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20,000 people give ECB “the finger”

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Britain

The road to New Labour

www.socialistworld.net, 09/10/2010
website of the committee for a workers' international, CWI

Neil Kinnock’s speech to the 1985 Labour Party conference signalled the start of a purge of Marxists from the party and anticipated the creation of New Labour.

Andrew Price, who was expelled from the Labour Party 25 years ago, looks back.

Article from Socialism Today, magazine of the Socialist Party (CWI England & Wales)

MANY YOUNGER READERS will only remember the Labour Party as New Labour – a bourgeois political party based on the ideas of neo-liberalism. For most of its history, however, it was rooted in the organised working class and was formally committed to socialism, albeit producing leaders such as Ramsey MacDonald, Hugh Gaitskell, Harold Wilson, James Callaghan and Neil Kinnock, who were far more interested in accommodating themselves to capitalism than promoting socialism.

The party was born at a time of heightened class tensions. In 1918, the same year as the party conference was addressed by a representative of the Russian Bolshevik Party, it adopted Clause IV, Part 4 of its constitution, formally committing it to the socialist transformation of society. (see box)

Such origins are a million miles removed from the sanitised party of Blair, Mandelson and the Milibands which, as the current leadership election demonstrates, is still wedded to neo-liberalism. Because of its prior existence as a bourgeois workers’ party, it made sense for the forerunners of the Socialist Party – Militant supporters – to be individual members of the party and its youth wing, the Labour Party Young Socialists (LPYS).

In 1983, in the wake of a massive election defeat, the party elected Kinnock as leader. He and his followers were ruthlessly determined to rid the Labour Party of Marxists, as I found to my cost when I was expelled from Cardiff South and Penarth Constituency Labour Party (CLP) 25 years ago. Ultimately, Kinnock was successful in driving out the Marxists – at the price of destroying the Labour Party as it had existed until then.

Ruling-class pressure

THE 1970s WAS a decade of class struggle that radicalised growing sections of the working class. This in turn affected the Labour Party, as CLPs and party conferences endorsed a number of left-wing policies. The decade ended with the defeat of Callaghan’s right-wing Labour government and the coming to power of Margaret Thatcher whose brutal brand of Toryism was unique in post-war Britain. During the 1980s, support for Militant grew considerably in both the CLPs and the LPYS, particularly in Liverpool.

Thatcherism accelerated the radicalisation of the working class and the shift to the left as many workers expected Labour to champion the working class with the same passion as Thatcher represented the ruling class. Coupled with the radicalisation of the party was an organised campaign led by Tony Benn and the late Eric Heffer, a Liverpool MP, to democratise the party and ensure that future Labour governments did not drift into right-wing policies.

These developments were viewed with consternation by the ruling class which, through the mass media, expressed concern at the growth in support for socialism in the party. They urged their shadows in the Labour Party to take action to reverse these trends. The demand was raised for disciplinary action against Militant supporters, branded as ‘infiltrators’ into the Labour Party. This was an outright lie. From Labour’s inception, Marxists had been party members. And, as a relatively democratic party, Labour had always allowed like-minded individuals to organise. What irked our opponents was our capacity to be better organised than most.

In 1980, Michael Foot became party leader. He was from a left-wing background, had once edited the left paper, Tribune, and had suffered in previous witch-hunts against supporters of Aneurin Bevan. In 1983, however, Foot buckled to pressure and initiated the expulsion from the party of the then editorial board of Militant: Peter Taaffe, Ted Grant, Lynn Walsh, Clare Doyle and Keith Dickinson. Foolishly, Foot and others believed that by cutting off the head of Militant its growth in the Labour Party would stop. This did not happen because working-class men and women had endorsed Marxism of their own volition – not through the ‘manipulation’ by infiltrators.

Labour fought the 1983 election with its most left-wing manifesto since 1918. It called for the reversal of all Tory cuts, scrapping Britain’s nuclear weapons, repealing anti-union laws, and the restoration to public ownership of all industries and services privatised by the Tories.

The Tory press kept up a remorseless campaign against the ‘dangers’ if Labour won. The attacks on three Marxists – Dave Nellist, Terry Fields and Pat Wall – standing as official Labour candidates in Coventry, Liverpool and Bradford, were particularly vicious.

