“;The British labour movement, for a long time yet, unfortunately, promises to serve as a deplorable example of how the isolation of the labour movement from socialism inevitably leads to degeneration and bourgeois ideas”;
The debate in the pages of New Interventions on the crisis of the Labour Party has raised a number of very important issues that deserve a reply, not least on the continuing questions posed by the experience of standing independent candidates in Liverpool. Therefore the main aim of this article is to put the Liverpool experience into proper perspective, but to do so will require a somewhat wide ranging investigation into the fortunes of reformism and the Marxist response to it.
Stating the Problem
In the post election special issue of NI [May 1992] Chris Bailey was absolutely correct to turn the discussion to the international (or in this case European) fortunes of social democracy rather than to keep an insular British perspective. To look at the problem in this manner is the only valid method for any Marxist. But Bailey’s approach, despite the many empirical references, appears to suffer from a certain theoretical abstractness, which leads to no attempt to offer a solution nor a very satisfactory explanation as to why socialism has been so marginalised, both within social democracy, and as an ideology within the working class.
To try to attempt an answer to these problems it is necessary to look concretely at the nature of present day social democracy, and in particular the British Labour Party. Alistair Mitchell made a valuable contribution when he answered the question of what is the nature of the Labour Party (NI October 1991), and so I will not repeat his outline of the views of Lenin and Trotsky, but they do need to be expanded. Lenin used various terms to describe his concepts of the differences between workers’ parties, but it is clear that he had two basic ways of determining what constituted such a party. The first, and by far the most important, was the political programme of the organisation, whilst the second was its class composition and social base. The two were, of course, dialectically inter-linked. Lenin (and Trotsky) believed that a party that held a correct programme and applied it to the class struggle would become a proletarian party in its membership even if it started out as being made up largely of intellectuals. However it was possible for workers’ parties to exist with a non-Marxist (or even non-socialist) programme if they were based on the working class. This is made clear in Lenin’s report of the debate he attended in 1908 of the International Socialist Bureau, the leading body of the Second International, that concerned the affiliation of the Labour Party. He quotes the rules of the International which stated that “;the organisations eligible for affiliation are, first, Socialist parties who recognize the class struggle, and second, Labour organisations who adopt the point of view of the class struggle (i.e., trade unions).”; Lenin supported affiliation on this basis, recognising that the Party stood between the two categories and was “;of a mixed type”;. It was what Lenin would refer to as a liberal-labour party, or in What is to be Done as a bourgeois workers’ party.
As Mitchell rightly states Lenin believed that the root of a bourgeois political programme within a workers’ party lay in the existence of a labour aristocracy that had gone over to the bourgeoisie. Mitchell is also right to criticise this conception. It is now obvious that opportunism and liberal politics within the labour movement, or in the working class, are not restricted to privileged layers but are generalised throughout the class. Why is this so?
We must start our analysis with the basic formulation of Marx from The German Ideology that “;the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force in society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.”; Taken alone this can be seen to indicate that the dominant ideology of society is always going to be that of the ruling order. This is of course not true, as Marx stressed; it is the struggle between classes that throws out rival ideas and conceptions to those of the ruling class, if it did not then any social revolution is impossible. Therefore in the material struggle to obtain their own class interests workers would be in a position to break from bourgeois ideology. Lenin’s aristocracy of labour theory was an attempt to find a materialist explanation for the existence of sections of workers who did not break from bourgeois ideas despite the existence of the class struggle. It was, he argued, because they had been ‘brought off’. In retrospect this can be seen as being very simplistic, although the theory has some merits it is not enough to explain why the vast majority of workers still hold bourgeois ideas when it is patently obvious that they do not enjoy bourgeois living standards. (It is also interesting to note that Cliff’s SWP who argue fiercely against the aristocracy of labour theory actually hold an even cruder version of it in their ritual denunciation of the trade union bureaucracy).
