What We Are And What We Must Become  

A critique of the politics and perspectives of the Militant Tendency
by Rachel Lever, Phil Semp and Sean Matgamna

First published July 1966



"... The year 1919... The entire structure of European imperialism tottered under the blows of the greatest mass struggles of the proletariat in history and when we daily expected the news of the proclamation of the soviet Republic in Germany, France, England, in Italy. The word 'soviets' became terrifically popular. Everywhere these soviets were being organised. The bourgeoisie was at its wits end. The year 1919 was the most critical year in the history of the European bourgeoisie... what were the premises for the proletarian revolution? The productive forces were fully mature, so were the class relations; the objective social role of the proletariat rendered the latter fully possible of conquering power and providing the necessary leadership. What was lacking? Lacking was the political premise; i.e. cognisance of the situation by the proletariat. Lacking was an organisation at the head of the proletariat, capable of utilising the situation for nothing else but the direct organisational and technical preparation of an uprising, of the overturn, the seizure of power and so forth - this is what was lacking."

(Leon Trotsky, The First Five Years of the Communist International, Vol II p193)

"Events have proved that without a party capable of directing the proletarian revolution, the revolution itself is rendered impossible. The proletariat cannot seize power by a spontaneous uprising. Even in highly industrialised and highly cultured Germany the spontaneous uprising of the workers in November 1918 only succeeded in transferring power to the hands of the bourgeoisie. One propertied class is able to seize the power that has been wrested from another propertied class because it is able to base itself upon its riches, its cultural level, and its innumerable connections with the old state apparatus. But there is nothing else that can serve the proletariat as a substitute for its own party."

(Leon Trotsky, Lessons of October)


In the succession of class societies the change-over from one system to another has taken a number of different forms. European feudalism arose as a synthesis between the Germanic tribes and the decaying Roman Empire, which had always had an element (the Coloni) inside the slave-operated latifundia comparable to feudalism.

The bourgeoisie on the other hand grew up within the womb of feudalism, as part of a developing division of labour inside that society. It was subordinated to the overall rule of society by the feudalists and the Absolute Monarchies, but never as the main exploited class, the source of the surplus produce. In itself an auxiliary participant in that exploitation, a secondary appropriator of the sweat of the peasants. It developed organically, slowly ripening within feudalism's womb, only attacking the feudalists to eliminate all rivalry with and restrictions on itself.

This is true even in the Great French Revolution, where the development of their struggle for power went way beyond the aims of the bourgeoisie proper and fell into the hands of super radicals, leaders of that group, the sans-culottes, standing nearest to the modern proletariat, i.e. the Jacobins. The fact that the bourgeoisie developed their own means of production and their own forms under the old system meant that they had leisure etc. to generate their own class culture, and the possibility of sufficient education, independent of their feudal rival, for the ripening of the objective conditions for their assumption of full power to be adequately reflected in their collective consciousness (though not fully rationally or consciously and often clothed in mystical garb).

Marx wrote that he who possesses surplus produce possesses the key to the Church, the Arts and the Sciences, etc. Before the bourgeoisie's revolution triumphed they didn't have the only key - but they certainly had a key. The bourgeoisie as a whole already within feudalism the possessors of the new means of production, could benefit from a 'political' revolution which was not directly their own doing, not directly in their immediate control, such as the French or even the English.


With the proletariat it is altogether different. It remains a slave class right up to the point of taking power. The economic ripening that creates the necessary pre-conditions for its assumption of power, the growing socialisation of anarchic, individualistic capitalistic production are still in the hands of the bourgeoisie. The role of the proletariat during this process is that of wage slaves, the basic exploited class.

(The degenerated and deformed workers' states are a special case, but, without going into details, all revolutionary Marxists agree that the process there will only be completed when the masses of the proletariat take direct power - i.e. make a political revolution, but one with very big 'social' effects. It is this which separated the revolutionary Marxists of all the different shades from the Stalinists and all their Deutscherite fellow-travellers.) [Isaac Deutscher, author of a fine biography of Trotsky, was very influential among "orthodox" neo-Trotskyists in the 1950s and '60s. In 1966 we subscribed to the "orthodox" view that the Stalinist states were "degenerated and deformed workers' states", while seeking to give it a sharp anti-Stalinist interpretation. For more on Deutscher and our own later conclusion that "Deutscherism" was built into the logic of the "orthodoxy", see 'The Fate of the Russian Revolution: lost texts of critical Marxism vol. 1']

The super-exploitation of the colonial workers and peasants notwithstanding, even if that exploitation temporarily means an easing of the pressure on the West European and US proletariat, this remains true. For this reason Lenin said that for the proletarian revolution politics dominates. i.e. politics is the means for economic emancipation, for the proletariat's seizure of the means of the production, which have grown to gigantic size, bloated with its own sweat and blood, and an end made of class society.


As the last enslaved class and the first ruling class having no exploited class under it, and standing at the beginning of the transition to classless society, the development of the proletariat presents formerly unknown problems. Likewise in the question of consciousness. Because they were semi-conscious, if that, embodiments of a new class society's organic development the bourgeoisie did not need to be clearly, rationally conscious of what they were doing. The English bourgeoisie thought they served the word of God, and the French abstract Reason, Liberty, Democracy, Fraternity - no matter! They still blundered their way empirically towards a society which expressed their needs, of which they were instinctively conscious.

The proletariat has no key to the arts, culture and sciences, and the Churches are bought and paid-for lackeys of the ruling class. This lack is more serious for the last class to establish its own rule (if the question can be posed like that), than it would have been for the bourgeoisie. For us consciousness is vital, a conscious participation of the masses of the proletariat based on a clear understanding of what is. No mystification, no blundering for the class that represents the first step of humanity out of class society, that corridor that divides its existence as part of the animal kingdom from its future existence as a truly human organism, more and more in control of its environment.

But not only that. The proletariat in capitalist society, without possibility of developing an independent culture, is not a blank page: inevitably it becomes pervaded with the ideas of the ruling class. Ideological chains buttress and make firm the economic chains that hold them down. This is even more true in times of relative social peace.

The growth and concentration of the means of production create the prerequisite for working-class power and also cement and organise the proletariat in gigantic concentrations, in a way impossible for example for peasants. The possibility thus exists for a transition to a higher stage, of the workers taking power. And the tidal movements, the crises inevitable because of the contradictions of capitalism, time after time in different countries propel the workers into the streets in a struggle for power, more or less consciously conducted. This struggle too flows inevitably, organically, from the nature of capitalism.

