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Return to Homepage Labour Party – 100 Years of faithful service to imperialism There are people in the left movement, including some calling themselves communists, who make the assertion that the Labour Party is a party of the British working class, which can be an instrument of socialism in Britain. They are wrong. The purpose of this 2-part article is to demonstrate that Labour right from its inception (not just today) has been a most resolute defender of British imperialism, a purveyor of racism and anti-communism among the working class. Instead of representing a step forward, the existence of the Labour Party has all along been a formidable obstacle to the development of a truly revolutionary movement of the British proletariat.
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Labour Party – 100 Years of
faithful service to imperialism
There are people in the left movement, including some calling themselves communists, who make the assertion that the Labour Party is a party of the British working class, which can be an instrument of socialism in Britain. They are wrong. The purpose of this 2-part article is to demonstrate that Labour right from its inception (not just today) has been a most resolute defender of British imperialism, a purveyor of racism and anti-communism among the working class. Instead of representing a step forward, the existence of the Labour Party has all along been a formidable obstacle to the development of a truly revolutionary movement of the British proletariat.
Sunday, 20th February marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Labour Party. It is, thus, an opportune moment to take a brief look at the circumstances surrounding its birth, the real, objective meaning of its policy, the class whose interests it has served throughout the century of its existence. Has it served the cause of the emancipation of the proletariat from the horrors of capitalism or has it, on the contrary, merely pursued the line of reconciling the proletariat with the interests of the bourgeoisie? There are two opposing answers, representing two irreconcilable world outlooks, to this question. The correct answer to this question is of the utmost importance for the development of the working-class movement, for without it not a single step can be taken in the organisation of the British proletariat for its social emancipation.
One of the assertions – an assertion which has acquired the force of a public prejudice – made not only by the left generally, but also, with some honourable exceptions, by that part of it which calls itself communist, is that the Labour Party is a party of the British working class, which can be an instrument of socialism in Britain. This assertion is absolutely false. The truth is that Labour never has been, is not now, and will never in the future be, a party of the British proletariat; that it was formed to defend the interests of the privileged upper stratum (at the time composed of skilled workers organised in craft unions, then a tiny minority of the workforce) of the working class; that since the privileged position of this upper stratum - this aristocracy of labour - depended on the loot from the Empire and the extraction of imperialist superprofits from abroad, Labour from its inception was committed to the defence of the British Empire and British imperialism alike - for it could not defend the one (the privileges of the labour aristocracy) without defending the other (British imperialism); that, therefore, Labour has, throughout its existence, as its record over a century amply proves, been an imperialist party - a "bourgeois labour party", to use Engels' remarkably profound expression.
Irrefutable historical evidence points to the correctness of our stance, and it is our duty to make this truth known to the lower stratum, the vast masses, of the British proletariat, whose interests the Labour Party has never championed in the past and does not champion now. The Labour Party has always defended the interests of British imperialism and of the privileged sections of the working class - the labour aristocracy. The composition of this labour aristocracy has undergone a remarkable change over several decades, but the labour aristocracy as such remains. If in former times it was composed of skilled craft workers, today it consists largely of skilled white-collar workers, administrators, labour and trade-union functionaries, and those in supervisory and managerial positions. But what this new labour aristocracy shares with the old labour aristocracy is its total contempt for the poor, the deprived and the downtrodden at home and abroad, its total disregard for the plight of the most disadvantaged and most cruelly exploited sections of the population here in Britain or in the rest of the world. And this, for the simple reason that such destitution - the existence of a "functional underclass", to use Galbraith's terminology, is a necessary condition for the maintenance of its privileged and parasitic existence, which explains its philistinism, the depth of its vilest subservience to, and its contemptible sycophancy in the service of, the imperialist bourgeoisie.
