First published July 1966
ANTI-UNION LEGISLATION AND POLITICAL QUIETISM
In the December/January [1965-6] issue of Militant there appeared an article on the front page headed: "No to Legislation." Unfortunately, the substance of that article placed in question the very point of bothering to print such a headline. It was an ultra-optimistic forecast that anti-union legislation probably would not be put on the Statute books, and even if it was it would anyway be irrelevant because of the strength of the workers. "They dare not lift a finger," said Comrade D. Or maybe it wasn't D, as we shall see.
Reading the article Rachel Lever and Sean Matgamna came to the conclusion that the article was wrong in substance and also that its tone raised questions about our general approach. We decided to write a short document for internal circulation on this issue.
In the New Year Peter Taaffe visited Manchester and we put the following position to him:
That the paper's task was not to speculate on what the capitalists and the bureaucrats might or might not do, and least of all arbitrarily to dismiss the anti-union agitation as irrelevant. While it was necessary to make a clear objective assessment of what was likely to happen, this should not be blatantly blurted out but should be 'subsumed' within the general agitation material. The task of this agitation material, of the paper, was to seize on passing events to illustrate our basic conceptions; agitation leading to limited struggles which would group forces around our programme, i.e. build the organisation. It was necessary to be 'militant' in order to regroup the militants. The ultra-mechanical 'everything is pre-ordained' approach would have the opposite effect. If the class was strong our task was to help arouse awareness of that strength in anger against the bureaucratic pygmies: it was necessary to see ourselves not as 'Deutscherites' commenting on the passing show, but as Marxist revolutionaries, striving to organise the fight.
Even if there was no danger the very proposals from the Labour leaders allowed us to lead a limited propaganda campaign which could educate certain sections - not least in relation to the Incomes Policy, of which the legislation is the only likely outcome. Considering the illusions in broad 'left' circles (including, it now seems, Walton Constituency Labour Party [in Liverpool, then one of Militant's strongholds]) that it is only necessary to include profits and prices in this for it to be socialist, this became more important. Agitation against Incomes Policy and its implications would be a main content of our work in the next period and it was necessary to conduct it in a campaign spirit, co-ordinated nationally and led by Militant.
It was necessary to step ahead a bit, even if there was no immediate mass opposition, because otherwise we would not be able to group sufficient of the really advanced elements around us to be able to give a revolutionary lead to the broader ferment which would inevitably arise. To sum it up, the article confined itself to computer-type, mechanical 'Marxist' commentary on events, i.e. an undialectical, dead, therefore unMarxist approach. Whereas our task was to establish a dynamic interaction between the full Marxist programme and concrete developing struggles, by leading limited struggles ourselves.
We disagreed with the estimation that there was little or no danger of the legislation going through. It was not necessarily a matter of an all-out attack on the working class, but a limited attack aimed more than anything at strengthening the union bureaucracy and aiding it to discipline the working class. Since sections of the capitalist class saw a 'containment' of wages within a low rate of annual increase as the only alternative to serious deflation, it was premature to say that it would not materialise.
Concretely we made the following suggestions: that the paper should attempt to lead a national campaign on the lines suggested above, and that the best way to attempt to conduct this campaign was through the organising of rank and file committees (the sort of idea outlined for example in "Perspectives of Entryism" [a document by Ted Grant]).
Taaffe while disagreeing that there was a serious danger of legislation being passed, agreed with the criticisms of the Militant article. He said that the article was the product of a number of pens and consequently was uneven in quality and was, in fact, wrong in approach. He not only agreed with the idea of Labour Rank and File Committees against Anti-Union Legislation, but chided us with not having informed the centre of this before: how could they be expected to lead if people didn't provide suggestions and ideas?
He suggested that instead of a short discussion document we write a critical letter/article for Militant which would also outline the concrete suggestions, and help undo any damage done by the article. Immediately we should go ahead and attempt to organise a committee to campaign in the local Labour Parties, trade unions, Trades Council etc., and also that we should attempt to involve the Liverpool group in similar work. A close contact that we had fixed up for Taaffe to see was mentioned as one who could play a big role here because of his prominence in his area trade union - and could equally be drawn into the Group as a result of this concrete activity on the issue - Comrade P.
A letter was sent to the Militant deliberately phrased as from two readers: the idea being that there would be no hint of an existing organisation in the proposals we were making. Necessarily, certain points were omitted. The letter read as follows:
Dear Comrade, after reading your front-page article last month ("No to Legislation") we felt bound to wonder what exactly is the role of the Militant as a Marxist paper inside the Labour Party. Is it to lull people to sleep - or should it be (as Lenin said) to agitate, as a first step towards education and organisation of the working class in our fight for emancipation from capitalism? Embodying what is essentially a correct estimation of the objective forces, of the strength of the working class as a result of twenty years of full employment in an expanding economy, it presents a picture of smug complacency.
The article's main case is that the workers are too strong for any legislation against their organisations to succeed - that is, says Comrade D with trusting confidence, if it even gets to the statute books.
Now, even if (a big if) all this were true it would most certainly not be the task of a Marxist paper to present its readers with a 'detached onlooker' type commentary. Without being hysterically alarmist or resorting to gimmicks we must raise consciously before the labour movement the class issues which are posed in a vividly dramatic form by the proposed action by the "Labour Government" to turn the bosses' state machine on the bed-rock organisations of labour; most important, of course, being the question of the class allegiance of the Browns and the Wilsons [George Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer; Harold Wilson, Prime Minister].
In any case is the ultra-optimism of Militant justified? For a start, whatever the present government does, a new Tory government would certainly reap where Gunter [Ray Gunter, a right-wing Labour minister] etc., have sown and proceed with legislation.
Objectively it is not only necessary to comment on the strength of the class and point out that if legislation is on the books it will be a dead letter in the immediate next period; because this in itself is quite misleading. Any anti-labour legislation on the books, even if passed while the working class is "looking the other way," is a defeat: no less a defeat because the practical consequences are delayed. For make no mistake about it, we cannot always bank on a situation so favourable to the workers; or are the Marxists around Militant so confident of the stability of capitalism that they look forward to an indefinite prolongation of the seller's market in labour? In the event of unemployment and sharp struggles in defence of the workers' present living standards, would such legislation still be an irrelevant dead letter? Or would it be a vital weapon in the hands of the bourgeois state machine?
The very events which have strengthened the workers since the war (protracted boom, full employment) have at the same time contributed to confining the consciousness of the mass movement to the level of bargaining within the system. Militant should by all means reflect the strength of the workers and their confidence. But if you also reflect the complacency and in general the average present level of consciousness then you will have added nothing to the struggle for Marxism: since by merely reflecting you can never hope to raise consciousness to any level at which the necessity to go beyond the capitalist system is both realised and fought for.
If it wishes to bridge the division between Marxism and the mass movement, between the present and future consciousness, between the class and its vanguard in the organised movement, between the minimum and the maximum programme, between reformism and socialism, Militant must drop its sedative tone.