But it does not result in victory, the transition to a higher stage of society. Victory is not inevitable. As early as the Communist Manifesto the issue is stated clearly. The inevitable class struggle has two possible outcomes - transition to a higher stage as a result of the victory of the progressive class, or regression by way of anarchy and the mutual ruination of the contending classes. Nazi Germany and the present potential of world destruction can leave no doubt about this.


The battle for a favourable outcome from the current class struggle between bourgeois and proletarians thus becomes a question of a conscious fight. Bourgeois society is at the end of the dark tunnel of class society and represents a very high level of control and understanding of his environment by man. Thus man can begin to understand the laws of that environment - society - created by all his own past history. Certain layers within bourgeois society become aware of the issues, of the true nature of the modern class struggle that has dominated Europe and the world since the days that Marx and Engels wrote of the haunting spectre of communism.

Paradoxically, it is not the proletariat, the subject of future history, that first becomes conscious of the situation - nor even a section of that class. It is sections of the bourgeois intelligentsia who become aware of the real nature of the molecular processes of society in general and modern society in particular.

It could hardly be otherwise. Understanding of the objective laws of nature including society could only be possible for those with full access to science, the highest of modern science, inevitably bourgeois science: the custodian and systematiser (creator if we remember that they merely theorise from the gigantic practice of society) of that science is not the proletariat but the bourgeois intelligentsia. This is a result of the separation of mental and manual labour in all class society. The "mingling" of Marxist science and the proletariat is the necessary beginning of the first step towards the reintegration of mental and manual labour - the end of alienation.

By its nature capitalist society prevents an objective view by the majority of the intelligentsia of their own doomed society. But the development of bourgeois science, particularly up to the mid-decades of the 19th century, while the bourgeoisie was still progressive and even their social science (so open to ideological distortion) had a portrayal of objective reality as its base, creates the possibility of a new synthesis which embodies the newly-discovered laws of social evolution: the necessary understanding to enable the proletariat to rise above that crude religious, dreamers' socialism concocted out of half-remembered elements from its past and hostility to the existing system, and to imbue the social struggles imposed on the proletariat by the movements of society with purpose and comprehension.

Thus Marxism emerges out of a synthesis of the best in bourgeois thought (economics, philosophy, history) and is immediately denounced by the bourgeoisie, who shy away in terror and immediately castrate that science bred by itself which had produced a revolutionary ideology for the revolutionary class (resulting in modern bourgeois economics, philosophy, history). Therefore by a peculiar dialectic the proletariat and its organic movement arises separately from scientific socialism. The "mingling" of the two takes many forms, not all of them conducive to the most positive outcome. The openness of the proletariat to the influence of the science generalised in part from its experiences and expressing its interests is dependent on the ebbs and flows of society, and Marxism itself comes under immediate attack, open and subtle (attempts to tone it down, adulterate it with a wide variety of bourgeois trash, etc.)


The proletariat moreover is not a homogeneous class and even in the most favourable conditions only a limited section can become fully conscious. The Communist Manifesto, while pointing out that the communists had no interests apart from the proletariat, also added: "The communists are, practically, the most progressive and resolute sections of the proletariat of all countries... They have, theoretically, the advantage over the great mass of the proletariat of understanding the line of advance, conditions and general results of the proletarian movement."

History, before the rise of the modern proletariat, had evolved that form of the organisation of an advanced section of a class known as a political party. The struggle to fuse the spontaneous movement of the working class with the ideology that represents its long-term interests must take the form of a struggle for the organisation of the advanced layers of the class in a party that is acutely class-conscious and ideologically clear.

This party will be scientifically conscious and permanently organised for the proletarian class struggle, the regular army of the class, which en masse can only approach revolutionary consciousness in sharp periods of crisis, and even then not permanently, not scientifically. It must be militant on all three fronts of the class struggle: the economic (the spontaneous), political and the ideological - here it must defend revolutionary Marxism and combat the ideology that springs up in the working class movement under bourgeois influence. This party must be so organised and disciplined that it can fulfill its role of skeletal structure of the proletarian class in all its struggles, linking and co-ordinating the various aspects of the struggle. If it is to fulfill its tasks this party must fight continuously, consciously to perfect itself, subordinating its organisation form to the tasks rigorously imposed by the nature and course of the struggle.

Not only must it fight vigorously against the bourgeoisie in the front line of the class struggle, but also against those inside or close to its own ranks who represent the class enemy or bend under its pressure; indeed, its ability to overthrow the bourgeoisie will depend on a successful prosecution of the fight gainst all vacillation and all accommodation to the established order. This party will conduct the struggle of the proletariat in a campaign spirit - to win.


The revolutionary science existing outside and separate from the broad layers of the working class goes through a long historical experience from the middle of the 19th century to today. This experience has included a very wide variety of stages and relationships of the one to the other, of various degrees of "dominance" (influence) of Marxism over the environment, and more often vice versa. There is usually an appearance of divorcement from reality for that revolutionary Marxism which looks ever ahead. Only in times of sharp crisis do Marxism at its highest pitch of sharpness and "the environment" (and the proletariat, spontaneously going as far as it has appeared capable of going in history) appear to merge. Even with victory for the proletariat the convergence isn't always a permanent thing.

The high point of the unity of theory and practice was the Russian Revolution and internationally the Third, Communist, International, which attempted to function on the basis of the experience of the Marxists who led the Revolution (the conception of the democratic centralist party, etc). Again all the peculiarities of history in a staggeringly brief history of violent downswing and recession of the tide divorced Marxism from the masses. The mechanism of this was the complete adulteration, absolute emptying-out of method and revolutionary content from the forms - i.e. Stalinism. The facts are well known.

The point is that the RSL is a section of the "rump" of Bolshevism, possessing the basic ideas, but in a certain state of undernourishment - even of sclerosis.

We exist in a country where all the interactions of the material environment have produced a peculiar type of workers' organisations: the trade unions and their political equivalent, reformist bargaining within the bourgeois political set-up as an organic part of that system. As Engels pointed out the class struggles takes place on at least three levels: the economic, the political and the ideological. The British labour movement grew up spontaneously in a way that has been compared to plants growing chaotically in an untended garden. Its history is a series of zig-zags, at one time lurching to over-emphasis of the 'political', then fetishising the economic struggle - with a general, almost complete neglect of the struggle on the ideological front.

