Monday, 26 October 2009

Why We Need A Socialist Campaign For a Labour Victory

A couple of months back, speaking at a meeting of North Staffs Trades Council, called to discuss, and organise against, privatisation, I said that it was depressing how we are still fighting the same battles as those we were fighting, when I first joined the movement, nearly 40 years ago. As Marxists our job is to look at history, learn the lessons of what has worked, and what has not. 29 years ago faced with similar, but not the same, conditions as today, socialists were faced with the question of what to do in the upcoming election.

The WRP, already a seriously degenerated sect, stood candidates, and, if memory serves, even stood enough to get it’s own election broadcast on TV. It was annihilated at the polls. The SWP, having stood aside from the struggles inside the Labour Party, and continually attacked, not just the LP, but also the Left inside it, for engaging in such struggles, rather than joining the SWP, simply collapsed into uncritical support for Labour saying, in the words of Paul Foot, that they would be, for the period of the election, “The best supporters of Labour”. But, there was another alternative.

At the time, I was a member of the International Communist League, whose paper was Workers Action. At the time, our membership amounted to the grand total of around 90 people in the whole country. But, this tiny group achieved something rather amazing. It decided to launch a campaign for a Labour Victory at the election, but without making any concessions to the right-wing policies being put forward by the Labour Leadership. It appealed to all the Left in the Party to come together around a limited programme of demands whose basic idea was “Make The Bosses Pay”, and whose focus was to organise the Left for a struggle on that basis whoever won the election.



The Campaign won the support of other Left groups such as Socialist Charter (The Chartists), and a wide range of Labour Lefts such as Ken Livingstone, and many of those who were later to establish London Labour Briefing. From the outset four Constituency Labour Parties supported the campaign and committed themselves to fight the election on its programme, many more LP and Trade Union Branches, and Labour Movement organisations were to sign up in the months that followed. One organisation, unfortunately, which did not, was the Militant, which preferred to plough its own furrow, attempting to “build the party” – meaning the Militant of course not the LP. Had it signed up, the number of Labour Movement bodies fighting for a Labour Victory on a class struggle programme could have been even larger, and the result better. Had the SWP done the same who knows what might have happened?

Unfortunately, then as now the Left was scarred with inveterate sectarianism, and so the results, though amazing, given the tiny forces that set in motion, were not what they could and should have been.



What was similar, about the situation then with now, was that we had a Labour Government. From 1974 onwards, the Second Slump had hit the world economy. Attempts to apply the Keynesian demand management methods, used several times, to cut short recessions, during the post war, Long Wave boom, had failed, as that Long Wave boom ended. Now, those methods were resulting in inflation and Balance of Payments crises. In response, the Government, with the connivance of the TUC and Trade Union leaders, introduced a Pay Policy designed to hold down inflation by cutting workers wages. It was called the “Social Contract”, but, in fact, represented a dangerous move towards the establishment of a Corporatist State, like that established by Mussolini in the 1920’s, in which the Trade Unions simply acted to control the workers on behalf of the bosses’ State.

People were urged to “Buy British”, in vain hope as cheaper, and often better, imported goods pushed out those of an increasingly decrepit British Capitalism, suffering from years of neglect and under-investment by British Capitalists, in part, itself a result of the fact that the strength of the Labour Movement, in the post war period, had succeeded in raising wages at the expense of the bosses profits – as Glynn and Sutcliffe demonstrated in their book, “Workers and the Profits Squeeze”.

In the hope of directing Capital towards the private sector, the Labour government also began to cut Public Spending, in order to reduce State Borrowing, which was a response to the arguments, by so called “Supply Side” economists, that Government Borrowing “Crowded Out”, private investment from access to these funds, and pushed up interest rates. The same argument is being raised by the Tories today. However, whilst Keynesian stimulus in the form of this Public Spending was, in the context of a new Long Wave downturn, failing to have the desired results, cutting this spending was not going to result in higher private investment either. If low and falling rates of profit had caused Capitalists to fail to invest enough during a boom, then they certainly were not going to invest when such cuts in Public Spending reduced aggregate demand in the economy, increased unemployment and uncertainty, and when that was exacerbated by falling real wages due to the Social Contract!

From the mid 1970’s onwards, a still strong, militant Labour Movement – in 1974, the Miners had shown how strong when they threw out Heath’s Government - organised to resist the cuts. LP members, and the Trade Unions combined to continually oppose Government Policy at LP Conference, but to no avail. At that time there was little LP members could do, because there was not, as there is now, the automatic right to deselect your MP. MP’s simply disregarded Conference decisions. The campaigns against the cuts had mixed successes, but the fights put up by some Councils like Lambeth did set the scene for later struggles, and did in some ways play into the idea of the SCLV, that LP members and organisations did not have to simply carry out the instructions and policies of the Government, especially where those policies conflicted with established Party policy.

By 1978, however, the four years of the Social Contract, which followed a pay policy of the Heath Government, was too much for workers to stand any longer. Ford Workers at Dagenham were the first to burst through the floodgates after a strike that bust the Government’s 6% limit. Had it not been that Callaghan’s Government, like all Labour Government’s before it, saw its role as managing the economy in the best interests of Capitalism, then they would have seen the writing on the wall and changed course. Instead, they tried to hold the line, where they thought they could, in the Public Sector, thereby leading to the Winter of Discontent, and the inevitable defeat of 1979 that let in Thatcher.

But, the lesson of the SCLV then, which applies today is that there was an alternative to simply allowing that slow motion train wreck to unfold, an alternative that did not either mean relying on the kind of sectarian, adventurist strategy of the WRP, of standing candidates against Labour when it was clear that they had no implantation in the class, and whose existence was a complete diversion. We do not have to spend months of the various Left sects jockeying for position in trying to cobble together some election vehicle, whose sole purpose will be to make the members of those organisations feel better, that they have maintained their purity – alongside the inevitable view of such an organisation as just yet another means of trying to make the odd recruit so as to “build the party” – especially if such a vehicle ends up with the kind of reactionary programme that No2EU adopted, nor do we have to follow the CPB in simply tagging along behind the official Labour Campaign.

A Campaign could be started now for a Labour Victory around which the entire Left could mobilise inside and out of the LP. Those inside the Party – and as I’ve said before I believe that should be every Marxist – can begin in their LP Branch, TU Branch, Trades Council, TRA or other organisation, to try to mobilise support for such a campaign, and for the platform of class struggle demands around which it should focus its activity. Those outside the Party, where they are members of these other organisations can join in, but they can also form a United Front with those inside the Party fighting on this platform, organising joint debates, events, leafleting and so on. The basic message to the working class from such a campaign from all the Left would be, we recognise the inadequate policies of New Labour, but we need to build a Workers Party that stands on different ground, that is what we are fighting for, and in the meantime we are also fighting to keep the Tories out.



What is different today from 1978 is that although we are currently coming out of a recession, we are in a new Long Wave upturn. In 1978, workers had faced increasing attacks on their pay and conditions from the late 60’s onwards. Thatcher’s victory, and certainly her victories in the following years, was as much an indication of the tiredness of the working class from its perpetual battles over that period, and the fact that the leadership of the class had failed to provide it with any kind of political strategy apart from repeated assaults “over the top” in militant strike action that failed to address the basic question of the position of workers as wage slaves i.e. failed to challenge the basis of Capitalist property relations, and where such a political strategy WAS elaborated, it was one that STILL remained trapped within that set of property relations, offering workers only the prospect of exchanging exploitation by private Capitalists, for exploitation by an even more powerful STATE Capitalist in the form of Nationalisation. How could that be an attractive offer for workers when many of the biggest struggles during the preceding period had, in fact, been struggles against that very same STATE Capitalist into whose embrace the Left wanted to usher it???

My own view of the kind of programme that should be adopted now, which avoids those limitations is clear, as I have set out over the last few years. We need a Programme, which mobilises workers to resolve their problems not by simply demanding reforms or concessions from the bosses or their State, but which fundamentally changes the basis of property relations, and which thereby shifts economic and social power irretrievably towards the working class. Especially in conditions where the working class with good cause distrusts its elected politicians we should not be satisfied to frame demands in such a way that these very same politicians are the ones we are demanding act! Instead, we need to frame demands that devolve power and control away from the established centres of bourgeois democracy, be it in Parliament or local Council Chambers, and into the communities and workplaces.

Instead of demanding that Council’s act to renovate downtrodden Council estates, we should demand that the houses on these estates be handed over to the workers who live in them in the form of a Housing Co-operative. That way the workers themselves could control their rents, and tenancy regulations etc. We should demand similar ownership and control over other Community facilities such as Schools. Where Councils are threatening privatisation the first response must be to oppose it, but rather than simply fighting a defensive battle over such proposals we should put forward the alternative of handing over these services to worker co-operatives owned and controlled by the workers who work in them, and the workers that rely on those services. Where factories and other businesses are threatening closure we should follow the example of the Visteon and Vestas workers, who have responded by occupying the business, and the many workers in Argentina who having occupied placed these businesses under Workers Control, resumed operation, and developed their own Workers Co-operatives with the support of the local community.

If we created the kind of campaign as set out above we would already have the kind of embryonic force, which could also then act to co-ordinate such actions, and link the workers in each of them together, creating a new worker owned sector of the economy, each supporting and reinforcing the potential of others. That in itself would not just fundamentally change property relations and the balance of economic and social power in society, but would create the kind of conditions for creating a dynamic new workers’ movement that would completely renovate the political organisations of the working class.



Of course, many of the original demands of the SCLV were not of this nature.

The Programme included:

· No More Wage Curbs! No More strike-breaking by Labour! Wage rises should at the very least keep up with price increases. The same should go for State benefits, grants and pensions. Demand immediate wage increases backdated to make up for the drop in our living standards.

· End Unemployment. Cut hours not jobs – share the work with no loss of pay. Start now with a 35 hour week and an end to overtime.

· All firms threatening closure should be nationalised under workers control.

· Scrap all immigration controls. Race is not a problem; racism is. The Labour Movement must mobilise to drive the fascists off the streets. Purge racists from positions in the labour movement. Organise full support for black self-defence.

· Make the bosses pay, not the working class! Millions for hospitals, not a penny for ‘defence’. Nationalise the banks and financial institutions without compensation. End the interest burden on Council Housing and other Public Services.

· Freeze rents and rates.

· The chaos, waste, human suffering and misery of Capitalism now – in Britain and throughout the world – show the urgent need to establish rational, democratic, human control over the economy, to make he decisive sectors of industry social property, under workers control.

· The strength of the labour movement lies in the rank and file. Our perspective must be working lass action to raze the Capitalist system down to its foundations, and to put a working class socialist system in its place – rather than having our representatives run the system and waiting for the crumbs from the table of the bankers and bosses.

· The Capitalist police are an enemy for the working class. Support all demands to weaken them as the bosses’ striking force: dissolution of special squads (SPG, Special Branch, MI5 etc), public accountability etc.

· Free abortion and contraception on demand. Women’s equal right to work, and full equality for women.

· Start improving the social services rather than cutting them. Stop cutting jobs in the public sector.

· It is essential to achieve the fullest democracy in the labour movement. Automatic re-selection of MP’s during each parliament, and the election by Annual Conference of party leaders. Annual election of all trade union officials, who should be paid the average for the trade. These measures are essential if we are to have a leadership of the labour movement, which is responsive and loyal to the interests of the working class.

