The so-called Left-wing parties
DURING THE NINETEENTH CENTURY all kinds of political action were discussed and advocated by various working class groups: political strikes, armed revolt, sabotage, bomb-throwing, assassination, demonstrations, petitions to Parliament, and seeking the help of the Liberal and Tory Parties.
With the extension of the franchise to male workers with the Reform Acts of 1867 and1884 a new phase opened. It was then that parties were formed, claiming to be socialist, that were to have a continuing influence on working class politics: the Fabian Society and Social Democratic Federation in 1884 and the Independent Labour Party in 1893. Unsound theories from the early nineteenth century or thrown up by the new parties are still to be found in the modern so-called 'Left-wing' organisations.
Like the modern 'Left-wing' organisations all three parties claimed to seek the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism.
In 1893 the Fabian Society and the Social Democratic Federation (S.D.F.) signed the 'Manifesto of English Socialists' which declared:
"We look to put an end for ever to the wages system, to sweep away all distinctions of class, and eventually to establish national and international communism on a sound basis".
The I.L.P., which was then in process of formation, did not sign the Manifesto but would not have dissented from its declaration. Keir Hardie, founder of the I.L.P. (later to become 'father of the Labour Party'), could still claim several years later that their aim was "free communism in which . . . the rule of life will be: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" (From Serfdom to Socialism, 1907). Also that "The Labour Party is the only expression of orthodox Marxian Socialism in Great Britain" (My Confession of Faith 1910). Of course this was said to placate his followers and there was nothing in the Labour Party to justify it.
What separated the three parties at the beginning was their conception of how their aims were to be achieved.
Through the dissemination of specialist information amcng politicians and administrators, the Fabians hoped to enlighten political opinion generally on the need, step by step, to introduce measures of social reform and nationalisation — the policy known as 'gradualism'. The S.D.F. aimed to build up an independent socialist party based on Marxist ideas. It soon learned, from the very small number of votes given to its candidates at elections, that no quick growth could be expected on that basis. Seeing this the I.L.P. concluded that straight socialist principles were unacceptable to the workers and decided that growth of membership must come before growth of socialist knowledge. They adopted the policy of building up a non-socialist membership on a programme of reforms with the hope that acceptance of socialist ideas would come later. It was the policy of involvement and support for every demonstration of discontent in the trade unions and elsewhere: "getting with the workers in the day-to-day struggle", no matter how trivial the issue.
The S.D.F. also became affected by this policy which in 1904 was to lead to the breakaway movement establish¬ing the SPGB, based on frank acceptance that winning over the workers to socialist principles is a difficult and slow process. It was made more difficult by the refomist propaganda of the Fabians, the I.L.P. and the S.D.F.
At the end of the century all three of those parties, particularly the Fabians and the I.L.P, turned their attention to building up a mass party with trade union backing — the Labour Party.
The I.L.P. line appeared to succeed beyond even what had been hoped from it. Backed by trade union votes and money, the Labour Party grew in membership and representation in Parliament, and I.L.P. influence seemed to grow with it. After the 1929 General Election more than two hundred Labour M.P.s were members of the I.L.P.,
though most were Labour, not I.L.P. nominees; but by that time the Labour Party leaders and trade unions had no further use for the I.L.P. What it had done was to bring about its own destruction. Its original justification for its policy — that of converting the Labour Party into a socialist party — had been a total failure. The Labour Party has made no progress whatever towards understanding and accepting the socialist objective defined at the outset by the Fabians, the S.D.F. and I.L.P. Today this applies equally to the 'Tribune Group' and others in the Labour Party who style themselves 'Left-wing', and to the trade unions.
In 1917, after the Communists had succeeded in capturing power in Russia, a strong old style influence came into British politics. The Communist Party of Great Britain, formed out of the membership of several existing bodies, was before long to take the lead among 'Left-wing' organisations. Owing to its mixed membership it was divided about Parliamentary action; but along with the old I.L.P. policy of seeking reforms and "getting with the workers in the day-to-day struggle", it took its line from Russia. At that time this meant advocating dictatorship and armed revolt. Mr. W. Gallacher, a member of their Central Committee and later Communist Party M.P., declared:
"They had talked of a Revolutionary Workers' government, but did they realise what was implied? Would the organisation of the workers for the revolutionary government be a legal one? The task of fighting for a revolutionary government would be a task of bringing the workers out on to the streets against the armed forces of Capitalism" (Workers Life, 6 December 1929).
In one of the periods when they were not telling the workers to vote for MacDonald and other Labour Party leaders, they also carried on a campaign of smashing up opponents' meetings. This was announced by Harry Pollitt, the General Secretary of the C.P.G.B., in the Daily Worker (29 January 1930):
"There should not be a Labour Meeting held anywhere, but what the revolutionary workers in that district attend such meetings and fight against the speakers, whatever they are, so-called 'Left','Right' or 'Centre'. They should never be allowed to address the workers. This will bring us in conflict with the authorities, but this must be done. The fight can no longer be conducted in a passive manner .... The Communist Party and its organ, the Daily Worker, will lead the working class, fighting boldly and openly, against this present government of scoundrels and agents of capitalism".
