Friday, March 30, 2007

Leadership of Islington UNISON hold Officers meeting

Here is the first picture of the leading officers of Islington UNISON following our recent retreat. This was held at the Branch Davidian Church of Christ Apostolic, Lower Salt Lake City, Utah!

We held many discussions, including how to assume better false identities in public.


By Any Other Name--wow!

Loyal friends and followers!

I discover that the mighty Micky H of Scandal fax infamy has posted a whole long piece just about little old me and my political past...some of which is wrong, but only I know which bits and if Micky does then I must have talked in my sleep when he slept with me!

Wow, I didn't know I was that intriguing! And he got at 5.01 to write it...


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Socialism does not spring from atomic ruins

Ah! The following piece of utter drivel met my eye as I perused the net looking for Micky H!
It is so mad it is beyond reality.

Enjoy the madness that is POSADAS

On the inevitability of the war.

6th april 1978

The Soviet Review of the Italian Embassy, USSR OGGI (‘USSR TODAY’), says that “the ideologists of Trotskyism want a socialism built upon the atomic ruins”. This is not so. The comrades are mistaken. What we have said is that the war is inevitable; and that capitalism is going to launch it. We have also said that socialism will be built, in spite of the capitalist war. This is so, because socialism is a necessity of the development of human history, of science and of the economy; and above all, it is a necessity of human intelligence at the centre of which there is the function of the working class.

The atomic war is going to signify much death, hundreds of millions of dead people. But what it will only manage to destroy, however, is the material expression of progress and not the capacity nor the intelligence which have determined progress itself. This capacity and intelligence will remain. Capitalism is going to destroy people, buildings and machines; but not human capacity, human experience and human security. This is acquired!

Socialism does not spring from atomic ruins. This is not the way to interpret. The way to interpret is that it is capitalism that makes wars! It is not as if we had wanted the war. It is capitalism that does. Capitalism is going to resort to the war before being crushed because it has the means at its disposal. If capitalism was never to launch the war, all the better! For our part, we would be disposed to wait another 30 years for socialism in these conditions. But capitalism does not have any other option in history but to make it. War is part and parcel of private property. The same applies to the dispute between capitalists through economic competition. It is the same thing as the war which the capitalists make amongst themselves in their commercial, financial and armed competitions.

As for us, we do not want the atomic war; neither atomic, nor any other! The war is the consequence of the capitalist system. What we do in this matter is to interpret. We interpret this in the same way as we interpret things facing us like competition, unemployment and inflation; or what they call ‘overproduction’ - whilst the people have nothing to eat. Each one of these ills is the consequence of the capitalist market; each one is its own kind of antagonism with society ranging from ordinary competition between the capitalists to their resorting to war. It is enough to read history to see that the most outstanding activity private property has ever conducted, is war, war and war.
Therefore, it is not correct to say that we want to construct socialism on the atomic ruins. We have interpreted that the capitalists are going to make the war and cause very big destructions in human lives and resources; and that, in spite of them making the war, we will construct socialism. This is so because socialism is already a conquest of the consciousness of humanity and of its intelligence. There is not a person in any remote part of the world today in the Islands of Oceania, in remote places in Africa or in countries of Asia or Europe, who does not know what socialism is.

There is already in humanity, the certainty that the economy is not a mystery, that property plays no role in history and that intelligence is the product of the development of human relations on the basis of the economy; there is the knowledge that, once science has developed beyond a certain point, it surpasses the economy and allows the development of an objective kind of intelligence; and that when the proletariat became ruling class, it could not do it by generating new social classes but by liberating the whole of humanity. This is what the proletariat had to do, both to liberate itself as a class, and for itself to progress as a class. The instrument representative of the progress of history is the proletariat. These are historic considerations these Soviet comrades have not taken account of.

We are not giving here the précis of some political resolution. We are simply making analyses and drawing conclusions about the process of history. Quite apart from this, a glance suffices to realise that almost half of the capitalist riches go to war preparations. And not just only for military expenditures but everything that means war, like counter revolution, secret services and polices. It is some 40% of the riches in the capitalist world.

6th April 1978

Imaginary Friends - and enemies - in the blog world

I understand that some anonymous bloggers have been seen in the vicinity. Surely this is where they belong? (That’s a link to Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends for those whose computers may take an age to load it)

I often watch this show on the Cartoon Network with my young son and it is far more fun than most anonymous blogs I have read…

On a more serious note, let’s have open debate in the movement and let’s (please) not pretend that any of us have to be afraid of any others.

Those who won’t reveal their identity refuse to do so because they are not who they pretend to be. (Which means that when they hint at who they are, they are only winding up their readers Mike!!)

A Reply to Micky "H" --in a VERY personal capacity

Micky H, the infamous anonymous blogger who spends his/her time attacking what they term the "vermin left" ( what he means are good, consistent and combative socialists who will not sell UNISON members and their interests down the river for the Kings shilling unlike some I might mention) has posted another anonymous attack on the Islington branch.
Whilst I am a leading officer of the said branch, I am writing these thoughts at home--at 6.29-- in my capacity as Mikey Calvert, not as Assistant Secretary of Islington UNISON

Micky "the anonymous for fear of retribution" H writes the following:

"The vermin left use this approach quite a lot, as though listing a whole bunch of lefty losers is going to influence anyone other than...other lefty losers. For example, the list of 'supporters' carried on the publicity for the Fighting (and losing) Unions conference held last year. Not much use to anyone other than those drawing up a trot hit-list, I'd imagine.

But what to make of all this 'in a personal capacity' (often abbreviated to 'pc') business? You know - where someone puts their name to a statement and then adds their title in the organisation, and it is followed by the disclaimer 'in a personal capacity'.

A bit like this lot below who have collectivised their personal capacities to hitch themselves to John '22' McDonnell's wagon:

"The following branch officers of Islington UNISON (in a personal capacity) would like to welcome and support your candidacy for Labour Leader and believe your policies and practices reflect not only our branches policy but also UNISON national policy.

Fiona Monkman, Branch Chair
Jane Doolan, Branch Secretary
Andrew Berry, Deputy Branch Secretary
Mike Calvert, Assistant Branch Secretary
Fred LePlat, Vice Chair
Keith Facey, Young Members Officer
Cliffe Obaseki, Black Members Convenor
Pam Woods, Labour Link Officer
Rosemary Plummer, Education and Schools Convenor
Denise Facey, Homes for Islington (ALMO) Convenor"

Clearly they need to state their roles in UNISON as otherwise who the flying ferret would have a clue who they were outside of the heated confines of the membership of UNISON United Lunatics?

And, in a way, that makes my point. They can't say they are doing it in an official capacity as it would be against UNISON's rules. So what do they do? They drag UNISON's name in as a kind of crutch for their identity, abusing our good name to cover their shame with a figleaf of credibility.

How about next time they leave UNISON out of it? They could always list their political parties and/or 'currents' instead.

But then we all know what kind of credibility that would muster!"

Well, Micky, the fact that you use the word credibility in the same breath as signing something anonymously is a little bit rich. Here are a number of points to correct your lies and distortions, written from home as Mikey, not in work time!

1. At least we--the officers named below-- all sign things we believe in, in our own names (whether we use the tagline Personal capacity or not) and will not hide behind pseudonymous anonymity!

2. We do not hide behind misogynistic attacks on female comrades as you do with Marsha-Jane. I am sure that she can defend herself and her own political integrity, but, we do not attack people anonymously! We are NOT snakes in the grass like you!

3. The majority of the people you have listed are not affiliated to any political group whatsoever, other than maybe the Labour Party. There is no secret that I support Workers Action, to my knowledge so does Andrew. I will concede there are not many of us and not much in the way of Action either,but hey ho!

There is no secret that Fred supports the Socialist Resistance current,and no secret that Pam Woods is a supporter of Socialist Appeal.


4. Fiona, Jane, Keith Facey, Cliffe Obaseki, Rosemary Plummer, and Denise Facey, are not politically organised. Keith, Denise and Rosemary--I am sure that won't mind this-are salt of the earth working class Islington: not like you, some jumped up middle class interloper claiming that you once made the turn to industry--Fiona is a UUL supporter I(she may have once been in an organised political current but I don't think she is now) and some of the others may have been supported by the UL in Regional elections, but some haven't: so what?

5. Where does your "inside info" come from? It certainly seems like you have access to the UNISON membership lists. As I said before, if you do then naughty naughty! Do you?

5. I suggest that you keep taking the Tegretol mate! Me, myself and I have much better things to do than sparring with you.


In a very personal capacity

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Days of Yore in the IMG 2

History of the IMG


Them days of yore!

I was trying to think who I knew in the South West London branch of the IMG the other day.
I can remember various people in the CC majority:

Bob Pennington and Janet Maguire, Greg Tucker,Graham Topley and Ann Potter, Steve Potter and Judith Arkwright, Val Coultas, Gill Lee and Peter Cooper.
Greg and Peter recruited me.

Then there were the supporters of the Grogan faction: Ray Davies, Connie and Alan Harris, Susan Elliott.

I am sure that there are many others, we were a big SW London branch. I am sure there are some people I didn't even know. I shall be adding those I knew in South East London as well real soon.