From the ideas I have elaborated in this blog over the years it should be obvious that I disagree with some of these demands today, because they are essentially statist in nature, and thereby mitigate against the idea of working-class self-activity, and independence. However, as I have also said in previous blogs the role of a Marxist is not to be sectarian in dictating to the working class the terms of their support. Were the kind of campaign suggested here to be created, that mobilised a significant section of the Labour Movement behind it, I would be happy to support it, even if I disagreed with aspects of its Programme, provided, of course, that individuals retained the right to set out why they disagreed with particular aspects, and free to argue for other ideas.

The main point would be, to create a campaign for a Labour Victory to keep the Tories out, but did so whilst at the same time mobilising the working class to fight. In that we have a big advantage over 1978. Then a new Long Wave decline had already begun, workers were on the back foot. Today we are near the beginning of a new Long Wave upswing. Around the globe new workers’ movements are growing rapidly, and becoming more militant as the consequences of that upswing are manifested in heightened demand for labour power, and the potential to raise living standards. In Latin America we have seen the massive wave of worker occupations and growth of Co-operatives. We have also seen a reflection of the material changes in the establishment of radical bourgeois regimes such as that in Venezuela, which are forced to appeal on a populist basis to their working classes for support, and which, given the development of independent Workers’ Parties, offer the potential for radical change.

Even in Britain, the effects of the Long Wave boom, even in its infancy, and weak state, given the declining condition of British Capitalism, has begun to have its effect. A year ago we had the strike of petrol drivers, which set a new groundwork for pay negotiation at the time after just a short strike, in which the bosses quickly collapsed, just days after some commentators were declaring that meeting the demands of the workers was impossible. We have had the strikes at LOR, and the supporting strike action of other workers in defiance of the anti-union laws. As we speak not only do we have national strike action by postal workers, but we have strike action by Public Sector workers in Leeds, and a rash of smaller strikes throughout the country. The Capitalist economy came out of recession in the second quarter of 2009, even if British Capital is a few months behind. As the recovery takes hold the economic consequences will, further embolden workers. These are precisely the conditions under which Marxists have to begin to advance a political programme, which can take the working class beyond simple Economistic struggle, and begin to challenge the fundamental property relations of Capitalist society.

As Marx put it,

“At the same time, and quite apart from the general servitude involved in the wages system, the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady. They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market. They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society. Instead of the conservative motto: “A fair day's wage for a fair day's work!” they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword: “Abolition of the wages system!"”

There is another similarity now with then. Not only is our aim to keep out the Tories, but it is also to fight the menace of fascism. For those who might be dismayed at the recent growth of the BNP, take heart. The situation in 1978 was much worse. Then, with an economic crisis, with a still militant working class, the full attack of the bosses’ state was directed against the working class and its organisations. And the National Front and other assorted boot boys of the Right represented a far more clear and present danger than does the BNP today. Indeed, the situation then was far more similar to that of the late 1920’s and early 30’s, that saw the bosses, in Italy and Germany, take fright and resort to supporting the fascists, than is the situation today. In the 1970’s sections of the ruling class discussed many alternatives including a military coup against Wilson’s Government.



In part, its true that the National Front was undermined because Thatcher’s Government stole their clothes on Immigration. But, the fascists were also beaten by effective counter mobilisation by the working class. The best means today of defeating the fascists is a combination of counter-mobilisation, and, more importantly, the provision of a credible set of demands and actions to deal with the problems that workers face, and which the BNP utilise to put forward their crass racism and nationalism.

And for those who think that Labour today is fundamentally different to Labour back then a look through that first paper shows that this is not the case. Even the main headlines show that. The stories about supporting various workers strikes at the time such as that of the Post Office Engineers against the Government could be written today. Whereas, Blair launched the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 1978 with a rising movement against the Shah, Callaghan showed where his class alliance lay, by supporting the Dictatorship of the Shah.



Some of the demands I have suggested above such as putting estates under workers ownership and control would immediately undercut the lies peddled by the BNP about ethnic minorities being given priority treatment, because it would be the workers themselves on those estates who would be responsible for dealing with allocations, through properly constituted democratic bodies on the estates themselves!

The fact that the anti-war movement is recruiting serving soldiers, and that the demonstration against the war in Afghanistan was led off by a serving soldier is a good sign. But, as I said in my blog on Proletarian Military Policy, the left generally does a bad job in this area of policy. Its politics are not just limited by Popular Frontism, but infected with a strong flavour of Moralism and Pacifism. It is necessary to address the understandable fears and apprehensions of workers about defence of freedoms, and the threat of terrorism. But, as I set out in that blog, it is possible to do that without ourselves making concessions to Nationalism. On the contrary, the whole essence of promoting self-activity by the working class undermines such ideas.



In fact, as the article in the above Socialist Organiser states, the demand “Not More Police, But Self-Defence”, sums that up. In the first instance, such a demand is needed to counter the attacks of the fascists and racist thugs. But, it goes hand in hand with the demand that estates be placed in the ownership and control of the workers who live there. It means organising the workers on those estates to police themselves as an organised group, to deal with the problems of anti-social behaviour, crime and drug dealing. But, having established that principle it is but a logical step to develop such self-defence further to the idea of a militia to provide real defence against external threat, and which can act as a basic defence for workers against the possibility of coups by the bosses against a future Workers Government that acted in workers interests.

As a basis for discussion I would put forward the following based on the original SCLV demands.

· No More strike-breaking by Labour! Scrap the antiunion laws, and for the Trade Union Freedom Bill. Wage rises should at the very least keep up with price increases. The same should go for State benefits, grants and pensions. Set up committees of Workers and Pensioners to calculate an accurate workers cost of living index.

· End Unemployment. Cut hours not jobs – share the work with no loss of pay. Bring Britain into line with other European countries. Start now with a 35 hour week and an end to overtime. No to any extension of the pension age, instead reduce the retirement at to 60, with the goal of 55.

· All firms threatening closure should be occupied, and placed under Workers Control. As the Capitalist Government in Argentina has done with the Zanon factory, a Labour Government should legalise the take-over and make the workers the legal owners to run as a Co-operative. If the bosses can’t run the factories the workers can.

· Scrap all immigration controls. Race is not a problem; racism is. There is free movement of Capital around the globe so Capitalists can maximise their profits. We need the same right of free movement for workers to maximise their earnings. The Labour Movement must mobilise to drive the fascists off the streets. Purge racists from positions in the labour movement. Organise full support for black self-defence. Create workers defence groups on each estate under the democratic control of Estate Co-operatives, TRA’s or other democratically constituted workers bodies as they arise.

· Make the bosses pay, not the working class! Workers Co-operatives should get the same lavish funding that the State has given to the Banks, which continue to pay out billions in bonuses. For democratic control of the £500 billion in workers pension funds, so that it can be used in the workers interests not in the interests of the bosses against workers.

· All hospitals, and other health provision to be brought under local democratic control. For democratically elected Boards of Health workers and patients in each Hospital. Scrap the Primary Care Trusts, and place control in the hands of elected Health Boards, or Town and Parish Councils, which should be given control over other aspects of local, public sector provision.

· Freeze rents and rates. The Labour and Co-operative movement should mobilise its resources on a national and local level to create a National Construction Co-operative, founded on a federation basis. Co-operative communities should meet their housing and other construction needs through the Co-op, which could immediately also begin to train unemployed workers and youth with the skills needed to deal with Britain’s housing crisis.

· The chaos, waste, human suffering and misery of Capitalism now – in Britain and throughout the world – show the urgent need to establish rational, democratic, human control over the economy, to make the decisive sectors of industry social property, under workers control. We need to mobilise the existing resources of the Co-op Bank, and Co-operative Movement in general, to develop a dynamic Co-operative Movement to finance the development of Workers Co-operatives, and we further need to use the billions in Workers pensions to take over existing big business, and turn them into Co-operaitves as part of a single Co-operative federation, established initially on a national basis, but extending its links to the Co-operative movement in the rest of Europe and the world.

· The strength of the labour movement lies in the rank and file. Our perspective must be working class action to raze the Capitalist system down to its foundations, and to put a working class socialist system in its place – rather than having our representatives run the system and waiting for the crumbs from the table of the bankers and bosses. But, we cannot wait for some future Government to bring that about, or for some single revolutionary event. We have to begin to create the society of tomorrow today, by taking back into workers ownership and control as many aspects of our lives at work and at home as we can now.

· The Capitalist police are an enemy for the working class. Support all demands to weaken them as the bosses’ striking force: dissolution of special squads (SPG, Special Branch, MI5 etc), public accountability etc.

· We recognise the difference between the police and armed forces as organisations of the Capitalist State aimed against the working class, and the ordinary members of those organisations, who are themselves workers. We support Democratic Rights for all members of the Police and Armed Forces, including the Right of Democratic Assembly, and the Right to Elect immediate commanding officers. Soldiers should have the right thereby to determine what level of training and equipment is required for any activity, and to demand that it be provided before that action is undertaken.

· A real defence of British workers and their freedoms begins by not attacking workers in other countries, but focussing that defence here in Britain. Bring the troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq, and every other outpost of British Imperialism.

· For universal military conscription under democratic Trade Union control. Using workers defence committees on Estates as the basis develop local workers militia, initially linked to and trained by the existing workers in the armed forces, but ultimately as a replacement for the standing army.

· Free abortion and contraception on demand. Women’s equal right to work, and full equality for women. 35 years after the passing of the Equal Pay and Equal Opportunities Acts women remain unfairly treated in the workplace and in the home. This shows that statist measures such as passing Acts of Parliament requiring certain types of behaviour is ineffective without workers having the power to enforce those rights. That power only comes with ownership of the means of production. The development of Workers Co-operatives providing that ownership would be an immediate way to enforce Equal pay and Opportunities.

· Start improving the social services rather than cutting them. Stop cutting jobs in the public sector. But, recognise that as State capitalist enterprises these services are there to meet the needs of the bosses not workers. The evidence of that is the extent to which most of these elements of the Welfare State were developed during the depression by the Tory Chancellor Neville Chamberlain. All of them are run by state capitalist bureaucrats, and suffer all the attendant problems of inefficiency and expense that goes with it. As a beginning we need Office Committees of Social Workers to introduce Workers Inspection, and Control. We need Committees of Carers to oversee the work of facilities. But, ultimately real control can only come if these services are taken out of the hands of the bosses’ state, and placed directly in the hands of workers.

· It is essential to achieve the fullest democracy in the labour movement. Automatic re-selection of MP’s during each parliament, and the election by Annual Conference of party leaders. Annual election of all trade union officials, who should be paid the average for the trade. These measures are essential if we are to have a leadership of the labour movement, which is responsive and loyal to the interests of the working class.

· The expenses scandal has lifted the lid on the corruption of bourgeois democracy, but it has only told a fraction of the truth. Open the books on Bourgeois democracy. We need an elected committee from the Labour Movement to audit all MP’s expenses, salaries and other earnings. But, we also need to know about all the other members of this club. Full disclosure of all top journalists earnings and connections with the bosses along with those of the media monopolies they work for; full disclosure of the earnings and links of the top Civil Servants, the Judges, and Military Top Brass. For elected committees of Workers Inspection to open the books of the biggest companies to uncover the truth about the billions pocketed by the top bosses and the tax they avoid paying.

· Scarp the Monarchy and House of Lords. Complete the Bourgeois democratic revolution, and vest all legislative and executive power in the House of Commons. For annual elections to Parliament, and the right of recall so we can kick the bums out when they fall down on the job.

· Capitalism is a global system, we need a global workers movement to fight it. To begin with we should at least develop an effective European Labour Movement. Socialists inside the LP, and other workers parties throughout Europe should combine to fight for a single European Workers party linked to a single European Trade Union. Scrap the European Commission and other unelected bodies, and vest power in the European Parliament.

