When the Majority of the Militant leadership in 1991 pushed for a break with the Labour Party an intense debate opened up within the ranks of the Tendency (see Forty years ago the Militant was launched – How the Militant was Built – and How it was Destroyed). Here we provide the document presented by the Minority which warned against the consequences of such a turn.
1. The declaration of the Scottish turn, and the repercussions of the Walton bye-election, have confronted the tendency with the most serious challenge in its history.
2. After decades of successful work in the mass organisations, which have permitted us to make unprecedented gains, an attempt is being made to launch the tendency on an adventure which threatens to undermine the entire basis of the tendency.
3. The original idea of the turn was presented as a mere extension of our existing tactic, i.e. as a further development of more open work, whilst maintaining our link with the Labour Party.
4. However, Walton clearly showed that the advocates of the turn had something else in mind – the establishment of an open organisation, putting up independent candidates against the Labour Party. Now this is being extended with the Scottish turn. No matter what they say, this undoubtedly signifies a break with the policy of entrism, and a turn in the direction of an ultra-left, sectarian policy, which we are convinced would have disastrous effects on our organisation.
5. For the first time in our history, we have been compelled to declare the formation of an Opposition, to fight the turn. This move is justified by the extreme seriousness of the situation. What is being discussed here is not a secondary tactical question, but something which calls into question the whole basis of our work.
6. The idea that we should not form a faction at the start of the discussion is false from beginning to end. The declaration of the formation of the Opposition is aimed precisely to enable the opponents of the turn to participate in the discussion at all levels, with the necessary democratic rights and safeguards. To wait until after the decision was taken and then declare a faction when it was already too late is a self-evident nonsense. The time to oppose the turn is now, when we are still in a position to do something about it.
7. The supporters of the turn enjoy all the advantages of their majority position on the leading bodies of the organisation. It is clear that individual comrades who pose the turn are at an extreme disadvantage. Only by organising as a formal Opposition will it be possible to redress the balance to some extent, and permit a debate with some semblance of fairness.
8. It is not true that there has been a full and democratic debate on these issues. To date, the only position which has been put to the comrades from the leading bodies has been in favour of the turn. This is not a debate, but a monologue.
9. Only now has a clear opposition standpoint emerged, with written documents to oppose the turn. We believe that this fact should be taken into consideration, and sufficient time be given to permit the membership to listen to both sides before a final decision is reached. That is why we argued in favour of a 12 week period of discussion before a national conference.
10. This discussion can be enormously beneficial to the whole organisation, clarifying ideas and raising the political level, on one condition: that it takes place in a democratic, calm, and comradely atmosphere, without personal attacks and attempts to distort the ideas of the other side.
11. If this is done, there is absolutely no reason why the present discussion should have negative effects one the work. On the contrary, it should serve to strengthen the organisation.
12. We are confident that, at the end of the day, the comrades will understand the need to reject the turn and continue to build on the successes of the past four decades, basing ourselves on the tried and tested ideas, methods and tactics of Trotskyism.
13. We have made great steps forward in our work, especially over the last ten years. Because of correct strategy and tactics, avoiding the pitfalls of ultra-leftism and opportunism, we have recorded successes on many fronts. Again due to our “correct approach and work in the mass organisations in Britain, we began to make Trotskyism a recognised legitimate section of the labour movement. As a result of our patient work within the trade unions and Labour Party we broke down the barriers between Trotskyism and the Labour workers and sympathisers. Despite the strenuous efforts of the Labour and trade union leader ship and bureaucracy, they found it extremely difficult to brand us as one of the sectarian groups on the fringes. This is colossal capital, particularly for the future. To date, despite all their efforts over the last decade, the bureaucracy have succeeded in actually expelling only around 250 comrades.
14. Our correct strategy and tactics have allowed us to build the greatest Trotskyist force ever seen in Britain, and probably internationally outside of the Russian Left Opposition. We have conducted marvellous pioneering work in the trade unions, in Liverpool, and with the mighty poll tax struggle that brought down Thatcher herself. We have made important gains too in the parliamentary field, which could deliver significant rewards for us in the future. We have much to be proud of.
15. However, we must also have a sense of proportion. We are still extremely small in terms of membership, especially our active base. We are still at the very early stages of constructing a mass party in Britain. To exaggerate our real strength at this time, despite our successes, would be a dangerous mistake, and miseducate the ranks as to what is realisable at each stage. Chest-beating to raise our morale is no substitute for a sober and scientific approach to the realities that face the organisation.
16. We believe the decision to stand against the Labour Party in Merseyside was a fundamental mistake. Taken together with the “new turn” it can wreck our work. The decision is a fundamental threat to the last 40 years of our work in the mass organisations. It places at risk many of our fields of work in the short, medium and long term. All caution is being thrown to the wind, not least in the parliamentary field. It is the most serious situation facing the organisation for decades -if not in our history.
17. If we are to develop the organisation and prepare the ground for the future, we have a duty to seriously weigh up all our actions in the light of experience and learn the lessons of our mistakes. Those who fail to recognise their errors or admit mistakes, stated Trotsky many times, will never be able to construct a viable, healthy organisation.
18. To characterise the Walton result as some type of “victory” as was the case with the post-election edition of the paper, is to completely misread the situation and miseducate the ranks of the organisation. Our first responsibility is to tell the ranks what the real situation is, and not what we would like it to be. To dress up a set-back in this fashion is the worst kind of deception for a Marxist organisation.
19. In making these criticisms, we do not for a moment take away the sterling efforts and sacrifice of the comrades involved in the election campaign who sought against all the odds to secure an electoral victory. It shows in practice the quality of comrades we have in the ranks. On the basis of correct policy and perspectives such experience will bring us great rewards in the future.
20. The argument, used by the EB [Editorial Board] majority to justify their position, that we must orient our work for the next period “independently” is nothing new. We have to a great extent, both nationally and internationally, been forced to do so by the collapse of left reformism, the boom, the swing to the right by social democracy and the virtual collapse in many countries of Stalinist parties. But our orientation towards the mass organisations was crucial. To stand a candidate in Walton was to break with the method, perspectives and theory formulated over forty years.
The Entrist Tactic
21. A great part of the political capital of the organisation in Britain and internationally was the fact that we were conceived as a component part of the labour and trade union movement. We were entirely different to the sects, who try and create phantom “mass” revolutionary parties outside of the time, experience and consciousness of the masses.
22. We have explained many times that our organisation deepened, developed and extended Trotsky’s ideas on entrism. But even these previous explanations really underestimate our approach. Our conception of work in the mass organisations is qualitatively different from what Trotsky envisaged.
23. Trotsky put forward his idea of classical entrism in the early 1930s, when there was a leftward swing in the ILP which had split from the Labour Party. The British Trotskyists were advised to enter the ILP to win sections to a revolutionary standpoint. By 1935, as the ILP stagnated, more fruitful work opened up in the Labour Party. To break their isolation, British Trotskyists were then advised to enter the Labour Party.
24. Entrism then was considered a short-term tactic of entering reformist parties when in ferment, penetrating the growing left wing and rapidly crystallising the revolutionary opposition. The perspective then was for a more rapid development of the independent revolutionary party and objectively the possibilities for this existed. (See Problems of Entrism for a more detailed explanation).
25. Our conception of work in the Labour Party and unions has been entirely different. Our work in the mass organisation of the British working class was of a long-term character. Our fundamental task was to establish the cadres, train them theoretically and link them to work in the mass organisations, the Labour Party and unions. We had to establish ourselves as a legitimate tendency in the labour movement.
