Labour and union left debate after Bournemouth

Submitted by Anon on 9 November, 2007 - 11:57 Author: Rhodri Evans

A "relaunch to achieve workers’ representation” — that is what supporters of Solidarity will be arguing at the conference of the Labour Representation Committee on 17 November.

The Bournemouth Labour Party conference decision to ban motions from unions and local Labour Parties at future conferences completed a full shut-down of the Labour Party’s living political link of accountability to the labour movement. It has forced every socialist who has taken the life of the Labour Party seriously — and every socialist should have done, because for over a hundred years the life of the Labour Party had been the centre of the political life of the British working class — to reassess.

Solidarity supporters will argue that the LRC should “ start to work as a broader Workers’ Representation Committee” and appeal to other socialists to join it in creating “an axis to bringing about re-composition in the socialist and labour movement”.

Straight away, in the months up to the 2008 union conferences, the LRC must campaign in the unions to reverse the Bournemouth decision. Looking further ahead, it should “campaign to win Trades Councils to join in the formation of
local workers’ representation committees, as local affiliates of the Labour Representation Committee... Local committees will be encouraged to adopt a flexible approach, utilising whatever means available, to secure working-class
political representation”.

We will also argue for the LRC to back the initiative by the rail union RMT for an independent working-class slate in next year’s London mayor and GLA election, if the RMT goes ahead with it.

The conference will hear other views. John McDonnell, who challenged for Labour
Party leader to succeed Tony Blair, is the Labour MP most active in the LRC, which also has the affiliation of five trade unions (CWU, ASLEF, Bakers; RMT, which has been expelled from the Labour Party; FBU, which disaffiliated)
and many union branches.

Like us, he believes a change of direction is necessary. He has written: The vote to close down democratic decision making at the Labour party conference... demonstrated that the old strategy is largely over...

The Left has the difficult task of accepting and explaining to others that the old routes into the exercise of power and influence involving internal Labour Party mobilisations and manoeuvres have largely been closed down. We have to face up to the challenge of identifying and developing new routes...

But for “new routes” he proposes, to put it unkindly, a sort of “hippy syndicalism”. New social movements have mobilised on a vast array of issues ranging from climate change, asylum rights, to housing and arms

The Left needs to open itself to co-operation with progressive campaigns... The main political parties are increasingly seen as irrelevant... There is an opportunity for exciting, frenetic activity capable of creating a climate of
progressive hegemony which no government could immunise itself from no matter how ruthlessly it closes down democracy in its own party.

So we don’t need political parties any more? So workers should renounce any idea of having our own party which can create a workers’ government, and instead aim no higher than “creating a climate” to restrain hostile governments?
McDonnell gets the term “hegemony” from the 1920s/30s Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci. For Gramsci, the agency for socialist hegemony was the revolutionary party, “the Modern Prince”, leading the workers, who in turn would
lead other oppressed social groups and layers. But for McDonnell, diffuse movements can lead the party?

Of course mobilisations like the anti-globalwarming camp at Heathrow in August are important. The trouble with McDonnell’s argument is that it can de-focus the LRC from the specific work which it (and at present no other body) can do in the unions, and leave LRC supporters in the local Labour Parties just jogging along with no perspective other than waiting for “progressive” gas emissions from
diverse campaigns to warm them.

Socialist Appeal (a splinter of the old Militant Tendency) wants the Labour left to continue after Bournemouth exactly as before. Its latest editorial says exactly the same thing as it has been saying for decades: Labour needs a
Socialist programme including nationalisation of the banks and financial institutions and the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the
economy under workers’ control and management.

The first task is to reclaim the Labour Party. So oblivious is Socialist Appeal that it hasn’t even carried a report or a website comment on the Bournemouth decision, let alone an assessment of it. Nor did it noticeably campaign
against the rule-change in advance of Bournemouth. Labour Left Briefing is a bit less oblivious. Its editor Graham Bash has written:

Bournemouth 2007 may well turn out to be a decisive moment in the degeneration of the Labour Party.... It marked “the end of the remaining structures of
accountability in the party”. Bash cited, without demur, Alan Simpson’s assessment of the change as “irreversible”. It has “fundamentally undermined
the capacity of the Labour Party to be a vehicle for working class representation...” Try something else? Not Graham.

A fanatic, wrote George Santanyana”, is “a person who redoubles their efforts when they forget their aim”. Graham Bash would have us act that way,
but with much less than fanatical energy. The aim was to turn the structures of working-class accountability in the Labour Party against the leadership? To make the Labour Party, or least a large part of it, a vehicle for working-class representation?

That road is closed, says Bash. What then? Why, continue the same perfunctory
efforts, and redouble the condemnations of those who try something more energetic! None of this should be read as a call to leave the Labour Party and make yet another attempt to form a socialist sect...

Graham Bash recommends a call for “a real, broad-based party of Labour, democratic and accountable in its structures and capable of representing all those that are struggling against New Labour...” A call on whom, by whom? Who will drive forward and organise round this “call”? In the current subdued state of the unions, no-one can suppose that a new party will emerge instantly
merely by being “called for”. It will have to be fought for, and over a fairly long period.

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