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Morning Star call for a conference and (possibly) a new party

The Morning Star, daily paper of the Communist Party of Britain (CPB), has issued an appeal to all organisations of the working class to convene a conference to discuss the crisis of political representation in parliament. Richard Brenner reports

IT’S A timely call. With Labour’s leaders Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and Liam Byrne accepting all the Tory cuts, the public sector pay freeze (a pay cut in real terms) and the slashing of benefits, CPB general secretary Rob Griffiths wrote in an open letter on 1 February:
“The policy of the Labour Party leadership to align itself with this … is a betrayal of the millions of workers and their families who should be able to look to Labour for support and solidarity.”

This was far from an overstatement. After all, Ed Balls said on 14 January, “the reality is, given the economy failing as it is, that pay restraint is going to have to continue”. As well as calling for workers to pay the price of the capitalist crisis, he repeated the lie of the bosses’ economists that “high pay” causes unemployment: “And if people expect Labour to say ‘we’ll just oppose’, we can’t do that. [It] would be irresponsible because the priority has got to be getting people into jobs rather than people being paid more.”

Balls’ neoliberal lunge drew only the tamest of criticism from right wing union leaders, like Brendan Barber of the TUC and Dave Prentis of Unison. But it provoked angry responses from leaders of more militant unions, especially those not affiliated to Labour. Mark Serwotka of the civil servants’ PCS union said: “Instead of matching them on the cuts, [Labour] should be articulating a clear alternative and speaking up for public sector workers and ordinary people in society.”

And president of the RMT transport union, Alex Gordon, asked “if Labour doesn’t want to be the opposition, then where is the opposition going to come from to this government?” adding, “Our members aren’t going to stand by and take another two years of this kind of punishment and then turn out at the ballot box in 2015 and meekly vote for a Labour opposition that has supported these punishing cuts.”

Open Letter
Reflecting the anger of union members, and aware of the position of the left wing of the TUC, the Morning Star has now made a shift in its policy. Throughout the 2000s, despite the repeated betrayals of the Blair government and the mass opposition it generated, the CPB opposed calls for unions to break from Labour and form a new working class party.

Now however, under the blows of the economic crisis and in the face of mass opposition such as November’s two million strong strike against the Tory pension robbery, the CPB is adjusting its dress.

Correctly, Griffiths points to “the need for the affiliated unions to campaign in a more determined, planned and co-ordinated way to change the policies and if necessary the composition of the Labour Party leadership.”

Concretely he proposes that affiliated unions should “cease paying financial donations to the Labour Party centrally until its leaders and MPs oppose real cuts in public sector wages and express solidarity with workers fighting to defend their pensions”. At the same time, to maintain union influence and allow a challenge to the current policy and leadership, Griffiths advises that “affiliation fees should be maintained in order to step up the challenge to the Labour leadership’s current policies from inside the party as well as from outside”.

As a key element of this suggested campaign within Labour and the unions, the Open Letter proposes a conference. Specifically Griffiths writes: “Affiliated trade unions should meet to convene an all-Britain conference at the earliest opportunity to discuss the current crisis of political representation for workers and their families.” He adds demands for a recalled conference of the Labour Party and that the TUC “resume its historic responsibility and convene a special conference of all labour movement organisations to discuss the political representation of the labour movement in the House of Commons”.

This series of conference proposals do of course beg the question: what should these conferences decide to do? For Griffiths it’s an either/or answer – if Labour does not change course, a new party may be necessary. But he defines the character of the new party in advance, another parliamentary-oriented, legalistic and reformist party committed to governing within the existing institutions of the capitalist state:

“We believe these actions are the most realistic and effective way of ensuring that the interests of working people are represented in the Westminster Parliament. Should the Labour Party continue on a right wing course, its future will be at risk and the trade union movement will have a duty to re-establish a mass party of labour capable of winning elections, forming a government and enacting policies in the interests of the people not the bankers.” [Emphasis added].

Reclaim Labour…
Now of course much of Griffiths’ call is to be welcomed. A fight in the unions and Labour is urgently needed. But we need to go further than Griffiths and be much clearer about the limitations of Labour and the sort of mass party the working class needs today.

The fact is that a struggle within the Labour movement to force Miliband and Balls to change policy can only, at best, rally mass forces to oppose them. Given the undemocratic and rigged structures of the Labour Party in which the pro-finance, neoliberal MPs control the show, the very idea of overturning the capitalist consensus that governs the party and winning a majority is ruled out.

The right wing would rather split the party than allow socialist policies and leaders to take it over – and by threatening a split, they would aim to force the timid union officials and lefts to back down and accept their control, as Tony Benn did at the infamous Bishop’s Stortford talks in 1982, almost exactly 30 years ago.

…Or new party?

Therefore Marxists should say openly, in advance, that the struggle to oppose Miliband and Balls should aim not at taking over Labour but at winning key affiliated unions to break from Labour and convincing the unaffiliated unions to participate in a new project: the formation of a new mass working class party.

Given the defects of our corrupt and undemocratic electoral system, and the fact that even with 600 left wing MPs power would still remain in the hands of unelected and unaccountable civil servants, army and security chiefs and bankers, our goal should be not another party focused on forming a government by winning elections and carrying out reforms through parliament, but a party focused on activity in the workplaces and on the streets.

A mass working class party will only succeed in defeating the rule of the capitalists if it aims to convert the resistance to the crisis into a struggle for revolution: through a general strike against the cuts, bringing down the Coalition, establishing councils of workers’ delegates that can seize the power and form a workers’ government.

The Morning Star, of course, follows in the footsteps of its predecessor, the Daily Worker, which abandoned all talk of such a revolutionary strategy back in the 1930s, under orders from Joseph Stalin and Georgi Dimitrov. Instead their British Road to Socialism programme is based on the strategy of a broad democratic alliance of Labour and “progressive capitalists” (presumably the Lib Dems?), forming an elected government and carrying out an inflationary economic policy. Today that strategy relies on the illusion of winning Labour to socialist policies. Tomorrow, it appears, it may rely on the formation of a new party, but one our Stalinists will insist should remain on Old Labour’s strictly reformist terrain.

As a first step in its campaign, the Morning Star is holding an All-Britain conference of its supporters on 31 March at the Bishopsgate Institute, 230 Bishopsgate, London, EC2M 4QH, between Liverpool St station and Spitalfields Market.

Speakers include Owen Jones, Megan Dobney (SERTUC), Hugh Lanning (PCS), Michelle Stanistreet (NUJ), Sally Hunt (UCU), Len McCluskey (Unite), Bob Crow (RMT); Michael Meacher MP, Kelvin Hopkins MP.

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