Split in the working class
In this context, it is extremely important to emphasise the continuing validity of the Leninist thesis concerning the very profound economic connection between imperialism and opportunism in the labour movement. Imperialism engenders a split in the working class, for it has singled out a handful of exceptionally rich and powerful states who plunder the whole world and who are able to use a portion of the superprofits thus derived to bribe the labour leaders and the upper stratum of the working class. "This stratum of bourgeoisified workers, or the `labour aristocracy', who are quite philistine in their mode of life, in the size of their earnings and in their entire outlook, ... is the principal social ... prop of the bourgeoisie. For they are the real agents of the bourgeoisie in the working-class movement, the labour lieutenants of the capitalist class, real channels of reformism and chauvinism." (Lenin, Preface to the French and German editions of Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism).
The chief function of this bribed, and therefore opportunist, stratum is to act as the watchdogs of capitalism and the corrupters of the labour movement. On the basis of its monopoly profits, and the bribing of its labour aristocracy, the bourgeoisie of each imperialist country long ago begot, nurtured and secured for itself a bourgeois labour party. The British bourgeoisie, since monopoly developed much earlier in Britain than elsewhere, was the first to secure such a party. The Labour Party was precisely such a "bourgeois labour party." It is, as it always has been, a party of opportunism and social chauvinism, which is totally alien to the revolutionary proletariat, and unless a determined ruthless struggle is waged against this party, it is pointless and hypocritical cant to talk about the struggle against imperialism, about Marxism-Leninism, about the socialist labour movement, or about proletarian revolution.
Historical facts fully confirm that in the entire history of British capitalism there has been a split in the working class, apart from two brief periods during which British capitalism, while sustaining the privileged position of the upper stratum of the working class, was nevertheless able to provide adequate living standards to the mass of the working class. These exceptional periods were, first, the years 1848-1868, that is, from the defeat of the Chartist movement to nearly the close of the seventh decade of the 19th century, when Britain possessed the largest Empire and enjoyed complete monopoly in the world market and could, therefore, rightly be described as `the workshop of the world'. During these years Britain was not just the biggest act in town, it was the only act - it was the town. This monopoly position yielded enormous profits to the British ruling class, thus enabling it to treat the working class rather more leniently. Because of these exceptional circumstances, after the defeat of Chartism, there existed no party to defend the interests of the working class - not even that of its privileged upper stratum, which found it satisfactory to safeguard its interests through craft unions and in alliance with the bourgeois Liberal Party - the lib-lab alliance. From the 1870s, Britain's monopoly position was increasingly under challenge, especially from Germany and the United States of America, and by 1890 this monopoly was gone forever. With the disappearance of this monopoly, the British bourgeoisie could no longer afford its earlier leniency, and was thus forced to attack the living standards of the working class, including those of its upper stratum. Finding itself under attack from its former ally (the liberal bourgeoisie), and being no longer able to defend its interests through the Liberal Party, the labour aristocracy effected the first organisational breach in the hitherto existing notorious lib-lab alliance, with the formation in 1893 of the Independent Labour Party (ILP), and subsequently the Labour Representation Committee in 1900, which from 1906 began to be referred to as the Labour Party. However, this organisational breach in no way affected its lib-lab politics, which have continued up to the present day.
Secondly, the 30 years following the end of the Second World War (1945-1975), when post-war conditions of boom produced the Keynesian consensus, leading to the reconstruction of British imperialism at the expense of the increased exploitation and oppression of the colonial peoples, the institution of the National Health Service, universal benefits, full employment and a rising standard of living for the entire working class.
