FROM A very small force at the beginning, Militant has risen, to become a significant factor in the politics of Britain and the labour movement. 

What guarantees are there, however, that this success can be repeated and enlarged on, in the vastly changed economic, social and political landscape, of the late 1990s and the beginning of the 21st century? Certainly, bourgeois commentators have already drawn the conclusion that Marxism is historically obsolete.

The collapse of Stalinism and the lurch to the right of the Labour and trade union leadership, has, they maintain, realised Thatcher’s dream of “finishing off socialism” once and for all. 

But the very idea of socialism came out of the life experiences of the working class. The insoluble contradictions of capitalism, its incapacity to provide even the minimum requirements of employment, shelter and food on a world scale, drove the working class to seek an alternative system. 

Unless the defenders of the capitalist system can now show that late 20th century capitalism has overcome these contradictions, which Karl Marx brilliantly analysed, then its antithesis, socialism – scientific socialism, Marxism – remains as relevant as ever. 

This remains so, despite the fact that the understanding of the working-class of the underlying reality lags far behind the objective situation.

Human thought is in general very conservative. The working class seeks the line of least resistance, will avoid facing up to harsh reality when an ‘easier’, less confrontational, less brutal path appears possible. But the underlying objective situation will force itself, and is forcing itself today, into the consciousness of all classes in society, above all of the working class. True, faulty leadership can play the role of a huge brake on the working class. 

But leaders of parties, or general secretaries of unions, are not an independent historical factor. Far more important is the underlying situation which will break through with a mighty force at a certain stage and reshape the consciousness of the working class. Even more than was the case when Militant was founded, capitalism is demonstrating its utter incapacity to furnish the basic requirements of humankind.

One-third of the world labour force, more than 800 million people, are either unemployed or underemployed. 34 million are still unemployed in the advanced industrial countries while there is a massive piling up of debt, particularly of government debt. 

This is a consequence of the profligacy of the 1980s which means that the capitalists will have to rein back on public expenditure or risk another inflationary spiral similar to the 1970s and 1980s. This in turn presupposes a general offensive against welfare and those workers employed in the public sector. 

This is itself a guarantee of massive social upheaval in Britain, Japan and the US. This leaves aside the convulsions which are taking place and will increase in the colonial and semi-colonial world. In Britain there is an unprecedented degree of deprivation and poverty, unimagined at the time when Militant set out on its journey. This has spread like a growing ink stain on blotting paper from the traditional “depressed” areas of Britain to the Tory heartlands. 

Almost 30 per cent of the population no longer have an income from a job. Those who do are plagued with uncertainty and worsening conditions. In 1975 about 55 per cent of the labour force were in “secure full-time employment”. This had dropped to 35 per cent in 1994 with part-time working and temporary contracts now becoming the norm together with increased exploitation of labour, which is synonymous with “American practices”. 

The average US worker, compared to 20 years ago, is now working one month longer each year. This is the future which is being mapped out for the British workers by the boss class and their political representatives.

Even now the British worker works one hour per week extra compared to the mid-1980s. On the basis of a sane economic and political system, new technology should open up the prospect of cutting the working week. The opposite is the case. 

More and more workers are becoming industrial helots, as the employers attempt to squeeze out more labour, and thereby profit, from them. Exhaustion, sleep deprivation, the disappearence of the “weekend” have increasingly become part of British life. Fully 44 per cent of workers in Britain now come home each day “totally exhausted”. 

The “luxury” of even sweated labour is denied to a greater and greater proportion of the labour force. In 1995, 15 per cent of households in Britain do not have a single person working. More than a million young people under the age of 25 are unemployed, and a quarter of a million between the ages of 16 and 25 have never worked. Truly Karl Marx’s description of capitalism’s “reserve army of unemployed”, derided by generations of capitalist economists, is an unavoidable reality. 

It is moreover, an effective weapon of the bourgeois against those who are “lucky” enough to have a job. Casualisation is pushing conditions, such as in the docks, back to the beginning of this century or even to the 19th century. But similar conditions will bring forth similar results. Industrial explosions of the unskilled, as in the late 19th century, will develop in the coming period, only on a higher plane. The detonation of social upheaval is also inevitable given the brutal treatment of the poor by the Tory government, which is not likely to be lessened under a Labour government.

