Issued and circulated as an internal document: February 1975.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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EROL Note: This is a CFB internal document, originally distributed October 1974. A revised Draft was issued February 1975. An amended version was published in the Marxist-Leninist Quarterly, No.10, 1975.
[This document is being circulated to all members of the C.F.B. as part of the polemic on the important question of social democracy. It is circulated with the agreement of the London Group but it is opposed to the line of the London Group]
* * *
The resolution passed in the London Group on 12th September follows, with amendments added at the CFB National Committee meeting on 15th inserted between asterisks.
A. The main purpose of our election campaign should be to demonstrate the essentially *overt and covert* bourgeois nature of the Tory and Labour parties *respectively* based on exposing their respective records.
B. At the same time we should point out the tactical advantages of a Labour Government in 1974.
C. 1. In office especially in the growing world capitalist crisis its working-class supporters will most easily be aided to dispel any illusions remaining about Labour’s ability to carry out Socialist policies. *It also provides opportunities to combat reformist illusions generally.*
D. 2. Because Labour has been forced to accede to certain progressive demands of the labour movement relating to trade union legislation, statutory wages policy, the reopening of the question of the EEC, and developing opposition to private armies of the ultra-right.
E. *For these reasons we will call for the return of a Labour Government in order to expose it.*
For ease of reference the five paragraphs have been numbered from A to E.
Strong criticism has to be made of how the previous policy line on elections of four years standing was overturned with very little prepared debate. A resolution was drafted on the morning of the 12th September and presented to a meeting in London that evening at which London members had not been warned the subject would even be discussed. The supporters of the previous group line were unprepared and were defeated and the resolution was passed.
Three days later without allowing time for the text to be seen and debated in the other groups, this same resolution was presented to the N.C. meeting and passed with some amendments.
This on a subject of major importance for the development of the Marxist-Leninist Party!
The election had been anticipated for many months. That the line on elections agreed by the Federation in February should have been challenged explicitly so late in the day and with no advance notice is very bad. Undoubtedly the supporters of the former majority line (including the comrade writing this criticism) were very much at fault in not taking the initiative in the ideological struggle and in succumbing to “the worldly wisdom of yielding and getting on with everyone”. However the main fault lies with those who changed CFB policy on a major question without full and principled debate.
The actual content of the resolution shows the same weakness of principle. Its ambiguity, the way it combines elements from several different lines, its vagueness on the key questions and what is the overall emphasis of the resolution are characteristic of the opportunist tendencies that have not yet been defeated in the Federation.
Lenin’s remarks in section Q of “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back” are relevant:
When speaking of fighting opportunism, there is a characteristic feature of present day opportunism in every sphere that must never be overlooked: this is its vagueness, its diffuseness, its elusiveness. The very nature of the opportunist is such that he will always try to avoid formulating the issue clearly and irrevocably; he will always try to find the resultant force, will always wriggle like a snake between two mutually excluding points of view, he will try, to ’agree’ with both and reduce the differences of opinion to slight amendments, doubts, innocently good intentions, etc., etc.”
The resolution is constructed in such a way as to appeal to two quite different groups of comrades. For one group of comrades the resolution says that the “main” purpose of our election campaign is to demonstrate the essentially bourgeois nature of the Tory and Labour parties. The London resolution avoided saying that we will call on people’ to vote Labour and it referred to the advantages of voting labour as only “tactical”.
The resolution however also opportunistically appeals at the same time to quite another group of comrades holding quite different views. Having said that the main emphasis should be to show the essentially bourgeois nature of the two parties, what it in fact puts the emphasis on are the advantages of voting Labour. While actually voting Labour is not specifically called for, it is strongly implied; and although the alleged advantages are called merely “tactical” there is nothing to show why they shouldn’t be used as a strategic principle in every election down to the end of the bourgeoisie!
The resolution thus fudges the issues, appeals in a contradictory way to two radically different political stands and is an example of what Lenin called “finding the resultant force” between two points of view – a statement that can win a majority vote but which cannot win clarity and unity.
Even within the section describing the alleged advantages of having a Labour Government, two quite different and mutually incompatible lines of argument are appealed to.
On the one hand, in paragraph C we have the expose Labour argument and the need to dispel any illusions about Labour’s ability to carry out socialist policies. Apparently a frontal attack on the Labour Party. On the other hand in paragraph D the Labour Party is presented as the lesser evil, and we hear of the possibilities of forcing it into a relatively progressive position – a very different tune. It is obvious that both lines cannot be right, and leaflets drawn up with these contradictory specifications will waver randomly between the two different messages.