Kinnock’s betrayal

THE LABOUR PARTY lost the election, with the Tories securing a massive parliamentary majority (albeit losing 685,000 votes). Clearly, the Tory press campaign, including its promotion of the alliance between the Liberals and a right-wing Labour split-off, the Social Democratic Party, had its effect, but some within the Labour Party also hoped for a defeat. In Cardiff South and Penarth, where Callaghan was standing for re-election, people attending what they thought was a routine election meeting heard Callaghan attack Labour’s defence policy in front of representatives of the international media!

Following the 1983 election, the ruling class and its shadows in the Labour Party argued that Labour’s defeat resulted from a left-wing manifesto with too much emphasis on socialism. None of the proponents of this view were able to explain the results in Liverpool. Given a big national swing to the Tories, Liverpool, where Labour was clearly identified with the left, recorded a swing to Labour which, if repeated nationally, would have been sufficient to form a Labour government.

Such details were ignored as Labour was urged by its political enemies to ‘modernise’, including a purge of Marxists from its ranks. This was the key issue in the leadership election following Foot’s resignation in 1983. One candidate was Roy Hattersley – a Labour right-winger mistrusted by many party members and trade unionists for his record in government. This mistrust led a section of the ruling class to hold back from promoting him as the candidate to bring about the desired counter-revolution in the Labour Party. Another candidate, Kinnock, was not tainted with such mistrust and claimed to be left-wing.

In reality, his links with left-wing ideals were very tenuous. In 1981, he and his supporters effectively sabotaged the chances of Tony Benn becoming deputy leader of the Labour Party. Some Tory newspapers warmed to Kinnock, referring to him as ‘soft left’ – in contrast to the ‘hard left’ of Benn and Heffer and the ‘illegitimate’ left of Militant – and he won by a large majority, with Hattersley as his deputy.

Kinnock’s efforts to ‘modernise’ the Labour Party were frustrated by two major developments. In March 1984, the provocative behaviour of the Tories led to the epic miners’ strike, which lasted until February 1985. At grassroots level most Labour members saw the Tories determined to smash the miners and their union, and expected Kinnock to support them. But Kinnock regarded the strike as the last thing he wanted given his modernisation agenda. In private, he attacked the strike. In public, he maintained a craven silence.

The other development frustrating Kinnock’s plans was the election of a Labour council in Liverpool led by a number of Militant supporters, as explained in the book by Peter Taaffe and Tony Mulhearn, Liverpool: A City That Dared to Fight. Liverpool Labour council was determined to lead a fight-back on behalf of a city whose people had been brought to their knees by poverty, unemployment and bad housing. From the outset of the struggle, Kinnock was implacably opposed to the strategy of Liverpool Labour council, even when it won what most saw as a major victory over Thatcher in 1984. One year later, when the determination of the Liverpool labour movement led Thatcher to consider more concessions, Kinnock blew the prospects of a settlement out of the water with his disgraceful speech to Labour Party conference (see box). In this he broke an elementary rule that anyone describing themselves as a socialist should abide by: he attacked workers in struggle.

The following day the gutter press praised him for his ‘brave speech’. Ordinary party members, particularly in Liverpool, were stunned by his breathtaking hypocrisy. He failed to mention a single one of the huge achievements of the council that had succeeded against all the odds in dramatically improving housing and employment in the city. Despite his lies, not a single worker lost his or her job as a result of council policy, in contrast to the many Labour-run councils that responded to Thatcherism with massive redundancies.

Labour’s purge trials

THIS SPEECH WAS the green light for a mass purge of Marxists from the party. Quietly the word went out: where witch-hunters were in the majority, expel; where not, as in Liverpool, Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) would do the dirty work. The Liverpool socialists were referred to the NEC which, in 1986, after ten meetings and at an incredible cost of £250,000, expelled nine party leaders with a combined party membership of 141 years.

In November 1985, Cardiff South and Penarth CLP began proceedings to expel myself and two others, Dave Bartlett and Diane Mitchell. As I attempted to address the CLP executive committee against my proposed expulsion, I appealed to the chair to stop being howled down by Callaghan supporters. The chair responded by joining in himself. Faced with such hooligan behaviour, I had no option but to walk out of the meeting, learning later from the South Wales Echo that the executive had recommended ending my almost 20-year membership of the Labour Party.

