Labour still the same as always?!!!??

Steve Wallis S.Wallis at
Thu Aug 15 03:53:18 MDT 1996

Adam Rose wrote:

> > > Of course something has changed with the Labour Party.
> > >
> > > It has never been so right wing politically. It's membership, particularly
> > > its active membership, has never been so middle class. It is not offering
> > > any reforms - if anything, the opposite.
> > >
> > > It is still a reformist party, though. A reformist party offering no reforms,
> > > without a working class cadre.

I (Steve Wallis) asked:

> > Will you still argue this if Labour completely severs its links with
> > the trade unions and introduces state funding of parties?

Adam replied:

> I don't know - seriously.
> The German SPD is in exactly this situation and is still a reformist party.
> I think in the British context, this would be a decisive break with the
> working class. I think Blair and the group of ultra modernisers ( Derek Draper
> was at Manchester University at the same time as me ) around
> him would undoubtedly like to do this - but the point is, they can't.
> You only have to look at John Prescott's role in the Labour Party today
> to understand that Blairism works by transmitting its ideas through the
> so called soft left and the trade union leadership into the working class.
> The strength of this link will be crucial to Blair in government.

I agree with you up to a point, and undoubtedly some right-wingers in
the LP will prefer to preserve the formal links with the trade unions
in order to hold back the working class.

However, Labour is preparing for a massive attack on the working
class, and the welfare state in particular, that will be even more
severe than the Tories' attacks.  Under these circumstances, there
will be massive opposition to the Labour government within the trade
unions.  IMO, most of the Labour leadership want to sever the links
before this happens in order to reduce the influence that the trade
unions will have on the Labour Party in the future.  They are also
under the impression that it would be "popular" and help to get the
support of the middle class.

Of course, most of the trade union leaders are Blairites and many of
them will remain LP members after the abolition of the formal links.
They will continue to transmit Blairite ideas within the trade unions
(just as most trade union leaders in the US are cheerleaders for the

I predict that the "middle class" John Prescott will play much the
same role as he did on the abolition of Clause IV.  He will help win
over sections of the so-called "left" in the LP and the trade unions.
[I am far from sure that the majority of trade union members would
oppose removal of the formal links; most trade unions severed them
voluntarily in New Zealand due to the attacks on the working class by
the LP there.]

If necessary, Blair will resort to a "preferendum" (poll of Labour
Party members) so that Labour's predominantly middle class membership
overrides the views of trade unionists.

> I think in general you underestimate the difficulties Blair would have in
> breaking the trade union link, because you think he's already done it.

Not quite, but the reality is that Blair and his clique are firmly in
control of the LP.  All opposition to his leadership and policies is
stamped on.  All conference decisions he does not like are ignored.
Even decisions made by the little committees he's set up to make
policy - to circumvent the influence of trade unions and ordinary LP
members at conferences - are ignored if he does not like them.
Socialists are expelled or prevented from standing as MPs.

And you suggest that on this issue Blair won't get his way.  I see no
evidence of this...

> > > > P.S. I agree that the SLP appears to have been still born, but the main reason that
> > > > it is unlikely to take off is the bureaucratic exclusive approach of Scargill and his
> > > > small band of followers.

> > > Nonsense. Organisation flows from politics. The SLP is an electoral party. They
> > > don't want you because you embarass them like you embarassed the Labour party.

> > The same argument could be made about the RC in Italy and the United
> > Left in Spain.  They too are (primarily at least) electoral parties.
> > They are far more democratic than the SLP and they have managed to
> > attract significant working class support.

> True. There are two differences between those countries and Britain, which mean
> that those parties are not squeezed between reform and revolution in quite the same
> way that the SLP is : (i) the electoral system means that left reformism is viable
> electorally ( there's always been big socialist parties AND big communist parties )

I agree that proportional representation would help such parties in
elections.  It is quite likely to be brought in in Britain in the not
too distant future...

> (ii) there is no significant revolutionary pole of attraction on those countries to
> their left, as the SWP provides in Britain.

Eh???  The SWP has shown no inclination to join/affiliate to the SLP,
so it would make no sense to impose an undemocratic constitution in
order to keep the SWP out (indeed it is more likely to put off
potential members, who might consider joining other organisations to
the SLP's left).  It is clear that the "significant revolutionary pole
of attraction" that has influenced the SLP's choice of constitution is
Militant Labour.

> > We have not decided precisely what slogans we'll be using at the next
> > election, but we probably won't be advocating a vote for Labour.
> > [Which is not to say that we'll argue for abstaining; we'll probably
> > use some slogan like "Kick the Tories out".]

> Uh ? If you want to Kick the Tories out, and there is no SLP / SSA candidate,
> how do we do it other than by voting Labour ?

Well, workers can make their own mind up.  In some constituencies they
may decide that the best way to do that is to vote SNP, Plaid Cymru or
the Liberal Democrats.  In many constituencies (including mine) it
will make absolutely no difference, since one party (Labour) is
certain to get in anyway.  [Don't get me wrong: I'm not arguing that
workers should vote for these other parties or abstain; I'm making the
point that voting Labour is not the only way of kicking the Tories

The problem with using the slogan "Vote Labour" is that it can create
the illusion that Labour will improve the lives of working class
people.  In reality, due to the economic problems of capitalism, the
next government (whether Labour or not) will be even worse for the
working class than the Tories have been!  Therefore, it is probably
better to concentrate on arguing for getting rid of the Tories, and
explain why many workers vote Labour, but warn of what will happen
after the next election, rather than boldly calling for a Labour vote.

The slogan that Militant used at the last election "Labour to power on
a socialist programme" is no longer applicable, since it is obvious
that there is no chance of Labour adopting a socialist programme.  Nor
is the SWP's slogan at the last election appropriate: "Vote Labour
with no illusions" - that is essentially Blair's slogan; he is doing
his best to make it clear that Labour will not really change anything.

However, I do not think that calling for workers to abstain would be
correct either.  On balance, I still think that a Labour victory will
be preferable for the working class than the Tories getting in again,
if only because it will enable the few illusions that some workers
still have in Labour to be shattered.

Steve (Militant Labour).

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   /----------+ Centre for Policy Modelling,         Email: S.Wallis at
   \/\  Steve | Manchester Metropolitan University,    Tel: (+44) 161 247 3884
\    / Wallis | Aytoun Building, Aytoun St.,           Fax: (+44) 161 247 6802
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