LRC AGM: No short cuts to rebuilding
The November 10 AGM of the Labour Representation Committee was on balance positive. But the left is still painfully weak both organisationally and politically. Andy Gunton of Labour Party Marxists gives his assessment
Tony Benn: Labour ‘not socialist’
arriving at Conway Hall were met outside by Christine Shawcroft,
Lizzy Ali and Richard Price - comrades from the minority who opposed
the decision to offer the Labour Briefing journal to the LRC.
Flogging their own “original” LB, they declined to stay
for the meeting, leaving before LRC joint chair Pete Firmin opened
comrade Shawcroft also has resigned her LRC membership, thankfully
taking very few comrades with her. Despite that, numbers were down.
There were 160 comrades compared with 180 last year. Why the
organisers are claiming 200 might owe something to wishful thinking.
Or was it a factional pose? The only vote to be counted on the day
involved a total of just 87 comrades (for and against - with no sea
of abstentions in sight). Splits, such as has occurred in LB
and the LRC, might help to clarify political lines. They can,
however, lead to the weak, the inexperienced, the demoralised
dropping away into inactivity. And that is what seems to have
Shawcroft-Ali-Price faction is clearly rightwing. They seek an
alliance with the centre of the Labour Party, crucially those in
parliament. As for comrade Shawcroft’s journal, it is a vanity
project for a bruised ego and exemplifies a sadly frivolous attitude
to democracy and class discipline all too common on the left. That LB
proper has seen subscriptions rise substantially can only but be good
news. And unsurprisingly the AGM voted overwhelmingly to adopt it as
the official journal of the LRC.
McDonnell MP moved the national committee statement. He outlined the
work of the LRC over the last 12 months, highlighting the LRC’s
role in helping to set up Squatters Action for Secure Home (Squash),
and challenging the “suits” in the “larger, bureaucratic
lambasted the Labour leadership for its timidity: 85% of proposed
cuts have yet to be implemented; we face a triple-dip recession;
there are 3.5 million either unemployed or working part-time; and
benefits are being slashed. So it is time to draw a “line in the
sand” and for LRC members to set the terms of struggle in the
Labour Party: “No cuts! Our class is not going to pay for their
McDonnell called on LRC members to build up campaigns in communities
to support anti-cuts councillors. It was time to target so-called
‘pay day loans’ and “bullying bailiffs”. He finished by
calling for an “international struggle against capitalism” and
for “systemic change”.
campaigner Tony Benn then took the stand. “The Labour Party is not
a socialist party,” he told the audience. It is a “party with
socialists in it”. Very true; and something those comrades who wish
to ‘reclaim’ the party, as well as those who now denounce it,
would do well to note.
party has never been a vehicle for working class power; it was
founded as a voice in parliament for the trade union bureaucracy. To
transform it into a genuine ‘party of labour’ requires
unremitting struggle against the bureaucratic and pro-capitalist
right, within the party and within the trade unions. And that
requires a combative and politically educated working class. As Stan
Keable of Labour Party Marxists said, moving our LPM motion, the
struggle must be to “transform the Labour Party … to fight for
working class interests”.
truth, there were rather too many top-table speeches and not enough
time for the real business. As a result movers of motions were
restricted to three minutes, while those opposing had only two. One
for and one against - that was the sum total of every debate
(although the mover also had the right of reply).
comrades expressed frustration because amendments are not permitted
at LRC conference, meaning that rather more often than not you are
faced with either passing an unsatisfactory motion or leaving the LRC
with no position on a pressing issue. Fortunately, however, a motion
from Communist Students to accept amendments at future conferences
was passed by a clear majority.
motion 12 on the Labour Party-trade union link, Maria Exall
complained that the relationship provided a transmission belt for
poor Labour Party politics into the unions. The link “works in the
wrong way”, she said, calling instead for “political trade
sentiments, clearly born of frustration with the lack of democracy
within the party. But the problem with our party historically was
precisely that its politics bore the stamp of “political trade
unionism”, rather than the reverse. Blairism represented a clear
break with this, symbolised by the formal abandonment of the old
clause four. That some of the affiliated unions are now fighting
back, picking on the openly pro-capitalist Progress faction, is, of
course, to be welcomed. But clearly it is not enough if we want to
see a socialist Labour Party.
vision of a pure trade unionism free of party politics emerged again
during the debate over motion 3, which sought to commit the LRC to
democracy and grassroots organisation in the unions and to support
various campaigns, such as the Grass Roots Alliance in Unite.