So if Lenin’s analysis is mistaken, even with his later revisions, what can we put in its place? Put simply mass revolutionary consciousness is almost wholly made in the process of revolution itself. Ideas as well as people become transformed by struggle. We only have to take a cursory look at history to see that although social revolutions are preceded by the development of new ideas from material struggles these ideas rarely gain hegemony over the revolutionary class until the revolution is under way. The English Parliamentary leaders who led the opposition to the power of the monarchy in 1640 would not have believed it possible that in so doing Charles would get the chop nine years later and a republic be formed – radical ideas and a new bold leadership were developed out of the struggle itself. It was the publication of Tom Paine’s Common Sense in 1776 that first provided the American Revolution with a hegemonic programme even though the revolutionary process had began a decade earlier with concerted opposition to the 1665 Stamp Act. The same process was also at work in the worlds first socialist revolution when it took from 1905 until October 1917 for a Marxist revolutionary programme to gain hegemony amongst the proletariat of Russia.
This does not mean that a minority of revolutionaries who exist prior to a revolution are not important to the development of revolutionary consciousness amongst the masses. John Lilburn, a leader of the Levellers in the 1640’s, was fighting secular and religious authority ten years earlier and had built up a large plebeian following by the time of the Civil War. The American Revolution was made largely by the actions of the revolutionary plebeian groups known as the Sons and Daughters of Liberty based in the large cities of Boston and New York from 1665 – the American equivalent of the English Levellers or French Jacobins. In Russia the central role of the revolutionary Marxist party, the Bolsheviks, in the October revolution needs no comment except that their existence prior to 1917 was crucial to their ability to lead the revolutionary forces.
All these examples show that revolutionaries will always be a minority of the revolutionary class on this side of the revolution. Only when the masses are propelled into action can we expect revolutionary consciousness to gain hegemony – when the direct experience of struggle contradicts the ideas of the ruling class and the accepted reality and truth of those ideas is seen to be false. This is the real key to understanding the basis of reformist\capitalist ideology within the working class, not as a result of direct material conditions (the labour aristocracy theory) but as a result of a false consciousness that appears to fit certain ‘truths’ – that immigrants cause unemployment, or that the state can be controlled through parliament for example. They are accepted only because they are the dominant ideas of the ruling class and have gained hegemony because a lack of class struggle and\or intervention by socialists promoting alternate ideas has not taken place (although even with a revolution Marx believed it would be generations before bourgeois ideas – “;the shit of ages”; – would disappear in their entirety).
False consciousness is most likely to exist when the working class is atomised and unable to act in a collective manner. Bourgeois conceptions like the centrality of the individual are only accepted by large sections of workers when this collectivism has been broken down and the attitudes of ‘I’m alright Jack’ come to the fore. This can happen in periods of defeat, for instance when a strike is crushed or mass unemployment causes fear amongst employed workers over their own jobs, but it can also occur during periods of prosperity (either relative or absolute) if workers feel they are materially benefiting from the capitalist system. This is the social basis of the ‘working class Tory’ from the turn of the century, or scabbing Notts. miners in 1984-85, and it is here where the aristocracy of labour theory does have some validity, as it does in analysing the false consciousness of white South African workers, Zionist workers in Palestine or Orange workers in the six counties (although often these examples cannot be said to be due to the existence of bourgeois living standards amongst sections of workers, often it is, in the words of Eamonn McCann, ‘tuppence halfpenny looking down on tuppence’, therefore more subtle explanations again have to be found).
