Socialist Fight No 23 EditorialLeave a comment
29/09/2016 by socialistfight
‘Trotskyism’, Chicken Coup paranoia, and the Labour Split: Turn Labour into a genuine workers’ party!
Trotsky: ‘The left faction on the General Council is distinguished by a total ideological formlessness and for this very reason it is incapable of consolidating around itself organizationally the leadership of the trade union movement … The rights win despite the fact that the lefts are more numerous. The weakness of the lefts arises from their disorder and their disorder from their ideological formlessness’
The victory, with an increased mandate, of Jeremy Corbyn in the September Labour leadership election logically creates a new situation irrespective of the weaknesses of Corbyn and the Labour leftists who share his political worldview. This is not simply a repetition of 2015, and key illusions that surrounded Corbyn’s victory a year ago have been battered by events. The idea that there can be ‘party unity’ and collaboration between a Labour leadership such as Corbyn’s that aspires to defend the interests of working class people in an elementary sense, and New Labour’s carefully chosen representatives, the followers of Blair, Brown and ultimately Thatcher (the real ideological godmother of New Labour) always was a fantasy.
Since Corbyn’s new victory this idea has taken a further battering with the stitch up of the new NEC by the old, having created new unelected Scottish and Welsh Blairite NEC members to negate the membership’s election of Corbyn supporters on the NEC, and the pre-conference, pre-election purge of Corbyn-supporting delegates to stitch up the Conference itself. The right is choosing not to split, as yet, because the left still has not consolidated its hold over the party.
A further period of explosive factional warfare is inevitable in order to carry out the wishes of the membership and put Corbyn genuinely in power in the party, and not merely in office. When the left finally does consolidate its power, which is likely given a modicum of determination, but not inevitable, a split with the neo-liberals is well-nigh inevitable.
For those in the PLP and Labour Party apparatus who have defied Corbyn and the membership over the last three months are enemies of the Labour Party as a putative working class party, which it is clear the majority of the supporters of Jeremy Corbyn aspire to so make it. The PLP and other scabs are the extreme manifestation of the contradictory class nature of the Labour Party as it was founded.
A bourgeois workers’ party
Labour at its founding was not simply an assertion of the independent politics of the working class against the bosses. That was part of the impulse from below that led to it being founded. But the new party’s working class nature was fatally compromised by social imperialism. The crisis that led to the formation of the Labour Party was one of British capitalism losing its world monopoly as an imperialist power.
But it was also a period of increasingly fierce inter-imperialist competition leading up to the first world war, and Labour, more openly than many other European Social Democratic parties, identified with its own ruling class in that inter-imperialist competition even as it crystallised as a putative working class party. The party was dominated by the labour bureaucracy and labour aristocracy; important sections of skilled and higher paid workers identified with imperialist oppression of other peoples as the apparent source of social gains and privileged for the working class in imperial Britain.
Though this social imperialist trend later proved to be a Europe-wide phenomenon, Labour’s Fabian and Fabian-influenced leadership was the most backward in Europe. It was aided at a crucial period by the sectarian weakness of would be Marxists such as the Social Democratic Federation who refused to participate in Labour at the beginning, allowing imperialist liberals to dominate the new party.
As a result Labour consolidated itself as a bourgeois workers’ party, with a built in class contradiction between a petty-bourgeois, privileged pro-imperialist leading caste, and a working class base that saw the party as in some way the expression of its class, ultimately socialist, aspirations.
There always was a left in the party that to a varying degree was opposed to this pro-capitalist and pro-imperialist politics dominating Labour. But despite this, the left was usually in a minority and was ideologically incoherent and ultimately servile to the right wing, in the name of Labour unity. Many decades, two world wars, a prolonged Cold War between Western imperialism and the USSR, and now the imperialism of the ‘war on terror’ have brought out the pro-capitalist logic that was always there in germ in the politics of right-wing Social Democracy, with its embrace of free market attacks on the working class, imperialist revanchism and even Zionist militarism during the 1990s and 2000s.
Class contradictions and Old Labour
In the circumstances of 2015-16 and the repeated electoral humiliation of the neo-liberal right wing of Labour, even though it tolerated a half-hearted soft left like Miliband when the working class movement demanded some pretence of class representation, in the end the treachery of the Blairites ignited a fully-fledged political revolt by Labour’s working class base, in particular a large new layer of often newly politicised younger working class people who used Jeremy Corbyn’s candidacy as an opportunity to strike back against the Thatcher-lovers in the Labour Party.
Since then we have seen a cavalcade of sabotage and anti-democratic attacks directed against the membership and elected leadership of the Labour Party by these neo-liberals. Essentially they are class enemies of the working class, as the class contradiction in Labour between its bourgeois top and working class base has come to the point where a parting of the ways is essential for the party’s survival and continuance. One way or another, there must be a split of the pro-capitalist excrescence from Labour.
