Socialist Alternative

Pamphlet: Socialists and the early Labour Party

This pamphlet was originally published around fifteen years ago, since when much has happened, especially the 2008 economic crash and the ensuing effects upon the class struggle globally and now the world pandemic. The author has also had chance to learn much, and I would not write this now precisely as I wrote it then. The historical analysis remains accurate, however, and the political lessons actually even more relevant in the wake of Corbynism and on the precipice of the Covid-triggered world economic downturn. Therefore, we are publishing this pamphlet unchanged, with the exception of the new additional introduction.

Introduction to the original

AS WE COME out of the 1990s, a period of ideological reaction and capitalist triumphalism, capitalism faces economic crisis on a world scale. The looming US recession and world slowdown will have devastating consequences for the toilers of the world as the already exploited are made to pay still further for crises of the system the bourgeois defend. Yet the central feature in most countries today is the yawning gap on the left. The bourgeoisification of the social-democracy on an international basis since the collapse of Stalinism has left the working class, almost without exception globally, lacking mass political representation for the first time in a century or more. For the new workers and students now moving into struggle, it will be vital to learn the lessons of the past. The anti-capitalist “movement” demands answers that can only be found in the arsenal of Marxism, and it is for this reason we provide this work.

Prior to the formation of the Labour Party in 1900-06, Britain had no mass workers’ party. The attempts (or lack thereof) by the nineteenth-century socialists to create such a party hold instructive lessons for the Marxists today. Differences, both subjective and objective, cannot be ignored, yet there are important similarities of situation and lessons of programme and policy to be learned so that the revolutionary party of today is in the best possible position – politically and practically – for the creation of a new mass party of the British working class. In this the Marxists will participate, to win new layers to the forces of revolutionary socialism, and ensure that the working class in the twenty-first century does not suffer the defeats of the previous generations.

Background

THE NINETEENTH century saw British capitalism, via its world monopoly, reach both its apex and the beginning of its long decline. That century saw also the birth of the British working class as a fighting, organised, class-conscious force – “a class for itself and not just of itself’. The first general cycle of struggle took place in the first three decades of the century, culminating in the “Great” Reform Act of 1832.

‘The Old Chartist’

The second general cycle, itself composed of three, was that of the Chartists, on which Trotsky wrote the following: “The era of Chartism is immortal in that over the course of a decade it gives us in condensed and diagrammatic form the whole gamut of proletarian struggle – from petitions in parliament to armed insurrection. … To use a hazardous comparison then, it can be said that the Chartist movement resembles a prelude which contains in an undeveloped form the musical theme of the whole opera. In this sense the British working class can and must see in Chartism not only its past but also its future.” (Where Is Britain Going?, p93-4). Although it is outside the scope of this article, as Trotsky remarked, “The clarification of … the revolutionary content of Chartism is one of the most important obligations for British Marxists” (Ibid., 87) – advice which remains incontestable.

Post-Chartism, however, as Engels remarked, “… a real workers’ movement will only come into existence here when the workers are made to feel the fact that England’s world monopoly is broken. Participation in the domination of the world market was and is the basis of the political nullity of the English workers. The tail of the bourgeoisie in the economic exploitation of this monopoly but nevertheless sharing in its advantages, politically they are naturally the tail of the “great Liberal Party”, which for its part pays them small attentions, recognises trade unions and strikes as legitimate factors, has relinquished the fight for an unlimited working day and has given the mass of better placed workers the vote. But once America and the united competition of the other industrial countries have made a decent breach in this monopoly …. you will see something here.” (Engels to Bebel, 30/8/83).

The world monopoly had enabled out of the “better placed workers” to be created a labour aristocracy – a hierarchy rooted in the narrow exclusivity of the old craft unions, of an extreme careerist and opportunist stripe. Engels wrote further: “What is most necessary of all here is that masses of the official labour leaders should get into Parliament. Then things will go finely; they will expose themselves quickly enough. The elections in November [1885] will help a lot towards this. … universal suffrage is the best lever for a proletarian movement at the present time and will prove to be so here.” (Engels to Bebel, 28/10/85). Lastly, “The [socialist sectarian] elements at present active may become important … only if a spontaneous movement breaks out here among the workers and they succeed in getting hold of it. Till then they will remain individual minds, with a hotchpotch of confused sects, remnants of the great [Chartist] movement of the ‘forties, standing behind them and nothing more.” (Engels to Bebel, 30/8/83). The development of these factors – the contradictions of England’s world economic position from the 1880s against that of before, of craft unionism with the objective needs of the non-unionised workers, of the latter with the reformist and liberal bureaucracies, and lastly of the existing sects with the need for a genuine revolutionary party – developments through these contradictions determined the cycle of struggle with which we are concerned: of 1880 to 1914, and which resumed in a certain sense in 1917.

From Genesis to Split (1880-84)

THE SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC Federation was formally constituted in 1883. Its founder and subsequent figurehead until 1916, Henry Meyers Hyndman, had however established its predecessor the Democratic Federation in 1881. Hyndman, a lawyer and journalist by trade, began his political career as a bourgeois Tory radical. His unsuccessful candidature for Marylebone in the 1880 General Election let him to study Lassalle, another adventuring bourgeois radical, with whom Hyndman was reportedly fascinated. Hyndman seems to have entered into the spirit, if not entirely the politics, of Lassalle, of whom Engels was later to describe Hyndman as a “wretched caricature” (Engels to Bebel, 28/10/85). Via Lassalle, Hyndman was introduced to the works of Marx – namely the Communist Manifesto and Capital Volume One – which by 1883 convinced Hyndman of the need for an explicitly socialist organisation. Other factors, though, were equally if not more important. Cole (1954, 384) relates the concurrent development of the land question, in both Ireland and Britain, with the formation of the Land Nationalisation Society in 1881. This was reflected in the demand for land nationalisation in the programme of the Democratic Federation. Moreover, says Cole, the construction of a revolutionary party was not Hyndman’s intention in 1881-2. Instead, “His aim was rather to stimulate a mass- movement of working-class discontent, using as his principal agencies the Radical Working-Men’s Clubs which existed in large numbers in the working-class areas … to weld them together into a movement resembling Chartism but with a better defined social programme. … to create a new working-class party which he hoped to bring over in time to his new-found Socialist faith.” (ibid., 394-6).

Northampton SDF banner, now on display in the Labour History Museum, Manchester

As we see, Hyndman was hazy on the relationship of revolutionaries to a mass party of the workers. The development of the Labour Party and of the Second International was to prove the point that a new party is not an aggregate of existing organisations (whether “Radical” clubs or small sects – a point not to be wasted on today’s advocates of “left regroupment”) and, moreover, the importance of organised revolutionaries to its subsequent evolution. This is a point to which we will return. But in any case, between 1881 and 1883 Hyndman’s hopes were dashed, by the secession of the Radical clubs from the Federation and by the generalised reaction following the Fenian assassinations in Phoenix Park, Dublin, of two English diplomats. Those who remained in the Federation from 1881, and who joined in this period, were those prepared to join a revolutionary party as such, without the smokescreen of bourgeois “Radicalism”. This was reflected in the more socialistic declaration of principles adopted at the 1882 DF Conference, which denounced “the landlord and capitalist parties” as parties opposed to workers’ interests, and called for workers’ independent political organisation: “those whose labour makes the wealth of these islands must rely on themselves alone.” (Quoted in ibid., 397). Those in this period who joined tended, like Hyndman, to be those “‘educated’ elements sprung from the bourgeoisie, who here and there seek contact with the masses” (Engels to Bebel, 18/1/84), such as George Bernard Shaw and William Morris. Other leading figures of this period include Eleanor Marx, Ernest Belfort Bax, Edward Aveling, Walter Crane, Henry Hyde Champion and Harry Quelch. Of the ex-bourgeois who joined, Morris gives us a typical example: “… I was on the lookout for joining any body which seemed likely to push forward matters. It must be understood that I always intended to join anybody who distinctly called themselves Socialists, so when last year I was invited to join the Democratic Federation by Mr. Hyndman, I accepted the invitation hoping that it would declare for Socialism.” (Selected Writings and Designs (ed. Asa Briggs), p33). Morris was probably the best of the bourgeois elements in this period – though even he admitted suffering “agonies of confusion over the pure economics of Capital.” (ibid.). Of the others, Shaw lasted only two years; and the bourgeois attitudes of Bax and Hyndman caused no end of difficulties until both left the BSP in 1916. Many of the great revolutionaries in this period (with the exception of Bebel, and a few others), came from the middle classes: Marx, Engels, Luxemburg, De Leon, Plekhanov, Lenin, and Trotsky. This was inevitable. But the crux is the extent to which they tore themselves free from the bourgeois milieu and became in all essentials part of the proletariat. Hulse (1970, 15) says that Hyndman “… looked upon himself as a natural leader, whom others must follow loyally and completely… [and] could never regard himself as one of the working-men whom he had undertaken to liberate. … the fact that he continued to wear his top hat and frock coat as a Socialist propagandist struck many of his colleagues as symbolic.” Wolfe (1975, 301) amplifies the point: “… all came from affluent backgrounds and inherited incomes large enough to enable them to devote their time and energies largely to Socialism.” Many also continued their former careers in the Christian socialist movement (ibid). It is impossible for one aspiring to the role of workers’ leader to maintain a bourgeois lifestyle, bourgeois habits or bourgeois ideas. Hyndman, and Shaw in a much briefer period, all corroborate this in the negative. One of Hyndman’s bourgeois attitudes reigning eternal was his national chauvinism, the source of his 1916 resignation, but which was to have an almost immediate impact on the newly-born SDF.

Hyndman had, after reading Marx, engaged also in discussion with the great man. Marx was not overly impressed, seeing him as both “self-satisfied” and “garrulous” (Letter to Jenny Marx, 11/4/1881). However, Marx continued with discussions, to assist development of the new party. No doubt under the influence of Morris etc., the 1883 conference of the DF voted to rename itself the Social Democratic Federation and adopted a yet more radical, and nominally Marxist, position. As part of the same process, Hyndman published a “popularisation” of socialism – England for All – in 1883. Although generally correct in theoretical terms, this was solely because it was a front-to-back unacknowledged plagiarisation of Marx’s ideas, especially Capital. Marx was furious, writing to Sorge, “… the fellow wrote stupid letters of excuse, for instance, that “the English don’t like to be taught by foreigners”, that “my name was so detested, etc.,” …. the man is a “weak” vessel, and very far from having even the patience – the first condition of learning anything – of studying a matter thoroughly. … Many evenings this fellow has pilfered from me, in order – to take me out and to learn in the easiest way.” (Letters to Americans, 130). There can be little doubt that Hyndman’s infamous and overweening arrogant conceit had much to do with the incident – as Marx alluded to Sorge, “the fellow” wanted to make a name for himself on the back of Marx’s intellectual labours. Further, that “the English don’t like to be taught by foreigners” was a blatant lie; the International Working-Men’s Association (IWMA – First International) headed by Marx, had substantial political and literary input on the Chartist movement scarce decades earlier. Marx also gives evidence in the same letter of Marx’s name not being “detested” — but being used on a poster campaign! Marx and Engels broke off personal, though not political contact with Hyndman thereafter. Various bourgeois historians, including Hulse and Cole, have ascribed this to a personal dislike on behalf of Marx and Engels, the latter especially, for Hyndman. There is no doubt that they personally were repelled by Hyndman. Yet, as we have noted, this was the case in 1881 – before any pilfering took place – and had not prevented extensive personal contact in spite of this. The predominant method of bourgeois historians, reducing everything to personal whims and antipathies, merely obscures the real issue: the personal had become political. This is of decisive importance. The personal traits of Hyndman had revealed themselves not merely an incidental irritation but as a reactionary political factor. Not accrediting Marx could only pander to any existing anti-German prejudice. Given the way in which the bourgeois attacked socialism as a “foreign importation”, Hyndman’s thievery could only strengthen bourgeois propaganda and not fight this, as was and is the duty of genuine Marxists, genuine internationalists, throughout the world.

Despite, as Engels that year instructed Bebel, “Do not on any account whatever let yourself be deluded into thinking there is a real proletarian movement going on here. …. it is not the case” (Engels to Bebel, 30/8/83), the SDF as an organisation was from 1883 printing both its weekly paper Justice, and monthly journal Today. Unavoidably at this time a small propaganda group, the SDF could with a genuine Marxist leadership have been able to consolidate its modest gains, educate a cadre core, work out a perspective which if broadly correct would have foreseen the stormy events of the late 1880s at least in outline and adjusted its strategy and tactics accordingly. Formulation of perspectives was being undertaken by Engels, with remarkable accuracy and clarity throughout this time. However, as always, the problems of the SDF lay at the top. Shaw jumped ship in May 1884 and was in any case no great loss. Indeed, it was typical of this petty-bourgeois dilettante that the organisation to which he jumped was the Fabian League (later Fabian Society). Foster (1955, 146) elaborates on the Fabian raison d’étre: “The political line of the employers and of their agents, the conservative labour bureaucrats, was to keep the working class under the tutelage of the Liberal Party; but [following the formation of the SDF] the bourgeois had to shift its political policy a bit. This was made manifest by the formation in 1884 of the Fabian League, headed by Sidney Webb, George Bernard Shaw, and other petty-bourgeois radical intellectuals. The main purpose of this organisation was to castrate Marxism and to render innocuous independent political action of the working class, all of which was of great service to the capitalists. Preaching a vague, evolutionary socialism, the Fabians attacked every principle of revolutionary Marxism. … the Fabians were openly anti-Marxist. Pearse, the Fabian historian, says that the first achievements of the Society was to break the spell of Marxism in England.” The Fabians were to furnish the labour movement with many yellow traitors; their ideology was that of Ramsay MacDonald, strike-breaker in 1926 and open deserter in 1931.

The Fabians have been unimportant ever since. Even in the 1880s, they were not a significant force. However, the SDF split of December 1884 did damage the incipient Marxist movement in Britain, for the nominal Marxist minority remaining in the SDF and for the ex-majority which broke away.

The Split

THE SPLIT TOOK place at the SDF executive meeting on 27 December 1884. Those who left resigned after the meeting voted 10:8 of no confidence in Hyndman, who nonetheless refused to resign. Those who broke away founded the Socialist League immediately after, with the journal Commonweal as its central organ. The ex-majority included, on the SDF executive, Eleanor Marx, William Morris, Belfort Bax, Edward Aveling, Andres Scheu, and W. Clarke.

In the ranks they were supported by cadres such as Edward Carpenter, Walter Crane, and the outstanding Tom Maguire. From outside the SDF, Engels gave his support, having recently described Hyndman as “an arch-conservative and an extremely chauvinistic but not stupid careerist, who behaved pretty shabbily to Marx” (Engels to Bebel, 30/8/83). Engels’ view was undoubtedly shared by the ex-majority, especially Morris and Eleanor Marx who denounced Hyndman’s chauvinism. Formally, all the majority charged Hyndman with “dictatorial and undemocratic control of the Federation’s affairs and ‘political opportunism’.” (Cole 1954, 401).

There were other, more specific issues as well. A question mark hung over whether the (non-Marxist) Scottish crofters’ movement should be affiliated to the SDF, or be one of its sections which would imply accepting and practising as would a local branch. Hyndman wanted the latter; the émigré Andres Scheu preferred the looser affiliation arrangement and was denounced by Hyndman as an anarchist to be expelled along with other Executive member W. J. Clarke (ibid, 400 & 401). Here the issue of Hyndman and the SDF’s relationship to other organisations comes into the open, dragging with it the role of anarchism. Hyndman’s tendency to expulsion, as in this case, of members with whom he disagreed was unsurprisingly deeply unpopular. The attitude of Marxists towards the expulsion of dissidents is framed by circumstance, and is not to be resorted to lightly. Expulsion is an organisational measure which, as with all organisational questions, is determined by political considerations and is a step to be taken only after a full education of the Party on the political issues at stake. This was not the method of Hyndman. Anarchism in the socialist movement was, at the time, a serious difficulty. In light of this, had Hyndman agreed to an internal debate over the role of anarchism it would at the very least have helped to educate the cadres of the SDF against anarchism, and for Marxism. However, this was not done, and numbers of those who joined the Socialist League from the SDF were anarchists or “Anarchist-Communists”, a development to which we will return.

Lastly, there was the question of revolutionaries and electoral work, especially parliamentary elections. Cole (ibid) summarises: “The Anarchists and Anarchist-Communists in the SDF were hostile to Parliamentary action in any circumstances [as was Morris at this point – HC], whereas the Hyndmanites were definitely setting out to establish a political party with parliamentary ambitions. Between these groups was a third, which without opposing political [i.e. electoral – HC] action on principle, considered that the time was not ripe for it, and that the Socialists would only make their cause ridiculous if they put up candidates without a great deal of preliminary educational work to convert the active section of the working class to Socialism. The majority which voted against Hyndman on the executive was made up of this group…” The anarchists, as subsequent developments were to show, had merely the destructive intention of making Marxist organisations into Anarchist ones. For the socialists though, the question of parliamentary elections was not, and is not, simple and final. In regards to opportunists, or even with bourgeois parties perceived as Left or radical, e.g. Blair’s New Labour in May 1997, achieving power can be a favourable objective development in educating the masses. As we quoted Engels before, the necessity in this period was for “masses” of the opportunists to get elected, in order that through betrayal they would “expose themselves quickly enough”. Educating the masses, through their own experience, of the role played by “the labour lieutenants of capital” once in power can speed up workers’ radicalisation toward revolutionary awareness.

The question of Marxists standing for, and taking positions in, bourgeois Parliaments and councils is less straightforward. It is ultra-left to dismiss election campaigning in general; the way in which these are to be utilised by Marxists depends on the class-consciousness of workers. Lenin, in ‘Left-wing’ Communism, An Infantile Disorder, cites “… one successful and correct (1905) and one incorrect (1906) example of the application of the [Duma, i.e. Russian Parliament – HC] boycott by the Bolsheviks.” (p57). In 1905, a revolutionary situation had developed; the task of the Bolsheviks was to build the revolution, the direct armed seizure of power by the masses, and not to engender illusions in the Duma. In 1906 the boycott was ultra-left and wrong; the revolutionary temper of the masses was declining as the counter-revolution gained pace. It would have been correct for the Bolsheviks then to stand as Duma candidates in order to expose the Duma and capitalism openly in front of the masses, giving a revolutionary lesson. In Britain in the 1880s, it would be totally ultra-left, totally wrong, to abstain from elections and pass up the opportunity of using bourgeois elections as a tribune from which to educate the masses. Morris, in his sincere naivete opposing election work until the 1890s, is answered on every score by Lenin’s classic pamphlet. Finally, the question of whether to stand such a candidate in such and such a place in 1884 is a matter of tactics, determined by the immediate situation and short-term perspectives, and not by simple a priori “Yes” / “No” solutions.