The task is to lead an agitation inside the movement against the Tory outlook and policies of the Labour leaders. Of these the proposed teeth for "Brown's" Incomes Policy, so reminiscent of Taff Vale (one of the midwives of the Labour Party [the Taff Vale court judgement, which awarded a railway company heavy damages against the railworkers' union]) raises the vital issues most clearly. Already there are many in the trade unions and local Labour Parties who are moving, often confusedly and instinctively against this.
Militant should assist this growing movement both in practice and by linking up and clarifying all the issues to bring them down to earth: but a literary campaign is just not sufficient.
We must raise the alarm as far as we can reach, alerting the movement to the danger, and attracting the militants without whom we will never generate a mass Marxist consciousness in the future.
Such a campaign is being started in Manchester, with the aim of linking up the struggles around this question that are developing in the trade unions and Labour Parties. It is necessary to avoid both complacency and hysteria. A number of trade unionists active in the Labour Party are organising a campaign committee (Labour Committee Against Anti-Union Legislation) to take the fight into the wards and local trade union branches.
We would like to suggest that Militant sponsors similar committees in other areas - a national link-up would be possible in the event of a sharp development on this question.
(The warning against only a literary campaign seems very optimistic considering that even a literary campaign wasn't attempted.)
Thus two lines of activity were set in motion. The letter and the practical attempts to organise a
rank and file committee, including the attempt to involve Liverpool. The chronology of the two
overlaps and it will be necessary to take them separately. We want to discuss two angles: comrade
Taaffe's behaviour subsequent to his Manchester visit and the reaction of the Liverpool group to
A DISCUSSION IN LIVERPOOL
We went to Liverpool and at a branch meeting made the case more or less as outlined above, with a bit more emphasis on the need to avoid becoming submerged in routine work in the movement as it exists, that we are an independent group etc. Also the elementary point that entry implied that we were once not 'inside'. The reply from nearly all the comrades, with the partial exception of DG, was surprising to say the least. The attitudes taken by the comrades, though in a crude form perhaps, we have found to pervade the organisation - including the centre, though the comrades at the centre are capable of clothing it in a pseudo-Marxist verbiage, laced with bluff. Comrade Ted M epitomised the attitude of the Liverpool group.
M replied that there was no mass movement against the proposed legislation, that in fact the masses were indifferent, and consequently we should not attempt any leadership-type activities, such as the Committees idea. Such things were the mark of the Healyite beast, and anyway even if we did initiate activity, once the masses started to show an interest the Big Boys of centrism on Merseyside would intervene and push us aside as they did the SLL on the unemployment issue three years ago, and the whole thing would lead to nothing. Only the future mass radicalisation of the workers would overwhelm the centrists and raise us to the heights. Meanwhile we must not divorce ourselves in anyway from the masses, but continue making our propaganda for the full programme while waiting for the class. 'Yes' the Liverpool group had sufficient influential contacts, comrades and semi-comrades in the mass movement to make a minority committee of militants to campaign a practical proposition - but the idea indicated a wrong approach. The existing broad movement, if it could be induced to organise such an effort, would be the ideal medium, for example the Liverpool Trades Council which is "almost a Soviet": unfortunately there was as yet no movement of the broad organisations. He wound up listing the people they could involve - if there was any point.
We replied that the comrades appeared to have an all or nothing conception. Either a mass movement now or no activity, merely a passive existence in the Labour Party making abstract propaganda. But the comrades' point on the centrists refuted their own attitude: the centrists would always be able to fake. Moreover, no matter how big the upsurge of the class, or how magnificent its spontaneous activity as witness Spain in the thirties, the centrists, entrenched and suitably adapting their garb to the sharpening situation, could so mislead the class that it was smashed down. The only approach to a guarantee against this was the preparation of a Bolshevik cadre organisation which could compete with the centrists and provide a revolutionary leadership for the class. But this organisation wouldn't arise spontaneously out of the ground in the situation of mass upsurge - it could only be prepared slowly, in advance of the movement of the class. We could only build ourselves into such a force by conscious activity in this period by leading limited struggles, necessarily at a certain point of advance from the masses. Our task was to attempt lead now, recognising the limited situation and also our own limitations: but these shouldn't be exaggerated into a paralysing sense of helplessness. Whatever happened later the SLL's initiating activity on the question of unemployment gained them many cadres and in turn magnified their influence in the Young Socialists. What they did with that support is a separate question: but really we had to consider if our own passive approach hadn't left them with a clear field on this as well as other things and therefore contributed to their power to disrupt the Young Socialists.
On the idea of Liverpool Trades Council being "almost a soviet" we pointed out that the Trades Council was embedded in the existing Labour Movement which was acquiescent, necessarily comprising a section of the class and in fact to a very large extent connected with the labour bureaucracy. To compare this with the soviet, completely democratic, presupposing a determination on the part of the class to control its own life directly, and drawing into activity those masses of the most oppressed workers at present outside the scope of the organised movement, was to debase the concept of soviets, to substitute form and formal comparisons for Marxist concern with the essence of things. To confine ourselves to tailing after the Trades Council as a result of this comparison, was to come very close to the stupid attempt of the Selby Tendency to pretend that the Labour Party is the Bolshevik party. On the basis of such an approach we had no future.
There was no final agreement on practical action, only a vague promise to see if a resolution committing the Liverpool Trades Council to organise such a committee could be pushed through. It must be said that throughout the discussion we both got the impression of a barrier preventing the consideration of the issue on its merits. The comrades responded as if we had proposed a sectarian desertion of the mass movement. They appeared conditioned, perhaps through an un-thought-out rejection of the Healyite activities, to regard any talk of mobility by an advanced element as in the SLL tradition.
We got the impression from the Liverpool comrades, and later from the centre that any independent organisational activities on our part is tantamount to going outside the mass movement. The rigidity of the Liverpool comrades on this was truly amazing; and this is the main proletarian branch of the organisation...
It is anticipating a little, but we think that it is the practical ideas of the Liverpool group that are representative of the real politics of the organisation, of the real logic of the politics of the Secretariat i.e. those same politics denuded of the verbal camouflage in which Taaffe and Grant excel. For example the idea that the Liverpool Trades Council is "almost a Soviet" is not just a peculiarity of the local group, it is a much-expressed idea of comrade Taaffe's. The Liverpool group is the most dedicated and long-traditioned follower of the leadership. We think it is the most genuinely representative of the essence of their political approach. It is worth recalling what Lenin wrote in the trade union dispute with Trotsky:
"A political leader is not only responsible for the way he leads, but also for what is done by those
he leads. Sometimes he doesn't know that, often he doesn't want that, but he is responsible all the
same." (SW, p.19, Vol.9.)
PETER TAAFFE'S IDEA OF AGREEMENT...
Immediately on leaving Manchester Peter Taaffe went to Liverpool. In view of the above agreement he expressed with our proposals, as recorded above, one would expect that some discussion would have taken place on the question with at least some of the comrades in Liverpool. Taaffe had specifically agreed on Liverpool as a fruitful field for this sort of work. To the Liverpool comrades, however, he had merely mentioned that we were going over.
Could this omission in Liverpool have been mere oversight? This would be the comradely interpretation except for another incident. He went to discuss with comrade P who had been mentioned as the closest contact who could be involved in the activity. When we went to see the same comrade a few days later we were very surprised to find him a bit put out by the line taken by Peter Taaffe on just this issue of what to do about anti-union legislation! Having agreed with our proposed activity, Taaffe goes and tries to convince our most influential contact in the area that there is no real need to do anything!