26. Our long-term work in the Labour Party was not aimed at what we would immediately gain inside the party. In fact 99% of our gains came from outside the Labour Party. But our whole orientation aimed at maintaining and defending our party links. The objective of our long term Labour Party work was to make big gains in a period of crisis and ferment in society which would inevitably be reflected in the ranks of the Labour Party and unions. We gained a small glimpse of this development at the end of the last Labour government and after 1978-81, when the left wing in the Labour Party began to develop.
27. There is no short cut to the building of the revolutionary party. Up to now, these arguments have always been our fundamental approach: the revolutionary party in Britain will be built through the trade unions and Labour Party – there is no other way in Britain. The same is true in relation to the European reformist organisations. With this approach we built our international.
28. The Labour bureaucracy has been desperately trying to split us away. They want to sever the links between ourselves and the Labour Party. Despite 16 years of witchhunts and expulsions they have largely failed, to date. However we are now playing into their hands.
A Flexible Approach
29. Of course we must be flexible in our approach, as long as this does not cut us off from the mass organisations or jeopardise our future position. Our work in the Labour Party is not an eternal principle set in stone. Under certain conditions we would break from the party. For example, if we had hundreds of thousands supporting us and a strong base in all the major unions then there could be a sound case made out for leaving the party. But even then, it would not be automatic.
30. Some comrades have raised the example of the independent open organisation of the WIL [Workers’ International League] and RCP [Revolutionary Communist Party] of the 1940s. True it is an example of flexible tactics under the given circumstances of the time. (See Problems of Entrism). However, the key question posed at that time was a rapid development of the open revolutionary party. This does not apply to the present modern conditions. There is no immediate prospect of a rapid development of an open revolutionary organisation. Our conception of long term work in the mass organisations is fundamentally different to the tactics employed in the 1940s.
31. We have always favoured a more independent approach to our work, taking initiatives in the trade unions, in the factories and on the estates. There is nothing new in this. But this work was always conducted on the basis of a fundamental method of approach determined not from what the Labour Party is at present but what it will become and develop into in the future.
32. With the most likely approach of a Labour government, our task is not to turn away from the Labour Party, but on the contrary, to begin to strengthen our Labour Party work in preparation for the battles that will take place in the unions and be reflected in the party. This in no way means to bury ourselves in the Labour Party. That would be a fundamental mistake. But we must urgently correct the drift of comrades out of the party in failing to renew their cards. Why do the work of the right wing and expel ourselves?
33. Our correct turn to the poll tax has produced a certain ultra-leftism towards the Labour Party (understandable with the rotten role the Labour leaders have played at local and national level). But this mood must be corrected by patient explanation and education. Unfortunately, far from doing this, the leadership is reinforcing it, with its policy in Walton and the proposed turn.
34. The decision to stand in Walton will adversely affect the organisation for years to come. It represents the beginning of an ultra-left turn which could culminate in the new turn.
35. It can lead to a complete miseducation of the new layers, especially the youth, who may move towards us in the next few years. It is a complete miseducation of the cadres, who can draw dangerous conclusions. They can become ultra-left and adventuristic, this in turn rapidly leading to passivity and substitutionalism.
36. We fully understand and appreciate the feelings of hatred in Liverpool for Kilfoyle. He has been Kinnock’s hatchet man and chief witch-hunter in the area. He has trampled on socialism and those who represented it. There is no doubt about this. But these are simply subjective feelings and emotion. We cannot construct a policy on them. Such an approach would be pure impressionism.
37. Our task is not to tail end the emotional mood of activists Leadership is a serious business and means, if necessary, to come out against the mood of a layer of activists in one particular area if their impatience is likely to endanger the longer term prospects the- organisation. Any experienced trade there are times when it is necessary to explain to impatient workers the need to hold back, to avoid an adventure, to resist falling for a provocation. It is easy to take the line of least resistance, which is what the leadership have done.
38. Astonishingly, some comrades attempted to portray Kilfoyle as a right winger who is qualitatively different from the rest. This is simply not the case. The vast bulk of the PLP are filled with individuals of the same ilk. Many have ties with big business and the intelligence services. Workers will wonder why we are not standing against Kinnock or Hattersley? They are just as bad as Kilfoyle if not worse. What will be our response? Is it to give critical support for Labour everywhere except in a few special seats?
39. The Walton by-election is not the same as supporting the 6 Broad Left candidates in the Council election. Virtually all of them were sitting councillors and they were seen as real Labour because official Labour Party candidates were imposed undemocratically against the wishes of the ward parties. These right wingers were guilty of voting for cuts, poll tax and redundancies.
40. There is a fundamental difference between council elections and a national parliamentary by-election. Under the present conditions of unity for a Labour government, we are being portrayed as giving support to Labours enemies. This will do us damage nationally.
41. Walton also played directly into the hands of the bourgeois who wanted to portray Labour as divided in order to boost the flagging fortunes of the Tories.
42. The action has undoubtedly played into the hands of Kinnock, Kilfoyle and Rimmer, who were able to portray the result as a victory for them and a rejection of the organisation by the workers of Walton. It will now be used, as was predicted beforehand, as the excuse for a purge in Liverpool and elsewhere.
43. With the approach of the general election, the position nationally at the present time is a move towards Labour. The anti-Tory mood is beginning to turn towards a pro-Labour one (but not pro-Kinnock). This will develop increasingly as we get nearer the election. Already the opinion polls, which partially reflect this process have revealed a growth in Labour’s support (although Kinnock personally languishes in the polls).
44. Throughout the trade union conferences there has been a mood for unity in order to return a Labour government after 12 years of Toryism. Millions of workers, particularly those under threat from the Tories, in the health service and local authorities for example, will be desperate to get a Labour government returned. Because of the role of the trade union leaders and the lack of a left alternative, many see a Labour government as their only hope. It would be fatal not to recognise this process developing at the present time. In fact we should reflect this process with more pro-Labour agitation and propaganda, if we are not to be cut off from these layers. Unfortunately, the paper appears to be more anti-Labour than anti-Tory these days, especially after Walton. Kinnock, and not Major, seems to be public enemy number one.
45. This pro-Labour mood is not only affecting the mass, but the more advanced layers as well. It is taking place throughout the country and affects all areas, including Merseyside and Scotland. The standing of an independent candidate against Labour at a time when the class is moving towards Labour could only damage us in the eyes of those looking for a Labour victory. We will now be perceived as sabotaging those chances, of splitting the Labour vote, etc. It will tend to cut us off from a big majority of the shop stewards and the active trade union layers.
46. It was stated at the June meeting of the NEB [National Editorial Board] that standing independently was a high-risk electoral gamble. All we can say is it is possible to gamble on the horses or dogs, that is of little consequence, but we are not prepared to gamble with the fate of the organisation, of what we have built up over decades, or the work of forty years. It has also been portrayed as a simple detour! We have collectively made a colossal sacrifice for this organisation and we are not prepared to put it at risk for some half-baked ill-thought out gamble.
47. We must reject political and organisational impressionism and return to the genuine Marxist methods of analysis that have served this organisation over decades. Failure to do so will see additional ultra-left mistakes. If we do not correct this ultra-left line in sufficient time then it will lead to even greater mistakes in the future, with dire consequences for the organisation.
48. Time and again groups of honest but misguided workers have moved in an ultra-left direction, out of impatience and disgust at the behaviour of the right-wing. Invariably such adventures have led to disaster, and it is our duty to patiently explain this to our periphery. To do otherwise would be sheer opportunism. We arrive at a clear policy, then we must fight for it – even if it appears unpopular or we are temporarily in a minority. In the longer term – with correct tactics and strategy – we will be proved to be correct. After all, was that not the policy of Lenin and Trotsky?