The government of the day was a Labour Government; but before long the Communist Party was again calling on the workers to vote Labour as it had done at some previous elections. Smashing up opponents' meetings still finds favour with some of the 'Left-wing' self-styled 'democrats'.
Now, in line with the shift of policy of the Communist Parties of France and Italy, the C.P.G.B. presents itself as an ordinary, 'respectable', reformist party using parliamentary methods and seeking to compete with the Labour Party on its own ground. Its election programmes are full of reform proposals paralleling those of the Labour Party: but on each one pressing for a little more than the Labour Party considers it expedient to ask. An example of the distance travelled since the days of 'heavy civil war' is in the Communist Party's attitude to the property and incomes of the rich. In their election programme in 1929 (which described the Labour Party as "the third capitalist party) the demand was made for the confiscation of "all personal incomes over £5,000 a year", confiscation of all fortunes over £1,000 at death, and repudiation of the National Debt, In those days Communist Party propaganda scorned
'Fabian gradualism'; but their election programme in 1970 had as one of its 'principal proposals' an annual wealth tax "on all fortunes over £20,000" to be at an average of three per cent". What could be more gradual than that?
But the shift of the Communist Party over to ordinary reformist parliamentary action created a vacuum which has been filled by a medley of organisations, claiming to be 'further left', and in practice adopting policies like those of the Communist Party half a century ago, including what the Party had taken over from the I.L.P. They include so-called communists who support State capitalist China aaainst State capitalist Russia — or the other way round — and several brands of Trotskyists'.
So now the 'further left' organisations use against the Communist Party the fallacious arguments formerly used by that Party. For example, the Socialist Worker (published by I.S., now called Socialist Workers Party), in its issue of 27 July 1973, denounced the Communist Party's "parliamentary road to Socialism". This was on the ground that the working class cannot take control of Parliament through elections; that Parliament does not control the State machine, and that the State machine cannot be used to change the rest of society completely. That the Communist Party road is not one to Socialism is true enough; but criticism of the Communist Party has no bearing on the case for a socialist working class gaining control of Parliament. An astonishing statement by the S.W.P. in criticism of the Communist Party is that the working class would be out-voted by "the middle class and ruling class". As the working class constitute ninety per cent of the electorate (see section "What is Capitalism") they obviously do not understand who the working class are. And an article by Paul Foot, editor of the Socialist Worker (The Times, 14 August 1975) maintained that, as the Wilson Government had failed to do anything for Socialism, this proved that Parliament could not be used by Socialists — ignoring the fact that the Labour Government did not have and did not seek a mandate for Socialism from the electorate, and represents a Party which stands for the perpetuation of capitalism.
The 'Left-wing' organisations generally claim to be Marxist; but they interpret this to mean either the anti-Marxist policy of Lenin based on Louis Blanqui's doctrine of minority armed seizure of power followed by dictatorship, or the equally anti-Marxist doctrine which holds that the workers can revolutionise society without needing to control the State power. In the field of economics the 'Left-wing' organisations mostly reject Marx's analysis of capitalism in favour of the myth of the Keynesians: that capitalism can be operated without unemployment through "managed expansion of demand" — that is, through inflation.
Those who accept Keynesian doctrines cannot accept the Marxist explanation of inflation. The Communist Party of Great Britain in its October 1974 Election Programme attributed inflation to a variety of causes, including V.A.T., membership of the E.E.C. and armaments expenditure, with no mention of Marxist theory.
International Socialism (March 1974) gave as explanation "The present inflation is similar in many ways to the upsurge in prices, wages and interest rates which occurred at the height of the classical boom". The boom was by then already over and the depression had begun. In the depression prices rose faster than ever. On their theory prices ought to have been falling.
The other journal of the same organisation (Socialist Worker, 4 August 1973) gave a different explanation which supported the idea that wage increases "must have some effect on prices". "Of course they do. Quite simply, business raises its prices when increases in costs threaten its profit margins".
But whereas the C.P.G.B. ignored Marx, the Socialist Worker repudiated the Marxist explanation, under the impression that it is something invented by Mr. Enoch Powell.
"But Enoch Powell says it is all the fault of the government printing too much money. This is an illusion even shared by some on the left".
Statements of socialist principles and the Marxist conception of the classless socialist system of society to replace capitalism never appear in the propaganda of the 'Left-wing' organisations.
One crucial test for the 'Left-wing' organisations concerns their willingness to create confusion by urging the workers to support capitalism administered by Laboor government. At the February 1974 Genera Election the following organisations all told the workers to vote for Labour candidates.
Communist Party of Great Britam
International Marxist Group
International Socialists (now Socialists Workers Party)
Workers Revolutionary Party
The Tory Mr. Enoch Powell was also telling the electorate to vote Labour!
The tactic of supporting one administration of capitalism against another on the ground that, on particular issues or in general, there are fine shades of difference, is a reactionary survival of the old practice of voting Liberal against Tory or Tory against Liberal. (During the second world war it led the Communist Party to support Tory candidates.)
Even if it achieved small temporary gains this would count for nothing against the harm done by encouraging the workers to believe that their interest can be served by placing in power the enemies of Socialism. On this ground alone, apart from the rest of the case against them, the so-called 'Left-wing' organisations have no claim to working class support.
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