To avoid leading him to a bad opinion of the group, we hadn't sent a copy of the paper with D's article in it: Taaffe defended this article's approach completely! "Loyalty" doesn't come in here: if the comrades responsible for the issue of the paper commit blunders that could do the organisation damage and miseducate the comrades, then there is no obligation to defend it.
Particularly in view of his criticisms of the article, and his endorsement of our proposed activities, any talk of democratic centralism (!) or loyalty here is sheer cretinism. (We had, of course, sold the paper in the broad movement, but felt that for comrade P it would have an adverse effect, considering his much higher level and past experience in the Trotskyist movement.) Following a peculiar conception of "leadership" the comrade was soothing the Manchester comrades with words and in practice actively working against ideas which he didn't agree with in the first place.
He says that he had no authority to initiate things in Liverpool and that though he agreed with us he was later overruled by the comrades in London. The behaviour in Wigan leads to a different conclusion, and is quite illogical unless we assume that the comrade was deliberately putting up an unprincipled front in Manchester. Peter Taaffe in our experience usually allows himself a big leeway in "agreeing" to all sorts of contradictory things. In general the non-Bolshevik concept of leadership as bluff is the prevailing one. This may debase relations - but it is so much easier than a continual fight for clarification...
One other thing clinches all this. If Taaffe was "rapped" on the committee question when he returned to London, as he says - then why did he continue in the most unprincipled way to bluff the Manchester comrades? We received a letter from London, dated January 10th, and the following excerpt can leave no doubt on the question:
"... It is most important that you keep us closely in touch with the developments on the trade
union legislation question. How do you intend to go about it in Manchester? As I indicated it
would be best to try this first through the trade union branches and then through the Trades
Council itself, not only Manchester but Salford and the other towns. I cannot overemphasise the
importance of you letting us know immediately what you intend to do, especially if we are to link
up nationally." This letter is in a very guarded tone compared with the earlier discussions, but for
the moment we have clear proof that either someone was being led up the garden path, or Peter
Taaffe is a very confused individual indeed. We want to emphasise that this is a political question
and as such it is discussed in Section 4. How political is seen in comrade P: He is more than ever
convinced that we are unserious: and this from his talk with Taaffe... And Taaffe in his
"confusion" told us they reached agreement...
FATE OF THE CRITICAL LETTER TO MILITANT
Three weeks after sending the letter we had still had no reply from the centre. But we heard indirectly, through comrades in Leeds, that it was not going to be published. (We also had the strange experience of hearing from a Londoner who has no political contact with the centre that the leading comrades were "displeased" with us!) Over the phone Keith Dickinson confirmed this and explained that the letter "gave the game away," that its tone made it a liability for an entryist paper. However... if we insisted... That evening we wrote to him and suggested that it should be given an entryist "trim" and still included. There was no reply to this. The February edition of Militant came out with a column by the Business Manager which openly identified the aim of the paper as being the presentation of a "revolutionary" alternative to Brown and Wilson! So much for the explanation that a letter couched as from casual readers would give the game away.
The final explanation, as it stands now, is that the letter was "against the perspective of the organisation." Unless there are people who possess infallibility on these questions this should surely have been established by discussion of the letter. If the documents such as "Perspectives of Entryism" have any meaning then the committee proposal was far more in line with the established (?) conceptions of the organisation than was the position of the Militant. As it stands the final explanation really means no more than that the leading comrades didn't agree with the points made in the letter!
There was at least one more critical letter on the December/January issue's line on legislation, but
there was no critical letter published in the February edition. Instead, there was a long unsigned
"reply to critics"!! This article needs to be considered.
REPLYING TO GAGGED CRITICS
This article was written by comrade Ted Grant. It has not been repudiated as was the first one and is therefore an authoritative statement of the Secretariat's position.
In fact this 'reply' was no more than a rehash of the earlier article. The grudging admissions of all the 'points' and 'approaches' that should have been included in the earlier article are cancelled out by a repetition of the original quietist line - only adding to the confusion.
It is a curious procedure to take the practical guts from a letter sharply criticising in toto the first article, and attempting to put forward an alternative picture, and compound them in a 'new' article which essentially repeats what the earlier one had said - at the same time suppressing the criticism.
The comrade had every right to try and repair the gaping holes in the first article utilising points from the attack on their 'we're just spectators' approach; but they have no right to do so at the same time as they suppress the attack on that same outlook. The question of democratic procedure arises here. In a democratic centralist organisation the leadership has no special right and certainly no privileges. On an issue such as this there should be no public replies unless those being replied to are first allowed to state their case in the same forum. The behaviour of the leading comrades is best compared to a chairman who at a meeting utilises his powers of the 'last word' to completely distort what a critic has said - only in this case no one was allowed to hear the original contribution!
Comrade Grant: "However, readers and supporters should have a due sense of proportion... the headlines indicate the main emphasis..." But the headline was only tagged on. The main points in the original article were 1) that it is doubtful if legislation will be passed, and 2) anyway, it would be irrelevant unless the working class were first given a hiding by the bosses - and of course we are so strong that there is no fear of this. (Legislation as an aid, a first step in a phased, step by step campaign consciously conducted by the bourgeoisie and their agents - perhaps aided by a background of deflation and recession - to defeat and hold back the working class is not even considered: the bourgeoisie, their institutions and their class state - all these things are unimportant to the comrades; and they sharply reject the conclusions from remembering these things - harsh class struggle, imposing certain preparatory tasks on ourselves.)
Add the main points of the article to the headline (No! to legislation) and we get a nice formula for doing nothing. Why bother? The recipe even includes a conscience-salve to guard against heartburn: albeit lazily, platonically, as a matter of form, we still say "No" to legislation! But really there is no danger and the purpose of all this is to allow us to preserve our purity by saying our prayers, our abstract formulae. In practice we can go on as a docile Labour Party group. Organise for a fight? Don't be irresponsible, comrade!
Since then the leading comrades have, after the event, had to accept the fact of legislation. The purpose of the exercise from the point of view of the ruling class is to have a weapon against a section of the rank and file leadership, by the bureaucracy, which is thus drawn even closer to the state. This is now joined by deflation. This is certainly an attack on the class, and there will certainly be some serious struggles in the coming period, but it is still a limited attack and not an all-out assault as certain people who deserve to be called ultra-left imagine.
The SLL see an all-out attack and react by expecting a mass revolutionary upsurge - characteristically. Ted Grant says an all-out attack is not on just yet (the legislation is irrelevant) - and calls on the bureaucrats to oppose legislation. It is one of the characteristics of the leading comrades that there is either an all-out attack or no danger! (Either we can win the masses now or we mustn't attempt to win the militants, etc., etc., etc.) If it is not a full-scale attack at this stage then an overwhelming pressure from the masses to compel a total opposition from the bureaucrats on legislation and in general becomes as likely as a mass revolutionary upsurge!
Which is not saying there will be no pressure, and no opposition from sections of the bureaucracy. The comrades reply: 'whatever you may think, and even if we were to agree, the masses of the trade unionists and Labour Party members won't; we must begin from their consciousness and not out own, issues must be posed in the form of demands on the existing tops, so as to expose them'.
