Saturday, September 28, 2019
Saturday, August 31, 2019
....Claims of a rise in white supremacist attitudes in the working class obscure the real cause of disaffection with the candidates of both capitalist parties — the carnage from decades of grinding economic and social crisis presided over by Democratic and Republican administrations alike. This is key to understanding politics in the U.S., or anywhere else — the sharply counterposed class interests between the capitalist rulers and the working class....
Saturday, August 17, 2019
“....Working people have a common interest in the fight for democratic and political rights,” Annalucia Vermunt told participants attending a forum organized by students at the University of Auckland Aug. 6, in support of the wave of protests for political rights in Hong Kong. Vermunt is the Communist League’s candidate for Auckland mayor. “We continue to stand with you as you press further with your demands.”
The meeting, attended by more than 100 people, was called after student Serena Lee was pushed to the ground at the school by three supporters of the Chinese government. Beijing’s Consulate in Auckland released a public statement praising this act, claiming it was “spontaneous patriotism.”
“We are here to show solidarity with the Hong Kong anti-extradition bill movement,” Lee said at the meeting. “This is a platform for students to express their views and opinions on the issue of democracy in Hong Kong.”
Other speakers at the forum called for those present to uphold freedom of speech and to debate the issues.
A few participants spoke in opposition to the demonstrations, which have included calls for more direct elections.
Hong Kong protests demand Beijing grant political rights
BY ROY LANDERSEN
August 26, 2019
Protests involving hundreds of thousands of working people demanding greater political rights have continued for a 10th week in Hong Kong. Many at the actions are demanding the government of the semi-autonomous territory and its Beijing overseers grant direct elections for Hong Kong’s top officials.
The tens of thousands who demonstrated over the weekend of Aug 3-4 faced attacks from cops using tear gas and rubber bullets. Masked thugs helped cops arrest demonstrators.
A citywide strike and mass protests for political rights Aug. 5 blocked much of the road and rail network. The strike caused hundreds of flights to be cancelled at Hong Kong’s international airport, one of the world’s busiest. A subsequent sit-in at the airport swelled to thousands Aug. 12-13, forcing the cancellation of all flights those days.
Those joining the strike included bus drivers, construction workers, teachers, lawyers and pilots. People rallied in numerous working-class or shopping districts. Many civil servants defied orders not to protest and shops were shut.
The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, which called the strike, said 350,000 workers took part. The pro-Beijing Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions opposed the action.
Wilson Ng, a teacher from Hong Kong, told the Militant Aug. 12 that demands of those taking to the streets include the “formal withdrawal” of the shelved extradition bill, an amnesty for all protesters arrested on “riot” charges and “an independent investigation into police violence” and on how the crisis arose. While calls for Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s resignation persist, Ng said, “people realize that even if she steps down the person who succeeds her won’t be much different.” Lastly, he said, is the demand for “direct elections of the chief executive.”
Currently Hong Kong’s chief executive is “elected” by a Beijing-appointed committee of 1,200 people, including many backers of the Chinese government along with company bosses from the island. Hong Kong, a former British colony, has been under a “one country, two systems” arrangement since it reverted to China in 1997. London waited over 150 years until the end of its colonial rule to begin implementing some direct elections.
Hong Kong actions impact in China
The Chinese government fears the impact that the fight for democratic rights in Hong Kong will have on working people across mainland China. Beijing’s aviation authority ordered Cathay Pacific Airways to remove all workers involved in protests from their flights from Hong Kong to China Aug. 9. The airline’s bosses said they would comply.
As economic growth has slowed in China, labor actions have increased.
The China Labour Bulletin reports that so far this year there have been 25 protest actions among auto workers, mostly over layoffs and unpaid wages. Some 220,000 jobs have been lost as vehicle sales dropped 14% in the first half of the year. Most were layoffs but others resigned, unable to survive on a bare wage without overtime payments and bonuses.
In response to the Aug. 5 general strike, Lam claimed that the city was “on the verge of a very dangerous situation.” A spokesperson from Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office threatened that protesters should not “play with fire” and “mistake our restraint for weakness.”
Working people in Hong Kong know this is not an idle threat. On June 4, nearly 200,000 attended a memorial to mark the 30th anniversary of the brutal crushing by Beijing’s military of mass protests in Tiananmen Square. Hong Kong is the only part of Chinese territory where that history is not censored.