These contradictions between the different parts of the resolution as presented in London were intensified by the amendments added nationally (with the help of the votes of the London Group representatives). That is typical of the vagueness and drifting nature of this style of debate. Thus comrades who on Thursday evening voted in London for a resolution that began by saying the main emphasis of our election campaign was to demonstrate the essentially bourgeois nature of the two parties, found by the weekend that that they had a national resolution ending “we will call for the return of a Labour Government in order to expose it.”!
To examine the resolution paragraph by paragraph.
THE MAIN PURPOSE OF OUR ELECTION CAMPAIGN SHOULD BE TO DEMONSTRATE THE ESSENTIALLY ’OVERT AND COVERT’ BOURGEOIS NATURE OF THE TORY AND LABOUR PARTIES ’RESPECTIVELY’ BASED ON EXPOSING THEIR RESPECTIVE RECORDS.
We have already seen how this first sentence lulls the reader about what is the main emphasis – an emphasis which in fact quickly becomes one on the need to vote Labour.
It can also be noted at this point how the clumsiness of the inserted amendments—(although politically correct) illustrates the eclectic way majority votes are put together at Federation meetings.
AT THE SAME TIME WE SHOULD POINT OUT THE TACTICAL ADVANTAGES OF A LABOUR GOVERNMENT IN 1974
Having stated what the main purpose should be, the little phrase, “at the same time” provides the opening for a very different main emphasis. We quickly meet the tailist line of the working class depending on the Labour Party for its political perspective, although it is precisely this that the working class must now discard if it is to develop its own political party and seize state power. It is precisely this idea that led to the T.U.C. voting unanimously for class collaboration and the “Social Contract’” just before the election.
S.M. argued in “Why the Election Matters” that the working class would be “asked to choose”, and we must have something relevant to say to them on this choice. But who is “asking the working class to choose”? The bourgeoisie! Lenin punctures this false choice of the two party system of bourgeois democracy emphatically:
To decide once every few years which member [or representative – D.B] of the ruling class is to repress and crush [and fool] the people through parliament – such is the real essence of bourgeois parliamentary.
That is what we should reply when the bourgeoisie tries to put us on the spot with their phoney “choice” of bourgeois parties!
Yet the rest of the resolution, by its detailed stress on the advantages of a Labour government, by its omission of any reference to the dis-advantages of a Labour Government, and by the proportion of space devoted to this; makes it appear essential that we should choose, and choose Labour.
What is the chief weakness of the working class at the present? Is it that the Labour Party is not often enough in power? Or is it that the working class has no party independent of bourgeois ideology? It is a hundred times the latter. And our main message now must everywhere be to sum up the widespread disillusion in the minds of workers with the call, Stop relying on Bourgeois Parties!
What is the big discovery about the “advantages” of the Labour Party? For as long as there has been more than one bourgeois party in existence, one of them has always had and will inevitably have some slight advantages for the working class over the others. It would not be possible that in all respects they should present exactly similar disadvantages for the workers! Indeed the bourgeoisie would not be able to maintain its hegemony over the working class without at times appearing to be prepared to make certain concessions.
The Liberal Party has a policy of proportional representation which would make it easier in the future to get Marxist-Leninists into Parliament. Should we therefore for this of course purely “tactical” reason and for entirely “revolutionary” motives advocate voting Liberal?
The Conservative Party is more likely to keep Britain in Europe, develop the Common Market as a capitalist super-power and challenge the present hegemony of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Should we therefore, for this important “tactical” reason (and we all know how wrong it is to spurn tactics), explain in our best “revolutionary” manner why it is progressive to vote Tory?
All at first glance so ridiculous that unfortunately the advocates of voting Labour will probably not see why they have an obligation to explain how their arguments can just as well be used to reach the above conclusions. For in fact all these examples are entirely consistent with the policy of the working class looking for limited advantages from one bourgeois party or another. All out and out right opportunism.
When will the likelihood ever end that the Labour Party will offer a few more reformist advantages than the other parties? How long, do we go on gesticulating (in ever so revolutionary a way) at the tail of bourgeois political parties!!
That the resolution should have come now, of all times, when the T.U.C. has been forced to adopt the “Social Contract” because of its inability to see beyond the possibility of a Labour Government, and its fear of putting an election victory at peril, shows that the argument about voting Labour is NOT based on tactical considerations but is the guiding star of a right opportunist, strategic deviation.
