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How to help the struggle to change the Labour Party
A second reply to Rob Sewell of the IMT group
by Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party general secretary
Rob Sewell's second article in answer to our reply to him on the question of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union's position on affiliation to the Labour Party is simply lamentable, from a Marxist standpoint.
He gives the game away right at the beginning of his 'reply' to our original criticism of the IMT.
"Let's face it, given the civil war raging in the party, such conditions [effective opposition to the savage cuts carried out by Labour councils; supporting the right of expelled socialists to rejoin the Labour Party]... are certainly not going to be met any time soon".
Demands are not going to be met, so close your mouth, drop your active opposition and just seek to rejoin the Labour Party, even while the Blairite right still exercises control over the party machine! What a quietist, defeatist position is contained in these lines.
This situation can be changed simply, writes Sewell, by "defeating the right wing within the Labour Party. This can only be achieved by joining".
There is a one little problem however: the Socialist Party has sought to affiliate and join the Labour Party and has been met by exclusions and expulsions.
And, as far as we are aware, so have a few IMT members, although hardly a peep of protest has come from their organisation.
The same applies to Momentum, which has adopted the same intolerant approach as the right wing in excluding us and others from its ranks, even though it was claimed at the beginning that it would be open to all.
It is not just the Blairite machine which tries to expel and exclude, but members of Momentum, backed up by the national leadership of Jon Lansman. He met me and Hannah Sell, representing the Socialist Party, right at the beginning of the movement around Corbyn.
We expressed our willingness to be part of the Corbyn movement, although we had big differences with the Momentum leadership, particularly on the issue of mandatory reselection of members of parliament (MPs) - effectively the right of recall - without which Corbyn's challenge to the right could not be fully victorious.
Lansman made it clear that he would oppose our membership of Momentum and the Labour Party unless we wound up our paper and organisation.
He was also now opposed to mandatory reselection, which he had supported in the past. We implacably opposed this, as did increasingly members of the Labour Party and Momentum who were then sidelined or driven out.
We did not remain on the 'sidelines' but fought for this demand to become a central part of the programme of the Labour Party.
It was a Socialist Party member along with others on Unite's Executive Council who fought for the union to support Corbyn; it was one of our members (Kevin Parslow) who moved the successful resolution which committed Unite at its annual conference to support mandatory reselection. The same approach was adopted in other unions.
We would be interested to know where and how the IMT has had a similar success on this crucial issue for the success of Corbyn and his policies.
The truth is they will not be able to report on any similar interventions simply because they have very little influence on the ground within the unions or within the Labour Party for that matter.
However, this has not hindered them in pursuing a 'sectarian policy' when it comes to our right to be members of the Labour Party or Momentum.
Sewell challenges us to provide evidence of where and when IMT members have either implicitly or explicitly supported our exclusion from the Labour Party and Momentum. We give here just some of the incidents where this has taken place.
In Coventry, “Darrell Cozens tried to get us excluded from Momentum meetings on a number of occasions because ‘we stood candidates’ and they were discussing ‘Labour Party business’. He lost the vote each time. He also went especially to Nuneaton Momentum to argue for our exclusion and again lost the vote.”
In the founding meeting of Momentum in Worcester, the organiser of the meeting, together with Andy Fenwick (IMT), approached one of our comrades to say she was not allowed to attend because she was a Socialist Party member.
In Hackney, Claire Laker-Mansfield writes:
"Mark Best and I attended a meeting of Hackney Momentum last summer. Dan Morley, a full-timer for Socialist Appeal also took part. The self-appointed leaders of Momentum argued that Hackney Momentum 'couldn't' discuss questions like mandatory reselection as they were matters that were 'internal to the Labour party' and could not be discussed with 'non-Labour members in the room'... This produced a near 50-50 split in the meeting, and we lost discussing the issues by a margin of one.