Just as the successful challenge to Britain's monopoly position in the last quarter of the 19th century put an end to the consensus of that period, likewise the deteriorating condition of British imperialism - its relative decline in comparison with its rival imperialist powers - has caused the breakdown of the Keynesian consensus, and with it the end to full employment, universal benefits and the National Health Service, at least in its hitherto existing form. No longer can British imperialism sustain the privileged conditions of the upper stratum of the working class and the petty bourgeoisie while at the same time providing an adequate, let alone a rising, standard of living for the vast masses of the working class. From now on, as indeed has been the case since the end of the 1970s, the privileged conditions of the former can only be maintained at the expense of the increased exploitation, poverty and misery of the latter. What was considered unthinkable not so long ago is already happening. Every one of the gains of the post-war period (gains which the Trotskyite and revisionist coteries of renegades still continue dementedly to attribute to the `socialist' Attlee government) - full employment, universal benefits, the National Health Service - is under attack.
Since the late 1970s, there has been a massive transfer of wealth from the bottom fifth of the population to the top fifth; with each passing year, this gap is growing bigger – the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.
Yet the so-called `left', grouped in various Trotskyist (both inside and outside of the Labour Party) and revisionist organisations possessed of an inordinate amount of inept pedantry, and imbued with a spirit of servility to the bourgeoisie, continue to deny the existence of the above split in the working class. The denial of this split is absolutely essential to their support for the Labour Party as the party of the entire working class, for the recognition of the split in the working class cannot fail to force on them also the recognition that Labour represents the interests of British imperialism and of the privileged layers of the working class. In denying this split, this gentry also denies, albeit implicitly, the imperialist character of British capitalism. Just as the contemptible scoundrelly gentry of the Labour Party, cringing before the bourgeoisie, adapt every line of their programme to the requirements of British imperialism and that of the labour aristocracy and the petty bourgeoisie, in the same measure our Troto-revisionist `left', which fancies itself to be revolutionary, increasingly cringing before social democracy, adapting itself to bourgeois parliamentarism, adjusts itself to the imperialist Labour Party and the latter's electoral requirements. Treating history and reality like Gogol's Petrushka, our representatives of lackey science that they are, our `left', continue chanting the mantra that the Labour Party is a mass party of the British working class. Their stance, their scorn for historical facts, their disdain for reality, is distinguished by such a "sweet naiveté, which would be touching in a child but is repulsive in a person who has not yet been officially certified as feeble-minded," to use Lenin's observation apropos Kautsky.
The entire history of bourgeois democracy shows that bourgeois democrats have always practised deception and trickery on the masses. They have always advanced, and still advance, all manner of slogans in order to trick the proletariat. The Labour Party is no exception. Throughout its existence it has advanced demagogic slogans to hoodwink the proletariat, to lull to sleep the Simple Simons among the socialists, while serving imperialism single-mindedly. The task of the socialists, therefore, is not to be satisfied with the slogans, with idealistic or charlatan phrases, but to get to class reality and test the sincerity of those putting forward the slogans - to compare their words with their deeds.
Deepening crisis of British Imperialism
Today, however, the continuing relative decline of British imperialism is increasingly forcing the bourgeois democrats, including those of the Labour Party, to shed much of the sloganising and to confront the mass of the working class with hideous class reality in the form of an assault on the gains of the post-war period. During the past 25 years, the manufacturing workforce has been more than halved (down from 8 million to just under 4 million), while the number of those employed in banking and insurance has nearly trebled.
Within manufacturing itself, one in ten manufacturing jobs are accounted for by the manufacture of armaments. Eleven of the top twenty British companies are involved in the manufacture of armaments. With such an erosion of its manufacturing base, and with such heavy reliance on the manufacture of the merchandise of death, how is British imperialism able to support the increasing proportion of the population involved in unproductive labour - the vast parasitic layers who produce no wealth, no surplus value? The answer, in the main, must be found in the export of capital and the earnings from it. In a good year, Britain’s overseas earnings from capital invested abroad account for a third of all profit made in Britain. With such a proportion of the profits of British imperialism dependent on the export of capital, one can see why banking (the City) and militarism have assumed such monstrously gigantic dimensions. In these conditions, if British imperialism is to continue its parasitic existence (and it can have no other existence), if it is to continue to provide privileged conditions for the petty bourgeoisie and the labour aristocracy, every government policy must be subordinated to the interests of the robber barons of finance capital; every military adventure abroad must be fully and enthusiastically supported in order to make sure of the continued flow of tribute from abroad. The glee with which the Conservative and Labour Governments went to war against Iraq and Yugoslavia respectively, and the support given to these genocidal wars by which ever party was in the opposition are just two of the scores of examples one could cite.