Workers Of The World Unite

Saturday, 24 October 2009

BNP At The BBC

After much ado, the BBC invited the BNP leader on to its “Question Time” programme. It looks as though the invite was part of a choreographed attempt, by the British State, and its various arms, to rein in the BNP, which has, over the last couple of years, started to become a hindrance to the interests of Capital. In the days leading up to the show, the BNP was attacked in the media by former Generals, by a new organisation of soldiers and ex soldiers, and by even the rabid, racist press such as the Mail, Sun, Express, and Star, whose vile attacks on immigrants, and asylum seekers, and Little Englander attacks on the EU, have largely been responsible for creating the kind of narrow minded, nationalist climate in which the BNP has thrived. The fact that the bosses State has decided, for now, to put the fascists back in their box, should not, of course, blind us to what the fascists are, or lead us to place any kind of reliance on the bosses and their State for dealing with the fascists.

The fascists remain what they have always been, the bosses’ last resort, to be used when their backs are against the wall, and they fear the working class. Only because the bosses backs are not against the wall, only because the working class is still relatively weak, only because under those conditions the activities of the fascists are destabilising, are the bosses and their State acting against the BNP. As Marxists, we understand what the State is. It is the means by which the bosses maintain their rule, through a complex of organisations, that range from the physical means of suppressing workers struggles, such as the armed forces, the police, the Courts and prisons, to more subtle means such as the Church, Schools, Colleges, Universities and the media, to even more subtle means such as the basic units of Capitalist society like the family, which act to socialise workers, and to transmit all of the ideas, morals and customs that arise out of the material conditions of Capitalist Society.

For that reason, Marxists do not delude workers into believing that this State is in any way neutral, or that it can be persuaded to act in their interests. We do not make any calls on this State, then, to act in that way, whether it be to look after the workers economic interests by, say, nationalisation, or by acting as some kind of impartial arbitrator in industrial disputes, like the current Postal strike, nor in the workers political interests by, for example, acting against the fascists, or even defending basic bourgeois freedoms such as free speech. On the contrary, we point out that, if the State does any of those things, it does it, not for the workers interests, but the interests of the bosses. As such it will always do so in a way that meets that goal. That is why we are against State Bans, for example, banning the Dutch politician Geert Wilders; it is why we are against that State acting as a censor, by banning certain publications, plays etc. All of these things will be, and have been, used far more extensively against the working class than they will be used against the fascists. The State has regularly banned free movement of workers – Immigration Controls are an obvious example – as it did by preventing Miners free movement during the 1984 strike. In the early part of the last century, and during WWII, the Communist Party was banned. But, more importantly, as Marxists we believe that the only force that can liberate the whole of society, and create Socialism, is the working class itself, through its own activity and effort. For that reason, above all, we try to get workers to rely on their own strength, initiative and organisation to achieve all these things.

The SWP, was completely wrong to try to get the BBC to ban Griffin’s appearance. If Griffin was to be stopped then the way to do it was for BBC workers to have simply pulled the plug on the programme, just as in the past print workers have blanked pages of newspapers. Griffin’s appearance has created some discussion on the Left, though, about whether we should abandon the idea of “No Platform For Fascists” as a principle, rather than seeing it simply as a tactic. The Weekly Worker, in recent weeks has carried stories about the way in the 1920’s, Communists shared platforms with fascists, and in doing so not only undermined the fascists arguments, but won over some of the fascists supporters.

The SP, too, seems to be coming around to the idea that in a situation where the fascists are regularly being interviewed by the bourgeois media, refusing to appear alongside them challenging their views just gives them a free ride. It is not the fascists who are No Platformed, but the Socialists doing it to themselves. Of course, as the “Question Time” programme demonstrated, this in itself provides a problem, because the question then arises who should actually confront the fascists ideas? What has become clear over recent months is that the organisations that currently exist to oppose the fascists be it the UAF, or various local anti-fascist groups linked to Searchlight, are woefully inadequate. They are inadequate, because they operate on the basis of a limited, negative ant-fascism, not on the basis of providing workers with a realistic solution to their problems, as an alternative to the easy solutions offered by the racists and fascists. Still less can we expect the bourgeois politicians like those on the Question Time Programme to provide such an alternative. They cannot because they are themselves advocates of that very Capitalist system, which creates the problems that affect the workers, and upon which the BNP breed.

Although the newspapers and media commentators talked about Griffin being at bay, in fact, I thought that in many ways, Griffin came out of the confrontation with several gains. Yes, he was left stumbling and mumbling in trying to defend his positions on the Holocaust, and sharing a platform with David Dukes, but some of that will be over the head of many viewers, will be swallowed up by the hard core racists, and will be looked at by others as resulting from the fact that here was one man, being attacked by four panellists and David Dimbleby, and a largely hostile audience. Griffin was right that, in fact, all of the attack was against him as an individual rather than a debate about politics, and that stems directly from that limited anti-fascism that has been the hallmark of all anti-fascist activity, plus the fact that bourgeois politicians like Straw are hard pressed to defend the anti-working class policies that they have pursued.

A classic example of that was Straw’s ridiculous attempt to portray Griffin – an extreme Nationalist – as in some way unpatriotic! Straw, decried Griffin’s statement that were he alive today Churchill would have been a member of the BNP. Actually, Griffin is right, he may well have been. Churchill was a well-known maverick. His views were well-known to be rabidly anti-semitic, and anti-working class. He sent troops to shoot striking miners in Tonypandy for instance. In the 1920’s and 1930’s like large sections of the Capitalist class, and alongside glowing Editorials and articles in papers like the Daily Mail, he was enthralled by the success of fascists like Mussolini and Hitler in smashing the working classes in their countries in order that the bosses could hold on to power, and increase their profits. None of that prevented Churchill as a Nationalist and representative of BRITISH Capital, from going to War with Hitler and Mussolini who equally represented the interests of German and Italian Capital in a War, to secure control over markets, and the right to exploit labour around the globe! Trying, then to portray Griffin and the BNP as Nazis, which, in this case, simply means equating them with German Nationalists, is not only ridiculous, but is itself thoroughly racist, because it leads to the idea that what was objectionable was not the set of ideas that the fascists represented, but was itself a function of the fact that they were German. Given the overhang of that from World War I, where it was suggested that these traits were in some way a national characteristic, the racist content of that is clear. Its ironic, but perhaps not surprising, that in utilising this kind of image of “Anti-Nazism”, the “socialists” of the SWP, themselves end up as proponents of racism. Not surprising, because much of the SWP’s attitude to the question of Israel and the Palestinians falls into the same trap, its politics are presented not as a struggle of Palestinian and Jewish workers against Capital, but of a struggle of all Palestinians against all Jews, who are tarred with the brush of the Israeli State.

And, having gone down this route, Straw was hung with his own rope, as Griffin retorted that, whereas his Father had served in the RAF during the War, Straw’s Father had been in gaol, for refusing to fight. In addition, because Griffin is a consistent Nationalist as opposed to the bourgeois politicians for whom Nationalism is just a convenient tool to be picked up and dropped as and when the occasion suits, Griffin was able to turn this attack on his patriotism around by pointing out that it was Straw and his Government that had handed over power to Brussels, who had refused to grant a referendum to British people on the Lisbon Treaty etc. On all those points, the groundswell of narrow minded nationalism, that the media, like the Mail, has created over the last decade or so, the fear that bourgeois politicians have created by their hyping up of the danger of terrorism, their own demonising of immigrants and asylum seekers through detention centres, immigration limits and so on, must have seen Griffin as being the one who was being consistent, and dealing with the fears that have been engendered. The bourgeois press, and politicians have created that situation, now they are reaping what they have sown.

Of course, none of these politicians on Question Time could take on Griffin on the ground on which he really should have been challenged, because to do so, they would have to have denied their own politics too. At the end of the day, all of these politicians Griffin included, stand on the same side of the class barricade. That is not to make the same claims as the Stalinists of the Third Period, who said that everyone who was not a Stalinist was some kind of fascist. Not at all, there are clear differences between the Labour politicians and the Tory and Liberal politicians, just as there are clear differences between the Tory and Liberal politicians and the fascists. But, as bourgeois politicians they do all serve the interests of Capital, not of workers. Only had there been a representative on the panel of workers could those politics have been taken up. Ironically, though Griffin complains about being subject to a lynch mob – even more ironical given the link to the KKK – had there been such a representative of the workers on the programme, it would have been they who would have been subject to the hostility of the Panel, if not of the audience.

Only a representative of workers could have pointed out that the reason there are not enough affordable houses for workers is not due to immigration, but is due to the fact that the bosses’ state prefers to spend billions on foreign wars and expensive missile systems than on workers housing needs, and that because Capitalists own the big construction companies, their decisions on whether to build or not are dependent not upon the needs of society for decent houses, but on their individual need to make large profits. That the reason house prices had soared beyond the ability of many workers to buy them, was the action of the bosses State to print huge amounts of money to keep the system afloat, that led to the Banks making loans to people they knew could not pay them back, on the basis that those Banks could always sell those houses later when the prices had risen. In short that the workers housing problems were not at all due to immigration, but were due to the Capitalist Casino economy, whose croupiers continue to pay themselves huge bonuses out of taxpayers money!

Only a workers representative could have pointed out that the reason there are insufficient jobs is nothing to do with immigration, but is due to the workings of that same Capitalist Casino economy, which produces without knowing that there are customers for its products, which wastes vast sums on paying astronomical salaries to a few already rich executives, whose decisions are based not on what is good for society, but what is good for themselves and their shareholders, whose motivation is the maximisation of profit not employment, and who, therefore, have shifted production overseas where they have been able to employ cheap labour.

Only a workers’ representative could have argued that the reason for low pay, and poor conditions is not the immigrants coming in to fill these low-paid jobs, but is the actions of the bosses who control the means of production, and take advantage of ALL workers wherever they can to impose such pay and conditions. Only a workers representative could explain that the reason that the NHS fails to meet the basic needs of workers has nothing to do with immigration – without which most of the hospitals and Care Homes would have no staff – but is due to the inefficiency, and bureaucracy of State capitalist provision, which wastes huge resources on the pay of top bureaucrats and Consultants, and much more on the empires they create to sustain their status and position, as opposed to the provision of a service to the public. Only a workers representative could explain that the reason our schools provide an inadequate education, and that there are inadequate places, is not due to immigration, but is due to the fact that for the bosses and their state, education like health and social care is an unwelcome but necessary overhead for the running of their system, and so they keep spending on it down to the bare minimum compatible with meeting its requirements for providing workers.

For all those reasons the bourgeois politicians could offer no real political challenge to Griffin. And, its because organisation like UAF seek to ally with these bourgeois politicians, even including some rabid Tories, that they too can never present a real political alternative to the fascists, and instead fall back on personal attacks, and straightforward negativism. A strategy, which is not only bound to fail, but quite clearly has failed as the BNP has continued to gain ground.