49. We can’t be pushed along to take a wrong decision. We have to resist such pressures where necessary. How many times have such pressures been exerted on comrades to take trade union positions or become councillors? If we had succumbed to all these pressures at every stage we would have been in a complete mess.
50. We could have resisted putting up a candidate. After all we have a majority of the Broad Left. In 1985 we opposed correctly the establishment of an independent District Labour Party, and we convinced the comrades that it was an adventure. The same could have been done for this by-election. It would have been very difficult, but it was in 1985, and because of the arguments and the loyalty to the organisation, comrades accepted the decision then. And we were proved to be absolutely correct.
51. Another argument used by the EB majority to justify standing was it will give us a marvellous opportunity for a dialogue with the workers. Even if this was formally correct there are many ways to conduct a dialogue with the workers, on the NHS, poll tax, or unemployment, without jeopardising our future work in the mass organisations.
52. Standing independently under conditions of an imminent general election has created additional barriers to the class and will tend to alienate workers from us.
53. It was claimed at the time that, if we don’t stand we would liquidate all that we have accomplished in Liverpool over the last ten years. A sense of proportion and balance has been thrown out of the window. If all our achievements hung on this decision to stand, then they must be extremely fragile in the eyes of the Liverpool working class. We do not believe this for one moment. It was part of the irresponsible hype that was used to stampede the NEB into supporting the decision. The whole session to decide on 40 years work lasted less than five hours in total and where most comrades were limited to five minutes!
54. The arguments for standing were completely exaggerated to get the decision rushed through with the least opposition. It was posed as a vote of confidence in the Liverpool comrades. The idea of a sober analysis, weighing up all the pros and cons went out the window.
55. Carried away with their own rhetoric, leading comrades talked of thousands prepared to sleep on the streets in order to participate in this battle! There would be a big surge towards the organisation if we stood. There could be a huge increase in membership in Liverpool: we could double or treble the ranks! Another comrade suggested a similar growth nationally. Those who opposed standing were labelled as quietists!
56. It was raised that this action was somehow the continuation of 1983-87. This is false. The standing of a Broad Left candidate at this stage does not necessarily follow from that experience. We were told it was the logic of the situations. Again it does not necessarily follow. Instead of resting the argument on the abstract logic of the situation (by which they meant the subjective mood of the activists) and the need for a dialectical approach, it would be far better to analyse soberly all the factors and processes – the weaknesses and strengths – developing locally and nationally, and to map out clearly the consequences for the organisation.
57. The example of the Spanish comrades standing an independent candidate was also dragged in by the hair to justify the situation in Liverpool. To begin with the situation is entirely different to Spain and the position of the Spanish organisation. Almost all the Spanish comrades have been expelled from PSOE for the last ten years. In Spain you have a right-wing socialist government in power. Furthermore, the comrades in Alava stood in a regional election (for the Basque parliament). The decision to stand was taken after the entire UGT trade union organisation in Alava, led by us, was disaffiliated by the bureaucracy, the comrades were already expelled from the Socialist Party.
58. What has that got to do with the present situation in Britain, where, despite all the efforts of the bureaucracy, only about 250 comrades have been expelled? Far from having a right-wing socialist government in power, we have had eleven years of Tory government and are on the eve of a general election, when inevitably the thoughts of the workers will centre upon the election of the Labour Party, despite the aversion of many workers towards Kinnock and the right-wing.
59. The analogy is false from beginning to end. Furthermore, the Alava comrades, having waged a brilliant campaign, got only a similar amount of votes to the Walton result. Unlike the British leadership, the Spanish comrades drew the necessary conclusions, and have not attempted to repeat the experience.
60. The Walton result has now been presented as proof of the need to implement the Scottish turn! The consequences of this behaviour are extremely grave for the entire organisation if they are not corrected in time.
The Scottish Turn
61. The Walton turn was a serious mistake, but one which could have been corrected. Instead, by insisting on calling a defeat a victory, the comrades are preparing the way for an even bigger mistake in Scotland – one which can have disastrous consequences for the organisation in Britain, and even internationally.
62. The document on the Scottish turn says quite correctly that history is littered with the corpses of would-be revolutionary groups who have run aground on the rock of ultra-leftism. Unfortunately, the course of action advocated, if adopted, would end up in just such a shipwreck.
63. For decades we have, through patient and painstaking work, built up a solid base and tradition in the mass organisations. This has given us a priceless advantage, and is one of the main things that set us apart from the sectarians who inhabit the fringes of the labour movement.
64. It is not merely a formal question of work in the Labour Party. Our work in the actual party structures has been minimal in recent years. In practice, we have been pursuing independent or semi-independent work, while maintaining the vital link to the Labour Party. This has enabled us to get the advantage of both independent work and maintaining a presence in the Labour Party. The importance of this presence lies not in present gains, but in the future, when the radicalisation of the working class inevitably finds its expression, first on the industrial plane, then on the political plane with the formation of a mass left wing inside the Labour Party.
65. Our work over decades has been a preparation for this. We have succeeded in establishing a unique position within the Labour movement, which is fundamental for the future perspective. All this is now threatened by the proposed turn.
66. Despite all the claims to the contrary, the Scottish turn would represent a fundamental break with the methods of the past. The advocates of the turn allege the need for tactical flexibility and improvisation. This has been the basis of our work for many years. But at no time have we sacrificed our long-term strategic goals for ephemeral short-term gains.
67. Tactics are decided by concrete conditions, but must always be weighed against long-term considerations. Tactics are subordinate to strategy. However, even on tactical grounds, the case for the turn is false from start to finish. It is an attempt to find a shortcut to solve the problems of party building: a desire to reap where we have not sown. It will end up in ultra-leftism, opportunism or a mixture of both.
Has There Been A Fundamental Change In The Labour Party?
68. What are the concrete conditions in Britain at the present time? It is true that the Labour Party has swung to the right (not for the first time), reflecting a general swing to the right within society in the advanced capitalist countries over the past decade. Conditions for work in the Labour Party are more difficult. However, that does not signify a qualitative change as the advocates of the turn imagine. Nor does the fall in individual membership of the Labour Party, or changes to internal party structures.
69. To complain that the Party Conference no longer controls the Labour Party and that the Labour Party is now controlled by the Kinnock clique is to look at the Labour Party of the past through rose tinted glasses. Although gains were made in the early 1980s on the issues of party democracy, the machinery still remained in the hands of the bureaucracy and even then was dominated by the right wing Parliamentary Labour Party. For Marxists, changes in the structure of the Labour Party are not the decisive question.
70. As long as the basic link with the unions remains, it is wrong to speak of a qualitative change in the nature of the Labour Party. This particular melody has been sung by all the sects for decades. We should not join in this chorus now.
71. Flowing from this false idea that a fundamental or qualitative change has taken place, extremely serious errors of a theoretical character have been allowed to creep into the paper – such as the statement that without the left-wing the Labour Party will become as extinct as the dodo, or superficial comparisons with the American Democrats (a capitalist party).
