Ballot box or ‘Bolshevism’?

Vote Labour, but ...

The Socialist Workers Party - a very confused organisation - was posing ‘hard’ in the Glasgow conference. In its contribution from the floor, it again stupidly counterposed standing in elections to fighting for socialism. You can’t do both because, apparently, “the fight for socialism is not in parliament, but on the ground”.

Alan McCombes, a leading member of Scottish Militant Labour, answered this nonsense quite effectively. He pointed out that, although “socialism will not come through parliament”, we must “use parliament as a platform. There is no contradiction between electoral struggle and struggle ‘on the ground’.”

Quite right. But surely the fact that socialism will not be won through parliament must have implications for the structure of the new organisation, the type of party we are fighting for? If socialism is not won in Westminster, then it must be essentially a revolutionary act, a social overturn that smashes the state apparatus of which parliament forms an integral part?

Militant Labour fudges this basic question. Yet it is fundamental: everything flows from it - the structure of the new party, the type of programme it must be based on, its internal rules and democracy.

In its most authoritative open documents, ML has suggested that socialism will come, not through revolution and the smashing of the state power of the bourgeoisie, but “through an Enabling Bill in parliament” (Peter Taaffe, What we stand for, p8). “A socialist Britain can be accomplished through parliament backed by the mobilised power of the labour movement,” Rob Sewell told us once upon a time (Militant International Review, Autumn 1986, p9).

Occasionally ML will lean left, of course. An article during the 1992 upsurge around the miners - again by Taaffe - suggested that the “very essence” of a general strike (a slogan ML was toying with) “poses the issue of the working class taking power, establishing its own democratic workers’ government and state” (Militant, October 30 1996). ML has also written of parliament being “superseded by workers’ councils or soviets” (from British perspectives and tasks 1974, quoted in Michael Crick, Militant, 1984).

Yet a revolutionary perspective entails building a totally different sort of party to the affiliate structure ML is proposing for the SLP. Parties like the Communist Refoundation (Italy) or Spain’s United Left - both examples ML points to as positive models - have the character more of electoral blocs or alliances. They certainly have little in common with the disciplined Bolshevik party we would need for a revolutionary struggle for power.

Of course, SWP stupidities on ‘electoralism’ make easy targets for all of us. However, ML must explain its own position more clearly. Reform or revolution? When we have clarified that, the question ‘What sort of party?’ solves itself.

Mark Fischer