Protests have been rising since February against Lam’s proposed extradition law, which would give Beijing legal cover to go after political opponents in the semi-autonomous region. Millions marched June 9 and 16, forcing Lam, with Beijing’s agreement, to suspend the bill. Some company bosses and business groups have made calls for the extradition law to be completely withdrawn and for an inquiry into the cops’ treatment of demonstrators.
Some small groups of protesters have targeted the legislative assembly building, police stations and symbols of Beijing’s overbearing presence, provoking a violent response from riot police. Ng told the Militant that the media focuses on these smaller confrontations as “the government is trying to cover up” the size of the massive peaceful protests.
Chinese government officials seek to drive a wedge between the large numbers of working people at many of the protests and those leading violent confrontations with authorities. Yang Guang, Beijing’s spokesperson in Hong Kong, claimed there was a division between “kind-hearted citizens who have been misguided and coerced to join” and “a small number of violent radicals.”
Growing economic inequalities in the territory are also driving unrest among working people. Hong Kong has the world’s longest working hours and highest rents, according to the New York Times. Rents have skyrocketed in recent years and over 210,000 Hong Kong residents live in subdivided apartments known as “cages,” where tenants are squeezed into spaces as small as 15 square feet.
Monday, August 12, 2019
I just finished The Struggle against Fascism in Germany. The below seems a fitting choice of peroration and envoi.
....Most of the philistines of the newest crop base their attacks on Marxism on the fact that contrary to Marx’s prognosis fascism came instead of socialism. Nothing is more stupid and vulgar than this criticism. Marx demonstrated and proved that when capitalism reaches a certain level the only way out for society lies in the socialization of the means of production, i.e., socialism. He also demonstrated that in view of the class structure of society the proletariat alone is capable of solving this task in an irreconcilable revolutionary struggle against the bourgeoisie. He further demonstrated that for the fulfillment of this task the proletariat needs a revolutionary party. All his life Marx, and together with him and after him Engels, and after them Lenin, waged an irreconcilable struggle against those traits in proletarian parties, socialist parties which obstructed the solution of the revolutionary historical task. The irreconcilability of the struggle waged by Marx, Engels, and Lenin against opportunism, on the one side, and anarchism, on the other, demonstrates that they did not at all underestimate this danger. In what did it consist? In this, that the opportunism of the summits of the working class, subject to the bourgeoisie’s influence, could obstruct, slow down, make more difficult, postpone the fulfillment of the revolutionary task of the proletariat. It is precisely this condition of society that we are now observing. Fascism did not at all come “instead” of socialism. Fascism is the continuation of capitalism, an attempt to perpetuate its existence by means of the most bestial and monstrous measures. Capitalism obtained an opportunity to resort to fascism only because the proletariat did not accomplish the socialist revolution in time. The proletariat was paralyzed in the fulfillment of its task by the opportunist parties. The only thing that can be said is that there turned out to be more obstacles, more difficulties, more stages on the road of the revolutionary development of the proletariat than was foreseen by the founders of scientific socialism. Fascism and the series of imperialist wars constitute the terrible school in which the proletariat has to free itself of petty bourgeois traditions and superstitions, has to rid itself of opportunist, democratic and adventurist parties, has to hammer out and train the revolutionary vanguard and in this way prepare for the solving of the task apart from which there is not, and cannot be, any salvation for the development of mankind.
Eastman, if you please, has come to the conclusion that the concentration of the means of production in the hands of the state endangers his “freedom” and he has therefore decided to renounce socialism. This anecdote deserves being included in the text of a history of ideology. The socialization of the means of production is the only solution to the economic problem at the given stage of mankind’s development. The delay in solving this problem leads to the barbarism of fascism. All the intermediate solutions undertaken by the bourgeoisie with the help of the petty bourgeoisie have suffered a miserable and shameful fiasco. All this is absolutely uninteresting to Eastman. He noticed that his “freedom” (freedom of muddling, freedom of indifferentism, freedom of passivity, freedom of literary dilettantism) was being threatened from various sides, and he decided immediately to apply his own measure: renounce socialism. Astonishingly enough this decision exercised no influence either on Wall Street or on the policy of the trade unions. Life went its own way just as if Max Eastman had remained a socialist. It may be set down as a general rule that the more impotent is a petty bourgeois radical especially in the United States the more.