Socialist ideology is built upon this collectivism of workers. Capitalism creates collectivism by its tendency to put workers together in large groups (factories, mines, large transport networks, big offices etc.) where they can perceive a common identity and a common objective. Marx looked to the industrial proletariat not simply because of their economic power but because of their collective psychology produced by their material conditions. But capitalism also seeks constantly to destroy collectivism by introducing divisions such as gender and race, or in the fact that workers are in competition between themselves – as individuals over jobs, or as sectional groups in rival factories or nations in the fight for markets. The class struggle leads to a challenge to capitalist ideology and division/atomisation amongst the class because it generalises working class interests and breaks down sectionalism. Social democracy was built upon collectivism, and the Labour Party especially so due to its trade union origins. This is not to say that by doing so the social democratic parties would necessarily become socialist organisations, collectivism is only the foundation upon which socialism is built; other, false, ideologies (reformism) can also come from it – if this was not the case then the struggle for socialism and socialist consciousness would be an automatic process that flowed directly from economic struggles.
The decline and transformation of social democracy (from promising to achieve socialism by gradual reforms to promising to reform capitalism in favour of workers and finally to a position today where nothing is promised and even ritualistic references to socialism have disappeared) must be looked at from the perspective of the class struggle and the consciousness of the class otherwise it becomes a meaningless abstraction. Unfortunately most of the contributions to the NI debate have been examples of this abstraction where the history of social democracy is treated as a history of ideas, with no connection to the living struggles of workers. Since Lenin’s day the structure of capitalism has been changed many times (not that the sects who worship sacred texts have noticed of course). This process has led to a number of important changes within the class. The decline of heavy industries within Europe and the development of smaller work-forces within factories due to technology investments (the increasing ratio of dead labour to living labour) has meant that the industrial proletariat, the old backbone of collectivist ideology, has been very much reduced in relative size and social importance. This is not to say that the working class as a whole has disappeared or is any smaller, it has simply changed. This process was taking place during the post war boom but the world slumps since the 1970’s have speeded it up. When combined with Britain’s historical long-term decline this means that the effects, like the destruction of manufacturing industries when faced with superior competition, has been far more marked than in most other European countries. Inevitably this has changed collectivist consciousness amongst the class and has had a large impact on the reformist parties as they attempt, as before, to gain support by adapting their policies to workers’ dominant ideologies. As the collectivist ideology made a retreat social democracy, as a set of ideas based around the working class, also retreated, thereby becoming further removed from any socialist or proletarian base.
In the 1980’s the recession and decline of collectivism (or its forced destruction in the case of the miners) led to a decline in class consciousness amongst many workers. In the working class estates of most major cities rising unemployment and poverty have led to increased alienation and criminality which is especially marked amongst the youth (at the moment joy riding and drug abuse are the most visible signs of this process). But whilst many of the youth have turned away from socialism and the traditional class organisations (membership of the YS has fallen from over 10,000 in the mid-1980s to little more than 200 paper members today, due mainly to the witch-hunting efforts of Kinnock perhaps, but this is not the only reason), this does not mean that collective consciousness has entirely disappeared, but it may be expressed through different channels. The vast majority of the 200,000 marchers on the 1990 London Poll Tax demo were youth, and yet few were involved in any way politically with either socialists or anarchists, and nor were they active in the APTU’s. These examples of political alienation do not mean that fight-backs don’t take place, but it does mean that socialists are often hard-pressed to find a hearing.
