Socialist Fight No. 18 Editorial: A Labour vote is a class vote

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09/11/2014 by socialistfight

CominternUnited Front

Toward the United Front, Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922, Edited and translated by John Riddell, 2012

A Labour vote is a class vote

Trotsky made his position on the British Labour party very clear in all of his writings,

“for every revolutionary organisation in Britain its attitude to the masses and to the class is almost coincident with its attitude towards the Labour Party, which bases itself on the trade unions”. [1]

Although the policy of the existing left wing of the party was as dire then as it is now,

“The policy of the Opposition in the Labour Party is unspeakably bad. But this only means that it is necessary to counterpose to it inside the Labour Party another, a correct Marxist policy. That isn’t so easy? With this we are entirely in accord: the bureaucracy will not surrender. But the revolutionists, functioning outside and inside, can and must succeed in winning over tens and hundreds of thousands of workers.” [2] …

“A revolutionary group of a few hundred comrades is not a revolutionary party and can work most effectively at present by opposition to social patriots within the mass organisations. In view of the increasing acuteness of the international situation, it is absolutely essential to be within the mass organisations while there is the possibility of doing revolutionary work within them.” [3]

As we will show class consciousness is lodged in workers organisations and is a long time in the making, historically. In Chapter 1 of Anti-Dühring Engels observes:

“In 1831, the first working-class rising took place in Lyons; between 1838 and 1842, the first national working-class movement, that of the English Chartists, reached its height. The class struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie came to the front in the history of the most advanced countries in Europe, in proportion to the development, upon the one hand, of modern industry, upon the other, of the newly-acquired political supremacy of the bourgeoisie. Facts more and more strenuously gave the lie to the teachings of bourgeois economy as to the identity of the interests of capital and labour, as to the universal harmony and universal prosperity that would be the consequence of unbridled competition.” [4]

There are now innumerable workers’ parties throughout the planet: Maoist/Marxist-Leninist international groupings basing themselves on the heritage of the Comintern in its Third Period of ultra-leftism (1928-35) as well as Trotskyist Internationals claiming to be the Fourth International or setting themselves the task of regenerating it (the latter includes the LCFI) and a handful of fifth internationalists who claim to stand in the tradition of the first four revolutionary internationals.

Five theses

In the 1989 pamphlet, Class Consciousness and the Revolutionary Party we set out four main theses that revolutionaries should defend and develop. In December 2011, in the light of the theoretical developments made by the common position on the war in Libya taken by Socialist Fight, the Liga Communista of Brazil and the Revolutionary Marxist Group of South Africa, we became acutely aware that there was a vital missing element in those four theses and sought to rectify it in the new Introduction. We now add the fifth theses to the original four, which the struggle over Libya had forced on our consciousness. This asserts our consistent revolutionary internationalism as developed by the Revolutionary Comintern in its first four Congresses and defended by Lenin, Trotsky and all revolutionary socialists since:

l. Working class (and of course all social) consciousness develops out of the social relations of production in dialectical, mutual and many sided interactions between the revolutionary party, all working class political parties, the parties of the bourgeoisie, the non party vanguard and the broad mass of the working class and oppressed.

2. The great historic experience of the Russian Revolution of 1905 was necessary before Marxists could develop the Leninist theory of the revolutionary party and its relationship to the working class. Only democratic centralism enables the revolutionary party to develop Marxism.

3. Class consciousness does not develop in the minds of individual workers divorced from their social relations. It is lodged in the organisations of the working class. That is the trade unions and reformist, Stalinist, centrist and revolutionary parties and groups vying for the leadership of the class.

4. The Marxist method is dialectical materialism and the application of this method to the class struggle is the Transitional Method (TM). This can only operate effectively within the practice of the United Front (UF). That is we must learn how to defend strategic principles whilst utilising all the flexile tactics necessary to build the revolutionary party and advance the struggles of the class towards the goal of the socialist revolution. [5]

5. The class consciousness of the working class does not and cannot develop in single, isolated countries. Given the global character of capitalism itself and the ever-increasing mutual dependency of all national economies on the world division of labour (‘just in time’ production methods, etc.) and on world trade and global financial markets in its imperialist stage it is at this level that all working class consciousness, reformist, centrist and revolutionary, develops or regresses. The falling rate of profit is an international phenomenon driving imperialist powers to WWIII independently of their will and consciousness, the revolutionary party in every country can only exist and develop as a section of the World Party of Socialist revolution, a reforged Fourth International.

The Workers United Front

In the first place it is necessary to defend our joint orientation to the TU’s AND the Labour party in Britain and to their counterparts internationally as the correct method to approach the working class and develop their class consciousness and win the best elements to the banner of revolutionary Trotskyism. Trotsky proposed a Workers United Front (WUF) between the KPD and the SPD in Germany in the early 1930s, specifically rejecting the Stalinist notion of a “UF from below” but proposing one which was directed at BOTH the SPD leaders (in the party and the trade unions) AND the rank-and-file; from ABOVE AND BELOW he never tired of emphasising.

The UF places demands on these misleaders to fight capitalist austerity and the fascists, etc. which would expose them in action before their ranks as betrayers and sell-outs by means of this engagement. In other words, like Trotsky who was convinced the SPD, as part of the German labour movement (a bourgeois-workers’ party who had committed far worse crimes against the German working class than Labour has done to the British), was a central roadblock to the fight against fascism and for the revolution in the 1930s so now we are convinced that both the TU bureaucracy and its allied Labour party leaders are absolute roadblocks to advancing the class struggle to revolution in Britain today.