"Throughout this discussion - which essentially became a debate about what role Momentum could play (if any) in the civil war within Labour - Dan Morley remained completely silent. When he did intervene, Dan Morley made his first and only contribution to a meeting which had consisted of intense debate - essentially over whether or not Momentum should organise to take on the right... He argued that it was 'perfectly reasonable' for Socialist Party members to be excluded from the Labour party and Momentum due to our role in the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition - which has stood in elections against cuts-making councillors.
"He went on to say that we had 'no right' to comment on the strategy and tactics of Momentum and their self-appointed leaders (both locally and nationally) as we were not Labour Party members."
The IMT has had a few of its own members expelled but in line with its quietist approach it has hardly uttered a peep about this.
It is 'waiting' for a movement, with the right wing 'eventually' and magically conjured away sometime in the future.
The battle today, to change the Labour Party, cannot be won - so settle down and accept the status quo! This is the approach of Sewell, of the IMT and, unfortunately, of a few other left organisations.
The idea of fighting to change the Labour Party politically and organisationally is indefinitely postponed for them.
They have not supported our demands, which are supported by a growing number of rank-and-file Labour Party members and trade unionists, to reopen the whole question of affiliation of all socialist organisations to the Labour Party.
Sewell refuses to answer our argument in relation to the Co-operative Party which is affiliated - and whether or not his organisation would support a similar arrangement for all socialist organisations.
Their members and others have quite falsely implied that when we were members of the Labour Party we would have opposed other organisations outside the Labour Party, like the SWP from affiliating even when the argument was used that "they have stood against the Labour Party".
This is the argument of the right wing, who in contrast in the past were entirely relaxed with the acceptance of renegade Tories not just into the party but into the last 'Labour' government.
We politically opposed the SWP because at that stage the Labour Party was the main arena for working-class political struggle.
There was also great latitude for the left to put forward its position and to take control of parts of the Labour Party, for instance in Liverpool.
If the SWP had applied to join the Labour Party then or now we would not have opposed this. This is a principled position, fighting for an open and democratic federation, which is foreign to the IMT and its supporters.
Sewell writes that the Socialist Party will only support the RMT's reaffiliation when the Labour Party is "completely transformed, the right wing utterly defeated and Corbyn completely victorious".
Sad to say for Sewell, we anticipated his charges in an article by Clive Heemskerk in The Socialist 956 (12 July 2017):
Jeremy Corbyn could certainly break the logjam. The Socialist Party argues that he should go over the heads of the Blairite apparatus and present his own proposals for a new Labour Party constitution directly to party members and trade union supporters.
In the latest issue of our monthly magazine, Socialism Today, Socialist Party general secretary Peter Taaffe argues that Jeremy should act boldly "as he did with the general election manifesto. [Then] he appealed over the heads of the right and got support for his radical proposals. That confronted the right with a fait accompli! He should do the same by presenting his own democratic constitution to a referendum of all Labour Party members - full and associate - which would have at its heart mandatory reselection of MPs and the replacement of the bureaucratic machine, with power resting in the hands of the membership, particularly new members and the trade unions.
"It should also enshrine the principle of a federal arrangement which would lead to the readmittance of all expelled socialists and organisations back into the Labour Party".
Such a constitution would mean restoring the unions' rights of collective representation in the formation of Labour Party policy, the selection and reselection of Labour Party candidates, and the governance of the party locally and nationally. This really would take forward the RMT's goal of 'a fighting party of labour'.
Then the process of negotiating affiliation could become a factor in putting into action the necessary steps to transform Labour. And not just the affiliation of the RMT.
There is a complete silence over our argument in our reply to Sewell in relation to the Greens, and proposals from some quarters for them to be affiliated to the Labour Party.
The same silence applies to the dogmatic bankrupt assertions of the IMT in the past about change emanating within empty 'mass organisations' in Spain, Greece, Italy, etc. Sewell has no answer.
They accuse us of changing our position but we have been consistent on this issue - as we made clear in our first reply to Sewell.
