The Workers' Government: an historical excavation

Submitted by cathy n on 28 November, 2008 - 10:33 Author: John Stirling

In the 1960s and early 1970s, the typical rendition of the "workers' government" idea in the Trotskyist press in Britain was the slogan "Labour to power on socialist policies", or "Labour government with a socialist programme". Those were the routine "political summing-up" slogans for the more influential and more "orthodox" Trotskyists, the Healy group (SLL/WRP, which collapsed in 1985) and the Militant (now SP and Socialist Appeal).

The less "orthodox", the IS (now SWP) and IMG (now ISG) used the same slogans, but more erratically. IS usually contented itself with agitating syndicalist-fashion against Labour in office, and saying "vote Labour without illusions" at election time.

As a document for the 1998 AWL conference would put it: "For decades, from the 1950s to the 1970s, the Transitional Programme was used as a political recipe book - as the political recipe book - by neo-Trotskyist groups who had no living memory of the revolutionary Marxist culture in which the Programme was embedded, and often did not even have access to the major texts of that culture. Many of the slogans in the Transitional Programme were put about in bowdlerised form - 'workers' control' to mean blueprint-mongering for trade-union influence on management, 'nationalisation of the monopolies' as if its enactment by parliament would amount to full socialism, 'workers' government' in the flaccid illusion-spreading and essentially ridiculous form of 'Labour to power with socialist policies!'."

Internationally, the typical rendition of the "workers' government" idea by would-be Trotskyists was the call on the Communist Party and the Socialist Party, in France for example, to unite to form such a workers' government.

This article, from no.2 (May-June 1974) of Permanent Revolution (magazine of Workers' Fight, forerunner of the AWL), tried to extricate the "workers' government" idea from its then-current "orthodox" packaging, and start to look at how it might be better used.

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