Lenin and Labour: a gross distortion

corbyn commie

The ascendency of Labour left veteran Jeremy Corbyn from backbench rebel to unlikely leader has raised the question as to whether socialists should support Labour in the General Election on 8 June. The fact remains that the vast majority of Labour MPs are right-wing reactionaries opposed to Corbyn, who has made a series of concessions to sustain the unity of the party above all else. As our Don't vote - fight for socialism! General Election statement explains, he has sacrificed his anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist principles. He has also authorised Labour councils to implement devastating cuts to local services. Corbyn has ensured that Labour remains a racist, pro-austerity, imperialist and warmongering party.

Yet the majority of British left organisations argue – as they always have done regardless of who the leader is – that socialists should support Labour. They claim this is the tactically correct position. It is usually justified by citing Lenin’s advice in 1920 that the British Communist Party should affiliate to the Labour Party. But as explained in the following passage from the Revolutionary Communist Group’s 1984 manifesto, The Revolutionary Road to Communism in Britain, such justification ‘depends on a gross and ignorant distortion of Lenin’s position':

‘The crucial struggle facing communists in Britain today is the fight against opportunism which as Lenin pointed out is the “principal enemy”. The urgent task is to fight for a split from the reactionary opportunist leadership of the organised Labour and trade union movement and its political expression, the Labour Party. This is the only basis for building fighting anti-imperialist organisations from which a new communist party can emerge.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of the corrupt bourgeois and pro-imperialist character of the Labour Party, the middle class left almost without exception calls for support for the Labour Party. This political standpoint is frequently justified by citing Lenin’s advice in 1920 that the British Communist Party should affiliate to the Labour Party. Such justification depends on a gross and ignorant distortion of Lenin's position.

Lenin’s attitude to this question was a tactical one based on a concrete analysis of the conditions then prevailing. Firstly, the revolutionary upsurge of the working class movement in the immediate aftermath of the First Imperialist World War was already in decline by 1920. Secondly, the Communist Parties affiliated to the Third International had succeeded in winning and organising sections of the vanguard to their ranks but had yet to win the masses away from their social democratic leadership. Thirdly, it was believed that sufficient ‘freedom of criticism’ existed to allow the British CP, if affiliated to the Labour Party, to conduct open propaganda and agitation against the Labour Party leadership for the purpose of winning workers to communism. Fourthly, the British Labour Party had not yet formed a government. With all these conditions in mind and insisting on the precondition that ‘freedom of criticism’ existed, Lenin recommended affiliation.

What Lenin meant by ‘freedom of criticism’ was made clear by the example of the British Socialist Party which was allowed to have its own press in which the Labour Party leaders were attacked as ‘social traitors’. Also it was possible to openly raise the question of affiliation to the Third International and force an open discussion in all party branches and sections on the issue. Today’s example of the Militant Tendency (in 1984 - now split into the Socialist Party and Socialist Appeal) makes it absolutely clear that such ‘freedom of criticism’ has long since been abolished. The reactionary pro-imperialist Militant Tendency finds itself attacked, and its leaders expelled, for its extremely muted ‘criticism’ of the Labour Party leadership. In any case, the Labour Party consistently rejected affiliation from the British Communist Party.

That the issue was a tactical question is further confirmed by Lenin’s quite different attitude in an earlier period. In early 1916 during the Imperialist War Lenin praised the British socialist who called for a split from the Labour Party:

‘In Britain even a moderate paper like the Labour Leader publishes Russell William’s letter urging the necessity for a split with the trade union “leaders” and with the Labour Party, which he says, has sold out the interests of the working class.” (Lenin Collected Works Vol 22 p128)

In this period a split from the social democrats to build a new anti-imperialist movement to lay the basis for a new International was the necessary and urgent political task. The task was to create independent Communist Parties in all countries. Workers in this period were increasingly responding to an anti-war, anti-imperialist position. Also at this time social democratic leaders were participating in imperialist war cabinets. In these conditions, the issue was not affiliation to or support for the Labour Party but a split from it.

Today the necessary and urgent political task facing communists in Britain is to build an anti-imperialist anti-racist movement as the basis for building a Communist Party. To do this requires a fight for a split from the ‘trade union “leaders” and the Labour Party’ as they politically represent the interests of the labour aristocracy and are steadfast supporters of British imperialist interests in the working class. Secondly, the crisis has pushed to the forefront of the struggle a section of the most oppressed layers of the working class who through their opposition to the racist British state will oppose British imperialism. This layer has arisen outside the traditional working class organisations and must be organised independently of those organisations. In these conditions to call for support for the Labour Party amounts to an attempt to drag these forces back into the fold of the Labour Party and under the control of a labour aristocracy whose interests it expresses. It is also an attempt to prevent other sections of the working class from following the lead of these new forces.

