I don’t know if you have seen the latest about-turn by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty on the question of the Labour Party.
My guess is that this is a consequence of the lash-up between the Communist Party of Britain and the Socialist Party in England and Wales, leading the AWL to believe that they had better find a milieu in which to swim in order to carry out their own ‘party-building’ activity. What is amazing - or actually not so amazing if you understand the Stalinist politics of the AWL - is that this about-face on the question of the Labour Party is presented as though it is a continuation in a straight line of the existing policy.
Sean Matgamna writes: “The correct and necessary emphasis in all our recent commentary on denouncing New Labour may even mean that some comrades have not understood our basic ‘line’ on the Labour Party. They may think that our assessment has been identical to that of the Socialist Party - that the Labour Party is dead. That is not our position, not even in the latest AWL NC document for our conference, which (extrapolating as it does more or less in a straight line from recent years’ developments) I now think to be seriously off-balance” (www.workersliberty.org/story/2009/05/20/awl-unions-labour-and-crisis).
So, unlike SPEW, the AWL has never considered the Labour Party dead. Well, that’s odd, because a year ago when the AWL had collapsed into calling for a vote for the Socialist Workers Party/Hezbollah in the London elections, I wrote a series of comments on their website - all of which eventually got deleted along with all my other comments - criticising precisely that kind of position being adopted by the AWL to justify this collapse. At that time, they wrote not only that the Labour Party was dead but, echoing the words of Rosa Luxemburg, that it was a “stinking corpse”:
“For that sort of thing to happen, there has to be a functioning, living Labour Party. No such party exists any more. This is an enormous event. It is the culmination of a process of strangling the Labour Party, which has been going on over two decades. Short of some startling about-turn in the coming months, the Bournemouth conference has to be taken as the formal announcement of the death of the Labour Party. To use the language Rosa Luxemburg used about the German Social Democratic Party in 1914, the Labour Party is a stinking corpse! ... Look back over the process of change, and the fact hits you full in the face: the Labour Party, founded over 100 years ago by some unions and socialist organisations, is dead” (Solidarity April 10 2008).
Other than giving us a 10-minute equivalent of Monty Python’s dead parrot sketch, how much clearer could they have made it that they thought that the Labour Party was dead? Yet, according to Sean, they have never held such a position, unlike SPEW.
Sean believes it’s necessary to make things clear about the AWL’s position on the Labour Party because, for some strange reason, a lot of the AWL’s membership do not understand their ‘complex’ relationship and attitude to that party.
Obviously, they need some re-education, as Uncle Joe used to call it.
Lawrence Parker criticises the presentation of the Weekly Worker and he probably has a point about the front covers (Letters, May 14).
I would encourage any effort to improve the paper, but I think the existing layout deserves some praise. The design of the Weekly Worker compares favourably with other leftwing publications, such as Socialist Worker and Permanent Revolution, which have good design, and Workers’ Weekly, New Worker and Direct Action, whose design is not so good.
James Turley’s article raises some interesting points on democracy (‘For recallable MPs on a worker’s wage’, May 21).
Democracy under capitalism is reduced to people voting for competing groups of professional politicians, to giving the thumbs-up or the thumbs-down to the governing or opposition party. Political analysts call this the ‘elite theory of democracy’ because all that the people get to choose is which elite should exercise government power. This contrasts with the original theory of democracy, which envisages popular participation in the running of affairs and which political analysts call ‘participatory democracy’.
The most we will get under capitalism is the right to vote, under more or less fair conditions, for who shall control political power - a minimalist form of democracy, but one not to be so easily dismissed, since at least it provides a mechanism whereby a socialist majority could vote in socialist delegates instead of capitalist politicians.
Bourgeois democracy is the best we can hope for under capitalism, but it is not the ideal model possible for the revolutionary. Capitalist democracy is not a participatory democracy, which a genuine democracy has to be. In practice, the people generally elect professional politicians, who they merely vote for, and then let them get on with the job.
In other words, the electors abdicate their responsibility to keep an eye on their representatives, giving them a free hand to do what the operation of capitalism demands. But that’s as much the fault of the electors as their representatives - or rather it is a reflection of their low level of democratic consciousness. It cannot be blamed on the principle of representation as such.