Following Hyndman’s stubborn refusal to resign, the majority did so instead, “rather than use their majority to claim from a Conference of the Federation the right to the name and control. They did this on Morris’ advice; for he thought it preferable not to engage in a wrangle for the control of the organisation under the eyes of the press which would have made the most of it to discredit Socialism, and he also wished to be rid of a number of prominent members of the SDF whose good faith he mistrusted, and hoped to make a new start with a group of colleagues animated by principles more akin to his own.” (Cole 1954, 400). Engels gives us a damning condemnation of the minority: “The adventurer Hyndman, who had gotten control of the whole thing, was exposed as having incited the members against one another, intercepted correspondence for the council [i.e., the SDF executive — HC], and founded bogus branches in the provinces to plant his creatures … the whole thing is nothing but a swindle.” (Engels to Sorge 31/12/84 — original emphasis; Letters to Americans, 143).

Hindsight is of course a wonderful thing and it would be unfair to overly condemn those who resigned. Moreover, as remarked previously, many of the local cadres left with the Majority: in London, in Yorkshire, in Glasgow, and in Scotland generally where the Land and Labour League – which seceded with the SL’ers – was strong. (Cole 1954, 414). The Labour Emancipation League, mostly composed of anarchists, also disaffiliated and joined with the Socialist League. However, Lancashire SDF remained largely untouched and was to become in the mid-1890s the SDF’s largest, and in certain respects most important, region. It is difficult to tell whether a factional struggle by the majority would have further influenced SDF localities. Engels raised in the letter quoted above the question of “so far as [the SDF] follows him [Hyndman] … will be apparent in about a week”. Nonetheless, it is wrong to take notice of bourgeois media slanders when engaged in principled factional dispute; moreover, by resigning the ex-majority strengthened Hyndman in the SDF, and anarchists and ultra-leftists in the SL. Thus double blows were struck at the weak forces of Marxism (probably less than 1000 in the whole country). There was an urgent need for a genuinely Marxist party, free of both Hyndmanism and anarchism, but in the long run this was generated from the SDF and its direct successors, and not from the forces in the SL which in the main ultimately returned to the SDF or dissolved into Kropotkin’s anarchist circle. This was not at all predetermined, but arose out of the subjective developments within the SL which determined its form and orientation in the years when it could have superseded the SDF. These developments, the rise and fall of the Socialist League, are the content of the next section.

The Socialist League (1885-95)

THE FIRST TWO years of the Socialist League looked promising for the development of a genuine Marxist party. Having secured some, though as we said by no means all, of ex-SDF cadres, the League held also the confidence of Engels initially, who in commenting on developments in the broad workers’ movement of 1885, said: “That is why it is so important to break up the Social Democratic Federation as quickly as possible, its leaders being nothing but careerists, adventurers and literary people. Hyndman … in his chase after success discredits himself more every day.” (Engels to Bebel, 28/10/85). With the workers’ movement slowly but surely gathering pace, and without the hindrance of SDF sectarians, the small cadre in the SL could with a correct orientation have consolidated a larger organisation in the short-term. This appears to have been the perspective of Engels, and was partially fulfilled as we see below.

Morris, and Bax as the leading theoretician, wrote and published in 1885 as a pamphlet The Manifesto of the Socialist League. It began: “Fellow Citizens, We come before you as a body advocating the principles of revolutionary international socialism; that is, we seek a change in the basis of society, a change which would destroy the distinction of class and nationalities.” Eleanor Marx, as an outstanding orator within the movement, helped in the same year to organise the International Socialist Congress in Paris (a precursor to the 1889 Congress which established the mass Second International). Against the stormy background of Europe and the USA (where Eleanor Marx later toured as a speaker) the socialist movement in England was very small. By mid-1885 the League had but eight branches and 230 members. The SDF was by comparison, claiming three times the size. Morris’ frustration was evident: “Men listen respectfully to socialism, but are perfectly supine and not in the least inclined to move except along the lines of radicalism and trade unionism.” (Quoted in Wolfe 1975, 108). He remarked, “I am in such low spirits about the prospects of our party, if I can dignify a little knot of men by such a word. You see we are such a few, and hard as we work we don’t seem to pick up people.” There is a grain of truth in this; though not “supine” the working class was in the main on the industrial front, i.e. engaged in trade union action. The as yet low development of this found its political complement in workers’ support for Radicals and for Lib-Labs – i.e. bourgeois and pro-bourgeois candidates.

Nevertheless, a correct approach to the industrial question by Marxists can win respect and support from workers, which can re-emerge in a higher, i.e. more generally revolutionary, form when the class switches to the political plane and seeks a political organisation with which they identify and are acquainted. By January 1887 League membership stood at 550, with 280 paying dues (many were unemployed or too poor to afford these). Two areas of the SL saw substantial growth before internal problems became critical: Glasgow and Leeds. Both were ex-SDF localities which had seceded en bloc. Glasgow, under the direction of Glasier (later a Fabian) formed a branch in 1887 which grew to 53 members in a few months. An open-air meeting attracted 20,000 to speeches on socialism. Leeds reflected the ability of Marxists to successfully intervene in the broad labour movement. Tom Maguire, who had formed the Leeds SDF branch in September 1884, in the following February launched the Leeds SL. In 1887-90 the branch published a manifesto for a Socialist Labour Party (i.e. a broad workers’ party); organised and led the Jewish tailors in strike action – subsequently setting up a co-operative together; organised and led the Building Labourers’ union in a successful strike; organised both the Gasworkers’ and General Labourers’ Union and the tailoresses’ union – the latter struck one month later (October 1888). In 1890 the Leeds SL formed a new Yorkshire Labour Council, and a Labour Electoral League for workers’ candidates. In 1890 the SL-organised General Labourers’ Union struck three times. However, 1890 was also the absolute end of the League as a Marxist organisation; Leeds SL lost Maguire – its finest cadre – to the general labour movement.

In purely numerical terms, the League is claimed to have had over 10,700 members in 1895, and 6,000 in 1901 – the year of its formal dissolution which had taken place de facto from the early 1890s. Cole (1954) however says the SL was always “small, and never united by any clear community of purpose” (414), “… there was never a national movement of any real significance” (415).

But whatever the numerical size of the organisation, what is incontestable is that there existed an anarchist wing opposed to the Marxist wing, with Morris in the middle. Morris was associated more politically with the Marxists until their resignation, except on the issue of election campaigns on which he took the ultra-left position of the anarchists. According to Cole, the anarchist element was strongest in London, which was the League’s strongest area, and place of production for their journal Commonweal, edited by Morris. Engels, in a series of letters to Sorge provides us with almost a running commentary of increasing anarchist dominance; and of increasing impatience between early 1886 and spring 1887 by the Marxists with both the anarchists and the Morris-Bax leadership (See Letters to Americans, 156, 162, 165). Finally, Engels declared: “Let’s hope that the position of the Socialist League is also cleared up at Whitsuntide; the anarchists must be expelled or we’ll drop the whole mess.’ Engels to Sorge 4/5/87, Letters to Americans, 185). Morris, while not wholly agreeing with the anarchists, nonetheless associated with their mentor, Kropotkin, from 1886, and in October of that year allowed the anarchist figurehead and his co-worker Wilson (also a Fabian!) the use of the Commonweal press for their journal (Hulse 1970, 91). Moreover, his anti-election position pushed him objectively closer to the anarchists. In March 1887, Morris expressed satisfaction at Kropotkin’s visit to the Glasgow branch of the League, which “turned them a little in the Anarchist direction, which gives them an agreeable air of toleration, and they are at present quite innocent of any parliamentary designs.” (Ibid., 95 — my emphasis). In the same year, Morris’ alliance with the anarchist faction inside the League won it to a formally anti-electoral position, at which both Marxists and opportunists resigned. As Cole comments, “(Morris] became more and more isolated, though respected by almost everyone.” Morris struggled on, editing the journal and even writing a play to raise funds for publishing costs. In 1889 the anarchist faction won a majority on the League Executive Council, and as A. L. Morton comments, “the position of Morris was becoming impossible.” Morris’ initial mistake on the election question had pitted him with the anarchists against the Marxists, but by 1889-90 the League was almost in all but name anarchistic. Morris, in his article Anarchism and Socialism, stood his ground: “I call myself a communist, and have no wish to qualify that word by joining any other to it… I join issue with our anarchist-communist friends, who are somewhat authoritative on the matter of authority, and not a little vague also… If individuals are not to coerce others, there must somewhere be an authority which is prepared to coerce them not to coerce… Any community conceivable will sometimes determine on collective action which, without being in itself immoral or oppressive, would give pain to some of its members… Would the small minority have to give way or the large majority… Clearly we should have to submit to authority – not any form of arbitrary or unreasonable authority, but for a public conscience as a rule of action: and by all means let us have the least possible exercise of authority.”

Morris, attempting in a very genuine but not very scientific way to formulate the transitional forms of state after the socialist revolution and leading to communism (in which the state ‘withers away’) struck a blow at the fundamental (and we might add, metaphysical) tenet of anarchism: “No to the State!”. As Morris realised the extent of the anarchists’ penetration, including into the Commonweal he edited, funded, and contributed to, he resigned from the League. Founding and taking part in the Hammersmith Socialist Society, Morris continued to write and speak for socialism until his death from overwork in 1895. Of the League itself, Engels commented in 1890 that it “…looks down on everything which is not directly revolutionary (which means making phrases and otherwise doing nothing)”. It had indeed become a sect, and increasingly an anarchist sect until its merger with the Kropotkinites in 1895 – the final death knell. Morris after his League resignation appears to have admitted the possibility of utilising Parliamentary elections, and also participated in the 1892-93 Socialist Unity negotiations, and even wrote for the SDF journal Justice (e.g., the article Why I Became a Socialist). Nonetheless, Morris played a not inconsiderable role in the rise of anarchism within the SL. We should have an all-sided view of Morris, on his considerable strengths and qualities for which he deserves praise, but we must see also his weaknesses. It does appear that Morris never fully grasped the Marxist analysis of class society, especially the role of the state. This is critical, and was the source of Morris’ mistakes in simply writing off the state as an “oppressor” – which under capitalism is entirely true – but without seeing the possibility of utilising this as a platform to build the revolution, and also the role of the state as a democratic workers’ organisation after the revolution.

It is one thing to say what we’ve said. It is quite another to “make phrases” as do the Australian DSP: “Engels was perhaps a little too harsh in dismissing Morris as a ‘sentimental socialist’. Perhaps ‘medieval’ is a better word to describe his socialism [which had] … an all too ready utopian view of the future without confronting the means by which it could be achieved.” The reader may ask, does this not “perhaps” illustrate the DSP’s utter poverty of understanding? Mealy-mouthed phrases like “We cannot hold it against Morris for preferring filigree to red flags or a hammer and sickle” only dishonour the actual record of Morris (who, as the hammer and sickle was drawn up in post-October 1917 Russia, didn’t have the option of preferring it in the 1880s!) Morris’ beliefs attempted to bridge the gap between the ‘moral force’ faith of the original ‘sentimental socialists’ and the scientific socialism of Marx and Engels. Morris had advanced well beyond the early utopians who sought to appeal to all classes, including the bourgeois. Morris understood well enough that the workers had to make the revolution; his failing was not scientifically understanding how the revolution would be achieved. This led him to the position of falling back to his “emotional socialism’: his socialism depending on his fine qualities of optimism, honesty, integrity, and limitless faith in human possibility, rather than a worked-out and sound scientific grounding. Morris’ non-comprehension of scientific socialism, expressed in the world view of dialectical materialism, was his real failing (and not some feeble-minded twaddle about “filigree”); it is a lesson not to be obscured but to be used in the education of those now coming fresh to Marxism as an instructive example of the need for deep-rooted theoretical understanding.

Lastly, on the League: of those who resigned in the late 1880s Bax returned immediately to the SDF (in 1888). Others, for example Eleanor Marx and Aveling, took longer – until the mid 1890s – to begin contributing to the SDF journal. The reasons for this are part of the next chapter, in which we look at the evolution of the SDF through the workers’ movement of 1885-1900.

The SDF 1885-1899

We commented in the introduction that the contradiction “of the existing sects with the need for a genuine revolutionary party” was one of the determining factors for the course taken by workers’ struggles in these years. But the influence of this contradiction, embodied in the SDF, made itself felt not only on the objective situation, i.e. the class struggle, but also on subjective developments within the SDF. The course the SDF charted in 1885-99 (and after) was determined in part of course by objective conditions, but also by the contradiction precisely of what the SDF was — a sect as embodied by Hyndman and his cohorts – and what the SDF needed objectively to be: a Leninist proletarian party. This was represented, to varying degrees of conscious effort, by those who challenged Hyndman from left and right in this period.

Moreover, the character of the SDF was shaped by these contradictions. The SL was, largely by dint of its increasingly anarchistic element, incapable in the mid- and late-1880s of attracting those workers seeking a Marxist party where the SDF offered an alternative. Without any effective competition from the League – a point to which we will soon return – the SDF in its provincial localities (i.e. furthest from the pernicious effects of Hyndman) contained solid workers’ cadres. These instinctively opposed Hyndman’s sectarianism and at points steadied the organisation from dissolution, and prevented extremes (although not severe waverings in c.1889-91) of ultra-leftism and opportunism which would otherwise assuredly have wrecked the SDF.

In this sense the SDF was quite unlike the petty-bourgeois sects from the time of Lenin to this day. Those sects which trace their lineage to the break-up of the Fourth International have veered sharply away from the proletariat and towards the petty-bourgeois, in both thinking and in composition. The SDF, however, was a different form of sect, and this difference is entirely owed to the absence of a genuine Marxist party at any point of the SDF’s existence. In a sense, although it originated from bourgeois and petty-bourgeois elements such as Hyndman, Bax and Morris, under the pressure of the worker-Marxists, the SDF was impelled from the petty-bourgeois (and against the grain of this layer, hence the bitter internal fights) toward the proletariat. This is the fundamental difference, and the reason why the SDF survived to its BSP and CPGB mergers and furnished in the process nearly two generations of workers’ leaders.

Following the split, the organisation was seriously weakened. If, as Engels suggests, the dues-paying membership numbered less than 400 before the split, simple arithmetic suggests around half the paying members remained. One source suggests that in 1885 the SDF had 700 members; this seems unlikely and may well have been inflated by Hyndman. In any case, the SDF – now led chiefly by Hyndman and Champion, with Burns a third and provincial leader-activist – made an incredibly crass, opportunistic blunder in 1885, the blame for which must rest most heavily on Hyndman and Champion. Opportunism is often a result of failures or lack of success (though sometimes the reverse, a surfeit of “easy” success) and the damaging split of late-1884 may well have pushed that brace of sectarians into their opportunism of 1885.

The general election of November 1885 saw a group of Lib-Labs – the “official labour leaders” – sent into Parliament as Engels had predicted. It also saw the SDF contest their first General Election; one seat in Nottingham by Burns, who Cole (1954, 403) says polled “quite well”. He certainly polled better than Hyndman and Champion. The Tories saw that workers voted for Liberals or for socialists, and that to win the election themselves a split in the workers’ vote was essential. Meanwhile the SDF, in which as always with sects, ultra-leftism combines with opportunism, stood two candidates in London: Hyndman and Champion. Engels remarked to Bebel (15/2/86): “As they had not even got any members in these constituencies the way they would discredit themselves was to be foreseen (one got 27, the other 32 votes out of 4000-5000 respectively!)”. This sort of adventure was pointless and in itself bad enough, but precisely because Hyndman had no funds to stand himself and Champion, he ultra-opportunistically cast around for ways to get this money. And, as Hyndman was too impatient to wait for the next election when both the SDF and the workers’ movement would have advanced, he used the conduit of Champion, who in turn used the renegade and police-agent Barty to gain money from the Tory Party to finance the campaign! This affair, we have seen, did not gain the SDF votes. Rather, it caused a tremendous ruckus in the SDF, and alienated the SDF still further from the workers who did differentiate Liberal from Tory. This idiocy was then worsened further by Hyndman who, as Engels puts it, “had no sooner got the Tory money than his head began violently to swell and he immediately set off to Birmingham to Chamberlain, the present Minister, and offered him his “support” (which does not total 1000 votes in all England) if Chamberlain would guarantee him a seat in Birmingham by the help of the Liberals and would bring in an Eight Hour Bill” (15/2/86). Engels remarks wryly that “Chamberlain is no fool and showed him the door. Despite all attempts to hush it up, a great row [blew up] about this in the Federation and threatened dissolution.” (Ibid.). From left, to right, to left and back right again. This crazed sectarian dance might well have finished the SDF – which had alienated the workers, its membership capable of thought, and made a public fool of itself into the bargain – if there hadn’t been “something … in order to get the thing going again” (Ibid.). That is to say, the SDF required an impulse from objective events to resuscitate itself. This occurred in the form of the unemployed workers’ movement of 1886, which met repeated repression by the state against the unemployed and the socialists.

Cole (1954, 404) outlines the background: “Throughout 1885 the numbers unemployed had continued to mount; and the SDF, largely thanks to John Burns, managed to put itself effectively at the head of the unemployed agitation, especially in London. At the same time – and no doubt in close connection with the growth of demonstrations by and on behalf of the unemployed – a struggle began over the right of public meeting and procession; and in this field too the SDF was able to play a considerable, though not in its own person the leading, part.” The issues of civil liberties and the right to work on which the SDF agitated, combined in February 1886. Engels wrote to Bebel (15/2/86): “A workers’ organisation [as well as Tories — HC] also exists which believes mainly in retaliatory tariffs [and] summoned the meeting in Trafalgar Square on February 8. In the meantime the SDF had not been idle either, had already held some small demonstrations and now wanted to utilise this meeting. Two meetings accordingly took place; the “fair traders” were round the Nelson Column while the SDF people spoke at the north end of the Square… Kautsky told me that the mass of the real workers had been around the “fair traders,” whilst Hyndman and co. had a mixed audience of people looking for a lark, some of them already merry… when everybody already seemed to be scattering, they proceeded to carry out a favourite old idea of Hyndman’s, namely a procession of “unemployed” through Pall Mall, the street of the big political, aristocratic and high-capitalist clubs, the centres of English political intrigue. The unemployed who followed them in order to hold a fresh meeting in Hyde Park, were mostly the types who do not want work anyhow: hawkers, loafers, police spies, pickpockets. When the aristocrats at the club windows sneered at them they broke the said windows, ditto the shop windows; they looted the wine dealers’ shops and immediately set up a consumers’ association for the contents in the street, so that in Hyde Park Hyndman and Co. had hastily to pocket their blood-thirsty phrases and go in for pacification. But the thing had now got going. During the procession, during this second little meeting and afterwards, the masses of the lumpenproletariat, whom Hyndman had taken for the unemployed, streamed through some fashionable streets nearby, looted jewellers’ and other shops, used the loaves and legs of mutton which they had looted solely to break windows with, and dispersed without meeting with any resistance… we were not alone in being compelled to think [the absence of police] intentional.”