Fair enough, there is certainly a need for such material. But read paragraph 4: "We reach primarily the advanced workers at this stage." Quite true. But to make appeals to leaders in a paper which, by his own admission caters necessarily for advanced workers is to spread confusions and sow illusions in that leadership. Since the paper is also the main ideological tie-up between the national organisation, and the whole of the membership and supporters, this line means a failure to educate. (Please, comrade Taaffe no comic talk about Internal Bulletins, 'the Theoretical Magazine' or any of the other myths.) It also comes very near to having contempt for the advanced element Grant speaks of. Do they really stand at the atrocious level of illusions in the leadership with which they come into conflict regularly, as is implied in the Militant approach?
The Militant, aiming at the broad masses, the lowest average level, misses the militants, and stands to miseducate those it does reach. And by his own admission the masses are as yet unavailable. What this means is that, having failed to organise a revolutionary minority today, we will also fail to reach the masses tomorrow - when, objectively, they will be available.
A curious but more or less permanent element in the 'approaches' of the leadership emerges from the attitude taken on legislation: we seem to be forever confused as to the people are addressing. We talk to advanced workers as if they were backward and not a little right wing, confining ourselves to the most general level of Labour Party, to ABC 'Socialism' and making the broadest possible demands on the Labour establishment. Any really advanced worker who took the Militant seriously would be miseducated and thrown backwards!
Parallel with this is the habit of the leading comrades and their imitators, in Militant and at meetings, of laying heavy stress on the need to avoid 'hysteria' and 'ultra-leftism' (articles on legislation). But who is hysterical? The average Labour Party reader of Militant? Or the few people who can be got together for a meeting on this question? The comrades talk to the broad readership of Militant as if they were all members of the SLL! In this sense there is as much an air of unreality as there is in the propaganda material of that organisation itself. The patient is suffering from sleeping sickness and blurred eyesight. But Doctor Militant is obsessed with a patient who suffers from hysteria and an extra sensitivity to the light. The prescription? Sleeping pills and dark glasses! In more than one way are we bound by the SLL; by rigid, mechanical and above all negative anti-SLLism.
To take this approach is to be militantly anti-militant, to act against the grouping and regrouping of the advanced workers who are the only force that can mobilise the broad mass of the class, the only force that can be steeled and educated as revolutionaries now, to be able to serve and stiffen the masses in the inevitable future upsurge. If we don't win a sizeable proportion of the limited number of militants available today we will be unable to keep abreast of any developments of large-scale struggle, unable to intervene and guide and attempt to lead it. Closer to the militants! More distance from the right wing!
No matter how big the pressures the existing leaders will lead to betray. And this betrayal can inevitably will lead to the class being beaten down, unless we have mobilised sufficient forces, well in advance, to show a different road.
To forget all this in favour of delirious talk of irresistible mass upsurge is to part company with
all the experience of the class struggle over the past decades: it is to part company with the
crystallisation of that experience - Bolshevik-Trotskyism. Slogans like "Leaders must Oppose"
and other demands on the existing tops are only correct as weapons in the hands of a serious
force, clearly a claimant to be an alternative leadership. Divorced from a practical striving for
leadership they become something else again - a cover for the existing tops and platonic ritual for
ourselves. Here we have a pattern that we find again and again in discussing the RSL. Ideas and
slogans are turned into their opposite by divorcement from practice.
ULTRA-LEFTISM... FROM COMRADE GRANT!
The section of this article which deals with the New York transport strike has a definite flavour of anticipation and relish about it. It suggests quite plainly that not only have we nothing to fear from legislation, but that the cause of the mobilisation of the masses against capitalism is likely to make positive gains from it! Instead of small strikes - big strikes, promises Comrade Grant! This new element contradicts the earlier approach, but let that pass. (Incoherence, a feeling that a lot of ideas have been patched together by at least four writers, pervades the article.) The anti-union legislation will be a positive aid, helping to embitter the workers; it will add to their determination. Having scratched the Labour ward routinist we appear to be finding relics of Third Period Stalinism!
The New York transport workers won - but at what a cost. And the legislation hasn't always been irrelevant: Steel, for example. If the direct intervention of the state had only a beneficial effect on working-class militancy - why would the capitalists be so stupid? Grant doesn't discuss this question. Obviously a paper law wouldn't be enough to hold down the whole class; but this is not the intention (and, incidentally, laws are a little more substantial than the paper they are written on: the state exists also.) Our letter raised the point that even if the strength of the class meant that any law on its own (!) without an all-out attack on the working class would only be an irritant, can we bank on it always? Are we so confident in capitalism's future? After all we are not Fabians and only Fabians could imagine a situation of ever-upward progress with a permanent seller's market in labour, and sharp assaults from the capitalists completely ruled out. (Or maybe holding to such an "alarmist" position is yet another mark of the Healyite heresy?)
The effect of this section printed in a paper for the broadest layers of the Labour Party is to argue for the position of Transport House [the Labour Party's headquarters office at the time]. Whatever Grant intended and despite the talk of the increased militancy and embitterment that will result from the legislation, in the context the result was aid and comfort for the bureaucratic renegades. No longer is it a matter of failing to raise the alarm, but one of helping the bureaucracy to have a smooth passage in the enterprise of the moment - all the promises of future struggles make no difference, but are a cover for it.
There is an acute temptation for us to use the strongest language here. The sheer sectarian irresponsibility of coming out like this in an entryist paper is a crime against the labour movement. No language concerning this is too strong.
Another, and vital issue that emerges here is the question of the role of the struggle to attain and defend democratic rights for the labour movement. The conclusion from Comrade Grant's article is that this is irrelevant. Read please the "Death Agony of Capitalism"!: "The Fourth International does not discard the programme of the old minimal demands to the degree that they have preserved at least part of their vital forcefulness. Indefatigably it defends the democratic rights and social conquests of the workers..."
"The Bolshevik-Leninist stands in the front-line trenches of all kinds of struggles, even when they involve even the most modest material interests and democratic rights of the workers. He takes active part in the mass trade unions for the purpose of strengthening them and raising their spirit of militancy. He fights uncompromisingly against any attempt to subordinate the unions to the bourgeois state and bind the unions to 'compulsory arbitration' and every other form of police guardianship - not only fascist but also 'democratic'..." (our emphasis).
If democratic rights were still worth defending, if their defence could play a rallying role for the labour movement in that period when such rights were going down like ninepins all over the world and the class itself was being smashed down - how much more favourable for their defence to play a positive role is the present period, when the class is strong and is in a position to notice any paring away of its hard-won rights!
Also Militant stands as the group of British Marxists which lays most stress on the democratic traditions inside the British labour movement. How often have the Healyites been castigated for ignoring these traditions!
Another curious contradiction: leading to the conclusion that when it comes to it the comrades haven't much real faith in those traditions. They were all right to shelter under in the past - we always need some shelter. While we look to tomorrow when it will be possible to do things, to lead, when the masses will move and show us the way. Always tomorrow. The Spaniards have an expression for it: "manana." (Lenin also had something to say about it - see the section on "Perspectives".) Grant even manages to gain comfort and distil more sleeping potion from the impending legislation to take away formally more democratic rights from the working class. Don't struggle now - because big struggles are coming!