There is no reason in principle why, with a heightened democratic consciousness (such as would accompany the spread of socialist ideas), even representatives sent to state bodies could not be subject, while the state lasts, to democratic control by those who sent them there.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain has never held that a merely formal majority at the polls will give the workers power to achieve socialism. We have always emphasised that such a majority must be educated in the essentials of socialist principles. It is the quality of the voters behind the vote that, in the revolutionary struggle, will be decisive. The institution of parliament is not at fault. It is just that people’s ideas have not yet developed beyond belief in leaders and dependence on a political elite.
What the SPGB propose is that people should use the vote in the course of the social revolution from capitalism to socialism and vote capitalism out of office. To do this they will need to stand mandated delegates at elections, but these will just be ‘messenger boys and girls’, sent to formally take over and dismantle ‘the state’, not leaders or government minister wannabes.
The vote is merely the legitimate stamp that will allow for the dismantling of the repressive apparatus of the state and the end of bourgeois democracy and the establishment of real democracy. This should not be understood as simply putting an X on a ballot paper and letting the SPGB and its MPs establish socialism for workers. There must also be that ‘conscious’ and active socialist majority outside parliament, democratically organised both in a mass socialist political party and at work in various forms of ex-trade union type organisations ready to keep production going during and immediately after the winning of political control.
The SPGB is a political party that has a membership who don’t require a leadership to make its decisions, that has an executive council which doesn’t determine policies, that has a general secretary whose role is to administer and not to control. As a matter of political principle, the SPGB holds no secret meetings, with all its meetings, including those of its executive committee, being open to the public. Thus reflecting the society it seeks to establish. That is the example of the “full transparency in public affairs” that Turley calls for.
The CPGB’s call for conditional critical support to ‘No to EU, Yes to Democracy’ candidates in the European elections overlooks one significant aspect of this rotten nationalist project - the involvement of the openly bourgeois Liberal Party.
When bourgeois and working class forces present themselves together on the same electoral slate, Marxists call this a popular front, and it automatically precludes any political support, no matter how critical. In his article ‘Republican democracy, voting tactics and communist strategy’ (May 21), CPGB leader Jack Conrad does not think the participation of bourgeois forces is even worth mentioning, let alone including in his list of conditions for critical support.
This organisational embrace of the ‘progressive bourgeoisie’, while contradicting No2EU’s formal claim to stand for the interests of the working class, is completely in line with its nationalist programme, which feeds into the reactionary poison of ‘British jobs for British workers’. This on its own would be reason enough not to give critical support. It is vital that we fight all capitalist attacks, whether carried out in the name of the European Union or of the nation-state, and build active solidarity between workers of all nations.
Conrad then goes on to call for a vote to the Labour Party if, or more likely when, No2EU rejects the CPGB’s conditions. But, after 12 years of this viciously anti-working class government, the idea that there are any class-conscious workers who still believe that Labour represents their separate class interests is absurd. To apply the tactic of critical support to New Labour today can only be done on the basis of ‘lesser evilism’, which defeats the purpose of the tactic - to develop working class consciousness in a revolutionary direction.
Critical support can potentially be useful at times when the reformists pretend to stand for our interests as a class against the bosses. It is a way of engaging in dialogue with class-conscious workers over the best programme to advance those separate class interests. With Labour and No2EU today, there is no such impulse to intersect.
In the absence of any candidates standing for the independent interests of the working class, even in a deformed reformist way, revolutionaries call for workers to spoil their ballots in the European elections.
When the No2EU campaign first came about, I accurately predicted the attitude that most left groups would take towards it. However, the CPGB did surprise me.
In the immediate aftermath of Iraq’s invasion, the CPGB correctly pointed out that Labour was a pro-imperialist party that had been exposed by a mass movement and Marxists could no longer call for a vote for the Labour Party. The CPGB joined Respect, despite giving all the reasons in the Weekly Worker why they should not have.
Respect was a class-collaborationist project from inception. But let’s pretend that it was worthwhile to be involved, as it was ‘ostensibly’ the voice of the anti-war movement. The CPGB, however, called for a vote for Respect without putting down any conditions such as republican democracy, immigration controls, a woman’s right to choose or LGBT equality - all fundamental issues for Marxists which Respect deliberately avoided.
That’s the position the CPGB took only a few years ago towards class-collaborationist Respect, which was based on a religious group and the Labour Party.
Contrast that with today. The anti-war movement has subsided, but anger at Labour’s pro-privatisation and anti-worker policies has grown and further exposed them. The No2EU campaign, despite its limitations, has much more potential than Respect, as it involves sections of the organised working class, notably the RMT union, as well as candidates from important struggles such as the Lindsey oil refinery, Visteon and Linamar.