In February the miners dared (unlike the proposers of the new resolution!) to put the interests of working class struggle before the dubious advantages of a Labour Government, and won a great victory. In September, as everyone including the Morning Star agrees, the T.U.C. was blackmailed into adopting the “Social Contract” by the fear of making Labour lose the election. At this time therefore above all it was essential for revolutionaries’ to fight vigorously for an understanding in the working class of the need to base our policy on the interests of the working class alone and not on any bourgeois party. But at this time a few dubious short-term advantages of a Labour Government were scraped together and presented as a tactical argument. If we are going to call on workers to vote Labour in such circumstances when will we not call on them to vote Labour? What is happening in this debate is absolutely clear; vote Labour is a strategy, not a tactic – a right opportunist strategy.
It has been argued in London that because it is a “tactic” therefore we have on each occasion to evaluate the situation according to its immediate merits and without having to consider our previous decisions. In other words there should be no principles guiding our practical application of tactics!
The February 1974 CFB resolution on elections was therefore completely ignored in the debate in London. That resolution laid down a clear principle:
Except under special cases, e.g. an immediate threat of fascism, probable splits among the ruling class, revolutionaries should not advise the working class to vote Labour.
If we are to develop policy consistently, it was necessary to argue, in September 1974 either that the contradictions between the bourgeois parties really were of such a magnitude as to be more than the usual Punch and Judy fraud, or that the February formula was wrong. What is not permissible is just to drop the February formulation with no argument at all on the grounds that each situation is a new and purely “tactical” one. This is empiricism and opportunism in the field of theory.
The whole idea of the Federation at this stage issuing to the masses supposed tactical calls of a very ambiguous and potentially highly misleading nature, before it has the organising ability to make those tactical calls a reality, has been fudged over.
Lenin drew a clear historical distinction which we shall ignore at our peril. In “Left-Wing Communism – An Infantile Disorder” (p.98 Peking Edition) he wrote of the “first historical task (that of winning over the class-conscious vanguard of the proletariat to Soviet Power and the dictatorship of the working class, a task which “could not be accomplished without a complete victory over opportunism and social chauvinism”, and the second historical task which “consists in being able to lead the masses to the new position that can ensure the victory of the vanguard in the revolution”.
We have only to think of our size and our political immaturity in the CFB to be clear which historical task is at present placed in front of us – that of winning over the class-conscious vanguard.
How can we with our present size affect the result of an election? S.M. once foolishly accused the present writer of opportunism for raising just this point. If the tactic is valuable merely as a tactic (as getting a Labour Government; is, or should be), if it does: not illustrate and illuminate other points in the course of striving for it”(as it does not), and if it is open to dangerous misinterpretation, then how in all conscience can we present it to the working class, knowing that as a tactic it cannot succeed! The working class will understand that our tactic of voting Labour cannot succeed, and will conclude that we attach a strategic importance to trailing along behind the social democrats. We will therefore actually reinforce the hold of social democracy over the masses.
Is the argument about the alleged desirability of a Labour Government genuinely based on practical considerations?
S.M. said at a trade union caucus meeting in London on 16th September that there would be no proposals to go round doors persuading people to vote Labour. Why not? May we ask. If voting Labour on October 10th really was in the interests of the working class why should we be ashamed of persuading working people to vote Labour?
A government comes to power if it wins enough constituencies in an election; and a party wins a constituency if enough people on the day of the election go to the polling booth and cast their votes for it. If we want to see a government elected we must persuade enough individuals to go and vote for it. Did S.M. want a Labour Government returned or didn’t he? Why is he so squeamish about going to peoples houses and arguing the line he advocates? Was it that he knows the inconsistencies of trying to campaign for people to vote Labour with a policy whose main purpose is meant to “show the bourgeois nature of the Labour and Conservative Parties”?
“Any retreat from the specific is, a retreat into opportunism” says the last heading of the C.F.B. philosophy syllabus.
The practical aim of the vote Labour line is to procure the return of a Labour Government. In fact for an organisation the size of the CFB to procure the return of one government rather than another is a virtual impossibility. But if we are trying to be practical, with this supposedly very practical policy, there is just one way we might swing the result provided all other factors are favourable.
In the Evening Standard of Wednesday 16th October Robert Carve1, the bourgeois commentator, wrote of “the 149 most marginal constituencies in England Wales and Scotland where the outcome (of the election) must be decided. The remaining constituencies – nearly 500 of them, cannot affect the result, whatever the political weather. If you live in them you are a voter. But really you are just a spectator. That is the system.”
