British Labour Party Adopts ‘Socialist’ Program

A Left Face for Labourism

The following excerpt from an article in the 23 November 1973 issue of Workers Vanguard contains a critique of the Labourite politics of the Revolutionary Communist League (RCL), aka the “Chartists,” with which Martin Cook was affiliated.

British “Trotskyism” Faces Left Labourism

Two ostensibly Trotskyist groups in Britain, those around the papers the Militant and the Chartist, exist essentially as organic factions within the Labour Party and regard the task of building a revolutionary workers party essentially as one of pressure to transform the BLP into a revolutionary organization. The Militant group controls the Labour Party Young Socialists and, with the absorption of the Tribunites into the Wilson regime, is becoming something of the official left opposition.

The Militant group is characterized by a pollyanna-like belief in the ever-deepening leftward movement of the BLP. Despite the fact that the “left” leaders clearly sold out on all major issues, the Militant (5 October) rejoiced, “the Labour Party is once again aware of its working-class nature. It is a class party…. the ranks are moving the leadership to the left.” Reading Militant accounts of the conference, one would never know that Wilson, with the connivance of the “left,” had scotched the 25-companies proposal.

For the Militant, the Labour Party by definition never moves to the right. At the 1972 BLP conference, the Militant-supported Shipley amendment calling for massive nationalizations was actually passed, partly because the bureaucracy was being careless about votes with the elections still a way off. At the recent conference, however, a similar Militant resolution was overwhelmingly defeated. Commenting on this turnabout, the Militant (12 October) judged, “the Labour Party has not taken a step backward.”

The Militant group’s illusions of gaining power in the BLP rest on its base in the constituency parties, which are composed of individual members. On the key nationalization vote all of the Militant group’s support came from the constituency parties, while the trade-union delegations buried it, demonstrating for the millionth time that the BLP is controlled by the trade union bureaucracy. Properly carried out, entry work in the constituency parties could be a useful means of projecting revolutionary politics. However, to believe that one is waging a struggle for power in the constituency parties is childish. Indeed, the union bureaucracy finds the constituency parties a convenient playground for the naive “revolutionary left.”

At present, while the Labour Party receives at least 80 percent of the British working-class vote, and in the absence of any alternative mass workers party, one of the key means for transforming a Trotskyist propaganda nucleus into a revolutionary workers party (and winning the leadership of sections of the class in struggle) will be through entry work inside the BLP. The purpose of such entry is not to transform the BLP gradually into a revolutionary party by supporting endless successions of left oppositions. Rather, in this period it is to aid in recruiting and developing a hardened communist cadre through struggle against the Labourite leadership, both the Tribunites, Wilsonites and Jenkinsites. One of the most promising areas for such work at present is in Labour youth organizations. But the decisive conflict in the Labour Party will occur in the unions, through a struggle to oust the bureaucracy and replace it with communist leadership. And while it is important even for a small propaganda group to exploit Labour’s contradictions by working inside the BLP, especially now when it is putting on leftist airs to appease its electoral base, to center activity on this single arena would be deforming a revolutionary organization.

The small Revolutionary Communist League (RCL), which publishes the Chartist, sees itself as the left wing of the Militant tendency in the Labour Party. It denies that the BLP is a social-democratic party, describing it as belonging to the category of “the mass, amorphous, ‘united front’ movements and bodies of the working class (which are in themselves politically colourless)….” (Chartist, August 1973). Thus, the RCL views the Labour Party as a politically neutral body (which occasionally administers state power) whose reformist leadership can be simply displaced, denying the need to split the BLP, to create a fundamentally different type of party, both programmatically and organizationally.

In its current agitation the RCL (as well as the Militant) has laid great stress on the Chilean events and the similar dangers facing the next Labour government: “The terrible defeat in Chile hung over all of the debates at the conference” (Chartist, 13 October 1973). In one sense, of course, it is always in order to call for the arming of the labor movement. However, to project the Chilean situation onto the next Labour government suggests that Wilson will actually carry out massive nationalizations provoking capitalist economic sabotage and counterrevolutionary violence. This is nonsense. A second Wilson government will pursue policies similar to that of the first Wilson government which, one should recall, (after re-nationalizing the steel industry) was mainly called on to discipline the unions through a “national incomes policy” i.e., state wage controls. Unfortunately, it appears that the Militant and Chartist groups actually believe that the next Labour government will deliberately disrupt the orderly functioning of British capitalism.

The RCL has perverted the correct position that revolutionaries must have an orientation toward the mass organizations of the working class into a position that the road to proletarian revolution must go through the BLP and its transformation into a soviet. It is certainly possible that in a revolutionary situation the organs of dual power may arise out of local Labour Party bodies, but to suggest that this is inevitable is to adapt to the present consciousness and organization of the class.

This is the same sort of error made by Andres Nin, the leader of the Spanish Trotskyists in the early 1930’s, who argued that because of their large size and relatively militant leadership, in Spain the trade unions would take the place of soviets. What this position amounted to in practice was revealed at the height of the civil war, when Nin’s centrist POUM repeatedly capitulated to the anarchist leaders of the CNT labor federation. At the heart of this position is the substitution of organizational amalgams for political leadership. This is made clear in the RCL’s document, The Socialist Charter: A Programme for the Labour Party, where it states that the “new Fourth International” will be based on the trade unions, labor and socialist organizations and the “socialist” states!