Bolshevism was born in the virgin territory of Russia; it was consciously built by revolutionaries who drew on the immense experience of the West European proletariat, including the negative aspects of this experience, opportunism and its rationale Revisionism. Bolshevism was the alternative type of labour movement to the apparently imposing but actually chaotic and fragmented organisations of Western Europe. Its essential basis was a conception, a la Engels above, of the class struggle as a unity, with the party as the consciousness and skeletal structure of the class in the various stages of the movement, co-ordinating the various aspects of what was essentially the same struggle.

Lenin's point about the ideological front being decisive can really be understood when we realise that the tremendous energy and decades-long activity of the British working class have resulted in no basic political gains, and the economic victories are built on shifting sand. The British working class, left to spontaneity through a peculiar combination of historical circumstances, has been utterly defeated ideologically. And this has conditioned everything else.

On the ideological front we are the warriors of the proletariat. We wage the fight for the merging of Marxism with the spontaneous struggle of our class. And not only do we 'mingle' an existing Marxism. Our primary possession, lying at the base of all the developed ideas of Marxism and the progenitor of all future developments of the theory in line with reality, is the Marxist method. We must understand the dialectics of development. There is a necessary interaction and possible enrichment of the developing struggles by Marxism and Marxism by the developing reality. Lenin said it very well: theory divorced from practice is sterile and practice divorced from theory blind.

We are faced not with a fresh proletariat as were the Bolsheviks, but one with a long history and encrusted with a definite set of organisations, in every sense the victim of the conjunction of its own blind activity and the relatively conscious bourgeois system. Without the class we are impotent: the class without Marxism is doomed to continuous defeat, however magnificent its strivings in crisis periods, however glorious its struggles. Spain proved that conclusively. If October was the positive demonstration of the need for a new type of workers' party, then the betrayal and defeat of the heroic Spanish proletariat, equal to the Russian workers in their spontaneous activity, teaches the same lesson negatively.


The experience of the working class in Russia, Germany and Spain led the Trotskyist movement (as earlier the Communist International) to declare that only the construction of democratic centralist parties, fully grounded on the theory and practice of Marxism/Leninism, could lead the class to power. It denounced those who said there could be an absolute maturity of the working class which could lead to an automatic transition to power. The most magnificent risings in Germany, Spain (and to some extent Britain) had been led to frustration and defeat by their own conservative apparatus. The fight therefore was to overcome the 'crisis of leadership' in the working class - to create parties that would embody the historical interests of the working class.

This is our task: this task will be completed or the working class in the future will go down to defeat in Britain as in Europe. There must be no equivocation here, no easy, false optimism here. The issues must be stated clearly. The outcome of the future battles will only be victory, if the advanced layers can organise themselves into a class-conscious Marxist party.

The Labour Party, Clause IV and all [Clause IV, adopted in 1918 and scrapped in 1995, committed the Labour Party - on paper - to common ownership of the means of production], is an abortion from the point of view of the needs of the working class. History will view the Labour Party as an organism through which a détente was established for a number of decades between the partially roused proletariat and the bourgeoisie in the centre of the British Empire, in the period before the world pressures of capitalism upset the balance. It will record one of two outcomes from this. Either a beating down of the working class, or a reorganisation, a shedding of the old ideological and organisational forms of the movement and the emergence of a class-conscious party modelled organisationally and ideologically (the two condition each other in the future as in the present and cannot be separated) on the parties of the early Communist International.

Our political tendency derives from people who held such views in the Communist Party in the 1920s and in the groups and leagues up to the formation of the Revolutionary Communist Party after that. The leadership may occasionally still be heard to say something similar. But side by side with this they do (and fail to do) things, and adopt positions which place this view in question.

They talk about the 'socialist' consciousness of the British labour movement; they talk about the future in terms of a 'stages theory' of development, with the mass revolutionary Bolshevik party emerging, if at all, at the end of the long, long tunnel ahead; they completely exaggerate the weakness of the bourgeoisie and its state in such a way that clearly it would not need the organisation of a proletarian 'counter-state', the combat party, to defeat them. (All well and good... if true.) And finally, as we think the last section shows, they have abandoned all talk of seeing ourselves as an independent grouping, striving to function in the living processes as a conscious, active force; they settle down to wait passively in the Labour Party. From this flows their glorification of the Labour Party and the existing labour movement. We must consider these things in detail.



The document issued March 1966 begins by stating that 18 months of Wilson's government has confirmed the analysis made by... "The Marxist Tendency of the role which would be played by the Labour government in a period of difficulties for British capitalism..." Later, on page 8, it adds: "One thing has been demonstrated beyond possibility of refutation. The illusions in certain so-called Marxist circles that this was a left Labour government, in the early intoxication of Labour victory, have been dissolved by the realities of events."

Yes, well, who were those people who fostered illusions in a left Labour government? A document issued early in 1964 by the RSL, and written (we believe) by the then General Secretary (Jimmy Deane) says [The Labour Party in Perspective, p 3]:

"It is clear that there is the possibility of a Labour government being elected in the next election. This government would come to power in conditions of an upswing in the economy which until the early part of 1963 had been more or less stagnant and which, in relation to the other European countries had fallen behind. This is true even though this upswing is threatened by a balance of payment crisis and inflationary tendencies. In this event it is likely that the upswing would be continued through 1964 and possibly to the end of 1965 by a Labour government even with its limited measures for rationalisation and, above all, with its means for policing and disciplining the working class. The TUC has already promised its hand and even (!) the left wing (?) of the TUC has promised to support an 'Incomes Policy' with all that implies.

"In these conditions - of relative full employment - under pressure of the masses the Labour government would have to give some concessions. It could (reluctantly (!)) allow wage increases for certain sections; it would have to take measures against the monopolies and their price maintenance; it would have to take measures against high profits (! The very idea here is a reformist illusion - SM); it would have to take measures against the uncontrolled increases in prices; it would have to take measures against the enormous increases in rents and the price of houses and land and would have to take measures to prevent the flight of sterling, and so on." I.e. a left Labour government if ever there was one. Clearly these expectations are of substantial redistribution by the Labour government, and not just the occasional empty sop which has been given in one or two of those fields.