Yet conditions not placed on Respect are placed on No2EU, and tagged on the end are the right to bear arms and a workers’ militia. If these conditions are not met, the CPGB will call for a vote for the completely discredited Labour Party!
I have followed with great interest the discussion within the CPGB about who to vote for in the European elections.
Support for the No2EU list in any region should be conditional on the candidate at the top of the list in that region agreeing to the following: opposition to all immigration controls; support for the abolition of the monarchy and the House of Lords; support for an armed working class organised in a people’s militia; and a commitment to live on the average wage of a skilled worker.
If the No2EU candidate at the top of the list in a region does not pledge support for the above, then a vote for the Labour list should be considered. However, a Labour vote in a region should be conditional on the candidate at the top of the list in that region currently being in a working class occupation. If the Labour candidate at the top of the list is not currently in a working class occupation, then one should write ‘Socialist’ across the ballot paper.
The definition of working class occupation would exclude those deemed to be petty bourgeois or bourgeois, such as political researcher or lobbyist. Being in a working class occupation, including those deemed to be in social classes C1, C2, D and E, is no guarantee that a person will not be corrupted by the Euro gravy train. However, the call for working class MPs and MEPs is a democratic and revolutionary demand, which all communists should support.
It would, in Jack Conrad’s words, be like aiming an arrow at the weakest point of the bourgeois workers’ party now known as New Labour.
I shall leave aside the possibility of the decisions of the CPGB’s Provisional Central Committee actually being able to affect the outcome of the election, as will anyone weighing up the circulation figures for the Weekly Worker. Its audience comprises active and lapsed members of the various Marxist sects, factions and would-be parties who make up a percentage of the electorate you’d need a magnifying glass to make out.
I see the main point of raising the right to bear arms and the need for a workers’ militia and annual parliaments as being that no idea can spread and take hold in the imaginations of the majority unless the current minority asserts its view and doesn’t shy away from stating its belief by retreating to arguments about how it’s not what ‘the workers’ are telling them on the doorstep. Well, if we’re just going to the doorstep to be told things, then what is the point? Sure, there is benefit in listening but conversations work best when two people are engaging.
Canvassers usually tell people at the door what they think they want to hear, but how exactly does that distinguish us from every bourgeois politician on the slate? What if a canvasser addressed the MPs’ expenses issue by suggesting that parliamentary democracy itself is in need of replacement and that, as the ultimate check and balance on the power of the state, the armed forces should be a democratic militia force, run by the people for the people and of the people? What if that canvasser says that the banks are controlling sums of money greater than those controlled by some countries, but they are not accountable for how that wealth is used and perhaps democracy should extend to industry as a whole? Or that having a home and work to do is a basic human need and shouldn’t be a cause of stress or worry?
Sure, the ‘man in the street’ may conclude that he has been speaking to some lunatic who has escaped from hospital for the day, but history is full of ideas considered ‘mad’ that are today accepted as right. Take, for instance, those who stood for the abolition of slavery at a time when it was a major trade and an essential part of the capitalist economy. Nutters! Or those who stood for the enfranchisement of working class men and, ultimately, said that women should have the vote too. Obviously insane.
Ideas are the product of material conditions, but that doesn’t mean that it is only the right time to raise revolutionary slogans and ideas when capitalism is on its knees and people are dying in the streets of starvation. An idea is a powerful thing and lives beyond the material conditions that first brought about its conception. And a good idea is always relevant and deserving of distribution by those of us who think it a good idea.
There is absolutely zero chance of progress towards less reactionary times unless revolutionary ideas are aired and allowed to spread. And if the revolutionaries aren’t spreading them, then no-one else will. Unless you plant the seeds, there ain’t nothing gonna grow.
Lenin said that a revolution is impossible without a revolutionary situation. Britain is now in a pre-revolutionary situation. Is that too bold a statement? It’s probably not bold enough.
Our capitalist economy has, at last, entered its final phase. In capitalism there are always booms and busts, but once in every century there is a mega-boom and a mega-bust. That’s where we are now. It is where we were in the 1920s and 30s. Ten years of boom, a crash, and then 10 years of slump.
We are not in a recession; this is the beginning of a depression that will last 10 or even 15 years. In that time, four to six million people will be made unemployed, long-term. Home values and savings will collapse. The extreme attempt to save the economy - immense injections of borrowed cash - will lengthen and deepen the depression, increasing the possibility of serious civil disturbance.