.....In every discussion of political topics the question invariably flares up: Shall we succeed in creating a strong party for the moment when the crisis comes? Might not fascism anticipate us? Isn’t a fascist stage of development inevitable? The successes of fascism easily make people lose all perspective, lead them to forget the actual conditions which made the strengthening and the victory of fascism possible. Yet a clear understanding of these conditions is of special importance to the workers of the United States. We may set it down as an historical law: Fascism was able to conquer only in those countries where the conservative labor parties prevented the proletariat from utilizing the revolutionary situation and seizing power. In Germany two revolutionary situations were involved: 1918-1919 and 1923-24. Even in 1929 a direct struggle for power on the part of the proletariat was still possible. In all these three cases the social democracy and the Comintern criminally and viciously disrupted the conquest of power and thereby placed society in an impasse. Only under these conditions and in this situation did the stormy rise of Fascism and its gaining of power prove possible.
"Bonapartism, Fascism and War"
Delivered via dictaphone: 20 August 1940.
First Published: Fourth International, Vol.1 No.5, October 1940, pp.128-131
Sunday, August 11, 2019
N.B.: Who in the CPUSA milieu today is raising the question of a community defense guard, that their GenSec must slap it down in print? According to Chairman Sims things will be fine if we just elect Democrats and curb democratic rights.
....For the Communist Party USA, which I co-chair, community self-defense means community control of the police by means of elected civilian control boards. Community defense must mean fighting for jobs, decent housing, and health care. Add to that reparations in the form of investment in infrastructure, education, and sports. Community defense means ending institutionalized racism in the justice system and ending voter suppression. And let’s also address the drug crisis and the gangsterism that comes with it.
.... A tipping point is approaching—but in what direction? The answer depends on the ability of the broad working-class public and beyond to rise to the occasion and act from now until the 2020 election to insure Trump’s defeat.
....In our view, seeing community self-defense in the form of workers’ militias, as some have called for, narrows the fight against the right and may be a dead end, brave though it may be. Let’s recall that Frederick Douglass applauded John Brown’s courage at Harper’s Ferry but understood that a winning strategy lay elsewhere.
....Let’s end this by making one thing clear: We do not call for taking away workers’ guns. We do demand measures now, not later, to isolate and defang the extreme right—and that means addressing their influence in all areas, starting at the top, in government, business, the military, the police etc. These problems would not exist but for their active promotion.
Is armed community self-defense the answer to white supremacist terrorism?
August 9, 2019 AM CDT BY JOE SIMS
‘Workers should organize a guard whenever it is necessary’
Socialism on Trial by James P. Cannon is one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for August. Cannon, a founding leader of the communist movement in the U.S., was one of 18 Socialist Workers Party and Teamsters union leaders on trial in 1941 for organizing labor opposition to the U.S. rulers’ drive to enter World War II. In his testimony below, he gives a clear and forthright presentation of the communist program of the fighting vanguard of the working class. Copyright © 1942, 2014 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.
Photo: Teamsters Local 544 Union Defense Guard assembles in Minneapolis, 1938. Union volunteers organized to resist assaults by employer-funded fascist groups. SWP leader James P. Cannon explains that workers should protect themselves where necessary from hoodlum violence by anti-working-class forces.
Teamsters Local 544 Union Defense Guard assembles in Minneapolis, 1938. Union volunteers organized to resist assaults by employer-funded fascist groups. SWP leader James P. Cannon explains that workers should protect themselves where necessary from hoodlum violence by anti-working-class forces.
Q: Will you tell the court and jury the position of the Socialist Workers Party on workers defense guards?
A: Well the party is in favor of the workers organizing defense guards wherever their organizations or their meetings are threatened by hoodlum violence. The workers should not permit their meetings to be broken up or their halls to be wrecked, or their work to be interfered with, by Ku Klux Klanners or Silver Shirts or fascists of any type, or hoodlums, or reactionary thugs, but should organize a guard and protect themselves where it is necessary.
Q: How long ago was the idea of a workers defense guard first put forth by the group of which you are a member?
A: I may say that I have known about this idea, which we didn’t invent at all, all my thirty years in the labor movement. I have known about the idea of workers defense guards and seen them organized and helped to organize them more than once long before I ever heard of the Russian Revolution.
Q: And did the Trotskyist group ever start organizing these guards before it became the Socialist Workers Party?