Throughout the country, Militant supporters were being subjected to such treatment, and this led many of us to initiate legal action. In every case this was taken with great reluctance, as many workers had understandable reservations about taking the Labour Party to court, and was never a substitute for a political campaign.

The experience in Cardiff, after the establishment of a defence fund endorsed by a former mayor of the city, was that money flowed in for our legal costs. One donation was from a South Wales miner who had fought in the Spanish civil war with the international brigade. With the help of a good barrister, we showed that the Cardiff South and Penarth witch-hunters had systematically broken Labour Party rules in our treatment. Within weeks our party membership was restored.

Similar debacles took place in many other CLPs. This later led the Labour Party to establish the National Constitutional Committee (NCC), to streamline expulsions. Having had my party membership returned, by 1988 I was referred to the NCC. Following a very serious illness, when time was ever more urgent, I decided to concentrate my political efforts on Militant and trade union work in the lecturers’ union, NATFHE. I resigned my Labour Party membership with few regrets, after more than 22 years membership. Meanwhile, Kinnock was showing how correct our perspectives had been. He had turned from purging Militant to purging party policy. Every one of the gains made by the left was removed.

Paving the way for Blair

THE MAJOR PROBLEM with Kinnock’s plan to make the Labour Party more electable was that it failed to impress the voters. In 1987, after a very presidential election campaign, in which the 1985 speech attacking Liverpool council was used in an election broadcast, Thatcher was returned with a majority only slightly less than the Tories had in 1983. In the dying years of her premiership, however, Thatcher scored a spectacular own goal with the introduction of the poll tax. Throughout Britain millions of working people could not, or refused to pay this iniquitous tax. On the ground, Militant supporters responded by organising anti-poll tax unions, giving support to non-payers. A Sun editorial referred to the advocates of non-payment as ‘Toy Town Trots’. Following their lead, as ever, Kinnock employed the same term in a speech attacking non-payment with far more force than the poll tax itself. At the height of the non-payment campaign, the Tories dropped Thatcher as leader. Militant – certainly not Kinnock and the Labour Party – deserves the credit for her downfall.

Kinnock’s eventual replacement, John Smith, elected after the 1992 election defeat, was another moderniser. After his death in 1994, he was replaced by the moderniser of all modernisers, Tony Blair and, in 1995, Blair persuaded the Labour Party to drop Clause IV, a truly defining moment in the party’s history. The party with a working-class base and capitalist leadership had now become a bourgeois political party. In this sense, the war on Marxism unleashed by Kinnock had been won, but at the terrible price of destroying the Labour Party.

Looking back on all this, it is still difficult not to get angry. During their heroic strike, I met miners who with their families had been to hell and back. Their communities today are still ravaged, and their youth have turned to drugs. What contempt do these brave men and women have for the multi-millionaire Kinnock ensconced in the House of Lords? Our crime was to devote ourselves tirelessly to fighting the Tories, the employers and advocating socialism. Our departure paved the way for upper-middle-class upstarts like Blair, Mandelson and the Milibands to take the party over. They were the real infiltrators, helped on their way by Kinnock and others.

Clause IV, Part IV of the Labour Party constitution:

“To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service”.

Kinnock attacks Liverpool council at the 1985 Labour Party conference:

“I’ll tell you what happens with impossible promises. You start with far-fetched resolutions. They are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, outdated, misplaced, irrelevant to the real needs, and you end with the grotesque chaos of a Labour council – a Labour council! – hiring taxis to scuttle round the city, handing out redundancy notices to its own workers”.



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NEWS

Venezuela: Alcedo Mora must be found alive!
30/03/2015, Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI in Venezuela) reporters:
Urgent need for international solidarity

Netherlands: Election setback for Labour Party
30/03/2015, Pieter Brans, Amsterdam:
Main parties guarantee austerity - A mass party of the Left with a socialist programme needed

Germany: 20,000 people give ECB “the finger”
28/03/2015, by Michael Koschitzki, SAV – Sozialistische Alternative (CWI in Germany):
Big demo and blockade against the reopening of the Central Bank

Video: Interview with a Greek socialist
28/03/2015, Nicos Anastasiades of Xekinima (CWI Greece):
The Syriza government and the Troika and building the Greek Left

South Africa: NUMSA & WASP discuss international experiences of new workers’ parties
27/03/2015, socialistworld.net:
South Africa’s metalworkers union in discussion with WASP and CWI