Of course there will be increased bitterness in struggle when the legislation goes through. But even here there will be no big gains for us if our attitude retains its present passive, platonic approach.
Against the argument that capitalism isn't always going to be basking in the sun you reply that any attempt to throw the workers out of the factories as the result of a slump, and create conditions where legislation would have a practical effect, would provoke such a revolt as would topple the system. (Anything less would rebound on the heads of the workers.) Drunken optimism! That the workers will be forced to rise is inevitable - victory is not inevitable. The reaction of the British workers to a slump would almost certainly be like that of the American workers of the 1930s, rather than the British workers of the same period. The class is not beaten down now as it was when the Great Slump pushed it down even further: its condition now is one of self-confidence. Yes. But to imagine that this means that the bourgeoisie are helpless and that such things as legislation couldn't serve as a kick-off to a serious attack on the class is an approach to the light minded optimism of one who believes in Fabian gradualism (or the British Road)! The bourgeoisie too are very strong, despite their decline in comparison with their own past. To interpret our own talk of their decline as absolute decline, and in relation to the working class, is wrong.
Overall decline of imperial ruling classes in the twentieth century hasn't meant kid gloves for the struggle with their own proletariat - but it has meant the most savage barbarism by the bourgeois and petty bourgeois vermin working off their defeat in the struggles with other and more virile capitalisms on their 'own' proletariat - Germany for example. In the 1920s Trotsky (Where is Britain Going?) expected a similar display from the British rulers, a re-importation of the savage violence which has been exported from British politics to the Empire for a hundred years. As with a number of other things Trotsky's timing may have been a little bit out - but I suggest that only a brave man or one with no respect for the world experience of Marxism, would discount his expectations... as far as the future goes.
Not the least of the bourgeoisie's strengths is the state of the existing organisations; the leaderships open agents of the bourgeoisie, the ideological confusion, the lack of experience in serious struggle, the state of the so-called Marxist groups, including the Communist Party and the SLL etc. The RSL leadership with its cloudy pontifications won't do much to change this situation. Actually it contributes to it. Their confidence is false - it undermines itself: it actively militates against the one thing that is vital for a positive outcome - conscious Marxist activity and leadership, including practical leadership at this stage to accumulate forces, to lead the workers against the capitalists and their labour lieutenants when the big battles come.
Comrade Grant's false optimism contrasts sharply with Lenin's idea, as presented by Trotsky in "Lenin" (c. 1925) on the question of an optimistic or a pessimistic outlook. We must be fully prepared, to the best of human ability, for the worst eventuality. If the best then transpires well and good - ultra-optimism as an excuse or justification of passivity is not the revolutionary Marxist approach: it is the gambler's approach!
Finally, it must be pointed out that Ted Grant obviously thinks our differences were with estimations. He brings in the question of the non-Socialist Quill to 'argue' that the British labour movement would show just as much fight and more. Nobody disagrees. We disagreed with the basic idea of the approach of the Militant which sees our role as mere estimators. We think that all this confusion is not accidental or literary, that it is a deeper one of thought. There is a vital need for clarification. The leading comrades should be made to measure their conceptions against the established ideas of Leninism-Trotskyism.
(There is one more point that needs to be made: Grant talks about the socialist consciousness of the British labour movement. Here perhaps we have a chance to see the roots of the differences. This point is for convenience discussed in Section 2.)
Still having no reply or communication from London we went down on the weekend February 13/14th. Over the weekend there was one discussion with Peter Taaffe and Keith Dickinson (Saturday) and one with four members of the Secretariat on Sunday. These can be dealt with under two heads:
On the question of comradely behaviour
The behaviour of Peter Taaffe on both these occasions needs to be brought out clearly. The matter of a healthy internal life is involved here, and of the correct atmosphere in which discussion of differences should occur. Whereas previously this comrade had behaved with disloyalty, now there was violent abuse, political character-assassination, and at one point sheer personal abuse. On the Saturday, immediately the "discussion" started, Taaffe lost control of himself and started shouting at the top of his voice. The cause of this appeared to be outrage at the sharply expressed disagreements and our anger at his earlier behaviour. The whole "discussion" took place at this loud pitch and was often incoherent.
There was another disagreeable element in the Saturday discussion - the most ludicrous attempt to maintain that the comrades had never done any work for the organisation, and had no rights to argue because of never having made a contribution, etc. Previously Taaffe had been overlavish, even for someone for whom this sort of thing is very cheap currency indeed, in praising the work of the two comrades involved. As witness the November Extended National Committee. In a generally glowing report two people were singled out for special mention - Rachel Lever and Sean Matgamna! Now we had never done any work: disagreement with the Secretariat undid our whole period of activity in the movement! Comrade Taaffe's penchant for easy praise is best regarded as a social-democratic self-indulgence on his part. The remarkable thing here is the vicious reaction to any hint at political disagreement and/or criticism of his earlier behaviour. Rachel Lever had, when Taaffe last told the story in November, laid the groundwork for the developing Newcastle branch, sown the seeds which are now ripening. This besides such things as being elected delegate to the Young Socialists conference after only two weeks in a new town. Now her time in Newcastle had been wasted, she had totally failed to achieve anything, etc. Whether one agrees with the original version or not, this, spat out in the most violent and hostile manner, which might have been modelled on another "General Secretary," shows that for Taaffe everything depends on agreement with the leadership.
With Sean Matgamna the rewriting of "history" (as told publicly by Peter Taaffe) took a form no less exaggerated. Barrel-scraping indeed when it was necessary to dig up an incident of an Independent Labour Party member not being notified that a meeting to which he had earlier been invited had been postponed! This would only have taken place early last summer, and Taaffe had never mentioned it before - i.e. it was not important from the point of view of efficiency, as far as he was concerned, but it was useful as a stone to throw back.
Comrade Taaffe has every right to raise organisational questions provided that this is done seriously and loyally. Indeed, one of the faults of the RSL is that this is not done seriously enough. But he has no right to suddenly do a violent about-face, in an absolutely exaggerated fashion, on organisational questions just because political differences have developed.
On Sunday Taaffe restraining himself for a short time, again lost control and started shouting, and towards the end this behaviour completely disrupted the Secretariat meeting. At one stage he resorted to sheer personal abuse, based on the physical appearance of Sean Matgamna. The other members of the Secretariat attempted to defend him on the grounds that subjectivity is natural. Fair enough. But there is a generally accepted subjective (non-verbal) reaction to personal abuse, and we doubt very much whether the comrades would have extended their indulgence to Sean Matgamna had he resorted to it.
The point of chronicling this is that this kind of thing injects poison into the atmosphere and makes discussion difficult. If Trotsky was right in comparing internal freedom of discussion with oxygen, seeing it as a vital condition of health, then we must oppose such behaviour as harmful to the movement. It should be possible to raise even sharp disagreements in the organisation without fear of all sorts of petty organisational details being revived, without the need to face violent abuse from the officers of the group. Even if an amount of heat is normal (and unobjectionable) there must be no abuse, political and certainly not personal.