A: Yes, in the first year of our existence, in 1929. The Communist Party, the Stalinists, tried to break up our meetings by hoodlum violence. They did break up a number of meetings and we reacted to that by organizing a workers defense guard to protect our meetings, and invited to participate in this guard not only Trotskyists, but other workers organizations which were also being attacked by the Stalinist hoodlums.
Let me explain this. The Stalinists had a system in those days of trying to break up meetings of the Socialist Party, of the IWW, of a group called the Proletarians, of anybody who didn’t agree with the Stalinists. They tried the Stalin game of breaking them up, so in self-defense, without any theory from anybody, we reacted by organizing workers defense guards to protect our meetings. And I may add, parenthetically, we protected them so well that we put a stop to that monkey business at the cost of a few cracked heads, which I personally greatly appreciated in those days. …
Q: Did you ever hold a meeting where you spoke where workers defense guards protected the meeting?
A: Yes. Here is the Militant (indicating) under date of January 15, 1929, which reports a meeting addressed by me in Cleveland, Ohio, on the same subject about which I was speaking then, “The Truth About Trotsky and the Russian Opposition,” and the account in the paper tells about a gang of Stalinists who came there and tried to disrupt the meeting, and heckled the speaker, and they began to try violence —
Q: You were the speaker, were you?
A: I was the speaker, and I recall very well that I was protected by a guard which we had organized, and the report says that the workers guard finally formed a flying wedge and put the disrupters out of the meeting, and the speaker was allowed to continue to the end. …
Q: But in the meanwhile you want to build, do you not, a workers militia?
A: A workers defense guard, yes.
Q: I mean, not alone for the purpose of defending the union halls, but for other purposes, isn’t that right? Don’t you want to build, while you are advancing toward power, a workers militia? To help you when you get into power?
A: We use the expression “workers defense guards” because that is most American and most easily and precisely defines what we want. The workers defense guards will grow in size and strength insofar as the guards have a task to perform, not because we want them to grow.
If the fascists grow and fight the unions, the unions must inevitably counter that movement by developing their defense guards, and if the defense guards are overpowered by fascist gangsters and hoodlums and thugs, the only answer of the unions can be to strengthen the guards, and in the course of that struggle between the fascist gangs and the workers defense guards, we hope the workers defense guards will grow strong and eventually become a very effective power. …
[W]e say the overwhelming weight of possibility, based upon historical experience, is that the ruling class of this country will attempt to resolve the conflict with the workers by fascist violence before we gain a majority in Congress. Or if it should come to the point where we gain a majority in a democratic election, the ruling class would stage a slaveholders’ rebellion against it. And we will undertake to put down that rebellion as decisively as possible.
Q: And to that end you want to start in advance to build up a workers army, don’t you?
A: You can’t by mere program build up a workers army to confront such a thing. The force of the workers will grow up out of their unions, out of their workers defense guards, out of the rank and file of the soldiers and the farmers who are in the armed forces, who will not support the slaveholders’ rebellion. We will not be without resources if we have a majority of the people. …
[Y]ou cannot organize workers defense guards merely because you want them — only when there is a pressing need for them that is obvious to the workers, regardless of their agreement with our ideas.
Q: It would be a pleasing thing, would it not, to the Socialist Workers Party to be able to establish workers guards in all trade unions for the ultimate purpose of the party?
A: I would go further than that and say that the establishment of workers defense guards is an almost automatic process as the unions encounter the violence of fascist hoodlums. Our task will be to accelerate it, to say it is a good idea, build it up and make it stronger.
11 August 2019
Benito Juárez: Mexican
BY STEVE WARSHELL
Benito Juárez was born in rural Oaxaca in 1806, while Mexico was still a colony of Spain. At age 13, Juárez could neither read, write, nor speak Spanish. A Zapotec Indian, Juárez was born into a society that had been built on the brutal exploitation and oppression of the indigenous peoples.
The Spanish conquistadores imposed in Mexico a particularly brutal brand of feudal social relations—including enslavement and outright murder. In barely 100 years it reduced the Indian population to less than 1 million, which by some estimates had been more than 20 million in 1519.
To make up for the lack of labor, the Spanish rulers brought in slaves from Africa, reaching nearly 250,000 during the 17th and 18th centuries, to labor in the fields and mines. The combination of indigenous peoples, Africans, and Europeans led to a caste system that determined much about prospects of any individual in the colony.