Such are the conditions in Britain today that one accidentally dropped match can ignite a Los Angeles-type uprising. The Bradford ‘riots’ are a symptom of this; 38 per cent of the Asian population in Manningham, where the riots took place, are unemployed. An uprising in industry is inevitably being prepared by the impoverishment of millions of British workers. 

The misnamed Job Seekers Allowance which the Tory government are proposing to introduce in 1996 is reminiscent of the darkest days of British capitalism, when the bosses sought to brutally and ruthlessly drive down wages. Under a Labour government, in particular, a revolt of the low-paid is inevitable, and Militant Labour will play a role in such a movement. 

Insecurity is also now a feature, not just of working class life but has increasingly affected the middle class, once the pillar of the Tory Party and of Thatcherism. In the 1980s de-regulation, although “regrettable” for industrial workers, was nevertheless tolerated alongside of a booming “housing market”. 

But now, when it begins to affect high grade civil servants, architects, engineers, etc, howls of outrage have arisen from the leafy suburbs. This is reinforced by the shattering of the housing market with 300,000 house repossessions since 1990; the highest number of dispossessions since the Highland clearances of the 17th century! These conditions are only the outward manifestation of the catastrophic decline of British capitalism.

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Forty years ago the British ruling class still ruled over one-quarter of human kind. 

But the loss of empire, together with its rapid economic decline has left British capitalism now as a minor player on the world and European stage. 

A recent survey showed that Britain has sunk to 18th place in a league of the most competitive capitalist economies. This “inglorious decay” has in turn led to the fracturing of the Tory Party, which up to recently was the oldest and the most stable capitalist party in Europe. In the past the British ruling class, in particular its main political representatives, the Tory Party, went to great lengths to hide whatever divisions existed in their ranks. 

They invented that special brand of British hypocrisy, parliamentary cant, (“the honourable member” etc) which allowed debate within its charmed circle while at the same time seeking to distract the attention of a “third party” that is the working class. 

However, with the onset of the decline of British capitalism this began to evaporate. The Tory Wets, the so-called liberal wing of the Tory Party, and Thatcherite right traded insults in a semi-public fashion throughout the 1980s. These were however merely family spats compared to the public convulsions of the present Tory government and party. 

Major described the Thatcherites in the cabinet – Portillo, Lilley, Howard and Redwood – as “bastards” and their heroine, Thatcher, as “the grandmother of all bastards”. They reciprocated by dismissing Major as a “wimp” – “nice guy but a loser”. The San Andreas fault line which runs through the Tory Party – which still exists despite Major’s victory over Redwood in the Tory leadership election contest – threatens ultimately to crack wide open into a gaping chasm.

There is now open speculation that the Tory Party could go the way of the Christian Democrats in Italy, which has virtually disappeared or the Liberal Democrats in Japan, riven by factions and forced into coalition. The majority of Tory MPs are no longer “the grandees” of the past, able to rely upon income from a landed estate or inherited wealth. Tory backbenchers hope that they can avoid the complete wipeout of the Tory Party. But the right-wing leadership of the Labour Party of Tony Blair is playing right into the hands of the Tories.

Each policy pronouncement of Labour’s shadow cabinet members makes Labour more and more indistinguishable from the Tories. Jack Straw, like any right wing Tory backwoodsman, has recently expressed the wish to see the streets cleared of the homeless beggars, “squeegie” windscreen washers and “winos”, all of whom are the product of collapsing British capitalism. 

By painting Labour in the same colours as the Tories, Blair threatens to demobilise sections of potential Labour voters. Already a huge layer of youth are disenchanted, believing “all politicians are the same”, and may not vote in the general election. What will probably save Blair and the right wing leadership of the Labour Party is the bitter anti-Tory mood. 

This is still likely, although not certain, to carry Labour to victory in a general election. But what kind of Labour government will the British workers get, given the increasingly right wing stand of Blair?

The underlying crisis of British capitalism remains and is bound to become worse. What is happening in Sweden is a warning to the British labour movement and the working class. The biggest Labour vote in a general election was recorded in September 1994, carrying the Social Democrats to power. 

However, they have dashed the hopes of the Swedish labour movement with the adoption of a savage austerity programme. Trapped by the crisis of British capitalism a Blair-led Labour government would be compelled to act in a similar fashion. The only way out of this impasse would be in a socialist direction, which the Blair leadership has specifically ruled out. 