What we need is not just a movement that is “anti-fascist”, let alone “Anti-Nazi” (with all the racist anti-German connotations that has), but which is pro-socialist, pro-working class. Even a limited programme that provided a series of working-class solutions to these problems – for example, the creation of Estate Co-ops to manage workers housing estates, and from there Construction Co-ops to begin to build decent workers housing, and create construction jobs at decent wages and conditions; the demand for real democratic control of the NHS in each area, prior to workers ownership of health provision, real democratic control over education and school facilities so that they can be opened up properly to all workers within the community to advance themselves and through which real workers education can be conducted; for a large increase in the Minimum Wage, and demand that all work done in Britain be paid at proper Trade Union rates of pay; that the various European Social Democratic Parties work towards the creation of a single European Workers Party linked to a single European Trade Union Movement; that such a Movement campaign for and commit its MEP’s to a democratisation of the EU, abolishing the unelected bodies, and vesting sovereignty in the elected Parliament, and campaigns for and commits its representatives to a single set of Pensions, Benefits and conditions, for all workers throughout the EU, to prevent bosses in one country suppressing wages and conditions to undercut another – could be put forward as an alternative to the racist solutions of the BNP, and could be hammered home by the spokespeople of such a movement in confronting the BNP whenever the media give them a platform. On that basis if that media refused to allow such a spokesperson to present this alternative to the bile of the BNP, we would have every reason to point out the bias of the bosses media, and call on the workers employed in it to act accordingly.

The problem at the moment is that the Labour Movement is itself so infected with bourgeois ideas that even the solutions of the Left amount to nothing more than radical bourgeois solutions such as State Capitalism. We have to rediscover the ideas of Marx, we have to re-arm the Labour Movement with those ideas, only on that basis can we move forward.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Pot And Kettle In Row Over Colour

Pot




Kettle



The Daily Mail today ran a large story attacking Nick Griffin as a "bigot". This is a bit like Adolph Hitler slagging off Benito Mussolini as a fascist!!! Were it not for papers like the Daily Mail, the Express and other gutter publications, spewing out bile, day in day out, for the last several years, in attacking Asylum Seekers and Illegal Immigrants, then its likely that the BNP would not have gained much of the traction it has. In fact, its a classic example of the contradictions that run throughout Capitalist society.

The Daily Mail is caught between trying to be a profitable newspaper, whose readership are the largely backward and ignorant sectors of society, the disgruntled middle classes and so on, whose general powerlessness leads them continually to look to someone weaker than themselves, some scapegoat on which to vent their frustration. To such people, stories about someone supposedly getting something they are not entitled to are red meat. If that someone is Johnny Foreigner, then, often, all the better. In order to keep such people happy, then papers like the Mail pump out a steady stream of stories, usually of the kind that any intelligent person would immediately call into question, but, which feed the bigotry and paranoia of Mail readers. Yet, at the same time, the Mail, like all the other Capitalist press is a part of the complex machinery of Capitalism's headfixing industry, and has to remember that it has to look after the interests of Capital, and in particular Big Capital, as well as pandering to the reactionary notions of the small businessmen and middle classes who make up its readership.

The small back street businessman might feel he is quite happy in his insular world on this "septic isle" to quote Del Boy, without need to relate to the wider world, and still less to the impositions of the Brussels bureaucracy, but the real Capitalists, the people to whom papers like the Mail are ultimately responsible, cannot afford to go along with such fantasies. To them, there is no existence outside the world of Global Capitalism, or outside their integration into the bloc of European Capital. And, for these Capitalists, the reality has been, over the last decade, that the British economy needed a steady stream of imported cheap labour. As unemployment fell, it became impossible to force indigenous workers to take on the low paid, low status work that needed to be done, and which was only profitable at such low wages. The alternative would have been to engage in the creation of mass unemployment and an almost complete dismantling of the Welfare State in order to force workers to take whatever job, and under whatever conditions, the bosses deigned to give. That would have caused a massive amount of social unrest, which would have been counter-productive for Capital.

Yet, importing cheap labour also caused social unrest, and papers like the Mail profited from it, by selling papers on the back of the unrest, just as the BNP grew on the back of that unrest. So long as the BNP remained just some small organisation that acted as a release valve for that unrest, so long as it was just a few immigrants getting beaten up by racist thugs, like those on this week's Panorama, the Mail and its clones could continue to feed the bigotry, and continue to sell more papers on the back of it. But, it has become clear that the growth of the BNP, the fact that it now has two MEP's has become uncomfortable for Capital. Capital has decided to rein it in. Hence the invite to Griffin to "Question Time", where the bosses agents hope to snare him - though on past performance they may have overestimated their own abilities in that regard - hence the newspaper attacks, hence the attacks on the BNP by the ex military top brass, hence the anti-BNP campaign launched by a number of prominent ex servicemen like Simon Weston, which is apparently being organised by some Tory activists, hence the leaking again of the BNP's membership list, probably by agents of the State working on the inside, and also probably hence the EDL.

The Capitalists only need fascist parties like the BNP when there back is against the wall. At the moment it is not. Capital is strong, bourgeois democracy is strong, despite all the broo ha ha over MP's expenses, whilst the working class is still yet weak, and its leaders almost non-existent. For now, the BNP represent a bigger danger for Capital than does the working class. During the 1970's and early 80's that was not the case. Then, it was the working class that was strong, and Capital was on the back foot. In a Programme a few years ago about the Secret State, an ex Special Branch officer recounted how, they alone, had 250 Trade Union leaders on their books as paid informants. Every Left organisation was riddled with police spies, or spooks of one form or another. Those of us, on the Left, took it for granted that our phones were bugged, and all my post arrived already opened. One comrade who worked at the Post Office told me that Special Branch had their own facilities for engaging in such action.

Its pretty certain that the State is engaged in similar actions inside the BNP and other fascist groups now.

The Daily Mail's attack comes on the back of the BNP responding to the Generals by comparing them to Nazi War Criminals. They have a knack for irony if nothing else. They argue that the Generals were as guilty as Blair and co for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. To an extent, of course, they have a point. When most people think of the idea of "Defending Britain", they think of defending the people of Britain. Of course, that is not what Capital means by that term, nor what its State means either. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were nothing to do with defending British people, but were to do with defending the global interests of British Capital! But, the row, in part, erupted over the BNP's use of WWII imagery, and, of course, WWII was just as much about defending the global interests of British Capital as was the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Britain did not declare war on Germany because Britain had been attacked. Indeed, during the 1930's the negotiations and machinations between the various powers was such that Britain and Germany could easily have been fighting on the same side! We now know that the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax, who nearly became Prime Minister, even after the War had begun sent representatives sympathetic to Germany, to discuss with Hitler, a proposal that if Germany left the British Colonies alone, Britain would leave Europe to Germany!

And, of course, during the 1930's, that same Daily Mail was an enthusisastic supporter of Hitler, and of Mussolini, praising them both for their efforts in crushing the working classes of their respective countries. Indeed, that other WWII icon used by the BNP, Winston Churchill, was himself a well-known and rabid anti-semite. Finally, the remaining icon used by the BNP was the Spitfire. Living only a a mile from where the inventor of the Spitfire, Reginald Mitchell, was born, I feel some pride in the machine as a piece of technology. But, although its imagery is closely associated with the Battle of Britain - wrongly because the Hurricanes played a much larger role - the fact is that the same Spitfire was used by the British State to also keep in chains millions of British Colonial slaves throughout the Empire.

The reality is that in terms of Nationalism the BNP are probably more consistent in their ideas than are the Daily Mail, or even the military top brass. For them Nationalism is merely a tool to be utilised to further the interests of Capital. If the BNP want these Nationalistic images I say let them keep them, the interests of the working class lie not in such Nationalism and warmongering, but in Internationalism and the solidarity of workers against the bosses whatever their Nationality, colour or creed. The BNP and the Daily Mail and their ilk all deserve each other. They are all the enemy of the working class.

Postal Strike Is On - Support The Posties

In a live TV news Conference, the UCW has set out its case for going ahead with the strikes, set to begin at Midnight tonight. They have demonstrated that responsibility for the strikes rests firmly with the Management of Royal Mail, whose boss, Adam Crozier, apparently vetoed, the wording of a deal his own Managers had agreed, last night. Responsibility also lies with the Government, which has failed to call an intransigent management to account. But, lest we forget, whilst at least Gordon Brown was calling for conciliation, in Parliament today, the Blue in Tooth and Claw Tories have again showed that they remain the same old crew of class warriors for Capital they have always been, as their boss Cameron, bayed for the blood of posties for daring challenge the power of Capital. In my post yesterday, I wrote that I did not think that the strikes were the best tactic, I still don't, but that is besides the point now. The battle has begun, and every Marxist, and self-respecting Trade Unionist has to mobilise 100% to support the posties who face a determined class enemy.

But, the question of tactics still remains. For now the spearhead will be the strike. But, it seems clear that this management is not going to simply fold, and if the Government is standing behind them, that is even less likely to be the case. This is just the start of the battle. In recent months, workers, faced with similar situations, have rediscovered methods of struggle that have not been seen in Britain for some time. The workers at Visteon and at Vestas occupied their factories. Given the situation facing the posties where one result of the strikes is the shifting of business already to private communications firms, the tactic of the Occupation could be a good start, especially as Royal mail, appear to be trying to break the strike through the employment of large numbers of casual staff.

The UCW is a strong well organised union with many capable activists. If they were to elect rank and file committees in each workplace, and then occupy, turning out the Management, then these Workers Committees could place each workplace under Workers Control. The workers could demonstrate that they can run the business more efficiently than the present incompetent Management. Rather than losing business through strikes, an Occupation and the placing of the business under Workers Control could ensure that the Mail continued to flow winning the support of workers for their actions on a wide basis.

The UCW, in its press conference, stated that, in a discussion with Mandelson, some time ago, he admitted himself that the Royal Mail Management was incompetent. His solution was to suggest its privatisation, and that it be placed in the hands of the TNT management. But, for the working class, the return of State Capitalist business to private Capitalist business is no solution. We want to go forward to Workers Ownership and Control, not backwards to private Capitalism. If the Government believes that the current management is incompetent, if it believes that the State cannot efficiently run the Post Office - and as Marxists we have every reason to agree with that assessment - then the Government should do the obvious thing and allow the Royal Mail workers themselves to run the business, it should hand over the business to them! An immediate occupation of Royal Mail buildings would be a good place to start, in demanding such a solution.

The Visteon workers were able to win their dispute through Occupation, though victory only meant maintenance of the status quo, that is the workers continue to be wage slaves creating profits for the firm's owners. In Argentina, scores of factories have been occupied by their workers, who then turned them into Co-operatives, owned and controlled by the workers themselves, and have turned them into profitable businesses, benefiting the workers and the communities in which they are located.

The workers, at the Zanon factory, in Argentina, recently were assigned official ownership of the factory they have been occupying and running as a Co-operative now for several years. Throughout the world there are more workers employed in Workers Co-operatives than are employed in Multinational Companies. Not only CAN workers run their own enterprises, but they can and do run them more efficiently than can the Capitalists, that is part of our reason for being socialists.

It is time that the working class stopped simply accepting solutions which keep it contained within the existing system of property ownership and property relations, which mean that it is continually faced with the kind of struggle faced by the posties now. We need to begin to take over the means of production, and begin to develop the society of the future today.

If posties began to occupy the Post Offices and Sorting Offices and Depots, they would be a good way towards achieving such a transformation. If the working class physically supported them in that in the way the Labour Movement supported the Visteon and Vestas workers, they could begin to place the Post Office straight away under the Control of the working class, and ensure that it worked to meet our needs.

The old slogans should ring out Occupy, Organise, Kick The Bosses Out.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Marx And The Post Office

“Trades Unions work well as centres of resistance against the encroachments of capital. They fail partially from an injudicious use of their power. They fail generally from limiting themselves to a guerrilla war against the effects of the existing system, instead of simultaneously trying to change it, instead of using their organized forces as a lever for the final emancipation of the working class that is to say the ultimate abolition of the wages system.”