Hyndman, Champion and Burns – the SDF triumvirate – were hauled into court for “incitement to riot”. Their acquittal by the jury however, following a speech by Burns, strengthened the SDF and their continued work among the unemployed. By November, Engels could write that:

“…the lack of any competition [from the SL – HC], on the one hand, and the government’s stupidity, on the other, has enabled the gentlemen of the Social Democratic Federation to occupy a position which they did not dare to dream of three months ago. … [they held] a very ordinary meeting at last on the 21st, without empty rodomontades [i.e. without rhetorical shouting – HC] and pseudo-revolutionary obligato mob accompaniment – and the philistines suddenly gained respect for the people who had stirred up such a fuss and yet behaved so respectably. And since, except for the SDF, nobody concerns himself with the unemployed… the SDF has the game won in advance. The labour movement is beginning here and no mistake and… the SDF is the first to reap the harvest … [but] how long Hyndman and Co will persist in their present, comparatively rational mode of thought is problematical. I expect they will soon commit colossal blunders again; they’re in too much of a hurry. And then they will see that this can’t be done in a serious movement” (Letters to Americans, 164-5).

Engels’ prediction on the “hurry” of the Hyndmanites – their ultra-leftism – was borne out in the trade union argument 1889-90. Its converse – their opportunism — was demonstrated in the same period over the row in the Second International between the Marxists and the possiblists. In England the leader of the Marxist wing was Engels, and of the possiblist wing the leader was Hyndman.

The trade union movement as a whole took off in 1888 with the Bryant & Mays matchmakers’ strike. There were notable precedents though, between 1886 and 1888, in which the SDF played a positive role. The SDF, as part of its agitation among the unemployed, had already been leading demonstrations of up to 100,000 against factory closures. Of those workers still employed, the Northampton branch illustrated a correct intervention – an example unfortunately lost on the national leadership. Hunt (1996, 241) relates that the branch “was formed in 1886 as a small branch of no more than ten members. It soon grew as a result of the struggle to unionise the dominant local industry of boot and shoe making, to become one of the strongest branches of the party. It could sustain its own club, institute and newspaper as well as contest several general elections” and municipal elections also. While Justice (5/7/84) and (15/5/86) put forward a good Marxist critique of philanthropy, as a mere palliative of workers’ ills, and that the class must rely on its own power and not the generosity of the bourgeois (Waters 1990, 72), positive involvement in the labour movement, in the unionisation of non-union workers in the ‘New Unions’ (i.e. industrial and not craft unions), was sadly lacking in an organised national form. Individual SDF members or branches were involved with, led and were recruited from the strike waves of this period (for instance in Northampton). This intervention in principle contradicted the sectarian and totally un-Marxist position of Hyndman.

The year of 1887 was a year of quantitative growth in the workers movement, preparing for the explosion of 1888. Eleanor Marx and Aveling, for example, began their tour of lectures at the Radical Clubs in London’s East End. This, commented Engels, was a “very useful and probably successful campaign… If he [Aveling] succeeds, he will get both Socialist Associations [i.e. SL and SDF – HC] into his wake; for here he gets hold of the real spontaneous working organisations and gets at the heart of the working class.” (Lapides 1987, 221). In the SDF, the Rochdale branch (of significance in 1890s) was formed (Hunt 1996, 221); and the Northampton branch began printing its newspaper, the Northampton Socialist (Ibid., 241). 1887 was also the year of Bloody Sunday – the Trafalgar Square demonstration by the SDF which, although banned by the police was carried out and violently assaulted by state forces. At least one worker was killed and others injured by charging police horses. Arrests of matchers were made; two leaders, including Burns, served six weeks in jail. This prepared the ground for the following years in two ways. Firstly, it illustrated blatantly the role of the state in its agents of force, the police, and its political agents – the bureaucrats – in the labour movement. Engels wrote on 22 February 1888 (Letters to Americans, 197) that, owing to this whip of counter-revolution, “things go slowly but well… The police brutalities in Trafalgar Square have done wonders in helping to widen the gap between the working-men Radicals and the middle-class Liberals and Radicals; the latter have behaved cowardly in and out of Parliament. … The working-class element is getting more and more exasperated, through the stupid Tory [Government – HC] provocations, is getting daily more conscious of its strength at the ballot-box, and more penetrated by the Socialist leaven.” Symptomatic of the Radicals’ separation on class lines was the development of the Law and Liberty League – a civil rights organisation – in which openly Socialist delegates sat beside Radicals, and from which the SDF recruited Annie Besant who played a notable role in the matchgirls’ strike of 1888.

Secondly, the movement on the political plane had reached a high point, incidentally exposing the Fabians who opposed all socialist demands and called for national service to alleviate unemployment (!), before the 1888 turn to the industrial plane which focussed politicised workers on workplace demands.

In 1888, the “New Unionism” was bitterly opposed by the state and by bourgeois parties; for example the miners – attacked by the police and deserted by the Liberals. This had an important effect on workers’ consciousness; the same year saw the creation of the Scottish Labour Party by the miner Keir Hardie. In England, SDF member Will Thorne led the gasworkers to achieve the eight hour day. The SDF were also practically involved in the matchgirls’ strike, via Annie Besant who helped organise the strike. The matchgirls, typical of those drawn into the new unions, were half “children under thirteen, and young persons under eighteen… ragged, half-starved, untaught children” (Capital: Vol. 1, 236; quoted in Lapides 1987, 215-16). Though Besant left the SDF one year later, she was in 1888 elected as an SDF member to the London School Board. Engels in September 1888 said, “I am entirely pleased with the progress of socialism and the labour movement in England; however this progress exists chiefly in the development of proletarian consciousness in the masses. [However] the official labour organisations … here and there are threatening to become reactionary … [and] lag behind…” (Ibid., 147). Symbolically, 1889 was the year in which Jim Connell, an SDF member, wrote The Red Flag – which was part inspired by the Great Docks Strike of 1889 – and was the year in which the great Irish Marxist and Labour leader, James Connolly, joined the SDF. The English trade unions, by way of empirical indication, organised in 1889 1.5 million workers.

The Great Docks Strike broke out in the summer of 1889, against their casual exploitation and for the “dockers’ tanner” of 6d an hour. Engels enthused: “It is a matter of paramount importance to us… this strike of the lowest of the outcasts, the dock labourers – not of the steady, strong, experienced, comparatively well-paid and regularly employed ones – but of those whom chance has dumped on the docks, those who are always down on their luck, those who have not managed to get along in any other trade, people who have become professional starvelings, a mass of broken-down humanity who are drifting towards total ruination… this motley crowd has managed to unite 40,000 strong, to maintain discipline and to strike fear into the hearts of the might dock companies. How glad I am to have lived to see this day! If this stratum can be organised, that is a fact of great import. … This will serve as an example for the provinces.” (Ibid, 147-8). In October, after the strike won: “These new Trades Unions of unskilled men and women are totally different from the old organisations of the working-class aristocracy and cannot fall into the same conservative ways; they are too poor, too shaky and too much composed of unstable elements, for anyone of these unskilled people may change his trade any day.

And they are organised under quite different circumstances – all the leading men and women are Socialists, and socialist agitators too. In them I see the real beginning of the movement here.” (Ibid., 149-50).

And lastly, in December: “The movement has now got going at last and I believe for good. But it is not directly Socialist, and those English who have understood our theory best remain outside it: Hyndman because he is incurably jealous and intriguing, Bax because he is only a bookworm. Formally the movement is. at the moment, a trade union movement, but utterly different from that of the old trade unions: the skilled labourers, the aristocracy of labour. … [The new unions] are drawing far greater masses into the struggle, shaking up society far more profoundly, and putting forward much more far-reaching demands: the eight-hour day, a general federation of all organisations, and complete solidarity. … [They] look on their immediate demands themselves as only provisional, although they themselves do not yet know toward what final goal they are working. But this vague idea is strongly enough rooted in them to make them elect as leaders only openly declared Socialists. Like everyone else, they must learn from their own experiences by drawing the conclusions from their own mistakes. But since, unlike the old trade unions, they greet every suggestion of the identity of interest between capital and labour with scornful laughter, this will not take very long.” (Letters to Americans, p220).

In these letters Engels draws four main themes: the new unionism; the crystallisation of an advanced layer; the influence of individual Marxists; the total lack of influence by so-called ’Marxist’ organisations. These we shall look at below, in the context of the trade union debate within the SDF which these points engendered.

The new unions were a mass movement of the proletariat in general: those layers hitherto un-unionised, down-trodden and so forth as Engels describes; a movement independent of, and in part against, the narrow craft union form of organisation. In the context of 1889-90, the crystallisation of an advanced layer made fertile soil for the ideas of socialism and Marxism; the best of these workers were involved in the construction of the Labour Party, and Tom Mann was also a founder of the. Communist Party in 1920. The politicised nature of the dockers (not atypical of the new unions) is evidenced by their elected leaders: “only openly declared Socialists.” It raises the question, what forces of Marxism intervened? Indeed, as Engels remarked of the dockers, “this strike is worked and led by our people, by Burns and Mann, and the Hyndmanites are nowhere in it.” (Lapides 1987, 148). In “our people” Engels of course included “Tussy” – Eleanor Marx – who as a member of the docks’ strike committee worked closely with the dockers and under Engels’ tutelage. The influence of the pair cannot be underestimated; they were crucial, for instance, in averting the catastrophe that would have resulted from the dockers’ premature and wrongly applied use of the general strike slogan (see Ibid., 149).

Burns was characterised by Engels as although “the only really honest fellow among the leaders”, he also “allowed the Liberals … to lead him a bit too much by the nose.” (Ibid, 216). The latter proved unfortunately true. Mann was seen by Engels as “soft”, though “the best of the lot” (Ibid., 217); likewise, his syndicalist wanderings testify to his “softness”, but his founding of the CP to his strength as “the best”.

It was with Burns and Mann that the official leaders of the SDF entered into controversy. The official view of the SDF, that is, the view expressed by Hyndman and shared with varying degrees of diminution by the SDF ranks, on the trade unions was expressed in an 1883 pamphlet: “Trade unionists are, all told, but a small fraction of the total working population. They constitute in fact, an aristocracy of labour who, in view of the bitter struggle now drawing nearer and nearer, cannot be said to be other than a hindrance to that complete organisation of the proletariat which alone can obtain for the workers their proper control over their own labour. …. Being also fundamentally unsectarian [i.e. politically broad – HC] and unpolitical, they prevent any organised attempt being made by the workers as a class to form a definite party of their own [!!]. … The waste of the Trade Union funds on strikes or petty benefits to the individuals who compose them is still more deplorable. Enormous sums have been … lost, directly or indirectly, in consequence of strikes which, if applied by Unionists to active propaganda against the existing system … would have long since produced a serious effect.” (The Historical Basis of Socialism in England, quoted in ibid., 218).

Unsurprisingly, Mann and Burns took issue with this sectarian rubbish. Hyndman, though outnumbered, refused to change the strategic line of the SDF towards the unions, and after he in 1890 described strikes as a “diversion” from the socialist struggle Mann, Burns, and many others left the organisation.

So what of Hyndman’s statement? It is gibberish from start to finish. That unions constitute a minority of workers under capitalism is generally true, with the exception of certain European countries which in the post-war upswing achieved well over 50% unionisation. Nonetheless, this neither adds nor detracts from the unions’ essence as the industrial organisations of the proletariat, which are also its most basic line of defence. “An aristocracy of labour” is untrue; we need only look at the new unionism cited above. The phrase is, moreover, ill-used given the very real labour aristocracy then prevalent in the craft unions. “… a hindrance to that complete organisation ..”; the only complete organisation of the workers is a workers’ state composed of workers’ councils – which is, in effect, a trade union that has conquered power – and this is the nub: it is after the revolution (and even then unions retain two-fold use, supporting a workers’ state, and defending the working class against excesses and the degeneration of a workers’ state).

Before this fortunate event, unions provide workers with a valuable school in the ABC of the class struggle. This is not a hindrance, but an advance. The “unpolitical” nature of unions is the cry of union bureaucrats everywhere – themselves playing the political role of throwing sand in workers’ eyes and thereby serving the bourgeois.

Not for nothing did Marx describe every strike as political: it raises basic questions of workers’ organisation, of workers’ control, of the bourgeois class and the capitalist state, and of the means by which workers can win immediate and general victory. What is this if not political? The claim of unions preventing workers forming a party of their own is given the lie by precisely the opposite: delivering the birth of the Labour Party less than two decades after Hyndman penned these sorry lines. The support of organised labour for a workers’ party is indispensable and, whichever one forms the other (continental trade unions were often formed by the social-democracy, i.e. the reverse of the British experience) was the case throughout the Second International and in large parts of the Comintern. Hyndman’s remarks on the waste of union funds on “strikes and petty benefits” are “deplorable” given that union funds are meant precisely for the defence of workers, foremost through strike funds. It is correct to win workers’ industrial organisations to support workers’ political organisation – this is ABC for any Marxist – but how? Not by stealing strike funds! Rather, by winning the affiliation of unions to the given party and levying a charge, i.e., the political levy as was done in the Labour Party formed by the trade unions – without any help and against all the worthless mumbo-jumbo of Henry Meyers Hyndman.

The false line of Hyndman not only drove the outstanding trade unionists (apart from Will Thorne) out of the SDF precisely when they were most needed, but also wrecked the possibility of a fruitful intervention by organised Marxism into the emerging mass movement. To reiterate, again in this period it was only the sense and capabilities of the rank-and-file worker-Marxists, e.g. the Northampton and Rochdale branches, which saved the SDF. Nonetheless, a huge opportunity passed by the SDF, and this was entirely the fault of the sectarian Hyndman.

We mentioned at the start of this chapter the “serious waverings’ of ultra-leftism and opportunism in 1889-91. The trade union issue brought out the ultra-leftism of the SDF’s official leaders in dismissing all union activity. We look now at the dialectical complement to this extreme, with its opposite – the alliance of the Hyndmanites with the possiblists.

Lapides summarises the possiblists as: “Rightwing socialists, opponents of revolution and advocates of gradualism, of a ‘politique des possibilites’. They were sometimes called Broussists, after their leader, Paul Brousse” (1987, 221). In a word, they were opportunists, reformists, and in the words of Bernstein (who at this point opposed opportunism, though later becoming its principal “theoretician”), “the aim is nothing, the movement everything”.

Possiblism stemmed from the reformist split in 1882 away from the French Marxist party. On their refusal to participate in the united action of the other French socialist parties in 1886, Engels commented, “Only the miserable possiblists kept apart, and consequently they are disintegrating more and more every day.” (Letters to Americans, 155). Typical of right-wing reformists (as distinct from the best of left- reformists) they were quite literally in the pay of the bourgeois, who in France by the late 1880s were supporting the possiblist journal via the French government. (ibid, 208). This, incidentally, shows the possiblists’ lack of support among the workers. Engels furthermore characterised their “selling of principles to the bourgeoisie for small-scale concessions, especially in return for well paid jobs for the leaders (city council, labour exchange, etc.).” (Ibid., 215)

The formation of the Second International brought the possiblists out into the open. The battle between Marxism and opportunism is well illustrated by Engels in his correspondence of the time, and who was one of the most active participants – as Lenin commented “he was then sixty-five years old [but] flings himself into the battle like a young man.” (quoted in Ibid. 278). The battle found Hyndman on what should have been, for a “Marxist”, entirely the wrong side.

The possiblists, “were hunting for electoral victories, repudiated the party programme, restricting themselves in their agitation solely to “realisable” demands; they fought against party discipline, demanding autonomy for the local organisations in the question of the election platform and in the tactic of blocs with other parties.” (Note to Engels’ 1892 preface of The Civil War in France).

When it became clear that two congresses were to be held in Paris in 1889, the Marxists immediately took up the fight. Bernstein and Engels co-authored two pamphlets – Engels in London directing his fire at the SDF. Engels wrote to Sorge on 11 May, “Our pamphlet struck home like a thunderbolt, proving that Hyndman and Co. were liars and swindlers; everything was in our favour…” (Letters to Americans, p213). Had Liebknecht, the conciliator, taken a more resolute line “… the masses would have flocked to us, and the Social Democratic Federation would have deserted Hyndman” (ibid., my emphasis). The italicised sentence here suggests Hyndman was to the right of the SDF, in that Engels is suggesting that if told the truth, the SDF ranks would have en bloc gone over to the Marxists. This bears out our point on the SDF ranks being better Marxists than the figureheads. Partly in testament to this, and despite Liebknecht’s mistake, Engels again wrote to Sorge on June 8th, stating “… we have everything outside the Social Democratic Federation (which has fallen to very low estate), and morally a part of those still belonging to it. [My emphasis – HC] … With the exception of the SDF, the possiblists haven’t a single socialist organisation in all Europe [emphasis in original – HC]. They are therefore falling back on the non-socialist trade unions … The adversaries are the same [as the Bakunists in the First International – HC], with the anarchist flag merely exchanged for the possiblist one … And the tactics are exactly the same. The manifesto of the SDF, obviously written by Brousse, is a new edition of the Sonvilliers circular [Bakunist slanders against Marx in 1872 – HC]. And Brousse knows it too; he continues to attack le Marxisme autoritare [authoritarian Marxism] with the same lies and slanders, and Hyndman is imitating him … The alliance of the possiblists and the SDF was to constitute the nucleus of the new International…” (Ibid., 215). By July 17th though, “… the intrigue of the possiblists and the Social Democratic Federation to obtain the position of leadership in France and England by stealth has miscarried completely, and their pretensions to international leadership even more so.” (To Sorge; quoted in Ibid, 218). Within three days, the possiblists dropped their hypocritical mask of pleas for unity: “The reconciliation bubble in Paris has burst. How lucky that the possiblists and the SDF, recognising their true position, preferred to give our people a kick, which puts an end to the fraud.” (To Sorge, 20 July; quoted in Ibid., 218). Engels wryly adds it did the conciliators good to “get this stiff kick in their tenderest spot” (ibid., 219). Engels commented in February 1890, presumably owing to the possiblist affair, that Hyndman was “done for” (Ibid., 226). This however, took two to three years in which to mature.