So it seems that the "so-called Marxist circles" were wide enough to include the RSL, and those who issued the 1964 document. Or maybe the comrades don't read their own publications? The surprising thing about the 1964 document is that it has a pretty accurate picture of the background; such things as a balance of payments crisis are assumed. "Pressure from the masses" will force a Labour government to act thus. And only a Labour government.

What the writer had in mind is seen clearly when, on the next page, he considers what the prospects are, against the same background, if the government in power is Tory. Not so rosy at all! On page 4, after a Jack London type series of speculations which includes what would happen after a few years of such a Labour government when there would be a decline, and a possibility of big Tory assaults would arise etc. etc. - after all this the eventuality of a Tory victory in the next election is considered.

"In the event of a Tory government scraping to power in the next election it would be short lived. They would have to face precisely the same problems as a Labour government, but with even less ability to overcome them. They would have to take measures against Resale Price Maintenance and perhaps the most formal measures against practices which threaten the interests of the state as a whole (???). However, along with such measures would be the attempt already being proposed to revise the laws relating to the trade unions and their practices (the Tories - not Wilson) and an attempt to obtain the support of the TUC for a so-called wages policy..." Large-scale struggles would develop here. Possibly they would eventually coalesce into a general strike; possibly Labour would return. This being only one variant - of course. If the strike movement failed, the Tories could then continue in power for a period, etc. etc.

Thus we see that the actual perspective of this document, circulated for a time by the RSL was of a left Labour government - the actual perspective as opposed to a large series of possibilities. It would be a government responsive to the workers and reacting with radical difference from the way the Tories would respond in a situation of minor crisis.

Nobody is sneering at the expectations of certain concessions from the Labour Party reformists - or at the banal newspaper headline type 'prophecy'. But a number of things stand out here. Such things as profit control etc. are not seen as shams to deceive the workers, and this is part of a general picture of serious illusions in the Labour Party. In the same document it is certainly stated that in a very sharp crisis, after giving way to the workers, in the final analysis the Labour Party tops would opt (?) for capitalism. But as with so much besides this has no practical significance. Labour is definitely seen as 'better' than the Tories, more responsive to the workers, and only in the final analysis reactionary - from fear of revolution! Also, of course the silly claim to prophetic accuracy in the 1964 publication should be seen as such.

The leading comrades, as we shall see throughout this document have come to believe their own entryist propaganda. Objective reality is forgotten in favour of the need to begin with the consciousness of the masses. They have forgotten that the Labour Party is basically, in its function, a bourgeois party, and that our function is not to speculate on or exaggerate reforms (still less to peddle fantasies) - but to keep firmly in mind the class issues. Truly we have moved a long way from the original idea of communist entryism - when we were going to support the Labour Party as a rope supports a hanged man; when the only advantage we saw in a reformist, Labour government was the possibility of exposing it before the class.

And experience has still not disillusioned the leadership. The 1966 document shows that the leading comrades see the Labour Party not as a machine, however complicated it may be in its structure and despite its origin, essentially manipulating the masses for the same goals as the Tories, run by bourgeois politicians, only with a slightly different technique of manipulation - but as a party genuinely responsive to the workers.

1966 DOCUMENT, P 2:

"... Finance Capital and the industrialists have made a change in their attitude towards the Labour Government and especially to the Prime Minister. The first bitter hostility (?) has changed to cordiality and support. This has been because of the capitulation (???) to the dictates of Big Business and its servants in the Civil Service."

This would be going rather far even for Militant - in an internal document it is incredible nonsense! The writer obviously thinks the capitalists had the same illusions in Wilson and the Labour Party as had the 'Tribunites' and some of 'our' people. Just one fact: the Economist supported Wilson in 1964! And the Times was more than favourable. The capitalist power centres are under no illusions as to the realities of the Labour Party. Are we being ultra-sharp, hostile, seizing upon accidents of phrasing? No one can deny that this attitude pervades not only the publications of the group, but also the internal material.

1966 DOCUMENT, P 4:

"Wilson thus has a computer in his brain instead of a class sense and belongs to the genus of desiccated calculating machines"

But Wilson does have a class-sense. The class sense of the bourgeoisie! That statement owes more to Bevan than the phrase. But maybe it is not Wilson who lacks a class-sense? A characteristic of a blurred class-sense is the partial or complete loss of the ability to recognise class enemies. (This question of whether Wilson is positively in possession of a bourgeois class-sense and consciousness or his is merely absent connects up with the question of the alleged socialist consciousness of the British labour movement - and with the adulteration, in fact the complete abandonment by Ted Grant and co. of the Leninist conception: "The only choice is - either bourgeois or socialist ideology. There is no middle course (for mankind has not created a 'third' ideology and in a society torn by class antagonisms there can never be a non-class or an above-class ideology").

1966 DOCUMENT, P 6:

"In addition, the ruling class itself, once Wilson had bowed the knee to Big Capital have deliberately built him up as a great statesman..." etc., etc.

But when was Wilson's 'bowed' knee in question? Again the comrades seem to think that the ruling class have been reading our old documents! They have more reliable sources.

In this document published during the election campaign they talk about the demagogue Wilson appealing to the workers to help carry out a socialist policy: "It is this side that will be brought to the fore in the campaign for the renewal of the mandate".

This myopia is not accidental. It is part of the congenital confusion and illusions of the leadership on the question of the Labour Party. Nowhere in all our documents and publications is there a clear characterisation of the Labour Party. The same meagre 'description' suffices: "the workers' party". This lack of sharpness is also no accident. It is the rationalisation imposed on the leading comrades by their abstentionist application of their 'perspective' of the necessary two stages in the future radicalisation of the class. As their practice of 'entry' has become more and more a passive waiting on the centrist current of the future - to the same degree has the need to paint up the 'socialist consciousness' of the broad movement and even of the Labour Party itself grown.