72. Over many decades the Labour Party has gone through all kinds of transformations, to the left and to the right, reflecting the ebbs and flows of consciousness of the class. The move to the right merely reflects that at this stage the bulk of the workers have not moved onto the political plane. They are not active in the Labour Party. But neither are they active in any other political organisation. To imagine that there is a huge constituency of workers and youth (whether in Scotland or anywhere else) just waiting to join us the moment we leave the Labour Party is false from beginning to end. As long as the umbilical cord linking Labour to the unions remains unbroken, the Labour Party will remain the organised political expression of the working class. This is irrespective of whether it is led by Neil Kinnock, Tony Benn, or anyone else.
73. For the past decade the main part of our work has been outside the Labour Party. We have been pursuing, in effect, an independent, or semi-independent tactic. What else was the meaning of the anti-poll tax campaign? The advanced workers know perfectly well that we are an organised group. If they have not joined us in greater numbers in the last period, this has not been because we had Labour Party cards in our pockets, but for entirely different reasons – mainly because they understood that the class as a whole has not yet begun to move on the political plane. They sympathise with our ideas, but see us as a small revolutionary organisation. They understand the colossal task which still lies ahead to transform this into a real mass force capable of changing society.
74. But the main reason for our slow growth has been the lack of trained cadres capable of explaining our perspectives and convincing workers and youth. The complexities of the present world situation means that it is not possible to win people (as it was in other times) on the basis of a couple of slogans. It is necessary, in Lenin’s phrase, to patiently explain our general ideas, programme and perspectives. The idea that the workers and youth on our periphery would readily join if only we broke our link with the Labour Party is demonstrably untrue. In reality, it would be more difficult, not easier to recruit and consolidate them.
75. The comrades argue that it is necessary to take decisive action even if there is not 100 per cent certainty that there are no risks involved in making the turn. But there are risks and there are risks. To throw away the accumulated capital of 40 years work on the basis of a gamble would be the height of irresponsibility. We have taken, and will take, decisive action – as in the struggle in Liverpool and the poll tax. But that did not entail a tactic which would inevitably lead to all our forces being emptied out of the Labour Party. If the Scottish turn is implemented that would not be merely a risk but a certainty.
Implications Of The Turn
76. Nor would it be possible to limit this turn to Scotland alone, as some have argued. The authors of the document themselves admit that the outcome of this discussion will also have far-reaching implications for the tendency elsewhere in Britain and even internationally, (para 1.)
77. That, by the way, is an argument in favour of having a calm and unhurried discussion, giving every point of view a fair hearing, not rushing through the discussion before the members have had a chance to fully digest the differences.
78. This is especially the case as differences only emerged clearly once it became clear that what was being proposed was not an extension of our previous open work, but the formation of an open organisation which may stand independent candidates against the Labour Party.
79. After the setting up of an open organisation in Scotland (whether it is formally called a party or not is not decisive, as was stated at the NEB. In practice it would amount to the same thing) the results would immediately be felt in the rest of Britain.
80. To demonstrate the sheer impossibility of maintaining two separate tactics, north and south of the border, it is sufficient to consider just one thing: the line of the paper. If the paper gave support to independent candidates in Scotland, it would be impossible for comrades still in the Labour Party elsewhere to use the paper. Furthermore, there is already strong support amongst leading comrades in other parts of the country to advocate the same turn. Thus, we would be dragged down the road of an independent party.
81. The advocates of the turn vehemently objected when we accused them of adopting a policy of an independent party by instalments. But this is just what their ideas add up to.
82. The advocates of the Scottish turn allege the existence of specific conditions in Scotland, which do not apply elsewhere. The same argument about special conditions in Liverpool was used yesterday to justify the Walton turn and we predict that tomorrow, we will be told about special conditions in Wales, Birmingham, London and elsewhere to justify the same things.
83. It cannot be denied that every area has special conditions which must be borne in mind. After all, in Scotland and Wales we have the national question which we must address ourselves to.
84. However, the comrades must prove to us that the specific conditions they refer to are sufficient justification for breaking with the entry tactic, not just in their area, but throughout Britain. To date, we have heard no serious argument which would justify this.
Moods Of Impatience
85. We believe that the argument in favour of the turn in both Liverpool and Scotland is a reflection of a certain mood of impatience and frustration on the part of some of the comrades, for the slowness of our growth, despite the success of the anti-poll tax campaign.
86. But impatience is a notoriously bad counsellor, leading inevitably to errors of an ultra-left or opportunist character. The supporters of the turn are looking for something which does not exist – easy solutions, shortcuts, organisational panaceas – to solve complex political problems. That is the easy road to disaster.
87. In reality, we could and should have grown far more as a result of our interventions on one condition: that more attention had been paid to political education, cadre-building and consolidation. In the absence of this, we have inevitably had a revolving-door syndrome, with new recruits entering by the front door and rapidly leaving by the back.
88. It was not wrong to recruit raw workers and youth. But it was entirely short-sighted to imagine that we could hold them on the basis of a steady diet of slogans, activism and campaigns, without attending to their political education.
89. It is undeniable that the general political level of the organisation has gone down considerably in recent years. That fact is unfortunately reflected in the present discussion, where the fundamental ideas of the tendency have been lost sight of.
90. Under the guise of putting forward allegedly new ideas (which are not new at all), the advocates of the turn have forgotten the fundamental propositions of Marxism in relation to the mass organisations.
91. When we contemplate a major turn then it is necessary to re-state the fundamentals.
92. The advocates of the turn continuously claim that the Labour Party has changed. What does the change consist of? The Scottish document says:
a) The prolonged economic upswing of the 1980s, which has only now come to an end, and the disintegration of Stalinism have combined to help shift the balance of forces within the labour movement decisively in favour of the openly pro-capitalist right wing. (para 14)
b) Left reformism, which for decades commanded considerable support within the labour movement, has for now been routed.
c) The collapse of the left has enabled Kinnock and his cohorts to move the Labour Party closer to the model of PSOE in Spain and even the American Democratic Party. (para 17)
d) Kinnock’s Stalinist-style regime seeks to ruthlessly root out heretics who refuse to conform to the new image. (para 18)
And the authors of the document conclude that clearly, there has not taken place merely a shift to the right. There has been a fundamental change in the situation which cannot be ignored or underestimated. (para 19)
The Labour Party – An Historical Perspective
93. The situation in the Labour Party has undergone a change in the last few years. But the Labour Party, and also the unions which are organically linked with it, change repeatedly to reflect the ebbs and flows of the working class and the movement of society.
94. To read these lines, one would imagine that this is the first time in history that the right-wing has dominated the Labour Party! The memories of these comrades are lamentably short.
95. For a period of decades, in the fifties and sixties, the Labour Party was dominated by the Neanderthal right, as were the trade unions. Hugh Gaitskell attempted to re-write the Party constitution, deleting Clause IV but was defeated by the opposition of the unions, which even at that time indicated the processes which would inevitably take place in the future.
96. In the 1950s the internal regime was marked by witch-hunts against the Bevanite left, bans and proscriptions, the repeated closure of the Labour youth organisation. In Liverpool, as elsewhere, the party was ruled by the extreme right who contemptuously told people who wanted to join that the party was full up.
97. Did all this reflect a fundamental change in the Labour Party? That was precisely the argument of the Healeyites and other sectarians, which we completely rejected then.
98. It is worth reminding ourselves what we said then. In the article Problems of Entrism, written in 1959 and published in the document on Entrism, we read:
It is true that the conditions of entry, as Trotsky outlined them, are still not present. But it would be the height of stupidity to abandon work in the Labour Party now and launch into independent adventures after a decade or more of work there. The conditions for independent work are not favourable either. Whatever may have been gained by remaining independent in the past, tremendous gains cannot be expected in the immediate future. For any such gains would be disproportionate to the future possibilities in the Labour Party.