When the toilers of Mexico rose in rebellion in 1810, led by Miguel Hidalgo and José María Morelos, they were fighting for their freedom—freedom from Spain; full rights for mestizos, mulattos, and Indians; an end to compulsory labor; and an end to all the privileges lorded over them by the aristocracy and Catholic clergy. They demanded land—including the best areas often held by the Church and the aristocratic families.
The revolt was crushed by the local aristocrats in alliance with the colonial army. By 1820, events in Europe had made it difficult for the Spanish crown to defend its colonial possessions. The Mexican creoles decided that their time had come at last. Having defeated the toilers’ fight for freedom, they took advantage of a political crisis in Spain and proclaimed independence in the form of a constitutional monarchy. As aristocratic conservative and liberal factions jockeyed with each other for power, the country settled into an unstable republic, still tied to the vestiges of feudalism.
In 1844, U.S. president James K. Polk was elected on a platform of annexation of Texas. The pro-slavery Democrat also demanded that the established border with Mexico be moved 150 miles to the south across the Nueces River to the Río Bravo, known in the United States as the Rio Grande. Demands were also made for the territories of New Mexico and California. Although elected by a narrow margin, the victory of the capitalist slaveholders’ candidate guaranteed war.
Mexico, dominated by the landed aristocracy, was no match for the more developed capitalist social relations of the United States, albeit distorted by slavery. While there was fierce resistance in combat, the technical superiority of the U.S. forces overwhelmed defenders. By 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo codified loss of half Mexico’s territory.
Movement to overthrow dictatorship
A friend of the family he lived with became impressed with the young Juárez and arranged for his education at a Catholic seminary. Juárez continued his studies at the Institute of Science and Art where he read works by rationalist philosophers of the Enlightenment. Before receiving his law degree in 1834, he was elected a city councilman in Oaxaca and became known as a defender of Indian rights. In 1841 he became a civil judge and in 1847 was elected governor of Oaxaca. His term in office was marked by a measure he supported allowing the confiscation of church lands.
In 1853 Antonio López de Santa Anna returned to power in Mexico City and Juárez was one of a group of liberals expelled from the country. Finding himself in New Orleans, Juárez joined forces with other liberals and organized a revolutionary movement aimed at the overthrow of the dictatorship. During his exile, Juárez supported himself by working in a cigarette factory.
The next year liberal general Juan Alvarez and other revolutionaries proclaimed the Plan de Ayutla. Juárez and the New Orleans group joined the movement, which overthrew the Santa Anna dictatorship in the fall of 1854. Alvarez became president and Juárez was appointed minister of justice, producing the “Ley Juárez,” abolishing clerical immunity by limiting jurisdiction of ecclesiastical courts. That period also produced the “Ley Lerdo,” which ended church ownership of the land. Church property was nationalized with the largest holdings sold at auction.
With Mexico now a secular democratic republic, the clergy and aristocrats launched a civil war—the War of the Reform—in December of 1857. Juárez, then chief justice of the Supreme Court, was captured in Guadalajara. He was saved from execution by firing squad when the soldiers were persuaded not to shoot. Eventually Juárez escaped, reorganized the resistance, and was declared president of Mexico in 1858. He won the support of liberals and toilers both inside and outside of Mexico. He also received the support of U.S. president Abraham Lincoln. In 1861 the pro-reform forces retook Mexico City.
European monarchs intervene
As the civil war in the United States began, European monarchs looked for ways to intervene in the Americas. With Mexico now verging on bankruptcy, Juárez declared a two-year moratorium on payment of the foreign debt. In response the British, Spanish, and French crowns all sent troops to occupy the port of Veracruz. Juárez negotiated terms with the British and Spanish governments and they withdrew their forces. The French rulers rejected negotiations and launched an invasion.
After Mexico routed the invasion at the battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, the French government sent massive reinforcements and soon took the capital. They installed Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph, an Austrian nobleman, as “Emperor” of the country with the support of Mexican conservatives.
As Karl Marx observed, in Mexico, before the American Civil War, “slavery is hidden under the form of peonage. By means of advances, repayable in labour, which are handed down from generation to generation, not only the individual labourer, but his family, become, de facto, the property of other persons and their families. Juarez abolished peonage. The so-called Emperor Maximilian re-established it by a decree, which, in the House of Representatives at Washington, was aptly denounced as a decree for the re-introduction of slavery into Mexico.”
