The fact that the proletariat is always central to the class struggle is one thing. But in Britain, of course, the problem has always been how to defeat reformism: concretely the Labour Party and its affiliated trade unions. To paraphrase Lenin in State and revolution (1917), both espouse the idea that the state can be used to ‘end class antagonisms’ and even to ‘liberate the working class from class rule’ (or they once did), by means of subordinating direct action to parliamentarism.
By contrast Marx was the first to argue that the bourgeois state has to be overthrown; otherwise it is impossible to build a new socialist society. In chapter 3 of State and revolution, Lenin quotes from Marx’s Civil war in France (1871). He noted that, after the 1848 revolutions, the “centralised state power” became “the national war instrument of capital against labour”. Hence the need for the commune as the “specific form” of “a republic that was not only to remove the monarchical form of class rule, but class rule itself …”)
Yet in the CPGB’s Theses on the Labour Party,we find the argument that “The Labour Party can be made into a real party of labour” by means of transforming it into “a united front for all pro-working class partisans and organisations”, provided that “all undemocratic bans and proscriptions” are rescinded and “all communist, revolutionary socialist and left groups [be allowed] to affiliate” (thesis 18). This implies that the latter can go a long way towards winning political control of the Labour Party and begin to transform it into a revolutionary one.
Further this position is derived from Lenin himself: “In 1920 Lenin urged the newly formed Communist Party of Great Britain not only to seek affiliation, but work to put the Labour Party into government” (thesis 10). It would seem that Lenin had contradicted himself. But in 1920-21, whilst the British working class was dominated by reformism, the majority of the workers were organised collectively. Moreover Labour had yet to come to power. Therefore Lenin’s position may be seen as a necessary strategy for exposing reformism at that time: ie, the workers had to go through the experience of a Labour government, which would be a valuable political lesson. This was preferable to the infant Communist Party substituting itself for the working class in the hopes that the latter would follow its lead in an armed uprising (cf Germany in 1919).
But today none of this applies. Basically this is because we are stuck within the epoch of capitalist decline, as a result of repeated defeats and betrayals of the proletariat at crucial moments in the history of the 20th century; firstly by social democracy (Germany in 1914 and again in 1919); then by Stalinism from the mid-20s onwards. Today the consciousness of the working class of itself, let alone as the revolutionary class, is at an all-time low. Yet the need for this has never been more urgent. The rise of Trump has suddenly turned the world upside-down. The capitalist class has not been so deeply divided since the rise of fascism in the 1930s. Moreover another economic crisis on the scale of 2008 is not out of the question.
As if this were not bad enough, automation is just around the corner, which will replace millions of unskilled, low-paid jobs. What then?
As I noted earlier, the CPGB’s present strategy to transform the Labour Partyinto a ‘real party of labour’ is based on Lenin’s position in 1920. Yet this is at odds with the position of Marx, Engels and Lenin - not forgetting Trotsky. I believe that there are three reasons for this apparent anomaly:
1. The CPGB either misunderstands or rejects the nature of the epoch outlined above.
2. It therefore assumes that the period we are living in today is comparable to the situation in Britain circa the early1920s.
3. Whilst it is correct to point out that Lenin himself advocated such a strategy, it has to be stressed that this was a sui generis position on Lenin’s part: ie, germane to that particular period. So the strategy cannot be repeated today.
Theses 1-3 state that the newly formed Labour Party, however “distorted”, established “working class independence from the parties of the bourgeoisie”. It was “conceived as a means to divert the class struggle away from sympathy with the Russian Revolution”. Thesis 4 states that Labour is “a bourgeois party with a working class base”. Thesis 10 reminds us that “in 1920 Lenin urged the newly formed Communist Party not only to seek to affiliate, but to work to put the Labour Party into government”. Thesis 14 tells us: “Even when it was dominated by Stalinism, the CPGB continued to influence the Labour Party” - ie, it “reinforced reformism and nationalism”!
Thesis 15 goes on to say that “The formation of the CPGB in1920 and the National Leftwing Movement are highly relevant today.” Thesis 18 states that Labour today “can be made into a real party of labour”, although thesis 21 states that it “must be reorganised from top to bottom”. The final theses, 22-24, are an adaptation of Marx’s analysis of the Paris Commune, whereby Labour stands in for the Commune.
However, the situation today is not comparable to the 1920s for the following reasons:
(i) Then the British working class was also becoming increasingly combative, which culminated in the General Strike of 1926.
(ii) As I have stated, Lenin advocated working to put Labour into government when the opportunity to expose its reformism had yet to arise.
(iii) Whilst it is true to say that Labour is a bourgeois party with a working class base, history shows that, the longer this goes on, the more wedded Labour becomes to parliamentarism, given all the perks of the latter. Therefore it cannot be seen as a primary arena for the class struggle today.
(iv) Likewise the newly formed Labour Party, beginning with the trade union bureaucracy, wanted to establish “working class independence from the parties of the bourgeoisie” only at the level of parliamentarism, which undermines its real independence: right from the start, the party was ready to sow illusions in the idea that Labour can introduce reforms in the interests of the working class - even socialism - once it has gained control of the executive/legislative arm of the bourgeois state.
