By Eric Trevett
(a contribution to a discussion in the New Worker)
JOHN ANTHILL’S letter in the 1613 issue of the New Worker (7th January 2011) made the case for opposing the Labour Party in great detail. He argued that the Labour Party is not a party of the working class and that revolutionaries should oppose it in elections. And he argues that the New Communist Party strategy for working class unity is mistaken.
We believe that these arguments are wrong and an example of good people getting frustrated and angry at right-wing social democratic attacks on the working class and paves the way – as the Blair government did – for the return of a much more anti-working class government.
We believe this is a subjective approach and runs contrary to the efforts to promote working class unity in the day-to-day struggles and in the more profound struggles for revolution and socialism.
Before the Labour Party was formed the skilled working class tended to give its allegiance to the Liberal Party. When it became obvious that the party would not defend the interests of the trade union movement there was a struggle to establish the working class party.
The socialist parties in those days joined with the trade union leaderships and founded the Labour Party to represent the working class interests in Parliament.
The right wing was also involved in that struggle and from that day to this has been in the ascendancy for most of the time in both the Labour Party and trade union organisations.
The Labour Party is a reformist party but with all its weaknesses has, under pressure from the trade union movement, achieved a number of reforms beneficial to the working class.
There was revulsion at two world wars and the recognition of the role that imperialism played in the causes of the wars. After the First World War Clause Four – calling for the working class to take control of the means of production and distribution – was written into the Labour Party constitution in 1919. And after the Second World War a number of nationalisations were achieved. The essential housing programme was promoted and then the National Health Service was introduced.
Most of the trade union membership pay the political levy and are therefore affiliate members of the Labour Party, irrespective of whether they are communists or not.
The trade unions are the Labour Party’s main source of finance. Most of the trade unions and the Co-Operative party are affiliated to the Labour Party. This is the basis of why we say the Labour Party is a working class party but also that it has a reformist leadership whose policy is to perpetuate capitalism.
The labour movement organisationally is not divided into warring trade union groups and this is very important to maintain; it is an asset that the British working class should be proud of.
It is true that with the introduction of individual membership it has been easy for petty bourgeois elements to penetrate the party and advance their personal careers and this has reinforced the position of the right wing in the Labour Party and trade union movement.
But the way to counter this is to promote working class unity around working class policies. It is not for organisations to contest the Labour Party’s position in national and local elections. In truth we have seen in recent years that such efforts are futile. Both the Socialist alliance and George Galloway’s Respect Party have collapsed and so has Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party. The tragedy of that is that Arthur Scargill has isolated himself from the movement in which he was widely respected.
The Communist Party of Great Britain has from its earliest days tried to win the idea that it should stand in elections and maintain its backing of the Labour Party.
In hindsight we believe this policy to have been wrong even in the days when the party’s vote was high and Gallagher, Saklatvala and Phil Piratin were elected to Parliament.
Since then and in the post-war period the bankruptcy of standing against Labour was plain to see. Since the Second World War the emphasis in electioneering in the localities has undermined the industrial work. At one time factory branches were being closed and the major part of party resources were concentrated on localities.
This weakened the capability of the trade unions to exert pressure on the government of the day.
Our declared aim is to work to strengthen the working class and its political consciousness and fight for the right to affiliate to the Labour Party ourselves as communists.
That is the way we believe and demonstrate that we are genuinely concerned to participate in the struggles for full employment, peace and socialism in a manner that unites the working class and its allies, including the student bodies.
It would be wrong for us to stand candidates in national elections because it would be seen to be weakening the fight against the Tories and reaction.
Experience has shown that communists do best in industry and at the places of work because they are regarded as a genuine, integral part of the working class. It is there that we often get communists elected to leading union positions out of respect for their militancy, profound wisdom and practical understanding in the unending struggles with the employers.
To return to the question of elections and standing in localities, the CPGB at its congress in 1975 removed the aim of affiliating to the Labour Party. That was part of the revisionist concepts against working class unity.
We therefore ask J Anthill and others who think like him to re-evaluate their positions and support the struggle as we have outlined.