Notwithstanding huge earnings from investment abroad and militarism (sale of armaments), the relative decline of British imperialism continues apace. Faced with this crisis, British imperialism is intensifying its attack on the poorer section of the working class. Nearly half of all employees in Britain earn less than the European Decency Threshold, and with the bourgeoisie now bent on dismemberment, if not the dismantlement, of the National Health Service, and the abolition of universal benefits, we are poised for a massive increase in poverty and the widening of the split in the working class. Increasingly the `contented majority' is turning into a minority, and for the first time since the end of the war, the overwhelming majority of the working class are being sucked into the abyss of absolute poverty, hopelessness and misery.
Labour does not represent the destitute masses
Labour, now in Government, does not, any more than it did in opposition, give voice to, does not represent, this vast mass of the destitute. Labour lost four elections in succession for the reason that the privileged stratum of the working class deserted to the Tories. To win, Labour needs, in addition to the votes of the lower proletarian stratum, the electoral support of the upper stratum as well as a section of the petty bourgeoisie. Since, as a result of the breakdown of the Keynesian consensus, it is no longer possible for it to reconcile the interests of the labour aristocracy and of the lower stratum, Labour has, after each election defeat, moved away, distanced itself, from the lower layers - wooing the upper layers and the petty bourgeoisie has become its main concern. Labour lost the 1992 election because its commitment to a mild increase in spending on the National Health Service (£1 bn.) and education (£600 million) proved unacceptable to the petty-bourgeois and the upper stratum of the working class. As a result, Labour dropped all such commitments and moved so much to the right that the bewildered Tories were forever accusing the Labour Party of stealing their clothes. Labour won the last election with not a single promise made in the interests of the working class. Since assuming office, it has, to the admiration of the bourgeoisie, been busy helping the rich; attacking the disadvantaged – the lone parents, job seekers, the disabled; maintaining and deepening the ‘reforms’ of the previous Tory administration in areas ranging from trade unions to those of health and education, with their two-tier service – one for the privileged and the other for the under-privileged; it has played a leading part in the barbaric imperialist war against Yugoslavia and continues its daily bombing of the Iraqi people nearly a decade after the end of the Gulf War. Even more than the previous Tory Government – and this is saying something – Labour is tied hand and foot to big capitalists, who finance the Labour Party and some of whom are at the very heart of this government, occupying important ministerial and other positions. Labour Ministers, while attacking the poor in the name of having to make "hard choices", are guilty of lavish lifestyles, spending enormous amounts of public money on official homes, taking mistresses on foreign trips and staging glittering parties for show biz. Within less than 3 years in office, some of the leading lights of this government have been at the centre of financial and sexual scandals. Even the Financial Times felt compelled to make this observation "Then there are the champagne receptions. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have turned Downing Street into a party zone, with business leaders, show biz celebrities and political allies tripping in and out of receptions late into the evening."
And "Mr Blair’s receptions, with photographers in attendance, have helped to establish him at the apex of the ‘new Britain’, with designers, DJs and pop stars all paying court.
"The down side is that popping champagne corks can be awkward companions to Mr.Blair’s ‘tough choices’. On December 10th he was pictured laughing with Zoe Ball in Downing Street while Harriet Harman was cutting lone-parent benefits in the Commons" (Labour tangles in the trappings of power, George Parker, Financial Times, 25.1.98)
There is ample evidence to demonstrate that the Labour Government is paid for by big business, run by big business, and in the interests of big business. Every socialist, every class-conscious worker should declare a merciless war on this government and the party it represents.
