2. What the dispute is not about; and what it is about

Submitted by AWL on 9 July, 2009 - 5:11 Author: Sean Matgamna and Martin Thomas

What the dispute is not about:

1. AWL attempting to do entry work in the existing or soon-likely Labour Party. Nobody proposes that or thinks it makes sense. The most that is on the agenda in this field is sending a scout here and there into the Labour Party.

2. AWL committing to the view that the Labour Party will certainly revive after the coming general election. Nobody says that - only that a revival is possible, or probable, and that that has to be important in our calculations now.

3. AWL committing to the view that if the Labour Party does revive, it will return to its old pre-Blair-Brown-coup self; or that getting a "new old Labour Party" could be an adequate goal for Marxists.

4. AWL committing to the view that there will be an "explosion" in the Labour Party after the coming general election. SM's article in Solidarity 3/151 talked of "seriously increased prospects for an explosion within the New Labour structures". It meant a row, a blow-up, in the union/ Labour Party relationship. Let us hope that the revival is explosive. But we do not know. We cannot know. And nothing essential in the debate now rests on the idea that a revival is bound to be "explosive".

5. AWL not standing or supporting suitable anti-Labour socialist candidates in the general election, including our own candidate, Jill Mountford in Camberwell and Peckham.

6. AWL abandoning its public presence and organisational independence. Nobody proposes anything like that. In some circumstances Marxists might tone down or abandon their public face as a revolutionary organisation; but only in conditions where they have to do that in order to intervene effectively in a big left wing in the Labour Party like the Bennite movement of the early 1980s.

7. AWL renouncing standing or supporting anti-Labour socialist candidates after the general election. If, some way down the road, we find ourselves a small force in a greatly revived Labour left, there may be practical considerations against standing or supporting candidates. That is unknown territory now. There is nothing new in these considerations. Even when denouncing the Socialist Party (then called Militant) for standing in the Walton by-election in 1991, we felt obliged to say that in principle we did not rule out candidates against Labour. We will judge as things develop.

8. AWL abandoning attempts to recreate the Socialist Alliance or some equivalent. We call for a new Socialist Alliance; one of the present writers was an initiator of that call.

9. AWL dropping its call for a Workers' Representation Movement based on Trades Councils and similar broad representative local working-class organisations.

10. AWL dropping its propaganda for a workers' government - a government that will be for the working class what the Tories and New Labour have been for the bosses.

11. AWL denying, discounting, or forgetting the structural changes in the Labour Party since 1997. Those have cemented over or blocked the democratic channels which previously existed in the party and which in the past (1974-9, for example) allowed the Labour Party to pit itself against the Labour government.

12. AWL denying, discounting, or forgetting the widespread disillusionment and disgust with New Labour in the working class.

13. AWL painting up the New Labour of today by "reading back" from the possibility of a revival of the Labour Party as a real party in 2010 and after. Nobody is doing that or proposing to do that.

14. AWL saying "soft" things about the Labour Party leaders. We never did that, even when we were centrally involved in organising the Labour left!

What the dispute is about:

1. Recognising that the following are all facts, or strong probabilities:
* The slump
* Real policy differentiation between Labour and Tories for the first time in 15 years or more
* Looming general election defeat for the Labour Party
* The prospect of the trade unions and the working class coming into conflict with a fiercely-cutting Tory government
* The likelihood of a Labour Party with a new leadership and a new face allying with the unions against "Tory cuts".

2. Recognising that the union-Labour link has survived the 12 years of neo-Thatcherite New Labour government. It has been seriously modified in its operation, but the unions remain linked to Labour, and only two relatively small unions have split away.

3. Recognising that the conditions of stark conflict between New Labour and the unions that led to the expulsion of the RMT from the Labour Party and the disaffiliation of the FBU, and which might over time, had they continued, led to other disaffiliations, are over for now.

4. Recognising that, while the occluded structures of New Labour will make any revival, and intervention in it, more difficult, nevertheless, the bureaucratic structures and strictures do not rigidly and absolutely rule out revival; nor is it implausible that they may be loosened in the course of the revival.

5. Recognising that it is a better development, by far, for our long-term concerns and "projects", for the main unions, faced with a Tory government and with the task of drawing a balance-sheet on the New Labour government, to respond politically within a collective framework - the Labour Party structure, preferably opened up further by union discontent and pressure - than would be a development in which the unions fragment, peeling off from the Labour Party one by one.

6. Recognising, therefore, that socialists should in the next two or three years oppose proposals for unions to disaffiliate from the Labour Party, if they arise.

7. Recognising that union disaffiliation from the Labour Party does not necessarily imply anything positive in politics. It is likely to mean the union becoming politically disengaged, or engaged in only episodic political action.

8. Refusing to attribute political virtue to trade union bureaucrats such as Bob Crow of the RMT just because they are "disaffiliated". Refusal to fantasise that a political "pole" constructed around such trade union bureaucrats can do the political job which can be done only by AWL. Even at the best, a "pole" consisting of the RMT leadership and some of the extant left groups cannot be the decisive prize for us. It would at best recreate a fragment of the old pre-Blair Labour Party and the old Stalinist Communist Party (from before its break-up in 1988-91).

10. Refusing to substitute a fantasy "project" of a "pole" of the disaffiliated unions, defined only or mainly by disaffiliation (that is, propaganda for such a "pole": for us it could not now be anything more than that) for focus on building the real "pole" of adequate political opposition to the New Labour Party and the trade union leaders - that is, on AWL, and a rank and file trade-union movement in all the unions, not only those disaffiliated from the Labour Party.

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.