In the meanwhile, Engels wrote, “The movement here is getting along very well … systematically, step by step, but surely …” (Letter to Sorge 10/6/91; quoted in Ibid., 234). The 1890 May Day demonstration, wrote Engels, showed “England at last is stirring, and no mistake” (Lapides 1987, 153). Despite the manoeuvres of the London Trades Council bureaucrats, with whom were allied the SDF intriguers, who were “hoping to shut us out and being able to command … they attempted at once to bully us down” (ibid.), the work of Aveling and Eleanor Marx ensured seven platforms for the Marxists and the advanced workers. Engels wrote, “The progress made in England these last 10-15 months is immense. Last May the 8 hours working day would not have brought as many thousands as we had hundreds of thousands.” (ibid, 153-4). As with all genuine workers’ movements, especially with the intervention of Marxists – in this case the untiring work of Eleanor Marx and Aveling – a “representative body” of workers was formed by the workers.

This body, the May Day Committee, wrote Engels, “will serve as the nucleus for the movement, regardless of sect; the Central Committee consisting of delegates of the Gas Workers and numerous other Unions – mostly small, unskilled Unions… – and of the Radical clubs worked for the last two years by Tussy. Edward [Aveling] is chairman of this Committee. This Committee will continue to act and invite all other trade, political and Socialist societies to send delegates and gradually expand into a central body not only for the 8 hour bill but for all other demands … The Committee is strong enough numerically not to be swamped by any fresh accessions, and thus the sects will soon be put before the dilemma either to merge in it and in the general movement or to die out. It is the East End which now commands the movement and these fresh elements … will not have any but Socialist leaders.” (ibid., 154). “Around the seven platforms of the Central Committee were dense, immense crowds, marching with music and banners, over a hundred thousand in the procession, reinforced by almost as many who had come severally; everywhere was harmony and enthusiasm, and yet order and organisation. The membership of the very same unions [whose leaders rallied to the reactionary London Trades Council – HC] – in fact, four entire branches of the Social Democratic Federation – marched with the Central Committee. … The English proletariat[‘s] … long slumber … is finally broken. The grandchildren of the old Chartists are stepping into the line of battle.” (ibid., 158). This was is the proletarian movement in action.

It is from this that swathes of revolutionary workers can be won to the Marxist party. Once again, elements of the SDF, “four entire branches”, understood this – yet Hyndman and his cohorts isolated the organisation as a whole in the worst possible manner. It was left to the individual Marxists to play the role of what by rights was that of a party. The May Day Committee in July 1890 held a conference at which, under guidance by Engels, Eleanor Marx and Aveling played leading roles. The conference, of over 70 delegates, formed the Legal Eight Hours and International Labour League. The statutes, drawn up by the three Marxists, committed the League to an eight-hour working day in law, and the formation of a labour, i.e. mass workers’, party. (ibid, 220-21). The TUC, at its 1890 congress, voted for the resolution to establish a legal eight-hour day: “… the time has arrived when steps should be taken to reduce the working hours in all trades to eight per day, or to a maximum of forty-eight per week. … the speediest and best method to obtain this reduction for the workers generally is by Parliamentary Committee to take immediate steps …” (resolution quoted in Ibid, 224). The attempt the following year by the reactionary craft unions and bureaucrats to overthrow this “failed, and have won only a very small temporary concession. That is decisive. … things are irresistibly on the move…” (Engels to Sorge 14/9/91; quoted in Ibid. 162). The same year Will Thorne, SDF member and secretary of the Canning Town branch, was elected to the borough council and held the post until 1910. (In 1894 he became a member of the TUC Parliamentary Committee).

With hindsight we can see that the workers’ movement of the 1890s was proceeding empirically, learning from its mistakes, towards its logical conclusion in the formation of the Labour Party the following decade. Those ultra-lefts who in the past dismissed the LP as “bourgeois” forget that it was formed, like a tree from an acorn, by the developments of the 1890s. The industrial movement strengthened the political confidence and organisation of the workers (see, for example, Engels’ preface to the 1892 English edition of The Condition of the Working Class in England, p36-7; quoted in ibid., 162-3). This was reflected on the political plane with the election of Burns to the Labour Coordinating Committee in 1892, and the formation of Independent Labour Party branches in 1892 (e.g. Rochdale) and in 1893, the year of its national formation on January 13-14 in Bradford. Engels wrote of “… the rush towards socialism in the provinces, so that the foundation of a third party was quite good. But the rush has now become so great, especially in the industrial districts of the north, that this new party makes its appearance at this very first congress already stronger than the SDF or the Fabians, if not stronger than both of them together. And as the mass of the membership is definitely very good, as the centre of gravity lies into the provinces and not in London, the home of cliques, and as the program is ours in the main points, Aveling was right in joining and accepting a seat on the Executive.” (To Sorge 18/1/93; quoted to ‘Letters to Americans’, 246).

Another founding member of the ILP was John Lincoln Mahon, formerly of the SDF executive and of the SL. The success of the Eight Hours Campaign of the May Day Committee undoubtedly influenced this, spearheaded as they were by Marxists and armed with Marxist transitional demands. The state forces also, as the violent whip of counter-revolution, forced the pace of this political consolidation. Yet the question arises, and this returns to our immediate subject, where were the SDF? Engels wrote (in Ibid.) that the SDF “with their sectarian attitude” had been incapable of “absorb[ing] the rush” and moreover that “the Independent Labour Party may succeed in detaching the masses from the Social Democratic Federation, and in the provinces from the Fabians, too, and thus force unity.”

This perspective proved generally correct. Hunt tells us the SDF “… was certainly not large, numbering 2-3,000 at any one time, with quite a high turnover of membership. Indeed the German Social Democrat Eduard Bernstein estimated that the SDF had over 100,000 temporary recruits. Walter Kendall [a historian; The Revolutionary Movement in Britain 1900-21, 322-23 – HC] believes even this to be an underestimate while Hyndman suggested in 1896 that a million men (sic) had already been members of the party.” (1996, 9). She qualifies this (Ibid, 204 & 204n1) saying “… its membership seems to have been no more than 4500 at any one time. [The historian Watmough] suggested a membership peaking in 1897 at over 3,000 with an average over the 1890s of nearly 2,000. But he warns that his figures are likely to be conservative. Therefore the SDF’s claim at their 1894 Conference of a membership of 4,500, which was based on the party’s return sheets, seems fairly accurate…”. This is quite possible – that the SDF could attract tens of thousands on a temporary basis and retain, by comparison, only a handful.

Hyndman’s claim is almost certainly nonsense; if it were true it would be not a compliment, but a massive condemnation of the SDF for repelling nearly a million. A certain degree of turnover is normal in the revolutionary party. However, the nature of this turnover is the crucial point, and the SDF undoubtedly repelled some of the best elements. This, though, had repercussions in the SDF ranks, as we indicated culminating in 1893-4. Engels had written to Sorge that “Hyndman has pushed the SDF completely into the background. It has done so badly under his policy of intrigue [e.g., the possiblist debacle – HC] that [Hyndman] has fallen into complete disrepute with his own people, under the pressure of the provincial delegates. [My emphasis – HC]. … [The] SDF relies solely on its seniority as the oldest socialist organisation here, but otherwise it has become much more tolerant of others. It has ceased its abuse, and in general it feels much more like it is, viz., much smaller than it pretended to be.” (18/1/93; in Letters to Americans, 246). Exactly three months later, Engels recorded Hyndman as “actually deposed” by the SDF, “his own people have found him out.” (To Sorge, 18/3/93; quoted in Ibid., 248). Engels remarked in 1894 that although the “very good elements … especially in the provinces … are scattered”, nonetheless they “at least managed to foil all the efforts of the leaders to incite the two organisations [Hyndman in the SDF; Hardie in the ILP – HC] against each other.” (To Sorge 10/11/94; quoted in Ibid., 264). The influence of the SDF branches is evidenced in a number of ways tallying with Engels’ analysis. The Socialist Unity conference of 1893, in which both the Fabians and the SDF, and William Morris as an arbiter, participated is linked dialectically to the SDF ranks, the ILP and the developing workers’ political movement.

Likewise, the invitations to Eleanor Marx and Morris in 1893 and after, were part of the growing tolerance of others to which Engels referred. Lastly, from this point on, Hyndman appears much less as the personification of the SDF; other theoreticians and leaders such as the scholar Bax, Hobart, Quelch, Burrows, etc., becoming more prominent. Lenin, in Harry Quelch, suggests also that Quelch was the leader of the SDF from c. 1902, as well as editor of both Justice and Social-Democrat. This is not to say that the influence of Hyndman both past and present, was not evident on the SDF executive. This is also an impression, one of the form of the SDF. Still, it tallies with Engels recording that “[Hyndman] is allowed to grumble and complain a bit about international politics here and there in Justice” (Ibid., 246) – but nothing more – and the predictable development that the dialectic of Hyndman would at a certain point determine his absolute sway into its opposite, i.e. his deposal.

The established SDF practice of a decade, from its inception, could not change overnight. Engels wrote with some irritation to Sorge on May 17 1893 that “The narrow-mindedness of the Trades Council and of the Socialist sects – Fabians and the SDF – again compelled us to hold two demonstrations, but everything went off as we desired and we – the Eight-Hour Committee – had many more people than the opposition. …. there was a total of 240,000 in the park, of which we had 140,000 and the opposition at most 100,000.” (Lapides 1987, 164). In an interview with the Daily Chronicle in June 1893, Engels commented, “Our programme is very nearly identical with that of the Social-Democratic Federation … although our policy is very different. …. [The SDF] is, and acts, only like a small sect. It is an exclusive body. It has not understood how to take the lead of the working class movement generally, and to direct it towards socialism. It has turned Marxism into an orthodoxy.” Engels expressed similar sentiments to Sorge in May and in November 1894 (Letters to Americans, 263). To Schlueter in January 1895, Engels summarised the situation as “a lot of sects and no party”; “Some join the Social-Democratic Federation, others the Independent Labour Party, still others stay in the Trades Union organisation, etc., etc.” (ibid., 268).

Nonetheless, as we have said, the “very good provincial elements” were the saving grace. We shall give two examples of SDF localities carrying out united front work: Rochdale; and West Ham, the constituency for which Keir Hardie had been an “Independent” MP since 1892.

Waters writes: “Labour pressure on the West Ham borough council grew rapidly in the 1890s. Moreover, it was an independent presence, and not part of a general Progressive Alliance. A strong trade union and socialist movement under the leadership of the SDF had worked hard with the ILP and various Christian Socialist bodies to secure representation on the council. In 1896 they gained seven of the 36 council seats and two years later, after the division of the borough into 12 wards, they secured ten of the twelve new seats and also managed to elect several aldermen.” (1990, 142 — my emphases).

Hunt in writing on the SDF’s women’s section states that these “were formed from 1894 to 1895. This was at the height of the boom in socialist politics in Lancashire and was a period of great optimism. In 1894 Lancashire had almost half the membership of the entire party and was at its greatest strength.” (1996, 223). Singling out the Rochdale branch, Hunt gives its active size as around 60 at weekly meetings, even more at monthly meetings, and 40 on the women’s circle books. (ibid). The total membership in 1895 was over 200, with a local headquarters with lecture and discussion rooms and a canteen (ibid., 222). These were the benefits reaped from a correct intervention in a favourable situation.

Hunt tells us, “‘… both the SDF and the ILP were able to organise successfully. Rochdale SDF had been formed in 1887 and was not eclipsed by the formation of a local branch of the ILP in 1892. Indeed, the two bodies worked closely together, running joint slates of candidates for local elections from 1897.” (Ibid, 221). “Rochdale SDF was therefore highly involved in the politics of the town, both in electoral work in tandem with the ILP, and also in the labour politics of trying to win the Lib-Lab Trades Council for socialism. … By [1895] the branch had been contesting municipal elections since 1890, as yet unsuccessfully. In 1895, the SDF also supported the ILP candidate for Rochdale, George Barnes, in the general election. His intervention deeply unsettled the local Liberals as it resulted in the unexpected defeat of their candidate by the Conservative.” (Ibid, 222). In 1896 a local workers’ paper, The Rochdale Labour News, was founded which carried reports of SDF branch meetings, as well as those branch advertisements carried in the local bourgeois press. (Ibid., 223). Hunt summarises Rochdale SDF at the close of the nineteenth century: “…the branch actually espoused and promoted Socialist Unity in its local practice and through campaigns within the party. In the 1900s it was to oppose the withdrawal of the SDF from the LRC and urge the party’s reaffiliation. … It was not an isolated sect.” (ibid., 222).

This is not the place for a full exposition of united front tactics. Trotsky’s theses on the united front and Lenin’s “Left-wing” Communism both deal amply with the subject. Nonetheless, both West Ham and Rochdale SDF were able to intervene in the workers’ industrial and political movement, and work with other groups without dissolving their identity and without being sectarian. Consequently they reaped the benefits of electoral and recruitment successes. We are now brought chronologically to what we referred to before as the logical development of the 1890s workers’ movement: the formation of a politically independent mass workers’ party, in the guise of the LRC-Labour Party.

First fourteen years of the Labour Party

THE LABOUR PARTY, as it was named in 1906, was one of the most important gains of the British working class in the twentieth century. Not just one act, with one cause, the development of the Labour Party in its formative years 1900-14 holds instructive lessons for Marxists today: on the construction of a mass workers’ party; and on the role of organised Marxists. We sketch first the initial fourteen years of Labour, before analysing its political importance and the response of the SDF.

The LRC in 1900

The direct, i.e., immediate, cause of the LP’s formation was the 1899 TUC, at which a resolution from the Doncaster railway workers’ union (ASRS) branch was passed, calling for a conference of the TUC and socialist organisations. The conference, meeting 27th February 1900, had 129 delegates, representing the ILP, SDF, Fabians, TUC Parliamentary Committee, and 67 trade unions. In establishing the Labour Representation Committee, the conference defined it as “a distinct Labour group in Parliament, who shall have their own whips, and agree upon their policy, which must embrace a readiness to cooperate with any party which at the time being may be engaged in promoting legislation in the direct interests of labour.” (This last hinted heavily at “cooperation” with the Liberal party, as was the intention of the opportunist author — Keir Hardie). Around half the TUC and all three socialist groups affiliated, each paying a levy of 50p per thousand members. On the committee itself sat one apiece from each of the socialist organisations, and seven trade unionists. The LRC stood fifteen candidates in the 1900 General Election, winning 63,304 votes and two MPs: Hardie in Merthyr Bell, and Richard Bell (ASRS Secretary) in Derby. As stated, only half the TUC had affiliated at formation. The bourgeois, seeing both an incipient political movement and a growing industrial struggle — but understanding nothing of the dynamics of this — counter-attacked by sequestrating the ASRS as “compensation” for profits lost during an ASRS strike on the Taff Vale railway line. Approved by the House of Lords, this set an extremely dangerous precedent for trade unions, effectively and intentionally abolishing the right to strike. This was a major challenge to the workers’ movement — the unions responded en masse by switching their energies to the political plane, affiliating to the LRC. By 1909 the vast majority of unions, including the powerful miners’ union (MFGB), had affiliated. This without doubt illustrates the role of the capitalist state — i.e. defending the profits of the bourgeois — and the correct workers’ response. If seriously explained to the British working class this would politically have enormously strengthened Labour. Symptomatic was that in both 1902 and 1903 the LRC won by-elections; the pro-LRC mood was growing. Symptomatic of the leaders of the LRC was that in both cases an informal pact was made with the Liberals that the latter would not contest these seats. Instead of relying on their own strength, and exposing the Liberals to the workers, the opportunists preferred backroom deals with the bourgeois. The LRC-Liberal pact was formalised in 1903, reinforcing LRC cross-class dependence. In 1906, the LRC was renamed the Labour Party. It had 904,492 trade unions affiliated and 73 constituency parties. Of 50 seats contested in the General Election, 29 were won without a Lib-Lab pact (only one Lib-Lab being elected); in total the LP got 323,195 votes. In 1909, the LP held 82 council seats, and was in the main funded by the union political levy. Clearly scared by this, the bourgeois used a lackey in the ASRS, named Osborne, to rule the political levy illegal. Named after this scab, the “Osborne Judgement” caused serious funding difficulties. Nonetheless, as with Taff Vale from which the bourgeois had learnt nothing, this spurred the workers on. In 1910 union membership stood at 2.5 million; LP membership at 1.4 million. The January General Election gained Labour 40 MP’s and 505,657 votes; in December 42 MP’s and 371,772 votes. (The drop in votes in December is owed to Labour contesting 56 seats, 22 less in January). In 1913 Labour held 171 municipal seats; in 1914 500 — of a total 8000. The depth of support can be gauged by, for example, the 42% Labour vote in Bradford 1913. These empirical facts testify to the explosion of support for Labour in its first fourteen years. The process was not uniform, nor in a straight line; but all the same was in ascension. Critically, it was the massive support by workers’ organisations which boosted the LP vote and membership, and despite the opportunist founding statement in 1900, committed the Patty in 1908 to socialising the means of production. International events also affected developments; as Trotsky remarks: “… the Russian Revolution of 1905 immediately strengthened [the workers’ movement]. As a result of the 1906 General Election the Labour Party formed for the first time a strong parliamentary group of 42 members. In this the influence of the 1905 revolution was clear!” (Where is Britain Going?, p26).