Before the election I challenged S.M. to come forward with proposals to concentrate on one marginal constituency in London in our election campaign. No proposal was made by him or any other supporter of the vote Labour line.
One of the marginal seats suggested was Brentford and Isleworth, a constituency relatively near the factory where the London Group’s trade union caucus does mass work.
Although the Labour Party needed only a 0.7% swing at the election it failed to win Brentford and Isleworth by a mere 232 votes. Yet although the London group was calling for the return of a Labour Government it did nothing practical to procure it. So did S.M. really want to see the return of a Labour Government or did he not?? S.M. must stop being opportunistically elusive.
If the London Group had given out 10,000 leaflets in Brentford and Isleworth there is a good chance it could have persuaded 232 more people to vote Labour. Obviously to achieve this the leaflets would have had to be concentrated on the most advanced section of the working class and the one most open to our supposedly revolutionary line of argument – that section of workers, already completely disillusioned ’with the Labour Party. If successful the campaign would have made the Labour majority one seat larger than it would otherwise have been, and several hundreds of workers already disillusioned with Labour would have been induced to vote for Social Democracy. Whether they would have understood the ambiguous arguments for doing so in a revolutionary rather than a reformist way is doubtful.
The Yeovil group of the CFB however apparently did take part in electioneering. What do they have to say about the emphatic statements from their allies in London that it is wrong to go round houses calling on people to vote Labour?
Such was the inconsistency of this “very practical” procure a Labour Government line that while the London Group failed to concentrate its efforts in, swinging a couple of hundred votes in a marginal constituency in West London, the Yeovil group attempted to break a Conservative majority which-turned out to be 7,379. Only 122 seats were won by the Conservatives with majorities larger than this. For Labour to take Yeovil would have implied a national result, with a parliamentary majority for Labour over the Conservatives of 350!
What would be the concrete advantage of a Labour majority of 350 to the working class, or the Marxist-Leninist movement? None at all. The only effect of the Yeovil campaign to vote Labour was therefore to get more people to pledge an impractical loyalty to the Labour Party, to look to the Labour Party as “saviours from on high” who deliver, as it says in the Internationale.
The unprincipled vagueness about the manner of carrying out the supposedly practical and very concrete vote-Labour line is a major weak spot on which its opponents must concentrate their attack. Under the impact of this attack we may expect its supporters to retreat significantly in two quite different directions.
One group of comrades will decline the challenge to engage in campaigns in specific marginal constituencies in order to return a Labour Government, and will admit tacitly or openly that the slogan ’vote Labour to expose Labour’ is merely a way of tricking Labour supporters into reading critical propaganda.
Another group will admit that the practical execution of a plan by the CFB to obtain a Labour Government is at this stage indeed quite impractical, that the proposal is in fact not a tactic at all but a strategy. They will have to admit in other words the utterly tailist nature of their political position – their fear of stepping out too far from the realm of bourgeois politics, their fear of attempting to sever the umbilical cord that ties the working class to the politics of the bourgeoisie.
1. IN OFFICE ESPECIALLY IN THE GROWING WORLD CAPITALIST CRISIS ITS WORKING CLASS SUPPORTERS WILL MOST EASILY BE AIDED TO DISPEL ANY ILLUSIONS REMAINING ABOUT LABOUR’S ABILITY TO CARRY OUT SOCIALIST POLICIES. IT ALSO PROVIDES OPPORTUNITIES TO COMBAT REFORMIST ILLUSIONS GENERALLY.
In other words we should encourage the mass of workers to secure the tactical advantages a Labour Government is supposed to bring us in exposing social democracy!
We in the CFB pride ourselves on our understanding of the need to build the Communist party through mass work and of the need to practice mass work with the mass line. Mao expresses the mass line as follows:
Take the ideas of the masses and concentrate them, then go to the masses, persevere in the ideas and carry them through so as to form correct ideas of leadership – such is the basic method of leadership. (Vol III p120)
It is clear that paragraph C of the resolution is completely at variance with the mass line. How can we go to a factory of workers and find any ideas present in their minds that could be crystalised into a call to make our tasks easier as Communists?
When Lenin called in 1920 for a campaign to support Henderson (not the Labour Party – the distinction is important for understanding the differences between 1920 and 1914) as a rope supports a hanged man, he was making a vivid polemical point. But such a polemical point is not a substitute for an analysis based on the mass line.