"The fact that bourgeois labour parties have already been formed in all the advanced capitalist countries and that unless a determined and relentless struggle is waged all along the line against these parties, or groups, trends etc. it is all the same. There can be no question of a struggle against imperialism or of Marxism, or of a socialist labour movement... (wherever Marxism is popular amongst the workers, this political trend, 'this bourgeois labour party' will invoke and swear by Marxism)" (Imperialism)

It would be possible to compile a booklet of quotations on the Labour Party from Lenin, and some would appear to contradict each other. What we need then is some indication of how to judge the Labour Party, concretely, as it exists now. At the Second Comintern Congress, 1920, Lenin made a speech on the question of affiliation of the British Communists to the Labour Party: "... indeed the concepts 'political organisation of the trade union Movement' or 'political expression of this movement' are wrong ones. Of course the bulk of the members of the Labour Party are workers; however whether a party is really a political party of the workers or not, depends not only on whether it consists of workers, but also upon who leads it, upon the content of its activities, and of its political tactics. Only the latter determines whether we have before us really a political party of the proletariat. From this point of view, the only correct one, the Labour Party is a thoroughly bourgeois party, because although it consists of workers it is led by reactionaries, and the worst spirit reactionaries at that, who act fully in the spirit of the bourgeoisie. It is an organisation of the Bourgeoisie which exists, in order with the help of the British Noskes and Scheidemanns to systematically deceive the workers."

The Labour Party must be seen dialectically - in its connections, in its actual role and significance in the relationship of the classes - not what fig-leafs it adopts, what it says of itself, or what workers think it is.

Nevertheless, of course, Lenin advised approaches for affiliation by the Communist Party (largely on the ground that certain features of the Labour Party were unique at that time - and which are very largely non-existent now). Lenin, in his advocacy of entry, specifically mentioned the fact that the extreme left party, which contributed the main forces to the new Communist Party, the British Socialist Party, had the right to exist with its own programme, organise in favour of that programme, and to explain openly that the Hendersons etc. were bourgeois agents. There have been very many changes since then. Our dehydrated propaganda is not just a bad substitute - in no real sense can it be said to be a substitute - in no real sense can it be said to be a substitute. But he insisted that this should be without illusion. All this is well known, as is Trotsky's advice in the 1930s.

The point we want to make is that all the RSL approaches on entryism stress the alleged fact that the Labour Party is the Workers' Party, and more seriously, completely fail to point out the alien bourgeois nature of the Labour Party. (Here again the leading comrades think they are dealing with a bunch of Third Period ultra-lefts, and not members of the Labour Party, who will have the shallow picture of the Labour Party as the 'workers' party', constantly bombarded with this view which the bourgeoisie find so useful, by the bourgeois press).

Not only that, but they publicly (and privately) endorse the 'socialist' camouflage of Wilson and Brown. The starting-point for the entryism imposed upon us by circumstances must be a sharp Leninist analysis. This must be the beginning of the education of such forces as we win - particularly those won in the Labour Party. But in practice it is ignored when it is not denied. We are not proposing abandonment of entry - only that it should be seen as a tactic, applied flexibly, an excursion into alien territory - a tactic rather than a way of life. Also reality must be stated clearly; we should sow no illusions in the Labour Party.

On the characterisation of the Labour Party and Lenin's approach quoted above, the leading comrades (Ted Grant and Peter Taaffe) content themselves with pointing out that Lenin later ''contradicted' this i.e. their method is one of formal textual comparison which allows them to take their pick of what best fits their own mood of the moment. This, of course is their approach on a whole lot of issues ('Lenin later contradicted What is to be done', etc É), but it is not the Marxist approach. We must see the various positions taken up by Lenin dialectically as they fit together and form a comprehensive (moving) picture. The Labour Party is an organisation of the bourgeoisie - but it is only useful to them because of its connections with the working class. To use the description of it - ' the party of the British workers' etc. - as a means of avoiding a sharp Marxist class analysis of its role, its actual position in the relationship of forces, is not serious. Neither is it serious to say 'well - it is - and then again it isn't.' In its function, whatever the contradictions, it is a bourgeois party. It is true that if we ignore the contradictions we will not be able to gauge future developments - but this approach of the leadership will prevent us preparing to make the best of the future developments in the Labour Party.

The comrades' approach is that Labour Party is the workers' party and essentially the machine is an imposition. It only requires a bit more exertion, pressure, activity on the workers' part for the machine to move, to respond to and reflect their desires, at least to a limited extent. This is both stated and implied: it is our practical approach. The talk of a mass centrist movement is there too of course; as a 'finished formation' it is only one stage removed from the mass Bolshevik Party: our immediate expectation is for a reflection of the ranks' first pressures on the machine.

Because of our whole position we can't avoid presenting these possible reflections as 'good' - whereas our task must be concern for the general class significance of these things, for the fact that movement 'under pressure' by the machine can lead to the defeat of the class. Failure to recognise these people's 'progressive' moves as mousetraps is to make a headlong dive for the cheese! Unless we prepare a force capable of independent activity there isn't much else we can do anyway, except go almost passively, even into the slaughterhouse.


The Leninist position is that the Labour Party, judged in its role and function, and despite its origins and special connection with the trade unions, is a capitalist, a bourgeois workers' party. Judged politically it is not a workers' party with deformations, inadequacies (its 'inadequacies' amount to a qualitative difference), but a bourgeois party with the special function of containing the workers - actually it is a special section of the bourgeois state political organisation. The Labour Party is the main instrument of capitalist control of the workers; the organisation formed out of an upsurge of the workers, but an upsurge in which the workers were defeated ideologically and thus in every other field, is now the means of integrating the drives and aspirations of the workers with the capitalist state machine. It is not a passive reflection but an active canaliser of the class - against itself, against the proletariat's own interest. It is against this background that Clause IV must be seen.

The approach and viewpoint is important here, and what we see will be seriously affected by how we begin. The initial statement 'a workers' party' or 'a bourgeois workers' party' will affect everything else. For example the bureaucracy is seen either as a crust formation, with certain deficiencies in relation to the needs of the class, but basically part of the class, which will respond (genuinely as opposed to treacherously) to pressures - OR as a much more serious opponent, a part of the political machine of the main enemy class (irrespective of how it originates); and therefore our expectations from it will be quite different. We will not be quite so 'comfortable' in the Labour Party. The most obvious thing is that we will see their shifts to the left as also a danger and not as a triumph for the pressure of the class, as something which increased our responsibilities, as a party, rather than absolves us of them, lessening our role, questioning the validity of the Fourth International. The unqualified definition of the Labour Party as a worker's party is a snare.

Lenin (1920) anticipated a Labour government as a kind of Kerensky-type regime of crisis, and the situation and class forces then justified that. Now, however, a Labour government slots into a more or less stable state machine and immediately works for the capitalists, bringing to the bourgeoisie as its special gift a dowry of the aspirations and illusions of the working class. Its function at the moment is to alleviate capitalist development problems - rationalisation. In its 'nationalisation' enterprises in general the Labour Party seems to have adopted a special role in relation to the structure of the British economy. This is ever more concentrated, centralised, in need of modernisation. The 'reforming' Labour Party harnesses the workers electorally as a driving-force to overcome the resistance of the average Tory supporter who sees private property as a sacred, immutable principle. The beneficiaries - the big bourgeoisie, the dominant capitalist groups - are of course a bit more flexible in their thinking and aware of their situation, their own needs.

