Left wing begins to stir

On Saturday March 29 the Labour left is holding a major gathering to organise opposition to Bush and Blair's war inside the party. Labour Against the War (Law) is holding a national delegate conference, billed as being for "Labour Parties, trade unions, affiliated organisations and individual Labour Party members to debate the international crisis and to consider strategies to reclaim the party for peace". Speakers include Tony Benn and leading left parliamentary figures such as Jeremy Corbyn, George Galloway and Alice Mahon, more junior figures such as Mark Seddon of Tribune and Christine Shawcroft (NEC member), as well as prominent trade union leaders like Bob Crow (RMT), the CWU's Billy Hayes, and one-time rightwing stalwart John Edmonds of the GMB. Obviously in the context of the two massive parliamentary revolts by Labour MPs, when Blair gave them the chance of a formal vote on the Iraq conflict, and the events leading up to it, this conference could be of considerable political significance. As witnessed by the fact that more than half of the Labour backbench voted against the government, and also of course the enormous pressure from Labour's social base, stirred to revolt by the widespread anti-war sentiment, there has been a significant reawakening of dissent within Labour after years of Blairite dominance. A new Labour left seems to be in the process of germination, and not just the old Bennite Campaign Group veterans. It is interesting to note, for instance, the rise to prominence of such figures as Peter Kilfoyle MP, who was once one of Kinnock's most trusted 'fixers' and manipulators during the witch-hunts against the Militant Tendency and the left in the 1980s and early 1990s. A lot of water seems to have flowed under the bridge since those days: a lot of rightward motion at the top levels of the Labourite professional class and a lot of overtly Thatcherite attacks on the working class in the name of 'modernisation'. There has been a slow, molecular process of differentiation among the old, right-leaning apparatus types under pressure from below at the latter end of a long period of working class defeats and reaction. Now Kilfoyle sounds like one of the so-called 'dinosaurs' that Kinnock and his protégé and successor, Blair, delighted in holding up to scorn. Standing up to move the anti-war amendment that heralded the biggest parliamentary revolt in the entire history of the Labour Party, and on a question of war and peace, is not exactly what is expected of an old Kinnockite hack. It is not easy to predict the future evolution of this new Labour left, if that is what is emerging, but one thing is for sure. As part of building a new working class party, a crucial ongoing project, of which the most recent expression is the Socialist Alliance, forces won from the Labour left will have to play a major role. The Labour Party is still the strategic obstacle to the formation of a party capable of leading the working class in Britain to its self-emancipation. We must engage with this new Labour left, as it arises in opposition to Blairism, or be condemned to sterility. The conference itself is being organised by Labour Briefing and the Campaign Group of MPs, that club of old campaigners from the Bennite days. Labour Against the War was formed, in opposition to the so-called 'war against terrorism' declared by Bush after 9/11. Its founding statement proclaimed: "Labour Against the War believes that military action in response to the events of September 11 2001 will neither eradicate the threat of terrorism nor create a stable international framework in which the rule of law will be observed. UK support for war is not in our name" (www.labour againstthewar.org.uk). This goes hand in hand with the belief that capitalism can be pressured to behave in a more rational manner over such questions, calling for the "British government to pursue non-military solutions to the war on terrorism, including diplomatic and political, to bring the alleged perpetrators of terrorism to justice, and bring real humanitarian aid to the people of the world" (ibid). Whether on the question of this war, or any other, what is essential is that we move beyond this kind of reformist view of the potentially pacific and remediable nature of capitalism, and realise its fundamentally bellicose and anti-democratic nature. In this new period of struggle, the opportunity exists for the Labour left, and its social base in the more progressive wing of the trade union movement and the traditional base of old Labour radicalism, to learn these kinds of lessons through their own experience. The stated aims of Law are to achieve some kind of visible Labour Party presence in the anti-war movement. Now that there has been the biggest vote against a government for over 100 years, this should be reflected in the constituency parties. Law does not want people to simply walk out of the party. In fact it wants people to join and reclaim Labour for the movement. It wants to establish an opposition within the party that can get rid of Blair and New Labour. According to this way of thinking, leaving is doing Blair's job for him. It may be, of course, that in the event that this Labour left movement were to properly take off, there would be a dynamic - as there has on previous occasions when there has been left opposition - that would tend towards a split with the bourgeois pole of the party and the constitution of an alternative working class pole. However (and Iraq has at least given us a glimpse of this possibility), it is also feasible that there could be a different outcome, with the Thatcherite/Blairite neoliberals being driven out of the party, with the proletarian pole of this bourgeois workers' party thus gaining a new potency - the Ramsay McBlair outcome. In any case, with the Labour Party rent on the question of war with Iraq, these struggles by Labour lefts take on a major political significance. The conference will be discussing an anti-war statement based on the founding document, no doubt expanding on the latest developments in terms of the war with Iraq. They will also be discussing the struggle within the party; how to hold Labour representatives to account, calling for an emergency conference, and pushing for a further vote on the war in parliament. There may also be a number of motions, including one of no confidence in Blair. The organisers say they expect hundreds of party members to attend - some as delegates from constituency parties and some from Law groups, as well as individual members. If the Labour left can abandon fetishism of the Labour Party as it used to be viewed, as a party of piecemeal social reform, and instead place itself in the front rank of a political movement that fights militantly for the real interests of working people, against the Blair regime's wars abroad as much as its attacks on working people at home, then it can certainly play a germinating role in producing the party that our class really needs. That is, a working class party that will fight to destroy capitalism, to overthrow it and deprive the capitalist exploiters of their anti-democratic power, a party of social revolution, and of genuine internationalism, not of Labour imperialism, as in the past. For that purpose, we communists seek to engage with the Labour left as much as any other progressive-inclined layer among the masses. Ian Donovan