As well as being a must read for consumers of sectariana, the Weekly Worker is always good for thought-provoking pieces. Alone among Britain's far left weeklies, the cpgb's paper stands out in its commitment to develop Marxism through open debate. Set against its drab and unreadable competitors, this is something to congratulate the comrades for, whether one agrees with the positions they take up or not. In this vein the Letters page is always a highlight, and it was the most visited page on the website when I was a member early in the 00s. Clearly there is an appetite for serious theoretical debate among Marxist circles in Britain.
One contribution that caught my eye this week is Tony Clark's discussion of the Labour party ('United Front'). I do hope the comrades don't mind me reproducing it here:
The June 19 aggregate meeting of the CPGB, as reported by Peter Manson, was right to maintain the view that the Labour Party remains a bourgeois workers’ party (‘The Labour Party and communist strategy’, June 24). Lenin also held this view, which I believe is still correct. Sectarian circles reject it, especially after the Blairites moved the party further to the right, although this did not change the essence of Labour. It remained essentially the same - a classic example of a bourgeois workers’ party, meaning a workers’ party with a bourgeois political line.In sum, the Labour party, as a bourgeois workers' party, has languished under the domination of its bourgeois pole since its inception because this coincided with the period of capitalism's ascendency. However, because of the problems stemming from the crisis of dwindling oil reserves, the coming period is one of capitalist decline: a period that does not rule out the possibility of the working class taking total control of Labour and wielding it as a weapon in the struggle with decomposing capital.
The Labour Party has always been dominated by the rightwing capitalist-roaders and the reason for this is that since the party’s formation capitalism has been in ascendancy, punctuated by recessions and a depression. This expansion and globalisation of capitalism in the 20th century was all made possible by supplies of cheap oil. As the rise of capitalism led to the domination of the capitalist-roaders in the party, we can expect that the decline of capitalism should lead to the rise of the socialist wing.
The ‘energy theory of society’ indicates that capitalism will be unable to overcome this present energy-related economic crisis and set itself on the path of recovery; growth will have come to an end, as we enter the declining second half of the oil age. This will lead to the collapse of free-market ideology and the loss of control of the right wing in the Labour Party. As the right loses their grip on the party and capitalism descends into permanent crisis, the choice facing the Labour Party will be either to break with capitalism or face complete dissolution.
If the party was to choose the former course, there are no laws of history which dictate that it cannot become the main vehicle for the transition to socialism in Britain. This will probably be some form of austerity socialism to begin with - far better than the barbarism and gang rule which will be the alternative to socialism, as the oil age slithers to an end and capitalism collapses.
As for the argument about propping up the Labour Party, my reply is that we are faced with a new paradigm. Never before has capitalism faced an energy-related economic decline, so it is useless dogma to say that the Labour Party will simply behave in the same old way, with the right remaining in control, pursuing an increasingly impossible capitalist road.
This leads me to argue that the best communist strategy towards the Labour Party is to maintain a flexible attitude. The CPGB has done well to ignore the siren calls from the dogmatists and sectarians for a new workers’ party when one already exists. These calls are a diversion which fails to recognise the real nature of the crisis and what this will mean for the Labour Party. The advocates of the new workers’ party are driven by emotions, not by a true understanding of the crisis and its permanent nature.
The real choice facing the left will be a united front with the Labour Party from within or from without. Interestingly, the left has nothing to lose from a united front within because, when the Labour Party moves to the left, we gain and, if the party fails to move left, we gain again. However, a successful united front policy from within would require the left to break from its dogmatic versions of Marxism and totalitarian and bureaucratic forms of socialism, and stop blaming Stalin for bureaucracy, instead viewing bureaucracy as a problem for the left in general, as the recent exclusion of the CPGB from the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition so amply demonstrates.
While it is true capitalism is staring down the barrel of an energy crisis, as a social system it is in long term decline anyway. This isn't the same thing as the usual catastrophist nonsense you get from Trotskyist gurus: it is the observation that as they operate, capitalism's own laws of motion progressively undermine them. The "unproductive" bureaucracies thrown up by big business, capitalism's need for a large public sector, the tendency for the rate of profit to fall, all of these point to a social system gravid with contradictions and the seeds of future crises. And this is before we start talking about its destruction of the very environment it depends on.
But Tony's argument is too inevitablist for my liking. It is not ordained that the right will lose its grip on the Labour party, nor that a revanchist working class will sweep all before it. Marxists can analyse tendencies and trends and draw tactical and strategic conclusions based on them, but these will never crank out class struggle victories by themselves: that always requires political activity in the workplace and on the streets as well as the "traditional" avenues.
Nevertheless Tony's letter raises a number of intriguing arguments that strengthen the left case for being in the Labour party.