bourgeois workers' parties

Ben Courtice benj at
Thu Sep 12 17:15:22 MDT 2002

The following review I wrote some years ago for Green Left. The book is a
good historical study, in the framework that Phil Ferguson advocates I think.
Ben Courtice

British Labour on record
Labour: A Party Fit For Imperialism
By Robert Clough
Larkin Publications 1992
Review by Ben Courtice

The famous Russian communist V.I. Lenin would have shuddered if he had
foreseen how his characterisation of the British Labour Party (BLP) as
a "bourgeois workers' party" was to be misinterpreted British socialists.
Many conclude from Lenin's remarks that the BLP is fundamentally working
class in nature, especially through its link with the trade unions. They
therefore conclude that socialists must support it (even if building
themselves at the same time).

Probably the most obvious example of this misinterpretation is in the
Socialist Workers Party (the International Socialist Organisation in
Australia), which calls a vote for Labour (and the ALP) a "class vote".

With the term "bourgeois workers' party", Lenin was referring to the fact
that a section of the working class -- the opportunists -- had been bought
off by the capitalists and become agents of the bourgeoisie within the
working class.

In his work Imperialism and the Split in Socialism (1916), Lenin says that
the opportunists are "alien to the proletariat as a class ... [are] the
agents of the bourgeoisie and the vehicles of its influence, and unless the
labour movement rids itself of them, it will remain a bourgeois labour

The only honest conclusion to draw from this passage is that the labour
movement must rid itself of the opportunists' political party (Labour), not
support it.

In the early 1920s, Lenin suggested that communists should call for a vote
for Labour, when the majority of the working class had illusions in it, in
order better to expose it and win a hearing from its supporters. He never
elevated this into a permanent principle based on some mystical "proletarian"
quality of Labour. Indeed, his comment on the ALP should be more widely
remembered: he called it a "liberal bourgeois party".


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