The Labour Party was created at the beginning of this century at the time when capitalism was changing from the laissez-faire industrial capitalism of the 19th century into the world imperialist system of the 20th century. In many respects it is a product of imperialism which, in the industrial countries, has managed to accommodate the working class to the capitalist system. Social democracy is based upon the premise that there is no irreconcilable contradiction between labour and capital and that compromise and the gradual transformation of capitalism into socialism is not only possible, but historically inevitable. It has been thanks to imperialism, with its material benefits which have accrued to the working class, that social democracy has gained such widespread support and contributed to the “successes” of the Labour Party. But by the same token, if imperialism has changed and can no longer provide a better tomorrow, it is quite possible the working class will turn away from the Labour Party and social democracy. Whether it will become sufficiently conscious to recognise the need for socialism depends to a large extent on whether the socialists amongst the class can win the battle of ideas. We shall hope to show a way forward to win this battle in the concluding section of this pamphlet.
All that the Labour Party has laid claim to do up to now is to be able to manage the capitalist ship of state better than anyone else. It has never seen itself – either in its policies or its propaganda – as being, despite its name, a party which represents the working class. It has consistently been a party for “the nation as a whole”. It has claimed to represent the capitalist millionaire ruling establishment as much as the working class. It has therefore never sought to overthrow that ruling establishment, but, on the contrary, to gain admittance to its hallowed citadels. The cruellest trick that the Labour Party has played has been the game of capitalist democracy and that has led to its total failure over the last 60 years to use its position within working class culture to popularise any real vision of socialism distinct from capitalism. And none of the current arguments around the question of party democracy or policy are projected in terms of the social relationships within socialism, its potential superstructure or its economics. The arguments in support of the AES, in particular, fail to raise the prospect of what could be achieved by socialism but, rather, advance arguments for the more efficient management of capitalism.
What is more significant is the total absence of any class analysis or any characterisation of the state as an instrument of class rule. Nowhere do they indicate how the fundamental contradiction within the capitalist mode of production can be resolved; nowhere do they discuss the response that might be expected from capitalists in defence of their class interests; nowhere do they deal with the role that the police and the armed forces might be expected to play; nowhere do they seem prepared to learn from the experiences of others who have taken that road, only to have their hopes of achieving socialism thwarted by the iron heel of the dictatorial Right. Perhaps of equal significance is the definition of the enemies of the working class used by Benn and others on the Left of the Labour party (and Communist Party) which generally consists of “the City, the IMF, the multinationals”, all of which are part of finance capital. Industrial capital is not only largely excluded, but is, indeed, seen as the lifeblood of the nation. The nature of industry, production for profit, and the relations within production are not criticised. The problem is characterised as one of decline within manufacturing industry.
We recognise that there are members of the Labour Party and others who support the Labour Party who are all committed to socialism and whom we identify as having a political affinity and solidarity with ourselves. We have written this pamphlet not so much with the intention of criticising the Labour Party for not being something that it can never be, but rather in order to try and discover common ground with socialists within the Labour Party upon which to build up the common class struggle for socialism.
If the Labour Party holds out no solution, what are the alternatives? How can the strength of the working class be mobilised in the face of the present crisis? In order to begin to answer these questions, we shall now turn our attention to the analysis of the NEB which has been carried out by four trades councils.