Formally one of the major aspects of reformism (whether in the shape of social democracy or of the communist parties) was to act as a break on the class struggle and as traitors in a revolution. They could achieve this role because of their mass following and the fact that they acted as intermediaries between the demands of workers and the capitalist state – not only was radicalism from below watered down and made safe, but capitalist ideology was transferred from the ruling class down through the labour leaders and into the working class through the mass organisations. The future ability of social democracy to carry this out, or to hold back a revolutionary upsurge, must now be put in doubt. In one of his more perceptive comments Tony Cliff described this process very well:
“;For decades Marxists used to infer the state of mass consciousness from a few institutional barometers – membership of organisations, readership of papers, etc. The deep alienation of workers from the traditional organisations eroded all such barometers. This is why there was no way of detecting the imminence of the upheaval in May 1968. And also, more important, it explains the extreme, explosive nature of events. If the workers in France had been accustomed to participate in the branch life of the trade unions or the Communist Party, these institutions would have served both as an aid and as ballast, preventing the rapid uncontrolled spread of the strike movement. The concept of apathy or privatisation is not a static concept. At a certain stage of development – when the path of individual reforms is being narrowed, or closed – apathy can transform into its opposite, swift mass action. However, this new turn comes from an outgrowth of the previous stage; the epilogue and the prologue combine. Workers who have lost their loyalty to the traditional organisations, which have shown themselves to be paralysed over the years, are forced into extreme, explosive struggles on their own”;
The control over ideology is now tighter than ever by the ruling class – use of the media is especially important. The decline of the traditional collectivist occupations has been combined with a decline of alternate sources of information and ideology; the trade union or ward meeting, daily labour papers, workers’ social clubs and the cultural activities of the pre-television era such as the left theatre groups. A very real ‘crisis of leadership’ exists. But the class struggle has not ended, it merely seeks different avenues to express itself. So it has not been the case that workers have turned in droves to their traditional political organisation, the Labour Party, as a result of recent major industrial battles (the miners strike or local authority disputes) or in political struggles such as the Poll Tax campaign (nor have they turned to revolutionary organisations, this point will be discussed later). The trade unions are different in the sense that they are still workers’ self defence organisations and will be looked to automatically when workers are in struggle.
Although there has been a decline in sections of the manual working class other militant sections have or will replace them. In the 1970’s the massive growth of NUPE was due to a radicalisation of previously passive groups of workers (mainly women) such as hospital staff. Recently we have seen the increasing unionisation and militancy of many bank workers, traditionally viewed by many Marxists as petit-bourgeois. This gives a lie to the argument typified in the pages of the not missed at all Marxism Today that the end of the working class was upon us. Not surprisingly most of those that argued this nonsense have gone from Kinnockism to straightforward liberalism (Robin Blackburn for example argued for tactical voting in the general election and stated he would be voting for the Lib-Dems in his constituency, who as it turned out trailed behind the Labour candidate at the poll!).
That a social democracy orientated collectivism has not come forward from these new militant sections strongly enough to replace the old ones is accounted for by the accumulation of betrayal of the Labour Party. Alistair Mitchell is wrong in his assertion that workers still see the Labour Party as ‘theirs’, an increasing majority don’t which leads to an intensification of alienation and apathy. This is the reason why the relatively high degree of radicalism amongst Scottish workers has not led to an influx of members to the Labour Party there. Even when Militant recruited to the Labour Party during the Poll Tax campaign they were blocked by the right-wing (500 membership applications rejected in Pollok alone) leading to the formation of Scottish Militant Labour. Even if workers did look to the Labour Party in an upturn of struggle it is clear that they would be unable to join it!
The above analysis should only be seen as tentative, but hopefully it will lead to a more wide-ranging debate on the crisis of labourism than has at present been attempted. So much for theory, what of practice?
The Liverpool Experience
As an active member of the BL (Liverpool Labour Broad Left) this is an unashamedly partisan account of recent events in the Liverpool labour movement, but such an account is necessary because, with the exception of Mike Jones, the contributions to the debate on Walton etc. have been almost totally lacking in any understanding of the processes at work in the city.
The background to the recent events in Liverpool cannot be listed here but all comrades should read Taffe and Mulhearn’s Liverpool: A City That Dared To Fight [London 1988] which, despite criticisms and the overall triumphalist tone, remains the only history of the rise of the left/Militant in the city that is written from a Marxist and working class perspective. One thing should be made clear from the start; unlike those ‘lefts’ that seek to abuse Militant or the BL for alleged racism, sexism and ‘bully-boy’ tactics (of which no evidence is produced because none exists) both Militant and the BL are solidly working class in composition, the BL being made up almost entirely of active trade unionists from the blue collar unions and of working class Labour members. The BL therefore should not be compared to some London Labour left groups (known in Liverpool as ‘the trendies’) whose membership is often anything but working class, there is a qualitative difference involved – throughout the period the Liverpool BL represented real class forces not constituency cliques. So far as membership is concerned Militant has suffered a marked decline since the ’84-’85 council struggle where they had well over 500 active members in the city, today that figure is below 200. The BL has between 500 and 1000 paid up members of which between 200 and 300 are active.
