Frog into prince
Is it possible to transform the Labour Party into a socialist party? The recent formation of Grassroots Momentum and the exclusion of the left of the Labour Party from participation within its official structures will - I guess - cause members of Labour Party Marxists to rethink the group’s aims.
The positive answer to the question is that the working class has an objective interest in socialism. The Labour Party is the political means to this end in the UK. It is funded, staffed and supported by its working class members. As long as there are class-conscious members of the Labour Party there will be the real potential for transformation.
The negative answer is that belief in the potential for transformation is based on at least three mistaken assumptions.
The first is that the Labour Party remains a ‘bourgeois workers’ party’. Whereas in the 1920s there were many class-conscious members organised as socialists in groups such as the Independent Labour Party, now there are a handful. Even the number of members with trade union consciousness are presently in decline. These days the left of the Labour Party seems more concerned to keep the latter alive than in developing class consciousness. This is consistent with the death of Labourism as a whole. Lenin’s characterisation, based in part on an assessment of potential support for the October revolution, no longer applies.
The second is that the election of a reformist leader signifies a shift in awareness of the need to replace capitalism with a democratically planned, classless society worldwide. It is true that a leader who occasionally mentions the word ‘socialism’ is a lesser evil than one who rejects the doctrine outright. However, when ‘socialism’ is associated with a mildly redistributive programme based on mainstream Keynesian economics, it is arguable that the linkage misleads rather than informs. Ruling class hostility to such a programme is intense, but limited. This does not change the nature of the Labour Party. The latter continues to be a body committed to modest national reforms intended to manage working class discontent with capitalism. Corbyn’s election was a reflection of opposition to austerity, not to capitalism as a whole.
The final mistaken assumption is to underestimate the continued influence of Stalinism on the consciousness of the leadership of the Labour Party. The fact that many members understand ‘socialism’ to be a welfare state, nationalisation and full employment cannot be explained solely by the evolution of social democracy. Many Labour leaders have been and continue to be admirers of the former Soviet Union and national regimes modelled on it, such as Cuba. This tendency continues in the shape of Seamus Milne and his allies and friends. It is no wonder, therefore, that a Czech comrade, a member of Momentum, recently described the internal bureaucracy of the Labour Party as more effective at suppressing dissent than that of the old Czechoslovak Communist Party.
If I am right, turning the Labour Party into a socialist party is magical. It is like trying to turn a frog into a prince.
So how can Marxists then transform trade union consciousness into class consciousness? Perhaps it will continue to include debating and passing resolutions at branch or delegate meetings of trade unions and reformist political parties. Perhaps it will also include an active and attractive programme of Marxist education and propaganda within and outwith the labour movement. This could be targeted at productive workers, who are keen to develop their consciousness beyond the immediate experience of their oppression and exploitation. Most likely it will involve a continued critique of forms of political and economic organisation limited by bourgeois and Stalinist horizons.
This means the creation of Marxist political parties worldwide.
Paul B Smith
On February 16 2017 the parliamentary fraction of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation held a roundtable discussion entitled ‘Liberal February and proletarian October’, with leaders of the CPRF, other social and political figures and representatives of the mass media.
In the title itself the organisers crudely distorted the historical picture. Giving the main contribution, CPRF vice-president Dmitry Novikov MP expressed his opinion of the character of the February revolution: “Speaking of February 1917, one has to ask: what was it, an overthrow or a ‘colour’ revolution? Yes, signs of both were present. Conspiratorial liberal organisations were active, and there were links with the embassies of the countries of the Entente.”
Leaders of the CPRF, blinded by hatred of liberalism, see the main source of present troubles in those politics, but not in capitalism itself. Such thinking does not allow the CPRF to acknowledge the revolutionary character of the events of February 1917. Claiming to defend Soviet traditions, in that way politicians forget the assessment given to February by Soviet historiography: the February revolution was the first victorious people’s revolution of the imperialist epoch.
In the contributions of the CPRF leaders, Zyuganov and Novikov, there was not even one mention of soviets as organisations of revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry, born of February. The general strike of Petrograd workers, the rebellion of soldiers and mass demonstrations of February 23-27 - precisely the things which led to the overthrow of tsarism - were beyond the frame of attention of the leaders of the parliamentary oppositionists.
Using the scaremongering propaganda of the present power about ‘colour revolution’ and ‘liberalist plots’, the fake historians of the leadership of the CPRF and the close ‘patriotic’ organisations which share its national/great Russian spirit ‘forget’ that the Cadets and their leader, Milyukov, did not at all strive for the removal of the monarchy in Russia, but were only occupied with various hidden manoeuvres, with the aim of a possible transfer of the throne to a more obedient and less hated emperor than Nicolas Romanov.
The overthrow of tsarism, the proclamation of democratic freedoms, the freeing of political prisoners, the liquidation of shameful national restrictions, the winning of the eight-hour working day, from the viewpoint of the president of the central committee of the CPRF, Zyuganov, do not merit much attention. And this doctor of philosophical sciences, to reduce the value of those outstanding gains, says that the February revolution “cannot be called a revolution in the full sense of the word”.