If you can remember anyone else or want to be on my list then write to me.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Socialist Labour Group

Socialist Labour Group

This was on Wikipedia, but I hasten to add that I did not write it...mysterious eh?

The Socialist Labour Group was a Trotskyist grouping in the United Kingdom.

The SLG originated in the 1971 split in the International Committee of the Fourth International. (ICFI), between Gerry Healy's British Socialist Labour League (SLL) and Pierre Lambert's French Internationalist Communist Organisation. Betty Hamilton, a Trotskyist since the 1930s and still formally an SLL member, had sided with Lambert since 1971 but remained isolated. John and Mary Archer, also Trotskyists since the 1930s, had split with the SLL in the mid 1960s, continuing to work in the Labour Party in North London. They were contacted in 1975 by Robin Blick and Mark Jenkins, both leading SLL members who had broken with Healy. Harry Vince and Ken Stratford had broken with the SLL in the late 1960s, joined and been expelled from IS and Worker's Fight (see Socialist Organiser) and discussed with the Militant and Chartists. They were in touch with the OCI from 1972 and in contact with Betty Hamilton from 1973.

In 1974 the two groupings, mainly based in London, the larger around Robin Blick and Mark Jenkins (perhaps 20 plus including associates in Reading and Swindon) and another around Harry Vince and Ken Stratford (perhaps 10 plus including associates in St Helens) began publishing the Marxist Bulletin. As a result, they became known as the Bulletin Group, aligned with Lambert's Organising Committee for the Reconstruction of the Fourth International. A heterogeneous tendency, they attempted to act as an 'external' faction of the SLL, with the aim of winning over more SLL members. Healy remained hostile to them, and accused the group of writing substantial sections of documents purported to be by SLL oppositionist Alan Thornett, who was soon to form the Workers Socialist League. Thornett did have contact with Blick and Jenkins from the Bulletin Group, who reached him via Kate Blakeney in Reading and Ray Howells in Swindon. The initial document upon which the Thornett opposition was founded was partly drafted by this Blick-Thornett nexus, but this did not lead to a long-term working relationship.[1]

Lambert wanted Robin Blick to lead the Bulletin Group as open supporters of the OCRFI but Blick and Jenkins, along with most of their supporters were moving away from Trotskyism by early 1976. The Archers regrouped some newer student members centred on John Ford, who had never been members of the SLL-WRP, and kept the name Bulletin Group. Some of them engaged in entrist work in the Labour Party. They continued with the publication of Marxist Bulletin until 1977 but its influence on the SLL had waned. Harry Vince moved to Ireland in 1975 and Betty Hamilton, Ken Stratford, Regis Faugier and their associates formed the British Committee for the Fourth International. The two small groupings were both affiliated to the Lambert OCRFI but had little relations with each other. In 1979 Vince moved back from Ireland at Lambert's request and the two groups joined together. Then this new grouping, which called itself the Socialist Labour Group, was strengthened in 1981 by a merger with a few supporters of Nahuel Moreno in the IMG, including Mike Phipps and affiliated to the Parity Committee for the Reconstruction of the Fourth International when that was fomed.

The Socialist Labour Group remained active in the Labour Party, student unions and trade unions until 1986/7, publishing Unite and Fight, Socialist Newsletter and later Fourth Internationalist. However, differences between them and the leadership of the OCI appeared when Harry Vince along with 6 other members of Lambert's international leadership criticised Lambert's Fourth International - International Centre of Reconstruction (FI-ICR) for, among other things, proposing to proclaim itself the Fourth International, the continued Lambertist insistence on a decades long 'pre-revolutionary' period, {leading Francois de Massot to say that the British miners' strike was not a historic defeat) and corrupt methods within the OCI. In 1987, all but four of the SLG sided with the wing of the FI-ICR linked to Luis Favre, Camilo Gonzalez, Roch Denis, Carol Coulter and others. The SLG was briefly part of a Liaison Committee with those (in Brazil, Colombia, Quebec, Ireland, Sweden, Germany and France) who broke with Lambert in 1987. It also held discussions with Stephane Just, but by 1988 was discussing joining with the International Socialist Group (ISG) which was a section of the USec. The SLG dissolved itself in 1989 and its remaining members joined the ISG, although most of them left over the next few years. Harry Vince stayed outside the ISG and moved to Ireland.

The few members of the SLG who remained loyal to the OCI, centred on Charlie Charoulambous, had a tenuous existence for a year or so, but John Archer, who had joined the ISG, found it difficult to accept the ISG leadership and formed a small faction within the ISG supportive of the FI-ICR. In 1991 it split to form the British Committee of the European Workers' Alliance, a new Lambertist group in the Labour Party, around the Fourth Internationalist Bulletin. Mike Calvert (sometimes known as Frank Wainwright) worked closely with John Archer at that time but later had his own differences with the Lambertists. Today, led by Stefan Cholewka [2], a Labour Party member in Rochdale, it is the British Section of the International Liaison Committee for a Workers' International and publishes Workers' Unity and The Link. Regis Faugier is associated with this grouping.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Days of Yore in the IMG

The following article comes from Wikipedia

There are many interesting things about the far left in this country. The fact that it is more fractured, split riven and so on than even that in France!

The following piece from is an interesting and partial concise history of the IMG up until the split that I was personally involved in that led to the formation of Phil and Dave's International Group (More of those days later).


The International Marxist Group (IMG) was a Trotskyist political party in Britain between 1964 and 1987. It was as the British Section of the reunified Fourth International. It is thought to have had around 1000 members in the late 1970s [1]. By 1983 its membership had fallen to around 700.

The IMG emerged from the International Group, a sympathising organisation of the International Secretariat of the Fourth International (IS). Its founders, Pat Jordan and Ken Coates, had broken with the CPGB in Nottingham in 1956. They were briefly members of the Revolutionary Socialist League in the late 1950s: Jordan became organising secretary of the RSL. Eventually Jordan and his comrades founded the Internationalist Group which (like the RSL) affiliated to the IS.

After the ISFI became part of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, the USFI advised the RSL and Internationalist Group to unite. An unity conference in September 1964, brokered partly by Pierre Frank and Jimmy Deane, voted for unity but the fusion was not accepted: RSL member Peter Taaffe recalls that he "led a walk-out of the Liverpool delegation, with the majority in Liverpool in support". Very soon the former Internationalist Group members left to form a new organisation, the International Group, together with some former members of the SLL who had opposed that organisation's refusal to take party in the 1963 reunification of the majorities of the Fourth International, including Charlie van Gelderen. The Group played a major role in raising Vietnam solidarity at the 1965 Labour party conference.

The 1965 World Congress of the USFI demoted the RSL to a "sympathising" group: the International Group was granted the same status. In the words of the RSL's Peter Taaffe "We decided that the time had arrived when we must turn our backs on this organisation." The RSL left the FI and continued on the road to becoming well known as the Militant Tendency.

The International Group started the production of a cyclostyled bulletin known as The Week. As it was engaged in entrism inside the Labour Party, this journal gathered a mixed bag of sponsors including Bertrand Russell, whose Russell Tribunal employed two imported Canadian supporters of the FI, Ernie Tate and Pat Brain. In early 1968, the International Group renamed itself as the International Marxist Group.

International Marxist Group
The IMG's activists published International, which was launched in May 1968 with IMG secretary Pat Jordan as editor and incorporated The Week. The successive tactics taken by the IMG were reflected in the series of newspapers it supported: The Black Dwarf; Red Mole, Red Weekly, Socialist Challenge and Socialist Action.

The Black Dwarf
The Black Dwarf was launched in May 1968 under Tariq Ali's editorship, with several other IMG members on its editorial board. Its creative and pluralist nature attracted a number of new activists to the group: John Lennon was friendly to the organisation.

While IMG members largely remained in the Labour party, including Charlie van Gelderen, International marked a break from 'deep entrism': "The Week was brought out in the expectation that a mass left would arise in the Labour party once labour was in power. [Its] main function was that of an organiser and co-ordinator [...] but this will be a by-product of the main function of International: the creation of a firm marxist core in the labour movement." Its campaigning was focussed on broader initiatives such as the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign and Russell Tribunal, in which Ernie Tate was prominent and in which the RSL and Socialist Labour League did not work, the Institute for Workers' Control and the Revolutionary Socialist Students Front, in which Peter Gowan and Murray Smith were active. The agitational work of The Week was carried on in the The Black Dwarf and in Socialist Woman, launched in 1969. The Group gained some public prominence when Tariq Ali, who had joined in April 1968, was widely publicised in the media as a leader of protests against the Vietnam War.

After IMG became the British section of the USFI in May 1969, International started to be formally presented as the publication of the IMG. The group began to focus on work in the student movement and trade unions. It abandoned its earlier systematic entryist work within the Labour Party, although the IMG continuously operated a "fraction" to organise its members within the Party. This turn out from the party led to a small number of members, including Al Richardson, being marginalised: they went on to form the Revolutionary Communist League, better known as the Chartists.