The inaction of a Blair government, indeed the attacks on the living standards of workers, inevitable on the basis of capitalism, could prepare the ground for ferocious Tory reaction which would make Major and Heseltine appear as liberals by comparison.

Recent events in 1995 in Ontario in Canada are a warning to the British working class. After being wiped out in national elections, with their representation reduced to two seats, the Canadian Tories are back in power in the province of Ontario. They were allowed to do this because the previous National Democratic Party (NDP) dominated government in Ontario was incapable of solving the problems of the working class. 

This led to a right wing recoil which brought to power the Tory leader Harris, with his so-called “commonsense revolution”. He promises to introduce workfare, slash welfare, and inflict further attacks on the trade unions together with the undermining of the right of minorities.

In the words of William Keegan, economic correspondent of The Observer, “The madness of the 1980s are alive and well and living in Ontario.” (1)

Only by the mighty British labour movement adopting socialist policies, as consistently outlined and argued for by Militant, can future nightmares like this for the British working class be avoided. As we have seen above the bourgeoisification of the “traditional organisations” of the working class could be reflected in Britain with a serious split from the Labour Party under a right wing Blair-led Labour government.

The outline of such a split is reflected even in the Tribune newspaper, which has played the role of ‘Left’ apologists for the right-wing Labour leadership. Its columns are full of denunciations of Blair and his acolytes. Hugh Macpherson, its political correspondent, now implicitly concedes what Militant Labour has been arguing for some time; the working class base of the Labour Party is being systematically dismantled by the Blair leadership. He writes:

There is now no doubt whatsoever that a new party is being constructed within the Labour Party that has no connection with the old, save that it provided a structure that could be used to create the new party. Tony Blair said so as he traded with Rupert Murdoch and his editors in their island paradise. By the next election he said with breathtaking sophistry it would literally be a new party, as those who joined it after he became leader will outnumber the previous members. (2)

Macpherson, referring to the creation of a new right wing party within Labour, also writes: “But were not the Militants expelled for being just that – a party within a party?” (3)

But what the writer does not say is how long the “two parties” – one openly bourgeois, grouped around Blair – can co-exist within the framework of the Labour Party. The increasing separation which is evident now is likely to result in a very acrimonious divorce if a Blair-led Labour government comes to power.

We support the creation of a new mass socialist party. Militant’s success in the past arose from a correct understanding of the objective situation of British capitalism and of the working class. But this alone was not sufficient to guarantee success. We were also able to identify the key issues at each stage, to then formulate a clear programme and through bold organisation to carry the struggle through to a conclusion. 

Flair and initiative matched to a careful assessment of the situation led to spectacular results in the Liverpool battle, the poll tax struggle and in the battle against the fascists in the 1990s. An equal if not greater tactical adroitness will be demanded of Marxists in the next period. The political terrain is now much more complicated, demanding a flexibility in approach together with an intransigence and implacability in defence of the Marxist programme and perspectives. Militant Labour will energetically pursue the task of building its own organisation.

But in the words of Marx, socialists “have no interests separate and opposed to those of the proletariat”. (4)

At the same time as building a powerful Marxist, force Militant Labour will do all in its power to help those workers, who do not yet fully agree or are not yet prepared to join our ranks, to build the widest possible working class force to resist the bosses in industry but also to politically enhance the power and the position of the working class. 

Therefore, while building Militant Labour we would be prepared to join with other socialist forces to create the basis of a genuine mass socialist party in Britain. 

One thing is clear, the ground has been prepared for colossal social and political upheavals in Britain and throughout world capitalism before this decade is out. Militant Labour has demonstrated in the past its ability to link its programme with mass movements of the working class. 

However, the dramas in which it has participated will be as nothing to the mighty unfolding of events which looms. Marxism will once more arise with such force that it will astound bourgeois sceptics and socialist “fainthearts” alike. Enriched by the experience of the last 30 years, in the tumultuous events which historically impend the ideas of Militant Labour will be embraced by tens of thousands, then by hundreds of thousands and millions. 

This is the indispensible precondition for the labour movement to begin to refashion the world, to replace outmoded, decrepit capitalism – threatening to drag humankind into an historical abyss – with a society of human solidarity, a socialist society.