It is not always easy to separate Militant from the BL, but this does not mean that the BL is or was Militant’s poodle. Before the recent break-away of the Liverpool Independent Labour Party (of which more below) Militant probably made up only 40% of the BL, the remainder being mainly those with Heffer-like hard left politics, but being the only organised political group they usually (but not always) had political hegemony. The decision to stand in Walton was initiated largely by the non-Militant Labour rank and file members, although Militant gave immediate support to the proposal and it is clear in retrospect that it was part of the organisation’s ‘Scottish Turn’.
As Mike Jones correctly stated the Walton decision flowed from the logic of the previous period. The witch-hunt, beginning in 1985, had only a marginal effect on the strength of the left in the city. This led Kinnock to a drastic solution; destroy the left, even if that meant the destruction of the entire local party. 14 councillors were suspended early in 1991, just before the Labour Group AGM, for carrying out DLP (and Labour Group) policy in voting against implementing the Poll Tax. This allowed Rimmer, Kinnock and Kilfoyle’s puppet, to take control of the group after defeating soft-left leader Keva Coombes (who was despised by Kinnock for refusing to ‘get tough’ with Militant). A further 15 councillors were suspended shortly afterwards for voting against a rent rise (again DLP policy, and one of their election promises), making a total of 29, almost half the Labour Group. At the same time the DLP and Labour Women’s Council were shut down. These undemocratic actions were organised by Kilfoyle, at the time regional organiser, who had also removed socialists from the Walton constituency by the same Stalinist methods. When some of these suspended councillors went up for reselection in May they were undemocratically removed and imposed candidates put in their place against the wishes of the CLP’s and wards concerned. By this time Rimmer’s Lib-Lab pact were making massive cuts and redundancies. The fight for jobs and the fight for party democracy became one and the same.
The 1991 local election victories of five BL independent candidates (the sixth losing by less than fifty votes) were a massive boost for the left that produced a feeling of invincibility amongst many in the BL and Militant. This was mistaken, but those of us who urged caution were largely ignored. In this atmosphere a challenge to Kilfoyle in the Walton by-election was inevitable. But that decision was not wrong. Kilfoyle’s selection was narrow, only just beating Lesley Mahmood, and was the result of some dubious union votes (where votes by some branches for Mahmood were altered at the last moment by branch secretaries) and his role in organising the ballot as regional organiser (removing numbers of left-wing members etc.). But this was secondary to the wider issues. Kilfoyle made it clear that his main aim was to support Rimmer’s Lib-Lab pact of cuts and redundancies and, with the help of Heseltine, make Liverpool ‘respectable’. At Eric Heffer’s funeral, attended by hundreds, many Walton residents pleaded with leading BL councillors to not allow this scumbag to take the place of Eric, striking council workers also pressed for a challenge.
In the local elections the BL independents had stood as ‘Real Labour’. This was entirely correct; they were the democratically selected candidates of their wards, had significant trade union support, and were standing on the eight year old policies of the DLP (no redundancies, no cuts, no rent rises and no poll tax). This is the reason Real Labour was used in Walton, Lesley Mahmood represented the policies of the DLP and was the selected candidate of the BL (who made up three-quarters of the local party). It made perfect sense locally, but it is understandable why it was misunderstood elsewhere. Also misunderstood was the programme of Mahmood. She was not standing as a member of Militant (although this was discussed openly on the doorstep) but as the representative of the BL, which is neither Trotskyist nor Marxist. Whilst revolutionaries like myself were unhappy at the reformism inherent within it, we understood the reasons behind it.
