The best hope for re-founding a genuine working-class party in Britain lies in splitting current Labour Party - separating the dreadful, anti-working class Blairite clique from the remaining socialists in the Party and from its trade union base. The left part of the split could join with socialists and unions currently outside Labour. That seems to me a much more likely scenario to work towards than either 'reclaiming' the Labour Party, or bolting together a new workers' party from the bits and bobs outside Labour.
Openly advocating a split would not endear me to Labour loyalists, but since both my person and my union have been expelled, I don't suppose I've got a lot to lose on that front.
It is useful to look at the only previous occasion on which the Labour Party has seriously divided - and timely too, since this year is the 75th anniversary of the 1931 National Government split. I'm hoping (in fact I've suggested) that Solidarity will run an article on this before the end of 2006, penned by someone more expert than my good self.
But the bare bones are this ... Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald was told by the Cabinet to go to the King to resign. But when he got there, he instead agreed to the King's request to set up a 'National Government'. (Note to people who believe that the monarchy plays no part in politics: this was the current Queen's dad.) Some Labour big cheeses went with him - for example, Jimmy Thomas, General Secretary of the NUR and contender for Class Traitor of the Century.
The National Government was, behind the veil of coalition, a Tory Government, and it routed Labour in the ensuing General Election. Labour went down to around 50 MPs, and led by George Lansbury, fought a rearguard battle in Parliament.
It looked like a disaster, but only 14 years later (I'm now of an age where I can comfortably use the word 'only' before the term '14 years'), Labour was elected in a landslide. The 1945 Labour government, whilst not being everything that Marxists would want, must rank as the best there has been in terms of advances for working-class people, as it created the National Health Service, radically improved education, and nationalised major industries. Ironically, we are now fighting a rearguard action to defend its gains against its 'New Labour' successors.
My point being ... It may look weird to positively advocate a split, and a split may have disastrous consequences in the short term. But in 1931, the split lay the ground for a renewal of the Labour Party, and of working-class representation. 75 years later, it looks to be the best hope once again.
I'd say that it is time to argue this more clearly. A lot of labour movement activists can see the case for either trying to reclaim the Labour Party, or for ditching it and trying something new, because those strategies have the advantage of being simple and clear-cut. You should be either in or out. The AWL's view, where we do some bits in and some bits out, seems more confused and harder to grasp. But for the current state of working-class representation, it is the right policy. It just needs developing and explaining.
The trouble is, before a split can be argued for, we need a credible socialist organisation outside of the LP to act as a pole of attraction. And we patently don't have that now.
I don't get that argument, Dave. If we were asking people to simply leave the Labour Party, then yes, we would need a credible socialist organisation outside it for them to join. That's why those socialists who call on people - and unions - to leave are barking up the wrong tree.
But with a split, the working-class socialist part of the split can itself refound a workers' party - with help from those currently outside Labour, but without requiring them to already be in a credible socialist orgasiation.
Which is just as well, really.
...some want to argue that NOW is the time for Marxists to join it?
Well, I'm not British and am not going to tell British comrades what to do. It's basically just a tactical question anyway, not a principled one. But Arthur's we-must-be-in-Labour-at-all-costs perspective seems perilously close to the idea that it would be possible, if enough socialists joined the LP and fought against the Blairites internally, to make the LP a vehicle for serious socialist politics. Well, the Bennites and Socialist Organiser and others tried. Didn't work. I don't think you're likely to do better if you try it again.
The present AWL strategy re: the LP, as Janine describes it, seems to make sense to me, at the present time. But in any event the point is to build a party with (democratic) Marxist politics, not to just recreate "Old Labour." Arthur talks about a "workers party," but he doesn't talk about the kind of workers party that needs to be built.
"By the year 2000...the project for a much fuller democratisation of British state and society through the mcuh fuller democratisation of the Labour Party had...been decisively defeated. Every previous phase of the party's history was characterised by prolonged struggles between the leadership and recognisably distinct, organised and programmatically informed left oppositions. New Labour has restructured the party so that virtually no room is any longer allowed for this." (p. 290)
Doesn't sound like the most promising avenue for socialist politics these days.