Karl Marx – Value, Price and Profit


As a revolutionary Marx always placed himself of the side of workers in struggle. But, as the quote above demonstrates, Marx, did not in any way limit his support for workers in such struggles to a simple Economism, to simply tailing the workers, and acting as a cheer leader. The job of a Marxist is to look beyond the immediate battle, and to provide the working class with a line of march, to offer solutions which go beyond a simple defensive reflex to fire fight the immediate situation.

A similar situation was that in respect of the Lyndsey Oil workers. The task of a Marxist was to support the workers in their struggle even though initially the demands and slogans raised by the workers of “British Jobs For British Workers” was reactionary. The task of a Marxist is to recognise that the working class DOES NOT already share our level of class consciousness, and IS dominated by the ruling bourgeois ideas, including some of the most reactionary aspects of those ideas. If that were not the case our job would be done, if workers already shared the ideas of the Marxists, then the revolution would happen immediately! As Lenin put it in “Left-Wing Communism”,

“The task devolving on Communists is to convince the backward elements, to work among them, and not to fence themselves off from them with artificial and childishly "Left" slogans.”

(On Work In Reactionary Trade Unions)

“How can one say that "parliamentarianism is politically obsolete", when "millions" and "legions" of proletarians are not only still in favour of parliamentarianism in general, but are downright "counter-revolutionary"!? It is obvious that parliamentarianism in Germany is not yet politically obsolete. It is obvious that the "Lefts" in Germany have mistaken their desire, their politico-ideological attitude, for objective reality. That is a most dangerous mistake for revolutionaries to make.”

(On Working in Bourgeois Parliaments)


Lft-Wing Communism.

It would be useful for many on the left to read or re-read Lenin in relation to their attitude to the LP, too.

The Marxists approach has to be dictated by those facts. On the one hand the Marxist, recognising that the working class does not yet have a fully developed class consciousness, does not yet truly understand their position, and how to further their interests, has to support the workers in their immediate struggles, even though the workers for all those reasons will engage in them on an inadequate, even a reactionary basis. But, from that position of active support, the Marxist seeks to engage with the working class, to educate it, to show its true position, and to provide the solutions that enable the class not only to deal with immediate issues, but which offer the workers a means by which to deal with them in the future, that enable the workers to thereby strengthen their economic and social position vis a vis Capital.

As Marx says, in the quote above Trade Unions frequently fail from this perspective because of “an injudicious use of their power”. The strike as a weapon is a very blunt instrument. In some instances, for example, that of nurses, it is obvious that the immediate casualties of a strike are other workers. That is why the Labour Movement has always tried to provide other solutions to strikes by nurses and other health workers – for example, when the Miners have struck in support of them. Even here I can remember times in the past when ultra-lefts like the Sparts argued that if an ambulance crew during a health dispute came to an accident, it was the job of Marxists to organise a picket around the victim to prevent the “scabs”(!) getting to them!!!!!

In May 1968, when millions of French workers struck, and occupied the factories, they rapidly had to make decisions to engage in some production to ensure that power etc. was supplied to hospitals, and the vulnerable. The fact that workers have to resort to the strike is, in fact, an indication of the weakness of the working class, the fact that the only lever of power it really DOES have is the ability to withdraw its Labour Power. However, the actions of those French Workers who DID, having taken over the factories and workplaces, engage in production under their own control, shows precisely that workers DO NOT have to simply respond in a defensive manner, DO NOT, have to restrict the solutions they find to purely economistic ones. Political solutions are at hand for workers that not only deal with the immediate situation, but which can deal with it in ways that do not adversely affect other workers, and which, on the contrary enhance the economic and social power of the working class.

What we have in the Post Office dispute is a very similar situation to that which applies with the dispute at Vestas. In the case of Vestas the management sought to close the business in order to transfer it to the US where it believed it could make bigger profits. In the case of the Post Office, the reality is that Capital, through the agency of its State (and this is separate from the desires of the Government) seeks to transfer it into the private sector as it has already done with telecommunications. That desire arises due to the significant changes that technology have brought about.

In both cases, the workers and their Trade Unions argue that these businesses can be efficient and profitable. But, as I wrote in my blog For A Vestas co-op,

“But, if that is the case then why argue for Vestas to continue production? Surely, if the market for these wind turbines is as large and as profitable as Bob Crow suggests then the sensible thing would be for the RMT and other unions and sections of the Labour Movement, to move as quickly as possible from the current occupation of the factory to beginning that production under workers control! Surely, it would be sensible for the Trade Unions and the Labour and Co-operative Movement, to enable the Vestas workers to buy up the plant and run it as a Workers Co-operative, reaping these profits for themselves rather than handing them over to the Vestas capitalists!”

See Also:, The Left And Vestas

The same thing applies to the Post Office. We have now had repeated disputes between the UCW and the Post Office such that even the most doctrinaire statist must now realise that there is absolutely nothing socialist about State ownership. To simply keep asking the Post Office workers to engage in such actions against the Post Office, which are debilitating for those workers in both financial and physical terms, especially given the odds they face against a powerful Capitalist State, is reminiscent of the tactics of those First World War Generals who kept asking the soldiers to go over the top. It is once again a matter of “Lions Led By Donkeys”. And so long as Capitalist property remains – be it private or State Capitalist property – the workers always WILL be at a massive disadvantage, and any victories will be only temporary until such time as Capital regroups, and reverses them.

As Marx put it,

“Take, for example, the rise in England of agricultural wages from 1849 to 1859. What was its consequence? The farmers could not, as our friend Weston would have advised them, raise the value of wheat, nor even its market prices. They had, on the contrary, to submit to their fall. But during these eleven years they introduced machinery of all sorts, adopted more scientific methods, converted part of arable land into pasture, increased the size of farms, and with this the scale of production, and by these and other processes diminishing the demand for labour by increasing its productive power, made the agricultural population again relatively redundant. This is the general method in which a reaction, quicker or slower, of capital against a rise of wages takes place in old, settled countries. Ricardo has justly remarked that machinery is in constant competition with labour, and can often be only introduced when the price of labour has reached a certain height, but the appliance of machinery is but one of the many methods for increasing the productive powers of labour. The very same development which makes common labour relatively redundant simplifies, on the other hand, skilled labour, and thus depreciates it.”

The job of a Marxist is to provide workers with a better alternative to these Economistic struggles that can ultimately only fail. Again as Marx put it,

“At the same time, and quite apart from the general servitude involved in the wages system, the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady. They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market. They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society. Instead of the conservative motto: “A fair day's wage for a fair day's work!” they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword: “Abolition of the wages system!"”

Ultimately, of course, the application of that means the complete overthrow of Capitalism. That is the maximialist view adopted by today’s “Leninists”, whose view is that nothing other than these continual skirmishes from which they hope to “build the party” is possible, and through which they hope to “expose” the existing Labour leaders, and the nature of the Capitalist State. But, that was not Marx and Engels view. Marx praised the actions of the Lancashire textile workers who took over their factories and set up Co-operatives. In his address to the First International Marx said,

“But there was in store a still greater victory of the political economy of labour over the political economy of property. We speak of the co-operative movement, especially the co-operative factories raised by the unassisted efforts of a few bold “hands”. The value of these great social experiments cannot be overrated. By deed instead of by argument, they have shown that production on a large scale, and in accord with the behests of modern science, may be carried on without the existence of a class of masters employing a class of hands; that to bear fruit, the means of labour need not be monopolized as a means of dominion over, and of extortion against, the labouring man himself; and that, like slave labour, like serf labour, hired labour is but a transitory and inferior form, destined to disappear before associated labour plying its toil with a willing hand, a ready mind, and a joyous heart. In England, the seeds of the co-operative system were sown by Robert Owen; the workingmen’s experiments tried on the Continent were, in fact, the practical upshot of the theories, not invented, but loudly proclaimed, in 1848.”

Meanwhile, Engels wrote,

“It seems that the most advanced workers in Germany are demanding the emancipation of the workers from the capitalists by the transfer of state capital to associations of workers, so that production can be organised, without capitalists, for general account;”

We should give every support to the Post Office workers in their current dispute, but it is our duty as Marxists to provide a political solution to their problems. If the Capitalist State cannot run the Post Office efficiently, if it looks to shedding its ownership of the Post Office, and if the Post Office workers, as they do, believe that the Post Office can be run effectively and profitably, then we should demand that it be handed over to the workers to run! As I have said in other posts, that would set up the possibility of Post Office Workers not only creating their own Post Office Bank, but connecting that to the Co-op Bank and Unity Trust. It would facilitate a similar link in each area with the many Credit Unions being established, providing workers with a range of financial institutions appropriate to their particular needs and situation, and would do so within the context of workers ownership and control. In doing so, it would remove the continual problems of industrial disputes with private and State capitalists, and would strengthen the economic and social position of workers both as producers and as consumers. The greater efficiency of a Workers Co-operative, backed by the entire Labour & Co-operative Movement, would free it to aggressively compete against the private Capitalist companies.

Moreover, as technology has developed, and the telecommunications monopoly has disappeared, such a Co-operative would have the potential to link up with and develop its own telecommunications arm, once again re-uniting electronic and physical communications networks, providing a greater degree of security in the longer term for workers within the Co-operative.

Only such a perspective can offer the prospect of a long term victory for Post Office workers.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Why The Sectarian Left Really Hate The Labour Party

“As the experiences of the Russian Revolution teach us – remember this in England and America! – the most important thing of all is to stay in the midst of the masses of workers. You will often go wrong with them, but never leave the mass organisations of the working class, however reactionary they may be at any given moment(emphasis added).

(Zinoviev’s closing speech at the 15th Session of the Second Congress of the Comintern)

Mixed Emotions

I had very mixed emotions on that night in 1997 when Labour was re-elected. On the one hand, it was obviously fantastic, that 18 years of Thatcherite rule had come to an end, on the other, the New Labour Tendency, that had gained dominance, stood for a set of ideas, that most people, even on the reformist Left, in the LP, had opposed, let alone those of us who came from a revolutionary background. From my own personal standpoint, it was elating, because, on the same day, I was elected to the County Council with a vote that was so big that, as one of the people at the count said, it needed to be weighed rather than counted, almost three times the vote of the second place candidate. But, that didn’t outweigh the unease I felt, in the Workingmen’s Club, that night, where the celebrations were taking place. Old adversaries from within the right-wing of the LP, were consumed in an orgy of triumphalism as the results poured in, and I could see that it was as much a triumphalism they felt over the Left, as much as over the Tories.

In the coming weeks, as Labour hit the ground running, with a series of initiatives, I remember talking to my friend, the late John Lockett, who was Deputy Leader of the Borough Council, an old NUM militant, and Labour Leftist, who during the 1970’s and 80’s was perpetually canvassed by the SWP, Militant, and myself, in order to recruit him to one of our organisations, all without success, though he did once tell me, he’d nearly joined the SWP, rather than the LP, in the late 60’s. He complained that, everyday, they were getting faxes, and e-mails, from Labour HQ, telling them what they should be doing, briefing notes on how and where to attack the Tories and so on. My first reaction, because I felt uneasy about this right-wing, superficial, media driven elite, now running the party, was to share his sense that there was something wrong with this. But, after a while I reconsidered it, and thought, what exactly is the complaint all about?

Imagine, during the Miners Strike, if Labour HQ had acted as such an organising centre, sending out information, provided by its staff of researchers, that LP Councillors and activists could have used in their propaganda. Imagine if it had co-ordinated Labour Councillors, in their actions, to oppose the Tories, not just in supporting the Miners, but in co-ordinating those Councils to oppose the Tories’ cuts, and so on. What an amazingly powerful tool that would have been! No, the problem was not that the LP had stopped acting as some ramshackle, amateur outfit, and had begun to operate as a professional political party. After all, that was precisely what Lenin argued the Workers Party had to be – a professional party – in “What Is To Be Done?”