And now, as if to compound that terrible and immense problem, our political class has collapsed, and parliament with it. MPs - all MPs - and our weak and failing government are paralysed by the shock and scale of it. They are at an utter loss over what to do. Some have latched onto a general election as a way out of all this. Perhaps a chance to vent our anger by putting a cross in a box will calm us down.
If a depression, plus a complete collapse in the authority of government and parliament, and their paralysis, do not constitute a pre-revolutionary situation, then I don’t know what does.
It is the duty of revolutionary socialists, Marxists and Leninists to recognise the call of history and create a revolutionary situation out of this. But how?
There are many, many ways, but here’s one. It begins with relatively small demonstrations in London by trade unionists and left groups with students and the unemployed. These become a magnet for general public anger and the now daily demonstrations, organised and led by the working class, begin to attract hundreds of thousands of people. They don’t go home, but stay on the streets for days on end. They fill our media and TV news bulletins.
Other similar demonstrations begin in big metropolitan centres like Birmingham and Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow, Cardiff, Bristol, Leeds and Sheffield. The police are overwhelmed and unable to control them. They can’t even contain them. And these are not one-offs. These are popular demonstrations where, now, millions of ordinary people are staying away from work because they don’t want to leave. There is an air of revolutionary anticipation, of momentous change under way, and of being part of history - a shift of power from institutions to the streets and to people.
The demonstrators begin with vague calls for change, for government ministers to step down, for elections, for reform, but they become more specific demands for street and office/factory-level democracy and people’s control. They result in the creation of regional people’s assemblies - soviets if you wish - alternative forms of government springing up alongside the now discredited, moribund and defunct national government. Parliament is bypassed and powerless.
In Afghanistan, soldiers, catching the same mood, and angry about being sacrificed on battlefields, with poor equipment and support, by a government with no moral authority or direction, refuse to leave their barracks and go on patrol. Instead they go on strike and demand to be returned home so they too can take part in this popular uprising. They remain glued to their radios and TVs, and calls from home for news.
This undirected, or multi-directed, uprising throws up many strong figureheads and speakers, visionaries and revolutionaries, factions and sects, who debate and harangue the crowds, and argue among themselves. Parties of the left and right grow stronger as interest grows in their kind of change. They begin to attract massive support.
The working class assumes its historic role, as the previously dominant middle classes stay at home and watch on TV, wondering whether now might be the time to shift those savings abroad and move away with the children. They begin to pack up, and the airports and ports get busier.
In France and Germany, Japan and Italy, Spain and Portugal, similar movements begin, as the revolutionary mood sweeps through Europe and parts of the world. Despite a broadcast and print media blackout to try and avoid international movements feeding off each other, international speakers are turning up at demonstrations in the UK, and vice versa. The news that we are not alone strengthens the movement.
In Britain, the people’s assemblies agree to form a national assembly and send delegates. That national assembly refuses to meet in the old ‘duma’ or discredited parliament, where even now a few MPs continue to hold court and go through the motions of a debate and the passing of legislation that everyone ignores. It sits like a lost and irrelevant second chamber, bypassed by the new democracy.
The soldiers, who have freed themselves from the autocratic rule of the officers, send their own delegates to the national assembly - an assembly of people’s and soldiers’ deputies. They declare for the new people’s democracy, vow to defend it, and the MPs are arrested and put on trial.
Socialists of all types and stripes become - by dint of their radicalism and honesty, their democracy and trustworthiness - the majority in the national assembly, and begin a programme of radical social, democratic and economic reforms which bring whole industries and services into true public ownership, including the banks and other financial institutions. The expropriators are expropriated. The exploiters are arrested and expelled.
I admit there are huge holes in this vision. What about the right wing, their media, their counterrevolution, the churches, the Americans, the flight of finance capital, the sabotage? It’s endless. But that is also what they said to Lenin, Castro, Mao, any and every revolutionary leader who has ever entered into a revolutionary situation. It did not blunt their purpose.
And what about the British? Are they capable? Do they even want it? There is a momentum to all revolutionary situations. Once they begin, they are hard to stop. And, yes, the British do want it. By and large, the British are slow to anger, patient and tolerant. They are moaners, not actors. But when roused to real anger and action, they are terrifying to behold.
We are in a pre-revolutionary situation. The next step is to provide the spark or the catalyst, and that catalyst may be the mass people’s demonstration, starting small, but persisting and growing, day in and day out, and not just in London, but in each and every major regional centre. The trade unions should start it, and start it now. The rest will follow.
As for the leadership? The leadership will emerge, as Lenin emerged, from exile and from among us.