In the meantime, to launch out with the main emphasis on independent work would damage the future work which could be conducted in the Labour Party. Thus we would obtain the worst disadvantages of both tactics. It will not be possible to re-enter easily under conditions of ferment in the Labour Party, as Transport House (now Walworth Road) would have a list of all prominent Trotskyists in the past period. In any event, it is really an extraordinary performance when the objective situation is on the eve of transformation in the next period both nationally and internationally, with tremendous repercussions within the ranks of the labour movement, to abandon the field just when the possibilities develop for really fruitful work. Trotsky had explained how, in preparing for entry, people should be sent in to get the feel, see what the possibilities were, etc. Our work now consists of preparatory work for the next period. If we were an independent organisation at the present time we should be preparing our forces for entry. Far from withdrawing, we would be sending in more and more of our forces to prepare the way for total entry. (Emphasis in original)
99. Until now, this document has been a foundation of the method on which we have developed our standing in the mass organisations. If the comrades now believe that the approach outlined above is no longer applicable, then they should say so. Some comrades, not prepared to go that far, say that this material, written in 1959, is not relevant to the present situation. Of course, every quote and example must be taken in its historical context. However, we believe that comparisons with the situation in the Labour Party in 1959, after 8 years of Tory government and a long period of economic upswing are far more relevant than the references in the Scottish document to France and Spain in the 1930s, a period of revolutionary upheavals.
100. Our tendency continued to work in the Labour Party, despite the objective difficulties, and this stand was completely vindicated by subsequent developments. As we predicted, against the nonsense of the sects who every year proclaimed the death of Labour, there was a swing to the left, first in the unions, and then, at a certain stage, within the Labour Party.
101. We were able to take full advantage of this, precisely because we had built up a unique position in the Labour Party through years of patient work. All our gains in Liverpool, Scotland and nationally were based on this work and method. By contrast, the Healeyites and other sects languished and declined.
102. Now there has been a temporary reversal of the position, with the rise of the Kinnock neo-right. The Labour Party in many areas is just a shell.
103. Precisely because we have never been advocates of deep entrism, we have adapted to the situation by an increasingly independent, or more correctly, semi-independent tactic. At the same time we have carefully maintained our link with the Labour Party and, up to the present at least, avoided ultra-left adventures.
104. Unfortunately, we have not got off unscathed from this (absolutely correct) turn to more independent work. There has been a neglect of political education, and many newer comrades have never had the case for entrism clearly explained to them. There has been a gradual drift of some comrades not just away from the Labour Party, but from the organised labour movement as a whole. This has not been corrected by the leading comrades. The culmination of this process was the adventure of Walton, and now the adventure of the Scottish turn, which potentially threatens the gains of decades of patient and careful work.
The Class Basis Of The Labour Party
105. It is impressionism to argue that because of Kinnock and the witch-hunt there has been a “fundamental change” in the Labour Party – so significant as to warrant the de facto liquidation of the entry tactic -because that is the inevitable result of what is being proposed.
106. It is no accident that the advocates of the “turn” compare the Labour Party to the US Democrats. This has always been the argument of the sects – that the Labour Party was not a workers’ party at all.
107. If we refer to the programme of the Labour leaders, then this has always been the case. Lenin, even before 1914, referred to the Labour Party as a “bourgeois Labour party”, i.e. bourgeois in its programme, policy and the class composition of a big part of its leaders, but a workers’ party because of its links to the unions and its relation to the class in general.
108. The position of the Democratic Party is fundamentally different. This is one of the two main parties of the American capitalist class. If Labour was “like the Democrats,” far from advocating entry, we should be calling for the setting up of a “real Labour Party”, not just in Liverpool and Scotland, but everywhere.
109. To be sure, the advocates of the “turn” do not openly state that the Labour Party has ceased to be the political expression of the organised working class in Britain. But by repeatedly referring to a “fundamental change”, and drawing theoretically incorrect comparisons with the US Democrats, they further increase the confusion in our ranks and miseducate the comrades on this question, leaving the door open for even bigger sectarian blunders in the future. Their position has a logic of its own, irrespective of their good intentions.
110. The main mistake flows from a complete lack of any sense of proportion. It is true, as the Scottish document says, that we have been responsible for a “series of dazzling victories” (para 23) in Britain. But a Marxist leadership must not allow itself to be “dazzled”, or to quote Stalin “dizzy with success”, but must work out our policy and tactics in a realistic and sober-minded fashion, bearing in mind the real balance of forces.
111. The truth is that the advocates of the turn have very contradictory perspectives for the Labour Party. In April the centre page article in the paper stated, “As Eric Heffer pointed out, without the left the Labour Party will become like the dodo – extinct.” It is absolutely clear from the words “As Eric Heffer pointed out” that we were supposed to agree with the-formulation. Indeed, to emphasise the editors’ solidarity with the point, it was repeated in the middle of the article in large bold type. In June we were told that the “official party is withering on the vine.” With this perspective, standing candidates and setting up open political organisations independent of the Labour Party is an understandable conclusion.
112. However, it is a fundamentally incorrect perspective, as was acknowledged in the latest edition of the Theoretical Journal:
“We have argued that the mass of the working class will again and again turn first to their traditional organisation for a solution to the conditions that they face. For this reason it is wrong to argue, as in the words of Eric Heffer, that without the left the Labour Party would become “as extinct as the dodo”...as long as the links between the trade unions and the Labour Party are preserved, it is going too far to say that the Labour Party will become “extinct”.”
113. It is also necessary, however, to correct the organisational conclusions that were based on this false perspective.
114. The fact remains, for all our successes, that we are still a small organisation with limited resources. Trotsky once referred to a party of 100,000 as a sect. We have only begun the work of penetrating even the active layer in the trade unions and shop stewards committees, let alone the mass. That fact should be borne firmly in mind when we justly draw attention to the brilliant success in the anti-poll tax campaign.
115. The comparison to the Communist Party in the past is also misleading. The CP had behind it all the authority of the October Revolution and the Communist International. Even that did not prevent it from turning into a sect on the basis of false policies and methods. Our Scottish organisation has done marvellous work, but we are far from being in a comparable position to the CP in the 1920s and 1930s.
116. As far as the objective situation is concerned, the comrades’ arguments stand logic on its head. They repeatedly emphasise the difficulties in the present situation: the boom in capitalism, the peculiar situation arising from the collapse of Stalinism, the collapse of the left, the shift to the right. The Scottish document states that in 1990 there was the lowest number of strikes in Britain for 54 years. Yet they decide that this is the moment to launch an open organisation to which – they alleged at the NEB – “hundreds and thousands” of workers will be queuing up to join!
117. Timing is of the essence in politics in general and tactical turns in particular. Yet they decide to put up independent candidates against official Labour on the eve of a general election after a period of twelve years of Tory government, when the overwhelming majority of workers (and youth) will be looking towards the Labour Party, despite the crimes of Kinnock, for an alternative.
118. It is not just a question of how this would be seen inside the party, which in many, but not all, areas is virtually empty – although that will change. Despite the entirely false attempt to portray the opponents of the “turn” as “deep entrists”(!) buried in the Labour Party, there is no disagreement that the big majority of our work at this stage has to be outside the Labour Party, in the unions, in the factories and on the estates.
119. However, there are thousands of workers who are not at present active in the Labour Party who nevertheless looked towards us as being, in effect, the Marxist wing of the Labour Party, even though they knew we had a separate organisation (they also knew why we denied it).