We of course consider whether particular slogans will help our work as communists, but we cannot base our selection of slogans simply on that. We must base our mass propaganda on the mass line, on crystalising, spreading and popularising the most progressive demands already coming to the surface among the working class. In 1974 those ideas were that workers must rely on their own strength to achieve their goals. That is what we had to popularise. Is it essential to the success of our exposure of social democracy to have a Labour Government in, power? Of course not! The sentence added at the National Committee meeting that “It also provides opportunities to combat reformist illusions generally”, carries the argument to its absurd logical conclusion. Are we not surrounded with enough such illusions in reformist Britain that we have to spend time setting up additional Aunt Sally’s to knock down! Almost every page of every newspaper has examples ready for us to pick up now and use to “expose reformism generally”. The answer to the question, how do we expose social democracy, is very simple. GET ON WITH IT!
Those comrades who argue that the Federation should try to procure the return of a Labour Government should get on with developing a regular feature in Struggle illustrating by concrete examples the reformist dangers of the Labour Party. That is how to take up the question concretely at this present stage of our development.
The advocates of voting Labour adopt a passive view of working class consciousness against which they wish to expose Labour. They fall into the trap of bourgeois democracy which presents governments as bodies that do things for a passive population. Instead of saying “our chains our own right hands shall sever”, the vote-Labour tailists try to criticise the Labour Party in terms of whether they have been good or bad “saviours from on high” – in terms of whether they have or have not “delivered”. They inevitably imagine it is particularly important for exposure of the Labour Party that the party should be put into power to illustrate how little it in fact does for the people. Labour, they say, is off the hook in opposition because it can promise to do what it likes and can freely criticise the Conservatives.
But this misses the whole point that as Communists we criticise the Labour Party in terms of what it does for the active mass movement – in terms of how much leadership and support they have given active struggles. What for example did Labour do for the Upper Clyde ship-workers struggle? What did its members really do to support the rent struggle at Clay Cross? That is the sort of question we want to ask.
There are far richer opportunities for exposing Labour in opposition in this way than when it can make excuses about the restraints of being in office and the responsibility of having to deal with “national” crises. In fact if we continue to blunder into the trap of bourgeois politics and try to attack Labour in terms of what it “does” for a passive populace, we may very well find it is difficult to expose a Labour Government that has power to bring apparent benefits to working people such as tax reductions and food subsidies.
The argument then that it is easier to expose Labour when it is in power is oversimplified and misleading. It is quite clear that we should in no way rely on Labour being in power for our work of exposure. Indeed so desperate is the bourgeoisie to find ways out of its crisis that we should be prepared to fight vigorous battles on any political terrain – Tory government, coalition etc. This provides us with valuable training for ourselves and for the working class, and opportunities for winning important battles. Consider the success of the struggle at Upper Clyde Shipbuilders under the last Conservative government.
What is dangerous is to spread any idea that it would be a serious set-back if the Conservatives were to win an election. The vote Labour line feeds on and fuels this demoralising fear, when we should be fostering the attitude that with boldness and judgment the working class is capable of taking on the bourgeoisie in whatever guise it comes. If the Conservatives win the next election a vote-Labour line will leave the morale of the working class that much lower than it would otherwise have been.
It is an ironical fact that the Federation comrade who argues most strongly (in the opinion of this writer, in an unbalanced way) the need for us to be politically independent of the Communist Party of China, is the one who rests his case so heavily on Lenin’s arguments to the C.P.G.B. in 1920, to the extent that he argues they should be followed in 1974, although it is a fact that there are substantial differences in the situation between then and now.
When Lenin wrote “Left-Wing Communism” the majority of the working-class in Britain still voted Liberal or Conservative, the Labour movement was the advanced edge of the most militant section of workers. Still in its progressive phase and not a bourgeois party in Lenin’s opinion (as it definitely is now), Labour consisted of a broad front of a range of workers organisations intimately involved in active grass roots struggles. The federal nature of the constitution left the opportunist leadership still open to challenge and possible removal.
The key difficulty for Communists was, as Lenin argued, that they very often found it hard to approach the masses and even to get a hearing from them (Left-Wing Communism Peking edition p90). It was therefore necessary to associate with all that was positive in the movement, and at the same time to struggle with the opportunists for leadership of the organisation, by constantly challenging them to show that their actions were in the interests of the working class. Lenin’s belief in this policy was very much the result of his view that the First World War and the Bolshevik Revolution had enormously increased the speed at which the working class could be won over to a revolutionary position – and his view that an aggressive tactical policy in such circumstances was not only desirable but obligatory.