Labour Refuses to Support even Economic Struggles
And yet there are, sad to say, socialists, who without any sense of shame or honour, act as a fig leaf for the Labour Party and the Labour Government, who endeavour to reconcile the masses to the Labour Party and the Labour Government which are tied hand and foot to the city gangsters. Labour does not even support the economic, trade-union, struggles of the working class, let alone the question of the social emancipation of the proletariat. The trade-union leadership, composed by and large of the privileged upper stratum of the working class, is increasingly moving away from the collective representation of the working class to concentrate on the provision of personal services which can only benefit those enjoying higher-than-average incomes. This same leadership fears like the plague any action which might transcend the boundaries of Draconian anti-working class legislation put on the statute book by the bourgeoisie through its parliament over the last 20 years. Most significant industrial struggles have collapsed in the face of police violence, or drowned under the weight of legal cretinism or been simply betrayed by the TUC leadership. One exception to this was the heroic coal strike of 1984-5. During this year-long strike, the miners, led by the most courageous, the most militant and most incorruptible leadership, carried the torch of struggle on behalf of the entire working class against unemployment and for better conditions, and challenged the power of capital to treat workers as so much disposable trash. In doing so they revived all that is noble, heroic and self-sacrificing - the spirit of collectivism - in the long history of the struggle of the British proletariat. But, by the same act, they roused the frenzy of the bourgeoisie, the Furies of private interest. More than that, they roused the wrath of the Labour and TUC leaderships, who feared like death the miners' victory, for by their example the miners threatened to infect other sections of the working class with a spirit of defiance and reellion against the dictates of monopoly capitalism. So the Labour/TUC leadership joined forces with the Thatcher government, the National Coal Board, the police and intelligence services, the judiciary, the bourgeois media, and the blacklegs from the Nottinghamshire coalfields, in order to isolate and defeat the miners. In the end this `exotic' range of forces arrayed against the miners proved too much; the miners, deserted by other sections of the working class, thanks to the treachery of social democracy, were starved and beaten - literally beaten - back to work.
Labour – Party of Imperialism
In view of this, it is perfectly clear that Labour, far from being the mass party of the working class (as the Troto-revisionist outfits, these contemptible scoundrelly renegades to socialism, would have us believe), is, on the contrary, the party of imperialism and a privileged stratum of the working class, which supports imperialism to the hilt, for its privileges and conditions of existence depend on the extraction of superprofits from abroad and the intensified exploitation of the vast lower layers of the proletariat at home. The task of the communists - revolutionary Marxist-Leninists - is to recognise the split in the working class, to fight against the "bourgeois labour party," and "to go down lower and deeper, to the real masses," for "this is the meaning and the whole content of the struggle against opportunism." It is the task of revolutionaries to "explain to the masses the inevitability and the necessity of breaking with opportunism, to educate them for revolution by a merciless struggle against opportunism" and to unmask "the hideousness of National-Liberal-Labour politics and not to cover them up," for this is the only Marxist-Leninist line to be followed in the British, as well as the world, proletarian movement. (All quotations in this paragraph are from Lenin's pamphlet, Imperialism and the Split in Socialism).
Under attack, the vast masses of the working class are bound to fight back. It is the job of the communists to organise them outside of, and in opposition to, social democracy. This is not a job that can be trusted to the `left' wing of social democracy, to wit, the Trotskyite and revisionist gentry, who are marked by a staggering accumulation of corruption and filth through decades of opportunism and compromise with social democracy, and whose objects of concern, too, are the privileged sections of the working class and the petty-bourgeois strata. It is a job that can only be accomplished by making a definite break with the ideology and organisational forms of social democracy.
