At a Communist Students’ Exec meeting on the 13th of December, a decision was made to affiliate to the Labour Representation Committee (LRC). This statement was issued by members opposed to this decision, and we republish it here in the interests of debate.
The driving force behind this was Ben Lewis of the Provisional Central Committee of the CPGB, which has recently adopted a set of theses on the Labour Party. Some points of which would get support within the ranks of the LRC, for example the democratisation of the Labour Party. Crucially important though for the issue at hand is the dangerous conception of a permanent united front between Communists and the Labour Party contained within the theses. Where the CPGB’s contradictory perspective of simultaneously organising a political force independent of social democracy and at the same time trying to transform the Labour Party into a “real party of labour” and putting the Labour Party into office in order to expose its leadership, is made.
The LRC was set up in 2004 to act as a pressure group within the Labour Party; It now boasts 150 affiliated organisations, including six unions and 1,000 members. It is clear by the noises that it makes that it seeks to “rebuild” the Party. The LRC is committed to “restore (sic) the operation of a fully democratic Labour Party”, “encourage people to rejoin Labour” and the “election of a Labour Government”. Membership is barred to all those who belong to a party which stands candidates against the Labour Party. Communist Students should not support any of these aims and by joining the LRC and accepting its constitution we are not helping to win workers away from social democracy but doing the opposite – implying that there is something worthwhile at the root of left-labourism and reinforcing its politics. Worse still, we are contributing to the socialist cover that the LRC provides.
Those who support affiliation argue that Marxists should use the LRC to argue for communist politics, as they have attempted previously. This is a typical position taken by the Weekly Worker, that of an orientation towards ‘the left’. Those present at LRC conference will either be members of various socialist groups or similarly committed followers of social democracy. While it is necessary to win people away from such politics – it is idealist to think this can be achieved through work within the LRC because it fails to understand that its membership corresponds to particular ideas and consciousness that expresses the politics of a certain section of the labour bureaucracy.
In response to our opposition to LRC affiliation we are characterised as taking a sectarian position, not wanting our revolutionary credentials to become muddied by mixing with the dirty reformists of the LRC. However, this treats affiliation and engagement with LRC members as mutually exclusive. The LRC members who are most likely to be won to Marxism are those whom we shall meet on demonstrations or work with in anti-cuts groups, LRC affiliation does not affect our contact with these layers.
The CPGB thesis implies that the labour left wing is an ally. This is an error, LRC councillors in London have already admitted that they will by implementing the cuts agenda. This clearly shows that the Labour left wing is not an ally in the struggle against all cuts.
For a group of such meagre resources, affiliation to the LRC sends out a message about our priorities and orientation. The LRC makes up some of the working class, but not all of it. Our immediate aims should be to engage with our peers and work colleagues, newly politicised students on demonstrations and workers on picket lines. Affiliation to the LRC is at best a distraction from this struggle.
Mark Harrison (CS Exec)
Ronan McNabb (CS Manchester)
Sebastian Osthoff (CS Manchester)
James O’Leary (CS Manchester)
1. ‘Draft theses on the Labour Party’
2. Ibid, point 18.
3. D. Lewis, ‘Good start made’
4. ‘Labour Representation Committee Rules and Constitution’
6. At the founding conference of the Socialist Youth Network (youth section of the LRC) CS was able to pass a motion calling for ‘open borders’.
7. ‘Draft theses’, point 24.
7 thoughts on “no support for labour: no support for the lrc”
Isn’t it time that the Commune backed CS properly as a project of communist unity in the student movement open to all revolutionary traditions?
The above statement by the four communist students is rather standard in its approach, misleading and contradictory. What is not apparent however is the fact that the four comrades actually have essentially the same view of the LRC as the very people of the Weekly Worker whom they are criticising.