The IMG was quickly noted for its energetic support for international solidarity campaigns concerning Vietnam, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, South Africa, and its support for socialists facing repression in France, Bolivia and Mexico, support for which was organised through the Black Dwarf. International's May 1969 famous headline "Permanent Revolution Reaches UK" reflected its support for armed self defence against the British state's forces in Northern Ireland. It also supported, in orthodox Trotskyist fashion, the Communist-influenced struggles of the MPLA in Angola, FRELIMO in Mozambique and the ANC in South Africa despite the complete contempt of the Communist parties for Trotskyists: some opponents nick-named them 'MIGs', after the Soviet military MiG.

In domestic politics the early 1970s saw the IMG completely reject parliamentary politics. In 1970, the group used the general election as an opportunity to make revolutionary propaganda rather than canvassing for the return of a Labour government.

Red Mole

Red Mole supported the IRA's struggle against British occupationIn March 1970, The Black Dwarf's editorial board split over questions of Leninism. A second newspaper was established, Red Mole, which Tariq Ali edited alongside an editorial board with an IMG majority. Red Mole was a "revolutionary internationalist" paper that carried a broad range of left-wing opinion in its pages, including a famous interview with John Lennon. IMG members also took part in New Left Review: Tariq Ali, Robin Blackburn, and Quintin Hoare were on its editorial board for much of the 1970s and subsequently.

Because Red Mole was used by the IMG as its main organ, articles were sometimes mistakenly though to indicate the positions of the IMG. For example, there was confusion after Robin Blackburn had written an April 1970 article titled "Let it bleed" for Red Mole, in which he argued that marxists should disrupt the campaigns of the Labour and Tory parties in the 1970 General Election. IMG secretary Pat Jordan replied a month later to explain why the IMG favoured a Labour victory. The group's general orientation at that time was summarised by Ali's book, The Coming British Revolution (ISBN 0-224-00630-4).

By September 1970, Red Circles had been set up to organise activists who supported the paper. Many went on to join the IMG. The IMG radicalised as it grew: Pat Jordan's leadership gave way to that of John Ross, who anticipated that the rising tide of class struggle could lead to a pre-revolutionary crisis in Britain. In August 1972, the IMG formally assumed control of the Red Mole and prepared to relaunch it as a weekly newspaper.

Red Weekly

The IMG used Red Weekly to launch a frequent theoretical & polemical suppliment, Battle of IdeasIn May 1973, the fortnighly Red Mole was replaced by Red Weekly. International's editors and editorial board included many of the organisation's leaders, including Tariq Ali, Patrick Camiller, Ann Clafferty, Gus Fagan, Peter Gowan, Quintin Hoare, Michelle Lee, Bob Pennington, John Ross, Tony Whelan and Judith White.

During the 1970s the organisation developed a number of fluid, competing factions and tendencies. The United Secretariat prepared theses on the situation in Britain and the tasks of the IMG in 1973, and again in 1976, to help orient the organisation.

The IMG came to the public attention in 1974 during Lord Justice Scarman's Public Judicial Inquiry into the violent disturbances known as the Red Lion Square disorders, which led to the death of Kevin Gately a University of Warwick student who was not an IMG member. Scarman found that the IMG had made a "vicious, violent and unprovoked attack on the Police" who were guarding Conway Hall to try and prevent access to the hall by the National Front who had booked it for a meeting to protest against the Labour Government's decision to grant an amnesty to illegal immigrants.

However by the time of the 1976 USFI World Congress internal disputes were becoming more difficult to reconcile as divisions became entrenched between supporters of the International Majority Tendency, led by Ernest Mandel, and the Leninist Trotskyist Faction, which was led by the Socialist Workers Party (US). Despite a 'truce' reflected by the establishment of Socialist Challenge, these divisions would result in the permanent splintering of the IMG's successor organisation, the Socialist League.

During this period, the small Marxist Worker group also joined the IMG.

This vigorous internal life did not impede its growth among students and workers. The IMG's grow was reflected when it established Red Books as its publishing house and bookshop. By 1977, when a new leadership team around Tariq Ali had started the organisation on the road towards Socialist Challenge, both International and Socialist Woman were well-produced quarterly journals.

Socialist Challenge

In June 1977, Socialist Challenge replaced Red Weekly. It raised two slogans.

Build a socialist opposition. The IMG's new leadership team was inspired by the success in France of a united slate of three Trotskyist organisations (the LCR, LO and OCT). It started to campaign for united electoral action in Britain, partly to confront the growth of the National Front. The IMG launched the Socialist Unity initiative for the 1979 general election, which Big Flame also supported. Socialist Unity stood ten candidates; its highest vote was 477 votes, for Tariq Ali in Southall.
For a united revolutionary organisation. The IMG argued that the forces of the far left should unite in a single organisation. This partly reflected growing openness of the USFI to regroupment, but also addressed the growth of the far left. The IMG proposed unity to the International Socialists (who had unsuccessfully made a similar proposal to the IMG a decade earlier). The IS turned them down flat although the manner of the IMGs approach, which reportedly described the IS as a centrist grouping, may have some relation to this decision on the part of the IS leadership.
In the 1979 the IMG grew to its highpoint of 758 members in good standing, and a total of 1,000 supporters.

In 1980, Tony Benn's campaign led the IMG to increase its focus on the Labour party. It developed a 'combination tactic' in which its fraction of members in the Labour party was boosted. By 1981 the IMG-organised youth organisation called Revolution Youth, organised its magazine Revolution, had entered the Labour Party Young Socialists in order to build it and won it to the IMG's politics. The IMG was soon to send a second wave of members into the Labour party, leading it to merge in 1982 with the League for Socialist Action, a small group of USFI members that had been engaged in entrism in the Labour party for at least five years.

Initially, IMG members in the Labour party continued to sell Socalist Challenge. They used it to argue that the Bennite left needed to organise together with the trade union left. IMG members, often describing themselves as 'Socialist Challenge supporters', supported the formation of Bennite organisations such as Labour Briefing and the Labour Committee on Ireland.

In mid-1982 its central committee started to discuss whether to announce that the IMG was dissolved in order to better facilitate its entry.

Socialist Action

In December 1982, the IMG rebranded itself as the Socialist League, while continuing to refer to itself as the IMG in internal documents [2]. The group had fully entered the Labour Party and began publishing the Socialist Action newspaper, by which name the League was often known.

Despite initial successes, Socialist Action was established at a time when the Bennite movement has started to suffer defeats. In 1983, the group's membership fell to around 700. Different tendencies developed in the organisation over how to relate to the political evolution of figures like Ken Livingstone and Arthur Scargill. At the same time, the Socialist Workers Party in the US, which influenced many of the group's members, started to withdraw from the International. This opened up the most bitter internal political struggle in the group's history. Under the pressures of the defeat of the 1984-1985 miners strike, the group fragmented into three organisations.

A minority, led by Phil Hearse, Dave Packer, Davy Jones, and Bob Pennington formed the International Group in 1985. In 1987 it merged with the Socialist Group to form the International Socialist Group and publish Socialist Outlook. The ISG was later recognised as the British Section of the USFI.

The remaining majority of the Socialist League consisted of two factions. The majority faction was led by John Ross. Ross' current was generally supportive of Livingstone and Scargill. The evolution of this group is discussed under its own entry, Socialist Action (UK). It eventually stopped the production of Socialist Action and withdrew from the USFI.

The third current was a faction led by Brian Grogan and Jonathan Silberman which supported the Socialist Workers Party (US). According to New International 11, it was expelled from the Socialist League in January 1988, one week before a conference at which its platform would have had the majority. Those expelled when ahead with the scheduled conference, which Ross's tendency had cancelled, and founded the Communist League, which is part of the Pathfinder tendency.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Boo cats together!

Islington on strike 3

Islington UNISON has been accused of not being democratic by some in the world of blogging!
Here are some more pictures of us on the picket lines around the borough over the last few years.

All taken by me.

Islington on strike 2

Education and libraries on the picket lines

all pics by me...

Islington on strike

Below are piccys of our days of strike in action in Islington

Micky uncovered

At last, Micky H is uncovered!

Old Gits Reunited

An Open Letter to Micky H from me!

Mikey--they all shout--stop arsing about and wasting your time!!

I am told by my friends--imaginary of course--that the race is on to find out who Micky H is.

S/T/he/y/it seems to be someone/thing that has many connections in some very, very low places!

Some of my friends like Jon, Andrew and Marsha say stop arsing about playing at being a detective, you are no good at it--and you are NOT Val MacDermid-- and you will soon be a dad so stop wasting your time. I though, am snared lke the rabbit in the headlight as to who this rather witty anti-lefty is, and now that my branch has been smeared I feel like I am on a quest to uncover who this mole is. If you peer beneath the shiny exterior veneer that Micky H puts up you will find something rather rancid underneath I fear!

If, it turns out that the Mickster has a connection--obtuse or otherwise--to Lambeth and my shady past there, then I will eat my proverbial Wolves scarf amongst other things. I for one, do not believe the oxygen of Micky H's own publicity.

