To conduct the party’s industrial work successfully in the current period is an onerous and complex undertaking that tests the mettle of all comrades involved.
We are in a dark period of political reaction, where the sharpening crisis of imperialism is exposing the working class to fresh attacks at every turn upon its wages, conditions, pensions and job security, yet where the unbroken ideological enslavement in Britain of organised labour (the unions) to social democracy (and its chief representative, the Labour Party) has severely hampered working class resistance to these attacks.
True, the hold of social democracy on the labour movement is itself threatened by the renewed acute crisis as workers become ever-more dissatisfied with their worsening conditions of life. The RMT remains disaffiliated from Labour and other unions have threatened to follow suit. The CWU has threatened to cut its subsidy to Labour if Blair supports the Royal Mail’s employee shareholding scam, and the well-attended May Day protests against Labour’s retention of union-bashing laws, coupled with some signs of increased ‘awkward squad’ militancy, also suggest that the link between organised labour and social democracy is becoming progressively more strained.
Yet the hard truth is that Britain’s once-proud communist movement, which before its corruption by Khrushchevite revisionism could carry on its shoulders such leaders as Harry Pollitt and Rajani Palme Dutt, is nowhere to be seen – nowhere, that is, except in the faltering first steps of our two-year-old CPGB-ML.
In the 1960s and 70s, the old CPGB could still boast some ability to organise within industry. Yet in reality it was ‘living on its laurels’, and no amount of bragging about its ‘organic links’ with the working class could hide the disorganising influence of revisionism. Where once Lenin had exhorted communists to turn the trade unions into schools for socialism, the CPGB turncoats instead transformed their party into a school for social democracy, demoralising the proletariat with dreams of a British parliamentary road to socialism. And, in the absence of genuine revolutionary leadership within the ranks of organised labour, Trotskyite ‘ultra-left’ pseudo-revolutionism crawled into the gap, helping further to discredit the very notion of revolution in the eyes of workers.
The most ‘left’ of left social democracy – that section of organised labour that in the 1980s rallied around the miners’ courageous strike, led by Arthur Scargill, against Thatcher’s pit-closure vandalism– plucked up the courage in the 90s to break organisationally with Labour by founding the Socialist Labour Party. Yet Scargillism in the end proved unable or unwilling to finish the job by breaking ideologically with social democracy itself. Because it could not rid itself of the delusion that, by toning down the Marxism Leninism, major sections of the labour movement could be encouraged to drop like ripe plums into its lap, Scargillism ended up conducting a cynical faction fight against communists within the SLP. By expelling all the healthy leadership elements, Scargill’s faction effectively signed a death warrant for the SLP, consigning it at best to a twilight existence as a kind of phantom Old Labour party but without the numbers.
Those who founded the CPGB-ML know this history, as it is our own. However, it is worth recalling this history when we return again and again to the question of our party and its relations with the organised working class. All that could be done by Marxism Leninism within the former SLP was done, in practical as well as theoretical work. Now that we find ourselves standing alone, diminished in numbers and resources, there are obviously some activities (eg, standing in elections) that must for the moment be put on hold.
Yet we should all recognise just how much is already being done by our party in a wide range of work, not least in the industrial field. Those of us in unions can and do speak up at meetings, and our Break the Link, Nationalisation and Pensions leaflets have been distributed to union delegates at RMT, CWU, PCS, UNISON, BECTU and other union conferences.
Recent discussion of Ryton by the Central Committee of the party was greatly assisted by the fact that comrades close to the struggle had produced a draft leaflet on the issue. In the course of discussion, the CC was able very usefully to strengthen its understanding of the issues raised, helping to clarify both strategy and tactics on the issue.
It was decided that in such cases the party should make it clear that only the revolutionary overthrow of imperialism and its replacement by socialism could truly end the anarchy of production that made such a heartless lottery out of workers’ livelihoods. Tactically, the party should raise the immediate demands that (a) failing branches of industry be nationalised, and (b) all displaced workers be given jobs at proper rates or, failing that, benefits amounting at least to an equivalent wage.
The way in which our party at all levels is learning to deal with such questions really gives the lie to those who would claim that our party’s devotion to theoretical work means that we do not take seriously the industrial struggles of the working class. It is precisely because we take these struggles so seriously that our party refuses to simply tail-end after industrial struggles with a left-sounding phrase on our lips, expects as a matter of course that its CC will take time to untangle the complex politics of an agitational leaflet produced in the heat of the moment, insists on getting the politics straight before intervening in the struggle, and warmly encourages comrades who take the initiative in initiating that process.
Comrades have reason to be confident that, modest though our resources currently are, the party will learn to make headway in restoring to the working class the communist leadership that for so long has been stolen from it.