In the year 2000 Ken Livingstone was expelled from the Labour Party and stood as an independent in the London mayoral election. Most left-wing political organisations rallied to support and canvass for him. However his tenancy as mayor has been hailed a success by big business and with the issuing of the ‘bond scheme’ he has helped significantly in the move to privatise the London Underground rail network.
Mr Livingstone has now been accepted back into his beloved Labour Party and can now recommence the task most dear to his heart: that of promoting the career of Ken Livingstone.
That ‘Red Ken’ should turn out to be a friend of big business and can now accommodate himself easily within a political party, whose record over the last seven years, both nationally and internationally, has been a portrayal of greed and aggression that even the most right wing Conservative government would have been proud of, should not come as a surprise to anyone with a genuine understanding of the role of the Labour Party.
The question that does need raising though is why the majority of the left in Britain refuse to learn from their mistakes in regard to the Livingstone situation in 2000 and are now set to repeat them at a far more dangerous time for workers both in Britain and internationally. Much of the muddled thinking today can be found within the Socialist Alliance, a grouping of disparate political organisations, who pose as an alternative to the betrayals of the Labour Party.
To understand the political physiognomy of Respect, it is necessary to examine briefly the history of its main organisation, the Socialist Workers Party, and to examine its theory and practice
Its founder and leading member for many years was one Tony Cliff.
The SWP predecessor, the International Socialism group, went even further than Trotsky in denouncing the USSR. In fact, it broke from Trotsky’s so-called Fourth International in 1950 on the question of the characterisation of the class nature of the Soviet state. Whereas Trotsky coined the phrase ‘a deformed workers’ state’ with which to castigate the Soviet Union, Mr Cliff had formulated the theory of the Soviet Union as being ‘state capitalist’ on the grounds that the Russian Revolution had been definitively defeated and replaced with a new system of class exploitation. The Cliff group ended up some forty years later, now as the SWP, celebrating the collapse of the USSR.
On the destitution and poverty currently being experienced by the Russian masses the SWP is silent.
Alongside the abandoning of the world’s first workers’ state in 1950 came the International Socialists’ (IS) adoption of a ‘neutral’ position on the Korean War. Indeed such was their animosity towards both North Korea and China that the IS leaflets were translated into Korean and dropped over the North Korean frontier by the US Air Force as imperialist propaganda!
The foundation for such ignoble practices and reactionary positions can be found in the writings of Tony Cliff over the years. For instance in May 1973 in their journal International Socialism Cliff wrote an article entitled ‘Lenin and the Revolutionary Party’ in which he argued that “Lenin regarded party rules as a convenience, not something that ought to take great time and thought.” Thus, in this single sentence, Cliff showed how he had freed himself to take positions on world changing events based on an individual whim or opportunist practice, instead of on the fundamental struggle of class forces.
(Ironically the historic split between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks in 1903, resulting eventually in the Russian Revolution, was precisely on the question of party rules).
Cliff’s abandonment of the defence of both the Soviet Union and North Korea stemmed from his superficial impressions and his ‘individual’, rather than class, interpretation of events. Lenin roundly dealt with this non-class ideology in his crucial work What is to be Done?
“Since there can be no talk of an independent ideology formulated by the working masses themselves in the process of their movement, the only choice is either bourgeois or socialist ideology. There is no middle course (for mankind has not created a ‘third’ ideology, and moreover, in a society torn by class antagonisms, there can never be a non-class or an above-class ideology).”
What has categorised the Cliff group over the years is their idealist outlook, which assumes that consciousness determines life; that a ‘good idea’ can change social behaviour. This is the very opposite of Marxism which they pretend to represent.
A rejection of the role of the working class in transforming society is not solely confined to Cliff’s group. However, numerous examples in the history of the SWP, such as the backing for the CIA creation Solidarnosc in Poland and the invitation to visit Britain extended to the US funded Otpor student organisation from Belgrade recently, stand as an indictment to the crass opportunistic practices of Britain’s leading left organisation.
Having rejected a class analysis of developments early in their existence, the IS, and later the SWP, were now ‘free’ to adapt themselves not only to what might be currently popular, but also to reach an accommodation with dissatisfied Labour bureaucrats.
Ken Livingstone was an example of this degeneration, recently expelled Labour MP George Galloway is the latest.
Mr Galloway and the Socialist Alliance
Mr Galloway was a member of the Labour Party for thirty-six years and was expelled for his anti-war stance on the question of Iraq. In his defence he prepared a 50 page deposition for Labour’s National Constitutional Committee (NCC) stating that he was being singled out for punishment for voicing legitimate opinions shared by many in the party. However after a two-day meeting the NCC found him guilty. Galloway called these proceedings ‘a kangaroo court’, which undoubtedly they were, and intimated that he might take legal action through the High Court stating a Labour Party rule. “2a (8) guarantees that a member may not be expelled for the mere expression of their views and opinions. I’ve not been accused of having done anything, I’ve been accused of saying something they didn’t like.”