Speaking in support of the motion, comrade Keable called for
democracy in the workers’ movement, while Steve Ballard demanded
the “emancipation of the trade unions”.
Rogers fired the first shot in opposition. He was followed by Tony
Lyons: apparently it is “not within the remit of the LRC to
intervene in trade unions”. A ridiculous position, which cedes
control of these important bastions of working class defence to the
Alliance for Workers’ Liberty’s Vicky Morris regretted that,
while she could support “the vast majority of what’s in the
motion”, the LRC should not commit to support the Grass Roots Left
in opposition to other groups in Unite. But pride of place went to
Thomas Butler. He took the stand to oppose motion 10; not because of
its content, but because of the organisation behind it. In what
amounted to the call for its expulsion, he declared the LRC
affiliation of the Stalinite New Communist Party a problem: a problem
for him, and a problem for his union, Unite. Unite would not
affiliate to the LRC while it played host to the likes of the NCP.
the end motion 3 fell.
Lennox chaired the panel discussion involving Labour councillors,
with Andrea Oates from Broxstowe opening. Describing herself as an
“anti-cuts councillor”, she told the meeting she had been
personally affected by cutbacks and expressed her “frustration with
the Labour Party passing on Tory cuts”. Arguing also against rent
rises, she had stood on an explicitly anti-cuts platform. But she
felt isolated: “There’s not a lot of support out there,” she
Broxstowe councillor Greg Marshall told comrades that Labour
councillors in nearby Nottingham were implementing cuts. However, he
and comrade Oates had the support of their party branch and local
trades council, and were holding regular stalls in the town.
councillor Matthew Brown outlined his Proudhonist vision of
council-owned, income-generating wind farms, cooperatives and
worker-owned businesses creating “alternatives to capitalism
locally”. (While cooperatives are something our movement should
seek to develop, in the process of forming our class into a future
ruling class, municipal utopias are no response to the current
the spectre of Eric Pickles loomed large. Council chamber colleagues
of Gary Waring (Hull) warned him that, should they fail to make cuts,
“Pickles will step in and do the job”. Islington’s Charlynne
Pullen demanded we adopt a “realist position”; Labour councillors
cannot “abdicate responsibility”. Islington had brought services
back in-house, implemented the Boris Johnston-touted living wage and
set up a ‘fairness commission’. “And made cuts,” came a
heckle from the audience.
subsequent debate focused on motion 1, with most calling on comrades
to back it. Jackie Walker from Lewisham implored comrades to “support
each other and not fight among ourselves”. The AWL’s Pete
Radcliff said anti-cuts Labour councillors needed to be organised and
visible, that councillors and trade unions must be brought together:
“the LRC should take a lead in this”.
George Barrett from Barking and Dagenham spoke of his expulsion from
the Labour Party last year for standing up against cuts. We need an
organisation of anti-cuts Labour councillors, he said. Dan Jeffery, a
councillor from Southampton, expressed sympathy with those who called
on individual councillors to make a stand, but organisation was
needed. Pete Firmin recounted the experience of Lambeth councillor
Kingsley Abrams, who had taken a public stance against cuts. He had
reluctantly taken the whip and abandoned his opposition after
pressure had been applied by Unite.
came from Ted Knight. “I do not find it difficult to vote against
cuts,” he told comrades. Labour councillors should “lock Pickles
out of their town halls”. There are “no two ways” to oppose
cuts, he said.
Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack opened the session on
‘Fighting back industrially’. In a wide-ranging speech he gave an
accurate and honest appraisal of where we are and what we need to do.
“Workplace organisation has been thrown back in the last 20 to 30
years,” he reckoned. It was not sufficient to make demands of union
tops “without organisation on the ground”. He castigated the left
for its fragmentation, correctly calling for a single anti-cuts
organisation. But to think austerity can be defeated in Britain alone
is “naive”, he warned. We require international organisation to
defeat austerity, and we need to discuss what drives it. According to
comrade Wrack, the “labour movement has been overly modest”; we
are “failing in our task.” The crisis raised questions about what
sort of society we want to live in. We need to raise the demand for
“a different sort of society.”
motions taken during the session on internationalism brought the
political weaknesses in the LRC into sharp relief.
motion 5 addressed events in South Africa surrounding the Marikana
massacre, when striking miners were gunned down by police. Mike
Phipps set the tone for the subsequent debate. While moving a
separate motion, he took the opportunity to urge comrades to vote it
down. He alleged that the emergency motion called for the splitting
of the South African trade union centre, Cosatu. Not true.
motion included a call for the break-up of the triple alliance, which
subordinates the South African Communist Party and Cosatu to the
African National Congress. It demanded that they, along with the
Young Communist League and the South African Student Congress, must
“fight for the political and organisational independence of the
Opposing, Robin Hanford reminded comrades that the ANC was a member
of the Socialist International and therefore a fraternal organisation
of the Labour Party. How could he, he demanded angrily, go to a
meeting of the SI’s youth organisation and denounce the ANC? And
why not, comrade? Surely, it would be inexcusable if you did not. As
one comrade correctly pointed out during the debate, the ANC
government is “a capitalist government”.
Moving emergency motion 1, Gerry Downing called on comrades to defend activists in
the Democratic Socialist Movement. The DSM - the South African
section of Peter Taaffe’s Committee for a Workers’ International
- is campaigning in support of striking miners and has been targeted
by elements within the SACP as a result. Accused of being linked to,
or involved in, several apartheid-era atrocities, DSM details -
names, addresses and photographs - have been posted on an internet
forum associated with the SACP. This amounted to a hit-list and was
“an invitation to assassinate DSM members”, declared comrade
was greater controversy with motion 4 from the Irish Republican
Prisoners Support Group. It called for the release of political
prisoners, highlighting Palestinians in Israel and Naxalites in
India. However, it was the paragraphs dealing Irish republican
prisoners which split the meeting.
motion 4, a comrade from Socialist Appeal warned, should we pass the
motion, we would have to call for the release of those who had
murdered prison officer David Black, shot while driving to work. Such
actions were not part of working class tradition, he claimed.
Presumably comrades from the AWL were of a similar opinion: they also
voted against. Nevertheless, the motion was passed, by a margin of 52
Labour Party Marxists motion was passed, almost unnoticed, it seems.
Given the politics on display from the majority of comrades, this
cannot be because Marxist ideas won out against reformism. The LRC
majority has not abandoned its Labourite politics; it remains wedded
to the forlorn hope that a Labour government, of whatever political
stripe, is better than the Tories.
LRC church is a broad one. It contains members, often councillors,
who in times past would have been considered very much on the soft
left of the party. They, alongside left Labourites masquerading as
Marxists, and Marxists masquerading as left Labourites, form the core
of the LRC.
Ted Knight, Graham Durham and Gerry Downing there exists an amorphous
grouping of comrades whose ultimatist response to cuts - ‘General
strike now!' - is basically healthy in terms of class instincts, but
refuses to acknowledge the parlous state of our class, politically
and organisationally. We cannot call forth battalions which do not,
as yet, exist, no matter how splendid our slogans sound. That is why
our LPM motion specified that “Our key aim … is to rebuild,
democratise and re-educate the entire labour movement.” There are
no short cuts.