Referring back to the "mysterious" aspects of Peter Taaffe's visit to the North West at the New
Year, it is necessary to make the demand for comradely loyalty - comrades must say where they
really stand on issues, no two-faced behaviour, and no conning. Organisational co-operation and
trust demand this.
THE SECRETARIAT STANDS FIRM
On the Saturday Taaffe repeated that the legislation wasn't a serious threat, at this stage. The letter contradicted the line of the organisation etc.
On the Sunday comrades Ellis Hillman, Arthur Deane, Keith Dickinson and Peter Taaffe were present. The positions that emerged from this meeting have to some extent been put earlier. The comrades accepted fully the second article, denied any tinge of ultra-leftism, contradictions of the Transitional Programme etc. Again the comrades seemed incapable of differentiating any criticism of the leadership's line from the full SLL position. Limited suggestions and criticisms from us were immediately developed to a caricature, and this was obviously genuine on the part of the comrades.
As a whole the comrades endorsed the positions outlined in the article; attempts by Sean Matgamna to raise certain basic questions of Leninism (discussed later on) were dismissed with the unelaborated assertion that Lenin changed his position on organisation etc. in the 1905 period. This seems to be a stock answer of both Ted Grant and Peter Taaffe to any talk of the need to build up a Bolshevik party - that we, the communists, must have a certain necessary distance from the mass of the class as it is at present etc. We will come back to this later, and we think that both the questions and the leading comrades' unelaborated manner of dealing with them are of the utmost importance. In addition, comrade Arthur Deane accused Sean Matgamna of proposing to "teach the working class to suck eggs," but denied that this left the door open to ideas of a spontaneous development of the working class towards Marxist consciousness. In general, all the characteristics outlined above emerged here...
Comrade Peter Taaffe tried to maintain that he had only agreed in Manchester to an attempt to get a resolution in favour of an Action Committee through the Trades Council. He stoutly maintained this position, thus denying any sharp practices. The letter quoted proves the opposite. The questioning on how we are going to set about it, the need for a national link up, the talk of extending into other towns (where there are no contacts - except Wigan) is nonsense unless what he had in mind was the Action Committee to which he had agreed.
From our point of view to agree to the confinement to the Trades Council would have been
equally stupid - the equivalent of tying our hands behind our backs: we would never have
accepted that. As usual, the "refuge" in itself is a political blunder - the position taken up was one
of complete Trades Council fetishism. And the other Secretariat members made no objection. (On
the Manchester/Salford Trades Council... they were so militant this year that they called off the
May Day march at the Labour Party's request - substituting a meeting of careerists explaining all
about the Incomes Policy!)
The foregoing outline of events and opinions is intended as a portrait of the organisation as we have found it to exist. The rest of the document will deal with this politically; it will attempt to analyse the foregoing in the light of the basic ideas of Leninism-Trotskyism.
However, on the above it remains to round off by a frank discussion of the experience of the Manchester comrades in attempting to work on the trade union question. The experience above has raised far deeper issues, and calls for a discussion of the basic practice of the group - but to an extent an account must be given of our activities.
Acting as a small group, separate from the organisation, and at one stage openly opposed by it, we had a limited success in regrouping a number of militants around the need to do something, to attempt a limited fight inside the broad movement to rouse it on this issue. These people are integrated in the broad movement, most of them quite experienced in the revolutionary movement. On the basis of the quietistic approach of the leadership they are not available to the group. We think they can't be blamed on this score. Nonetheless they could form a serious nucleus of an RSL branch in this area, and the position of Wigan between Liverpool and Manchester could have laid the basis for a real expansion. However, people like comrade P of Wigan would need to be convinced we were a serious communist organisation.
As far as influence goes we circulated a leaflet to most of the organisations in the area. The response from the broad organisations was certainly limited, but we managed to make an impression as a tendency on the "centrists" who were regrouping at the time and pulling large meetings of 60/70. They helped circulate our leaflet, which incidentally was produced by the local office of the Plumbers' Trade Union and one of the people involved could possibly be developed politically.
There must be no attempt to bluff on our part. The accomplishments are limited. The point that needs to be remembered is that a great deal more could have been done had this effort originated with a national paper, had we had the aid of that paper, of speakers from the national organisation, had the biggest local group in the area which certainly could have established a broad influential minority committee given the aid it was capable of in practice - though unfortunately not politically. The gains in Manchester would have been substantial and above all big gains could have been made nationally, including Liverpool. In practice we were reduced entirely to our own resources in this effort and admittedly these are limited. By refusing to accept criticism or counter-proposals to their line the leading comrades have allowed the Militant to appear as more complacent than Tribune.
We feel however that the most important immediate task is to get the position inside the RSL clarified. The revolutionary organisation is decisive in any enterprise such as this. Comrade Ted Grant is often heard to say that an organisation of 1,000 people is qualitatively different from one of 100; we think it is even more arguable that an organisation of 100 is qualitatively different from the efforts of two or three individuals. If the organisation was decisive on the question of legislation - it will also be decisive in the future. It is important to begin a discussion on our conception of our own role now that capitalism's offensive against the class has clearly developed: here too the organisation will be vital. There must be no repetition of the above experience.
The beginnings of opposition in the unions now show clearly yet again, the duality, the twin-like symmetry between the RSL and the SLL. The SLL is way out on a limb 50 miles ahead of developments; the RSL is still in its armchair on the Labour Party veranda.
Had the Militant taken a moderate and responsible position on this issue at the beginning of the year, had we begun limited preparations, as proposed in the letter to Militant, then we might now be in a position of authority and even of limited practical leadership on this question. As it is, whatever opposition develops, we will still be tailing after events without even attempting to decisively influence them - completely at the mercy of the unstable bureaucrats who will be driven into a limited opposition. As it is, what will the "advanced workers" think of those who preached quietism on an issue which has now begun to generate opposition (though this should still not be exaggerated.)
The comrades took the line that because there was no all-out attack then there was no role in
practical, preparatory leadership for us. We could have begun to prepare; we should have begun
to prepare. We were prevented by the confusion, passivity of the leadership. And this in turn was
compounded of the characteristic mixture of obstinacy and clique mutual defence with which they
react to any disagreements, to anyone who dares to differ. No alternative view was allowed; but
the Secretariat was wrong and now the organisation finds itself that it was no less wrong than the
SLL - only it was "ultra" in the other direction...
"The time is not yet," said the Militant and leading comrades at the beginning of the year, when challenged about their quietistic role on the proposed legislation against the unions. "Wait, be still, the big struggles have yet to come," said Ted Grant in February.
Ted Grant loves to contemplate big struggles. That is - future struggles; but then, perhaps, all important struggles are in the future. In the aftermath of the sea strike, one of the biggest since the war, we are left assuming that still all the big struggles are to come, since it didn't succeed in getting official recognition from this leadership. It was, we were told by Peter Taaffe in Liverpool, merely ephemeral. In general we were given the verdict "only an economic strike"! This is borne out by Militant. Two articles made the "concrete" case for the seamen, usefully, but not better than did the Daily Mail before the strike began, or the National Union of Seamen's official leaflets. Any intimation that this might be more than a bread and butter issue was omitted.
