Please stick to the point.

Not at all. If you write about what "people" say, or "people" do, you are
being utterly imprecise, and your conclusions are worthless.
Which people? Workers? Or bourgeoisie?

Nick says the workers "have to fight the class war inside the Party as well
elsewhere." If so, then Nick needs above all to get them to join the Party.
I doubt he'll have much success

Only because the people I recruit would possibly not fit your tight
definition of workers. Athough many would. My branch has grown from 35
members three years ago, to about 110 now. Our constituency, which has 350
members, moved the most contentious resolution on the conference agenda last
year, and seconded the resolution on workers' rights proposed by Scargill
the year before that. The most recent branch meeting voted to organise a
support group for striking postal workers.

> Nick finds more to disagree with in my post:
>> "Huh? Arw white-collar workers not proles? How sweaty do you have to get
>> work in order to be pure enough to join your party, Jim?

>> What do you do for a living?"

> Engels was a capitalist, and he didn't try to pass himself off as a prole,
> sweaty or otherwise. There is an important debate in this point about what
> constitutes the working class in the imperialist countries, but that is
> probably better left to a separate thread. For the record, though, there
> a very great difference between those who live under proletarian
> (factory workers, nurses, ambulance drivers, low paid clerical workers)
> those who partake of middle class lifestyles and conditions. Teachers, for
> example. [BTW, I teach German for a living in a comprehensive school].

And yet, with no trace of self-consciousness or irony you preach to the
workers about whey their political organisation is not pure enough, and they
should join yours.

> Though their conditions are under threat, they face completely different
> conditions from factory workers. The distinction is blurred, I will grant
> you. But as Paul Baran argued once: if I mix whisky and water in a bottle,
> and shake it, I will not be able to say precisely which bit is whisky and
> which water - but that does not in the slightest detract from the fact
> the two different substances are present. There are some sections of white
> collar workers who face proletarian conditions of life, and some who do
> not. It does no-one on the left any good to pretend otherwise.

But Engels was far less a prole than any of these non-proletarians. And yet
he made a massive contribution to the marxist movement, and hence to the
workers' struggle for socialism. These divisions into prole and non-prole
are unhelpful in the extreme. They teach us nothing, other than which wage
earners get more points in the "prolier than thou" stakes.

If you earn a wage, and have no other means of subsistence than selling your
labour power, then that's good enough for me.

> One of Nick's weakest arguments is when he accuses me of lack oof faith in
> the working class:

>> "you have lost faith in your class' ability to change the world.
>> Whereas to not "call for a vote for Labour", in the way you propose,
>> you have lost faith in your ability to change the class."

> This makes no sense to me at all. I reckon the working class will be able
> to deal with capitalism just fine so long as it creates a vanguard,
> disciplined, revolutionary Marxist-Leninist Party. Where's my lack of
> faith? And, by the way, the reason why I spend so much of my time on

In decrying and denigrating the job they are making of building their own
movement, and by proposing, rather than the transformation of that movement,
the construction, from the ground up, of an entirely new and politically
pure movement - in opposition to the one the workers have created.

> Communist politics is precisely because I *do* think that, collectively, a
> communist party can be built again among the working class. You have no
I agree, I was wrong. Not only do you believe a communist party can be built
among the working class, you believe it can be built *against* them. Truly
that is confidence.

> I wrote that "Blair as prime minister will be a social democrat presiding
> over capitalism in crisis. And we know what that means."

> Nick chose to mock me: "If you're not using it n Thursday, could I borrow
> your crystal ball?" The he went on in the very next sentence to state that
> "In general I think your predictions are probably not far wrong."

> And too think he didn't even need my crystal ball, either.

Come, come. Surely you can stand a little mocking? There is rather too much
prediction of the future among the left in the UK, and not enough creation
of it. That was the point of my mocking. Predictions are useful if they
enable us to work out what to do *if* they happen. But using your assessment
of the future as a foundation for a polemic debate is precarious. If your
predictions turn out to be wrong, your entire argument crumbles.

>> Nick continues: "To do anything but call for a vote for Labour is to
advocate another Tory
>> term in office. That is ALSO advocating a vicious anti-working class
>> government. Not only that, but it is counterposing your political
>> to that of the working class - not developing them so that they can
>> wage the class struggle, but disarming them against the Tories."

>> Sorry, I missed something here. Calling on them to vote for Blair is fine
>> and dandy, but telling them that whether its Blair or Major, the ruling
>> class will still be in power and will still be on the attack, this
>> apparently is to disarm them.

