The Weekly Worker group has long advocated the transformation of the Labour Party into “a united front of a special kind, open to affiliation by all working class and socialist organisations”, which I agree is a desirable objective. But my (genuine) question would be, then what? For what purpose would this then serve? What role could this have in the socialist revolution? The WWG has been virtually silent on this. Moreover, you argue (I hope I am not misrepresenting you) that the Labour Party can never become a vehicle for achieving socialism. This is the task and role of “a party armed with a Marxist programme of working class self-emancipation” (both quotes happen to be from the December 2 2021 edition of the Weekly Worker, but similar phrases are frequently repeated in many articles).
I think we generally understand the latter to be a Communist Party and I very much agree with this. There is a fascinating debate over the relation and balance between spontaneity and consciousness, how far the working class can by itself through day-to-day struggles develop basic class or trade union consciousness, whether it can then go on to develop socialist consciousness. It seems obvious to me that a Communist Party is necessary to help develop that very basic class consciousness and then to help transform it into socialist and revolutionary consciousness: ie, of the need to replace capitalism as a social and economic system by socialism.
The development of revolutionary consciousness will require an ongoing combination of educational, agitational and organisational work, and best directed and led by a Communist Party, preferably a mass Communist Party, with deep influence throughout the working class movement and in all aspects of society.
The development of a working class “united front of a special kind, open to affiliation by all working class and socialist organisations” could be seen as an essential component and outcome of this integral struggle to develop revolutionary consciousness throughout the class. I would add that it would also be preferable for a full range of other progressive, community and civil society groups and organisations to be able to affiliate and become part of this united front.
Why the Labour Party? Yes, its original foundation did demonstrate that the working class movement was starting to develop politically, but it very quickly became, as Lenin described it, “a bourgeois workers’ party”. The WWG regards that phrase as a contradiction between two poles, which it may be possible to resolve through the working class pole coming out on top, but I don’t think that was Lenin’s view. He called for the attempted affiliation of the CPGB to the Labour Party and to elect Labour to government in order to expose its inherent bourgeois nature, not to struggle to transform it.
The original CPGB in its 1929 general election manifesto, ‘Class against class’, was convinced by then that Labour was a straight third capitalist party. Whilst it had started out as “a parliamentary wing of the trade unions” and “a federation of trade unions and parties”, it had by then “become a closely knit party”, “a completely disciplined capitalist party”, “a single party with a capitalist programme”. “It rejects working class politics and exploits the workers’ organisations for national politics.” “It subordinates the trade unions to capitalism.” A pretty fair description then, since and now.
I agree we should utilise all potential avenues and arenas for struggle to make the case for socialism and its achievement through the necessary revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist class and the establishment of working class political and state power and, yes, this will include the Labour Party. Who knows? We may convince enough individual members, affiliated members and affiliated organisations of our case, but this should never be the condition for socialist advance in this country.
I have to say the prospect of “winning the Labour Party” looks as far distant as it did in 1929. The Corbyn leadership has disappeared without leaving any traces, if anyone seriously regarded Corbyn as a socialist in the way communists would define it.
If developing a working class “united front of a special kind, open to affiliation by all working class and socialist organisations” is going to be integral to developing the political and class consciousness of the working class and its organisational capacity and strength, as I think it is, should we not now as a strategic objective be looking to develop and build this, irrespective of the Labour Party?
The People’s Assembly, a national coalition of trade unions, campaigning groups and some political parties and groups, resisting and challenging the basis of capitalist austerity, could provide the potential for such a working class united front. Absurdly, there are still rival ‘anti-cuts’ campaigns and movements run separately by the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party and we ought as a start to bring all these under one broad, unifying umbrella.
Plus, we need to be much more upfront about developing and projecting a distinctly independent working class socialist politics, to give the mass movement coherence and direction, and provide a political and ideological challenge to capitalism and the parties of capitalism.
The communist and socialist left in Britain is ridiculously fragmented and divided. Couldn’t we be thinking of some form of federal socialist party, in which many or most of the various communist, socialist, left and revolutionist parties and groups could unite, with both affiliated and individual membership, and which would in effect head up the mass working class movement? They will obviously compete with each other for support, members, influence and politics, but within the structures, formations and organisations of the working class, and broadly on the same side - that of our class.