The government was forced to move to Ciudad Juárez on the U.S. border to organize the resistance and continue the fight. Aided by Lincoln and the Union Army the Juaristas carried out three years of revolutionary struggle and guerrilla war. French soldiers were forced to withdraw and Maximilian was captured and executed. On July 15, 1867, Juárez returned to Mexico City and resumed the presidency, using the next five years in office to take the first steps toward building a modern nation.
The legacy of Benito Juárez is the abolition of aristocratic and church property and the class relations that came with them. These were replaced with capitalist property and bourgeois social relations without which there could be no industry, no modern nation, and most importantly, no modern proletariat—the gravediggers of the capitalist system.
History will gratefully remember Juárez for his contributions to this cause.
What’s character of British Labour Party?
(Reply to a Reader column)
BY JONATHAN SILBERMAN
LONDON—“Despite its bourgeois, imperialist politics, is the British Labour Party still somewhat of a labor party, or only in name?” asks reader Robby Kopec in the November 2, 2004 issue of the Militant.
Kopec is right about the party’s “bourgeois, imperialist politics.” The present Labour government is just the latest case. Since its formation in 1906, the Labour Party “in and out of government” has supported the British empire and Britain at war; doffed its collective hat to the British monarchy; exuded nationalism; and been a faithful servant of the British rulers’ assaults on workers at home.
The capitalist program, electoralist orientation and structure of the party—the party leadership has never been under the control of the ranks—doesn’t tell the whole story, however.
Fighting workers for many years viewed it as a party of labor, an echo of Labour’s origins in major working-class battles. When millions of unskilled workers swelled the ranks of the unions at the end of the nineteenth century, they forced a break with the capitalist Liberal Party, whose left-wing tail had been headed up by the labor aristocratic union leaders. But while the new party was an organizational break from the Liberal Party, it continued liberal labor politics. In 1914 the Labour party leaders rushed to support World War I. The party that emerged after the first world interimperialist slaughter was a pale reflection of even the pre-war party, let alone having anything in common with a striving for class independence. What gave Labour’s pretence to working-class credentials a new lease on life was Stalinism.
Under the impetus of the Russian Revolution of 1917 the Communist Party was founded in Britain. Prospects for building a proletarian party in the huge class battles of the 1920s were good. The Stalinist policies of those who dominated the fledgling Communist Party, however, ensured this didn’t happen. The CP prettified the reformist trade union leaders and effectively liquidated itself into left labor formations. In the nine-day general strike of 1926 they called for “all power” to the strike-breaking general council of the TUC with which Stalin maintained relations. After a flip-flop in which they exited the unions denouncing them as “reactionary” and condemning the Labour Party as “social fascist” putting further wind in Labour’s sails, the Stalinists turned to class collaborationist popular frontism: the bureaucrats in the Soviet Union kept as close as possible to “left Labour MPs” and the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), as it was called for many years, acted as the foot soldiers of the reformist union and Labour leaders giving a progressive veneer to Labour’s links with the unions.
The membership of the Labour Party still included substantial numbers of workers. Periodically, Marxist currents developed in the party, including winning the leadership of the party’s youth organizations. Workers involved in struggle would often turn toward Labour, looking for solidarity.
The last major case of unions seeking to bend Labour to their will was the coal miners strike of 1984-85. The miners won applause at the Labour Party conference and some MPs campaigned in their support. But the party leadership railed against the strikers and their leaders, playing the major part—alongside the TUC General Council—in ensuring the defeat of the strike. The party leadership also launched a purge, expelling a socialist current and making the party less and less habitable by workers. The result has been a bourgeoisification of the party’s social composition. At the same time, Stalinism—the force inside the labor movement that had kept Labour’s working class credentials echoing from the grave—suffered a mortal blow. With the shattering of the Stalinist apparatuses in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the CPGB went into terminal decline.
Millions of workers celebrated Labour’s election in 1997 and the end of 18 years of Tory government marked by the Thatcher-Reagan course of the 1980s. But hopes have been dashed. Today, workers engaged in resistance to the bosses attacks on wages and working conditions are not looking to Labour. Those voting Labour at the next general election will not be casting a “class vote.” Labour today stands before workers as a social imperialist party, looking far more like the Democrats in the United States than like the social democratic party it once claimed to be.
The Communist League in the UK won’t be calling for a Labour vote at the next general election. It will run its own campaign under the watchword “it’s not who you’re against but what you are for.” The League’s program will advance the need to build and strengthen unions. It will point toward workers and farmers taking political power.