The Mickster seems to have incredible amounts of time on s/he/their hands and be fairly well informed about matters of a regional nature, but when it comes to us fun loving so called "Capitalists" (I assume this is a reference to a Metropolitan, lefty, milieux within our union)who preside in the Archway/Angel/Highbury area of Islington s/he is singularly ill informed, in fact a few more facts and a little less insults would be in order! To be brutal her/his/their acid dripping sarcasm and ascerbic wit would be a little better placed in organising her/his/their members in whatever area of the NHS s/t/he/m happens to be responsible for, or local government, or the probabtion service, or the police or wherever!!!!

My contacts, amongst them the legendary Alan "No more marches" Nettles, Clara the great and "others" amongst them the great Arsenio "I have escaped tricky situations more times than the Krays" Houdini have informed me that the great "mole chase" is on to "out" the mole!

I am sure that I bumped me old pal Mr "Nettles" today in a particularly celubrious area of N1. Trouble is he doesn't know me.

Anyway, enuff fun and games for now, if it transpires that Micky H was once a Lambethista and smoked 20 Gauloises a day and I find out who he is I will ensure that the Director of Childrens Services in Lambeth issues a 40 page proclamation on the subject!!!!!!

A rattled Old Git to another rattled old git

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A debate on 100 years of Labourism, response

Another Marxism is possible
Richard Price responds to Mike McNair’s critique of Graham Bash and Andrew Fisher’s 100 Years of Labour. This article appeared in Weekly Worker 16 November 2006.

Mike McNair’s review of Graham Bash and Andrew Fisher’s 100 Years of Labour (‘100 years hard labour?’, Weekly Worker, September 28, 2006) is a thoughtful and detailed response, but one that is heavily distorted by its conclusion that the most effective way for socialists to exert influence upon Labour is through the building of ‘the unity of Marxists in a common party’ outside its structures.

A significant part of Mike’s review is devoted to a critique of the Perry Anderson/Tom Nairn thesis on the absence of a mass socialist or communist party in Britain, upon which, he argues, Graham and Andrew’s pamphlet is heavily reliant. I don’t hold any particular brief for Anderson or Nairn, but I do think it’s important to respond to what the authors have actually written, and not to infer what you think they may mean on the basis of a few footnotes.

So, for example, Mike, apparently criticising the pamphlet, argues that the aristocracy played no distinct economic or political role after the seventeenth century, and became ‘a segment of the capitalist class’. Hang on a minute! Bash and Fisher state – in opposition to crude accounts of the English Revolution of the 1640s – that it was ‘by no means a straightforward confrontation between a progressive bourgeoisie and an obsolete feudal aristocracy, but a far more indirect conflict mediated through the factional struggle of two sections of the same ruling class bloc’. And it is scarcely news that the British aristocrats, like the mining magnate, the Duke of Northumberland, were among the first in Europe to invest heavily in industry, while industrialists from the late nineteenth century onwards bought into land.

But Mike seems to veer towards an opposite error, in failing to recognise that the ‘landed interest’ was by no means always in step with the industrial capitalists. It had distinct economic interests of its own, and it occupied a leading role in politics until the turn of the twentieth century. How else are we to understand crucial clashes between different wings of the ruling class which gave rise to the large scale mobilisations that preceded the Reform Act of 1832 and the struggle between the Manchester School free traders of the Anti-Corn Law League and the landed aristocracy in the 1840s?

The New Domesday Survey of 1873 found that a quarter of England and Wales was still owned by 710 people. Between them, the Dukes of Sutherland and Buccleuch held nearly 1.5 million acres, and there were more than 40 other estates of more than 100,000 acres. The contradiction between the industrial and landowning wings of the ruling class continued through the agricultural depression of the late nineteenth century and was only resolved with the break up of many of the old landed estates – a process that gathered pace at the turn of the twentieth century and continued into the 1930s.

The 1832 Reform Act symbolised the entry of the new capitalist class into British politics, but the aristocracy continued to occupy its commanding heights for many decades. The second half of the nineteenth century may have been the era of Disraeli and Gladstone, but aristocrats occupied 10 Downing Street for more than three of these five decades.

Non-conformism and socialism
Mike argues against the view that there was a deep discontinuity in English working class politics in the four decades from the decline of Chartism at the end of the 1840s to the rise of New Unionism in the late 1880s. Far from there being a discontinuity in revolutionary ideas, he argues there was a ‘continuity of radical-Christian ideas’.

Aside from the fact that there isn’t necessarily a contradiction between these two propositions, a distinction must be drawn between ideas and the class struggle itself. To argue that the class struggle after 1848 didn’t take a long constitutionalist detour is to fly in the face of the evidence of the three preceding decades, which are studded with militant and semi-insurrectionary movements, often followed by harsh repression – the Peterloo Massacre (1819), the Cato Street Conspiracy (1820), the attempts to form general unions (1829-34), the Captain Swing agricultural disturbances (1830-31), the Merthyr Rising (1831), the campaign for the Reform Act (1831-2), the campaign against the ‘bastilles’ set up by the 1834 Poor Law, the campaign for the release of the Tolpuddle Martyrs (1834-36), the Rebecca Riots (1839-42), the Newport Rising (1839), the Plug Plot general strike of 1842, and physical force Chartism in the 1840s.

The principal reason why politics developed mostly through constitutional channels in the decades after 1848 isn’t hard to uncover. British manufacturing conquered the world, and the violent swings of the trade cycle, which had generated the most acute conflicts of previous decades, moderated. Real wages of the average manual worker rose by about 75 per cent between 1850 and 1900 – the largest percentage rise since the second half of the fourteenth century. Hours of work fell, factory conditions improved, and there were advances in public health. Affordable housing came within reach of better paid workers. Mass entertainment and spectator sports took off. The British ruling class learned to defuse class conflict by social reforms, urban improvement and judicious extensions of the franchise.

The point is not that the working class campaigns in the 1860s against slavery and in support of Polish independence, and the role of British trade unionists in the First International cited by Mike were unimportant. It is that they were an anti-climax in comparison, and didn’t lead to a mass radicalisation in political consciousness.

There were, for instance, only about 25 branches of the First International in Britain in the early 1870s, and their combined membership was numbered in hundreds rather than thousands. In 1872, a leader in The Beehive newspaper – closely associated with the International – complained that the working class’s ‘thoughts on labour questions are expressed solely by their trades, which are non-political’. Six years later, Lloyd Jones, the first secretary of the Labour Representation League, could still bemoan the fact that ‘the working men are shaping no questions for themselves, are considering no policy, are organising no party’. In 1890, Engels could write enthusiastically that the British working class was ‘newly awakened from its forty-years sleep’.

Was there a continuity of radical Christian ideas from the seventeenth century down to the rise of the Independent Labour Party in the 1890s? It has long been a commonplace that the British labour movement owes more to Methodism than it does to Marxism. There were strong echoes of Leveller demands in the People’s Charter, and at the time the ILP began to grow in the West Riding there were still old Chartists whose memories stretched back to the 1840s. Leading historians of the nineteenth century like Macaulay and Gardiner revived interest in Cromwell as a precursor of constitutional advance. A number of the non-conformist churches, like the Quakers, were founded in the 1640s. Christian socialist and radical liberal ideas certainly found their way into both the ILP and the trade unions via their common inheritance from non-conformism and Lib-Labism.

That being said, the religious revival of the later 1800s was a major obstacle to the building of a genuinely independent workers’ movement. The founders of the ILP included not only Catholics, Quakers and Methodists but also secularists and atheists. ‘The attempt to suggest that the ILP was founded by a slate of Methodist parsons and local preachers’ wrote E.P. Thompson, ‘is even more wildly inaccurate than the attempt to attribute it to the single-handed efforts of Engels and Aveling … if the socialists succeeded in sweeping whole chapel-fulls … into the movement, by their broad, unsectarian, ethical appeal, the credit is due to them, and not to the Nonconformist “Establishment” which fought the ILP every inch of the way’.

The non-conformist churches, with the honourable exception of the Primitive Methodists, were not normally on the side of the trade unions. They preached a gospel of class peace and acceptance of one’s place, and supported gradual civic ‘improvement’. Temperance movements, youth organisations with strongly religious overtones, like the Band of Hope, the Boys Brigade, and later the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, and welfare organisations like the Salvation Army all had mass memberships, often in the major industrial areas.

The message of hard work, prudence, sobriety, piety, self-reliance and self-improvement may have led a minority of non-conformists into the ILP. But many more remained loyal to the Liberals, or like my grandmother – a staunch Methodist born in humble circumstances, who signed the pledge in the early years of the last century – became loyal Tory voters. Non-conformism provided a significant part of the Birmingham power base of Joseph Chamberlain, whose name became synonymous with civic pride and urban improvement. He offered a potent mix of imperialism abroad, and social reform and protectionism at home.

Mike criticises ‘the common belief that the SDF was more middle class than the ILP’, arguing that, if anything, the reverse was true. But it’s not a belief shared by Bash and Fisher, who note that the Social Democratic Federation’s ‘rank-and-file membership was frequently active in the trade unions, playing a key role in the rise of “new unionism” after 1888’. Mike also points out that the ILP was stronger in the north, while the SDF was stronger in London.