Ideally, the development of such a mass working class united front will impact and transform the Labour Party as well. That will be a matter for Labour. It can either respond positively to a strengthening working class, socialist pole or it can close this off and become a completely bourgeois party, as many believe it is already.
When at the April 24 Online Communist Forum on the Kinder Scout mass trespass of 1932 I challenged Lawrence Parker, he asserted that there was serious opposition within the Communist Party (internationally?) to the third-period social-fascist ultra-leftism and he could produce documents to prove it.
I know of none, apart from Jacques Doriot, the mayor of Saint-Denis (a northern suburb of Paris), who insisted that the third period was totally wrong, and a popular front was needed between the Communists and other French parties. He was expelled from the Communist Party (PCF) in 1934, accused of being a “Trotskyite” - at the same Congress that adopted the popular front he had advocated. He then became a supporter of Hitler against the PCF. He had a history of vicious opposition to Trotsky and never attempted to make any contact with the Trotskyists, but that did not prevent one Denver Walker in his book Quite right, Mr Trotsky from referring to him as a “leading French Trotskyist”; all internal opponents were lyingly so dubbed by the Stalinist.
Last week in his Weekly Worker article Lawrence quoted Thomas Linehan, who asserted:
“During the antagonistic phase of ‘class against class’ [the so-called ‘third period’ of 1928-33] communist criticism of social democratic sports organisations became particularly shrill, accusing them of being ‘reformist’ bodies that strove for class reconciliation … it is obvious that the Kinder Scout mass trespass was part of this distinct political trajectory of the CPGB in the early 1930s” (‘Forgive us our trespasses’ April 21).
Lawrence’s talk, far more than his article, set out to prove that this was an exemplary class struggle action by the Young Communist League and CPGB in general at the time, while later Eurocommunists and outright establishment-defending reformists sought to hide their great progressive role in this occupation. But this approach divided the German working class organisation, as the third period postulated that revolution was immediately on the cards in every country, so everyone must join the Communist Party in their own country, and all those political parties and individuals who did not were “social-fascists”.
The worst of these “social-fascists” was the Labour Party in Britain and the Social Democrats (SPD) in Germany, whom they asserted were the main enemy of the working class to such an extent that it was possible to ally in a united front with the Nazis against them. They infamously did that in the red referendum in Prussia on August 9 1931, dubbing it the “decisive application of the policy of united front from below with respect to the Social Democratic, the Christian and the non-party workers”.
The German communists (KPD) and Nazis collaborated again in the Berlin transport strike in November 1932 against the SPD mayor of Berlin, just weeks before Hitler came to power in January 1933. But that wasn’t a problem, because ‘After the Nazis us’, they proclaimed until the Reichstag fire of February 27 - showing that their ultra-leftism of imminent revolution was braggadocio, and their real position was parliamentary cretinism. The fire was set by the Nazis themselves and the Communist Party was made illegal, and they were rounded up to the concentration camps (followed by the SPD deputies who had voted against Hitler’s Enabling Act of March 1933, which abolished all civil liberties).
Trotsky, writing in exile in Turkey in December 1931, warned:
“Worker-communists, you are hundreds of thousands, millions; you cannot leave for any place; there are not enough passports for you. Should fascism come to power, it will ride over your skulls and spines like a terrific tank. Your salvation lies in merciless struggle. And only a fighting unity with the Social Democratic workers can bring victory. Make haste, worker-communists: you have very little time left!” (‘For a workers’ united front, against fascism’, December 1931).
Lawrence portrayed this period as a great militant time and, true enough, many workers took it as such. The London Busmen’s Rank and File Movement is one example; it organised a strike in January 1933 in Forest Gate garage, which spread to half the London fleet - and was denounced alike by the TGWU union executive and the bosses. Ernest Bevin, TGWU general secretary, called it an “internal breakaway”. This was a far more inspiring movement than the Kinder Scout mass trespass of April 1932, but then the CPGB did not control it, so we cannot take it as representing the period. Pete Glatter’s ‘London busmen: rise and fall of a rank-and-file movement’ tells the inspiring tale.