For instance, in September 2002 we wrote:
"Theoretically, Marxism has never discounted that, under the impact of great historic shocks - a serious economic crisis, mass social upheaval - the ex-social democratic parties could move dramatically towards the left.
"Indeed, when we were forced out of the Labour Party, we worked as an independent organisation but with the perspective that events could later lead to a further shift towards the left in the Labour Party and the beginning of its transformation. Subsequent events, however, falsified this perspective." [Socialism Today]
We wrote in our original piece: "The candidature and subsequent election of Corbyn was unexpected - not least to himself." This clearly refers to Jeremy Corbyn.
So preoccupied with his own self-importance is Sewell that he interprets this as applying to him! He then admits:
"Yes we were surprised, but the SP leaders were absolutely 'dumbfounded'"! How childish!
Sewell goes on to make the equally incorrect, not to say fatuous, point: "So how can such a 'pro-business party' develop a left opposition... and as a result win the leadership and attract hundreds of thousands of workers and youth into its ranks?"
The emergence of Bernie Sanders with his call for a 'political revolution' from within the pro-capitalist Democratic Party was supported by hundreds of thousands, and by us and our co-thinkers in the US (Socialist Alternative) from the outset.
When he was defeated, we then called for him to break away and form a new mass workers' party. The 'sectarian' supporters of the IMT, on the other hand, were completely sidelined by this development.
Our broad approach is one of the reasons why our comrades in the US made a huge breakthrough in 2013 with the election of Kshama Sawant in Seattle, the first socialist candidate in the city for 100 years, and a beacon for the whole of the genuine US left! Her victory undoubtedly encouraged Sanders to stand.
The IMT on the other hand in a dishonest manner never seek to explain their somersaults and sometimes double somersaults - on such issues as the Scottish referendum.
However, their arguments over finance and the Labour Party are the most incredible. Sewell writes that affiliation is not about "money but rather politics".
You don't say! However, this question is intrinsically linked to the future of the working class, and working-class politics and the Labour Party.
Trotsky always stressed that finances, particularly in politics, are the sinews of war, in this case the class war.
He devoted a whole chapter in his book 'Where is Britain Going?' towards the finances of the trade unions and how that was linked to the Labour Party.
The precious resources of the trade unions were only used to finance the Labour Representation Committee on the basis of a commitment to repeal the anti-union Taff Vale judgement.
Without this commitment, the proposed new Labour Party would have been no different to the anti-union Liberals, just as Blair was indistinguishable from the Tory party with his viciously anti-union policies.
He consistently refused to repeal Margaret Thatcher's anti-union laws, thereby alienating millions of workers and trade unionists.
Consequently, during his control of the Labour Party there were continual revolts with threats by the trade unions to withhold funds, unless certain 'conditions' were met.
For instance, in Unite there were insistent demands for the withholding of the £3 million per year paid at one stage to the Labour Party - unless the Parliamentary Labour Party reflected Unite's policies instead of those of the bosses.
The same pressures came from the CWU postal union and even from Unison - where even the right-wing Dave Prentis was forced to threaten to withdraw funds from Labour because of the attacks by the Labour government on his base, local government workers.
Sewell should, by his logic, unequivocally condemn this approach because union support is 'conditional' on Labour reflecting the interests of the unions.
In the case of the RMT, the resolution passed at their AGM to not reaffiliate to the Labour Party at this stage, - which Sewell now 'supports' (how grateful RMT members are for this!) - stresses certain answers wanted from the Labour Party before branches consider affiliation.
The branch resolution moved by Socialist Party members in the RMT was incorporated into the final AGM decision - not dropped or defeated, as Sewell originally claimed.
This general position has now been underlined by a press statement from the RMT itself:
Rail union RMT has today thrown out the question to Labour politicians across Merseyside 'Which side are you on?', after talks with Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram and Merseytravel officials failed to make any progress in advance of the next three day phase of strike action in the guards' dispute which kicks off on Friday.
