At a public meeting in London on 13th March a couple of hecklers were attacking John McDonnell for being a member of the Labour Party. Veteran trade union activist Harry Whittaker answered them in his typically forthright Scottish manner. He said the following:
"The Labour Party was built by the toil, sweat and sacrifice of generations of working-class political activists. Almost from its very inception it has been bedevilled by so-called ‘moderates' whose only motivation was to divert the Party from its leftward path. Nevertheless, no one can deny that it has done a great deal throughout its history to improve the lives of the British working-class.
"Now we are faced with an intolerable situation: the great House of Labour has been overrun by rats - right-wing rats! This has taken place to such a shameful extent that some of its policies are now to the right of the Lib-Dems. In fact it is no exaggeration to say that there is no essential difference between Labour and Tory. These self-interested political careerists who now command the Labour Party throw a few crumbs to the working-class and bend over backwards to promote the interests of capitalism and big business.
"So what is the working-class political activist to do? Well, what would a working man do if he had spent years building himself a house only to find it had become infested by rats? Would he give up his home and move elsewhere, leaving the house completely in the control of the rats? Of course not! He would never give in to the rats; he would fight them and he would not rest until he had rid his house of the last vestige of this verminous infestation. And this exactly the same course of action which the true socialist must take with the House of Labour.
" ‘It can't be done', the misguided cynic will tell you. ‘It's too late, the Labour Party is finished, it's a lost cause'. It certainly would be if we all adopted that attitude. And wouldn't the rats be happy if we did! But that is never going to happen. The true socialist knows that capitalism is facing crisis after ever deepening crisis, now on a truly global scale. And he knows the working people are no longer going to tolerate attacks on their living conditions; they are no longer going to tolerate enforced unemployment and impoverishment, and they are certainly not going to settle for simply marching from Jarrow to London to express their anger and discontent.
"The day will come when the working-class will demand of the Labour Party that it fights for a more just society, a socialist society. When that happens - and it will happen - the grass-roots membership will campaign to de-select any MP who continues to kowtow to the bourgeoisie. It will be a tremendous struggle to regain the Labour Party; no one is under any illusions about that. But it is the moral duty of every true socialist to join in that fight, and to fight relentlessly until the battle for the Labour Party is won. That is why John McDonnell and others like him are still in the Party."
This is the authentic voice of the working class of Britain. It is a fitting answer to all the sects who are constantly fiddling and fussing on the fringes of the Labour Movement, constantly announcing the formation of mass revolutionary parties of three men and a dog.
The sects all imagined that when the working class had passed through the school of Blair and Brown (which is the same thing), they would turn against the Labour Party and flock to the banner of the "independent revolutionary party". Well, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Ten years later, what has happened to all the heroic endeavours of the sects?
First we had the Socialist Alliance, which was supposed to unite all the Left in an irresistible electoral challenge to Labour. What happened to this glorious example of Left Unity? Having ignominiously failed to win in election after election, it split into pieces, with the usual bout of bitter recriminations. As Ted Grant used to say about the sects: "unlucky at fusions and lucky at splits!"
Once the SA had been hastily buried, a new irresistible Left force appeared on the horizon: Respect. With Gorgeous George at its head and the SWP pulling the strings from behind the scenes, this surely was a winner! But no, it all ended in tears. Now there are two Respects, each one showing very little respect for the other. Who said you cannot have too much of a good thing?
Then there was the SSP (remember them?). North of the Border, they were going to break the mould of Scottish Politics. The sects internationally got very excited about this entirely new and unique phenomenon, which unfortunately soon self destructed, splitting into two hostile wings and with the former SSP leader facing a prison sentence.
Nobody takes these people seriously any more - if they ever did. The sects in Britain and internationally have been exposed as utterly bankrupt. The working class ignores them and therefore they have nothing left but to spend all their time attacking each other and, of course, the Labour Party.
They are organically incapable of understanding the fact that the working class, having historically created mass political and trade union organizations, will not easily abandon these organizations. Ted Grant explained the historical law that when the workers begin to move, they must express themselves through the existing mass organizations of the class.
In Britain it is true that many workers are disgusted with the Blair-Brown leadership. But they see no alternative. If they wish to register their discontent at election time, they just stay at home. They do not look to the fifty-seven varieties of ultra-left sects.
When the class begins to move - and there are indications that this is already beginning - it will express itself as it has always done in the past: first through the trade unions, no matter how bureaucratic and right wing the leaders are. But in Britain the trade unions are organically linked to the Labour Party. Therefore, any movement of the class must sooner or later find an expression within the Labour Party.
Genuine Marxists do not preach to the working class from the sidelines. They participate shoulder to shoulder with the workers, fighting for each and every advance, wage increase or reform that can strengthen the Labour Movement and raise the self-confidence of the class as a whole.
Genuine Marxists set out from the working class and its organizations as they are in reality, not as we would like them to be. We do not try to jump over the heads of the working class, but to advance together with the class, step by step, while always linking the day-to-day struggle for advance under capitalism to the perspective of the socialist transformation of society. Our slogan is that of Lenin: "patiently explain".
We have long ago turned our backs on the sects and their ultra-left childishness that completely cuts them off from the real movement of the workers - now or in the future. Our perspectives, methods and traditions have been shown to be correct time after time. That is what permits us to advance steadily while others are constantly splitting and in decline.
What is the reason for the success of the IMT? Only this: that by standing firmly on Marxist principles while always orienting towards the mass organizations of the working class we can get an echo among the working class, starting with the activists who are looking for a way forward. The words of comrade Harry Whittaker accurately express the aspirations of the advanced workers of Britain. They point the way forward: a merciless struggle against the Labour right wing, a struggle to purge the Labour Movement of bureaucrats, opportunists and careerists, a fight for socialist ideas and policies.
Is this difficult? Of course, it is! But any worker knows that life itself is difficult and any serious cause involves a serious struggle. And one thing is equally certain, the empty-headed hecklers and sectarian loudmouths have never proposed anything better. The working class has more important tasks to tackle than to waste time on them. Let the dead bury their dead! Let us build the Marxist tendency in the Labour Movement. It is time to get down to work!