Obituary: Harald Mahrer (1974-2015)
27/03/2015, Sozialistische LinksPartei (CWI Austria) Reporters:
An active, critical and inspiring comrade

Video: Dave Nellist on Russia Today TV
26/03/2015, socialistworld.net:
Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) standing throughout Britain in May elections

Norway: Lessons of the pilots’ strike
25/03/2015, Elin Gauffin, Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden):
A struggle against outsourcing

China: Demand release of arrested women activists
24/03/2015, Sally Tang Mei-Ching, Socialist Action (CWI in Hong Kong):
Has the commemoration of International Women’s Day also now been outlawed in China?

Sweden: Central bank rates cut "panic measure"
23/03/2015, Per-Åke Westerlund, Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden):
Eurozone’s QE intensifies currency wars

Tunisia: Twenty three killed in terrorist attack
20/03/2015, Statement by CWI-Tunisia:
Down with terror! Down with capitalism!

Ireland North: Public sector workers strike against austerity
18/03/2015, Kevin Henry, Socialist Party (CWI Ireland), Belfast:
For a second day of strike action in the run-up to the May general election!

North Cyprus: New strike wave against cuts
17/03/2015, Özgür İnsanoğlu and Bahtiyar Girne, North Cyprus:
Workers determined to stop austerity

Brazil: Urgent solidarity protests needed
17/03/2015, Translation of a solidarity appeal from the LSR (CWI in Brazil):
Faced with lack of water for the people, Sao Paulo water company SABESP cuts costs, sacks more than 500 workers and victimises trade union activists

Scotland: Socialist Party Scotland (CWI) leaves Solidarity
16/03/2015, Statement from Socialist Party Scotland Executive Committee:
Tommy Sheridan departs from principled socialist position with call for “lending vote" to cuts-making SNP

Britain: What lies behind UKIP?
14/03/2015, Hannah Sell, Socialist Party (CWI in England & Wales):
Its Tory-oriented anti-immigration, anti-EU rhetoric has been adapted to a right-wing populism aimed at winning voters fed up with the political establishment

Ireland North: Massive public sector strike against austerity
13/03/2015, Socialistworld.net:
Socialist MPs in Southern Ireland Parliament send message of support to strikers

Ireland South: Marriage equality referendum set for May
12/03/2015, Helen Redwood, Socialist Party (CWI Ireland):
Poisonous bigotry must be challenged

Ireland North: Stormont government crisis on eve of public sector strike
11/03/2015, Kevin Henry, Socialist Party (CWI Ireland), Belfast:
Struggle can force politicians back from austerity measures

Iran: Independent workers’ organizations statement about minimum wage
11/03/2015, Statement by six Iranian workers’ organizations:
Increasing demands for a living wage

Ireland North: 13 March public sector strike against austerity
10/03/2015, Text of Socialist Party (CWI Ireland) leaflet, Belfast:
Dead-end of rightwing, sectarian politics - new anti-sectarian party which fights for working class needed

Video: Dublin ROSA demonstration on International Women’s Day
10/03/2015, socialistworld.net:
Ruth Coppinger, Socialist Party TD (MP) speaks along with other activists

International Women’s Day 2015
09/03/2015, socialistworld.net:
Articles from CWI sections celebrating IWD

Netherlands: Wave of student protests
05/03/2015, Bas de Ruiter, Socialist Alternative (CWI in Netherlands):
For democratic reforms and end to budget cuts

Austria: The year starts with antifascism
05/03/2015, Stefan Gredler, SLP (CWI in Austria):
Right-wing Ball events, PEGIDA, and neo-nazi Violence: A Month of Intense and Successful anti-fascism in Austria

Greece: Vodafone strike declared “illegal”
04/03/2015, Jacqueline Gorou, President, Panhellenic Trade Union Vodafone-Panafone:
“None of this will intimidate us - we will struggle until we win collective bargaining”

CWI Comment and Analysis

ANALYSIS

Israel: Netanyahu mobilises far right to win election
25/03/2015, Yasha Marmer, Socialist Struggle Movement, Israel-Palestine:
New coalition will face unresolved crises and bitter struggles

Italy: The instability of domestic capitalism
24/03/2015, Marco Veruggio, ControCorrente (CWI Italy):
Political vacuum pushes FIOM to take initiative