RMT officials, led by General Secretary Mick Cash, met with Steve Rotheram along with Merseytravel officials... The union has said that it is bitterly disappointed that the talks failed to make any progress as it was confirmed in stark terms that the axing of guards on Merseyrail is entirely finance led at a time when the private rail operator is awash with cash.
Mick Cash, RMT General Secretary, said:
"RMT is bitterly disappointed that our efforts to make progress towards a resolution of the Merseyrail guards' and safety dispute have been blocked off once again and as a result the action on [1st, 3rd, 4th September] goes ahead as planned. It was made clear to us that the reason for axing the safety-critical guards on Merseyrail trains is entirely cash led. At a time when this company is trousering £16 million in profits from passengers on Merseyside it is disgraceful that they cannot find the £5 million that it would cost to keep the guards on the trains, keep the public safe and maintain disabled access to these lifeline services.
"The question that RMT is throwing out to politicians across Merseyside is "Which side are you on?" - the side of the safety-critical guards and the public that they protect or the side of the greedy private train operators who are making a killing at the passengers expense?
"Labour nationally has set out a clear policy of opposing the great privatised rail rip-off and the profit-led extension of Driver Only Operation. RMT has had fantastic support from a large number of Labour MPs, Councillors and local parties on Merseyside for our current campaign to keep the guards on our trains and we intend to build on that as we step up the pressure.
"The action... goes ahead exactly as planned and the fault for the widespread disruption it will create rests entirely with Merseyrail and with those who are failing to call them to account. RMT will not sit back while private profit is put before public safety and we are calling on the entire Labour movement to make a stand alongside us as we fight to force back these potentially lethal cuts."
This indicates the RMT and other workers' bitter opposition to any 'Labour' figures, mayors and councillors, implementing cuts, such as driver only operated trains. Sewell and the IMT stand for immediate affiliation to Labour irrespective of what 'Labour' cutters do, which to say the least leaves you out of step with the decision of the RMT's AGM?
The most important battle - certainly at local level - remains the issue of the cuts. Austerity continues and the overwhelming majority of councillors acquiesce to the Tory government's programme.
Sewell's approach is again one of passivity. When eye-watering cuts are being carried through we are supposed to join a local Labour Party - which bans us from membership - and move a resolution to oppose these cuts.
Even if you are able to do this, you are then confronted with the argument that this cannot be done because all decisions have already been made by right-wing dominated 'cabinets' - right-wing cabals which tightly control local Labour councils.
Of course, we support a struggle within the Labour Party to change this position but Sewell says change "is not going to happen any time soon." In the meantime, workers are losing their jobs as in Birmingham, at the hands of the right-wing Labour council, and elsewhere.
Workers and campaigners against cuts will not just go on strike but are beginning to pose the question of standing in local council elections, not against Jeremy Corbyn but the right wing that are in the process of stabbing him in the back by implementing Tory cuts.
We will not stand against Corbyn or committed Corbyn supporters, particularly where they are actively opposing and refusing to carry through the cuts.
But no such undertaking can or should be given to those carrying out cuts, especially while the right-wing continues to control not just the Labour machine but also most Labour councils.
At the same time, we will assist in every way in supporting the genuine fighting left within the Labour Party to effect real change. This is what we did in the general election when we were thanked by many Labour supporters for active support for Corbyn.
We correctly predicted that Corbyn could 'win' or dramatically improve his support on a radical programme. This approach offers the possibility of assisting the powerful urge for change at the base of the labour movement.
Momentum, despite claims to a mass membership, has not mobilised the potential for constitutional and political change. Consequently, there is a real danger that these new members can drift away, thereby strengthening the right wing.
The civil war goes on and the right as yet are not completely defeated. However, they can be through consistent struggle at the top and bottom of the labour movement.
But one thing is clear: this will not be achieved by the methods of the IMT, which passes for a 'Marxist' force. They are commentators, and bad commentators at that, who have little influence amongst young people, workers, or in the trade unions.
In contrast, the position of the Socialist Party offers a way to continue the battle to transform Labour into a mass fighting force.