Despite affiliating at the LRC’s formation in February 1900, the SDF disaffiliated seventeen months later in August 1901. For an empiricist this might be expected in the months before Taff Vale fully manifested itself. However, for those claiming to be Marxists this was an incredible blunder. To highlight this, it is worth recounting briefly the arguments of Marx and Engels on the question of a workers’ party. For instance, Engels paraphrased a resolution of the First International thus: “… demands the formation, in every country, of a distinct working class party, opposed to all middle class [i.e., bourgeois — HC] parties. … it calls here in England upon the working class … to form an independent party of their own, as they did in the glorious time of the great Chartist movement’. (Lapides 1987, 85-6). In relation to the sectarian German émigrés in America, Engels wrote: “To expect that the Americans will start with the full [revolutionary — HC] consciousness is to expect the impossible. What the Germans [the émigrés — HC] ought to do is … to go in for any real general working-class movement, accept its actual starting point as such and work it gradually up to the theoretical level by pointing out how every mistake made, every reverse suffered, was a necessary consequence of mistaken theoretical orders in the original program. …. But above all give the movement time to consolidate … A million or two of workingmen’s votes next November for a bona fide workingmen’s party is worth infinitely more than a hundred thousand votes for a doctrinally perfect platform. … anything that might delay or prevent that national consolidation of the workingmen’s party — on no matter what platform — I should consider a great mistake…” (Letter to Mrs Waschnewetzky, 28/12/86, in Letters to Americans p166). This, almost word for word, can be applied to the ultra-left adventure of the SDF in 1901. It can also be applied to those sectarians today who, in all seriousness (and all stupidity) proclaim: “We want not a mass workers’ party, but a mass revolutionary party!” It is one thing to want, and quite another to have. As if mass parties (or any parties) of any kind fall from the sky! Mass revolutionary parties do not develop from a sect recruiting one today, two tomorrow, and three the day after etc ad infinitum. Revolutionary consciousness is the highest stage of class consciousness; it is only reached after lengthy experience by the class of its own mistakes and successes. The length of this education is determined by the quality of Marxist party existing, and by objective developments; nonetheless a mass workers’ party “on no matter what platform” is a crucial development in the class consciousness of the proletariat. The task of genuine Marxists is to participate in the party from inception and to guide it, as Engels iterates in ABC language, toward revolutionary consciousness. Tactics and strategy in relation to this vary with objective conditions — e.g., entrism, united front, affiliation — nonetheless Marxists must join in the workers’ party as it develops class awareness among the proletariat or — remain a sect. That the best of the SDF understood this is evidenced by Hunt’s comment on Rochdale SDF which, as suggested previously, was one of the politically strongest and non-sectarian branches. Hunt notes that Rochdale SDF in the 1900s did “‘oppose the withdrawal of the SDF from the LRC and urge the party’s reaffiliation.” (1996, 222). Conclusion THE SDF’S 1901 disaffiliation — which was permanent — cost the workers’ movement doubly. With the loss of the SDF position on the LRC executive, the leadership was entirely opportunist — a combination of ILP, Fabian and non-Marxist trade unionists. This allowed the proponents of “gradualism” — reformism — total dominance. The sway of MacDonald, Thomas etc. proved a treacherous brake henceforth. Although the LP ranks were almost entirely proletarian, those at the top were closer to the bosses and the government, hence Lenin’s famous formula of a “bourgeois workers’ party”. Secondly, the Marxists in the SDF were isolated from the mass movement; and thus the Marxist head was dissevered from the mass body. Although Lenin urged affiliation by the young CP to the LP — with which limited progress was made — the subsequent Stalinist degeneration of the CP and the implosion of the Fourth International post-1945 meant a Marxist presence worthy of the name inside the LP was not established until the 1960’s by supporters of our forerunner, Militant, and did not become a sizeable force until the late 1970’s. We cannot throw all the blame for all the deficiencies of the labour movement since 1901 entirely on the shoulders of the SDF. But it must be said: the surrendering of an extremely valuable position for sectarian isolation was a massive mistake, for the revolutionary party and for the broad workers’ movement.

Two other points are worth amplifying given their relevance to perspectives today. First, the LRC-LP did not fall from the sky, nor can it be traced as quantitative development from sect to mass party. A host of “preformations” formed, developed and dissolved before a mass party was firmly established: the Eight-Hours League and ILP, two Socialist Unity debates in the early and the late 1890s, two “Marxist” sects, the Fabians, not least the workers’ practical experience of the 1890s, and the Taff Vale case to decisively force the issue. Many dead-ends and transitory organisations contributed to this process. History does not repeat itself exactly; nevertheless, in the coming movements of British workers organisations will be thrown up of which some (or none) can and will develop into mass formations. The same applies to existing alliances and broad parties such as the SSP. What is constant is the Marxist party which can guide the movement to an extent, and which is crucial before, during and after the existence of all other formations whatever their specific social weight. Second, the LRC was not an amalgamated aggregate of existing sects and parties. The ILP was important, the SDF potentially much more so had it fulfilled its duty. But the crux was the massive swell of workers through union structures en bloc, into the LRC and LP. This, we repeat, should not be lost on those advocates of “left regroupment”. Important as the latter may (or may not) be in specific situations, it is not the determining factor in the creation of a mass party. The latter is a mass movement of the working class, which in turn is not whistled up by a sect but driven into potential existence by the objective developments of capitalism, by crises and by the intensification of the class struggle. Whether this becomes “teal”, comes into existence in what form, and is maintained at critical points, depends on the Marxist party. The task of Marxists is to participate in all genuine workers’ formations, and in all “Socialist Unity” formations playing a progressive role (i.e. ones which advance the class struggle), at all times putting a clear Marxist position and not succumbing to the twin pressures of ultra-leftism and opportunism, and maintaining a Leninist democratic-centralist organisation. This is what the SDF should have done, and is and will be the method of the Marxist party today. In this way the political and industrial, broad and revolutionary, organisations of the working class will give birth to the mass revolutionary party capable of leading the workers to power in the socialist revolution.

On the background to the 1883 formation of the SDF, we quoted Trotsky commenting that Chartism “gives us in condensed and diagrammatic form the whole gamut of proletarian struggle’. In a certain sense, the development of the SDF-BSP over four decades gives us a diagram of the struggle for a genuine revolutionary party. Here are rich lessons on how and how not to form and build a combat party, to intervene in the movement, to construct and participate in broad formations, etc. In short, all the tactical, strategical, political and organisational questions of Marxist organisation find some reflection in the SDF’s evolution — whether positive or negative. We should not fall into unwary comparisons — that our decade is that of the 1880s, 1890s, etc. Much is different — especially the experience of the British working class gained from a century of the Labour Party, for 90 years of which it was a workers’ party; and by extension the experience gained by the workers’ vanguard. In the objective situation there are some similarities: the absence of a mass (or even sizeable) workers’ party; and the continuing decline of British capitalism as a world force. Formally, both apply now as then; yet are not the same. The negation of Labour as a workers’ formation, and of British capitalism as a healthy or even strong imperialist power — on a yet higher level after the post-war upswing; these factors inevitably sharpen the situation. With the collapse of Stalinism, this impact has been made not solely, but for our immediate subject most importantly, on the workers’ industrial organisations. Of the organised labour movement, we must crucially note that the summits and the bureaucracy of today are not those of Engels’ time. They are far more separated from the union ranks; equally, far closer to the bourgeois and the bourgeois state. More akin to the worst of the craft union careerists, Jackson, Mortis, Edmonds and the rest, are tied by a thousand strings to their bourgeois puppet-masters. Moreover, the TUC of 2001 will not play the role of 1900 and create a new party, no matter how hard the Labour Party attacks. Indeed, the bureaucracy will fight tooth and nail to retain the link. The initiative and action must come from the masses and the fighting sections of the unions, and from the Marxist party. The bourgeois influence has extended further, channelled through the bureaucracy into sections even of the stewards’ committees — as we noted in the Peugeot dispute. This is course not fixed and final. The mood of the most militant Peugeot workers was to “Reclaim Our Union”, a mood that in an upturn of struggle will gain wider currency. But, with the stranglehold exerted by the utterly bourgeoisified union bureaucracy, we cannot rule out fissures, splits, even new unions formed, from the existing organisations. Workers roused to mass struggle will not stand for petty rules, legal eagles, and intrigues. The flood will burst the dam. Quantities of form are nigh impossible to accurately predict. However, the most important single lesson we can learn from the 1880s and 1890s is that the Marxist party must be ready for the movement of the masses, not only ready but also armed with ideas and capable of giving a lead. This was the dismal failing of the SDF organisation in regard to the New Unions.

Unchanged, even strengthened, is workers’ internationalism. The impending storms in Ireland, in Scotland, and across the world, cannot fail to find their reflection in the political rousing of the British workers. This too will be important in reclaiming and rebuilding the official labour movement as a serious fighting force, and in replenishing the revolutionary ranks. The subjective situation, the character of the Marxist patty, is not comparable. Our party is not the SDF. That being said, the SDF was, as we said, not simple; Marxism teaches us to look at the process, the dynamic, and not fixed categories. Formally the SDF was a sect. This was expressed in the Hyndmanites and in their list of calamitous errors. Yet the pressure of objective need, and of the worker-Marxist ranks and cadres, could not help but fight against sectarianism, for an unwaveringly revolutionary course. This contradiction was the driving dynamic of the SDF’s evolution. It is important we note this. Yet this is not the case with the Marxist party, our Party, today. Though small, we are not a sect, not even of the SDF form. Indeed, we are engaged in mass work – by rights the work of a much larger party. We do not and will not make the ultra-leftist swings — as did the SDF — against the unions, against elections, and against broad and mass work. Equally, we do not make opportunist compromises with | Liberals, reformists, bureaucrats, and social-patriotism — as did the Hyndmanites. The mistakes of the SDF show us what not to do; they show us the pitfalls to avoid.

We stand in the best traditions of the genuinely Marxist SDF cadres, who stood against Hyndmanism. Those SDF localities we cited, and of course the Marxists outside the SDF — Engels, Eleanor Marx, and Aveling — are our real Marxist forebears. The most important lesson we can draw from this is that at all points the Leninist party must be rooted in Marxist theory and practise, and in the working class. The SDF advanced when they adhered to this, and suffered reverses when they did not.

Of our tasks, certain are the same as of the SDF: as we noted in Genesis to Split, the SDF needed to “consolidate its modest gains, educate a cadre core, work out a perspective … and adjust its strategy and tactics accordingly.” Our task now is to prepare, not by sitting on our hands, but by carrying out what the SDF failed to do: formulate a perspective around which to recruit, consolidate and educate a new layer of cadres. In this way will we be ready for the future — whatever it holds. Once more, we should be wary of formal analogies. Yet in the coming period we will see mass battles of the class which may well explode from below, as did the movement from 1889. For this reason, it is worth remembering the crucial role of the three Marxists before, during and after the Docks Strike, in the May Day Committee, in the Eight Hours League, and so on. Moreover, just as these and other “pre- formations” paved the way for the rise of Labour, so will the coming events prepare for a new workers’ party. This is already accepted by a layer of trade union and community activists, and by some of the anti-capitalist and socialist movement. Yet, for the objective reasons we iterated, construction of a new party will be far more dependent on the revolutionary party than it was in 1900. Our ideas and intervention will be decisive. Lest there be any doubt as to the crucial importance of the workers’ party project, let us quote Engels one more time: “The first great step of importance for every country newly entering into the struggle is always the constitution of the workers as an independent political party, no matter how, so long as it is a distinct workers’ party … no matter in what form so long as it is their own movement — in which they are driven further by their one mistakes and learn through their mistakes.” (To Sorge, 29/11/86 — original emphasis; quoted in Letters to Americans, 163). As the SDF’s mistakes showed, our ideas and methods will be vital inside the new formation — vital in the education of fresh layers in the traditions of Marxism and against all reformist and cross-class treachery. “Progressivism’’, and “Lib-Lab” pacts, are old tricks of the bourgeois that they will use again to ensnare the workers’ leaders. This will be the case not only in Britain but across the world, as the masses move into action. The Marxist programme is the only guarantee against bourgeois tricks succeeding, and in solving the “crisis of leadership” for leading the world working-class to victory and to socialism. In this our Party, our International, will be crucial. As Trotsky once remarked, it is not enough to have a sword, one must also know how to wield it and to give it an edge. It is to sharpen our theoretical swords for the impending events that we should study the British Marxists of 1880-1899. Bibliography Briggs, A. (ed). (1977) – William Morris: Selected Writings and Designs. Pelican Original: London. Cole, G. D. H. (1954) Socialist Thought Volume Two. MacMillan & Co Ltd: London. Foster, W. Z. (1955) History of the Three Internationals. International Publishers: New York. Hulse, J. W. (1970) Revolutionists in London. Clarendon Press: London. Hunt, K. (1996) Equivocal Feminists: The Social-Democratic Federation and the Woman Question 1884- 1917. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

Lapides, K. (ed). (1987) Marx and Engels on the Trade Unions. Praeger Publishers: New York.

Marx, K. & Engels, F. (1953) Letters to Americans 1848-1895 A Selection. International Publishers: New York. Waters, C. (1990) British Socialists and the Politics of Popular Culture 1884-1914. Manchester University Press: Manchester. Wolfe, W. (1975) From Radicalism to Socialism. Yale University Press: London. (Main Internet sources and archives used) www.marxists.org – Marxists Internet Archive www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk – Spartacus Online Encyclopedia www. bigwig.net/history6/maguire_biog.htm – on Tom Maguire http://jinx.sistm.unsw.edu.au/~greenlft/1995/182/182p23.htm — DSP on William Morris http://gate.crzio.com/~marx2mao.htm – From Marx to Mao [archive]

Corbyn suspension: Time for a New Left Party to Fight the Tories

  • Condemn Corbyn’s suspension
  • Organise now for socialist change, and to build a political voice that can be a real opposition to the Tories

Jeremy Corbyn is not anti-Semitic. He has a lifelong history of fighting racism in all its forms. It is a disgrace that he has been suspended for saying that the report into antisemitism inside the Labour Party by the Equality and Human Rights Commission ‘overstated’ the problem. In reality, this was a typically mild understatement from Corbyn! 

This is not to dismiss the seriousness of anti-Semitism in society or the need to combat it wherever it arises, alongside Islamophobia, and all forms of racism. Socialist Alternative has written on this in detail previously, putting forward a working class, internationalist perspective for how antisemitism can be combated. The reality is that the investigation, the report, and Corbyn’s suspension have a lot less to do with antisemitism and a lot more to do with the Blairites’ determined campaign against Corbynism and the potential it represented for a very different type of Labour Party. 

Manoeuvres against Corbyn

Starmer suspending Corbyn is the final manoeuvre in a five year war to resist the progress represented by Corbyn’s (twice) victory as Labour leader and success in the 2017 general election in particular. Corbyn as leader attracted hundreds of thousands of new members to Labour on the basis of his anti-austerity programme. Thousands and thousands turned out to the mass rallies organised during the leadership campaigns; young people literally hung from window ledges to get a glimpse of the man putting forward ideas like free education and nationalisation of the railways. And there have been few sights in the last decade more terrifying to the ruling class and their representatives in the PLP and Labour Party machine than that of trade unionists and young people side by side chanting ‘oh Jeremy Corbyn’. This movement threatened to undo the almost total victory by the capitalist class in securing the Labour Party – which was, after all, established by trade unions and socialists – for their own ends.

It is this fear that motivated the victory for Keir Starmer as Corbyn’s successor, a willing instrument to complete the process of putting down this anti-austerity surge. And his reign so far has been a downward spiral for Labour – from suspensions of Corbyn supporters at every opportunity, to talk of ‘national unity’ with Johnson’s government in the face of their cataclysmic failure to deal with Covid-19 effectively. It is clear that Starmer is desperate to crush every remnant of Corbynism from Labour – in terms of politics and of people.

The rise and fall of Corbynism

But how has it been possible to go from what objectively was such a position of strength, to near-total defeat for the left in Labour? It is largely a consequence of serious failures by the leaders of the Corbyn surge from day one. 

Firstly, Corbyn and the Socialist Campaign Group were completely unprepared for actually winning the leadership of the Labour Party. Very few people expected, at first, that they would be successful. It was partly the change in the leadership election rules which allowed non-members to vote but also, more importantly, the mass anger which existed in society which Corbyn was able to give expression to that propelled him into the leadership position. Despite the landslide victory and explosion in Labour Party membership – becoming the largest political party in Europe – this huge potential strength was never utilised by Corbyn and his supporters. It was clear that the Blairite wing, as political representatives of the capitalist class, were not going to tolerate any meaningful change in a leftward direction and needed to be organised against decisively. 

The mistaken approach that the Blairites could be won over by ‘logical’ or ‘moral’ arguments directed the attention in the wrong place and led to multiple capitulations by Corbyn to the right. But no matter how many olive branches were put out to the right, none of them were taken – they were all snapped in half by the pro-capitalist MPs who didn’t want political unity on the basis of Corbyn’s anti-austerity policies. And, unfortunately, at no point did the leadership of Corbynism learn the lessons. In fact, they did the opposite and made even more retreats in the hope of appeasing the Blairites. 

Two leadership elections, two general elections, multiple conferences and policy initiatives were all sabotaged by the right wing. It was even proven in a leaked report that Labour Party staffers were actively undermining Corbyn and left MPs during the 2017 general election. But still, Corbyn resigned as leader, accepting fault for the losses, and the left drew the conclusion that there is the need for a moderate leader to win against the Tories. We warned at the time of Starmer’s victory as leader that this was the start of the process of a shift back to the right – unless it was fought in a serious way. Rebecca Long-Bailey was sacked as shadow education secretary very quickly and since then multiple Corbyn-supporting MPs have been removed from positions. 

And where has the resistance been? The biggest has been Unite cutting just 10% of its funding from the Labour Party, but unfortunately demanding nothing in return for the remaining 90%! None of this was inevitable. If the hundreds of thousands of Labour members who supported Corbyn had been mobilised, not just to knock on doors at election time, but in active campaigns to win the support for the already popular policies in the manifestos from, and then in turn to also mobilise the mass of the working class, this could have impacted on the general election results in 2017 and 2019, leading to a Corbyn victory. If the policy of mandatory re-selection had been implemented, which only amounts to democratic control by the members over who represents them publicly, the Blairite MPs could have been wiped out en-masse, with left-wing and Corbyn supporting candidates replacing them. If Corbyn had gone further than just supporting strikes on a personal level and mobilised the full force of the labour movement to give solidarity in a concrete way to workers in struggle, there could have been workers’ action in support of Corbyn’s policies which would have put huge pressure on not just the Blairites but the entire capitalist class. 

Continued mistakes of the left

But far from drawing these conclusions, the Labour left leaders, even now, continue to make the same mistakes. The Socialist Campaign group of left Labour MPs have only said they “firmly oppose the decision to suspend Jeremy” and “will work tirelessly for his reinstatement.” Momentum said “this suspension risks politicising Labour’s response to anti-Semitism.” Both Corbyn and John McDonnell appealed for Labour members to “remain calm”. Comments threads which have raged underneath these timid pronouncements on social media are dominated by working class Corbyn supporters urging these leading figures to abandon hope in changing the Labour Party. These responses are wholly insufficient and are actually  driving the resignation from Labour of  vast numbers of remaining Corbynistas, many of whom had already left Labour in the months following Starmer’s election as leader.

How will the suspension be resisted? Through the very same structures which initiated and carried out the witchhunt? Appealing on the basis of logic and reason and hoping the Blairites who control the levers of power inside Labour can be convinced of the “right thing to do”? 

On the basis of experience over the last five years, it seems to be all but ruled out  that these left leaders will be willing and able to conduct the campaign of mass mobilisation, determined struggle and decisive political action against the Blairites that would be necessary to stand any chance of winning. 

We should be clear that there is zero chance of a ‘fair trial’ for or a genuine independent investigation of Corbyn in the Labour Party. Even if Corbyn is reinstated, on what basis will it be? That he apologises for “being an anti-Semite” or promises to never disagree with Starmer in the future? This is not the battle that should be fought.

Should the efforts of the left be in the Labour Party?

The forces that gave strength to the Corbyn movement at its height are largely no longer in, or at least active in, the Labour Party. The best of them have searched for other means to conduct the struggle against the Tories and the capitalist system – through organising in their workplace, initiating university rent strikes, campaigning for free school meals, protesting for black lives, and many others. The efforts of the left, inside and outside Labour, are now best spent not on endless appeals and manoeuvres inside the Labour Party machine but on mobilising those workers and young people looking to fight back, and uniting these different movements. A national conference of resistance is urgently needed to bring together trade unionists, socialists and campaigners to discuss a way forward. 