The political attitude of the middle class left organisations to the Labour Party flows from their overall political stance. The relative prosperity of the post-war boom in the imperialist nations allowed the creation of new relatively privileged layers in the working class. This new layer of mainly salaried white-collar workers has grown with the growth of state and social services employment. Its social and economic status depends on the continued prosperity of imperialism and the accompanying conditions of bourgeois democracy. As the imperialist crisis deepens, this layer finds itself threatened. On the one hand uprisings on the streets and growing anti-imperialist struggle internationally threaten to destroy the very imperialist system which sustains it. On the other hand, the imperialist response to the crisis – military and police violence, erosion of democratic rights, cutbacks in the state sector and the prospect of nuclear war – also threaten to undermine the social and economic conditions which were the basis of the security, enhanced status and privilege of this layer in the post-war boom. They are increasingly confronted with a choice: either to side with the oppressed fighting imperialism or, in a desperate and doomed effort to maintain their position, to side with the oppressor – the British imperialist ruling class and its Labour and trade union allies in the working class movement.

The small forces of the British middle class left draw their membership predominantly from this new privileged layer and reflect its political standpoint. Confronted by the central choice – to side with the oppressed or with the oppressor – the British middle class left has, in the past few years, made it clear that it has chosen to side with the Labour Party and organised trade union movement against the oppressed.’

See the below articles for further analysis of the relationship between British communists and the Labour Party in the 1920s:

John MacLean – Part VII: Organise for the working class: Organise against Labour / FRFI 152 Dec 1999 / Jan 2000

Communist, internationalist and fighter for women's rights: the legacy of Sylvia Pankhurst / FRFI 226 April/May 2012

Labour: a party fit for imperialism

Labour councils: devastating services

Glasgow Stand Up Demo photo

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 257 May/June 2017 Election Special

Following the local elections on 4 May, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn stated: ‘Labour councils and Labour mayors are putting families and pensioners first. Those who need help most can rely on us.’ This was a lie: Corbyn was covering up for the Labour councils which have slashed services and jobs while refusing to lead a fight against austerity. Labour bears responsibility for the devastation of local services all over Britain.

Between 2010 and 2015, central government funding to local authorities was cut by 37% in real terms and by 2020 the only sources of council income will be council tax and local business rates.

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Labour’s toxic housing policy

frfi liverpool

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 257 May/June 2017 Election Special

On 9 May, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn pledged to put housing at the forefront of his party’s general election campaign, guaranteeing to build a million homes, with half of them council houses. But in the Labour manifesto this radical promise has been watered down to ‘at least 100,000 council and housing association homes a year’ – by the end of the parliamentary term – ‘for genuinely affordable rent or sale’. Corbyn has embraced Labour’s new definition of ‘council’ housing, which can be any kind of tenure and where the idea of a regulated council rent is a thing of the past, with ‘affordable’ meaning anything up to 80% of market rent. There is no mention of social rent.

The last government’s Housing and Planning Act ushered in a massive fire-sale of public land and housing stock, fuelled by the City of London, giant construction companies, international developers and estate agents eager to profit from soaring land prices. But far from challenging this sustained attack on working class housing, Labour councils have leapt onto the gravy train.

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Don’t vote - Fight for socialism

Homes for Londoners

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 257 May/June 2017 Election Special

Don’t vote - Fight for socialism

In the run-up to the general election on 8 June, socialists will have to decide whether to support the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party, or to oppose it because it remains a racist, imperialist and warmongering party. The Revolutionary Communist Group is clear: we are facing a global crisis of the capitalist system that threatens humanity with war and destruction. This means that there is only one choice: we have to build a working class movement that can challenge the ruthless, predatory British ruling class. We have to fight for socialism. Corbyn and his supporters are actively preventing this development. They and the trade unions have blocked the emergence of any resistance to austerity while spreading the illusion that, in the midst of a deepening economic crisis, a future Labour government can ‘deliver a fairer, more prosperous society for the many, not just the few’. The reality is that it cannot and it will not.

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General election: Don’t vote – fight for socialism!

Parliamentary road to socialism

In the run-up to the general election on 8 June, socialists will have to decide either to campaign in support of the Corbyn-led Labour Party, or to oppose it because it remains a racist, imperialist and war-mongering party. The Revolutionary Communist Group is clear: we are facing a global crisis of the capitalist system that is threatening humanity with war and destruction. It means that there is only one choice: we have to build a working class movement that can challenge the ruthless, predatory British ruling class. We have to fight for socialism. Corbyn and his supporters are actively preventing this development. They spread the illusion that a Labour government can make radical and progressive changes while in practice they divert or block resistance where it emerges.

Labour in power will have to satisfy the ruling class that it will protect Britain’s imperialist interests. To do this, it will continue the wholesale attack on working class living standards regardless of what Corbyn and his supporters might say they want. Our conclusion is that socialists should not participate in this parliamentary charade, or create fantasies that Labour in government can meet the needs of the working class. It has never done so in the past and will not do so now. We have to oppose the Labour Party and stand for the interests of the working class and oppressed throughout the world.