We are told that the LRC was set up to be a pressure group in the Labour Party, that is to be essentially a body of the Labour Party left. This is convenient but untrue. The LRC was established in response to the crisis in working class political representation which became a sharpened question with the ascendancy of Blair/Brown in the Labour Party and the subsequent transformation in social-democratic reformism into the neo-liberal bloc. As is stated on the LRC web-site:
The original Labour Representation Committee was formed in 1900 to fight for political representation for the Labour Movement. In Britain today we face a similar crisis of representation. The LRC has been re-formed to secure a voice for socialists within the Labour Party, the unions, and Parliament.
It was never founded to be exclusively Labour Party oriented. The question of orientation to the Labour Party or breaking completely has been an ongoing contested issue within the LRC. This has seen a series of heated debates between the pro-Labourite left and Labourite right wing in the LRC on this and other issues. There was and is an ongoing conflict of practice and perspectives which brings into the question the nature of the LRC. I.e that labour means workers not Labour Party!
By cherry picking statements of a labourite persuasion the authors give us a distorted impression. At the LRC executive after a heated argument ‘Rebuild the Party’ narrowly got through as a theme for the LRC conference publicity. A motion condemning this nonsense slogan is up at the conference. Hardly an indication of a body united on this orientation.
The authors of the above statement completely ignore these two conflicting currents; they make no differentiation at all. As do the Weekly Worker who with the right wing of the LRC see it as a Labour Party left organisation.
The authors of the above statement mention the affiliates to the LRC then make no mention they include unions and other organisations who are not affiliated to the Labour Party and support independent electoral challenges – such as RMT and FBU!
The idea that communists cannot engage in activity inside the LRC which challenges social democratic reformism in theory and practice is absurd and has no basis in fact.
The communists of The Commune for two years in a row challenged conceptions of state socialism and won the conference to a communist policy of social ownership and workers self-management. Sadly there was not enough motivation to amongst The Commune to carry out the policy and organise the conference on workers self-management agreed in the policy.
Similarly communists through the LRC organised two major events in support of mainly migrant cleaners in London . At a time when the bureaucrats of UNITE etc were attacking cleaner activists the LRC stood with those activists, including at the UBS demos as well as the public meetings. Amongst other things this was important it offessting efforts to isolate these workers.
What has been called the crisis of working class political representation opened up a process which enhanced the potential for re-composition of the labour movement. The split of the RMT, FBU from the Labour Party was part of that, we also saw sectarian socialist responses which hindered a positive direction in this process.
Unfortunately, but predictably, since the fall of the Labour Government some on the left have abandoned this process and returned to the Labour Party. Such Marxists (Poor Marx) fit in well with how one German communist described the CPGB at the fifth congress of the Comintern – as no better than left wing German Social Democrats.
The LRC was/is but one arena of struggle in this process. The sectarian communist would say this does not matter, the real struggle is on the picket lines. But that is to delude oneself communists can body swerve the workers movement itself, ignoring accumulated historical experience, and create anything other than sectarianism. It’s been tried before on far grander scales i.e Owenism and its attitude to Chartism.
Of course the authors say you cannot have a united front with those implementing cuts. Too true. But the LRC is not the Labour Party! It has no councillors. There are a literal handful of LRC members who are Labour Party councillors. They are generally impotent, a reflection pretty much of the actual collapse of the Local government left and the Labour left as a whole.
The policy which will certainly be adopted by the LRC conference will be that councillors refuse to implement the cuts. More important was the UNITE meeting of its many members who are councillors who were told to implement the cuts! (Good old McLuskey eh!). Any role of the LRC in developing local and national resistance is more important, feasible and valuable.
The above comrades however say ‘the Labour left wing is not an ally in the struggle against all cuts’. First the Labour left wing – that is what exists of the Labour Party left wing is not a unified undifferentiated body. Are the above comrades saying John McDonnell MP is not an ally?????
What the is unclear to the authors of the above statement is that it is possible to practice a united workers front with Labourites, indeed in many struggles necessary, without liquidating into social democracy.