But, it illustrates, I think, part of the reason that the Left, and in particular the sectarian Left, really hate the LP, and its because starting from a feeling of revulsion, every act is viewed with hostility, an hostility that, in some ways, is heightened when New Labour shamed the Left by doing things – like putting the Party on a more professional footing – that the Left should have been fighting for itself, and implementing for years before, themselves. But, that is only a minor part of the real reason for the hostility of the sectarian Left to Labour.

Genetic

That hostility was a part of the whole genetic make-up of the sectarian Left. After the war, various Trotskyists groups infiltrated the LP. Two had particular success. The Socialist Labour League in the 1950’s and 60’s built up considerable support in the Young Socialists, which it won control of. Its history is illuminating. In its early activities the SLL’s predecessor, known as “The Club” had its journal “Socialist Outlook” banned by the Labour Leadership in 1954. It responded, by, instead distributing Tribune. During this period “The Club” made considerable headway both in organising the Left within the LP, and in the trade unions. Compare that with the situation later in 1963, when the LP leadership responded to the SLL’s growing support by closing down the YS. At almost the same time that this was happening the SLL, came to the conclusion that there was a revolutionary situation in Britain, and the most important thing to do was to “Build the Party”. So began the sectarian nightmare that was to become Gerry Healy’s Workers Revolutionary Party.

But, this scenario should be familiar to younger comrades who did not experience the events of the 1950’s and 60’s, because an almost identical course of events can be found in the responses of the Left during the late 1980’s and 90’s! Few of the sectarian Left would actually argue that there was a revolutionary situation, but that has simply been replaced with the argument that “The LP is Dead”, as the motivation for abstaining from the struggle within it. Of course, the sectarian Left point to the expulsions of some members of Militant, the second organisation to gain considerable support through entrism, during the 1980’s, to bolster this argument with the claim that, “even if we didn’t think the LP was dead, we are not allowed to join”. The argument is fatuous.

As “The Club” demonstrated there is no point of principle that says that revolutionaries have to identify themselves as being members of some separate revolutionary party working inside the LP. Indeed, Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto, argued the exact opposite. They wrote,

“The Communists do not form a separate party to the other Workers Parties”!

And, in explaining his and Marx’s position when they joined the German Democrat Party, which was an openly bourgeois party, Engels stresses that, although they formed the Left-Wing of that Party, that is precisely what they were – a wing of the Party, not a separate party working inside it. He says, that their experience was that it was possible to argue for their politics openly, and even to organise openly. And, indeed even in today’s LP, leftish groups like Tribune, continue to organise openly. Many Marxists like myself continued to argue our politics. The main problem that the sectarian Left has faced has been not that it is not allowed to argue its politics, or even to organise, but that it set itself up in the first place as parties in their own right, whose function was to act like parasites within the body of the Workers’ Party, completely in contradiction to Marx and Engels dictum. Worse, in doing so, they have seen it as their prerogative to do what no Workers’ organisation can allow individuals or groups of members to do – and which these organisations most certainly would not allow within their own ranks – and that is to simply flout democratically arrived at decisions, in order to plough their own furrow.

The Left was rightly outraged when the Right who went on to form the SDP flouted LP decisions, and demanded their expulsion. Yet, the sectarian Left believes it should be able to simply ignore the decisions of the Party, and then respond with righteous indignation when the Party calls it to account!

But, even were it the case – and I am in no doubt that the right-wing of the LP would resort to expulsions or a split if it thought that the Party was going to become a Party that truly challenged the power of Capital – that it was impossible to organise and argue your politics openly, this does not justify simply packing your bags and leaving, which is what all of those groups effectively did during the 1980’s and 90’s – despite the history presented by the Socialist Party, only a few of its members were expelled, the rest left as the result of a decision by the organisation itself. Engels’ statement, about their experience, of finding no problem operating openly, does not preclude the option of operating covertly if that proves not to be the case! The “Club”, had no great problem, and suffered no lack of ability to recruit within the LP and Trade Unions by distributing “Tribune” rather than “Socialist Outlook”. In the 1930’s, Trotsky made clear that there was no point of principle that sections of the FI had to declare that that was what they were, or had to produce a paper, or any other such fetish. The point was to stick with the workers. Today, given the ability to produce and distribute such a newspaper electronically, and thereby anonymously there is even less point of principle at stake.

But, the reality is that these organisations, that came out of the post-war Trotskyist movement, never saw that as their main function. In part, that stems from their genetic make-up. 1914, saw the existing division of the Labour Movement, between its reformist and revolutionary wings, heighten into a physical split, with the creation of the Third International. The effective collapse of the Second International, together with the rapid recruitment of forces to the banner of the Third, combined with the view that the War was simply the prelude to inevitable revolution on a global scale, justified the revolutionaries in driving forward that split. The analysis that Capitalism was in its death agony – leading to a choice only between Socialism or Barbarism – together with the continued existence of huge revolutionary forces – if we count those of the ordinary rank and file members of the various CP’s – led Trotsky and his comrades to wrongly conclude that, armed with the correct programme and tactics, the Fourth International could be born out of the ashes of the Third, as a mass Party of World Revolution. The idea then, of seeing yourself as such a revolutionary party, flowed from the world the revolutionaries thought they were living in. They had an excuse, for being mistaken about where they were in history. Today we have no such excuse.

Historical Materialism

Marxists should use the tools of historical materialism to analyse the world in which they live, and develop their programme and tactics accordingly. Capitalism was not in its death agony at the beginning of the twentieth century, nor in the 1930’s, and its massive expansion after WWII, and today, show that it is not now either. The decision, with the benefit of hindsight, to divide the workers’ movement after WWI, was a huge mistake, from which we are still trying to recover today. It is, in part, what creates the weakness of the Marxist Left, within the Labour Movement, and which, because of the failure to accept the nature of that mistake, leads to the adventurism of that Left, and its continued daydreaming and occupation of a fantastic world, in which it still believes that it is the embryo of some new revolutionary party, that will suddenly become a mass party if only the correct conditions arise, if only it finds the right set of demands to raise, the right milieu in which to work, and so on.

This is what determines the mindset of that Left, and explains its otherwise inexplicable actions. The starting point for a Marxist is to ask what are those material conditions, what is the point in history with which we have to deal? The answers seem not too difficult to uncover, if not too welcome for a Left that has spent the last 100 years convincing itself that the revolution is at hand. The conclusions from it not too difficult to comprehend, if again, not too exciting for a Left that has framed its actions and programme around the idea that all it has to do is uncover the right set of demands, ensure its doctrinal purity, and a grateful class will flock to its door sweeping it to power!

It is a refusal to deal with this reality that explains, not just the tendency of that Left to continually see some catastrophe on the horizon – which began with the SLL back in the early 1960’s – whether it be an economic collapse, or an environmental catastrophe but also explains the attitude of the sectarian Left to the LP. It is the politics of Mr. Micawber, always anticipating something to turn up, which would save the situation.

The reality we face is that of Capitalism as Imperialism, but an Imperialism, which does not signify as Lenin believed, Capitalism in decay, but represents the most dynamic phase of Capitalism, a phase in which it has created for the first time a truly global market for all commodities including Labour Power, and through which it has raised the International Division of Labour to new heights, a phase in which it has forged a dynamic link between science and production in a way previously unheard of, and through which technology itself feeds into the process of further development of the productive forces via the medium of IT. It is a phase, which is driving forward production and growth at faster rates than Man has previously thought possible, and which will before too long see the industrialisation of the last Continent to be modernised – Africa – as well as the application of science to resolve some of the remaining problems facing mankind, in particular in providing sufficient energy and clean water, and dealing with some of the issues of health and the environment. It is setting the true conditions in place required for the establishment of socialism as a global co-operative system. But, the transition to such a system is no more automatic today than it was in the past. The possibility remains that if Mankind does not actively transform social relations, then Imperialism will reach a point where decay sets in, or Mankind might destroy itself.

The reality we face is that the human material forged in the great furnace of class struggle during the latter part of the 19th century, and early 20th century has been frittered away. The divisions in the workers movement created by the establishment of the Third International turned the fire of class struggle away from the bosses and their agents, and into internecine conflict, the most grotesque example of which, was the Stalinist Third Period, that allowed Hitler into power. The huge potential for creating a mass revolutionary workers party that existed even into the 1930’s, has not existed now for decades. A truly dialectical process has been at work. The failure of Marxists to provide the working class with practical working solutions to their immediate problems, outside a limited Economism of Trade Union struggle, has led to those Marxists being seen as increasingly irrelevant to the working class. It is notable that even where “Marxists” were able to create something approaching sizeable movements of workers in the industrial sphere, where they have been able to get their members elected to positions of authority within the Trade Unions this has never translated into any kind of meaningful electoral success. In fact, even the success of those revolutionaries that have won positions in the Trade Unions has largely been a sham, a case of appearance rather than reality. No serious person believes that the majority of Civil Servants, for example, share the “revolutionary” politics of those organisations whose members won control of their union’s leading body. That is why when that body backtracked over the pensions fight there was no mass revolt by the rank and file!

The example of Militant and Liverpool City Council could be cited, but the reality is that pretty much the same argument applies. The working class of Liverpool did not vote for “Militant” Councillors, they certainly did not vote for revolutionary politics. They voted for Labour Councillors, who happened to actually be members of Militant, who had won positions within the Liverpool LP, by similar means to those used by revolutionaries to win positions within the Trade Unions! It was the fact that these positions were built on sand – along with some pretty poor tactics employed by Militant, for example its failure to link up their struggle with the Miners Strike – that enabled both the Tory Government to defeat them, and allowed Kinnock to remove them. In reality, the working class of Liverpool voted not for anything revolutionary, but only for the kind of reforms that previous reformists have advocated, reforms that seek to simply ease the workers condition, temporarily, until such time as the bosses or their state, are able to undermine them.

In short it was the Economism of industrial struggle simply transposed onto the political arena. As such, the comments made by Marx in relation to such struggles apply. He wrote,

“At the same time, and quite apart from the general servitude involved in the wages system, the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady. They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market. They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society. Instead of the conservative motto: “A fair day's wage for a fair day's work!” they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword: “Abolition of the wages system!"

…Thirdly. Trades Unions work well as centers of resistance against the encroachments of capital. They fail partially from an injudicious use of their power. They fail generally from limiting themselves to a guerilla war against the effects of the existing system, instead of simultaneously trying to change it, instead of using their organized forces as a lever for the final emancipation of the working class that is to say the ultimate abolition of the wages system.”

Value, Price and Profit

Economism

However admirable, from the point of view of trying to ameliorate the condition of workers housing, in Liverpool, the politics of Militant amounted to nothing more. They neither represented a shift in class power, nor provided workers with any protection from the renewal of attacks by Capital at some future time of its choosing. Had the City Council, however, supported the establishment of Housing Co-ops by workers to take over the estates, to build new housing and so on, then not only would that have represented a significant shift of economic and social power away from the bosses and their State at national and local level, but by placing the ownership of the housing directly in the hands of workers it would have protected workers from the future attacks of Capital, through privatisation of the housing stock, rent increases and so on.

As, Marx puts it,

“If the material conditions of production are the co-operative property of the workers themselves, then there likewise results a distribution of the means of consumption different from the present one. Vulgar socialism (and from it in turn a section of the democrats) has taken over from the bourgeois economists the consideration and treatment of distribution as independent of the mode of production and hence the presentation of socialism as turning principally on distribution. After the real relation has long been made clear, why retrogress again?”