How does this situation arise, and what is the real position, what are our real tasks and responsibilities?
The demands of the seamen were not exorbitant in relation to the standards of the rest of the class. The strike arose because of the Incomes Policy conditions laid down by the leading centres of British capitalism and implemented by the Labour government, and it was this which steeled the shipowners to resist. The state stepped in decisively, backing the employers and declaring the strike to be against itself. The spokesmen of capitalism are quite clear that this is a test case for the Incomes Policy. Whether the workers themselves are conscious of it or not, this objectively was a major struggle against the Incomes Policy and the state.
In this situation the obvious task was to make clear the political implications and nature of the strike. There was also an excellent chance to raise the question of the nature of the state; after all Wilson had done precisely this - from the bourgeois standpoint.
We must recognise the seamen's struggle as of vital importance for the whole of the class; at the time it was the front line of the struggle against the Incomes Policy, which Militant had predicted to come in "bigger struggles later." The seamen were the vanguard and our task was to aid them in the actual concrete struggle, seeing it clearly as the sort of ferment which must form the basis for the future realisation of the ultimate programme, and for the development and tempering of a serious revolutionary force. Militant should have taken up this task of aiding the struggle by drawing the lessons for the broad movement. In the event of eruptions of this sort in the future these lessons will be very relevant.
We think useful contact could have been established with most of the major National Union of Seamen branches.
Actually, this was a very concrete case where our talk of the smallness of our forces made us impotent. With a concerted, centralised effort, leaflets and directives coming from the centre, and the paper as a weapon instead of a "visiting card," we could have made an intervention compared with which any work done in the Labour Party during that period would have paled into insignificance. The proportion of seamen we could have reached was vastly greater than the handful of Labour Party membership we can even contact. And we need hardly say that workers in struggle are somewhat more receptive than a ward meeting worrying over sub collections or the next "bring and buy sale." This isn't a syndicalist or light-minded argument against entry; but that we be flexible enough to sally forth into territory outside our usual Labour Party and trade union routine in response to living events.
Here as everywhere else what is glaringly lacking is a sense of their own responsibility by the comrades at the centre; concerted activity by the organisation depends necessarily on the centre - but the comrades always find someone else to blame, they are forever telling us that the initiative is the responsibility of others (even in print: see the shameless reference in the recent Internal Bulletin). The Liverpool branch were too tied to the Labour Party routine even to visit the docks! True, they were rebuked by Peter Taaffe - but on the same occasion he called the struggle "ephemeral," the perfect excuse for doing nothing.
It was clear from the beginning - at least in time for the June issue - that they were aiming to bleed out some of the militancy of the rank and file, settling down to a long war of attrition. Instead of trying to hit the bosses as hard as possible at the beginning and calling for solidarity, they accepted a staggered strike in deference to laws that Wilson himself admitted were unjustifiable, so that at the very end less than half the seamen were out, and some owners were able to divert ships, and avoid the strike altogether in many cases. Also the Communist Party gave us a good chance to expose it (and by implication the lurid witch-hunting of Wilson). For example the earlier speeches by Dash [Communist Party dockers' leader] about "being responsible."
This was the classic procedure whose gala performance was the General Strike, and it was here rehearsed publicly in a national strike which promises to be the first of a series of such struggles. Concrete suggestions and demands should have been raised that would show the way forward and would by implication criticise the National Union of Seamen's conduct of the strike. Also if our role really is to attempt to lead then these lessons should have been taken up and generalised for the broad movement.
These are all essentials for our raison d'etre. If we avoid them and stick to the concrete case under
a heading calling for "nationalisation," we might as well be centrists, Stalinists or Tribunites or
any of the other varieties which act as brakes and help the established order - but we won't be
But what happened when we raised the question? The articles, we were told, had been written by an ex-seaman, who understood "the way they felt," and the paper had sold well to the seamen.
Fine. So we reflect the workers' feelings. What about giving help, making suggestions which would raise understanding and implicitly warn of the need to watch for the leadership's conduct of the strike? "You have your priorities wrong," we were told by Peter Taaffe. The correct recipe apparently is first to attack the capitalists, then bring in concrete suggestions, and possibly after that a word about the leaderships... otherwise you alienate... the workers. Very well - but what happened to the last two ingredients of the recipe? When pressed to disclose their whereabouts, Peter Taaffe said they had been omitted - it was merely a mistake - but really it didn't matter since every seaman knew all about Hogarth and Co. [the union leadership]. If this is so, why the elaborate recipe and the cautions against antagonising the workers? Or is this being too logical? They do know now - after the event; and Militant can't claim to have helped!
If this isn't 'economism' of the worst sort, what is it? Here, in our practice, we have the fruits of
the attitude expressed in Arthur Deane's injunction that one can't "teach the workers to suck eggs"
- we find ourselves tailing along behind the lowest common level of the spontaneous movement.
Along with over-confidence in the spontaneous movement we get wrong expectation in relation to the trade union leaders. According to the February Militant the struggles would come after the legislation (if this came, which was doubtful) and be sharp enough to force the trade union leaders to 'the left'. The old all-or-nothing conception. The first big struggle came before the legislation, and with the connivance of the trade union bureaucrats and the TUC it is obviously going to be more than an aid to the introduction of Brown's Bill. The union bureaucrats were tipped by Ted Grant to oppose the law if the Bill did get through, and waiting for this to happen justified a further period of passivity and routine, and failure to prepare on our part. The outstanding feature of this is the slavish waiting on the bureaucracy, in the expectation of such a sharp crisis that they would be forced into positions of self-defence.
But the different degrees of crisis are taken into account as little by our comrades as by the SLL. What we are faced with is a limited attack on the class. A vital element in this design is the strengthening of the bureaucracy against the rank and file militants. In this struggle the TUC at first held its hand against the employers and the state and then came actively to their aid: a far cry from making the strike more effective with solidarity action.
Also the comrades have ignored the build-up in propaganda, both in conference speeches and in the press. This has been phased so that as the pill becomes more and more bitter, the one that went before becomes quite 'sweet'. Hence those in the movement who began by opposing the whole idea of the Incomes Policy have gradually come to accept more and more state intervention. From opposing it outright at first, they then opted for voluntary as against statutory 'discipline', when this was first raised. Now we have Frank Cousins, the workers' champion, accepting Part 1 of the Bill which places the Prices and Incomes Board on a statutory basis, together with the principle of reference of claims to the Board, and only rejects the penalty section. Such things as the accepted rights in a given society connects up with a climate of opinion in that society.
Here what is important is what the class regards as its rights and therefore will fight to defend. The line at which the unions oppose state intervention has moved further and further to include ever more state control. But Ted Grant ignores this. His refuge as before is that for this to have practical meaning would require a serious defeat of the class. This is true - though it would also be an aid in inflicting that defeat. But it would probably also need a serious crisis before the workers are forced into a serious fight for their standards. Meanwhile the powers and rights of the state increase - and these would not be unimportant in a big struggle. Meanwhile we refuse to fight on limited issues and do what can be done.
Here we must also examine what happens when the bureaucracy do move under pressure. The National Union of Seamen is a case of what rank and file pressure can achieve: the changes since Sir Thomas Yates are a product of this, and when we consider the events of 1960 these are almost startling. Yes. But the National Union of Seamen also shows the limits of such pressure.