In one aspect the authors are correct – those who advocated affiliation to the LRC are doing so not to challenge labourism – but join it! The twin of such liquidation is sectarianism long a hall mark of the Brit left. The Communist Students now affiliated to the LRC should be ensuring that their relationship to the LRC follows a consistent communist approach instead.
I think the communists instincts of mark,Ronan,sebastion,and James are correct Given our meagre resources our priorities should be for the grass roots struggle from below against the cuts. Those most likely to be won to communism from below will be found in the demonstartions,working class communities.
To describe a communism from below perspective as sectarian is an opinion far too influenced by parliamentary reformism and trade union officialdom. We do not face a similar crisis of parliamentary representation similar to 1900. The historical context is fundamentally different.Even in 1900 the LRC did not represent class war to overthow capitalism, but a defensive trade union alternative to class struggle for constitutional reforms.
As the comrades write there is noting worthwhile for a communist about the roots of labourism. It was about expressing grievances within the constitutional framework The use of the word labour by Kier Hardie was to avoid the word socialist. To have labour members of parliament sitting in parliament gave a semblance of indepemdence, but the reality was liberal ideological hegmony. Hardie hated class war and the leading aspiring parliamentary politicians, such as Hardie clynes snowden Macdonanld all had liberal links or were idelogically liberals or were deferential to constitutionalism.
This radical or indeed not so radical parliamentarianism was in many ways a regression or a detour from class politics. The great Labour unrest of 1910-1914 body swerved this labour movement and its top down parlimentary leaders. As did the wave of workers unrest in 1919/20. This pattern of dribbling round the parlimentary labour and trade union officialdom has been repeated many since times since: the unemployed marches of the inter war years, the do it your self militacy from below 1968/74, the poll tax, the recent anti war movement the student demontrations and hopfully the anti cuts camapign.
Parliamentary representation and the illusion of a Labour party won to socialism are not issues that animate the new activists, nor should we try to win them to that perspective. There have been astonomical sums of human investment in the Labour party or trade union officialdom to lead the way as a short cut to communism/socialism all dressed up as wise tactics. We do not want to encourage people to go down the dead end of seeing the labour party as half way house to socialism as the CPGB Envisages. Do we really want the tragedy of a CPGB mark 2 or constitutional representation mark 2? Not all the lessons of history are positive.
The Weekly Worker claims it is entering New Labour as open communists and very differently from the practice of previous Trotskyists and other Marxists who have been active in the Labour Party. Going by the LRC conference this certainly not the case – those of them standing in the elections to the National Committee dont even mention they are communists!
The resolution from the Communist Students it incredibly retrogressive:
The Labour Representation Committee will campaign for:
1. All trade unions to affiliate to the Labour Party.
2. The Labour Party’s undemocratic bans and proscriptions to be ended and all communist, revolutionary socialist and left groups encouraged to affiliate to the Labour Party.
3. All trade unions to be encouraged to affiliate to the Labour Party and all trade union members to be encouraged to pay the political levy.
4. All trade unionists to be encouraged to join the Labour Party as individual members
So the RMT and FBU who are affiliated to the LRC are being called on to rejoin the British Labour Party rather than develop anything new. Sad.
Below is a statement in response to the article by James Turley ‘Against the politics of purity‘ and the statement by Manchester comrades ‘No support for Labour – No support for the LRC‘. This is part of the debate in the lead up to our conference in March that will decide our perspectives for the year ahead.
It is important to place the current debate in Communist Students in its proper context, politically and organisationally. The decision to affiliate to the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) is a small tactical issue which comrades on both sides would do well to remember not to elevate into a principle. The change is being made in order to move CS in line with the political shifts of the CPGB majority. We need to be careful to ensure that CS is not simply an appendage of the CPGB, as implied by the way the affiliation was rushed through. It is also important to remember that members of the CPGB within CS are not united on this issue. Currently CS has no policy on Labour work and has sporadically worked with Labourites since our formation in 2006. What is being proposed is completely new: an orientation to Labour as something that can be won for Marxism. Some comrades want us to fight for Labour to become a “permanent united front” with Labour general committees playing a role akin to Soviets. This is the argument of Jack Conrad and his supporters within the CPGB. For CS this must be an issue to be decided on by the autonomous conference of CS and not just an automatic re-orientation in line with the CPGB.