Both Trade Unionism and Municipal Socialism – and indeed state socialism in general – are examples of this “Vulgar Socialism”, because they all rely on changes in DISTRIBUTION, rather than understanding as Marx set out that this distribution is a function of production, and the ownership of the means of production. Raise taxes, and increase benefits, or provide workers with some other improvements through the Social Wage for example, but fail to transfer ownership of the Means of production into the hands of workers, and Capital will respond by all those methods Marx outlines, to reverse that redistribution. Establish workers ownership of the means of production, however, and those top-down, redistributive, reformist policies become unnecessary, because distribution is permanently changed in the workers interests!

A similar situation can be seen now in relation to the Royal Mail dispute. Of course, as Marxists we give our full support to the Royal Mail workers, but precisely because we are Marxists it is our duty to do more than that. The headlines, of the Tory Press, in speaking about the dispute spelling the death knell of the Royal Mail, are sickening, but it has to be admitted not without foundation. Were Royal Mail a private Capitalist firm, then the strike would fall immediately on the profits of the firm. It would have an immediate incentive to bring the dispute to a close. But, it is not. It is a state capitalist enterprise, which Capital has sought to transfer into the private sector. A strike, which destroys the Royal Mail, simply accomplishes that task for Capital, and does so whilst transferring the blame for it, directly on to the workers!

Even were that not the case the position of the workers is constrained. As Marx puts it,

“Take, for example, the rise in England of agricultural wages from 1849 to 1859. What was its consequence? The farmers could not, as our friend Weston would have advised them, raise the value of wheat, nor even its market prices. They had, on the contrary, to submit to their fall. But during these eleven years they introduced machinery of all sorts, adopted more scientific methods, converted part of arable land into pasture, increased the size of farms, and with this the scale of production, and by these and other processes diminishing the demand for labour by increasing its productive power, made the agricultural population again relatively redundant. This is the general method in which a reaction, quicker or slower, of capital against a rise of wages takes place in old, settled countries. Ricardo has justly remarked that machinery is in constant competition with labour, and can often be only introduced when the price of labour has reached a certain height, but the appliance of machinery is but one of the many methods for increasing the productive powers of labour. The very same development which makes common labour relatively redundant simplifies, on the other hand, skilled labour, and thus depreciates it.”

This is, in fact, the situation that Royal mail workers face, not in relation to a struggle for higher wages, but in relation to a struggle to prevent their real wages being cut, to prevent a speed-up, and so on. Why? Because the global market now means that Capital will flow to where it sees the opportunity to access what have been Monopoly profits, some of which have been absorbed in higher wages than the global market would set, because the advance of technology means that Capital is presented with many alternatives to the use of Labour Power in the transmission of communications! As Marxists we have to offer workers more in terms of a practical solution than just the same old dead-end of industrial struggle that ultimately is doomed to failure either immediately or some ways down the road.

“ limiting (ourselves) to a guerilla war against the effects of the existing system, instead of simultaneously trying to change it,”

Independent Working Class Political Solutions

And how are we to simultaneously try to change it? Not, with calls for a Labour Government to act, not with calls for some non-existent Workers Government to come to power and act, but by the same means that Marx and Engels proposed. What Post Office Workers need now is the establishment of their own Communications Co-operative, owned and controlled by them. As Marx said,

“ the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society”.

Such a Co-operative could recombine the postal and telecommunications operations, providing workers with some protection against the continued development of electronic communication in place of paper. It could combine with the Co-op Bank, to offer the kind of Post Office and Banking operations that workers require, and so on. Yet the Left does not advocate such solutions, because it is stuck in a form of political trench warfare.

This might seem a diversion from the topic of this blog, but it is not. It is precisely this shortsighted view of political trench warfare, where the whole battle is about winning this or that skirmish – usually tied to the idea that out of such disputes a few more recruits for “building the Party” can be won – and about exposing the LP and TU leaderships, that characterises the sectarian stance of the Left. Everything is seen in these terms, because the whole strategy is based around nothing more than the idea of “building the Party”, and winning the leadership. It places the cart some distance in front of the horse.

But, to complete that dialectal process, the increasing separation of the Marxists from the working class, the failure to provide it with any kind of strategy which could deal with its immediate problems has led to an increasing depoliticisation of the class, a significant fall in its level of class consciousness compared to previous generations. Whereas the period from the late 19th century saw a steady rise in workers organisation, and in class consciousness as workers parties won ever larger votes in elections, and organised ever larger numbers within their organisations, the period from the 1930’s onwards has seen a reversal of that process. The election success of Labour in 1997, marked a sharp break with what had been a persistent decline in its support from 1945 onwards, a decline that certainly was not matched by any increase in support for a left alternative.

In a discussion on this topic on Phil’s Blog at AVPS, one comrade commented,

“The left hate Labour because of the politics they represent.”

In part, that is true, but only in part, because as I will demonstrate there is no qualitative difference between Labour’s politics now, and Labour’s politics in the past. But, the comment is significant to the extent that it is true, for what it actually means. What it means is that the sectarian Left not only hate Labour for those politics, but hate those millions of workers who at best share those politics!!!! It means that sectarian Left has to hate even more those millions of workers whose politics stand even further to the Right than New Labour, those who vote Tory, or Liberal, or UKIP, or BNP!!! It means that the only people that the left DO NOT hate, is that less than 1% of the working class, and petit-bourgeois intelligentsia – i.e. mostly the current, and past memberships of the various sects – that agrees with it.

Third Period

That is who its propaganda and activity is directed towards, that is who it speaks to, that is why it continues to decline even when Labourism is in decline, and when the BNP and other fascists are the ones who benefit. In fact, the left’s sectarian position is similar to, but worse than the sectarianism of the Stalinist Third Period. In the 1930’s, the German Stalinists, had millions of workers as members and supporters. They were able to continue to relate to, and organise those workers. Their sectarianism, damnable as it was, was a sectarianism directed at only Social-Democratic workers. But, today’s Left has virtually no membership or support within the working class, its Third Period lunacy is effectively directed at the working class as a whole!!! Its no wonder the BNP are breeding like vermin.

The decline in class consciousness has been reflected not just in working class support for the Tories, but even for more right-wing parties such as the BNP and UKIP. Without seeing things in too mechanical and deterministic a way, it has to be recognised that a condition for building a mass workers party has to be that working class consciousness is rising not falling, as much as that a condition for raising working class consciousness, is the interaction with that class of the Workers Party, and the Marxists within it. And that decline has been mirrored in the performance of workers parties elsewhere.

In a sense the root cause of the sectarianism of the Left, and its attitude to Labour resides not just in its genes, in what it has inherited from Leninism, but resides also in its own failure to attract support to itself, even as support has drained away from the traditional workers parties. It is what leads now to repeated attempts to recreate those old reformist parties, by the revolutionaries pretending to be something they are not, whether it be attempts to create a Labour Party Mark II, or even the example of Die Linke, which is winning support not by moving the class Left, but simply by occupying the Centre-Left ground abandoned by the Social Democrats.

In Britain even this argument is strained by the Left’s arguments about why it has abandoned the LP, and why it insists it must create some LP Mark II. The argument generally rests on three legs. The first leg is that the LP as a bourgeois Workers Party – that is a Party based on the working class, but having a bourgeois programme and outlook – is continually pulled to either of these two poles, and the transformation of recent years has pulled it irretrievably towards the bourgeois pole. The second argument is that the membership of the LP has collapsed, and the remaining membership are made up of middle class elements and careerists, thereby undermining its claim to be a Workers Party based on a working class membership. The third argument is that although the link with the Trade Unions can act to counteract this second argument, the organisational changes brought in by the leadership have meant that the normal channels for exerting working class influence over policy making by the Trade Unions through the CLP’s and Conference have been closed down.

Labour Then And Now

Let us look at how valid any of these arguments actually are. The first argument is about the political stance of the Party. In reality the Left has told itself a story here, and convinced itself of it. There are a number of events, which play into this story. What is odd, is that in reality in order to convince itself of the story it has told the sectarian Left has had to abandon some of what it has argued in the past! Take one of the main battle lines, one of the events that play into this story – the scrapping of Clause IV. Clause IV, which vaguely committed the party to securing, through Public Ownership, the full fruits of their labour, for the working class, was seen as to some extent embodying the socialist goal of the party. By setting out to scrap it, so the story goes, New Labour made clear its intention to abandon any such goal, and to make the LP into a purely bourgeois party.

Nice story. But, hold on, for years the revolutionary Left had argued that, in reality Clause IV was meaningless. Not only is the phrase about “full fruits of their labour” economically illiterate, for the reasons Marx set out as against Proudhon, but “Public Ownership” by the Capitalist State, has never been about securing anything for workers, and even if it were, the commitment is so vague as to leave room for a coach and horses to be driven through. Which indeed, had been the case, because no Labour Government has ever paid a blind bit of notice to Clause IV when it got into office. Even Attlee’s Government had to be pushed hard from below to nationalise the Capitalist lame ducks it took over.

Yet, the battle over this meaningless totem has been turned into a significant turning point! If anything is significant in it, it is that the Left chose to waste so many resources over fighting it, and took its defeat over it so badly! Its true that, combined with the abandonment of the idea of advocating state capitalist nationalisation, as a means of resolving the problems of British Capitalism, New Labour, introduced other ideas such as PFI, which provided the financial resources for the necessary investment in schools, hospitals and other pieces of infrastructure, at the cost of paying out huge amounts in rental and interest payments to the private firms involved. Yet, how is this different in principle to the huge rip-off of the NHS, and other state-capitalist enterprises, that has been the feature of all of them from their inception?

We can argue that such a policy is not in the workers interests – though personally I do not see it as a Marxist’s job to advise the Capitalist State on what is the best method of managing the problems of the Capitalist economy, and its need for infrastructure investment, anymore than I would see it as our job to advise a Capitalist to raise Capital by a Share Offer rather than issuing a Bond! – but, it is no less in the workers interests than has been state capitalist nationalisation. So, in that sense it does not represent a more right-wing position, it does not signify a shift to the Right by the Party, only the adoption of one bourgeois solution as opposed to another.

What is more, the apparent reluctance of many firms now, to engage in PFI schemes, reflects the fact that many of these deals have not turned out as lucrative for private capital as they anticipated, and given the vast number of new hospitals, schools and other facilities that have been built, it is not at all clear that, on balance, such a strategy has not benefited the workers who rely upon these facilities. In any case, as a strategy, it is precisely that pursued by Lenin in the 1920’s, who faced with a shortage of Capital, and expertise, turned to western private Capital to invest in Russia in similar PFI type ventures. If it was good enough as a strategy for Lenin, it seems strange that a revolutionary Left that prides itself on being his heirs should criticise Labour for adopting it!

And Labour has renationalised industries such as Network Rail. Moreover, it has done so in a far more subtle way than nationalisations in the past. It took Network Rail back effectively at no cost. The same has been true of the re-nationalisation of the National Express East Coast franchise. By contrast, the nationalisations of Coal and Rail and so on, by the Atlee Government, involved paying out such generous compensation, to the former owners, that those industries were crippled for decades after their nationalisation.

A similar story appears to apply to the Banks. Northern Rock was nationalised at virtually no cost. Last year when the Government took majority stakes in the other high street banks, the banks and others present at the meetings declared that they were presented with a fait accompli, which they have described as being a “mugging”.