Accordingly the CPGB sought to develop a critical the Labour Party, the main purpose of which was not to fight parliamentary battles but to further the active mass working class struggle, a united front not of the top but from below.
Thus Willie Gallacher, chairing the 6th Conference of the CPGB in May 1924, spoke warmly of the progressive trade union movement demanding “that the General Council (of the TUC) shall be invested with power, and shall become a General Staff capable of marshalling the whole working class army if and when occasion demands it”. By contrast parliamentary procedures were very much of secondary importance: “Any Labour Government earnestly desirous of serving the workers must be ready at any moment of crisis to scrap procedure and openly identify itself with the workers, throwing itself energetically into the struggle as a part of the Labour Movement organised to combat capitalism”.
But the favourable possibilities did not develop in the hoped for way. The opportunist leaders of the Labour Party quickly became entrenched in power and turned what had been subjectively a working class party into a bourgeois political party – another version of the Liberal Party. The revolutionary tide ebbed and the Communists were actively excluded from the Labour Party.
Meanwhile the Communists, who had originally found it difficult to get a hearing from the working class, had built up a workers press with a mass circulation of over 50,000. Under such circumstances the former policy became a tailist one and after a few years was dropped by the Communist Party in favour of a more long-term strategy.
Lenin did not argue that the tactic he was advocating should be pursued until Henderson was fully eased but until the majority of workers were disappointed in him. He wrote L.W.C., Peking p87) “thirdly we must bring nearer the moment when on the basis of the disappointment of the majority of the workers in the Hendersons it will be possible with serious chances of success to overthrow the government of the Hendersons at once.” Disappointment, not exposure. Exposure, i.e. popular analysis and criticism from a Marxist stand, is something that Marxist-Leninists have the responsibility to do, but disappointment in the Labour Party is something that comes about by experience.
And precisely the majority of the workers , now disappointed in the Labour party. Nor are Communists now obliged to associate themselves with the party in order to get a hearing from the masses, as was the case in 1920. Lenin’s tactical arguments of 1920 therefore no longer apply.
Widespread disappointment is unmistakable. Labour’s total vote fell markedly in the February 1974 election (despite the fact that it won). Its vote has never again attained the level achieved in 1951. The disillusion of the voters is seen in the much greater readiness with which they move from one party to another, and above all in the growth of alternatives to the two big bourgeois parties. Workers shift their votes readily now because they are no longer confident that any bourgeois party has anything long-term to offer them.
Those who argue that the situation with the Labour Party is the same today as it was 50 years ago are mechanically mistaking the name and form of the party with its political content, and are not concretely analysing what roles it played in the class struggle then and what roles it plays now.
2. BECAUSE LABOUR HAS BEEN FORCED TO ACCEDE TO CERTAIN PROGRESSIVE DEMANDS OF THE LABOUR MOVEMENT RLGLATING TO TRADE UNION LEGISLATION, STATUTORY WAGES POLICY, THE RE-OPENING OF THE QUESTION OF THE EEC, AND DEVELOPING QPPOSITION TO PRIVATE ARMIES OF THE ULTRA-RIGHT.
The arguments for voting Labour in paragraph D are totally inconsistent with the arguments in paragraph C, thus illustrating again the opportunist nature of the resolution. We now receive a number of “advantages” of a Labour Government which in the very previous paragraph were described as “reformist illusions” that had to be exposed to the working class! Paragraph D is in fact nothing other than the abject “lesser evil” argument.
Four years ago it was universally accepted in Marxist-Leninist circles that the “lesser evil” argument was the epitome of tailism. To vote Labour could therefore only be advocated in terms of the ingenious “vote Labour to expose Labour” line.
But concrete analysis of Lenin’s arguments in Left Wing Communism has made it difficult to argue a case confidently on the basis of this work in 1974. Therefore without clearly rejecting the former position, the lesser-evil line was opportunistically added on to make it more plausible, despite the inconsistency of the two lines.
In October 1973 S.M. wrote, “we must direct our propaganda both to those workers who no longer have any belief in the Labour Party as well as to those who support Labour, either as the ’lesser of two (three) evils’ or in the belief that Labour can be converted into a Socialist party”. It is now clear what S.M. meant by this obscure statement – he meant that we must ourselves peddle the lesser evil line!
The above quotation is S.M.’s clearest statement on the lesser evil argument despite the fact that it was universally condemned in the Marxist-Leninist movement only a few years ago. This is thus an example of how S.M. sometimes does not try to win battles by direct frontal challenges but by side-stepping points.