Corbyn and the other Labour left MPs should initiate such an event – if they did it would have the potential to involve huge numbers. But if they are unwilling, as seems likely, workers and young people can do it ourselves. Trade unions could also have an important role to play. They should immediately suspend their affiliation fees to Labour in response to Corbyn’s suspension from membership and while they embark on an urgent process of democratic consultation throughout their ranks on the way forward for working class political representation. Again – based on experience of their failure to push Corbyn to victory over the Blairites – it seems unlikely that to force such a step from the trade union leaderships would be possible without an almighty rank-and-file battle to either pressure or overturn them. But the anger existing among workers and throughout society at the moment makes this type of battle in the short term very possible. 

These discussions will need to address the obvious question of how a new mass left party based on struggle could be formed. The struggles workers and young people are engaging in now and the even bigger ones to come need a political voice to take them forward. There is a crying need for a wing of these movements that can unite these struggles around a programme for real change, can speak in town halls and parliament, and that can be a forum to debate what type of programme can win a society to meet the needs of all those struggling for a better world. 

The need for a Socialist Alternative

Socialist Alternative is saying all of this, not as bystanders to the events or with the benefit of hindsight, but repeating points that we have made consistently throughout Corbyn’s leadership. Many of our members joined the Labour Party and voted for Corbyn, either in internal elections or the general elections, and we actively joined campaigns with Labour Party members. However, at every stage we put forward what we thought would be necessary for a Corbyn victory and beyond. 

But things have now qualitatively changed. When Rebecca Long-Bailey was sacked, we said “Those choosing to remain in the Labour party must now draw firm conclusions – the path of conciliation, retreats and silence in the name of “unity” can only lead to the “unity” of the graveyard.” This is even more true now. 

Above all, what the last 5 years have shown, is that half-way measures will not succeed. The political, economic and social crises have only increased since Corbyn was first elected. The Covid-19 pandemic, and the government’s mishandling, has exposed the failures of capitalism and every day workers and young people are drawing conclusions that this system must be fundamentally changed. Socialist Alternative will actively and enthusiastically be part of genuine attempts to build a new mass left party of struggle – something which is urgently needed. We will argue for any new party to adopt a political approach based on mobilising working class people and campaigning for a socialist alternative to capitalism. We appeal to all of those who want to be part of that, and part of a wider struggle for a socialist world, to join Socialist Alternative today. 

Come to our public meeting to discuss these ideas and the way forward

Tuesday 3rd November, 7pm on Zoom 

Starmer shifts Labour to the right – what next?

Britain is now officially in recession, as the economy shrinks under the hammer-blows of a world economic crisis and the Covid pandemic. Working class people in Britain are facing the deepest economic crisis since the 1930s. It is clear to millions that the Tory government has made the effects for ordinary people far worse than they needed to have been. 

So, we’re in recession, but Labour isn’t in opposition. Under Corbyn, the Tories were attacked from the left, with an attempt to expose their agenda of privatisation and cutbacks and profiteering for the ‘wealth extractors’. Under Starmer, the Tories are supported from the ‘centre’, except when they’re attacked from the right, as when Starmer argued for them to lift the lockdown sooner. At the time when opposition is desperately needed on behalf of the millions facing losing their jobs or homes, and the millions more facing pay cuts, the Labour leadership is determined not to provide that criticism of the government.

Returning Labour to safe ground for the Establishment

From the start, Starmer has sought to turn Corbyn’s Labour back into Blair’s New Labour, when it was a reliable party of the establishment with a tiny marginalised left. In SA, we warned when Corbyn stood down that this is what the right-wing would try to do, and argued for the left to organise a major bottom-up campaign to win the leadership for Rebecca Long-Bailey and turn the Labour Party towards struggle rather than just the next general election. Unfortunately our warnings have proven completely accurate. The shift to the right has been accelerated and has become clearer under the pressure of the pandemic, with Starmer openly supporting the government. A resurgence of Covid cases is underway due to the government putting corporate profits ahead of public safety with a reckless opening of the economy in the absence of the necessary health and social care services. Clearly a Starmer-led Labour party is not going to campaign for the necessary renationalisation and expansion of health and social care and the development of a publicly run and owned response to the pandemic.

Scotland and self-determination

In Scotland, support for independence is rising. No wonder, as working class people see independence as a route to some political distance from Tory-run Westminster and the social catastrophe this means. Socialist Alternative stands for the right of the Scottish people to choose their own future, including through a new referendum on independence, and supports the right of self-determination up to and including an independent Scotland. We equally stand for working-class unity, for struggle by working class people across these islands against the politicians, employers and capitalist system, and for a free voluntary federation of socialist nations across these islands as part of a socialist Europe and a socialist world. Many socialists and supporters of Jeremy Corbyn would agree with us. Tragically, Labour under Corbyn failed to take a clear stand in defence of Scottish self-determination, with many senior Labour figures openly ruling out any future referendum to block moves towards independence even if it has majority support in Scotland. Starmer has reinforced that position, defending the unity of the British state among the establishment and the bosses.

After Corbyn the right fight back: the way forward for socialists

Inside the Labour party, the right wing is tightening its grip. Rebecca Long-Bailey was removed from the shadow cabinet after originally being appointed by Starmer as a token gesture. Rather than attacking the right-wing party officials and journalists who worked to sabotage Labour’s 2019 general election campaign, Starmer and his allies are rewarding them! While generous financial settlements are given to the friends of capitalism, a purge of left activists has been renewed. While Corbyn was leader, the left made minor changes to the rules but ultimately failed to carry out the fundamental transformation of the Labour structures necessary for a genuinely democratic mass party – not least when mandatory reselection of MPs was blocked by right-wingers and the union bureaucracy at Labour conference 2017. By contrast, Starmer and Co have not hesitated to change the rules for the election system for the NEC, which will make it harder for the left to win seats. Scenting blood, ‘Labour to Win’ has been launched out of a merger of the two Blairite trends ‘Labour First’ and ‘Progress’. 

The reaction from part of Labour’s membership has been to leave. “Stay and fight” is the argument of various groups within the Labour left, but how is this fight to be waged? The most basic point is that it must be seriously organised among the membership, and the second point is that it must be linked with struggles outside Labour such as Black Lives Matter and the NHS pay protests. Unfortunately it appears that the main strategy among the leading Labour left figures is more of the same, which proved insufficient before – no mass campaign, no link with struggle, instead raising money for Corbyn’s possible court case and standing in NEC elections as if nothing had changed. We encourage all supporters of Corbyn who are still in the Labour party to vote for the left candidates, but this is nothing like enough by itself.

There must be a serious discussion about how to orientate towards struggle, about policies such as socialist support for Scottish independence, and about what a mass party of the working class would actually look like and how it could be achieved. Groups of lefts in and around Labour should use the NEC elections and all local organisations to pursue these discussions while turning outwards to connect with struggle. All this will have to be done in the face of renewed opposition from a newly-confident right wing inside Labour, and under a Starmer leadership which will have no appeal to youth, BAME people and workers in struggle as a party which they should join to help them in their struggles.

The need for struggle and and for a political voice

Working people and their organisations are under vicious assault by the employers who seek to make us pay for their system’s crisis. Huge job losses need to be resisted with coordinated industrial action by the trade union movement. Union leaders who had hoped for an easy life under a Corbyn-led Labour government will need to be pushed to a different focus, on building determined action against the employers. Labour ought to be there in support, and the Labour leadership ought to be challenging the government over this, but clearly under Starmer it won’t be.

Many Labour members in the unions will be looking now towards struggles in the workplaces, and many in the communities will be looking towards struggles against evictions. In SA we argue for, and are helping organise, conferences of resistance to bring together different movements and struggles at a local level to discuss how to link up, and how to bring together ideas of what we’re all fighting against. Some people at these events will be in Labour, some will have recently left, and many will never have been in it. Trade unionists will be essential to these conferences, and the Labour left groupings would be very welcome. Such conferences are also the basis for having a discussion about what kind of political organisation we need, and how we can get it. There will be differing views on this. 

Fight for socialist policies!

In these conferences Socialist Alternative will explain our perspective that the most important thing about mass political organisation is that it is a party of struggle, based on struggle, a tool for struggle, and based on a democratic structure within which groups of people in struggle can organise themselves and find support. We do not believe that this is at all likely to come from Starmer’s Labour, or the various very small initiatives from different left groups that have emanated in recent months. Forging a mass party of struggle will be a process, and we will explain how we think that process can develop while seeking to help speed it up. We will put forward essential policies for discussion, on public ownership, on a socialist independence vision for Scotland, on working-class internationalism and solidarity with workers’ struggles in other countries, and on a Marxist understanding of socialism as a fundamental break with capitalism and a democratic society based on democratic planning by working people to meet the needs and aspirations of all.

Labour makes staff redundant whilst abstaining on Overseas Operations Bill

As broken by Gabriel Pogrund and reported on by Skwawkbox, the Labour Party is – for the second time during this pandemic – trying to make furloughed staff members redundant before the end of the furlough scheme. Labour had initially made moves in this direction back in June when staff were notified by letter of Labour’s intentions to end the furlough scheme three months early. They cited the reason as “the costs associated with the party” (from August 1st it was expected that employers would have to pay NI and tax contributions for workers who are furloughed – up to 10% of wages by September and 20% by October).

Making workers redundant

A u-turn was won by Unite the Union forcing the Labour Party to scrap the letters – agreeing to extend the posts until October 1st pending review. However, the Labour Party appears to have sent another letter on September 2nd informing staff of the intention to end the furlough scheme on 30th September (one month early). In the letter, Labour again blames “the additional direct costs to the party associated with continuing the scheme” and have since claimed that the staff involved would have lost their jobs after Starmer was elected leader as they were “linked to shadow cabinet posts”.

 Socialist Alternative  say that this isn’t good enough. Making staff redundant in the middle of a global pandemic, during the worst recession in 100 years and amid a ballooning jobs crisis is totally unacceptable for any Labour Party worth the name. If true, this news is particularly grating when taking into consideration the fact that Labour are nationally calling for an extension to the furlough scheme past the end of October. Not only this, in July the party paid out £600,000 to staff involved in the Panorama programme “Is Labour anti-semitic?” who were accused of undermining Labour’s response to anti-semitism in the leaked report and were threatening to sue the party for libel – a case which Labour’s own lawyers said it would win in court but which the leadership chose to settle anyway.

This debacle only serves to underline the two-faced nature of Starmer’s Labour and reinforces the fact that Labour under Starmer will not stand up for working class people and is not a party ‘for the workers’.

MPs sacked

The rightward shift (and hypocrisy) under Starmer was also further highlighted this week by the party’s response to the Overseas Operations bill. This bill, according to Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy  “effectively de-criminalizes torture, violates essential rule of law principles such as judicial and prosecutorial independence and defies international human rights law”. The Labour Party itself had also been critical of the bill across its social media channels. However, Starmer whipped his MP’s to abstain on the bill – apparently under the (mistaken) belief that the party will be able to affect substantial change to the bill at a later date. Only 18 Labour MPs rebelled, led by prominent members of the Socialist Campaign Group. This has ultimately led to the situation where three junior shadow ministers (Nadia Whittome, Beth Winter and Olivia Blake) have been sacked from their positions for defying the whip and defending human rights. Not only has Starmer gone directly against one of his ‘leadership pledges’ but he has also betrayed one of the very principles that any labour movement should be based on – the defence of human rights. Labour abstaining on this bill brings back memories of the 2015 abstention on the Welfare bill under Harriet Harmann – and even further back, the Labour right leading the charge into the Iraq war under Tony Blair. This abstention should send alarm bells to socialists inside and outside the Labour Party that a return to Blairite ‘New Labour’ is now in full swing.

The need to fight back

It is clear from its treatment of its own staff and its abstention on the Overseas Operations bill that Starmer’s Labour will not fight in the interests of the global working class.

It is clear that the Labour left needs to organise members to defend the policy gains made by the Corbyn leadership from further Blairite attacks. To do this would mean breaking from the passive approach of recent years which has only invited further attacks from an emboldened Labour right. Whether inside or outside of Labour , the working class should look to organise themselves within trade unions and start forming local Conferences of Resistance to discuss the question of political representation and how we can organise against job losses, racism, climate change and ensure that ordinary people do not pay for this crisis. In our view doing this would mean fighting for socialist policies. 

Could Starmer’s Labour be outflanked by the Tories again… this time on social care?

Tens-of-thousands have perished in Britain’s care homes, and rumours are now beginning to circulate that the Tories are putting in place far-reaching measures to “protect” social care, ahead of what could be another very deadly winter.

According to a Guardian report published, the government is taking steps toward bringing flailing social care services under the umbrella of the NHS – drafting in David Cameron’s former policy chief Camilla Cavendish to help write the proposals.

The government has since denied this, but as ever with the Tories, you cannot trust them as far as you can throw them. We have already seen the Tories being forced to nationalise Northern Rail, due to capitalist mismanagement.

But the real question is why Labour is not using the crisis in social care to talk about its National Care Service policy, democratically agreed at last year’s annual conference and which appeared in Labour’s General Election manifesto in 2019.

The manifesto stated that:“Labour’s National Care Service will form part of our universal public services, funded through general taxation, removing the burden of cost from individuals.”

“As we move towards greater public provision and the establishment of the National Care Service, we will ensure that care providers work for people, not for profit.”

“By introducing free personal care, Labour will apply the principles of the NHS to social care – providing services free at the point of use to those who need them. Providing free personal care to older people will ensure they will be able to live in their own home.”

Although not a full-blooded socialist set of proposals, these policies would mark a serious step forward for the chaotic and crisis ridden care services and would provide the beginnings of a way out from this crisis.
But it is not just that Labour is not talking about these policies – they are actively distancing themselves from them!

When asked by Andrew Marr on July 5 about possible plans for a nationalised care system, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodd replied:

“I would say, right now, the idea is just to protect that sector… I’m not going to say to you that Labour is going to be advocating some massive grand scheme right at this moment when social care is in crisis. We need a new approach for social care into the future.”

But Dodds has this entirely the wrong way round. Nationalisation is a solution to the care crisis, not a cause. For those who remember the early years of Corbyn’s leadership, this argument will be very familiar. Back in 2016, Labour’s then Shadow Health Secretary opposed renationalising the NHS because it would be too “disruptive”, before resigning as part of the chicken coup.

Labour’s leadership, despite Starmer claiming to be the unity candidate, has been retaking by the hard-right faction of the party and they see it as their job to show that Labour is a safe second 11 for the capitalist class.

The “constructive opposition” approach employed by the Blairite faction – which saw its most vulgar recent expression back in April when Starmer’s described the Tories handling of the pandemic as an “amazing piece of work” even while the virus was running amok in our care homes – is a proven failure.

But the pace of events has exposed this even more deeply with Labour now hopelessly reactive, frequently putting forward solutions that are to the right of the Tories.

We say:

  • The immediate transfer of home and residential care back to the public sector
  • Proper public funding to end the scandal of the vulnerable and sick being ripped of by the private sector
  • A decent living wage for all carers and for workers to be control of planning
  • Free care for all those assessed of being in need at the point of delivery

  • Read more on Labour here.

Labour leadership race: mobilise to defend socialist policies

Labour’s 2019 election result is a setback but not the apocalyptical catastrophe the media paint it as. The Labour vote exceeded that obtained by Blair in 2005 and Brown in 2010. Many of the newly elected Tory MPs have very slender majorities which could easily be overturned, if a combative, mobilising, socialist strategy is adopted.

Labour’s campaign in 2017 achieved a 40% vote share by offering a radical programme to end austerity. Huge rallies and a popular manifesto inspired a new generation of voters and gave hope to older ones. Unfortunately, the momentum reached in 2017 was squandered in the subsequent two years. Corbyn came under pressure from the right in the party to allow a further referendum on EU membership, and the Labour leadership, distracted by parliamentary manoeuvres, appeared hesitant about a general election for which the party was consequently ill-prepared.

In the wake of the defeat Corbyn shouldn’t have announced he was standing down. He should have stayed to defend the left programme he had fought for, learning the lessons necessary to complete the socialist transformation of the Labour Party and to drive the further democratisation of the party.

However, a leadership contest is under way and the most important task, for party members, trade unionists and socialists, is to ensure that there is no backtracking on the pro-working-class pledges contained in the manifestos of 2017 and 2019, or on the left policies agreed by Labour’s conferences since Corbyn became leader. On the contrary, what is needed is a strategy to go further, deepening the process of converting the party into a mass socialist force.

It is undoubtedly the case that Labour needs to reconnect with the working class and it can only do this by becoming a party of struggle, based on the working class and open to socialists. To do this the party must not only take sides with striking workers, service users opposing cuts and school students campaigning against climate change, but be prepared to mobilise and unite them as well as to inspire the broader movement to act in solidarity with such struggles. Labour must offer clear policies which show that they are just as determined to defend the interests of the working class as the Tories are to defend the interests of the capitalists. This means fighting the Tories’ austerity policies and insisting that Labour councils who over the last ten years have implemented Tory cuts now adopt policies to defend and extend services, using reserves and borrowing powers to resist making cuts and launch a mass campaign of opposition aimed at winning back the resources which councils have been deprived of.

We think there needs to be a discussion about why Labour’s support has decreased so much in Scotland. Socialist Alternative believes that the failure to support the right of self-determination was a major barrier to winning support, and allowed the SNP to appear to be the only ones championing national and democratic rights. An anti-austerity programme, linked to fighting for self determination, including supporting the fight for an independent socialist Scotland as part of a socialist federation, could start to win back support.

There must be maximum opportunities for the rank and file of the Labour and trade union movement across the country to hear candidates and question them, and to evaluate their political positions and programmes. In this context, it is utterly wrong that the leadership of public sector union Unison has stated its position before the first stage of the ballot had closed and based on the view of a handful of senior union officials, consistent with their Blairite approach.

There should be special, accessible meetings held to hear debates before nominations are made, if necessary with agreed representatives of the candidates.

As the parliamentary stage of the contest closes it is clear that the following candidates are validly nominated by the required 22 MPs or MEPs for the position of leader: Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy, Jess Phillips, Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry.

And for Deputy Leader: Rosena Allin-Khan, Richard Burgon, Dawn Butler, Ian Murray, Angela Rayner.

Now all candidates must secure backing from either 5% of local parties – a total of 33 – or three affiliated organisations including two trade unions adding up to 5% of the affiliated membership. This means in many local areas battles may now commence over candidate nominations through CLPs, as well as potentially within the unions. It is vital that Corbyn supporters are organised and mobilised, fighting to ensure the candidates clearly pledging to defend socialist policies are nominated.