In fact joining with the orthodox Christian and monarchist assessment of the process of the revolution and its aftermath, some participants in the roundtable of the CPRF fraction also ventured to describe very specifically the role of the Bolsheviks in that revolution. In their opinion, Bolsheviks “were not at that time close to the events”. And that was said about the party which organised strikes in the enterprises of Petrograd, arranged meetings for women’s day on February 23 (March 8 new style) and called on February 27 for armed rebellion!
The thesis on the negative consequences of February came in Zyuganov’s introductory speech. The leader of the CPRF declared that the October revolution “raised and solved essential questions of the social and economic arrangement of society”. And at the same time, in the opinion of Zyuganov, “ended the chaos and further degradation born of February”. Lowering the revolutionary value of the February revolution, interpreting the events of the first revolutionary process undertaken in 1917 Russia as a growth of “chaos and degradation” conquered by the October revolution, the leaders of the CPRF probably believe that they are enhancing the value of October. But such ritual glorification of October, without a class assessment of its premisses, without a scientific, dialectical analysis of the transitional growth of the bourgeois democratic revolution into the socialist, is only water to the mill of the ruling authoritarian regime in Russia today.
In that way, in their assessment of February 1917, the pseudo-communist statists of the CPRF once again showed themselves as adherents of setting up ‘quotas of revolution’ (in around 1993 Zyuganov announced that Russia had made enough revolutions, and his ‘communist’ party no longer aims to make one) and of the unity of the national interests of the exploiting and exploited. Such an assessment of the February revolution aids the ideologues of the ruling regime, who repeat in connection with the centenary of the “Great Russian revolution” their chief teaching: the necessity to conserve stability of power, the necessity for the unification of society, the impermissibility of revolutionary methods to solve social contradictions.
We, representatives of the communist and workers parties, united in the organising committee, October 100, consider dishonourable the efforts of national-patriotic gentlemen to reduce the first victorious people’s revolution of the imperialist epoch to a ‘plot of freemasons’ and ‘intrigues of foreign puppet-masters’. We do not accept the hypocritical lamentations about ‘the end of the thousand-year Russian statehood’ in February 1917. We are against underlining the destructive character of the revolution, while remaining silent about its undoubted achievements - thanks to which Russia, in the words of VI Lenin, “became the most free country in the world”.
We bow our heads in homage to the memory of those who died in the days of the second Russian Revolution - workers, soldiers and peasants. By their blood they gained freedom for the people, who victoriously led our fatherland through February to October.
We once again call on honest communists who find themselves in the ranks of the CPRF to consider to what inglorious end their party is heading under such a leadership.
Glory to the heroes of revolutionary February 1917!
After Februaries come Octobers!
Long live the future socialist revolution!
Power - to the workers!
On Saturday April 1 the Wakefield Socialist History Group are holding a ‘British socialism and World War I’ event at the Red Shed, Vicarage Street, Wakefield WF1 1QX, starting at 1pm. One of the topics that will be being looked at is conscientious objection.
It is perhaps worth making a few remarks about the No Conscription Fellowship, which was founded by Fenner Brockway three months after the war had started. He was editor of the Labour Leader paper of the Independent Labour Party. When the war was announced in 1914, there were plenty of volunteers, but Brockway was looking towards the future. He knew “not everyone was enthusiastic about the war”. This became “increasingly apparent, as the horrors of warfare became increasingly known” (according to Scott Lomax). By early 1915 the rush of volunteers became a “more cautious flow” and calls for conscription intensified. King George V wanted it. Lord Northcliffe, owner of The Times and the Daily Mail was also vociferous.
The conscriptionists seized on registration as a first step. The National Registration Act was pushed through parliament in a week in July 1915. Men who didn’t register were fined or faced jail. So the NCF saw which way matters were heading. They began to make their voice heard. In addition to Brockway, they had Catherine Marshall (a veteran suffragette, into non-violence) as a key organiser. They had Bertrand Russell on their committee and they built links with Quakers and with the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
When conscription was actually introduced - originally for unmarried men - the NCF successfully campaigned for the legislation (the 1916 Conscription Act) to include a ‘conscience clause’. This clause allowed men to claim exemption from military service on conscience grounds. Nationally about 16,000 men claimed this exemption. However, they had to attend tribunals stuffed with councillors, civic leaders and military representatives. Not surprisingly many claims were rejected!
Wakefield Socialist History Group
In 2014 the vast majority of the left campaigned for a ‘yes’ vote, claiming that an independent Scotland would be able to reverse austerity and create a workers’ state (I’m not making this up!). Then the same left campaigned for a ‘yes’ vote in the Brexit referendum, saying virtually the same thing: we had to leave the pro-business European Union to end austerity.
Now, with the spectre of a second referendum for Scottish independence looming over the UK, I assume the same left, to remain consistent, will have to campaign for a ‘no’ vote - they won’t want Scottish workers left behind after the UK workers’ paradise leaves the EU.