Radical-reformist Kautskyites

Gerry Downing accuses the CPGB of reformism

The problem that has emerged in the debate within Communist Students over affiliation to the Labour Representation Committee is the inability of the CPGB to counterpose a Lenin-ist/Trotskyist revolutionary party to a reformist bourgeois workers' party. The truth is that the CPGB is a libertarian, radical-reformist Kautskyite party. Hence the necessity to harness Lars T Lih to 'prove' that there was no essential difference between the Leninist Bolshevik Party and the Kautskyite German Social Democratic party. The project of a party of the whole class is inherently reformist, as is "extreme democracy" - the inability to distinguish bourgeois democracy and its parliamentary road from workers' democracy, which must result in a workers' state and a proletarian dictatorship if it is to be successful. The inability to have a 'no platform' position on fascism is more libertarianism. We will produce a major article on this for the next Socialist Fight (No 6).

The report on the LRC AGM puts forward clear reformist conceptions. Stan Keable, in line with the CPGB, says: "Motion 10 [on the LRC agenda] was defeated by a two-to-one vote. In truth the comrades opposing motion 10 were not downplaying the burgeoning mass anti-cuts movement, but emphasising that to be victorious it must be channelled into the fight to unite the left and to transform the Labour Party into a political alternative, a real party of the working class."

That is a fool's errand if ever there was one. Motion 10 was the real test and the CPGB and the Alliance for Workers' Liberty took the reformist line.

Just prior to that Stan gave the game away: "Simeon Andrews (who romped home onto the NC with 81 votes) gave the motion the kiss of death by announcing that he did not want to 'transform' the Labour Party, but to 'replace' it. And, sure enough, when I checked his election address, there it was in black and white: '… we need a movement that can not only bring down the coalition government, but can lay the foundations for a new party which can once again represent the interests and aspirations of the people'."

It is true that Simeon may be seeking a more radical leftist reformist party, but we do need "a new party which can once again represent the interests and aspirations of the people" - a Leninist/Trotskyist revolutionary party. Stan 'forgot' about even the CPGB version of the substitute because it is not counterposed at all in theory. Indeed, despite all its Marxist rhetoric, the SPD turned out to be just as reformist and a thousand times more counterrevolutionary than the British Labour Party because it was put to the test. The Labour Party would have done the same in Britain as it does in all its foreign wars when in government.

That does not mean that the opponents were right in anything other than a healthy opposition to a reformist parliamentary road to socialism. Ultra-leftism can now creep in where we declare, as with Barry Biddulph on the Communist Students website: "In any case the united front was a tactic for mass communist parties which never existed in Britain and the historical context is fundamentally different. The phrase 'bourgeois workers' party' is not very helpful either. Politically the leadership and programme of the Labour Party are bourgeois, as the evidence of recent Labour governments demonstrates. The Labour Party is a bourgeois party, as Lenin acknowledged, but the sociological addition of the word 'workers', to make the phrase 'bourgeois workers' party', implies that the trade union bureaucracy represents the historic interests of the working class indirectly through the Labour Party (their party). This misrepresents the nature of the trade union bureaucracy and the Labour Party."

The united front - or workers' united front, as it is better to call it - is not just a tactic for mass communist parties, but the communist method of work in the trade unions in relation to the Labour Party. It is a 'tactic' which we apply outside of revolutionary situations (when the masses have lost their illusions in reformism and are directly turning towards the revolutionary alternative): ie, right now, no matter where we are and how big or small a group we are in. It is no good telling us that they have 'lost their illusions in Labour', which they supposedly had in 1921 when Lenin and Trotsky developed the tactic. It was precisely because they have illusions in reformism that we need the tactic. Barry is an ultra-leftist who is so strongly anti-Leninist that he feels himself far more leftwing than Lenin or Trotsky because of his scorn for reformist workers.

Barry is wrong about the trade union bureaucracy also. They were just as bureaucratic and counterrevolutionary in Lenin's time as today. The Labour Party was always the alliance of the union bureaucrats with opportunist capitalist politicians who rode on the backs of the working class. It was formed as such - Lenin knew this well when he wrote his Leftwing communism; and so did Trotsky - even in 1936, when he demanded a vote for all Labour Party candidates where revolutionists or centrists were not standing. When was it that the party's leaders were better than today? In 1918, 1926 or 1931, with Thomas, Henderson or MacDonald? Did Lenin and Trotsky really believe these capitalist politicians represented the historic interests of the working class? All Labour leaderships and governments are capitalist-imperialist governments. The question is the party as a whole: the relations of the trade unions to it, the mass of the workers who vote for it and how to win them to revolutionary politics in struggle.

In Socialist Fight No3 page 24, in the article, 'Bourgeois workers' parties: behind the mask of pseudo-revolutionary intransigence' by Ret Marut and Philippe Couthon, we spelled out in detail what was wrong with this ultra-leftism. The authors quoted an opponent who had claimed of the workers' united front: "This tactic may be termed a united front from below to bypass the traitorous leaders." They responded: "Of course, the 'traitorous leaders' cannot be 'bypassed'; they must be fought, exposed, unmasked and defeated in order for the revolutionary socialist party to be built. 'Bypassing' was certainly how the anarchists, Bukharin and the rest of the ultra-lefts understood the UF at the time, but this misunderstanding was fought by Lenin in Leftwing communism, by Trotsky in his address to the 1922 4th Congress of the Comintern and by the best Bolsheviks at the time."

If you do not seek the road to the mass of the working class by this work you are no use to the revolution. Of course, entryism into Labour or fully independent work is a tactical ques-tion, as is affiliation to the LRC. The question is, can you fight for revolutionary politics to build a revolutionary party when in the LRC? Yes, you can. Can you fight for this in the La-bour Party proper as a whole? Not very well now, but ground may open up. Wherever you are, your goal is to build or gather the forces to build a revolutionary party counterposed to Labour. If you cannot do that, you are a reformist - and that is what the CPGB and the AWL are looking like now in their Labour Party projects.