Long Bailey and Burgon

Socialist Alternative is critically supporting Rebecca Long-Bailey for Leader and Richard Burgon for Deputy Leader. Why?

Rebecca Long-Bailey is clearly the closest to a Corbyn ‘continuity candidate’, and the victory of any other candidate would be a significant defeat for our movement and an important strategic victory for the rich and powerful who desire a clear step away from positions held while Corbyn was leader of the party. From their point of view, this would allow a return to “normality”, in which British capitalism has two major parties it can rely on to faithfully represent its interests and which can alternate in government.

Long-Bailey has been firmly associated with Jeremy Corbyn, has publicly described herself as a socialist, calling for “democratic socialism in our lifetime”, and is the candidate most likely to pursue a left programme. She has identified herself with workers’ struggles and with community campaigns in her Salford constituency, even at the cost of some embarrassment to the local Labour council.

She has also spoken about the need to deepen democracy in the party. Labour Party policies must be democratically determined, but democratisation must also mean the mandatory reselection of MPs and full democratisation of policy-making. This should include restoring a full democratic role for trade unions within the party, and immediately reversing all aspects of the ‘reforms’ undermining workers’ participation in the party’s decision making carried out in the Blair years. Long-Bailey should explicitly back the increasingly popular demand for mandatory reselection.

In relation to anti-Semitism, which has no place in the labour movement, Long-Bailey needs to recognise that the charge of anti-Semitism against many (not all) has often been based on legitimately expressed concerns about the Israeli state’s treatment of the Palestinian people, and directed against those who also supported Corbyn’s attempts to shift the Labour Party in a socialist direction.

However, in our view it was a major mistake by Rebecca Long Bailey to endorse the Board of Deputies of British Jews’ “ten Labour leadership pledges”, along with all the other candidates for leader. This isn’t because we don’t take concerns about anti-Semitism seriously. Any allegations of discrimination should be acted upon, and all forms of racism represent poison for the workers’ movement and must be fought. However, the approach outlined in these pledges, and that has been advocated more generally by the Board of Deputies since Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party, has in our view been aimed at redefining anti-Semitism in a way that risks equating criticism of the role of the Israeli state in the oppression of the Palestinians with racism against Jewish people.

Anti-Semitism

This approach is confirmed in these pledges, one of which demands full adoption of the IHRA ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism, without the caveat previously agreed under Corbyn which seeks to protect the right to free speech on the conflict in Israel-Palestine.

Perhaps even more worryingly, the Board of Deputies also demands the setting up of an ‘independent’ body to oversee disciplinary cases within the party relating to this issue. While this demand may sound innocuous, the reality is that there is no such thing as political ‘independence’ in a society such as ours – one in which the working-class majority face hardship and exploitation while a tiny minority of ultra-rich individuals (of all religions and nationalities) own and control vast swathes of our economy, and consequently the lives of millions. The right of working-class organisations to set and enforce their own rules, as well as to carry out their own disciplinary procedures, is actually of fundamental importance to building organisations which can independently represent workers’ interests against those of the capitalists.

The pledges also seek special rights for groups they deem to be the ‘mainstream’ representatives of British Jews, such as the Board of Deputies itself. But this is just one organisation of the Jewish community among many that may have a different approach.

Jewish people are not one homogeneous group. Among Jews there are people of all classes, there are differences in religious practice or lack thereof, and there is a diverse range of political views on all issues, including those related to the question of Israel-Palestine. No organisation can therefore claim to automatically represent the views of all Jews in Britain.

The main motivation behind the Board of Deputies’ pledges, as with the intervention by the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis during the election campaign, is a political opposition to the policies of Corbyn and the left. Left-wing Jewish groups, such as the Jewish Socialists Group and Jewish Voice for Labour supported Corbyn in the general election.

Agreeing to these demands is a mistake by Rebecca Long-Bailey which reflects pressure of both the capitalist press and the Blairite wing of the Labour Party, who have used whatever means they can, no matter how hypocritical, to attack Corbyn since he was elected leader. Fundamentally, this is because they are opposed to taking the Labour Party in an anti-austerity or socialist direction.

Rebecca Long-Bailey should learn that no matter how many concessions Corbyn made to the right, they were never satisfied and it only served to increase their confidence to make further attacks. Long-Bailey’s comments that she would “press the button” when it comes to using a nuclear deterrent is another mistake in this thread.

The pressure from the capitalists to move to the right will only grow. This will be all the more so if the party follows her unwise recommendation and elects Angela Rayner as Deputy.

Notwithstanding her engaging ‘back story’ and high public profile, Rayner was an integral part of the right-wing machine in Unison when she was a branch secretary, failed to endorse Corbyn for leader in 2015 and shamefully abstained on the Tories’ draconian welfare bill during the Cameron years. We recommend support for Richard Burgon who has been a steadfast supporter of Corbyn, and a more effective advocate for left policies in the media.

This is the team we believe is most likely to defend and further the position of the left in the party. We understand activists’ concerns at the lack of diversity in a team of two white solicitors. But no other candidates, of whatever ethnic background, have been so closely identified with the Corbyn ‘project’ and no-one else is likely to attempt to take it forward.

If Long-Bailey and Burgon are to be successful in being elected, as well as being able to carry out the transformation of the Labour Party, it is not just a question of what policies they stand by or for. They also need to launch a mass campaign to mobilise the membership and supporters outside of the party in defence of such a programme. They should organise mass rallies and protests, linking with the climate strikes and the UCU university strikes in February, and beginning the process now of transforming the party into one of struggle. It was this type of approach which Corbyn had in 2016 after the ‘chicken-coup’ which embarrassed his opponent Owen Smith and generated mass support. Unfortunately, Corbyn did not continue with this approach outside of election time, which will need to be a mistake that is not repeated if Long-Bailey wins.

Socialist Alternative did not simply cheerlead for Corbyn’s programme during the election period. We believe he should have gone further, for example on nationalisation, and in recognising, and preparing to counter, the resistance from the boss class to a radical Labour government. But that programme marked a huge step forward for the movement and drew literally hundreds of thousands into the Labour Party. It is a tribute to those ideas, and to that mass membership, that none of the candidates has been willing to mount a frontal assault on Corbyn’s legacy. We believe that the left can win this election, if it unites behind a single candidate for each post on clear policies with a massive campaign to mobilise the membership in the ballot, and take further the battle for socialism inside and outside the Labour Party.

Issue 5 editorial: Labour movement needs fighting strategy

Big Ben has bonged. Or rather, fittingly for such a manufactured fanfare, a virtual bong was arranged. As of 31 January, the UK has officially left the EU. This event, while treated as a great historic turning point in the media, will have had little immediate impact on the lives of most working-class people.

Among some, there is a sense of relief that things seem to be finally ‘moving on’ from the question of Brexit. Equally, there are Leave-supporting workers who hope that this event may lead to fulfilled promises – increased spending on our NHS, or a revival of manufacturing and skilled jobs in much-neglected parts of the country. Such hopeful sentiments were expressed by a few of those interviewed by the BBC on ‘Brexit day’.

For many others, there is deep trepidation about what the future will hold based on this Tory EU exit. There is concern that companies already planning closures, such as in the steel industry, may accelerate their plans, or that more may follow in their footsteps. There is worry that EU citizens living in the UK will face new and increased discrimination. There is justified distrust as to the real intentions of Johnson in negotiating the ‘future relationship’, as well as anger at his hope to strike a sweetheart trade deal with the monstrous Donald Trump.

Working-class unity

But the truth is the hopes, fears, and aspirations of these two groups of working-class people – those labelled ‘Leavers’ and those labelled ‘Remainers’ – actually have much in common. The majority on both sides of this false divide want to see an end to crushing austerity. They want access to decent, well-paid jobs, for this generation and the next. They oppose racism and want a society which is less divided – one where solidarity and community is restored.

These interests, the shared interests of all working-class people, must now be placed centre stage. This is the challenge that faces the whole of the trade union and labour movement as we face down a Tory government with a newly found confidence.

It has been the failure to do just this – to clearly and consistently fight for the distinct interests of working class people – that has handed a bitterly divided, crisis-ridden Tory party a temporary lifeline.

Overcoming these mistakes, which have been made at the top of the Labour Party and trade unions alike, means understanding that workers’ interests are ultimately not reconcilable with those of the capitalists, whether in Britain or Europe. Their profits rest on the ability to exploit labour. The lower its price, the higher their margins.

A failure to understand this is at the root of the misdiagnosis currently going on as to the causes of Labour’s election loss. Even the left candidate, Rebecca Long-Bailey, (who Socialist Alternative critically supports in the leadership election) has unfortunately made concessions towards the right following the defeat. Especially dangerous is the extent to which she is emphasising the question of ‘unity’ across the parliamentary Labour Party.

She makes these points even as rumours abound that up to 50 MPs from the Labour right could quit the party should she win the election. These are the very same MPs whose systematic undermining of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership was central to Labour’s election loss.

As well as collaborating with the billionaire press to assassinate Corbyn’s character, the Blairites also systematically hemmed him in, extracting concessions on important political questions.

Among these organisers of defeat, Keir Starmer, who now incredibly presents himself as ‘left’, was a leading participant. Along with others, Starmer pushed Corbyn towards a ‘second referendum’ position on EU membership, something that was central to Labour’s election loss.

The failure of Long-Bailey to call this out, or of Corbyn to back Long-Bailey or organise any kind of campaign to transform Labour even after the election defeat, and her constant talk of ‘unity’ being key, means it is looking more and more likely that Starmer may succeed in winning this election, even winning the votes of some who previously supported Corbyn.

Socialists stand for the maximum unity of working-class people, without which the bosses and their Tory agents cannot be defeated. But by attempting to appease the Blairite political representatives of the capitalist class – who are deeply hostile towards all that Corbyn represents in terms of anti-austerity and anti-war politics – this, most crucial, unity has been undermined.

Brexit

This was amply demonstrated by the way in which Brexit was allowed to become such a seemingly crucial dividing line running through the middle of the working class. Rather than advancing a clear class-based position on the EU, Corbyn’s position ended up appearing an unclear, pro-Remain fudge that threatened to simply prolong the Brexit impasse rather than resolving it on a basis that benefits working people. This was a long way from where he started back in 2015, with principled opposition to the EU as a pro-austerity bosses’ organisation combined with a firm commitment to internationalism and anti-racism.

Corbyn should have posed as an alternative to the EU a socialist Europe – based on the co-operation of working-class people across the continent. His failure to put the class issues centre stage in this debate allowed the Tories to cynically appeal to working-class Leave voters, posing as the alleged ‘defenders of democracy’ against an establishment stitch up.

These lessons must be learned, or such mistakes can be repeated with even worse consequences.

In her campaign now, Long-Bailey should be pointing towards Europe – not towards the capitalist EU, but to the tremendous strike movement sweeping France. This represents an incredible rebellion against the ‘centrist’ president Macron, whose election was greeted with euphoria by the Blairites and their acolytes. As socialists pointed out at the time, Macron’s real agenda, which he has in common with Britain’s ‘centrists’, was brutal attacks on the working class. His attempt to raise the retirement age and cut pensions has spurred on this latest mass movement, which followed on swiftly from the huge protests of the ‘Gilets Jaunes’ last year.

Indeed, Long-Bailey could point towards the US as well. There, Sanders’ tremendous momentum shows the deep desire of working-class people for change. Meanwhile the attempts by the Democrat establishment to thwart this, dramatically clear in the Iowa Democratic Caucus, should warn of how fiercely this will be resisted.

Richard Burgon, a candidate for the deputy leader (who Socialist Alternative is also critically endorsing) has been making better points. His pledge to be an ‘organiser in chief’ points toward what’s really needed – the transformation of the Labour into a fully democratic party of working-class struggle, rooted in every local community and based around socialist ideas. Crucial to achieving this would be for Labour in local government to stop attacking through austerity those very communities in which it ought to be building.

Council cuts

The last month has seen prominent announcements, from the so-called ‘Corbyn council’ in Salford, Greater Manchester, as well as some of Labour’s right-wing figures such as Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson, that ‘enough is enough’ – that Labour cannot continue with local government cuts. Such proclamations should be treated with deep scepticism when they come from figures like Anderson, who have dutifully and happily passed on devastating austerity for almost a decade.

More often than not, such statements conceal plans for cuts by stealth, or for attacks on working-class living standards via other means – such as council tax increases.

But they also speak to the real anger that exists in local communities. A fighting strategy, based on councils refusing to make any further cuts, and using remaining reserves and borrowing powers to set needs budgets, could, if combined with the mass mobilisation of workers and communities to fight for the extra funding needed, be the source of a huge crisis for the government. The more widely such a strategy were to be taken up, the more devastating a crisis it could create for Johnson – with the potential to force him from office.

Johnson’s government is not nearly as strong as it appears. He might think that Brexit day was a personal triumph, made possible by his new-found parliamentary majority, but all the pomp masks reality.

Johnson now faces a year of difficult negotiations with the EU, in which the arrival at a deal is not guaranteed. Simultaneously he is supposed to be wooing back Trump after the agreement with Chinese company Huawei over Britain’s 5G infrastructure led US vice-president Mike Pence to threaten that Johnson’s decision might prove a ‘deal-breaker’.

Most importantly, the coalition the Tories assembled on the issue of Brexit to pull off the election victory does not equate to deep and real support for the pro-cuts, pro-big business policies their government espouses. In fact, the opposite is true. There is less support now than there has ever been for neoliberal austerity.

These cracks all exist and have the potential to widen. But spontaneous combustion is not the most likely scenario for this government. Forcing them back and forcing them out requires the intervention of the workers’ movement. It requires a fighting strategy from the trade unions, starting with a properly mobilised, huge national demonstration, focusing on the attacks on the NHS, in the spring and building towards escalating and co-ordinated strike action – resisting every attack in the private and public sectors.

If necessary, this means preparing to carry out action in defiance of the anti-trade union legislation. It means vigorously opposing the introduction of new such laws, including those planned to target transport workers.

We fight for

  • Local conferences of resistance, bringing together trade unions, community campaigns, climate strikers and socialists in order to discuss the first steps in the fightback against the Johnson government
  • Fight the cuts. Long-Bailey and Burgon should call on Labour councils to stop implementing cuts, instead using reserves and borrowing powers to implement needs budgets, and mobilising working-class people to support this
  • Kick out the Blairites and transform Labour. No return to the right. Organise to prevent a Keir Starmer victory and fight to turn Labour into a party of working-class struggle, with genuine democracy including mandatory reselection, and based around socialist ideas. No space in Labour for pro-capitalist politics
  • Trade union led action to build a mass movement to kick out the Tories. For a major national demonstration in the spring, focussed on defending our NHS, as part of building towards escalating and co-ordinated strike action – resisting every attack in the public and private sectors
  • The socialist alternative to capitalist austerity: democratic, public ownership of the major monopolies and an economy planned to meet the needs of people and planet
  • No to racism and bigotry. For decent jobs, homes and services for all. Build working-class solidarity across borders in the fightback against austerity and capitalism
Photo of Rebecca Long-Bailey

Labour leadership race: mobilise to defend socialist policies

Labour’s 2019 election result is a setback but not the apocalyptical catastrophe the media paint it as. The Labour vote exceeded that obtained by Blair in 2005 and Brown in 2010. Many of the newly elected Tory MPs have very slender majorities which could easily be overturned, if a combative, mobilising, socialist strategy is adopted.

Labour’s campaign in 2017 achieved a 40% vote share by offering a radical programme to end austerity. Huge rallies and a popular manifesto inspired a new generation of voters and gave hope to older ones. Unfortunately, the momentum reached in 2017 was squandered in the subsequent two years. Corbyn came under pressure from the right in the party to allow a further referendum on EU membership, and the Labour leadership, distracted by parliamentary manoeuvres, appeared hesitant about a general election for which the party was consequently ill-prepared.

In the wake of the defeat Corbyn shouldn’t have announced he was standing down. He should have stayed to defend the left programme he had fought for, learning the lessons necessary to complete the socialist transformation of the Labour Party and to drive the further democratisation of the party.

However, a leadership contest is under way and the most important task, for party members, trade unionists and socialists, is to ensure that there is no backtracking on the pro-working-class pledges contained in the manifestos of 2017 and 2019, or on the left policies agreed by Labour’s conferences since Corbyn became leader. On the contrary, what is needed is a strategy to go further, deepening the process of converting the party into a mass socialist force.

It is undoubtedly the case that Labour needs to reconnect with the working class and it can only do this by becoming a party of struggle, based on the working class and open to socialists. To do this the party must not only take sides with striking workers, service users opposing cuts and school students campaigning against climate change, but be prepared to mobilise and unite them as well as to inspire the broader movement to act in solidarity with such struggles. Labour must offer clear policies which show that they are just as determined to defend the interests of the working class as the Tories are to defend the interests of the capitalists. This means fighting the Tories’ austerity policies and insisting that Labour councils who over the last ten years have implemented Tory cuts now adopt policies to defend and extend services, using reserves and borrowing powers to resist making cuts and launch a mass campaign of opposition aimed at winning back the resources which councils have been deprived of.

We think there needs to be a discussion about why Labour’s support has decreased so much in Scotland. Socialist Alternative believes that the failure to support the right of self-determination was a major barrier to winning support, and allowed the SNP to appear to be the only ones championing national and democratic rights. An anti-austerity programme, linked to fighting for self determination, including supporting the fight for an independent socialist Scotland as part of a socialist federation, could start to win back support.

There must be maximum opportunities for the rank and file of the Labour and trade union movement across the country to hear candidates and question them, and to evaluate their political positions and programmes. In this context, it is utterly wrong that the leadership of public sector union Unison has stated its position before the first stage of the ballot had closed and based on the view of a handful of senior union officials, consistent with their Blairite approach.

There should be special, accessible meetings held to hear debates before nominations are made, if necessary with agreed representatives of the candidates.

As the parliamentary stage of the contest closes it is clear that the following candidates are validly nominated by the required 22 MPs or MEPs for the position of leader: Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy, Jess Phillips, Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry.

And for Deputy Leader: Rosena Allin-Khan, Richard Burgon, Dawn Butler, Ian Murray, Angela Rayner.

Now all candidates must secure backing from either 5% of local parties – a total of 33 – or three affiliated organisations including two trade unions adding up to 5% of the affiliated membership. This means in many local areas battles may now commence over candidate nominations through CLPs, as well as potentially within the unions. It is vital that Corbyn supporters are organised and mobilised, fighting to ensure the candidates clearly pledging to defend socialist policies are nominated.

Long Bailey and Burgon

Socialist Alternative is critically supporting Rebecca Long-Bailey for Leader and Richard Burgon for Deputy Leader. Why?