What this means is that we must be as free in our propaganda and activities as possible - we must get out of the habit of wishful thinking. 'Nationalisation' must be judged and presented from a class point of view. There must be no exaggeration of the ferment under the Labour Party, its vote, or the electoral swing by way of justifying our own 'tactic'. We must justify ourselves by our activity - not by distorting reality. The first thing, as Trotsky said many times is not to be afraid of stating what is. In 1966 the Labour Party did not appeal to the electorate as a socialist party - if anything the very opposite. Ignoring things like that as the comrades do in gauging the petty bourgeois swing to Labour, can help only the bureaucracy. Quietism and tailism are bad enough anyway - on the basis of the self-delusion they become poisonous.

The lesson is that we must stress the necessity for a role for our own movement; the vital need is for self-confidence. How can we build an organisation when in practice we deny our politics an immediate serious vital role?


In "Centrism and the Fourth International" Trotsky wrote:

"His shilly-shallying the centrist frequently covers up by reference to the danger of 'sectarianism', by which he understands not abstract propagandist passivity (of the Bordigist type) but an active concern for purity of principles, clarity of position, political consistency, organisational completeness."

Thus Trotsky's definition of sectarianism was: abstract propagandist passivity. The Transitional Programme later:

"They simply dawdle in one place, satisfying themselves with a repetition of the self-same meagre abstractions. Political events are for them an occasion for comment and not for action."

In our application of the entry tactic we unite the worst features of liquidationism, and, paradoxically, also of sectarianism as described above. Our abstract propagandist passivity takes place in the setting of the Labour Party and with ideas watered down to the Labour Party level, retaining only the phrases as dried husks. The disease of sectarianism took us in the throes of liquidation-sickness: it became an over-compensation for our own collapse. The result can be clearly seen. We are so hypnotised our own objectively-imposed weakness that we come very close to fitting the above descriptions.

The concept of waiting for the class to move en masse, while meanwhile we make general propaganda (apart from being very unlikely this side of the revolution's beginning), prevents those partial movements which are necessary to gain strength for our own group. When other groups or tendencies organise or lead such limited struggles more often than not the RSL condemns it. At a time when Hampstead Constituency Labour Party were running a campaign, led by 'left reformists' etc. against the Immigration White Paper, there was a move among them to expel [Frank] Soskice [Labour Party Home Secretary] from that party. Members of the RSL in Hampstead, who had some influence at the time, campaigned against this move. And our General Secretary considers it a matter to boast of - "There are times when one must hold people back." Note that this restraint was conspicuously absent in Wandsworth [where an SLL member was expelled for "hooliganism" and Militant did not oppose it]. When an SLLer is being expelled, that is the cue for our comrades to move into action ... with the right wing. If the exercise of restraint is not consistent, at least the alignment is.

The move in Hampstead was 'premature' - because the masses were as yet indifferent to it. The all-or-nothing approach again: Trotsky defined the attitude of sectarians etc. who refused to differentiate between the two sides in the Spanish Civil War, as a refusal to fight for limited gains.

We do exactly the same - organisationally.

In the last quarter of the 19th century Marx and Engels (particularly Engels) criticised the British Marxist socialists as having reduced Marxism to a rigid orthodoxy, a dogma - "a credo and not a guide to action." We stand in the same danger, only our credo, because of our gesture towards the broad movement of toning down our ideas and refusing even limited organisational struggles - our 'credo' is already so muted that the Labour Party rot threatens us with extinction.


The distant ideal of Clause IV is part of the stock-in-trade of the bureaucracy - without this sort of thing they would not be such useful agents of the bourgeoisie in controlling the working class.

This is clear if we remember 1918 and the fact that the Labour Party and trade union tops adopted Clause IV and reorganised the Party to prevent the workers escaping their control. Keeping their positions they were able to organise the workers' defeat in 1926 and prepared the way for the prostration of the class in face of the Great Depression, and for World War Two etc. The apparent victory of Clause IV in 1918 helped preserve the movement in its present Lib/Lab form and thus prepared future defeats. Primarily it is a tool for use by the bureaucracy in controlling the workers in their own group interests and, through them, the interests of the bourgeoisie.

It embodies the desires of the workers and thus it could rebound on the bureaucracy. But likewise the workers' illusions in the existing organisations (and their willingness to carry out Clause IV) could mean heavy losses, even defeat, once the class began to mobilise seriously.


Ted Grant talks about the socialist consciousness of the British labour movement - not to build on it for propaganda but to excuse indifference to the concrete struggle (February Militant). Let's look at this. At the very best the 'general socialism' of the movement is embryonic naïve collectivism. This is just Sunday socialism, a dream, a far-off event. Also the movement is split up, sectionalised - e.g. the unions. Practical union politics means at most bargaining within the system - reformism. Reformism is bourgeois politics. Ted Grant argues on the 'socialist' resolutions of the various unions: their socialism (to give the most to Ted Grant's argument) amounts to 'municipalisation'. The practical, each-industry-its-own-plan approach of those unions which adopt 'socialist' demands for their own field is sectionalism, bordering on syndicalism.

The Labour Party is one more example of sectionalism and confusion in the movement, and Clause IV (whatever its significance 'in itself') is just a cover, and sows its own illusions of Fabian gradualism. The official Labour Party recognises the class struggle - but only in the manner of Ramsay MacDonald: as something to be deplored and suppressed and not as a battle to be won for the workers' side. What, after all, prevents these socialisation, nationalisation resolutions which are so plentiful in the movement from being effective? They are left in mid-air hanging, frustrated by the bureaucratic filter and the division and illusions of their promoters. There is no drive, no unity - and the resolutions are the work of that active minority in the trade unions who are themselves split up and suffering from all kinds of illusions, from Fabianism to its slightly more energetic cousin Stalinism - from the tortoise to the writhing snake.