120. Whatever our wishes, once we set up an open organisation and stand candidates, we will be seen to have broken with the Labour Party, and the colossal wealth of sympathy we have built up will be squandered. It is true that we can pick up individual workers who have moved a bit ahead of their class, although we will not retain them once they see that the promise of rapid growth as an open organisation fails to materialise. But for every one who we win, there will be ten, fifty, a hundred who will be repelled by the “turn”. They will see little difference between us and, say, the SWP. This will especially be the case in the trade unions, the shop stewards committees and amongst the activists in the broad lefts.
121. Moreover, we will give the Labour bureaucracy a perfect excuse to empty all our comrades out of the Labour Party. The fact is that, until now, despite all their efforts, the bureaucracy has only succeeded in expelling about 250 comrades. And most Labour workers were opposed to the witchhunt. Now, however, their attitude will be “We’re very sorry, but you've left the party. You've got your own canoe: so now you can paddle it!”
122. “Ah”, the comrades say “but it will be easy to get back into the Labour Party once there is a “tidal wave” towards the left, we will be triumphantly reinstated”. Alas, the comrades are fooling themselves on this question also. The creation of a mass left wing inside the Labour Party will not be on the basis of a “big bang” or a “tidal wave”. More likely it will take place over a period, with ebbs and flows, reflecting all kinds of partial struggles in society.
123. Had we remained inside the party, those radicalised workers who moved in would undoubtedly gravitate to us, in preference to the middle class trendy lefts. Having abandoned the positions won over a long period, we will, in effect hand over control of the left wing, at least in the crucial early stages, to the Bennites and others.
124. However, it would be an illusion to think that these official “lefts” would be more friendly towards expelled Trotskyists than the right wing. They fear us as the Devil fears holy water. While mouthing left phrases, they would do everything in their power to keep us out.
125. In any event, by forfeiting the possibility of participating in the creation of the left from the beginning, we will have created a rod for our own back – and that of the working class .All this would be unnecessary if we just kept our heads and concentrated on building on the positions already won.
126. The light-mindedness of the position advocated by these comrades is shown up in relation to our public representatives. The gains on the electoral plane represented an historic conquest, the importance of which cannot be overstated. It took years of effort to achieve this position. Yet these gains have now been placed in jeopardy, and the situation would be even more serious if we were to go ahead with the turn in Scotland.
127. The argument that ‘we would have lost them anyway’ is absolutely staggering. Trotsky pointed out that a revolutionary who is not capable of defending gains made in the past will never be capable of carrying through the socialist revolution in the future. This argument is precisely the kind of “quietism”, defeatism and fatalism which the advocates of the ‘turn’ quite falsely attribute to ourselves.
128. The fact that the bureaucracy is striving to remove them is nothing new – the LP bureaucracy have sought this many times in the last few years, including conducting detailed inquiries. Yet, until now, each time they have pulled back, fearful of the unknown consequences. But the answer is not to hand them over to Kinnock on a plate, but to fight to retain them. To lose such an important gain would be a serious setback. To lose it out of sheer irresponsibility is unforgivable. And for what? For a few thousand votes or fifty new comrades? The whole thing shows that the comrades have not thought their arguments through to the end. They should therefore stop, reconsider, and have the courage to recognise that a mistake has been made, before the situation reaches the point of no return.
The Experience Of The ILP
129. All the historical analogies in the Scottish document are false, or else prove the opposite of what the authors intended. We have already mentioned the CR The analogy with the ILP is even more incorrect. The ILP left the Labour Party with 100,000 supporters. They left at the wrong time and on the wrong issue, proclaiming that the Labour Party was “dead”. They maintained a confused centrist policy, which the workers could not clearly distinguish from the Labour Party, especially when it swung back to the left. A section joined the Stalinists, and the rest collapsed back into the Labour Party, as Trotsky had predicted.
130. There is absolutely no analogy between the ILP – a mass centrist party – and our own organisation. When hundreds of thousands of leftward-moving workers broke away from the Labour Party, it was correct of the Trotskyists to participate in it, to try to fertilise it with the genuine ideas of Marxism. Even so, Trotsky’s firm advice to the ILP was to turn back towards the Labour Party. (On the basis, of course, of a genuine Marxist programme).
131. The reason why the Labour bureaucracy so readily moved to accept the readmission of the ILP (in 1938) was that, despite their “left” phraseology, there was no fundamental difference between them and the right reformists. A Trotskyist revolutionary current which attempted to rejoin the Labour Party could not expect such a friendly reception – from the right or the “left”.
132. It is entirely false to argue, as does the original draft of the Scottish document presented to the NEB members (page 4), that the fundamental consideration for breaking with the Labour Party, or staying inside, is whether we are permitted to function like the ILP which “at that time, was able to organise as a party within a party, organise its own separate conferences, elect its own leadership and produce its own paper. If Marxism could operate under these conditions within the Labour Party today, there would be no question of the tendency breaking with Labour, irrespective of the treachery of the leadership.” (Our emphasis)
133. The EB found this formulation too straightforward and altered it to the vague wording in the EB version: “was able to organise as a party within a party, organise its own separate conferences, elect its own leadership and produce its own paper. If Marxism could operate under these conditions within the Labour Party today, the question of open work would be looked at in a different light,” (para 40 – our emphasis). But the underlying false idea is the same.
134. This poses the whole question in an entirely wrong way. The forces of genuine Marxism (unlike left reformism and centrist groupings) have never been permitted to function freely by the Labour bureaucracy. That no more prevents us from conducting work in the mass organisations than the restrictions imposed on us by the bourgeois state in periods of illegality. Compare this false line of argument to the flexible tactics advocated by Trotsky and Lenin, on the basis of the entire historical experience of Bolshevism, and we see the gulf which separates the two.
135. Moreover, it is still possible in many CLPs [Constituency Labour Parties] and wards to do Marxist work. Even now many Labour Parties are not totally repressive or completely empty. In any case, we have always interpreted the Labour Party work in a flexible way. For some years we have had to conduct the bulk of our work outside the Labour Party, not because of the restrictions placed on us by the bureaucracy, but because, in many areas, there was little to be gained from it. We have been conducting semi-independent work, and to great effect, notably in the Anti-Poll Tax campaign. What more do the advocates of the “turn” require?
An Open Organisation Or Party?
136. They talk about a “higher profile” and “openly displaying our banner”. But have we not had such a profile? Who has been concealing our banner? Neither the Labour bureaucracy nor the bourgeois press, nor our periphery is in any doubt as to who was behind the Anti-Poll Tax campaign.
137. The only thing which we have not done is to break from the Labour Party and proclaim ourselves an independent party or organisation. So that the argument for the “turn” boils down to this and nothing but this. The argument that we will not call ourselves a party is devoid of meaning. Whether we call ourselves a party or merely an “independent organisation”, it will be seen as a party, and this is the intention of the “turn” as the comrades explained at the NEB.
138. This semantic “concession” has been made, in part, to deflect the criticisms of the opponents of the “turn”, and, in part, because the supporters of the “turn” cannot agree among themselves whether to call it a party or not.
139. The supporters of the “turn” want to claim all the alleged advantages of an open organisation – a clear banner, distancing ourselves from Labour, a high profile, standing candidates. But it cannot then be imagined that it will not be seen by the class as a new party, whatever name it is given.
140. Maybe the comrades really believe that after breaking from Labour and setting up an open organisation in Scotland, which among other things will stand candidates against the Labour Party, that this will still not be seen as a “party”. This is to fool ourselves, but it will not fool the workers, who will see it for what it is. We repeat: to take such a step in Scotland would inevitably lead to the liquidation of the entry tactic nationally and the beginning of an ultra-left adventure which will completely undermine the work of decades.