In their quest to legitimise this turn some comrades have resorted to denying this re-orientation.‘The party line has changed, comrades; this has always been the party line.’ It is not true that LRC affiliation and subsequent work is nothing new. The recent adoption of new theses on the Labour Party by the CPGB represents a political and organisational re-orientation on the part of that group. The theses are deeply flawed and inaccurate, and yet out of this vague text our organisation is stepping up Labour work in a direction never undertaken by either the CPGB or CS.
Just as in the CPGB, the comrades for a reorientation to Labour work seek to place themselves in the tradition of the early Communist Party but then only tell half of the story. It is common on the left to have learned about Lenin’s advice to Marxists in Britain and the decisions by the Second Congress of the Communist International (Comintern): to try to affiliate to the Labour Party, expose its leaders, and win workers in Britain to a socialist programme. A united front was proposed to defend the interests of the working class. The preconditions of such an approach were spelled out by Lenin, Trotsky and the Comintern: there must be complete liberty of agitation and organisation within Labour and a unified communist organisation of serious number to carry out the work. Democracy is a distant memory in the Labour Party and CS is a small organisation with few resources which must choose its priorities wisely. It is a mistake to listen to only half of the lessons and advice from our history. Just as a serious, active intervention within the ranks of the Labour Party is not possible for today’s CPGB, it is even less likely to be so for CS.
No section of this debate is seeking to isolate CS and to not have comrades engage with Labourites and the left generally. The same comrades who produced the opposition statement opposing affiliation to the LRC have also worked with Labour Students in anti-cuts committees and are part of a branch that backed Labour Students members who were against cuts in Students’ Union elections. The pro-affiliation comrades are conflating engaging Labour members and organisations, and working within Labour. Understanding the Labour Party as a site of struggle does not automatically lead to work inside Labour. We must consider the preconditions stated above, the balance forces, what can be gained and, most pertinently for our organisation, where best to expend our energy and devote our time. The opposition statement mistakenly confuses joining the LRC with accepting and fighting for Labourism. Under some circumstances it is permissible, even advisable, to work within Labour. There is nothing necessarily unprincipled about doing so.
“The LRC is an anti-cuts group” we are told by our pro-Labour comrades. But it seems to have escaped them that the LRC is not just another anti-cuts group. These comrades note that the LRC is holding its conference under the slogan “Resist the Cuts, Rebuild the Party” and yet neglect to comment on the second half of the formulation. The LRC is a campaign to defend and strengthen working class political representation through the Labour Party. It is a group which, according to its constitution, is “committed to the election of a Labour government” – i.e. another government of cuts. This does raise political questions for CS to decide upon. Are we for a Labour government, or do we contest this aim of the LRC? What forces are there within the Labour left that will be open to our ideas? Can comrades both work within Labour and promote communist organisation? Do we think the Labour Party can be won for Marxism?
The comrades who are for a reorientation to Labour also claim that it is simply a matter of CS doing more than one thing. A simple division of labour. Yet they have stated that they hope this will be part of a long term engagement without providing any plan beyond affiliation to the LRC and an intervention at its upcoming conference. We must not fall into the same trap as many left groups: trying to do many things whilst failing to do any of them well. It makes sense that our organisation puts most of its forces where we can gain the widest audience and suffer the least censorship. We have been part of many successful interventions and actions over the past year and our organisation has produced twice as much material as previous years (including a campus-based bulletin for workers and students called Educator, which was snapped up by hundreds in Manchester). Our orientation should be, as agreed at our last conference, primarily towards the burgeoning anti-cuts movement. Within this movement we need to be unambiguous in our promotion of communist ideas and organisation.