That movement fell victim to the popular front of 1934‑35, which was when I stated at the OCF that the communist parties ceased to be communist at all in any real sense, despite the effort of Lawrence and Jack Conrad to prettify their appalling treachery. The price for winning the allegiance of the liberal bourgeoisie, and leftist bishops, etc, was outright rejection of not only revolution, but of the class struggle itself. When you do that, you are no longer a communist in any meaningful sense. In March 1936, Stalin had an interview with Roy Howard, president of Scripps-Howard Newspapers:
“Howard: Does this, your statement, mean that the Soviet Union has to any degree abandoned its plans and intentions for bringing about world revolution? Stalin: We never had such plans and intentions. Howard: You appreciate, no doubt, Mr Stalin, that much of the world has long entertained a different impression. Stalin: This is the product of a misunderstanding. Howard: A tragic misunderstanding? Stalin: No, a comical one. Or, perhaps, tragicomic.”
Of course, after the political collapse of the Seventh Congress of 1935 some communist parties led some strikes in some countries, but then so did trade union bureaucracies everywhere, both left and right, when it became necessary to retain control and prevent the rank and file taking over.
As for today, we are pleased to see the YCL growing and understand that it is necessary to demystify them about the truth of Stalinism, which Lawrence Parker has so dismally failed to do. But I understand his dilemma: if he told the full truth he would have to admit that the consistent Trotskyists were the real communists.
I am pleased in a way that Jack Conrad has associated “Gerry Downing’s Socialist Fight” with “George Galloway’s Workers Party, the Brarite CPGB (ML), the New Communist Party …, Socialist Action and (unofficially, using devious language) the CPB’s Young Communist League”, who were “strategically myopic, true, but morally brave, albeit in a particularly stupid way” (‘A farrago of illusions’, April 14). We have a united front of this issue alone, as all refuse to call for a Russian withdrawal from Ukraine, while the Nazis of the Azov battalion still survive. And we refuse to excuse the Nazis as Jack does by saying that “this militarily important tail hardly wags the Ukrainian dog”.
It is the USA and its Nato allies that wag the Ukraine puppet dog via their chief agency, the Azov battalion. Minsk 1 and Minsk 2 were scuttled because France and Germany had brokered these agreements with the Donbas leaders and Russia, but the USA used the Azov battalion to continue bombarding the Donbas, so as to “fuck the EU”, as Victoria Nuland so colourfully put it back in 2014.
End of era?
Mike Macnair’s article on the Ukrainian/Russian war seems to imply one conclusion: that an era of left political action has indeed ended (‘Assessing Putin’s gamble’, April 21).
The war in Ukraine is a not so much a liberation struggle as Nato’s struggle with Putin turned hot - with Nato weaponry and sanctions, but Ukrainian troops. It may well end in partition: a Ukraine split into a pro-Nato (or at least EU) part and a Russian portion. This will not be a victory for an alternative, whether progressive, halfway workers’ state or one step forward.
An era for the left has ended (the epoch from 1914 to the current confusion) - the era of the supporters’ clubs. We need no longer support a self-determination that will weaken the empires (Lenin) or decide on the least worst option (‘democracy versus autocracy’). No longer applicable are the various left foreign policies, from Bolshevik anti-colonialism to the anti-war movement of the 1960s. Of course, we defend the right of peoples not to suffer war, but the struggle for peace doesn’t mean siding with states.
The project now is to observe, describe well and discuss the alternative world we want and how to achieve it. The time for a ‘foreign policy’ is up: no more choosing sides between different capitalist ‘options’, whether blocs or national states.
Thomas Day in his letter to last week’s Weekly Worker says much that I, and other readers, can agree with, but I was struck by his last paragraph, “Do we really have to work through and within the Democratic Socialists of America, the British Labour Party or the Dutch Socialist Party? (to name but three organisations covered in recent Weekly Worker articles)? It seems so tame, compared to what is needed.”
Well, yes, but what does he suggest? I don’t think that the Weekly Worker or the CPGB are busy working through and within, for instance, the Labour Party. Yes, we need “real communist/Marxist parties”, but where are we going to find the raw material for them? The CPGB policy is, in part, to challenge the parties that might now publicly espouse communism and to point out where they fall down in practice.
‘Left’ parties have potential communists within them - I think that even the Labour Party can make such a claim (quietly, Sir Keir might hear). How can we get to them? That is something that I believe the Weekly Worker and the CPGB are working on full time.