But it isn’t true that the SDF was without any strength in the north. By 1893, the six branches of the SDF in and around Burnley claimed a combined membership of nearly 2,000, and in the 1906 general election, H.M. Hyndman, with ILP support, came within 356 votes of taking Burnley for the SDF, in a three-cornered contest. And while the ILP became a more middle class organisation in later years, its early Yorkshire strongholds were solidly working class mill towns, like Bradford and Halifax.

Socialist unity or mass party of labour?
Mike admits, somewhat grudgingly, that ‘With the benefit of hindsight, the 1901 decision of the SDF to pull out of the Labour Representation Committee can be seen to be a mistake’, though quite why – given his emphasis on the need for a united Marxist party – is not clear. Surely, the logic of his position should lead him to argue that the SDF’s project of socialist unity was correct as against the struggle to bring in the trade unions to provide a mass base.

At any rate, there were some within the SDF who thought it was wrong to leave the LRC. The Rochdale branch sent a motion to the SDF’s conference in 1905 calling for the SDF to re-enter the LRC, and in 1907, Hyndman, who had started a two year sabbatical from politics before the decision to split had been passed, began to raise the question of affiliation to what had now become the Labour Party.

Mike sets up a straw man when he claims that: ‘The Anderson-Nairn thesis, as applied by comrades Bash and Fisher, takes the case of German and Swedish social democracy, where the party created the unions, as the continental “norm” .’ In fact, the pamphlet doesn’t mention Sweden at all, simply compares the party-union relationship to Germany and Russia, and does not claim either as some kind of continental norm.

The review criticises the pamphlet’s contention that the affiliate structure has been central to Labour’s stability, instead arguing that: ‘The key is, rather, the first-past-the-post system of elections, which creates a substantial pressure towards a two-party system.’ But this is a very limited – and electoralist! – explanation of Labour’s stability.

It can’t, for a start, make much sense of the 1920s, when there was three-party politics; it ignores the role of the TUC in keeping the party together in the 1930s after the traumatic departures of Ramsay MacDonald and the ILP; it glosses over the trade unions’ role in the service of the wartime coalition, when they became the third pillar of state; and it leaves out the crucial role of the affiliate structure in more recent turning points, such as the Social Contract in 1976, and the victory of the Blairites in 1994.

Now, and only now, do we get to the main thrust of Mike’s critique – that the most effective way of influencing the Labour Party is via an avowedly revolutionary party from outside. He takes it as read that any Communist attempts at affiliation were doomed to failure in the 1920s. I’m more convinced by the idea (first put forward by Bob Pitt, so far as I’m aware), that had the British Socialist Party simply attempted to renew its affiliation, rather than do so in the name of a Communist Party bound by the 21 Conditions of the Comintern, it would have created some real problems for the Labour bureaucracy.

Instead, as the pamphlet correctly notes, ‘The CPGB’s application was couched in terms that were intended to provoke rejection’ – an error that demonstrated how little the sectarian and propagandist leaders of the CPGB understood how small groups of revolutionaries could win the confidence of broad masses of reformist workers.

Having set this precedent, it made things easier for the Labour leaders to defeat subsequent CPGB affiliation proposals. But Mike draws the conclusion that communist influence grew the more it was repelled by the bureaucracy, favourably contrasting the CPGB’s efforts with that of its affiliated predecessor, the BSP. But it’s hardly a fair comparison. The BSP’s affiliation was not accepted until 1916, by which time the party was split down the middle, for and against the war, and it had little time to develop unified and consistent tactics within the larger party. The CPGB, in contrast, held the British franchise of a successful revolution, as well as a great deal of Soviet financial backing, much of which was ploughed into sustaining CP-led front organisations and other organisations it was close to.

The Labour Party’s 1925 conference rejected CPGB affiliation for the second year running by a wide margin, banned communists from individual membership, and barred affiliated unions from sending communists as delegates to conference. One hundred constituency and borough parties, urged on by the CPGB, resisted the ban on communists, and about half of these joined the National Left Wing Movement when it was launched in December 1925. For a brief interlude it seemed that the antagonism of the right wing might assist the development of a CP-influenced left wing. The NLWM grew rapidly, and its paper, the Sunday Worker, claimed a circulation of 100,000.

But what is instructive is the comparative ease with which the bureaucracy outmanoeuvred the opposition by disaffiliating the rebel branches, and reorganising new official ones. Harry Wicks, who was a young communist member of the united Battersea Labour Party and Trades Council at the time, recalled: ‘Tragically, in the year after the General Strike, the disaffiliated party – which began with majority support – went down to defeat. Those who left it for the affiliated organisation were not necessarily right wingers. Far from it. Many of them simply could not bear disaffiliation.’

By the time of the NLWM’s second conference in September 1927, almost all of its participants were outside the official structures of the party, having been disaffiliated. Far from facilitating effective work being carried out in the Labour Party, maintaining an independent party was an obstacle. The Labour leaders could appeal to party loyalty on the one hand, and portray the NLWM as the creation of a hostile outside organisation on the other. By 1928, the CPGB had virtually no remaining influence within the Labour left, so that when it embarked upon the mad ultra-leftism of the ‘Third Period’, there were no bridges left to burn. So much for the high water mark of Mike’s preferred orientation.

Mike is correct when he points to some important omissions in the pamphlet – its ‘muted treatment’ of imperialism, and its inadequate account of local government. That being said, for long periods local government wasn’t a strong area for the left. The London County Council, for instance, was the power base of right winger Herbert Morrison during the inter-war years.

Partyism or the united front from within?
From here we fast forward to the 1970s and 1980s. Mike maintains that Militant became by far the most successful ‘entrist’ group, as a consequence of its high profile party-within-a-party approach. But while Militant was relatively successful in winning positions, notably in Liverpool, it came at a very heavy price. Its refusal to collaborate with other sections of the left and its dogmatic organisational and political style won it many enemies. While councillors like Ted Knight and John McDonnell pushed the rate-capping struggle as far as they could, Militant-led Liverpool became the city that dared to capitulate.

Like the CPGB, Militant walked away from its persecutors, with most of its members simply failing to renew their Labour Party membership, or in some cases where they were disciplined, not even bothering to appeal. Like the CPGB, Militant concluded shortly after it had broken all links, that Labour had ceased to be a workers’ party of any sort, and that it had become simply a third capitalist party. As I tried to show, in my article ‘Communists and the Labour Party 1927-29: a sense of déjà vu’, (Workers Action, No 17, Summer 2002), it’s a well-trodden road that leads to calls for trade union disaffiliation and ends in the political wilderness.

Mike, to be fair, does not hold that view, but tries to balance equally dogmatically mid-way, by upholding the need to influence the Labour Party, but only from outside – the very conditions that have failed so ignominiously and so often before.

Warming to his charge that Bash and Fisher underestimate both the positive impact of the CPGB in the 1920s and its more baleful influence in the 1970s and 1980s, Mike makes the case that the defeat of the Labour left since the 1980s is in large part the product of the collapse of British Stalinism. He points both to CPGB’s role in formulating the Alternative Economic Strategy, and to its significant industrial base.

But there are a number of objections to the causality Mike suggests. Firstly, the Labour left wasn’t completely dependent upon CPGB ideas. Many left wing MPs, like Eric Heffer from the older generation and Jeremy Corbyn from the new intake, came from strongly anti-Stalinist traditions. The GLC and other left wing councils had many left wing councillors who came out of student radicalism and Trotskyism. Andrew Glyn, who was around Militant, was a key figure in debates on the AES.

Secondly, the Labour left was at its peak of influence at the same time as the CPGB was descending into a terminal tail-spin. The Labour left, from the Benn for Deputy campaign down to the rate-capping debacle in 1985, posed a serious challenge to the right wing, and even after the defeat of the miners’ strike there were still significant numbers of left wing councillors. The CPGB surely reached its nadir when it tried to ban anti-Tory slogans from the People’s March in 1981. When the marchers reached London, they were greeted by the newly elected, Livingstone-led GLC, which proclaimed its defiance of the Tories across the river, day in, day out. Throughout the rate-capping crisis and the miners’ strike, the CPGB was consistently to the right of the Labour left. The main residual influence of the CPGB today seems to be the concentration of ex-Stalinists within the New Labour hierarchy, where their talent for suppressing internal democracy has finally found an outlet.

There was, therefore, no direct causal connection between the crisis in the CPGB and the subsequent crisis of the Labour left. Rather, both were affected by a crisis across the entire spectrum of the left, which began with the neo-liberal offensive of 1980s, and accelerated with the collapse of eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in 1989-91. The Labour Party’s membership may have halved, but the membership of groups to the left of Labour has suffered a far higher percentage loss.

A party of warring sects won’t work!
The continuing crisis of the Labour left is, Mike argues, a strategic one: without the CPGB’s ‘British Road’ strategy to lean on, it can only rely upon ‘the pieties of the old Bennite left’. The problem, I would suggest, is much broader. While the far left in the 1970s loudly proclaimed that its aim was the armed seizure of power, the aftermath of the collapse of Stalinism has seen all sorts of attempts at forming broader parties and groupings like the SLP, the SSP, the Socialist Alliance and Respect, which do not present themselves as openly revolutionary and fudge the issue of state power. Groups that would formerly have denounced Hugo Chávez as a bourgeois nationalist are booking their plane tickets to Caracas, where, despite impressive social reforms, ‘property rights and the structure of the economy remain intact’. (Guardian, November 14) Amidst the clamour on the far left for a new mass workers’ party, where is there a concise and credible perspective for the victory of socialist revolution? The far left has muffled the drums on the tricky issue of state power for the last 15 years. We are, it seems, all reformists now.