The general election comes just as the most savage cuts in state benefits have come into effect, and at a time when projections make clear that austerity will continue beyond 2020. The record of seven years of Tory rule is clear:

  • Average wages for full-time employees are still 12.6% below 2007 levels, and for 33 out of 169 occupations are more than 20% below. 80% of new jobs are precarious in nature and dependent on self-employment.
  • The NHS is approaching collapse while state education is undergoing complete fragmentation in the drive to create ‘free’ schools and grammar schools with massive handouts to private institutions.
  • Tory housing policy spells the end of social housing and is forcing working class people back into overcrowded private slum accommodation at higher and higher rents.
  • People with disabilities are suffering an average 20% cut in their benefits, Employment Support Allowance for many has been slashed by nearly 30%. Housing benefit eligibility has been restricted, and payments have been cut by the Overall Benefit Cap and the Bedroom Tax, threatening homelessness for hundreds of thousands.
  • Up to 3 million children risk going hungry during the school holidays, while the Trussell Trust reports record usage of food banks, issuing nearly 1.2 million people with three-day emergency food parcels in 2016/17.
  • Racism has been normalised through the creation of what May calls a ‘hostile environment’ for migrant workers and the clear intention to use the plight of three million EU residents as a bargaining tool in Brexit negotiations.
  • Internationally, Britain remains the most bellicose member of NATO calling for further sanctions on Russia and Syria. Tory foreign policy involves alliances with reactionary states like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel to sustain the interests of British imperialism.

Given this appalling record, defending the interests of the working class is clearly an urgent task. Yet at a time when millions are suffering the impact of austerity with hundreds of thousands forced to use food banks to survive, Labour has failed to oppose the ruling class:

  • It will not reverse benefits cuts because the right wing says this rewards ‘shirkers’ and ‘scroungers’.
  • Having led the way to privatisation of state provision under Blair’s government, Labour has failed to lead any fight to save NHS and free care provision. Crisis after crisis is justifying rationing without real opposition.
  • There has been no opposition to the systematic destruction and disintegration of state education through the introduction of selection and phoney ‘free’ schools. It was Labour that introduced university tuition fees that put higher education beyond the reach of poor families.
  • Labour councils, hand-in-glove with profiteering developers, have led the way in the destruction of social housing, forcing families into homelessness, socially cleansing parts of London and putting secure housing beyond the reach of working class families.
  • At the same time these Labour councils have slashed jobs and services on behalf of the Tory government while dishonestly pleading there is nothing they can do to resist. Women and disabled people have borne the brunt of these cuts while councillors continue to receive exorbitant expenses.
  • Labour has made no commitment to repeal the 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts, key to May’s ‘hostile environment’ for migrants: Labour candidates do not want to be seen as soft on immigration.
  • Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s recent suggestion that he regarded those earning £70-£80,000 annually as ‘rich’ drew outrage from Labour’s Progress group in a frank statement about whom they want to represent.
  • Corbyn will not commit to abandoning the Trident replacement or the imperialist NATO alliance since 80% of the Parliamentary Labour Party is against him.

In order to win the election, the Labour Party will have to secure the votes of the better-off sections of the working class and middle class, and its manifesto will be geared to this end. However, the material privileges of this layer can only be maintained at the expense of the mass of the working class, and the economic consequences of Brexit will only exacerbate this division. The interests of the mass of the working class will be abandoned to protect Labour’s electoral ambitions.

18 months ago, the left claimed that Corbyn’s election as Labour leader would transform the Labour Party and the fight against austerity. Nothing of substance has changed since then. In fact, under his watch, grassroots struggle against austerity has gone backwards. Corbyn’s principal aim has been to maintain Labour unity to ensure the party stays a parliamentary force, making concession after concession to the right wing – for instance allowing a free vote in parliament over bombing Syria or renewing Trident. Corbyn has capitulated to the racist ideology of Zionism, saying that he now 'admires' the settler-colonial nation of Israel. Together with McDonnell, Corbyn instructed Labour councils to set legal budgets for 2016/17, thereby authorising savage cuts in services and jobs. This year no such instruction was required since Labour Party rule changes at the September 2016 conference made it a disciplinary offence to oppose legal budgets. Labour remains what it always has been: a reactionary, anti-working class force.

Socialists and communists do not share the illusion that this deep unending crisis of capitalism and its effects can be resolved through parliament. We know that the only way forward is through independent working class organisation and the creation of a socialist, anti-racist and anti-imperialist movement which completely opposes the Labour Party and its allies. There are no short-cuts through parliament: such a movement has to be built on the streets and in working class communities. Join us in that struggle

Revolutionary Communist Group