The leading comrades say that there is a socialist consciousness (as opposed to an embryonic collectivism) in the British labour movement - and that our task is to generalise it. But what does this mean? That we do a sum of all the resolutions and propose the final abstraction for general acceptance - 1 times 400? That we call a nation-wide 'compositing conference' ('when we have sufficient contact' of course ...)? This is the logic of the propaganda approach they adopt, the actual counterposing of abstract 'nationalisation' propaganda in the Labour Party to the organic class struggle as in the seamen's strike. We are in danger of becoming a Labour Party first cousin to the SPGB!

We agree that the task is to generalise such embryonic consciousness as exists, but this is not, as in Ted Grant's approach, a matter of doing a sum with a collection of resolutions. The condition of effectiveness in generalising these aspirations and combining them as an aim of the concrete, organic class struggle of the workers, and incidentally of integrating, fusing the various fronts of this struggle in a mutually fruitful strategy - the condition for this is the building of the revolutionary Bolshevik party. Only this can transform the existing confusion, wishful thinking, vacillation of the movement: only this can effect the necessary qualitative change.

In the propaganda field we know the specific objections to Stalinism, Fabianism and vulgar trade unionism - but we are so committed to watered-down sectionalised propaganda criticism of these trends that we fail to knit the whole picture together.

The logic of the giganticism of the means of production in the modern world, is such that collectivism, socialisation, presents itself as the obvious solution in many different forms and accompanied by illusions and complete failure to understand the system as a whole - i.e. how to achieve a harmoniously working socialist reorganisation of the economy. Marxists see this only as a result of the victory in the class struggles of the proletariat and this does not necessarily begin with abstract propaganda about nationalisation. When as in the sea strike Militant ignores the concrete class struggle, in its momentarily most active front, it merely shows how far we have gone, through adaptation, towards Fabian, petty-bourgeois parliamentary socialism.

Instead of exposing the pretensions of the bourgeois agents in the labour movement the comrades paint them up. The Labour Party is completely integrated in the British bourgeois state system - yet they never explain this. They see only the superficially 'working class' nature of the party, and neglect the dialectical approach which would explore the relationships of the classes, the actual role of the leaderships, the de facto role of the different parties. They say the Labour Party is both a bourgeois and a proletarian party, Clause IV both a bourgeois and a proletarian party, Clause IV both a fig-leaf and an aspiration: yet in practice they talk and write only about one aspect, and the most well-publicised one at that, completely suppressing the overall view, that clearly sees these as essentially bourgeois. They can deny it - but clearly there is mis-education, not only of readers of the paper but of our own membership.


The leading comrades gloss up the existing labour movement, exaggerate every hopeful sign and talk about automatic changes and readjustments - in the future, of course, as a rationale of our accommodation now. They forgo a role, and a vital preparation one now in favour of the light-minded dreams and fantasies about tomorrow. We need to keep in mind a point Trotsky made in 1934 about a certain kind of reformist-centrism, capable of "lulling the advanced workers to sleep by inculcating in them the ideas that the revolutionary regeneration of their party is already achieved."

We don't go to quite such a Selbyite length but it is clearly only a matter of degree. In his glorification of the existing 'socialism' Ted Grant denounce those of us who are less enchanted, as having contempt for the workers. Isn't it rather that we have more respect for the potentialities of the class (embodied and represented in its theory) than for the present broad movement, living with the capitalist system, remaining essentially acquiescent, despite momentary upsurges and occasional protest at the crimes of the system and encrusted with an alien bureaucratic apparatus which slots into the bourgeois state system? Of course it would be absurd to pass 'judgement' on the class like this and not to understand the process, the conditions responsible for the present situation - but the comrades' glorification is absurd.

By glorifying it they help perpetuate it, acting against the polarisation and regroupment which is the first step towards changing it. If we too stand open-mouthed, lighted candle in hand before the Clause IV shrine and it concomitant manana Socialism - how can we educate anyone else?

The question that must be taken up seriously is just how automatic is the condition of the existing labour movement? Lenin thought that consciousness was a decisive element and that when considering the labour movement as it had developed in a given country to see it as outside the control of Marxists was to ignore the fact that actual ideas, ideologies had played a part, had entered the process. In Britain these ideas were and are bourgeois ideas; there is no vacuum.

The ideas of an automatic adjustment in response to changing events by the existing movement, apart from being anti-Marxist, stands in the way of our serious striving to influence events in a Leninist spirit. The views of the leading comrades on such things as Clause IV show that they see the movement as slowly maturing and Clause IV as an organically evolved first fruit of this process. The dialectical view is abandoned: the need to see the future sharp breaks, leaps etc. (and the need to prepare for these, rather than wait passively like those other people who had patience and of course 'a sense of proportion' - the Fabians). Also abandoned is the need to see Clause IV as the product of a certain contradictory relationship between bureaucrats and workers.

There will be no automatic upwards spiral here: the abortive nature of the present movement, far from being elevated automatically to a higher stage could plunge the class downwards and backwards in a sharp crisis: more - it must be said that in view of all the past this is inevitable. We think that the task is still the building of the revolutionary party: this conditions everything else. There is a question mark hanging over the future of the class and the handle of that symbol is the Bolshevik-type party.

The existing labour organisations have a stock of 'socialist' sops, half-measures, side-trackings and open betrayals to head off and smash even the most powerful movement of the working class, delivering it into the hands of the bourgeoisie. Even in the most severe crisis the bourgeoisie remains a serious force - and if our leading comrades don't think so the proletariat can't afford to ignore it. With the Labour and trade union Judas-goats to lead the class to the slaughter-house then they are capable of delivering a death-blow against the working class.

We are abashed to have to say this in an organisation which was until very recently the official British Section of the Fourth International [The RSL was affiliated to the 'United Secretariat of the Fourth International', led by Ernest Mandel, from 1957 to 1965] - but the leading comrades are so aerated with senseless 'optimism' that the concept of an actual struggle is ignored and often denied. Younger comrades are miseducated on this day-dreaming. Modern history, Germany, Spain etc. shows absolutely clearly that the outcome in the future will depend on the development of a steeled Bolshevik Combat Party.

"The dynamic optimism of the Communist International stems from far broader and deeper foundations. For us the bourgeoisie is not a stone dropping into an abyss but a living historical force which struggles, manoeuvres, advances now on its right flank, now on its left. And only provided we learn to grasp politically all the means and methods of bourgeois society so as to each time react to them without hesitation or delay, shall we succeed in bringing closer that moment when we can, with a single confident stroke, actually hurl the bourgeoisie into the abyss." (Leon Trotsky, First Five Years of the Communist International, p 303. Our emphasis.)