Formation of the SLP
In this regard one cannot but welcome the emergence of the Socialist Labour Party (SLP). Formed in May 1996, the SLP has made a definitive organisational break with social democracy; with each passing day it is increasingly breaking free from the debilitating class-collaborationist ideology of social democracy. It is to the undying credit of its leader, Arthur Scargill, that he has spearheaded the struggle for a break with the Labour Party. In doing so, not only has he rendered a great service to the British working class, but also exposed the Trotskyites, revisionists, `left-wing' Labour MPs and other bigwigs for what they really are, namely, the left wing of social democracy and the purveyors of the latter's corruption and filth among the ranks of the working class. No wonder, then, that these gentry attack the SLP and Arthur Scargill with such venom.
Within four years of its formation, notwithstanding a conspiracy of silence against it on the part of the bourgeois media, the SLP has grown in size and prestige and is giving voice to the disenfranchised, disadvantaged, deprived and downtrodden sections of the population in every sphere of struggle – be it industrial or political, parliamentary or extra-parliamentary. It is busy successfully mobilising working people against anti-trade union legislation, put on the statute book during nearly two decades of Conservative rule, which Labour, with the tacit support of the TUC bureaucracy, and in the service of British monopoly capitalism, refuses to repeal. At a time when, in the aftermath of the collapse of the USSR, renegacy is the order of the day, when anti-communism and anti-Sovietism are rampant, when the Trotskyites are deliriously dancing cheek-to-cheek with the imperialist bourgeoisie by way of celebrating the demise of the much-hated (by them, that is) glorious Soviet Union, when even the revisionists, who had made a career of living off the USSR, are distancing themselves from the old Soviet Union - in the midst of all this the SLP not only refuses to join in this counter-revolutionary chorus of this imperialist-led crowd but, on the contrary, proudly defends the earth-shattering achievements of the construction of socialism in the Soviet Union and her monumental successes in every field – industrial, agricultural, diplomatic, military, educational and cultural, scientific and technological, and above all in the sphere of fraternal relations among the scores of nationalities, national minorities and races which inhabited the vast land of the Soviets. At a time when timid people shy away from defending Marxism in public, when fake `socialists', swimming with the tide, have begun to worship the market (although that worship is being made to look pathetically ridiculous by the crisis of overproduction now engulfing the capitalist world), the SLP proudly pledges itself to the ideology of Marxism, and its leader, Arthur Scargill, fearlessly declares that:
"It is capitalism, not the complexion of governments, which is responsible for the economic and social devastation which results in the destruction of basic and manufacturing industries, and in mass unemployment, homelessness, hopelessness, helplessness and despair. Only by dealing with the root cause – capitalism itself – can this devastation be stopped and a long-term alternative constructed."
In the concluding part of this article, which will appear in the May/June issue of LALKAR, we shall list a few of the details from Labour’s century-long record which show that the Labour Party was from its very inception the most consistent and persistent defender of British imperialism, a purveyor of racism and anti-communism among the working class. Instead of marking a step forward, the formation and existence of the Labour Party has constituted a formidable obstacle to the development of a truly revolutionary movement of the British proletariat.
Social Democracy - the enemy within
by Harpal Brar
The book shows that the Labour Party has, throughout its existence, been an imperialist party - a "bourgeois labour party" (Engels). Harpal Brar does this by tracing the formation of the Labour Party and its record in government as well as in opposition; by dealing with distortions of revisionists and Trotskyites on the Marxian teaching on the state (demolishing illusions spread by 'Vote Labour' campaigns); and by looking at various economic struggles, in particular a detailed commentary on the historic coal strike of 1984-85, and imperialist wars, aggression and occupation that show the hideous nature of British social democracy. The book highlights the need to make a definite ideological and organisational break with social democracy.
Paperback £10 Hardback £20
ISBN 1-874613-04-4 ISBN 1-874613-05-2
By the author of Perestroika - the complete collapse of revisionism and Trotskyism or Leninism?
[All available from E.J.Rule, 14 Featherstone Road, Southall Middx UB2 5AA, cheques payable to `E.J.Rule' please]