Paragraph C talks essentially of exposing Labour; paragraph D without a blush talks in effect mainly about the need to keep the Tories out. In other words it is not necessary to take a clear stand on anything – just combine completely divergent approaches in a single resolution ’and allow comrades to take their pick according to circumstance.
Plausible acrobatics such as these will set us back a long way in the struggle for clarity and unity of purpose in the Federation.
Not only does paragraph D lead us openly into the tailism of the “lesser-evil” line but its arguments about the Labour Party being forced to accede to certain progressive demands drag us down towards the idea of forcing the return of a Labour Government committed to socialist policies (like the WRP – formerly the S.L.L.).
The resolution refers to only two types of activity that the working class can engage in – 1. to vote, 2. to force progressive demands from the Labour Party! These in practice are its political horizons for all the verbiage about “exposure”. We shall make good bedfellows with the CPGB and the WRP!
In S.M’s “Draft Working Line on Elections” (October 1973) it is correctly said,
we must present our perspective for building the movement in Britain in its immediate practical political aspects, regardless of what bourgeois Government is in power.
Such a principle is obligatory for us to include in any election statement. Why is it not in the one S.M. proposed in September 1974? Such lack of clear-cut principle, such drifting from one plausible draft statement to one plausible resolution (Which is subtly but crucially different) is the result of a vague and diffuse style of inner party struggle which, if unchallenged, will lead us to waver and stumble into full-blown right opportunism.
Consider the concrete examples of supposed advantages of a Labour Government as given in paragraph D. Over the question of “private armies” the paragraph spreads the reformist illusions which we were supposed according to paragraph C to be combatting. Instead of talking about the armies of the British state, which at this very moment are harassing and intimidating working people in Northern Ireland, the resolution concentrates on the nine-days wonder of the “private armies”. And instead of making the revolutionary point that the working class must rely on its own forces to overcome the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, we have the reformist idea of relying on the government. A strange way to combat reformist illusions! This clause must be totally and explicitly rejected.
Take also the clause about the illusory advantage a Labour Government is said to bring in connection with the EEC. Had the working class by threat of a general strike forced a referendum on the EEC such a development would have enormously strengthened the revolutionary movement. But to get people trooping into the polling booth asking for it as a reform from above harms the development of revolutionary consciousness. This passage is another example ’liberalism’. This reformism of the characteristic error of tailism of placing too much confidence in the bourgeoisie and its representatives. What will prevent them getting off the hook about the EEC is not a large Labour majority in parliament, it is the militancy of the active working class movement.
At the last SGM (1974) we adopted the following statement on the British situation, based on the argument of Lenin’s:
The British ruling class still uses its other tactic, that of reforms and concessions, to confuse and disarm the people. This deceives a section of the workers and is an important cause of reformism and revisionism within the working class movement.
Where is there a statement of this in the resolution about the reforms and concessions that the Labour Government will bring?
Certainly there are differences between reformist bourgeois parties and openly reactionary bourgeois parties. The question is how do we exploit those differences?
Firstly unless differences are so great as to amount to a choice between bourgeois democracy and’ fascism, we must say clearly in our propaganda that they are very much less important than the contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Contrary to the claim of bourgeois democracy that changes in the fortunes of political parties bring significant changes in the real world, we must insist that bourgeois party politics reflect, they do NOT determine the shifts in the class struggle outside parliament.
This point must be got over again and again. Why for example did Wilson, Campbell Adamson of the C.B.I. and Edward Heath all find themselves obliged publicly to disown the Industrial Relations Act? It wasn’t the size of the Labour majority in February (Labour got a smaller percentage of the vote then than at any other time since 1931) - it was the result of the direct mass working class struggle outside parliament.
At the time of the February election the bourgeoisie was significantly urging the Conservative Party not to take retaliatory action against the miners or other unions if it won the election, but to follow a conciliatory policy broadly similar to the one the Labour Government in fact followed after it came to power. On the morning of the vote the Financial Times wrote in its editorial column:
But our support (for the Conservatives) is strictly conditional on the assumption that they will not take any further steps likely to divide the country; that they will distribute the burden of sacrifice fairly and protect the weak as far as possible.
This is why the clause in the discarded February CFB election resolution is such an important principle – that except under special circumstances, e.g. an immediate threat of fascism etc., it is wrong to advise the working class to vote Labour. That is why it was wrong of the proposers of the new, vote-Labour resolution to sidestep this key argument.