A dominant element in this strike was a conscious tactic designed to remove some of this pressure
by a dampening, demoralising course of action for the rank and file; remember that other very big
response to rank and file pressure, the General Strike. We can always expect this result of
pressure - that the judas-goats will respond to mass pressure in such a way as to remove it by
aiding in their supporters' defeat.
NATIONALISATION VERSUS THE CLASS STRUGGLE?
Does the call for nationalisation by the bourgeois state replace the concrete class struggle (recently designated "ephemeral" by Peter Taaffe)? Or do we clearly understand and publicly state that socialist nationalisation must come through the class struggle? Do we understand that the future mass centrist current, the waiting for which is the excuse for ignoring non-Labour Party struggles, will be generated by the general class struggles, some of which are now taking place? If this is so, that there are limited and partial struggles leading up to the great mass movement of the future - if this is so it means that we must participate in the formation of the currents (for which the comrades merely wait) by intervening and aiding the living struggles, achieving the vital growth and development of our organisation in the process.
But no. While insisting that the Labour Party is a workers' party (because of the trade unions) we draw a firm demarcation between the ward canvassing machines and the picket line; the former constitute the 'advanced element', the latter are merely the "ephemeral", economic, day to day, bread and butter issues. The seamen's strike shows Militant treating the basic economic struggle as something to observe, digest, and then regurgitate, suitably transformed, as propaganda aimed at the Labour Party wards. Obviously our individual comrades are members of their unions etcetera... but as an organisation this is irrelevant to us.
Here as so often we would do well to re-read the Transitional Programme: "The socialist programme of expropriation, i.e. of political overthrow of the bourgeoisie and liquidation of its economic domination, should in no case during the present transitional period hinders us from advancing, when occasion warrants, the demand for the expropriation of several key branches of industry vital for national existence or of the most parasitic group of the bourgeoisie."
The difference between these demands and the muddle-headed reformist slogan of 'nationalisation' lies in the following: 1) we reject indemnification; 2) we warn the masses against demagogues of the People's Front who, giving lip-service to nationalisation, remain in reality agents of capital; 3) we call upon the masses to rely only upon their own revolutionary strength; 4) we link up the question of expropriation with that of seizure of power by the workers and farmers."
Obviously we can and must raise the question of nationalisation - but not as abstract, diluted,
Fabian-SPGB-type propaganda, counterposed to the organic class struggle [The Socialist Party
of Great Britain is a group which confines activity to making propaganda for socialism as a
complete new order of society and regards trade union struggles as irrelevant to socialism]. As
Marxists we recognise that 'politics is dominant' here - but this does not mean the artificial
splitting up of the different fronts of the struggle, counterposing a part of the final solution to the
struggle in its momentarily most active front. This is what Militant did during the struggle. Nor
should we raise demands for nationalisation which completely ignore the question of the state.
The case in point gave an absolutely clear chance to raise this and discuss its nature.
"LESSONS" ... FROM TAIL-ENDING TEACHERS
After two issues of the paper during the strike treating it merely on its merits as an 'economic' dispute, came July/August issue with an article "Lessons of the Seamen's Strike."
It is not without interest that meanwhile the line of Militant had been raised very sharply inside the organisation. Some of the comrades have witnessed the arguments in which the National Committee and Editorial Board defended the paper - i.e. each other - with a staggering variety of arguments, needles to say contradictory, since they tried to cover all fronts.
Arthur Deane: "We're too small to affect the outcome of the strike, so what does it matter?" (All or nothing again).
RS: "Militant is only a visiting-card to the workers, it's what you say to them that matters." (A blanket excuse for every gaping hole in the paper, not to mention the crippling confinement of horizons to a conversation here and there.)
Peter Taaffe: "The seamen know all about Hogarth, he's exposing himself without our help." (One begins to ask such metaphysical questions as - why are we here at all?)
AW: "It was written by an ex-seaman, and it sold well." ( No comment, except that all sort of faulty goods sell well.)
Peter Taaffe: "The workers are too strong for a sell-out and we can regard 44 hours as a victory." (No wonder he thinks they know all about Hogarth!)
Considering this last statement it was a relief that Militant did not, as feared, follow Tribune in declaring the strike a victory: so possibly some purpose was served by taking up sharply with the centre the question of its responsibilities.
"Lessons Of The Seamen's Strike" is irrelevant to the discussion of the first articles. The idea implied in the whole performance - that we merely reflect the most shallow and obvious aspects of this sort of struggle while it is going on, using it as raw material for our ward-Labour Party propaganda (linking up with the class!), and then when it's all over conduct an incomplete post-mortem - this idea is itself a complete confirmation of the charge of SPGBism, against which the centre hoped to protect itself by the third article. Politics has its own logic...
These 'lessons' are of the sort which begin: this should have been done - that might also have been done - oh, if only the following had been attempted, etc. In this manner some points are raised, which will be useful in the circles reached by Militant.
To say, in part and after the event, what should have been done in the strike, cannot for us, as Bolsheviks, obscure the real questions, the real lessons - What should Militant have done; or rather, since Militant is only an expression of it, what should the RSL have done?
Further: the chronicle of 'lessons' begs one big question, not of course taken up. What did Militant do to suggest these things, to sponsor them, to agitate for them and prompt and organise our supporters to do likewise? The answer, as we know, is... nothing. From the point of view of our tasks as a Bolshevik organisation every one of those 'lessons' stands as an indictment of the leadership.
This third article is an exercise in literary propaganda; it has nothing to do with the actual struggle. The attempt in the last column to change tenses by saying: "as we go to press the strike has ended", is one more example of the methods of the comrades at the Centre - class responsibility gives place to providing themselves with literary alibis. For if anyone doubts that the article was written under pressure, they need only read it, noting the evidence from the first sentence on.
Even so, there is a lot to be desired. The role of the Communist Party is hinted at in the vaguest manner, using a quotation which only says the workers were 'even more militant' than Norris. It is not our task to measure apparent militancy, but to show their actual role - particularly since the Communist Party is going to reap the fruits of the membership's bitterness in the next year, inside the union. Two jobs in one could have been accomplished here - to spell out the role of the Stalinists would have been the best way to show up the ludicrous nonsense of Wilson, and show how they do a job for each other, consciously or not. [Prime Minister Harold Wilson denounced the strike as being organised by Communist Party members for political motives - which it was not].
Incidentally, the constant repetition of the phrase "modest demands" and all the defensiveness this implies, shows how far we've gone to accommodation to the Labour Party environment. Surely this assumes a level of consciousness far below the average?
The 'literary' conception of our role which we refer to here is taken up concretely in Section 4. Here we want to make it clear that we are not attacking the comrade who wrote the articles on the sea-strike. Comrades with direct experience on such questions are invaluable. The point is that we are a political organisation and it should be the function of the leading centre of the organisation to integrate this sort of experience with the correct political appreciation of the struggle.
The responsibility is theirs: the sort of suggestions and guidance, for their own self-defence, that
they obviously gave in the third article, should have gone into the first two - in the interests of the self-defence of our class.