Mahmood lost heavily, but the reasons behind this are not understood by many of the NI contributors. Mike Jones was right when he said that half way through the campaign Kilfoyle and Mahmood were neck and neck. In fact an unpublished poll by a local paper early in the battle showed Mahmood in front (which is why it was unpublished, the information was supplied by a sympathetic reporter). Ken Tarbuck is wrong to say this was the result of initial confusion, which although a factor was, after the previous massive publicity and debate over the local elections, marginal. The major reason for the slump in actual voting support for Mahmood was the barrage of propaganda from the local and national media (Maxwell’s Mirror probably being the biggest influence). Kilfoyle’s campaign was run through the media, with hardly any active canvassers. This did not at any time affect the backbone of the BL support, the striking council workers and their families. But the tragedy for the left was that the strike only affected a minority of the class – it was both sectional and defensive. For many others not involved in struggle it was all too easy to believe that their bins hadn’t been emptied for months because of the ‘loony left’. Added to this is the fact that although the BL campaign gained genuine mass support amongst the youth this was not reflected in the actual vote. The majority of under 30’s supported the BL but most were not registered to vote either through contempt for the electoral process as a result of alienation and apathy, or because of poll tax dodging. Therefore an analysis of Walton that looks only at voting figures will miss the real impact of the campaign.
Where Ken Tarbuck may be correct is in thinking that this period will be the high tide in BL influence for some time. But this needs analysis. The council workers were defeated, leading to further redundancies and massive demoralisation. When added to the demoralisation resulting from further job cuts at Cammel Lairds and Ford Halewood (the city council and Fords are the only two major employers left in a city where there exists on average 40% unemployment – 80% in many areas), this led to bitter despair amongst many workers. In the ’91 local elections for the first time in many years the Lib-Dems gained more votes than the Labour Party; their actual vote had remained static but the Labour vote fell as thousands of workers refused to vote for the right-wing candidates, only turning out in wards where the BL was standing. This year the Liberals repeated their success (Liverpool is a two party town, with the Tories having only 2 out of 99 seats), but because of the defeats in the previous period the votes for the left fell also. This year the BL stood in twelve seats, winning only one, with an average vote of 18%. The newly formed ILP fought in eight seats and failed to win any, although they averaged a respectable 20% of the vote. These figures are not a disaster, representing a third of the overall Labour vote, but they are a set-back. The ILP was itself formed out of the demoralisation of the Walton defeat, being set up primarily as an anti-Militant\anti-Marxist outfit (their members blamed Militant for the defeat, one of the reasons being that Militant was sold when canvassing!). They have probably no more than fifty active members, but this includes half of the BL\ILP councillors group (now down to eighteen).
In many ways Liverpool appears to be different in its recent political development compared to experiences elsewhere. Despite being devastated in the early ’80’s by recession, and never recovering, a strong commitment to the collectivist/social democratic ideology was maintained, the result of a long history of struggle (tradition in this case having a positive effect) and the existence of a strong Marxist wing of the local party in the form of Militant. The defeat of the ’84-’85 council battle weakened but did not destroy the local left. That task was finally accomplished by Stalinist purges from Walworth Road. In this fashion the left were faced with a simple choice; to do nothing about wards and CLP’s being closed down, and keep quite about workers being forced on the dole by a right wing rump out of control (to protest would mean expulsion), or to carry on the fight for socialism. The first choice would mean suicide for the left, the second meant it was necessary to carry on outside the Labour Party – there was no middle road.
