Workers Power’s Labourite Reflex

What’s Bred in the Bone

An IBT statement distributed in advance of the 5 May 2005 general election in Britain contained the following polemic:

Workers Power [British section of the League for the Fifth International], which had participated in the Socialist Alliance, drew the line at Respect, describing it as a "non-class populist" formation not worth voting for. And, after years of electoral support to Labour, the April 2005 issue of Workers Power finally declared: "No vote for Labour!," "Build a new workers party."

They tried to explain this shift as follows:

"In previous elections, we have called on workers and activists to vote for Labour—not because we believed they would implement socialist measures, but to put them to the test of office and, in so doing, break people's illusions in them. They have been tested and, in the eyes of millions, found wanting.

"To repeat such a call, after eight years of hard Labour, would not facilitate—but present an obstacle to—revolutionary agitation and propaganda for a new workers party."

What Workers Power cannot explain is why this was not true in 2001 after four "years of hard Labour" or, indeed, last year when they were still supporting Labour in the local elections: "Here by actually voting Labour we can keep piling pressure on the Labour Party, keeping them exposed to the scrutiny of office and raising demands on them to act in working class interests by blocking local cuts and privatisation." This appeal appeared in small print in the same edition in which these confusionists were loudly opposing Labour in the simultaneous EU elections: "Let’s use the Euro elections to bring down Blair. Don’t vote Labour—write Troops Out Of Iraq on your ballot paper" (Workers Power, June 2004).

Who knows what might be hidden in the small print of this new position? What is the meaning of the statement "we should support genuine candidates of struggle, who are standing on a ticket of combating Labour's policies and are pledged to continue fighting the next Labour government" (Workers Power, April [2005])? Do these unnamed "genuine candidates of struggle" perhaps include the Labour left MPs?

Workers Power chose to ignore these uncomfortable questions, and did not respond to a follow-up letter we sent on 12 July 2005:

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

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 [Labour Representation Committee] 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 policies. But it cannot succeed in capturing Labour as a whole."
Workers Power No. 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."
Workers Power No. 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

Published: 1917 No.28 (December 2005)