Where The Turn Will Lead To
141. Ultra-left adventures inevitably end up in their opposite. We predict the following result, if this course is embarked upon. At first, it is possible there may be some gains, though not at all of the magnitude being predicted. We should recall that when the SWP and WRP declared themselves a party, the initial fanfare resulted in some recruits. These, however, will not be long-lasting. Particularly in the event of a Labour government, we can expect some difficulties for a period whether in or out of the Labour Party. There will be an initial tendency to give Labour a breathing-space, especially, as seems likely, if Kinnock grants some reforms in pensions and child benefit. Then the inevitable move towards counter-reforms can create moods of despair and pessimism for a time, before giving way to a movement of opposition in industry which, at a certain stage, will find an expression in the Labour Party.
142. The comrades are entirely mistaken if they think that we can escape from these moods by cutting adrift from Labour, and “unfurling our banner”. They will find that life outside the Labour Party is far tougher than they imagined. The new recruits who joined in the first flush of enthusiasm, miseducated in an ultra-left spirit and not understanding the real perspective for the Labour movement, will tend to become demoralised and drop out.
143. Having burned their fingers with the tactic of ultra-leftism, the advocates of the “turn” will inevitably drift back towards the Labour Party. The danger will then be posed of an opportunist trend developing, especially as the rosy perspective of the “tidal wave” and the Labour Left welcoming us back with open arms does not materialise. Thus, having abandoned the uniquely favourable position built up over decades, they will have no alternative but to try to get back at any price. No matter how indignantly they reject this perspective, and irrespective of their subjective intentions, the advocates of the “turn” will find that their cavalier attitude towards the basic ideas and methods of the past will drag them in a direction they least of all suspect or desire. That is the lesson of ultra-leftism throughout the entire history of the movement.
144. It is characteristic of an ultra-left mentality that every action, every tactical turn, is presented as a “matter of principle”. Thus it was a “matter of principle” to stand against Kilfoyle, in order to show the workers we are “prepared to fight,” “go to the end”, and so on. The workers know very well that we are prepared to fight. WE have shown that many times. But they also want leaders who show that they understand how to fight and when to fight.
145. What would we say of a general who only knew one word of command: “CHARGE!” What would we say about a shop steward who reacted to every provocation of the employers by immediately calling a strike, even though he knew it was doomed to defeat? Such a general would deserve to be court-martialled, and such a steward would deserve to be removed.
146. The idea has suddenly materialised – first in Walton, then in Scotland – that the only way to “fight” the Labour right wing is by putting up independent candidates – no matter how derisory the result, and irrespective of the expulsions which would follow.
147. Far from “fighting” the Labour right, such tactics clearly play into their hands, putting the Marxists out on a limb, exposing our weakness, and strengthening the hold of the bureaucracy. In effect, we save them the bother of expelling us, by practically “placing ourselves outside the Party.”
148. The theoretical journal quotes the articles of the “Socialist Organiser” sect, which criticises the “turn”, but remains silent on the lavish praise of the SWP and all the other sects, who are rubbing their hands at the fact we have gone down this road.
149. Similarly “Tribune” cannot contain its glee at the fact that we have finally “come out”, thereby leaving the field open to the trendy “lefts”. Not least, Kinnock has commented that it was worth losing votes in Walton in order to have us out in the open, where he has wanted us all along.
150. And this is what the advocates of the “turn” describe as “fighting” our political enemies!
151. And for opposing this ultra-leftism, the opponents of the “turn” are being accused of “cowardice”, “opportunism” and even “deep entrism”. Frankly it is not worth dignifying these remarks with an answer. But these incorrect methods of argument will make it more difficult to have a rational discussion on tactical issues in the future, with disastrous results for the work of the organisation.
152. The leading comrades should have argued against the Walton “turn”, but the majority went along with it. They subsequently presented the Walton result as a great success and as “proof that the Scottish “turn” was correct. In this way, we go from bad to worse, because the comrades were not prepared to admit they had made a mistake.
153. The general argument put forward is that “we have no alternative”. This is entirely incorrect. We can continue and deepen the flexible tactics in relation to the mass organisations which have given marvellous results up to the present time.
154. Does that mean, as the comrades try to argue, that we have to shut ourselves up in the Labour Party, hiding our ideas and passively waiting for the masses to arrive? That is a complete caricature and falsehood, which bears no relation to the work we have done up till now and which we were all agreed on.
155. Our priority at the present time is not work in the Labour Party as such, although we have to say that it is frankly a bad state of affairs, which the leadership has not sufficiently attempted to correct, that many comrades, without being expelled, have bothered to renew their party cards. That fact alone shows how we have neglected to educate the newer members on perspectives for the Labour Party.
156. But still less is the main priority the proclamation of an open organisation in Scotland, or anywhere else.
157. The main priorities for the organisation at this moment in time are cadre-building, political education and systematic work in the unions and the youth. Moreover, these priorities must be translated by the leading bodies from conference resolutions into the day-to-day work of the whole organisation.
158. Despite all that is said about the objective situation, the undercurrent of discontent in the working class is shown by the beginning of a shift to the left in the unions. Regrettably, because of the one-sided concentration on the “turn”, the attention of the organisation has been drawn away from the vital work in the unions, where we have made significant gains in the last period, and the possibility existing of even greater gains in the future. This work is of crucial importance, not only for building powerful points of support in the working class, but also as the key to the work in the Labour Party.
159. However, if the “turn” goes through, it will do untold damage to the work in the unions. We will find ourselves tarred with the same brush as the SWP and the other sects, particularly at the present time, in the run-up to a general election, when the big majority of trade union activists will support Labour.
160. The youth remains the key to our success and a fundamental pillar of our work. The closure of the official Labour Youth organisation created problems, but we have responded well with the setting up of an open youth organisation, which must be developed, organising campaigns in the factories, estates, schools and colleges.
161. The experience of open youth work is very appropriate to this discussion. Despite the sterling efforts of the youth comrades, the establishment of an open youth organisation has not led to a mass influx of youth, in England, Wales or Scotland.
162. “But what are we supposed to do with the comrades who are expelled?” we are asked. This is really an astonishing question. One would think that this is the first time in Britain and internationally that we have had comrades expelled!
163. There are many ways of answering this question. Over the years we have developed sufficiently flexible tactics to provide the necessary organisational forms and platforms of work for expelled comrades, without ever raising the idea of an independent organisation. There are a hundred and one variations: work in the trade unions, interventions in disputes and local struggles. In areas where other Labour Party members are expelled as well as comrades, expelled committees, clubs (as Trotsky advocated the establishment of “Lenin Clubs” in the 1930s), and so on could be formed to campaign for readmission and for socialist policies. These would be “front organisations”, aimed at holding the expelled comrades together, while campaigning for readmission.
164. But what is being advocated here is something entirely different: the setting up of an independent organisation which would be a party in all but name.
165. The Greek comrades, who were all expelled, never set up an independent organisation, but continued to organise and work around the paper. They regularly campaigned for the PASOK candidates at elections, despite being expelled, which was undoubtedly an important factor which facilitated their readmission. Had they pursued the line of action being advocated here, the situation would have been very different.
166. The advocates of the “turn” are casting around in all directions to find justification for their false policy. One minute they argue that the Labour Party in general has suffered such a qualitative change that work inside is next to impossible. Next they argue that there are hundreds and thousands of workers and youth who are straining at the leash to join us, but will not do so because of our link with Labour. Both arguments are wrong, but clearly imply a general national turn in the direction of an open party/organisation.
