British Labour movement

Clause4 700Ever since the formation of the Labour Party in 1900, there has been controversy on the left over whether or not to participate in the party. To develop a correct understanding of this question, it is important to look at the experience of the past. Our task is to learn from history in order to avoid unnecessary mistakes. History, after all, is littered with the wreckage of small sectarian groups who attempted to mould the workers’ movement into its preconceived plans and failed.

Different “Marxist” groups have made one mistake after another on this key question. Towards the end of the 1960s, a number of left groups abandoned work in the Labour Party in disgust at the counter-reforms of the then Labour government. They wrote off the party and set about building their own independent revolutionary parties, ignoring everything that had been written on the importance of the mass organisations. The more isolated they were, the more ultra-left they became. Rather than connect with the real movement, they continually sought to tear the advanced workers away from the mass. They saw their prime task as to “expose” the leadership through shrill denunciation. This has been the hallmark of all these different sectarian groups. With such antics they end up playing into the hands and reinforcing the position of the right-wing leaders.

— From Britain: Marxism and the Labour Party – Some important lessons for today

Alan Woods writes an obituary of Olwyn Hughes, a Welsh miner whose political life went back to the period during and just after the War, when he first got active in politics, first in the Young Communist League, and then in the Trotskyist Revolutionary Communist Party.

The Labour Party and the trade unions remained defiant in the face of the 1931 general election defeat. The 1932 Annual Conference of the Party was told that "when the dust of battle had settled, an army of nearly 7 million men and women had rallied with unflinching loyalty and resolute determination to withstand the supreme attack of the combined forces of reaction…Labour refused to yield and at the end remained on the battleground a united formidable compact force that was the admiration of the working class movements of all countries. This augurs well for the future."

In this article in our series on the history of the British Labour party, Barbara Humphries looks at the early years of Labour in parliament and how the development of the class struggle forced the leaders of the party to make the final break with Liberalism. (Originally published in Socialist Appeal, issue 48, February 1997).

Following on from our first introductory article on the founding years of the British Labour Party, Barbara Humphries continues her series of articles that look at the issues and characters involved in the British Labour Party’s history and development. This was originally published in November 1996 in the British Socialist Appeal.

In the light of recent developments in the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) we are publishing a document written by Ted Grant back in 1992 which already outlined the roots of the present crisis in the SSP. Ted explained that the concessions the leaders of the then SML (later to become SSP) were making to Scottish nationalism would lead to a disaster. Time has proven him correct.

The end of the war brought about an entirely novel situation in Europe, presenting the Marxists with difficult and unforeseen theoretical problems. The revolutionary wave in Western Europe did indeed manifest itself in the election of left governments and the strident demands of the workers for concrete reforms and social change. But the full impact of the workers' movement was blunted by the Communist and Socialist Party leaderships, acting as a brake on developments. The precise characterisation of the post-war regimes in Western Europe and the perspectives for these countries were the subjects of intense debate within the Trotskyist movement.

This is the speech made by Ted Grant at Labour Party annual conference in 1983, appealing against his expulsion by the National Executive Committee in February of the same year. The NEC had begun an 'enquiry' into the newspaper Militant, on the urging of the capitalist press and Tory ministers, who goaded Michael Foot, the Labour leader, with having 'extremists' in his party.

Originally published in 1975, this article was an answer to Chrysler’s plans to sack thousands of workers in Britain. We are publishing it together with our article on workers' participation or workers' control as it posed clearly the demand for nationalisation under workers’ control and management.

Originally published in 1974 in a period when there was a discussion on the question of workers’ control and what it meant. The right-wing leaders in the British labour movement (and internationally) interpreted it as “workers’ participation”, which meant the workers would be consulted on minor questions, but real control remained in the hands of the bosses. Today, thirty years later, this article maintains all its validity, in explaining the real Marxist approach to this question.

"What was necessary in 1926 and is necessary today is a friendly but implacable criticism of the left leaders in the unions — and in the Labour Party. A skilful criticism of the woolliness, the vagueness and inconsistency of the Lefts and their failure to present the issues in sharp and clear class terms; not to wobble over the issue of the "nation" or "collaboration with the management", or even with the Tory government as suggested by Scanlon and Jones in recent weeks, but to pose the issue clearly of the "two nations" in Britain — workers and capitalists." (Ted Grant in 1973)

In 1971 in Britain the Tory government's the Industrial Relations Bill brought the country close to a general strike with many militants calling for concrete action. The Communist Party first called for such a strike and then light-mindedly dropped it without any explanation. Ted Grant pointed out that in the conditions of the time the call for a general strike had to go hand in hand with systematic preparation for power; otherwise it would be a frivolous and dangerous approach.

This article was originally published in the Militant under the title "Northern Ireland - For A United Workers' Defence Force" just after the British troops were sent into the North of Ireland in 1969. While most of the left capitulated and supported the sending in of troops the Marxists explained clearly that, "The call made for the entry of British troops will turn to vinegar in the mouths of some of the Civil Rights leaders. The troops have been sent in to impose a solution in the interest of British and Ulster Big Business."

In November 1967 the devaluation of the pound underlined the fact that the undergoing crisis of British capitalism had not been solved. The crisis highlighted the beginning of a polarisation between the left and right wing within the Labour Party. Recognising that this was the result of conflicting class pressures on the LP leadership, Ted Grant debunked the arguments of the “lefts” and outlined the strategy of the Marxist wing within the labour movement in an epoch of sharp class conflict that was impending, a strategy that was later to crystallise in the growth of the Militant Tendency in the 1970s.

A few weeks into the first Wilson government Ted Grant pointed out that, "Labour must either introduce drastic measures against the insurance giants, the big banks and the monopoly concerns that dominate the British economy, or the Labour leaders will become tools in their hands." He warned that if they chose the latter, this would lead to defeat of Labour, which eventually came in 1970.

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