The expulsion says much about the dictatorial tendency within the Labour Party but it also begs the question as to why Galloway would fight so hard to remain a member of such a war-mongering party. His opposition to the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq was undoubtedly sincere and it was echoed by millions of people in Britain and throughout the world. However there is a contradiction here. You cannot proclaim yourself to be anti-war and remain a loyal member of the party that is waging the war. Yet that is what Mr Galloway attempted to do. Notwithstanding his correctness in his opposition to the Iraq war Galloway was perfectly content to remain a member of this most reactionary anti-working class Labour government. Thus he shares much in common with the previous darling of the left, Ken Livingstone.
Learning nothing from the Livingstone debacle the Socialist Alliance, with the SWP at its head, have rushed to support the Respect Unity Coalition formed by George Galloway, which intends to stand in the forthcoming European and GLA elections.
Respect, standing for Respect, Equality, Socialism, Peace, Environmentalism, Community and Trade unionism has appealed for support from all quarters, ranging from the anti-war movement to students and pensioners to Green Party members, faith groups and according to some reports, even progressive Tories.
In their attempt to adapt to this new formation, the SWP agreed to Galloway’s demands that it advance only minimal reforms that do not threaten the profit system and merely promise to address ‘a democratic deficit at the heart of politics in Britain’.
The official launch of Respect took place in London on Sunday 25th January 2004. The audience included the groups still remaining in the Socialist Alliance and, in an apparent attempt to bury the struggling SA in favour of their new project, Lindsey German, a leading SWP and SA member, stated, “To those who ask why is it not more socialist I say, because it is built on the anti-war movement and because there are large muslim communities and we want to reach out to them as well as the traditional left. If they had wanted to join the Socialist Alliance they would have joined it by now.”
Once again the idealist practice of the SWP can be seen in this statement. The Socialist Alliance seemed a ‘good idea’ at the time but not many joined it, so Respect is our latest ‘good idea’. And this time we will not make it too socialist. This is idealism. This is once again proposing that consciousness determines being rather than the other way round.
In order to cobble together some kind of agreement to get Respect off the ground, the groups from the Socialist Alliance have ditched their previously ‘essential principle’ of workers representatives taking a worker’s wage. The SWP argued, via Paul Holborrow, that as Respect is not a socialist organisation (what is the ‘s’ in the title for then?) because this would be exclusive of the people we might otherwise attract, the ‘principle’ of a worker’s wage could be dropped. Adding, without a blush, ‘Are we to say that it is a condition that he (George Galloway) takes a worker’s wage?’
It had been pointed out previously that Mr Galloway needed £150,000 a year to function politically and as if by magic, the ‘principle’ of the worker’s wage disappeared from the Alliance’s lips.
Principles are not something the SWP take seriously, a bit like Lenin’s annoying party rules, so it will be no surprise for the younger generation to know that during their entire existence the SWP have opposed standing in elections, both local and national, on the grounds that to do so would ‘encourage illusions in bourgeois democracy’. However this ‘principle’ was also ditched recently as they participated in this ‘illusion’ under the banner of the Socialist Alliance, and are now set to do the same within Respect – albeit on both occasions lacking any kind of coherent programme. Moreover they will be looking to stand selectively, in order not to confront what they see as Labour Party ‘lefts’.
Never mind the accusation that standing in elections ‘encourages illusions in bourgeois democracy’, what about the fact that giving these Labour ‘lefts’ any kind of consideration whatsoever, encourages illusions in the reformability of the Labour Party itself?
With the Labour Party discredited in the eyes of millions of workers it seems it is the job of groupings like the SA and Respect to retain and regain people’s confidence in the future of the Labour Party on the basis that if only they could get rid of Blair and replace him with a nicer person then all will be well.
Once again these ‘revolutionaries’ overlook the class struggle and substitute individuals as the remedy.
Stop The War
Unfortunately the Socialist Alliance, that is to say in reality the SWP, managed to determine the direction of the Stop the War Coalition (STWC). Consequently, when thousands upon thousands of sincere people marched through London on the national STWC marches and finally reached the triumphant rallies at the end they were treated to speakers such as Bianca Jagger uttering nonsense about the world needing more war crimes tribunals for men like Saddam Hussein, and even more nauseating, having fully paid up members of the Labour Party, the very party responsible for hurling death and destruction on a defenceless people, telling the assembled crowd how marvellous it was that they had come out in such numbers.
The fawning of the STWC organisers over such ‘celebrities’ at best borders on ignorance and at worst on a betrayal of the anti-war movement.
From all the speeches at the national STWC demonstrations one topic was conspicuous by its absence; and that was the crisis of capitalism itself. This crisis is the driving force behind all developments today and unless you address this and pose an alternative, then you are playing games. You are playing games with the movement that has developed against the aggression and falsifications of this Labour government. You are leaving it directionless. You are depriving the mass of people now coming forward of a general knowledge of capitalism and its crisis and thereby strengthening the belief that you cannot overthrow the system.
The historic task of building a truly independent working class party is the central task facing workers today. The manoeuvrings of groups like the SA and Respect, which in the final analysis reflect the pressure of bourgeois ideology on the working class, are not going to achieve it, indeed it is not even on their agenda.