The task still is to set its ranks against its leadership. Simply denouncing them amounted to a demand that their ranks desert them and join us, merely a futile propagandist gesture which could only lead to increasing ultra-leftist frustration. We know that the KPD contemptuously dismissed Trotsky’s advice; the SPD were “social-fascists” they said. Those who characterise Labour, social democracy internationally and bourgeois workers’ parties of Stalinist and other origins, like the SACP of South Africa and the PT of Brazil and the Indian CPI and CPI (M) for instance, as simply “bourgeois-imperialists” play the same role and use the same mistaken tactic of the “united front from below” as the German KPD and the third period Stalinists did.

The ABC of Marxism

Here is Trotsky in 1932 quoting from and defending his 1922 resolution to the Fourth Congress of the Comintern where he makes it clear that the WUF tactic in Germany was not a one-off for the early 1930s only but was the “ABC of Marxism”:

“Is the united front to be extended so as to include only the working masses, or so as to include also opportunistic leaders? …Were we able to simply unite the working masses around our banner … by eliminating the reformist party, or trade union organizations – that, of course, would be the best way. But, in that case, the very question of the united front, in its present form, would be non-existent. In the question of the united front, as it is raised, we observe a passive and wishy-washy tendency masked by verbal intransigence… Doesn’t it seem as if these lines were written today against Stalin-Manuilsky-Thälmann-Neumann?

Actually, they were written ten years ago, against Frossard, Cachin, Charles Rappaport, Daniel Renoult and other French opportunists disguising themselves with ultra-leftism. We put this question point blank to the Stalinist bureaucracy: Were the theses we quoted “counter-revolutionary” even during that time when they expressed the policies of the Russian Politbureau, with Lenin at its head, and when they defined the policy of the Comintern? We warn them duly not to attempt in answer to reply that conditions have changed since that period: the matter does not concern questions of conjuncture; but, as the text itself puts it, of the ABC of Marxism. [6]

As Revolutionaries and the Labour Party noted

“The argument put forward … that the situation is ripe nationally for an independent electoral challenge to Labour from the left bears no relationship to political reality. These groups ignore Lenin’s emphasis on the need for ‘a sober assessment of the actual level of political consciousness of the working class as a whole (and not just its communist vanguard)’. It is not that their line doesn’t find a resonance among some groups of workers. Periods of retreat and demoralisation frequently produce ultra-left moods in a minority of the class. The real question is whether this line represents a correct approach to the politically conscious sections of the working class as a whole. And the answer is that it does not.” [7]

Scotland, Spain, Greece and Ireland

Tommy Sheridan (R), his wife Gail arrive at the High Court in Glasgow where the jury is to consider its verdict on December 23 2010 in Glasgow, Scotland. Mr Sheridan is accused of giving false evidence in a trial in 2006, over claims by a national newspaper that he had visited sex-clubs. Yesterday the ex-MSP pleaded with the jury to acquit him and not ruin his daughter's Christmas.

Tommy Sheridan (R), his wife Gail arrive at the High Court in Glasgow where the jury is to consider its verdict on December 23 2010 in Glasgow, Scotland. Mr Sheridan is accused of giving false evidence in a trial in 2006, over claims by a national newspaper that he had visited sex-clubs. Yesterday the ex-MSP pleaded with the jury to acquit him and not ruin his daughter’s Christmas.

Those like Tommy Sheridan in Scotland who now see their role is to smash Labour in Scotland and join in a popular front with the Greens and the SNP against them betray the class, they have rejected class politics entirely – see SF statement on this (p. 25). Even more bizarre is the development of Left Unity who have moved on from the politics of the anti-Marxist intersectionalists [8] to embrace the politics of USFI-backed Podemos of Spain.

They are now vying in the opinion polls with the traditional parties of government and proclaim themselves to be a party “neither of the left nor of the right” and like their Greek counterpart, Syriza and Sinn Fein in Ireland, have indicated that they will pose no threat to capitalism whatsoever if they manage to achieve the reins of power. Podemos’s leader Iglesias has rejected all his previous talk of cancelling the debt and now talks about an “orderly restructuring” of Spain’s financial burden.

Similarly the election of Mick Cash as leader of the RMT may indicate a move to the right in industrial terms but the electoral fortunes of the Europhobic No to EU, Yes to Democracy in European elections and of the Trade Union Socialist Coalition (TUSC) in British elections indicates that the backers of these reformist electoral enterprises have made “no sober assessment of the actual level of political consciousness of the working class”.

The most class conscious section of the working class will vote Labour in 2015 because they see it as the only viable alternative to the Tories on which they can have some influence via the trade unions. In this there is a kernel of truth, provided Marxists can give it a conscious political expression. In the trade unions we fight for a rank and file orientation via the Grass Roots Left and in the Labour party we intervene in the LRC. This is how we seek to give conscious expression to the unconscious historical process by united front transitional demands.

Notes

[1] Trotsky, Writings on Britain, vol. 3, p. 107.

[2] Leon Trotsky, ILP and the Fourth International, In the Middle of the Road, (18 September 1935) http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1935/09/ilp-fi.htm

[3] Leon Trotsky’s Writings on Britain, Volume 3, https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/britain/v3/ch02i.htm

[4] Fredrick Engles, Anti-Dühring http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Anti-D%C3%BChring/Part_I/Chapter_1

[5] Class Consciousness and the Revolutionary Party, (Available in French and Spanish also), By Gerry Downing https://socialistfight.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/in-defence-of-trotskyism-no-3.pdf

[6] Leon Trotsky, What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat, http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/germany/1932-ger/next02.htm

[7] Revolutionaries and the Labour Party, http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/document/ltt/wil-revs-labour94.htm

[8] This anti-Marxist theory says that various biological, social and cultural categories such as gender, race, class, ability, sexual orientation, caste, and other axes of identity interact on multiple and often simultaneous levels, contributing to systematic injustice and social inequality.

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