The spontaneous consciousness of the mass of Labour Party members is certainly class conscious, but it is far from being revolutionary. It is in many ways ‘old Labour’. But in reality it is the old Labour left that is the dominant ideological force in Labour today, not the ‘Old Labour’ right wing. I.e. it is the politics of Jeremy Corbyn, Tony Benn, Ken Livingstone and on the periphery of the constellation, George Galloway that are the main political ideologues of this ‘Old Labour’. The old right wing of ‘Old Labour’, the bourgeois bureaucratic figures like Harold Wilson and the like, are today firmly in the Blairite camp.
No one personifies this more than Tom Watson who spent a great deal of effort, with a certain amount of sincerity particularly over the Murdoch phone-hacking scandal, to project himself as a custodian of ‘Old Labour’ politics, only to become the most dishonest, most disingenuous and corrupt element of the Blairite coup. His irrational belief that hundreds of thousands of new Labour Party members are being manipulated by a small minority of Trotskyists appears very strange to most people who understand the minimal influence and sectarian incontinence of most of the ostensibly Trotskyist left in Britain today.
Trotskyism and paranoia
But in a way it is like Watson is viewing political reality through a grotesquely distorted mirror, perhaps at a fairground. What he is really afraid of is the political logic of the coming split in the Labour Party, essentially a split between its working class base and the dominant political wing of its existing, historic political-bureaucratic leadership, whose pro-capitalist decay has made impossible to seriously pose as any kind of leadership of the working class.
This is what happened in Scotland in the 2015 General Election. Confronted with a choice between left-talking nationalists and a Labour Party whose leaders offered nothing except more attacks on the working class, they decided to decamp wholesale to the SNP who at least promised them some reasonable-sounding reforms. If the Corbyn left were ousted from the Labour Party, something similar would happen to Labour in much of England. It was probably only Corbyn’s critical posture towards the neo-liberal EU, even though he projected a ‘stay in and fight for something better’ perspective, that has saved Labour from this fate already. If Labour had done what the likes of Owen Smith and the PLP wanted in the EU referendum, a Scotland type wipeout in England would have been a racing certainty.
So the logic of this situation is that Labour breaks with the historic core of its bourgeois leadership, and undivided power is gained by the wing of the old Labour Left that in recent times, particularly through the Stop the War Coalition and the anti-war movement in general, has expressed strongly anti-imperialist positions, even though within a largely parliamentarist framework.
Logic of breaking from social imperialist right
The hysteria expressed by Watson and co is not because he is stupid enough to believe that the mass of Corbyn supporters are tools of Trotskyism. It has a more profound basis. It is because circumstances have arisen where the core of Labour’s social imperialist political bureaucracy is facing political extinction at the hands of a left-wing movement whose real logic is to break with the politics of the pro-imperialist labour bureaucracy itself.
Watson sees the danger that a cataclysmic split resulting from this situation could see Labour effectively expel its social-imperialist core (including himself) and become a real working class party, instead of the contradictory organism that a bourgeois workers’ party by definition is.
For Labour to become a real working class party would require overcoming the weaknesses and incoherence of the traditional Labour left, its traditional servility towards the right. As Trotsky wrote in a series of observations on the British Labour movement in 1925, months prior to the 1926 General Strike:
‘The left faction on the General Council is distinguished by a total ideological formlessness and for this very reason it is incapable of consolidating around itself organizationally the leadership of the trade union movement.
This too explains the impotence of the lefts within the Labour Party. The latter rests of course upon the same trade unions. It might appear that the left faction which ‘leads’ the General Council would have taken control of the Labour Party. But we see something quite different in reality. The extreme rights continue to control the party. This can be explained by the fact that a party cannot confine itself to isolated left campaigns but is compelled to have an overall system of policy. The lefts have no such system nor by their very essence can they. But the rights do: with them stands tradition, experience and routine and, most important, with them stands bourgeois society as a whole which slips them ready-made solutions. For MacDonald has only to translate Baldwin’s and Lloyd George’s suggestions into Fabian language. The rights win despite the fact that the lefts are more numerous. The weakness of the lefts arises from their disorder and their disorder from their ideological formlessness. In order to marshal their ranks the lefts have first of all to marshal their ideas. The best of them will only be capable of doing so under the fire of the most ruthless criticism based upon the everyday experience of the masses.’
Trotsky’s observations were correct for their time, but we are now in a historically different situation. For all the tradition of the right and their one-time domination of Labour, neoliberalism and the contradictions of capitalism since the Financial Crisis, together with the huge discredit brought on the right wing by Blairism, the Iraq war, and its involvement in the neocon/Zionist project of dismembering the Middle East, have destroyed the hegemony of the right-wing over the Labour Party. These people’s anti-democratic, sub-Stalinist methods are a reflection of their chronic weakness and blind panic at losing the dominance their ‘tradition, experience and routine’ used to guarantee them.