The lack of understanding of the issues surrounding Walton led most left groups to make errors. But none were quite as bad as the virtual scabbing operation by the ‘Marxist’ grouplet, Socialist Organiser. For the past few years they have had only one member in the city who has attempted, without success, to build a Labour Party Socialists group (made up of a few middle class trendies and a couple of councillors around Keva Coombes) to rival the BL. Socialist Organiser criticised the BL decision to stand against Kilfoyle and this would have been fine had they not then bussed in members from outside the city to campaign for him. This is why Mike Jones made the accusation that they were “;errand-persons for the right wing”; – why else would they actively support Kilfoyle in this way? I make these points because Ken Tarbuck disbelieved the correct allegations made by Mike. He asks for evidence: Their members were seen canvassing in Walton together with right-wingers who were photographing Mahmood supporters (they have no members in the constituency), and their paper admitted to this activity shortly afterwards. Also relevant is the fact that their one Liverpool member voted against a resolution in my own CLP in support of it’s two wards who had been suspended for refusing to accept imposed candidates in the May 1991 local elections, and then walked out with a handful of right-wingers and a regional official (a witch-hunter) when the motion was overwhelmingly carried. Socialist Organiser, as Ken says, are themselves under attack and I will continue to support them against this, but when they behave in exactly the same way as the right-wing it leads me to doubt whether they can be counted as being in any way Marxist.
Where Do We Go From Here?
The lessons of the Liverpool experience need to be carefully analysed, hopefully the picture outlined above will provide some opportunities for this. Perhaps one of the main points is how closely the success of the left is linked not to passing a resolution in a ward meeting, but to the state of the class. The removal of the BL from the Labour Party came at a time of a defensive class struggle followed by a defeat. In these circumstances no left organisation will prosper, in spite of triumphalist rhetoric by Militant or a further retreat into the student milieu by the SWP. Nevertheless the actions of the BL were necessary to maintain a working class socialist presence in the city, in future battles an organisation like the BL does have a possibility of being transformed into a revolutionary Marxist organisation, the Labour Party does not. Those who talk of future splits should realise that in many areas that split has already occurred, prematurely perhaps but unavoidably so as a socialist existence in the Labour Part became impossible. This is not to say things won’t change in the future, but for the present the Liverpool Labour Party is all but dead, deserted by activists not already expelled, the wards and CLP’s have ceased to function. Similar experiences have affected Glasgow in the wake of the Poll Tax struggle with four Scottish Militant Labour councillors being elected (including class struggle prisoner Tommy Sheridan).
In the future the recent Liverpool experience may be seen as the last gasp of the old collectivist ideology within the Labour Party, but this depends on how far the right-wing drift continues. The majority of individual party members are no longer workers, but are professionals and other middle class elements, a fact shown graphically at last years conference where a couple of red flags were swamped by those of the British imperialist state at the final sing-song. Labour only remains a workers’ party because of the continued trade union link, if and when that is broken we will need a new analysis. But I would question how far other European social democratic parties remain as workers’ parties. They cannot be so because of their political programmes, but nor can many be so as they often lack organic roots in the class in the form of union links or proletarian memberships. Surely those comrades who continue to call them workers’ parties did not do the same for Owen’s SDP – and yet what is the qualitative difference? I will leave others to answer.
An analysis of why revolutionary groups have failed to gain from the crisis of reformism is outside the scope of this paper, but a partial explanation is the decline of collectivist ideology. This situation is not static, the chronic instability of the world system will lead to major upheavals and revolutionary situations. The world revolution will be placed on the agenda, and it is not impossible that the trend of revolutionary upheavals occurring outside the core economic nations will be reversed, the sleeping giant of America’s working class may be near to waking. All this means that the marginalisation of socialists can be reversed, but all of us need to be concerned with organisation as well as with theory. The discussions must continue, but like John Bunyan we will have to ask ourselves; ‘WERE YOU DOERS, OR TALKERS ONLY?’
(1) Quoted from ‘The Labour Party and the Class Struggle’, 1908, contained in Lenin, British Labour and British imperialism [London 1969] p.93.
(2) Marx and Engels, The German Ideology [London 1974] p.64.
(3) From ‘On Perspectives: the class struggle in Britain’, written in 1968 and contained in Tony Cliff, Neither Washington nor Moscow (London 1982), p.234.