The reasons are not simply down to opportunism. While the collapse of Stalinism didn’t make the peaceful parliamentary road any more likely, it heavily discredited the idea that power – at least in the Western world – was likely to fall into the streets, that soviets would spring up, and a small revolutionary party would seize power in short order. Even those who thought it was possible often questioned whether it was desirable for small, unrepresentative ‘vanguards’ to seize power, and what implications this had for socialist democracy.

Where does this leave ‘the unity of Marxists in a common party’ that Mike sees as the precondition for any sustained socialist revival? The first problem is one of critical mass. If you gathered every last person that claimed allegiance to Marxism in the whole of Britain in a single organisation, you’d struggle to get to 10,000 members, and that would involve rubbing shoulders with quite a few, who in Alexei Sayle’s memorable phrase, think that in order to make an omelette it’s necessary to kill 20 million peasants.

But let’s just suppose you did manage to bring together all these completely incompatible sects and propaganda groups – and that itself takes a quantum leap of faith – what would be the first thing it would do? Split, of course! And that wouldn’t just be down to a higher than average demographic of misfits, movementists, cranks and dead-end sectarians, alongside a fair number of decent, honest comrades.

Such a party – just the sort of fusion of sects that Engels warned against – would almost certainly be based on a set of dogmatic programmatic ‘principles’, but it would lack a clear practical project. After all, it would include both those who are opposed to participating in mass reformist organisations full stop – and for some, that includes unions as well as parties – and the growing number of national union officials, for whom ‘Marxist’ politics is merely an add-on to their trade union activities.

And didn’t the Socialist Alliance founder for precisely these obvious reasons? It was too small to pose as a credible national alternative to Labour, and far from being a disciplined combat party, it was an umbrella of feuding sects, pulling in different directions. It is all very well to argue that the Socialist Alliance should have become a party. But that’s the whole point – building a genuine party out of such political material is excluded as a realistic possibility.

Which leaves us with the Labour Party. While you can debate new workers’ parties for years, there is a concrete struggle being fought right now to rally support for John McDonnell’s leadership campaign – one that both comrades Bash and Fisher actively support. How are the Marxists outside the Labour Party relating to that? One answer was given at the Organising for Fighting Unions conference on November 11, where delegates managed to applaud John McDonnell, and then cheer to the rafters calls to leave the Labour Party and disaffiliate the unions. When I asked an SWP member what this ‘support’ for John’s campaign amounted to in practice, he disarmingly told me, ‘Not much really’! Any united Marxist party in the foreseeable future will be united in one thing only – its sectarian attitude towards not only the Labour Party as a whole, but towards its left wing as well.

Although it is good that the Weekly Worker is supporting McDonnell, it is within the constituency parties, the trade unions and other affiliated bodies that the campaign will be fought. And while some will salve their conscience by supporting the campaign through their affiliated union, such are the vagaries of the electoral college that an individual member’s vote is worth about twenty times that of an affiliated trade unionist. If there are genuine Marxists out there, then this campaign would be a good starting point for unity in action around something of real, practical significance. We can debate the characteristics of future workers’ parties and where we’ve got to with the Marxist theory of the state while we’re walking down the road together.

If, however, you prioritise debating Marxist theory with rag, tag and bobtail Marxists over this simple, practical task then you will be repeating the mistakes Marxists have been making in relation to the Labour Party for the past century, but under conditions in which the Labour right wing can destroy what remains of a party of labour, and set the movement back a generation or more. It’s that serious.

A debate on 100 years of Labourism

100 years hard labour?
Mike Macnair reviews Graham Bash and Andrew Fisher: 100 years of Labour (London 2006, pp80, £4). Available from

This pamphlet from Graham Bash and Andrew Fisher tries to do two things. It offers both an outline history of the Labour Party and an argument for leftwingers to commit themselves to membership of the party and the struggle against New Labour. The political perspective oscillates between traditional Labour left views and a very dilute form of Trotskyism - informed by the ‘Anderson-Nairn thesis’ of British backwardness, put forward by New Left Review in the early 1960s.

The pamphlet is a handy source of outline historical information about the Labour Party, and provides potted biographies of a number of important Labour figures and (slanted) sketches of several groups (Social Democratic Federation, Fabian Society, Independent Labour Party, Communist Party, Militant). Its nine chapters cover the origins of the Labour Party; its creation in 1900-06; its development down to 1931; its ‘nature’; the ‘second generation’ of leaders in the 1930s; World War II; the 1945 Labour government; “unresolved Labourism” - ie, the Wilson and Callaghan governments and the left of the 1970s; and “the end of Labourism?”, covering the last hurrah of the left in the 1980s and the rise of New Labour.

The authors argue that the Labour Party, in spite of its weaknesses, was a decisive step forward for the working class: a partial recognition of the need for class political independence and working class political representation. Its peculiar affiliate structure based on the trade unions, unlike continental socialist parties, has given it unique political stability, with the result that any attempt to bypass it on the left is illusory. If New Labour finally succeeds, the authors argue, the trade union link will be broken and the party will become a British equivalent of the US Democratic Party. The idea of class-political independence will be lost.

Hence the decisive battle is now on: the battle to preserve the trade union link and the partial socialist character of the party. If this battle is lost, they suggest, the elements of the left who refuse to fight it will have to take responsibility for a historical defeat for working class politics in Britain.

Comrades Bash and Fisher are a considerable step ahead of the majority of the non-Labour far left, who argue that Blairism has already broken the historical character of the Labour Party and turned it into a British equivalent of the Democratic Party. When Labour next loses office and suddenly turns left these comrades will abruptly reverse themselves: just as in the 1970s the advocates of ‘breaking Labour’s monopoly hold over electoral representation’ in the International Marxist Group became the most vigorous advocates of Labour Party entry in the early 1980s.

However, the account of the history of the Labour Party and the British workers’ movement given by 100 years of Labour is deeply misleading, and the conclusions drawn from it are false. Comrades Bash and Fisher attribute general features of capitalist politics, found globally (like the two-party system of government), and the results of international dynamics (like British world hegemony and its traumatic passing in 1914-45) to ‘peculiarities of the English’, which they exaggerate. In this they follow Anderson-Nairn.

Like most writers from the organised Trotskyist tradition, comrades Bash and Fisher massively underestimate the role of the old ‘official communist’ CPGB in the politics of the British labour movement; ignore the consequences of its destruction by the Eurocommunists in the 1980s; and fail to grasp the continuing ideological influence of the ideas of ‘official communism’ in the Labour and trade union left.

Anderson-Nairn and the Labour Party’s ‘special character’
The comrades’ reliance on the Anderson-Nairn thesis is no secret: the first work cited in the book is Nairn’s 1964 New Left Review ‘Anatomy of the Labour Party,’ one of the central works of the ‘Anderson-Nairn period’ of New Left Review. The story of the first two pages is the Anderson-Nairn narrative.

Anderson-Nairn set out to explain by English peculiarities the absence of a mass communist or socialist party in Britain, unlike continental Europe. In this story the English Revolution was early and ‘mediated’ and produced “a deformed constitutional heritage, with the survival of a constitutional monarchy and the House of Lords …. The early and gradual development of capitalism and the compromise between the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie largely cut off the rising trade union movement in the first half of the 19th century from any revolutionary movement, tradition or consciousness” (quoted in 100 years p5).

There was Chartism; then nothing but craft conservatism until the new mass unionism of the 1880s. Even this did not trigger a working class political movement: the Labour Representation Committee emerged in 1900 not out of an offensive movement of the working class, but out of a defensive response of the trade unions to judicial attacks.

As a Marxist approach to British history, the Anderson-Nairn thesis is pretty dated and, frankly, fly-blown. As soon as the economic practices of the 17th to 19th ‘aristocracy’ were investigated in depth by historians, it became clear that this was a segment of a capitalist class - as should already have been apparent from the discussions of English history in volume I of Marx’s Capital. In The pristine culture of capitalism (1991), Ellen Meiksins Wood has turned the Anderson-Nairn thesis on its head. Far from the English political culture being imperfectly capitalist, it was the French post-revolutionary economy and culture which displayed pre-capitalist survivals.

Far from displaying gradual development and ‘historic compromise’, British political culture displays abrupt discontinuities across 1640-60 and across 1688-1714. Far from there being no inheritance of the revolutionary movement of the 1640s, the ideas, if not the names, of the Levellers and other interregnum radicals persisted in the radical movements of the 18th century; into Chartism; and beyond Chartism, into the early political culture of the Independent Labour Party and Labour Party. The Labour left has not been ideologically hobbled by discontinuity from the English revolutionary tradition, but, on the contrary, if anything by its continuity in the form of radical-christian ideas.