Caitriona Rylance (CPGB and CS Executive)
Chris Strafford (CPGB and Manchester CS)
Dave Isaacson (CPGB and Milton Keynes CS)
Liam Conway (CPGB and Manchester CS)
Alex Allan (Manchester CS)
James O’Leary (Manchester CS)
Sinead Rylance (London CS)
‘Currently CS has no policy on Labour work and has sporadically worked with Labourites since our formation in 2006. ‘
I don’t understand the statement by the above comrades it rather contradicts the motion by Communist Students submitted to the forthcoming LRC conference. Which as entryist debutants have managed to achieve the outcome of being the most pro-labourite and right wing motion on the conference agenda!
I would invite the comrades of both wings of this debate to consider the points I made above on the LRC.
The CPGB majority are certainly ignoring the history of Labourism and going back to the origins of the CPGB or rather one of the main components in the formation of the party,the British socialist Party. The BSP Argued that the Labour party could be won to socialism. They stood for pushing the labour and trade union leaders left,in effect a left wing ginger group within the labour Party, which is the spirit of the CPGB majority orientation to the Labour party.
Affiliation strenghened this reformist orientation. But a speaker at the second congress made the obvious point: you did not have to be in labour party to meet labour supporters. The intervention of a numerically and ideologically strong CPGB in the elemental class struggle would win workers to communism. But at the time of the second congress the self emancipation of the working class had been lost from sight in the Soviet Union. It became the politics of communist purity.
It is wrong to counterpose primitive accumulation of communists to mass recruitment within the Labour party. Mass recruitment within Labour has not happened. Most entrists have not converted labour, Social Democracy has converted them. workers do not always turn to the labour party in struggle and the labour Party has not politically represented mass struggle through constitutionalism or parliamentarianism. Remember the mass militancy of 1910/1914,1919/20,the general strike of 1926, the unemployed struggles of the inter war years, or the rank and file trade union militancy 1968/74 and so on.
In 1908 Lenin and kautsky spoke in favour of the Labour party joining the second international, because they thought that although the labour party did not recognise the class struggle or socialism,socialism and the class struggle would recognise them. They were wrong. But then again they did not have the knowledge of labourism we have, which has been disregarded by the conrad majority.Those who forget the lessons of history will attempt to recreate the depressing history of Labour party social democracy and CPGB opportunism.
Independent socialist,Large scale recruitment has been made during spontaneous struggles. The classic examples are 1905 and 1917 in Russia when the workers outflanked on the left, conrads vanguard, the Committee men and the old Blsheviks. A more recent example on a smaller scale was the recruitment of the IS group in 1968 during the anti vietnam war protests. while Ted Grant dogmatically insisted that workers would turn to their traditional organisations, the IS went from a memberhip of about 40 to about 800 with speeches calling for the smashing of capitalism. A qualitative leap that established the group.There are many other examples. its not a question of recruiting one’s or twos or the Labour party which is seen as a political short cut to mass membership, but has historically been the longest detour for communists and socialists bringing them no nearer to the aim of destroying the capitalist state. On the contrary.
Looking to another party the CPGB never politically became a communist force.John Maclean refused to join because when he was fighting the state during the first world war, future leaders of the CPGB, Harry Pollitt was making boilers in manchester,willie Galagher was refusing to even talk about the war in his trade union agitation,and Rothstien kept his head down in his whitehall department. Sylvia Pankhurst did join but was expelled shortly after for having the audacity to print the criticisms of Lenin by Kollontai. Pankhurst made the point that there could be no communist organiation without independence of the labour party and members who were bold and had the courage of their convictions. Workers would not trust communists who joined labour and said we will vote for your leaders in order to talk to you.
If the political perspective is for changing the Labour party Into a socialist party and into a party which is not dominated by parliamentarinism and constitutionalism, which goes right against the historical grain , then that is not just tactics, but a reformist strategy and opportunist politics. Its not just a tactical difference. Communist students should fight for communist values.
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