As the comrade also says, “It is already becoming too late” - and indeed it may be, but if we were aware of any short cuts then I’m sure we’d take them. I’ve just finished rereading (after a few years) Mike Macnair’s Revolutionary strategy, which I can highly commend if the comrade hasn’t read it already. He ends the book with a section entitled ‘Patience’. This contains the following paragraph:
“This strategic orientation demands patience. The fundamental present problem is that after the failures of the strategies of the 20th century, in the absence of a Marxist strategic understanding, most socialists are socialists by ethical and emotional commitment only. This leads to the adoption of ‘get rich quick’ solutions that enter into the capitalist politicians’ government games.”
Quite correct, I believe. Times are pressing, action by the working class on a mass - and, best, a world - scale is urgent. But it’s not going to happen just because we want it to. We have to be patient - and work out the best way to build that party.
Paul Demarty’s argument in his article on the French presidential election is absolute nonsense (‘Hold the line’, April 21). You need to pull him up on it. In a non-revolutionary period, the left must always join with the centre against the fascist right.
The communist movement is seeking power, but it certainly won’t achieve this on the basis of the nonsense preached to us by the British left.
I find the Marxist contributions to the inflation issue inadequate and uninspiring, and Michael Roberts’ article in last week’s edition was no exception (‘Alternative to “restraint”’ April 21).
They are presented within an ahistorical econometric framework, leaving out the most critical and illuminating aspects. When I say ‘ahistorical’, I don’t mean they are free from timelines, but, while they include timelines, they remain held captive within an unchanging environment. The arguments are just regurgitated, as if history isn’t happening. They are uninspiring, as they miss out the grand and epic narratives that can appeal to the imagination, and stir the soul.
There are econometric issues at play, but these are not fundamental and merely represent symptoms. They include the rate of profit, the volume of money, imperialism, war (competition by other means) and politics in general. Limiting the discussion to these symptomatic issues shows an inability to step outside the bourgeois horizon.
So I will offer three main areas of focus, which hopefully illustrate my point (incidentally the solution to all these issues is communism - reformist tweaks no longer hold).
Firstly, we have reached a fundamental technological barrier, which affects labour productivity. Physicists have fundamentally answered most of nature’s mysteries in this field (you see this in articles questioning why physicists have stalled, etc). Technological slowdown is therefore not due to our lack of knowledge, as it was in the past, but to our inability to apply this knowledge: for example due to engineering, scalability issues, physical limits. Our technological innovations are now about wringing every last drop out of existing technologies, rather than coming up with anything truly revolutionary. These factors contribute to a fall in the productivity of labour, and therefore, in a system based on capitalism, have inflationary consequences. On a similar note we have also squeezed every last drop out of economies of scale, which means cutting back can only have a very marginal effect on costs. Demand and supply solutions simply won’t cut it.
Secondly, in the advanced nations - which as at time of writing pretty much dictate the economics of the entire globe - there are immense infrastructure issues. This is the result of being advanced nations in an anarchical system. China has better rail networks and more energy-efficient housing simply because it started from a lower state of development and was able to utilise state-of-the-art technology, and also has the economic muscle and planning to invest in such technology. In the anarchical advanced nations there needs to be mass destruction before the infrastructure can be replaced, meaning the cost is so much more prohibitive, and in the anarchy of the capitalist system the cost is so much greater, for everyone. It also means the replacement of old and worn infrastructure will take that much longer. We are in a ‘Kondratiev moment’, but one that seems intractable.
Thirdly, the climate emergency presents a crisis of energy production. The demented liberalism, which has taken hold in the advanced nations and could possibly see nuclear oblivion, imagines that everything we see around us in this anarchical system could be reproduced using a combination of wind, solar and as yet nonexistent technologies. All the iPads, PCs, mobile phones, toasters, dishwashers, fridges, etc, etc can be powered by a few wind turbines. Dream on!
Of course, all the above are occurring at a time of the relative decline of the west, and an increasing demand for dwindling energy reserves.
The above list could be extended but these are the historical and fundamental reasons for the cost of living crises and represent a fundamental barrier to the continuation of the anarchical system of production. These fundamental barriers reveal the truth that planning and the abolition of anarchism in production are now not only a moral imperative, but a practical one too.
Whether this results in a new form of bourgeois rule (possibly some sort of neo-feudal authoritarianism) or proletarian communism will be the product of class struggle. Currently we are seeing the emergence of the former, but that can only intensify the class struggle.