The story of discontinuity comes from Nairn, and from Anderson’s ‘Origins of the present crisis’ (New Left Review No23, 1964): “Chartism, its final, supreme effort, lasted for a decade. Wrecked by its pitifully weak leadership and strategy, in the end it collapsed without a fight. With it disappeared for 30 years the élan and combativity of the class. A profound caesura [gap] in English working-class history supervened.”1

But the “caesura” is in Anderson’s historical narrative, not in the actual history of the British workers’ movement. In 1862-65 the British workers’ movement participated in a large-scale campaign in support of the northern, anti-slavery, side in the American civil war. Without this campaign, and in particular the contribution of Lancashire cotton workers, it is very likely that Britain would have recognised the slaveholder confederacy and intervened militarily to break the union’s naval blockade. The 1860s also saw a large movement to extend the suffrage, in which Marx was closely involved. On the back of the anti-slavery solidarity campaign, the workers’ movement attempted to initiate a campaign in solidarity with the Polish national movement. Out of this attempt came ... the First International, whose backbone until the crisis of the Paris Commune was British trade unionists.

The defeat of the Commune led to a European-wide witch-hunt of the International; and the British trade union leaders who had participated in it capitulated in face of this witch-hunt. The trade union movement became dominated by ‘anti-politicals’ who, in reality, supported the Liberal Party. The larger political context was the extension of the suffrage in 1867 to a large body of male ‘respectable workers’ in the towns; and along with it the emergence of an explicit imperialist ideology of ‘British civilisation’.

Anderson, in fact, in ‘Origins of the present crisis’ recognised the role of British imperialist world hegemony in creating first a tame trade union movement and later a tame Labour Party. Comrades Bash and Fisher prefer the fictitious “profound caesura” to the plainly factual efforts of the capitalist politicians to promote imperialism as an alternative to social revolution. This choice is reflected throughout the pamphlet in the very muted treatment of the issue of Labour’s relation to the British empire and British imperialism. This appears in advance on the front page, where Martin Rowson’s cartoon presents Tony Blair as denying the Labour Party’s origins by his willingness to “crusade for imperialist adventures at the behest of American imperialism” (emphasis added). Labour’s British imperialist history has become less significant ... as it usually does with the Labour left.

Socialist groups and Labour origins
In spite of the right turn of the trade union leaders after the defeat of the Commune, socialist groups did begin to grow up, starting with Hyndman’s Democratic Federation in 1881, which turned itself into the Social Democratic Federation in 1884 on the basis of commitment to a dogmatic ‘Hyndmanite’ version of Marxism. A split in 1884 produced the anti-parliamentarist Socialist League led by William Morris (which was to be taken over by the anarchists in 1890), while the elitist Fabian Society also appeared in 1884.

In the late 1880s, a radical extension of trade unionism to ‘unskilled’ workers took place, producing the matchworkers’ strike of 1888 and gas workers’ and dockers’ strikes of 1889. In spite of the SDF’s general hostility to strikes in favour of propaganda and electoral campaigning, both SDF and SL members were heavily involved in these movements.

Keir Hardie’s (broadly christian socialist) Independent Labour Party, founded in 1893, was strong enough by 1895 to contest 28 seats. The common belief that the SDF was more middle class than the ILP is contradicted by research into its membership by David M Young published in 2005: 49% of SDF members were skilled manual workers and another 11% unskilled. Rather the groups were partially geographically separated, with the SDF being stronger in London and the ILP in the north, as well as separated by politics. The ILP was stronger than the SDF in parliamentary elections, but both groups had considerable success in local elections. By the time of the formation of the LRC, the ILP was slightly stronger than the SDF, with around 14,000 members to the SDF’s 9,000.

As comrades Bash and Fisher indicate in their box on the SDF (not in the main text), unitary work in local elections between the SDF and ILP prepared the way for the narrow defeat of the ‘anti-politicals’ in the 1899 TUC vote which led to the creation of the Labour Representation Committee. The LRC’s composition - seven places for the unions, two each for the SDF and ILP and one for the Fabians - reflected a real relationship of forces developed in local politics.

Again this failure to address local politics centrally signals an ongoing weakness in 100 years of Labour. The role of the campaigns to win local councils, and of the Labour councillors, in the party’s relationship to the broad masses of working class electors is downplayed. It surfaces momentarily in the honourable history of Poplar council in the 1920s, but then disappears again.

Nor did the LRC immediately leap to the status of mass party. It put up only 15 candidates in 1900, electing two MPs. Its election of 29 MPs in 1906 reflected a secret agreement with the Liberals. With the benefit of hindsight, the 1901 decision of the SDF to pull out of the LRC can be seen to be a mistake. But at least up to the point at which the Liberals decided to get the trade unions representatives back onside through the deals with the LRC, it was perfectly possible that the LRC would fail.

In this case, the growth of a workers’ party in Britain would probably have followed a more ‘continental’ path of the unification of Marxist and non-Marxist socialists, leading to a more ‘credible’ socialist party which could grow rapidly: like the unification of the Eisenachers and Lassalleans in Germany in 1875, of the Italian socialists in 1892, of the Guesdists and Possibilists in France in 1903. A wing of the ILP had this perspective in the 1900s, but it ended merely in a split from the ILP which joined up with the SDF to form the British Socialist Party. The Lib-Lab Parliamentary Labour Party was a stronger magnet for the majority of the ILP.

It is probably because they saw from the continent the possibility of socialist growth that the Liberals decided in 1906 to go for a deal with the trade union leaders, including the election of some LRC candidates and legislation to provide partial protection for trade unions against judicial attacks. But the Liberals’ cunning plan to incorporate the leadership of the workers’ movement in the architecture of capitalist politics was not in any way unique to Britain, though the process of incorporation took different forms elsewhere.

European social democracy
The Anderson-Nairn thesis, as applied by comrades Bash and Fisher, takes the case of German and Swedish social democracy, where the party created the unions, as the continental ‘norm’. In reality it was the exception. In France, Spain, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands the unions were created independently of and against the ‘politicals’ who formed the socialist, etc, parties. They marched under one or another variant of the banner of anarcho-syndicalism. In Belgium, as in Britain, the Labour Party when it was created had a structure involving affiliated trade unions and the block vote.

But if pure syndicalism could present itself as, and at times be, well to the left of the ‘politicals’ and organise mass and militant action, it could equally become a force of political conservatism which addressed ‘employment issues only’, like the British anti-politicals. Even in Germany, the party-linked trade unions formed the main basis of the revisionist right, and were able in 1906-07 to insist on censoring Kautsky’s The road to power.

What was this revisionist right? The answer (which I have also argued in my long Weekly Worker series on strategy) is that it sought to achieve partial reforms through coalition with elements of the bourgeois parties. Marxism was to be rejected or discarded as obstructing this task. Precisely this politics was expressed in the ILP, and in the Lib-Labism of the 1906 LRC deal with the Liberals and of the PLP, created in 1906, down to the split of 1931. Tory dominance in 1931-45, and the split in the Liberals which accompanied the national government, rendered the issue moot down to the Labour victory of 1945, which for the first time made possible a majority Labour government. But by this time Labour had absorbed a good deal of the former Liberal Party, and the coalition became internal rather than external.

Was Labour saved from mass splits by its affiliate structure, as 100 years claims (p33)? The answer is fairly clearly not. On the continent, the French and German communists were willing to split not just the party, but also the trade unions; and trade union affiliation did not prevent what became large splits in Belgium. The key is, rather, the first-past-the-post system of elections, which creates a substantial pressure towards a two-party system. What holds British Labour together as a united party is thus the same thing that keeps US labour from breaking with the Democrats.

It should by now be clear that, though the Labour Party is a particular form, the content of this particular form expresses not English peculiarities, but the objective global dynamics of capitalist politics. Over time, the political style of other capitalist countries has become more Anglo-American. There is a tendency towards government by single persons, whether in the form of constitutional monarchy, executive presidency or direct election of prime ministers and party leaders. Efforts have been and continue to be made to limit the political representation of small parties and to design constitutions so as to force two-party or two-coalition systems like those in Britain and the US. The Anglo-American constitutional order is indeed “the pristine culture of capitalism”, not the product of an early or impure bourgeois revolution.

These tendencies have also promoted a trend towards a single dominant party on the left, linked to the trade union bureaucracy, and the marginalisation of alternatives. From the point of view of capital, it is obviously preferable that such a party should be like the US Democrats rather than one which ostensibly represents the interests of the working class. But US capital undoubtedly prefers the Republican Party to the Democrats ... and in today’s politics the German SPD, Italian Democratic Left, and Labour are a lot more like the Democrats or the old Liberals than the pre-1914 SPD. Nevertheless, capital rules through the two-party system; and it can rule as well through a Labour, SPD or Olive Tree/Gauche Plurielle coalition as through a Democratic Party.

The underlying tendency of the trade union bureaucracy to seek Lib-Lab and similar coalitions in order to obtain immediate reforms reflects precisely the role of the unions as bargaining organisations under capitalism; and of the bureaucracy as the institutional bearers of this role. A party which imagines its connection to the working class as running through the trade union link will therefore precisely be driven towards Lib-Labism. In reality, this was not the whole story of the Labour Party: local politics and the councils, which comrades Bash and Fisher downplay, also made the link between party and class.