Labour Left and anti-imperialism
This along with the fact that today’s Labour Corbynite lefts, for all their weaknesses, have gained real credit for their failure to capitulate to imperialism over a major imperialist war of our time: Iraq and the War on Terror. The greater differentiation of the right from the left today, as opposed to when Trotsky wrote the above passage, poses the real objective possibility of Labour breaking from bourgeois politics in the workers’ movement. This would take a major split and a driving out of the right wing Chicken Coup faction in its entirety, one way or another, either through the straightforward method of expulsion , or a more piecemeal driving out of the cretinous and demoralised rabble. Whatever happens, they need to be helped on their way with the maximum of expediency.
This is where Marxism, or Trotskyism, comes is. A real workers’ party is, in its real logic, spontaneously inclined towards genuine socialism, which is revolutionary Marxism.
That is what the Old Labour right-wing fixer-hack Watson is afraid of and where his apparent delusions about hundreds of thousands of Trotskyists taking over Labour, come from. There are of course no such hundreds of thousands. If there had been, a mass revolutionary party would already have existed in this country and Corbynism would never have happened in the first place. The leftist impulses of those who became Corbynites would have been channelled through that.
Corbyn and the trade union bureaucracy
But the possibility of hundreds of thousands of working class people, led by a stubborn, principled but still ideologically parliamentarist left around Corbyn, McDonnell, Abbot, Livingstone, Galloway and others, driving out the core of the right-wing, has a logic that must lead to a clash with the right-wing core of the trade union bureaucracy also. In fact it is already happening.
The NEC sub-committees that actively tried to rig the election for Owen Smith are dominated by the most venal and corrupt elements of unions like the GMB, the very Blairised bureaucracy of UNISON, etc. Iain McNichol is a prize specimen.
These bureaucratic thugs are the agents, in a very direct sense, of bourgeois Thatcherite politics in the workers’ movement and also need to be removed from office, the bureaucratic strutures they inhabit shattered, and the union officialdom subordinated to a revived trade union rank-and-file.
This clash, if carried to its conclusion would logically lead to a real struggle for the subordination of trade union officialdom to the interests of collectively organised workers, which is similar to some the measures (empowering the membership from below) that Corbyn is now advocating in the Labour Party. But if this were to happen, while the consciousness of those involved remained left reformist and parliamentarism, it would create an enormous contradiction in the realm of politics.
For the consistent ideological expression of a real working class party is revolutionary Marxism. It is precisely the corruption and bribery of a upper layer of the working class to support imperialism and plunder around the world that led to the rise of reformism as a hegemonic ideology in the workers’ movement in the first place. If we break with imperialism and its venal bureaucracy, logically the left movement around Corbyn must embrace revolutionary Marxism, of which Trotsky was the most recent authoritative representative.
Iain McNicol, @IainMcNicolm, ‘I am General Secretary of The Labour Party, a black belt in karate, play the bagpipes and still trying to change the world.’
Trades Description Act, anyone? ‘The NEC sub-committees that have been actively trying to rig this election for Owen Smith are dominated by the most venal and corrupt elements of unions like the GMB, the very Blairised bureaucracy of UNISON, etc. Iain McNicol is a prize specimen. These bureaucratic thugs are the agents, in a very direct sense, of bourgeois Thatcherite politics in the workers’ movement and also need to be removed from office, the bureaucratic structures they inhabit shattered, and the union officialdom subordinated to a revived trade union rank-and-file.’
Drive out the right!
It is flatly in the interests of the working class movement internationally and in Britain for the neo-liberal right to be driven out of the Labour Party, and all class conscious and revolutionary minded elements in Labour should be the firmest advocates of that.
There should be exemplary punishment for those involved in ballot rigging, including expulsions publicly motivated in rooting out corruption. Corrupt ballot-rigging crooks should be publicly denounced officially by the Labour Party as … corrupt ballot-rigging crooks.
We must fight against the left and centre-left, utopian social democratic ideology that says that there can be ‘unity’ with the Blarities. It is an utter fantasy, as well as being treacherous: in current conditions it is electoral suicide in Labourite terms as the current crop of reactionaries will at each major juncture in politics publicly sabotage the party for the Tories’ benefit.
The most conscious elements, the revolutionary minded and those with a high level of class consciousness in Labour, must take the lead in motivating the need to carry out the destruction of the Blairite faction to its logical conclusion. At the same time we must be the firmest advocates and practitioners of fraternal, comradely political debate with those on the right side of the class line that these events have drawn through the Labour Party.
We need a genuine working class party, which in its actual programme must be revolutionary and internationalist to succeed. Our tasks in this regard were anticipated by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto of 1847, whose words are amazingly relevant today:
‘In what relation do the Communists stand to the proletarians as a whole? The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties. They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole. They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement.
The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.
The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.
The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all other proletarian parties: formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat.’