Untwisting the above, you may see that what I was trying to do was point out
that MY advocation of Labour government was no worse than YOUR advocation of
a Tory one. You presented the argument as though advocating a Blair victory
was advocating something worse than the alternative. I disagree - Blair is
no worse than Major. And therefore we need some other method of telling us
what to do. I sought to negate your argument, not invert it.

If you now accept that what I do is no worse on this front than what you do,
we can more on to areas where we do disagree.

> I am *not* advocating a vote for Major, though in all truth I do not see
> that it would make much difference if it is Major instead of Blair sitting
> on top of the pile after thenext election. Tne policies are more or less
> the same. I am saying that this election does not count for much in terms
> of what is going to happen to workers in Britain. I think that is the
> truth, and so do you. How is it disarming the workers to tell them the
> truth.

One of the first things that happened after the Tories won the general
election in 1979 was that the strike wave which had nearly paralysed the
country disappated. Strikes became rapidly less common as the Tories went on
the offensive. Throughout history, the level of industrial militancy in the
working class has followed election results - rising after Labour victories,
falling after Tory ones.

I say this is because workers identify Labour governments (in some way) as
theirs - they expect more from them. This has two effects. Firstly it makes
them more confident about fighting for their demands (and about making
demands in the first place), and secondly it makes them angry when their
demands aren't met, and militant in their anger.

You say
> This is sheer speculation, Nick, and crazy stuff too. The people you are
> referring to are fighting already, aren't they? You say its because they
> think that Blaiir is soon to be elected. I don't think so. The Liverpool
> Dockers don't seem to have much faith in Blair sorting it all out. And are
> you really saying that the class struggle will come to an end if Major
> the next election? Get serious. The workers will fight because they are
> forced to fight. That is why the Liverpool Dockers and the Hillingdon
> Hospital Workers are fighting - they were sacked. They didn't have the
> choice. Whoever wins, there will be attacks, and workers will have to
> back. And they will be able to fight back.

The two disputes you highlight are defensive and desperate, and you are
right. These people are forced to fight, and they will fight whatever the
objective circumstances. But what of the other disputes - the postal strike
is neither offensive nor defensive, while the tube strike is offensive - to
win improved pay and conditions. These workers are including in their
calculations, about whether to take the Tories on, the fact that the Tories
are likely to lose the next election. It is a significant factor, certainly
amongst postal workers I've spoken to here.

> Then. all of a sudden, Nick let's it slip:

> "You cannot sell these people the transitional programme, and expect to
> turn them into revolutionaries."

> Funnilly enough, Nick, I wouldn't want to sell that that pile of
> garbage, and I certainly wouldn't expect it to make them revolutionary -
> it had any effect on convincing them of Trotksyism it would turn them into
> social democratic windbags.

I'm surprised that the mere name of a document can get you so worked up. You
clearly know who your real enemies are, comrade.

> Three points. As it happens, the far left will say nothing of the sort.
> Like you, Nick, they'll say, sure Blair is crap, but vote Labour anyway.
> With no illusions (naturally).

Hmmm. Isn't that rather my point. They'll say "Vote Labour, But Don't Try To
Change It"
I would say, "Labour is your Party. Sure it's crap, now, but that is because
of who is running it. Join and change it."

> Thirdly, you're a bit out of touch with regards to fascism, Nick, despite
> alll your talk of conversations with your neighbours. The NF is hardly a
> force these days. It is the BNP who have been getting the votes, and C-18
> who have been doing the stuff on the streets. Ian Anderson's National
> is a spent force.

Possibly so, but here in Leicester, the NF still has a presence. Also, after
the stuff in the 1970s, old habits die hard. If that makes me a social
imperialist, so be it.

> I will wait for you to make a more serious analysis of Anti-Fascist Action
> before I get into an argument with you on that score. But I think that, on
> the whole, Labour councils are not worth defending. They are certainly not
> the solution.

So you would endorse the action of our local AFA group, who told people in a
by-election that they could vote Tory or Labour, as long as they didn't vote
for the fascists. Even when the Tories stood on a programme of race hate?
> Nick also will have none of it when I say that working class areas
> be the reserve of progressive organisations. Oh no, comrade, he tells me:
> "we have to fight for every worker, I'm afraid." I hadn't realised that,
of course.
> Silly me.

So why say it, then?

> Nick agrees with me about social democracy in the end, but asks me:

> "Can you create another working class from somewhere, or do you have to
> conduct a battle of ideas within the existing one?"

> The battle of ideas is always within the working class. Nick, the
> difference between me and you is that for you this means above all a
> of ideas within the Labour Party. I think that it is far wider than that.
Not at all, comrade. I think the battle includes the Labour Party. For you,
it stops shorter than that.


     --- from list marxism at ---

More information about the Marxism mailing list