Letter to Workers Power

'Left' Labourite Illusions

Dear comrades,

While you correctly called for no vote to the Labour Party in the general election (as we also did), it appears that, as we speculated, the unspecified ‘genuine candidates of struggle’ you offered to support include the tame Labour lefts (see www.bolshevik.org).

In the article ‘Now fight for a new working class party!’ (Workers Power 296 [May 2005]) you observe that ‘The Labour Party cannot be captured by the left and transformed into the socialist party for the working class’. This seems rather obvious in light of the Labour government’s ruthless attacks on workers, immigrants, youth and other oppressed groups. Certainly the ruling class is well pleased with the advancing privatisation of the NHS and schools, the onslaught on pensions, and the plans to eliminate 100,000 public sector jobs.

In refusing electoral support to any candidates on Blair’s slate, we called on those who identify with the cause of the exploited and oppressed to break from Labour because, as you noted in Workers Power 290 [October 2004], ‘The chances of it becoming even a crude and inadequate vehicle for working class advance are nil.’ Yet now you are advising the ‘left’ Labour MPs in the LRC and the Campaign Group to remain in the party and put on a show of opposing Blair and Brown’s neo-liberalism:

‘We call on [the Labour left] – and those trade unions still affiliated to the party – to challenge Blair, campaigning for an end to the war, troops out of Iraq now, an end to privatisation and a defence of civil liberties and the rights of refugees. This is what should be discussed at the forthcoming conference called by the Campaign Group of Labour MPs and the Labour Representation Committee on 16 July.

‘But rallying the left within the Labour Party is only part of the story. It will be useful if it weakens Blair and breaks the unity of his party around right-wing politics. But it cannot succeed in capturing Labour as a whole.’
(Now fight for a new working class party! WP 296)

Why should the self-professed Marxists of Workers Power be promoting the idea that manoeuvres within the Labour Party can somehow advance the interests of the oppressed? The job of revolutionaries is surely to try to use the government’s open attacks on working people and its brutal, predatory foreign policy to destroy any remaining illusions in Labourism. To do this it is necessary to expose the role of the Labour ‘lefts’ whose pretence of opposition to the anti-working class initiatives of the leadership have historically served to neutralise any serious political challenge to the stranglehold of social-democratic reformism on the British workers’ movement.

In an earlier issue of Workers Power you asserted:

‘But there is another way forward. The LRC could launch a real fight for radical demands – against privatisations, for the re-nationalisation of the railways, airports etc, for the immediate withdrawal from Iraq, the ending of tuition fees and the restoring of grants – just for starters.’
(‘Will the Labour left make their bid?’, WP 287 [June 2004])

What purpose does it serve to promote the notion that these timid parliamentary cretins can be pushed into carrying out a ‘real fight’ against the capitalists? While you shrink from telling the simple truth about the ‘lefts’ and their role in holding Labour’s base together, you are also busy calling on the trade union bureaucrats, Respect and unspecified ‘progressive campaigns’ to sponsor a conference to discuss preparations for a new workers’ party. A left split from Labour would be a potentially very important development, but the creation of a new reformist political party can only lead to another dead-end. Revolutionaries do not call on the trade union misleaders (much less cross-class, popular-frontist formations like Respect) to build a new socialist party. That requires winning the more advanced elements of the workers’ movement to understand the necessity for a decisive political break from class-collaborationism and Labourism. As we see it, the job of revolutionaries is to tell the workers the truth and help shatter illusions, not promote them.

David Watts
For the International Bolshevik Tendency

12 July 2005

Posted: 12 September 2005