Such a course has nothing whatever to do with recent developments characterized by reader Robby Kopec as “unions disaffiliating from Labour, though not necessarily towards independent working class politics.” One union, the Rail Maritime and Transport union (RMT) has broken organizationally with the Labour Party, having been expelled after backing non-Labour election candidates in Scotland. The Fire Brigades Union (FBU), involved in a series of strikes last year, threatened to end its affiliation. But neither of these represent a shift toward independent working-class politics. They are part of the labor bureaucrats’ wars of position as they seek to compensate for the membership decline that’s a consequence of the continuing weakening of the unions.
Why communists don’t call for
a vote for British Labour Party
(Reply to a Reader column)
BY JONATHAN SILBERMAN
LONDON—“What happened to the character of the Labour Party?” asks Kristoffer Schultz in a letter to the editor published in last week’s issue. “What changes have occurred in the Labour Party” that underlie the position of the Communist League in the United Kingdom not calling for a vote for Labour in the next election in contrast to the general election of 1997?
The answer to the first question is that there has been no qualitative change in the Labour Party’s character for 90 years. That is true of all the social-democratic parties that mobilized support for the war efforts of “their own” bourgeoisies in World War I. Their record ever since has confirmed, and reconfirmed, their character as social imperialist parties. From that moment in August 1914 when the social democracy betrayed the working class, the decisive task facing the workers’ vanguard has been to build communist parties in each country and a new revolutionary international.
The answer to the second question about what to do in a general election lies in the realm of tactics: how to advance the building of a communist party. And tactics change depending on the conditions of the day in the class struggle.
In the general election of 1997, the Communist League campaign centered on our own candidates who campaigned for a revolutionary working-class program and course of action, independent of the capitalist class. As an aid to advancing this program, the League joined with masses of workers who voted to dump the Conservative Party that had been running the government for 18 years—a period marked by the politics of the Reagan-Thatcher assaults on working people. We said to workers at the time, “You have great expectations that Labour will advance the interests of working people. We don’t agree. But let’s agree on the program we need, vote together as a class, and fight together for this program.”
As we said in this column in the November 30 Militant, millions of workers celebrated Labour’s electoral victory in 1997. “But hopes have been dashed. Today, workers engaged in resistance to the bosses attacks on wages and working conditions are not looking to Labour. Those voting Labour at the next general election will not be casting a ‘class vote.’”
A vote for Labour in 2005 will reflect quite a different dynamic than it did in the 1997 election. It will come in the context of eight years of the Labour government acting as the main instrument in the British ruling class’s march to war against working people at home and abroad. The coming general election will be more akin to what happened in Spain in March of this year. Then, two days after gigantic reactionary mobilizations against alleged “Basque assassins”—mobilizations of millions supported by the Socialist Party and Communist Party of Spain—the social democrats won the election. In no way could this possibly be described as “workers casting a class vote” against representatives of the boss class.
This gives a pointer to answering Kristoffer Schultz’s third question: is there any basic difference between Labour and what he calls “social democratic parties in Germany, Denmark or Sweden—parties also based on the unions”? The answer is no. All are social imperialist parties with years of experience in administering their respective imperialist states. While they continue to have organized relations with the trade unions and receive financial backing from the union bureaucracy, they less and less base themselves on or appeal to the mass of workers organized in the unions. Their composition and orientation is more and more in line with their bourgeois program and structure. You don’t find any Marxist currents developing in these parties today—as was the case with the British Labour Party in the past.
The biggest change since the 1990s, however, isn’t what’s happened to these parties per se. It’s the decline of Stalinism as a force within the workers movement, a consequence of the shattering of the Stalinist apparatuses in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. It was Stalinism that gave a second lease on life to the working-class credentials of these parties and their links to the unions, something that would have been buried decades ago if genuine revolutionary parties with substantial weight in the working class had developed. With the decline of Stalinism, the appearance of the Labour Party to vanguard workers has changed.
Today the Labour Party looks far more like the Democratic Party in the United States than the party of labor it pretended to be. That is why militant workers today seeking to organize unions and mobilize union power to defend the interests of workers and farmers don’t turn toward the Labour Party to generalize their struggles and get help in resisting the bosses’ offensive. Calling for a vote for these parties today would be an obstacle, not an aid, to winning vanguard workers to a communist program and course of action.