(v) Today there is no equivalent to the birth of the CPGB in 1920 or the rise of the National Leftwing Movement during that period. On the one hand, the CPGB is only a “microscopic force” (to quote comrade Mike Macnair); on the other, the rise of half a million Corbynistas cannot be compared to the rise of the leftwing movement back then.
(vi) This is because we are living in the epoch of capitalist decline, which also includes the decline of reformism itself. With hindsight, in the Transitional programme, Trotsky was premature when he argued that social democracy had degenerated into “reformism without reform”. He failed to anticipate the aftermath of World War II: ie, a devastated world, wherein the bourgeoisie, via social democracy, had to accept Keynesian-style reforms, in order to get the economy back on its feet. But Trotsky would be right to say it now! The Corbyn leadership is only too aware that it has very little room for manoeuvre. As long as Labour is wedded to parliamentarianism and the state, to go for a left alternative would be a form of political suicide.
(vii) The fact that Stalinism reinforced “reformism” and “nationalism” within Labour is an aspect of its poisonous legacy, which must be overcome, but this can only be done by building a new Marxist party, however difficult this task will be.
As for the CPGB itself, along with any support it might have within Labour, such as the Labour Party Marxists, given the fact that the latter is only tiny, it cannot be seen as an effective “material force”, capable of transforming the party into a united front of the left. Either it will be defeated by the bureaucracy or it will succumb to revisionism. It is one thing to espouse the strategy; it is another to persist with this, despite growing evidence to the contrary.
Already, in the course of its struggle, LPM has become enmeshed in the bureaucratic structures of the party. Conceivably the demand for the mandatory reselection of parliamentary candidates might be achievable, but this is still a long way from the idea that the party’s elected representatives should be “revocable at any time”. Labour cannot be transformed into the Commune! Readers need not be reminded that far-left comrades have already been expelled from the party by means of a McCarthyite witch-hunt, based on trumped-up charges of ‘anti-Semitism’. But the Corbyn leadership is going along with it! The tragedy is that, as far as I know, LPM has not been able to recruit tens, let alone hundreds and thousands, of comrades to the revolutionary programme. Where have all the Corbynistas gone? Moreover there is no sizeable communist party for such comrades to join.
In conclusion, the CPGB’s theses on the Labour Party are ahistorical: ie, they bear only a superficial relationship to the past. In the epoch of capitalist decline, it is impossible to transform social democratic parties into a united front of the left. In every crisis, social democracy has provided proof that it is tied hand and foot to the centralised state power, because its historic role is to mediate between capital and labour.On the rare occasions when it tries to step outside this role, it is smashed by ‘special bodies of armed men’, etc. Given the devastation which ensued after World War II, the reforms carried out by the Labour government in Britain are the exception that proves the rule.
The CPGB’s strategy towards the Labour Party is not only wrong: it will lead to defeat and demoralisation for the group - which would be bad for the far left as whole, which is already tiny.
But what is the alternative? Firstly, the struggle for revolutionary continuity against reformism and revisionism is ongoing, although now we have to swim even harder against the stream. Yet this is the only way in which we can save the far left before it is irretrievably lost. Secondly, we need to look at the past, yet again (but this time only as far as 2006). That was when the supporters of Critique started the Campaign for a Marxist Party.
Steve Freeman argued last week that “we should strongly oppose a second referendum and support a ratification referendum”, on the basis that this could heal the divide between working class ‘leave’ and ‘remain’ voters. Yet he agrees with the CPGB that the first EU referendum has done nothing for the working class but sow division and stoke anti-migrant feeling. He acknowledges that a Tory Party in disarray has achieved little in talks with the EU, while Labour have been content to watch May squirm, so there will quite possibly be nothing - or nothing much good - to ratify anyway. EU figures talk about the possibility of the UK remaining as not being outside the realm of possibility.
Under those conditions, the most likely referendum could even be a straight rematch. Even if a deal is struck, why would another vote not become an even more bitter fight between a liberal wing of capital (and presumably the Labour Party), desperate to get whatever deal they can, and increasingly confident Brexiteers, for whom any probable deal would be selling the UK down the river? How could the left use such a vote in a revolutionary, and “not a reformist manner”?
The appeal for healing also sits oddly next to Steve’s defence of his position during the last referendum: to advocate a ‘remain’ vote in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and “a mass abstention” for workers in England. For a moment he considers that a bigger ‘leave’ vote in England might have resulted in “an English ‘Brexit’”, which would “make a revolutionary breach in the walls of the old constitution”. The argument seems analogous to that of ‘any defeat for imperialism is a victory for the working class’ - except that Scotland and Wales have never been oppressed nations. On the contrary, they have been integral parts of the monarchical UK state for centuries.
Has he learnt nothing from the left’s tailing of the Scottish National Party? The nationalists simply do it better - and, once in power, the SNP’s left posturing wore off quick. Even their ardour for independence cooled when it became clear that an independent Scotland may enjoy neither automatic EU membership nor a vibrant, oil-fuelled economy.