We should certainly in our propaganda deal directly with the apparent advantages for the working class in Labour compared to the Conservatives, and explain that these are to a small degree founded on reality, but it is of the essence for us to argue that these advantages are utterly unreliable and very limited.
The structure of British bourgeois politics is such that repeatedly there is a contradiction between the electoral interests of the Labour Party and the interests of the working class. Unionists are often forced to choose which they will put first. One of the ways the bourgeoisie maintains its political control is by implying both crudely and subtly that workers had better put the interests of the Labour Party first otherwise Labour will lose the next election. This successfully plays on the fears of the reformist trade union leaders the sort who on 25th September 1974 inserted a big advertisement in the Morning Star saying:
Remember TO ENDSURE A FAIR DEAL FOR ALL WE CAN ONLY RELY ON A LABOUR GOVERNMENT.
This type of opportunist trade union leader consequently reins in his followers and tries to restrain strike action for fear of jeopardising the election.
One of the key positive features in February 1974 was that the miners specifically refused to be caught in this trap. They did not put the Labour Party before their class interests, they continued their strike, held firm, and it was the capitalists who were the first to waver.
By contrast the events of September 1974 saw a successful return of the old bourgeois weapon, and a unanimous vote for the “Social Contract” resulted at the TUC. In addition several strikes (Ford, building workers) were curbed in order to avoid “damaging Labour’s election chances”.
Whenever this dilemma occurs it is therefore vital that we should give a firm lead to the working class to put class interests before those of the Labour Party. How can we do so with the new vote-Labour line? That we should have chosen this time above all to drop our clear cut call for the working class to fight independently of the Labour Party is deplorable.
Granted that Labour, as the reformist bourgeois party, will always offer a few reforms and concessions more than the Conservatives, do we stress that these are important or that they are insignificant? The latter, again and again.
Even less should we campaign for the success of these reforms as D.J. argues in MLQ 7, in a passage that incredible to say, actually calls for us to campaign for the nationalisation of North Sea oil:
“it is imperative that the Marxist-Leninist Movement is seen by the forces who have fought” for the inclusion of such a clause in the Labour Party Manifesto to be campaigning for the Labour Party to carry out its pledge.
Challenge, possibly. Campaign, never!
The whole-history of the degeneration of working class organisations into opportunism is one of the overestimation of short-term advantages compared with the long-term development of the movement.
FOR THESE REASONS WE WILL CALL FOR THE RETURN OF A LABOUR GOVERNMENT IN ORDER TO EXPOSE IT.
Here then finally the Coventry amendment is added that completes the line presented in paragraph C of the resolution, something the original resolution avoided doing explicitly because its proposer was aware of the difficulties of resting a case in 1974 solely on Lenin’s arguments of 1920, and therefore chose to add on the inconsistent lesser-evil argument.
Without a clear group mandate the London representatives accepted the responsibility of voting for the Coventry amendment although they knew that as a mass slogan it violated the mass line. Yet after having voted for this amendment at the National Committee meeting, the leaders of the London Group put out election propaganda that did not explicitly include this clause. Is any further evidence needed that the vote-Labour line is not built on consistent principle?
We need only note finally in connection with paragraph E that the duty of Communists to continue exposure’ (i.e. critical analysis) of the Labour Party month in and month out right down to its demise, is used at the end of this resolution as a “revolutionary” excuse for continuing indefinitely to vote for a Labour Party that has long since incurred the deep disappointment of the working class.
In summary then the resolution is a grotesque and unprincipled combination of divergent political stands. There are substantial contradictions between paragraph A and the rest, and between paragraphs C and D.
Despite its correct opening paragraph, it fatally implies a view that the only significant action the working class can take is
1) to vote
2) to force Labour to accede to progressive demands
It says nothing about the most hopeful and crucial development in Britain today – the increasing development of working-class action independent of the bourgeois’ political parties.
It displays the right opportunist error of tailism.
Mao describes tailism as follows:
Tailism in any type of work is also wrong, because in falling below the level of political consciousness of the masses and violating the principle of leading the masses forward it reflects the disease of dilatoriness. Our comrades must not assume that the masses have no understanding of what they themselves do not yet understand. It often happens that the masses outstrip us and are eager to advance a step when our comrades are still tailing behind certain backward elements, for instead of acting as leaders of the masses such comrades reflect the views of those backward elements and moreover mistake them for those of the broad masses. (Vol III p266)
A fierce ideological struggle against this right opportunist deviation on the subject of elections must be waged in the C.F.B.
Revised draft, February 1975