And this politics, precisely because it was more political and involved more class-political independence than the ‘parliamentary representation of the trade unions’, formed the basis of Labour’s left: it has always been based in the constituencies, not in the unions. This was the case right down to the Kinnockite-Blairite revolution, which drew on Thatcher’s attack on local government and the unions, the organisational norms of Stalinism and the politics of Eurocommunism to smash the autonomy of the local parties and remake them in the Blairite image.

The Communist Party and affiliation
Before 1918 the Labour Party was not an individual membership party. It was made up of the PLP (which lacked practical autonomy from the Liberals beyond trade union issues) and local Labour Representation Committees (largely based on the ILP, but also in 1916-18 the BSP, and including local trade union and independent activists). In 1918 the PLP launched the Labour Party as a national, individual-membership party, with permanent constituency organisations, and a constitution including the famous clause four: “to secure to the workers by hand and brain the full fruits of their labour through the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and. exchange”.

The PLP’s problem was that its central leaders had been pro-war and had participated in the wartime coalition. But the ILP, which provided the bulk of the activists on the ground, was anti-war, as was the BSP. The BSP had split over the war, producing two pro-war minorities, Hyndman’s National Socialist Party and HG Wells’s Socialist National Defence League, but neither organised large forces. The 1918 ‘khaki election’ allowed the coalition to win a large majority, but in the workers’ movement the dynamic was the opposite. The union leaders’ support for the coalition and ‘industrial truce’ had produced the shop stewards’ movement, which was to send delegates to the 2nd Congress of the Comintern in 1920; and in June 1917, the Leeds Convention had called for workers’ and soldiers’ councils (100 years p20). In August 1917, PLP leader Arthur Henderson had been driven to resign from the cabinet.

The membership had failed the PLP, and it was necessary to elect a new membership; but in order to do so in the climate of 1917-18, it was necessary to make substantial ideological concessions to the socialists. Hence clause four.

After the foundation of the Comintern in March 1919, and therefore 18 months after the PLP and Fabians had begun their turn to electing a new membership, the BSP began discussion with the smaller groups of the far left and the left syndicalists with a view to creating a united Communist Party. The process was difficult and was not completed until 1921. The obstacle to unity was precisely the question: should the new Communist Party be affiliated to the Labour Party? The BSP was for it, most of the other groups against. Lenin in Leftwing communism (1920) argued for affiliation, and this position was adopted by a 2-1 majority at the 2nd Congress of the Comintern on August 6 1920. A few days before, the Communist Unity Conference which founded the CPGB (July 31-August 1) voted by 100-85 to seek affiliation.

Comrades Bash and Fisher write: “The CPGB’s application to affiliate was couched in terms that were intended to provoke rejection, and the Labour Party’s executive duly obliged” (p22). In fact, the political context makes perfectly clear that there was not the slightest chance of the Communist Party being allowed to affiliate, however diplomatic the language they used.

The whole point of the 1918 Labour Party constitution was for the leadership to create a new regime in which the PLP and union tops could, through the NEC, exercise more control over the constituency parties than they had been able to exercise over the ILP and BSP and the much looser local LRCs before it. The ILP, it was hoped, could be integrated into this regime (though in the end the demand that the ILP submit to the discipline of the NEC and the parliamentary whips forced them out of the Labour Party in 1931-32).

A Communist Party along the lines of the Comintern’s conception would be a wholly different matter. The name alone would probably have been enough to ensure disaffiliation for the BSP, if it had simply informed the NEC that it was changing its name (as Sean Matgamna has suggested). If the communists had been diplomatic enough in 1920 to actually achieve affiliation, it would either have resulted in a tamed group within the Labour Party, or a short-lived moment ending in expulsion on the ground that they had lied to gain affiliation.

Nor did the 1920 application and its rejection close the question. Though it never came close to a majority, allowing communist affiliation received substantial votes at Labour Party conferences through the 1920s. Communists continued to work as individual members of the Labour Party down to the ‘third period’ turn in 1928, though the Labour Party formally banned communists from individual membership in 1924. Communist influence on the Labour left and in the trade union movement was actually significantly stronger than that of the BSP or the smaller groups before 1920.

Political influence
The high point of communist formal influence in the Labour Party was the National Left Wing Movement (1925-28), which the CP wound up as a result of the ‘third period’ turn. But CPGB political influence in the Labour Party reappeared as political influence on the Socialist League led by Cripps in the 1930s.

In the Labour left as it developed in the 1950s to 1970s, Trotskyists were certainly present; but their ideas were in no sense dominant. The CPGB supplied the political ideas of socialism in a single country, peace campaigning and ‘advanced democracy’, and CP-influenced economists were heavily involved in the construction of the left Keynesian ‘alternative economic strategy’ of the 1970s. On the other side of the coin, the CP’s industrial cadre and the CP-led trade union broad lefts provided a link between the Labour left and the industrial movement. This link blocked a full reassertion of control by the PLP, the trade union tops and the party apparatus.

In the 1980s, however, the CP leadership moved sharply to the right with the help of the Marxism Today project. The internal factional struggle in the CP accelerated, giving rise to the split of the Morning Star; and in 1991 the Eurocommunist wing was to turn the party into the ‘Democratic Left’. The effects in the Labour Party were obvious. Former Eurocommunists and their fellow-travellers became prominent ‘soft lefts’ and are now prominent Blairites. The link between the constituency left and the trade union left evaporated. The Labour right now was able to regain control and remake the party.

Since the collapse of the ‘official’ CPGB, the Labour lefts have been at sea. They cling to strategic ideas which are, in reality, fragmentary and diluted forms of the CPGB’s British road to socialism. The non-Labour far left also clings to fragmentary forms of strategic ideas devised 40-odd years ago ...

Of course, the collapse of the CP reflects deeper processes: the collapse of the regimes of bureaucratic ‘socialism’; the turn of global capital to financialisation, with its accompanying negative impact on the British manufacturing heartlands of the trade union movement and positive impact on the suburbs and small towns; the specific offensive of Thatcherism; and the immediate defeats of the Labour Party led by Foot in the khaki election of 1983, and of the miners in the great strike of 1984-85.

Nor do I mean by this to prettify the politics of the CP. The point is a simple one. Bash and Fisher argue that the CP could have done better if it was willing to make whatever compromises were necessary to get into the Labour Party. For example, it could have dissolved its public, organised face, in order to rid itself of an obstacle to really influencing Labour Party members. This is what the Trotskyist groups which work in the Labour Party have done - comrade Bash’s own left Chartist Briefing included. But the political influence of the ‘outside’ CP on the Labour Party, at almost any period in its history, far outstripped the influence of the Trotskyist entry groups. Indeed, the most successful of the Trotskyist entry groups, Militant, was the one which was closest to having a public face and thus furthest from the advice of Bash and Fisher.

The Communist Party influenced the Labour left primarily because it had an alternative strategic line to that of the Labour leadership, which the ILP lacked. The collapse of the ‘official’ CPGB is at the end of the day the collapse of that strategic line, which relied on and assumed the idea of the USSR as a shining example.

Briefing in the late 1970s to early 1980s also had a strategic line: the line of ‘Labour take the power’. This was a variant on the common Trotskyist strategy of the general strike leading to soviets: but for the Briefing comrades, it was the Labour Party general committees which would (because of the affiliate structure of the Labour Party) become soviets.

Somewhere along the road to 100 years of Labour, this line has gone missing, and what comrades Bash and Fisher present in its place is, by and large, the pieties of the old Bennite left, which would not have sounded odd from the ILP. It is the Labour left which has influenced the Trotskyists, not the other way round ... something of the same sort happened to Militant, with its ‘Enabling Act’ strategy.

The lessons of the origin of the Labour Party, and of the relation of the Communist Party to the Labour Party, are in fact fairly simple ones. Marxists certainly ought to engage with the internal politics of Labour and, so far as possible, fight for Marxist ideas within the Labour Party. But the precondition for doing so is not entry, as comrades Bash and Fisher argue. That leads, as it has led Bash and Fisher, to fighting for Labourite ideas.

On the contrary, it is the unity of the Marxists in a common party, based on a Marxist programme, which is the precondition for effective Marxist work in relation to the Labour Party.


1. Caesura: a pause in a line of verse. Anderson’s use of the word in this context to mean a historical discontinuity was an innovation. It has been mocked as deliberate obscurity, but also copied by later historians.

Brown and Stalin

Hi Mike!

I was just going to pop over here to comment on how daft it is to compare Gordon Brown to Stalin – when I found it had already been done far better by Dave Osler.

Mind you maybe some of our friends in the movement do think Brown will follow in the footsteps of their hero?

Perhaps that explains their support for him…?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Long Live the Fourth International!

Long Live the Fourth International!

Long Live the Fourth International

Long live the Trots!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Corporate Affairs

Islington Council's Corporate Services Committee meets in session

Luci in San Francisco

Luci at Modern Times

Luci at Modern Times in San Francisco

Dogg at concert

A young dog at a Bluegrass concert in San Francisco