Our entryist demands on the broad movement necessarily leave out all consideration of the role of the bourgeois state in the class struggle and just how helpless such cardboard organisations as the electoral machine called the Labour Party would be against its might. We have seen how the leadership all along the line have evolved theories of softening contradictions, of an easing of our responsibilities towards the class. While they admit all sorts of possibilities (to which memory of the positions of Marxism 'commit' them) their practical conclusions, orientations, go in the opposite direction: they take the line of least resistance.

As we mentioned, the leading comrades interpret their own picture of the relative decline of British capitalism as absolute decline: the Secretariat state quite categorically that the bourgeoisie is demoralised and more or less helpless; that it is only the restraint of the workers (organised in the Labour Party - whose leaders unfortunately lack a class sense) that prevents a revolution here and now. They don't actually talk, as do the Selby people, of the last 20 years being years of dual power in Britain - but they come close to it.

The delirious optimism is but another example of the undialectical approach of the comrades. There is not much prospect of a struggle the contradictions are becoming softer rather than sharper (and presumably this will be true even in a revolutionary situation ...?) It is another example that the reasoning processes of the comrades go no further than straight addition. So many here - so many there: add them up! My God! What a force - how demoralised the bourgeoisie must be. Two members of the Secretariat hold the position that a peaceful transition would be possible now did the Labour Party want it (Ted Grant and Arthur Deane). They may - or they may not - be entitled to their opinions: but it is generally taken as axiomatic that this conception of easy, non-struggling transition, is the hallmark of the two opportunisms, with their acceptance of bourgeois parliamentarism.

(One of us, Sean Matgamna, first became a Trotskyist, when he realised that Trotskyism was the genuine Leninism of today, as a result of a struggle against this conception inside the Young Communist League.)

Here it is not a matter of a dogmatic repetition of Lenin's phrases from state and Revolution or anything like that. The Marxist insistence that there will be a struggle for power, that no ruling class ever goes peacefully to the graveyard, is dependent on the Marxist conception of the state. Marx in the mid-19th century and later thought a peaceful revolution possible in Britain and America. The opportunists attempted to hide behind that, seeking to reduce the question to a comparison of texts and quotations. In state and Revolution Lenin cut through the verbiage by analysing the concrete reality: the concrete class state. 'Yes' he concluded - 'Marx was right!' - 'No', the opportunists who repeated his phrases without reference to what had happened in the real world since, 'were not right'. Things had changed a little meanwhile. Britain and America had sunk to the 'all European level' of a massive and permanent military and state bureaucracy, organised to serve the interests of the ruling class. And that is the key.

Those who say that an easy 'non-struggling' transition is possible must tell us in Marxist fashion what has changed: has the state receded in importance? In strength? In dominance? Actually the state has grown in importance, extending ever to new fields. Even the bourgeoisie openly admits that parliament has only a criticising function now.

The comrades ignore the state machine. They paint a picture of the bourgeoisie dying of fright. They expect the capitalists to run around madly like a chicken without its head in the event of a struggle. The idea of a conscious bourgeois strategy - now or in the future - of splitting up the workers, judicious use of the Labour leaders, etc. i.e. a fight - these are dismissed. Drunken optimism ... again.

In his 'Lessons of October' Trotsky dealt with the experience of the German Communists in 1923 on this very question of ultra-optimism in relation to the state. Before the sharpening of the situation they dismissed the question of the state and its forces, and its danger. Faced with the crisis, they started adding up the numbers of the opposing forces! And suddenly the state 'grew' in size. The Brandlerites collapsed and ran for cover, without a serious attempt to fight. Such 'optimism' contains the seed of its own inversion. False optimism leads to failure to prepare: in the crisis this failure leads to complete prostration before the enemy's might. Hence Lenin's insistence - 'prepare for the worst.'

The conception one has of the state, its strength and its tendencies, will enter one's calculations in other fields as well. Thus leading comrades' attitudes have contributed to their refusal to engage in any serious opposition to the anti-union legislation. Likewise with their de facto abandonment of the need for, and their failure to begin to prepare, a combat party as the essential thing that will make the potentiality of workers' power actual - this just might make sense if their ideas of the weakness of the bourgeoisie and the unimportance of the state were correct.

But they have never openly declared themselves here! (Though Ted Grant has publicly defended ideas which are at the very least doubtful: and in the privacy of a secretariat meeting Arthur Deane stated that there could be a peaceful takeover if only there was a leadership.) Where do they stand on all this? We think the attitude here is one of 'the Big Issue' clearly delineating - revolutionaries from Stalinists; the self-activity of the workers from Fabian gradualism and reorganisation 'from above'; soviets from hollow bourgeois parliamentarism.

All talk of peaceful transition in West European bourgeois states completely outdoes the Pablo line on Russia in revisionism, not to mention the Fourth International's alleged position on China [The Mandel current then looked to "reform" to create a "healthy" workers' state in China. Michel Pablo, another neo-Trotskyist leader, speculated about bureaucratic self-reform in the USSR]. If the comrades think there's a need to change our line here let them attempt to convince the movement. There must be no piece-meal smuggling of ideas. They must defend their conceptions!

We await the reply. But we will make one point here. Ted Grant publicly defended the idea that if the Labour Party attempted a full assault on the capitalist system there would be such a response from the workers that the state would be swamped. Theoretically this may be possible. But to stake all on vast uniform upsurge of the class like that, is utopian. Unanimity of layers and regions in any upsurge cannot be taken for granted. There would inevitably be a period of skirmishing etc., in which a Bolshevik Party would be vital, to act as skeletal structure and General Staff of the class. But even in the most gigantic upsurge the combat party is decisive.

We have already seen Lenin's idea about the need to prepare for the worst. In revolutionary politics everything is relative, all sort of possibilities exist, but the trend of development, the expectations towards which they orient themselves. The revolutionary trend always orients itself seriously to face and battle to overcome the worst. The opportunists always expect the best and invariably become disorientated by the far from ideal reality: it is they, and not the state, who are 'swamped'.

The comrades run the organisation on the cheap fuel of easy optimism, but this will not be sufficient to tackle the steep hills of reality; as Marx wrote Kugelmann during the brief life of the Paris Commune: "It would be very easy to make world history if the struggle could always be undertaken when the odds are always in our favour."