Communists favour more devolution - a federal republic of England, Wales and Scotland (and, yes, a united Ireland) - not dividing the historically constituted working class in mainland Britain with new borders. Comrade Freeman substitutes his ‘democratic revolution’ for the sometimes thankless task of arguing for a united, republican and communist party. He really seems to believe that hiving off two new capitalist mini-states will, via some unspecified (and presumably long, winding) road, get us closer to working class unity in Britain. Therefore, anything that is bad for the UK state is good for us. But it is a dangerous game, pitting “reactionary” nationalisms against - what, progressive ones? Such talk feeds chauvinism on all sides.
Eddie Ford in last week’s article, ‘Scorching weather and climate’, says, “when all is said and done, human industry is a hugely important factor, when it comes to global warming” (August 2). I would ask Eddie, how does he know it is a hugely important factor? What scientific articles does he base that statement on?
Eddie Ford appears to have fallen for the notion that human-made climate change is all there is to discuss. It’s perhaps not the writer’s problem, as there appears to be a consensus that we read about in the news that human factors are the cause of climate change - the debate has been skewed towards human influence. Why is there not a discussion about natural climate change? Eddie does mention this, but does not expatiate. It cannot be doubted that humans cause climate change, but what is the relationship to natural climate change? Where are the scientific studies about this?
The precursor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, states: “The ultimate objective of this convention and any related legal instruments that the conference of the parties may adopt is to achieve, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the convention, stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner” (UNFCCC article 2).
All that can be said about article 2 is that it is a political mandate to study human effects to the exclusion of natural forces. But how strong are those effects? Carbon dioxide is a trace gas that makes up about 0.04% of the atmosphere and we know that it has increased in concentration by 80-90 parts per million since pre-industrial levels. Is that enough to make the substantial changes claimed by the advocates arguing for a reduction?
And the claim is also made that levels of carbon dioxide held steady up to the industrial revolution for thousands of years. The basis for this is the IPCC’s use of ice core data. But those ice core data may not be a true representation of total global atmospheric concentrations of the time they were measured.
Ice cores are extracted under extreme pressure and can suffer hairline cracks, leading to an outpouring of gas, which raises questions about the amount of gas measured being a true reflection of pre-industrial levels. The data could be said to misrepresent pre-industrial levels and they could be higher than what is concluded from such measures. There are other proxy measures, including the chemical composition of the atmosphere over the past 200 years, that should be examined more thoroughly.
It is assumed that there is a consensus, but that derives from the cherry-picking of the articles produced by the approximately 1,500 scientists who produce the papers for the IPCC. There is no consensus among those scientists - and they don’t include the scientists who work outside the IPCC, whose conclusions cover the entire spectrum of perspectives. Science is not based on consensus in any case.
Eddie Ford worries about Russian forests being no longer able to absorb carbon dioxide - he notes that these forests absorb 500 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year. But this is miniscule, compared to the gigatons of carbon dioxide that is transferred between the various reservoirs, such as the soil, atmosphere, plants and ocean.
So, yes, let’s bring some Marxism into the debate and base our understanding of Earth’s climate on that science.
Not an example
Your correspondent, Bruno Kretzschmar, suggested the other week that Jared O’Mara, who recently resigned from the Labour Party, should stand as an independent in order to put forward true socialist and working class credentials (Letters, July 26). The reported and uncontradicted facts suggest that O’Mara is not exactly a good example to socialist workers who should maintain good standards as examples to colleagues, whilst ensuring they fight for rights.
In his year in parliament he has not made a maiden speech in the house. It is said that he rarely had surgeries for his constituents, because he regarded Friday nights as a lads’ night out, followed by a lay-in on Saturday to recover. It hardly shows him up as a good example to fellow workers. He is now using his disability and working class background as grounds for claiming he was ostracised. Whilst parliament might be a system that is alienating to working class MPs, you have to turn up and do your job.
Marcia Carty, a Metroline driver at the Perivale garage, has been told that she is not allowed to wear a head-covering in the colours of her Rastafarian belief (red, gold and green).
We think this is discrimination - in the same way that we would if a Muslim woman driver was told she could not wear a headscarf. Marcia feels that for her to practise her religion she needs to wear her colours - we support her in this choice. Multiculturalism is something to be celebrated, not hidden.
Marcia had to face a grievance meeting with the company, which she sadly lost. It is time for drivers who support her to take a stand. We call on London mayor Sadiq Khan to intervene to help Marcia. Marcia should not be forced to choose between her religious beliefs and her job - that’s discrimination. We support her and call for her immediate return to work.
Marcia Carty needs the full support of all bus workers, trade unionists and progressive people in London and beyond. She is being victimised as a black Rastafarian woman whose only crime is to wear her colours. She has worn them for years, but now she is being prevented from starting work each day.
This clearly contravenes Unite’s equalities policy and is possibly illegal. Unite needs to take firm action here. A key objective of the union is: “To promote equality and fairness for all, including actively opposing prejudice and discrimination on grounds of gender, ethnic origin, religion, class, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, disability, caring responsibilities; and to pursue equal pay for work of equal value”.