Rebecca Long-Bailey is clearly the closest to a Corbyn ‘continuity candidate’, and the victory of any other candidate would be a significant defeat for our movement and an important strategic victory for the rich and powerful who desire a clear step away from positions held while Corbyn was leader of the party. From their point of view, this would allow a return to “normality”, in which British capitalism has two major parties it can rely on to faithfully represent its interests and which can alternate in government.

Long-Bailey has been firmly associated with Jeremy Corbyn, has publicly described herself as a socialist, calling for “democratic socialism in our lifetime”, and is the candidate most likely to pursue a left programme. She has identified herself with workers’ struggles and with community campaigns in her Salford constituency, even at the cost of some embarrassment to the local Labour council.

She has also spoken about the need to deepen democracy in the party. Labour Party policies must be democratically determined, but democratisation must also mean the mandatory reselection of MPs and full democratisation of policy-making. This should include restoring a full democratic role for trade unions within the party, and immediately reversing all aspects of the ‘reforms’ undermining workers’ participation in the party’s decision making carried out in the Blair years. Long-Bailey should explicitly back the increasingly popular demand for mandatory reselection.

In relation to anti-Semitism, which has no place in the labour movement, Long-Bailey needs to recognise that the charge of anti-Semitism against many (not all) has often been based on legitimately expressed concerns about the Israeli state’s treatment of the Palestinian people, and directed against those who also supported Corbyn’s attempts to shift the Labour Party in a socialist direction.

However, in our view it was a major mistake by Rebecca Long Bailey to endorse the Board of Deputies of British Jews’ “ten Labour leadership pledges”, along with all the other candidates for leader. This isn’t because we don’t take concerns about anti-Semitism seriously. Any allegations of discrimination should be acted upon, and all forms of racism represent poison for the workers’ movement and must be fought. However, the approach outlined in these pledges, and that has been advocated more generally by the Board of Deputies since Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party, has in our view been aimed at redefining anti-Semitism in a way that risks equating criticism of the role of the Israeli state in the oppression of the Palestinians with racism against Jewish people.

Anti-Semitism

This approach is confirmed in these pledges, one of which demands full adoption of the IHRA ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism, without the caveat previously agreed under Corbyn which seeks to protect the right to free speech on the conflict in Israel-Palestine.

Perhaps even more worryingly, the Board of Deputies also demands the setting up of an ‘independent’ body to oversee disciplinary cases within the party relating to this issue. While this demand may sound innocuous, the reality is that there is no such thing as political ‘independence’ in a society such as ours – one in which the working-class majority face hardship and exploitation while a tiny minority of ultra-rich individuals (of all religions and nationalities) own and control vast swathes of our economy, and consequently the lives of millions. The right of working-class organisations to set and enforce their own rules, as well as to carry out their own disciplinary procedures, is actually of fundamental importance to building organisations which can independently represent workers’ interests against those of the capitalists.

The pledges also seek special rights for groups they deem to be the ‘mainstream’ representatives of British Jews, such as the Board of Deputies itself. But this is just one organisation of the Jewish community among many that may have a different approach.

Jewish people are not one homogeneous group. Among Jews there are people of all classes, there are differences in religious practice or lack thereof, and there is a diverse range of political views on all issues, including those related to the question of Israel-Palestine. No organisation can therefore claim to automatically represent the views of all Jews in Britain.

The main motivation behind the Board of Deputies’ pledges, as with the intervention by the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis during the election campaign, is a political opposition to the policies of Corbyn and the left. Left-wing Jewish groups, such as the Jewish Socialists Group and Jewish Voice for Labour supported Corbyn in the general election.

Agreeing to these demands is a mistake by Rebecca Long-Bailey which reflects pressure of both the capitalist press and the Blairite wing of the Labour Party, who have used whatever means they can, no matter how hypocritical, to attack Corbyn since he was elected leader. Fundamentally, this is because they are opposed to taking the Labour Party in an anti-austerity or socialist direction.

Rebecca Long-Bailey should learn that no matter how many concessions Corbyn made to the right, they were never satisfied and it only served to increase their confidence to make further attacks. Long-Bailey’s comments that she would “press the button” when it comes to using a nuclear deterrent is another mistake in this thread.

The pressure from the capitalists to move to the right will only grow. This will be all the more so if the party follows her unwise recommendation and elects Angela Rayner as Deputy.

Notwithstanding her engaging ‘back story’ and high public profile, Rayner was an integral part of the right-wing machine in Unison when she was a branch secretary, failed to endorse Corbyn for leader in 2015 and shamefully abstained on the Tories’ draconian welfare bill during the Cameron years. We recommend support for Richard Burgon who has been a steadfast supporter of Corbyn, and a more effective advocate for left policies in the media.

This is the team we believe is most likely to defend and further the position of the left in the party. We understand activists’ concerns at the lack of diversity in a team of two white solicitors. But no other candidates, of whatever ethnic background, have been so closely identified with the Corbyn ‘project’ and no-one else is likely to attempt to take it forward.

If Long-Bailey and Burgon are to be successful in being elected, as well as being able to carry out the transformation of the Labour Party, it is not just a question of what policies they stand by or for. They also need to launch a mass campaign to mobilise the membership and supporters outside of the party in defence of such a programme. They should organise mass rallies and protests, linking with the climate strikes and the UCU university strikes in February, and beginning the process now of transforming the party into one of struggle. It was this type of approach which Corbyn had in 2016 after the ‘chicken-coup’ which embarrassed his opponent Owen Smith and generated mass support. Unfortunately, Corbyn did not continue with this approach outside of election time, which will need to be a mistake that is not repeated if Long-Bailey wins.

Socialist Alternative did not simply cheerlead for Corbyn’s programme during the election period. We believe he should have gone further, for example on nationalisation, and in recognising, and preparing to counter, the resistance from the boss class to a radical Labour government. But that programme marked a huge step forward for the movement and drew literally hundreds of thousands into the Labour Party. It is a tribute to those ideas, and to that mass membership, that none of the candidates has been willing to mount a frontal assault on Corbyn’s legacy. We believe that the left can win this election, if it unites behind a single candidate for each post on clear policies with a massive campaign to mobilise the membership in the ballot, and take further the battle for socialism inside and outside the Labour Party.

People at protest holding placards saying 'tories out' and a big banner saying 'justice for Grenfell'

Labour manifesto: Take the battle to the Tories, fight for a socialist alternative

Today at Birmingham University, Jeremy Corbyn launched Labour’s election manifesto. In his speech he highlighted the past 9 years of austerity and how the pledges in the manifesto would be deemed “impossible” by ruling elites who don’t want to see change as the “system is rigged in their favour”. He also pointed to how 1/3rd of billionaires have donated to the Tory Party and contrasted this with Labour which is now “on your side”.

Indeed, relative to the past 10 years of austerity and past three decades of neo-liberalism carried out by successive Labour and Tory governments, this manifesto is radical. Just like the 2017 offering it represents a further break with the orthodoxy that there is no alternative to untrammelled free markets.

It is also true to say that it is “full of popular policies”. Polls have repeatedly shown that policies like nationalising rail, mail and the utilities, ending cuts and privatisation in the NHS and scrapping tuition fees are huge vote winners.

The promise to create 1 million Green Jobs can tap into the anger and willingness young people have shown to fight in the recent climate strikes. It will also be welcomed that Labour’s plan for a zero carbon economy includes plans for a ‘just transition’ – that workers in the gas and oil sectors will be offered alternative employment, for their skills to be put to use.

The policy that has been hitting the headlines most recently, that of nationalising BT’s Openreach service and providing free high-speed broadband to all homes and businesses in the UK, is another indicator of some of the radical thinking in this manifesto.

However, Corbyn’s speech did also serve to highlight some of the inadequacies in the Labour leader’s approach.

Corbyn was correct to point out that “Johnson wants to high-jack Brexit to unleash Thatcherism on steroids” and again point to trade discussions with the US where opening up the NHS to US businesses was clearly on the agenda. However, his own position was yet again unclear as he failed to outline what kind of Brexit he will attempt to implement instead opting for fluffy rhetoric like “take Brexit out of the hands of politicians”.

He talked of an “investment blitz” to fund infrastructure projects. The manifesto restates the policy of setting up a National Investment Bank to fund this and public services. However, as we have pointed out previously, this will not provide anything like the level of investment required.

The biggest gap in the manifesto is the lack of a pledge to nationalise the big banks. This is not just vital for funding Labour’s plans. Corbyn correctly spoke about the hostility this manifesto will receive from the right and powerful but that hostility will not just take the form of words.

Every tool at their disposal will be used to prevent radical, anti-austerity policies from being implemented and the banks will be key to that. A Labour government is going to need to prevent their programme from being sabotaged, by for example means of investment strikes by the rich, where money held by those banks will be removed from the country. To do this, it means nationalising the banks under democratic workers control and capital controls to prevent that money being withdrawn.

It is also not enough to say that just the supply arms of the ‘Big 6’ energy companies will be nationalised. This leaves private companies still in control of huge swathes of the energy sector. In order to implement any programme on public ownership in the energy sector it will be necessary to nationalise those companies and their assets outright.

We call for the nationalisation of the top 100 monopolies that control 80% of the economy. Left in private hands many of them will move jobs abroad in order to avoid the tax rises and living wage pledges if Labour come to power. If taken into public ownership we can ensure workers are paid a living wage. We can also use the wealth and resources of those companies to democratically plan our economy to provide for the needs and wants of society as a whole.

During his speech Corbyn said that “all you need to do is vote”. This will not be the case. Labour far exceeded expectations during the last general election by mobilising a mass campaign of rallies and canvassing sessions. This is what is required if a similar turn around is to be secured this time round.

Furthermore, strikes in Royal Mail, education and low-paid cleaners striking for £15 per hour show what is required to fight for Corbyn’s programme. As do the climate strikes that have been taking place up and down Britain and across the world this year. They also point to the kind of mass mobilisations that will be needed after the election, whether Corbyn wins and faces sabotage from the ruling class, or in the case of another Tory government on another austerity rampage.

We need to mobilise now to kick out the Tories on the 12th December. The Labour manifesto does have the potential to generate enthusiasm and spur people out into the streets and in workplaces to fight for it. But we also need that movement armed with a bold socialist programme to take on the bosses after the election.

Greens boost votes in locals: But are they the left alternative we need?

Starmer’s electoral wipeout on May 6 has dominated headlines. But another noteworthy trend can be clearly seen in the boost in votes for the Green Party in England, winning a 140% increase in council seats from 63 to 151. The Scottish Greens managed to boost their numbers in Holyrood from 5 to 8 MSP seats, putting the question of a new potential ‘Green surge’ on the agenda.

The party, while receiving vote increases in areas like Stockport, the Wirral and Tyneside, got its most significant boosts in Bristol, where they more than doubled their numbers on the City Council. In Sheffield, their efforts resulted in them unseating the now-former leader of the council, Bob Johnson.

Why?  

Boosts in support for the Greens is not unprecedented. For one, this is a global phenomenon, with the German Greens currently running as the favorite in the upcoming German Parliamentary elections, ahead of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union. In Ireland, the party benefited from a significant boost in the polls, which has now resulted in them entering government with the Fine Gael (FG) and Fianna Fail (FF) parties. 

But as many will remember, this was also the case in Britain in 2015, when the party’s membership rose significantly and their profile was boosted.

 At that time they received up to 8% in some opinion polls. The Greens in Britain present themselves as a progressive, left-wing anti-austerity force. In the pre-Corbyn era, this led many, especially many  young people, to look towards them as an alternative to the dire choice between Ed Miliband and David Cameron. 

In some ways, these events were a precursor to the later rise of Corbynism – they demonstrated the thirst that existed for an alternative to pro-austerity politicians. But today, with the Labour Party in disarray under Starmer’s counterrevolution, it will come as no surprise that many people have understandably looked back towards the Greens as offering a potentially viable alternative. 

The Greens’ reputation as being a middle class party has some reflection in these results – for instance in winning council seats in areas like the Isle of Wight, Suffolk and East Sussex, gaining in formerly-safe Tory wards. But also what is striking about these results is the headway made by the party in areas like Hillsborough (Sheffield), a traditionally working class area in the North of England, where the Greens massively boosted their share of the vote. Contrary to the North having uniformly ‘gone Tory’ like the media presents it, this shows that, while workers (rightly) have no trust in Starmer’s Labour to give them a voice, many either will not vote at all, or look for what could be seen as a left alternative. 

We also shouldn’t forget the impact that struggle can have on election results. While the 2019-2020 Youth Strike 4 Climate movement is currently facing something of an ebb, the heroic example set by protesting school students has helped force the issue of climate change onto the agenda as a serious topic of political discussion. The Greens have predictably been main beneficiaries of this among young voters, as reflected in the newly-elected Green councillor Lily Fitzgibbon in Bristol, who has been a leading Youth Strike activist, organising the demonstration around the visit of Greta Thunberg to the city last February, in which members of Socialist Alternative took part.

Greens in practise

These results will make many ask: Are the Greens a real left party? 

Certainly, in their current programme, there are a lot of progressive and left-sounding policies, for instance endorsing a Green New Deal with pledges to decarbonise by 2030. 

This is twinned with some popular anti-austerity policies, including votes at 16, a £12 an hour minimum wage, along with verbal commitments to “Reversing austerity and funding our public services, tackling discrimination, ending the war on drugs, restoring our natural environment and making wellbeing the focus of our economy.”

So far, so good! Socialist Alternative would welcome the election of anybody who is prepared to fight for policies which stand to benefit working-class people. But, positive though these policies are, the Greens fail to connect them to the need for a fundamental break with the capitalist system. This means that, without being linked to a socialist programme and a strategy to mobilise the working class to fight for it,  they are ultimately insufficient to tackle the climate crisis. What is needed is not just incremental reforms ‘around the edges’ of the system, but to target the colossal wealth of the ruling class, along with the major monopolies that dominate the economy. It is well known that 100 companies worldwide are responsible for 71% of CO2 emissions. The reality is you can’t control what you don’t own. If we aren’t going to nationalise these companies and run them under democratic workers’ control – necessary as the first step towards a socialist plan of production to meet the needs of people and the planet – then how can we trust that they will take serious steps, beyond PR stunts, to decarbonise, or that we will have any say in how we they do so?

Mote important than what politicians say, is what they do – especially when in power. It’s therefore instructive to draw on past examples to understand what the real political character of the Greens, in Britain and internationally.

Although the England and Welsh/Scottish Greens have never had the experience of officially entering into national governments (let alone making them) they have done so elsewhere in Europe – most significantly in Germany. And unfortunately in many cases, contrary to the progressive language of these parties, this took the form of getting into bed with outright capitalist parties. 

This remains the case in Austria, where the Greens have entered into coalition with the right-wing conservative Austrian People’s Party. Although this hasn’t resulted in any serious action on the climate, it has meant the adoption of racist policies inherited from the far-right, including bans on the wearing of the hijab and continued deportations of refugees, all with the complicity and participation of the Greens. 

In Ireland, where last year’s general election resulted in a deadlock, neither of the main capitalist parties FG and FF could govern on their own, resulting in a coalition of two, with the Greens’ participation! This decision to enter into government with the two main political representatives of big business and the Catholic Church in Ireland marked a real betrayal of the mass movements that have propelled them to where they are today in many countries. 

While the Greens will present this as a matter of them entering to ‘put pressure from the inside’, as well as placing the climate above ‘ideological purity’, this does say something about their real priorities. Entering into government with forces that preside over the housing crisis, over low pay, or over rotting healthcare systems does nothing to protect the environment and is the opposite of how you build the kind of united working-class movement that’s necessary to fight for action on climate change. 

Are the England and Wales/Scottish Greens different?

While the Greens’ current leader Jonathan Bartley dismisses claims he would support an electoral pact with the Lib Dems, the record of his party suggests otherwise. In the midst of the Brexit crisis in 2019, when the overwhelming task facing workers and young people was bringing down the Tories while opposing the capitalist EU, Caroline Lucas – the Brighton MP with a popular record of campaigning herself, came forward with a blatant policy of class collaboration. Her proposal was for an “emergency cabinet of women” to “stop the dangerous pursuit of a crash-out Brexit”. Quite tellingly, this cabinet proposal included Tories, Lib Dems and Blairite Labour MPs. It doesn’t require much to figure out how such a formation would be unable to provide an answer to the questions facing workers and young people in terms of jobs, pay and living conditions – let alone in tackling big fossil fuel interests which enjoy extensive links with the Tories!

This practise of claiming left and progressive credentials while dropping these commitments in practise has an even deeper history though. In 2017, when the Corbyn movement was going on the advance, a marginalised Green Party’s line of attack came clearly from the right, in attacking Corbyn for failing to form a ‘progressive alliance’ with the Lib Dems, in the form of an electoral pact leading presumably to a coalition government to stop a Tory Brexit. All this despite the fact that only 2 years earlier, the Lib Dems had been themselves propping up the Tories! By approaching this issue from the right, the Greens revealed their true colours. 

This approach of class collaboration and striking deals with establishment forces for a seat at the table will not advance the climate movement one step. As such in Scotland, their increase in Seats could ultimately be undone if they are to enter into government with a minority SNP administration, particularly after their years-long record of backing SNP austerity budgets in Holyrood. This was also the case in Brighton, where in control of the City Council, they oversaw years of cuts to services such as adult social care, children’s services and housing, meanwhile weaponising the anti-trade union laws against the bin workers’ strike of 2013. 

Way forward

We are entering into a period of unprecedented capitalist crisis. While the ruling class relies on governments pumping unprecedented amounts of public money into the economy to keep the system afloat, workers will ultimately be forced to pay the cost of the Covid-19 pandemic. And given that there are clear links between the Covid-19 pandemic and capitalist food production which is also harmful to the environment, it is clear that the various social crises and climate crises we face have their root in this system. 

So it comes as no surprise that many in this election have cast their vote for the Greens and will most likely continue to do so. Many of these voters will also be instrumental in building the resistance in the coming years. With demonstrations outside the UN COP26 Climate Talks in Glasgow in November in the woodwork, it is clear that we and our movement will need a political voice of our own, which clearly will not be provided by Starmer’s Blairite ‘opposition’. 

But also, for their promising words, the Green Party’s politics lacks the struggle-based approach that will be needed to force radical climate action and confront the big business interests driving environmental destruction. 

We will ultimately need a new and radically different sort of party – one firmly on the left and based around mass, working-class struggle rather than restraining itself to electoral politics. Only through this could we fight for many of the policies that we need – such as public ownership of energy companies, banks and key industries to rapidly decarbonise, mass insulation of homes and public house building, electrification of all railways and the provision of free and widely available public transport. 

Tackling the climate crisis means confronting it as a capitalist crisis and fighting for a socialist alternative. If you agree, join us today!