Greece: Varoufakis’ “erratic Marxism” is not the answer
23/03/2015, Peter Taaffe, from Socialism Today (monthly magazine of the Socialist Party, England & Wales):
Necessary to clarify ideas upon which successful struggles of European working class will be conducted

Belgium: No agreement reached between unions and government over austerity
20/03/2015, Eric Byl, LSP/PSL (Belgian section of the CWI), Brussels:
New action plan against right wing government takes off

Ukraine: Conflict unresolved after ’Minsk-2’ agreement
18/03/2015, Rob Jones, CWI, Moscow:
Only independent working-class mass movement can remove the region’s authoritarian rulers

Greece: Syriza’s first months in power
07/03/2015, Andreas Payiatsos, from Xekinima (newspaper of the CWI Greece):
The working class and social movements must enter the struggle for their rights

Quebec: Towards a hot spring
02/03/2015, Deirdre and Bruno, Socialist Alternative (CWI Quebec):
Disrupt them like they disrupt us!

Greece showdown
26/02/2015, Article to be published in the March issue of Socialism Today (magazine of the Socialist Party, CWI in England and Wales):
Niall Mulholland interviewed NICOS ANASTASIADES, of Xekinima (CWI Greece), just as Syriza leaders agreed a four-month bail-out extension with the EU.

Libya: War-torn country becoming new hub for IS activities
25/02/2015, Serge Jordan (CWI):
Libyan people bearing the brunt of NATO’s fiasco

Europe: Eurozone time-bomb
25/02/2015, Lynn Walsh, article from Socialism Today (magazine of the Socialist Party of England and Wales):
Mired in recession, the eurozone is haunted by the spectre of stagnation

Greece: Syriza retreats under Troika threats
24/02/2015, Nicos Anastasiades, Xekinima (CWI Greece), Thessaloniki:
Popular mood shows anti-austerity, socialist policies would win huge support

History: The political legacy of Malcolm X
21/02/2015, Eljeer Hawkins, Socialist Alternative:
50 years after his assassination

Spain: Is ‘Podemos’ the Spanish Syriza?
16/02/2015, Danny Byrne, CWI:
Dangers of “moderation” and domestication

Egypt: Regime brutality on fourth anniversary of revolution
10/02/2015, David Johnson, Socialist Party (CWI England & Wales):
Masses will regain confidence and willingness to fight

Greece: Not a single step back!
08/02/2015, Statement by the Editorial Board of Xekinima (CWI Greece):
Conflict between SYRIZA government and EU escalates

Kurdistan: ‘Islamic State’ driven out of Kobanê
02/02/2015, Serge Jordan, CWI:
Will the end of Kobanê’s siege turn the tide against IS?

Greece: Why did Syriza and the KKE fail to reach agreement?
29/01/2015, Article from Xekhinima (CWI Greece) website [dated 26 January 2015] translated and slightly edited:
For socialist policies to end austerity nightmare!

Greece: Syriza comes to power, as old ruling parties collapse
27/01/2015, Niall Mulholland, socialistworld.net, interviews Andros Payiatsos, from Xekinima (CWI Greece):
Left parties fail to form government - Syriza goes into coalition with populist right Independent Greeks

Cuba: Diplomatic relations with US restored, embargo eased
24/01/2015, Tony Saunois, CWI:
Threat of capitalist restoration accelerates

Russia/Ukraine: Facing a turbulent 2015
21/01/2015, Rob Jones, CWI, Moscow:
As death toll rises, economies plunge into freefall

Greece: Prospect of Syriza victory raises workers’ hopes
20/01/2015, Interview with Andros Payiatsos, from Xekinima (CWI in Greece):
Mass intervention of working class to struggle for socialist policies is vital

Nigeria: The Massacre in Baga
19/01/2015, H.T Soweto, DSM (CWI in Nigeria):
Socialism or Barbarism

Germany: What is behind the ‘PEGIDA’ anti-immigrant demonstrations?
13/01/2015, Wolfram Klein, Socialist Alternative (SAV- CWI Germany):
Unions and Left must organise against racism and for jobs and decent living standards for all

Greece: Towards a Syriza government?
08/01/2015, Interview with Andros Payiatsos, Xekinima (CWI in Greece):
General elections on 25 January