The same is true of other areas of policy. The 1945 Attlee Government maintained food rationing for the working class long after it should have been scrapped. It did so, in order to bolster Britain’s Balance of Payments, which was crucified as a result of the War, and the policies of the US, but also because of Attlee’s decision to develop a nuclear deterrent, and to involve Britain in the Korean War. It has now been admitted that in 1976 there was no real need for Britain to go to the IMF for a loan, and no chance that the IMF would turn it down, if it refused to accept the terms that the IMF sought to impose. They did so, because it gave them political cover to undertake the Public Expenditure cuts they were politically committed to.

By contrast, if we are to measure Labour governments by such actions we would have to say that New Labour moved considerably to the Left of either Attlee or Wilson/Callaghan, because far from Public Spending cuts it has instituted a massive increase in Public Spending, tripling expenditure on that other fetish of the Left, the NHS.

For years, the Left cried out, like a wolf in the night, calling for a Minimum Wage, and the nationalisation of the Banks. There was absolutely no chance of any of these Labour Governments carrying out either policy. Yet Blair carried out the first, and Brown the second. Again, if we judge by actions not words, we would have to place New Labour to the Left of these previous Labour Governments.

Its true, that Labour has not abolished all of the Tories anti-union laws. That should certainly be criticised, but does this fact mark out Labour now as qualitatively different from previous Labour Governments? Attlee’s Government, for example, even without such laws, sent the troops out to confront striking workers. Wilson’s Government attempted to introduce the first anti-union laws with “In Place of Strife”, and Callaghan’s Government did not need anti-union laws, when instead it could rely on the TUC, and compliant union leaders to police the workers in return for being invited to Number 10 for beer and sandwiches! Indeed, during this period the main fear was of a Corporatist State, in which the unions became just a transmission belt for the policies of the Capitalist State.

The most notable policy criticised has been the decision to invade Iraq. Again it is certainly a policy to be criticised, but does it mark out any qualitative change over past Labour Governments? Clearly not. The earliest Labour governments not only took responsibility for maintaining the Empire and the enslavement of millions of people around the globe, but Labour leaders actively recruited workers’ battalions to fight in the intervention against the Bolsheviks in Russia! Attlee’s Government maintained the Empire, and presided over the slaughter of millions in the Indian sub-continent on independence, as well as sending troops to fight in Korea and so on.

Wilson’s Government stayed out of Vietnam, though there were reports of covert operations, but turned the North of Ireland into an armed encampment, and introduced internment i.e. concentration camps. Callaghan’s Government continued that policy as well as Labour backing Thatcher’s adventure in the Falklands.

If we deal with actions rather than words it is difficult to see that any of the actions carried out by Labour since 1997 are in any way qualitatively different from those of previous Labour Governments that failed to provoke the Left into declaring that Labour had become beyond the pale.

Let us turn to the second argument then about the LP’s actual membership. Again most of this argument is based on myth. The first thing to say is that the LP has rarely been a mass working class party of the type of the German SPD at the beginning of the twentieth century. Moreover, even when it has gone through periods of increased membership, it has always been the case that much of this membership was purely on paper. Indeed, during the 1980’s part of the Left’s mistaken arguments over One member One Vote, was that it allowed these many paper members to vote!

Basing, the argument on the level of membership and activity during the 1980’s is fraudulent, precisely because that period was untypical! There are many studies of LP membership, which show this to be the case. Some of them were done by the International Socialists in years gone by, precisely in order to make the argument about the LP, that the rest of the sectarian Left now try to make. I know from my own experience that for most of the decade prior to the upsurge of the 1980’s the LP was largely moribund in terms of its membership base.

See: Pits, Pongs and Politics

In fact, all the evidence is that initially membership increased markedly under New Labour. Certainly Blair’s own CLP – which also can hardly be described as being typically middle class – seems to have been very successful in recruiting large numbers, and stimulating involvement, and some of that seems to be directly due to the more professional attitude that New Labour brought with it. Having said that, it is also equally clear that current membership has declined dramatically.

But, has this dramatic decline had any qualitative effect compared to similar conditions in the past? Not that I can see. In some ways it is similar to the period under Gaitskell when having once been the case that the unions acted as a bulwark of the Right, with the CLP’s providing the Left influence, the situation was reversed with the CLP’s standing to the Right of the Trade Unions. Moreover, it is necessary to understand the natural hunting grounds of different sections of the class within the Party itself – a fact, which is important for understanding why the sectarian Left really hate the Labour Party. The reality is that the LP has always been made up of essentially two classes of activist. On the one hand there is the ordinary working-class member who joins because they have some concern for what is going on in their own neighbourhood. Often their concerns do not stretch much beyond that horizon. Very limiting from the point of a Marxist that is true, but nevertheless a fact of life.

On the other hand, there are those, be they union militants who have reached a certain level of class consciousness, or others who have joined because of some wider political concern, whose main interest is in debating these wider issues, and for whom the hum drum routine of the Branch meeting, dealing with community issues, is a distraction. One group sees the Branch as its main area of operation, the other sees the CLP, the DLP or higher bodies as the main area of operation, and in that regard the passing of resolutions on these matters of concern is the main focus of political activity. For fairly obvious reasons it is with this latter group, and, therefore, with this latter arena of politics that the Left has traditionally attached its wagon. The Left has seen a focus on the Branch work as “routinism”, as it believes would be a correct Leninist description. Yet, in fact, it is through that Branch work that real work inside the working class occurs.

My experience is that although there has been a general reduction in LP membership and activity, the make-up of the Party at that basic grass roots level of the Branch remained virtually unchanged, and overwhelmingly proletarian. Even at the level of elected Councillors, the majority that I know are solidly working class. When I was a County Councillor – and County Councillors tend to be less proletarian than District Councillors – the vast majority of Labour Councillors were working class, with only a handful of lecturers, and even white collar workers. The leader was a former GEC production line worker, and his successor a comrade from my own Branch was an ex-fireman, who lives in a Council house. I am fairly confident that a sociological survey would demonstrate that the LP remains far more proletarian in its make-up than the average Left sect.

Where the difference does lie is at the level of the CLP, DLP etc. Here, the very fact that those members of the Left, for whom this was the centre of activity, have vacated the space, has necessarily changed its political composition. Now politicos with a different agenda, careerists who see these forums as means of advancing themselves have been able to dominate, and rather like during the 1960’s a layer of shop stewards and convenors was incorporated into the union bureaucracy, so today layers of these activists are incorporated into the LP bureaucracy.

The Politics of The Student Debating Club

In other words it is not that the composition of the LP has dramatically changed, but merely that the sectarian Left see it that way, because there eyes have always been fixed on that one narrow aspect of LP, which for them was all important. It was all important, because what characterised their existence in the LP was nothing constructive, no attempt to build the Party as the Workers Party, but was a continuation inside that Party of their raison d’etre outside it, continual sterile debate. What characterised it was simply such debate in order to launch attacks on the Party Leadership. The real reason the sectarian Left hate the LP, is that the Party has acted like a parent with a spoiled child – it has taken away the toys.

And this finally leads into the third leg of the argument, that the Party has closed down all avenues of debate, and decision making. The obvious reply to this argument is that the decisions about Conference etc. were all decisions taken by the Party and its members, including the Trade Unions. No one forced these decisions on the Party. Moreover, these decisions can be overturned by the party if it so chooses. Again, what frustrates the sectarian Left is that it failed to get its own way in these decisions. To use Marx’s phrase it failed to “Win The Battle of Democracy”. But, because this sectarian left comes from an essentially undemocratic tradition, rather than responding by trying harder to persuade workers of its correctness, it prefers bureaucratic measures that attempt to determine how votes should be held so as to best favourite it (hence opposition to OMOV), or relies on Leninist organisational prowess to pack meetings with delegates, or simply ignores democratic decisions and chooses to support anti-Labour candidates as did the RMT, and others.

The sectarian Left really hates Labour because it put an end to all these undemocratic games. Certainly, the Blairites were not slow to use similar methods themselves, but once again that explains the fury of the sectarian Left, which fumes at being beaten at its own game. 25 years ago I wrote then as a member of one of these organisations about what I saw as the dead-end of this kind of politics and outlook.

See: Being A Revolutionary Means Getting Your Hands Dirty

That document could have been written today as a description of the attitude of most of the Left, and its debilitating Third Periodist sectarianism.

Even in terms of the other criticisms that go with this leg of the argument its possible to see how thin and hypocritical are the arguments. Take the arguments over LP Conference. Clearly a Party Conference, should be able to debate true emergency motions, but the argument that the Party had fundamentally changed because discussion on Policy had been moved to the Policy Forums, is not just misplaced, but thoroughly hypocritical! During the 1980’s most organisations realised that trying to actually get anything positive done via Conference Plenary sessions was impossible. Nearly all organisations including the revolutionary Left itself began to break up such events into a range of workshops to discuss particular areas of policy, which were then fed back into plenary sessions for more rational debate and the possibility of reaching decisions that could be acted upon.

No sensible person can believe that a real democratic debate that deals thoroughly with complex issues can be had in the space of a couple of hours at most during a Conference. Revolutionary groups themselves long ago established Commissions whose role is precisely that of the LP’s Policy Forums, for that reason. By all means debate how the membership of such forums should be formed, and how the rank and file at all levels could be involved in such discussions, but do not give us hypocritical nonsense about such forums themselves being undemocratic, when in your own organisations you do exactly the same thing!

But, of course, as I stated above it is not the principle which is the real issue, it is the fact that in moving discussion into such forums the toys were taken away. The left had to give up the idea of some studentist debate at Conference – and similar arguments apply at the other lower policy making bodies such as the CLP and DLP – which produce more heat than light, but which fulfil the function the sectarian left assigns to it – salving its conscience by proclaiming its purity, and “exposing” the politics of the leadership, and instead was faced with having to spend some time actually being constructive!

As I said in that old document, the irony is that the sectarian Left having run around like headless chickens for decades in an attempt to “Build The party”, or each sects microscopic version of it, have singularly failed. Yet, had a fraction of the effort been put into constructive work day in day out alongside the ordinary working class members of the Party, its likely that just as Marx and Engels were able to win support for their ideas as a by-product of such activity, so would the Marxist Left. What is more, in undertaking such work in the context of a real Workers Party, faced with having to “win the battle of democracy” every day to persuade those workers of its ideas in struggle, many of the sectarian divisions that have sprung up between the various Left sects would have disappeared. Each sects ideas would have been tested in the fire of class struggle, and the workers would decide, which to discard. Its only because the ideas of that Left remain at the level of debate that no such test can be applied, no conclusion achieved, and so each sect is able to continue to argue that it is right.

Still Time To Correct The Mistakes

All of this is depressing, but as yet not crucial. At the moment the bosses do not need the fascists because the left is weak, and bourgeois democracy is strong. Not only do the bosses not need the fascists, but for now the bosses need to keep the fascists in their cage. The fascists only threaten to bring destabilisation and social unrest, which is not in the bosses interests for Capital accumulation. That is probably one reason for the emergence of the EDL, partly a reflection of the fact that the attempt to present an image of suits not boots by the BNP, will be pissing off part of its membership, partly the fact that the Spooks, and agent provocateurs of the State will be having a bit of fun, stirring up dissent within fascist ranks. But, that may no always be the case. IN the 1920’s the German bosses did not need Hitler, and the Nazis were unable to mobilise large forces as a result of lacking the backing of the big bourgeoisie. By the 1930’s with the German Stalinists, and German Social Democrats winning majorities of votes between them, and increasing votes for the Stalinists, German big business turned to Hitler, and the situation changed in a matter of just a few years.

Given our knowledge of what happened then, and what is happening now, it would be an even worse crime than that committed by the Stalinists, if the sectarian Left continued its own Third Period madness, in its attitude to the LP, and the millions of workers it represents.