CPB: still loyal to Blair

Isn’t it time to reconsider our relationship to the Labour Party as identified in the British road to socialism?” This was the first question put to Robert Griffiths at the CPB’s London public meeting on March 5. The questioner had left Labour for the CPB, only to find herself in a Labourite ‘Communist Party’. “It is really a self-defeating argument for recruiting into our party,” she continued, “to project the idea that those who are in the Labour Party should be working to make it a more socialist organisation.”

While another recent recruit from New Labour protested that the CPB leadership “doesn’t understand how much the Labour Party has changed,” industrial organiser Kevin Halpin stubbornly repeated the fading mantra that “Labour is still the mass party of the working class”.

Griffiths, unfortunately, displayed the most abysmal pro-Labourism. Whether the class struggle rises or falls, whether socialist consciousness develops or withers - either way, this “will be” reflected in Labour’s fortunes in parliament. Evidently not in the way Griffiths imagines. The 1910-1914 upsurge in the class struggle, for example, saw a turnaway from Labourism by militant workers. ILP branches declined. After the strategic defeat of the 1926, the Labour vote doubled. In more recent times the miners’ 1984-85 great strike took place in the teeth of Labour Party opposition and sabotage. The anti-poll tax movement likewise. Certainly neither the defeat of the miners nor the victory by the anti-poll tax movement was positively reflected in Labour’s “fortunes in parliament”.

Nevertheless Griffiths makes parliament the focal question of class struggle. Hence despite his assertion of the primacy of extra-parliamentary over parliamentary struggle, he could not imagine the British revolution except through the medium of a left Labour government. Though he claimed not to be in “the business of predicting” how a revolutionary “scenario would actually unfold”, mass struggle would “always” be channelled into the Labour Party. Therefore the CPB is “against disaffiliation”. 

“If the major trade unions in the TUC ... decide to endlessly cover up, make excuses for or even agree with the class collaboration approach of the rightwing Labour government ... and the left can’t shift them from it, then how on earth can we imagine that that trade union movement is going to disaffiliate from the Labour Party and help to build some kind of left or socialist alternative? If, on the other hand, large sections of that movement are prepared to go into struggle, they don’t need to disaffiliate from the Labour Party to do that.”

Paul Corry’s fear (Weekly Worker February 26) that the Griffiths faction favours ditching the old Labour Party and building something new, seems to be quite unfounded. Unfortunately, both factions of the CPB leadership are steeped in the congenital pro-Labourism of the British road to socialism programme. “If there is a potential for struggle,” Griffiths explained, “it will be reflected not just in the labour movement, it will be reflected in the Labour Party... Our [CPB] position is to be there when that struggle is fought, with our left allies, doing what we can to support them insofar as that battle is reflected in the Labour Party.”

Although “ultimately” the decisive battles in the class struggle “will be decided outside parliament”, nevertheless they “will be reflected in parliament, unless Britain embarks on a completely new course and breaks from all previous habits, traditions, loyalties and so on... How could we imagine, in foreseeable circumstances, that there could be a mass struggle outside parliament, a mass movement led by the working class, but nobody goes out and votes Labour? Of course, when the struggle reaches a significant level it is going to be reflected at the ballot box.”

This parliamentarian ‘common sense’ (or cretinism, as Lenin called it) should leave CPBers - members of a ‘Marxist’ party, according to Griffiths - feeling a little uneasy. Marx and Engels, like Lenin and the Bolsheviks after them, were opposed to parliamentarianism. Likewise, the resolutions of the first four congresses of the Comintern (ie, during Lenin’s lifetime) confirm the communist view that parliament, as part of the bourgeois state apparatus, must be smashed by the revolution.

Of course, the Bolsheviks stood candidates, even for the tsar’s sham parliaments - but they did so in order to put before the masses their revolutionary, anti-parliamentarian programme. The BRS view that revolutionary mass struggle must be channelled into parliamentary struggle in order to fulfil itself ultimately means, despite Griffiths’ denials, that mass struggle is subordinate to parliamentary struggle. It shows no appreciation that when the chips are down, when faced with a real revolutionary situation, a general election is precisely the weapon of counterrevolution, not of revolution. Against the revolutionary masses moving into collective action, the bourgeoisie appeals to the passive, atomised - and therefore conservative - mass of voters, subject to the sway of the mass media, to block and confuse the revolutionary upsurge.

In 1968, DeGaulle successfully defused the revolutionary situation in France using the general election tactic. A revolutionary Communist Party might well have been correct to boycott such a counterrevolutionary general election, just as the Bolsheviks did in 1905 - an approach which Griffiths “cannot imagine”.

Ian Farrell