Waiting and hoping: LRC
The Labour left is hoping just to maintain its foothold in the party and in parliament, writes Dave McAllister
On Saturday November 14 the Labour Representation Committee held its annual general meeting, dubbed 'Building the resistance'. Over 200 comrades attended and there were stalls for the Morning Star's Communist Party of Britain, Bookmarks, Socialist Appeal and the People's Charter. Members of the Alliance for Workers' Liberty and The Commune group were also present distributing their papers.
The morning session was opened by Tony Benn, who compared what the LRC faced with the 'historical' tasks of the suffragettes and Chartists. Conference heard speeches on why the left must unite and work together, although it was not clear what organisational form, if any, this would require.
John McDonnell recommended a campaign around the committee's programme, because the 'public are desperate for a real Labour Party'. Referring to a 'six-month window of opportunity' before the general election, he said: 'If we go and articulate these policies with confidence, we could retain a socialist representation in parliament and a Labour government'. He also promised: 'If there is a leadership election, I will stand again.'
The afternoon began with a session on 'Internationalism, peace and environment', which featured Christian Dominguez of the United Confederation of Bolivian Campesino Workers and Sian Jones of the LRC and TUC Climate Change Campaign. Comrade Dominguez gave a passionate defence of the Bolivian government of Evo Morales, beginning his speech by reciting the president's slogan, Patria o muerte ('Country or death'). A peculiar start to a session on 'internationalism', but this indicated the ideological basis of the movement around Morales, a left-nationalist popular front.
This movement does base itself on the 'mobilisation of the poorest sections of society', as Dominguez asserted, and the fact that Bolivia's new constitution recognises the indigenous groups which have been the most oppressed sections of Bolivian society is undoubtedly a progressive step. There has been a wave of resistance to US-imposed neoliberal capitalism across South America, also reflected in the mass movement around Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. But Marxists must highlight the fact that there is no national road to socialism, in the 'developing' or the imperialist world. Comrade Dominguez hinted at this when he said the next task of the movement was 'not limited to the borders of one nation'. Indeed regional - and global - unity of the working class must be strived for. A Communist Party of South America would be a huge leap forward for the working class of the continent.
In her speech, Siân Jones focussed on climate change, undoubtedly a real threat to the ability of future generations to continue life on this planet. Increasingly sections of the establishment are looking for ways to mitigate it, but the constant need for capital to accumulate, and the system's massive reliance on fossil fuels, makes it unlikely that states will be able to force the huge cuts in emissions which scientists reckon are necessary to stave off an abrupt shift in global temperatures.
Comrade Jones correctly identified the 'greenwash' of corporations and the Labour Party, and was also right that there are no individual solutions. The comrade's answer to the climate crisis was to begin with drumming up support for an early day motion calling for a million 'green jobs'. This would include 250,000 in wind turbine factories.
Of course, the British state has practically bankrupted itself keeping capitalism afloat thanks to the economic crisis, and could not sustain the level of investment required for comrade Jones's grand plan; and this poses the necessity for a socialist transformation of society. Capitalism's need to accumulate cannot be permanently subordinated to social or environmental concerns; only an economy based on need, not profit, can balance human industry with the finite resources of our planet.
All of the resolutions to conference were passed, with the exception of the AWL's, which nebulously called for a 'workers' plan ... geared around working class struggle and forthright socialist demands such as those adopted by the LRC conference in 2008'. Interestingly, however, a motion from the left-communist Commune group - which asked the LRC to recognise that 'the state is not a neutral force concerned only with the welfare of society. The state is not a vehicle to achieve 'socialism' or can be relied upon to act as a protective shield against capital' - was passed.
A motion from the Socialist Youth Network, the LRC's youth wing, reaffirming the LRC's affiliation to Hands Off the People of Iran, was carried almost unanimously. CPGB, LRC and other comrades have done some great work together for Hopi, including raising money for the Iranian workers' movement.
The concluding remarks to end the day were delivered by Katy Clark, MP for North Ayrshire and Arran and a member of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, who claimed that the conference was a meeting of the 'alternative leadership of the Labour Party' - an overstatement. The really intriguing thing about comrade Clark's speech, though, was the belief, shared with not a few other Labour MPs, that the Labour leadership might still have a change of heart, or at least begin to present a leftist face.
So Brown's touting of the Tobin tax on financial transactions was seen as a sign that 'things are changing' and the government was moving left. The renationalisation of the East Coast rail line was also hailed as a victory for the left - nationalisation being equated with socialism, when it really means control by bureaucrats rather than capitalists. And never mind that this occurred not through pressure from below, or even pressure from within by the Socialist Campaign Group. The East Coast line simply could not be run at a profit, but is too important for the state to allow it to go under.
The reduction in the planned fleet of Trident nuclear submarines from four to three was likewise greeted as a welcome concession to the left. A more likely explanation is the fact that the programme looks to cost over £100 billion.
New Labour is the old guard and is 'going into the opposition of the Labour Party', we were told. In the midst of the biggest crisis of capitalism since the 1930s, the left was 'failing to put the arguments forward'. The remedy? We've 'got to make sure the SCG are elected' and, above all, keep the Tories out.
In truth the Labour left is hoping just to maintain its foothold in the party and in parliament. Right now, no-one is openly proposing much more than 'wait and see until after the election'. Nevertheless, behind the scenes it is another matter. More and more comrades seem to be despairing of the Labour Party and vaguely hanker for a Labour Party mark two.