167. On the other hand, they argue that “this is not a general turn, but just something which flows from “special conditions”, for example in Liverpool or in Scotland. In relation to Scotland, the national question is put forward as one of the main reasons for the “turn”. This argument needs to be examined more closely.
Nationalism In Scotland
168. This is not the place to deal with the national question in Scotland in general. We will have to return to this in future material. We limit ourselves here to touching on the national question only insofar as it affects the argument in favour of the Scottish “turn”. Marxists have always taken the national question seriously. Even when the national question appeared to be solved in the British Isles, before the First World War, Lenin pointed out that even here it was not completely solved. That proved to be prophetic. Our tendency has already produced material on the national question in Scotland and Wales, which we would urge the comrades to go back to.
169. The advocates of the “turn” argue that in the event of a Labour government, on the basis of a policy of counter-reforms, the Scottish nationalists can grow, attracting layers of workers and youth in particular, on the basis of a demagogically radical programme. That the SNP [Scottish National Party] might begin to grow on the basis of the betrayal of reformism is entirely possible. But the argument that we could somehow prevent this from happening by setting up an open organisation in Scotland is false from beginning to end. Only by the struggle to arm the labour movement with a correct policy can a movement towards nationalism be checked.
170. Here again, we must have a sense of proportion. In the whole of Scotland, we have at most 300 active comrades. That section of the youth who might gravitate to the SNP would not be attracted by a small revolutionary organisation. To imagine this is to live in cloud cuckoo land.
171. However, the comrades have raised an important question, which deserves to be answered. How do we reach those sections of radicalised petit-bourgeois and working class youth who move towards the SNP? The answer is clear. If we had clear evidence that significant layers of young people were active in the SNP, we should send people in. Even before this happens, we could spare a group of ten or a dozen comrades to have a look around. That is precisely a flexible and audacious way of reaching the nationalist youth. But the idea we could somehow compete with the SNP from the outside, by dint of “unfurling our banner” is ridiculous.
172. If it were so easy to win workers and youth in Scotland just by “unfurling our banner”, why can’t we get them to join us right now? What could we do with on open organisation that we cannot do at present? Where’s the difference? The answer is clear: no difference whatsoever, other than that of a signboard with “independent organisation” or whatever, written on it. And this is seriously put forward as the way to cut the ground under the feet of the Scottish Nationalists!
173. In fact there is a big danger that the only way in which an open organisation would attract layers of youth with illusions in the SNP, would be to make concessions to their anti-Labour and nationalist sentiments. In this case we would not be recruiting to our organisation. They would be winning us to their prejudices. We should not forget how many times that Lenin, while recognising the genuine national sentiments of the oppressed nationalities, fought resolutely against any introduction of national divisions into the workers organisations, let alone the revolutionary party.
174. Incidentally, it now appears that some, at least, of the advocates of the “turn” in Wales are pressing for the setting up of an independent party, because of the alleged threat from Plaid Cymru! The fact that our active base in Wales in infinitely narrower than in Scotland is evidently no obstacle for putting forward such a notion. That shows precisely the mess we will find ourselves in if this “turn” is accepted.
175. For 40 years we have worked in the Labour Party. For the whole of that time the classical conditions for entrism, laid down by Trotsky, have been absent. These conditions were:
- a revolutionary or pre-revolutionary crisis in society
- a crisis in the organisations of the social democracy in which the leadership would begin to lose control
- ferment in the ranks, with large numbers of workers looking for a way out, and beginning to draw revolutionary conclusions
- the rapid crystallisation of a mass left wing, moving in a centrist direction.
176. Trotsky understood that the workers – above all in Britain – would not express themselves through the medium of a small revolutionary organisation, but that, time and again, they would look to the Labour Party. The Trotskyists would therefore have to participate in the left wing and fertilise it with the ideas of genuine Marxism.
177. It is true that the classical conditions for entry do not exist at the present time. But the perspective for the Labour Party have not altered just because of a temporary move to the right under Kinnock. On the other hand, we have built up a powerful base for the ideas of Marxism over 40 years of Labour Party work. That is precisely the key to the future. By a skilful combination of tactical flexibility and implacable firmness on principles, theory and perspectives, we have largely succeeded in frustrating the efforts of the bureaucracy to get rid of us. 250 expulsions is a very poor result for all the time, effort and money put into the witchhunt. In reality, Kinnock was frustrated by the enormous problems he faced in dealing with us.
178. After Walton, Kinnock stated that we had “committed suicide”. If we do not correct ourselves, that appraisal is all too likely to come true. Contrary to the illusions of the comrades, it will not be easy to get back into the Labour Party, once we have embarked on the road of an independent organisation.
179. In the whole history of Trotskyism, never has there been a time when a turn to entry was posed that did not lead to a split. After a period outside the Labour Party, having miseducated the youth in a sectarian spirit, any attempt to put the process into reverse would cause a massive split in the organisation. The comrades would go back to the Labour Party with less people than they had outside.
180. Some of our most experienced cadres educated over a period of decades have already been lost. We do not believe that these losses can be blamed entirely on the objective situation. The neglect of theory and political education, the constant emphasis on “campaigns” to the detriment of systematic work in the unions, the attempt to find organisational solutions to political problems, and a growing tendency towards “commandism” from the centre have all contributed to this situation.
181. Now we have the attempt to push through the “turn”. And for what? The comrades have yet to give a concrete answer to the question: What could we do as an “independent organisation” which we cannot already do? Distribute membership cards? Publicise meetings of the NEB? Does anyone seriously believe that this will solve the problems of growth and cadre building, or enhance our prestige in the factories and estates?
182. The Scottish document talks of being “prepared to take risks in the past – not light minded risks, but calculated risks” (para 130), but what is proposed it completely out of proportion to “calculated risks” taken in the past. Indeed the supporters of the turn are very confused about the risks involved. In a frequently stated phrase “it (the turn) is a life and death matter”, while it was also stated at an aggregate meeting in London, in regard to Scotland, “let us experiment”. Surely, though, it is not the Marxist method to experiment on life and death issues!
183. One can gamble on the horses or the football pools. But it is completely irresponsible to gamble on, or “experiment” with the future of a revolutionary organisation. You don’t abandon a 40 year perspective on the [basis it] will enable us to grow. You do not sacrifice the investment of decades for the sake of ephemeral short-term gains, which in any case will prove to be mostly illusory.
184. The argument that it will be easy to get back in the future is false to the core. The bureaucracy has had a long experience of this tendency and the Labour leaders have all the information they need, including access to the files of Special Branch. As long as we did not put up candidates against the Labour Party, there was not much they could do about our position. The workers regarded us as an integral part of the Labour Party. But once the umbilical cord is broken, we cannot expect the trade unionists to see us in the same light. It will do us colossal damage. Had we continued on the same basis, we could have reaped the benefit in the future. Now we will find an almost insurmountable barrier blocking the way.
185. It is time to call a halt. The Walton result was a warning. We should drop the idea of standing candidates in Scotland, take the “turn” off the agenda, and then we can open up a serious and fruitful discussion on how we solve the problems which face us. There is plenty of work to be done in the unions, in the youth, the women, the black and Asian work. Above all there is a big job to be done in the field of political education, where the present discussion has already revealed big gaps. If this is done, we can easily resolve our differences, increase the level of the whole organisation, and raise ourselves to the heights demanded by the period which now opens up.