Reproduced from Issue 1 of the journal

Introduction to Militantly Against (Dominic Smith)

Below we republish the article Militantly Against from the 3/3/1979 issue of Comment: Communist Fortnightly Review, which was produced by the British Communist Party (CP) at the time. Over the course of eight issues, the CP gave space in this publication for various left organisations to outline their program and criticisms of the CP.

This article was written by Peter Taaffe, the general secretary of the former Revolutionary Socialist League, known publicly as the Militant Tendency (often abbreviated to simply Militant which was also the name of their regular newspaper). After nearly 53 years, Peter Taaffe remains General Secretary, now for Militant’s primary successor organisation, the Socialist Party, part of the Committee for a Workers International.

Our decision to republish this article is twofold.  Firstly we wish to show to the wider workers’ movement a clear example of how the Socialist Party’s current reformist and increasingly opportunist politics represent a clear break from the positions and approach of Militant in the 70s/early 80s, which, in spite of some inconsistencies, we maintain were rooted in revolutionary Marxism.

Secondly, it is our contention that, in spite of its age, the article carries a genuine, contemporary relevance to many debates that are currently being held in the labour movement; In particular, how should Marxists respond to the reformist ideas and policies being put forward by the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn? This is not to say that the Editorial Board of Marxist World would endorse every point made by Taaffe in the article. As an embryonic organisation, Marxist World is still in the formative process of clarifying our views and positions on a number of issues.  On Militant itself, we have begun a process of critically examining the body of theoretical ideas that guided the organisation along with its predecessors such as the Revolutionary Communist Party. We have already made an important correction to a major theoretical document, which became a cornerstone for Militant’s position on Stalinism, in our article Ted Grant’s Theory of the Degenerated Workers’ State – A Necessary Correction [1].

On both points, there are many clear examples in the text that can be quoted and elaborated on.  Excluding our criticism of the Socialist Party’s abandonment of Marxist economic theory, which Marxist World have elaborated on over the course of many online articles, it is in our 2014 document Building a Revolutionary Party in the 21st Century [2] where we have made our most comprehensive political criticisms of the reformist and opportunist programme and approach of the Socialist Party. In this document we took the Socialist Party leadership to task for their incapacity to openly criticise the left union leaders, such as Len McCluskey of Unite the Union:

“We mislead our own members when we don’t fully explain the ramifications of McCluskey’s program.  An independent programme is the best strategy and is in fact essential, even if the tantalizing prize is the promise of a conference to set up a new workers party.  The blunting of our criticism of McCluskey is seen a part of this “transitional” approach.  But this approach is not transitional – it is reformist and intensely pessimistic.  It judges that the consciousness of the working class is still affected by the collapse of Stalinism over 20 years ago.”

In Militantly Against, Taaffe echoes our criticism in relation to the CP:

“Within the unions, together with the CP and others on the left, we recently supported Bob Wright against Duffy within the AUEW … But unlike the CP, while supporting these movements and individuals, we have always criticised the deficiencies of their program, tactics, etc … Militant supported the steps which these leaders took which advanced the movement … but attempted to show to the workers that no matter how sincere, they would inevitably seek to apply the break to the movements of the working class.  Given the fact that their program did not go beyond the framework of capitalism and they were not Marxists, this was inevitable.”

Following the election of a Conservative majority government and dismal result for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) in the 2015 May General Elections, Marxist World quickly put out a clear analysis of the election, Britain: Lessons of the Left after the 2015 Election. [3] In this short piece, we attempted to offer an explanation for the failure of TUSC, with its reformist programme, to capitalise on the broad reformist consciousnesses that had developed among a layer of workers in the years following the 2007-08 recession:

“TUSC promised to be ‘100% anti-austerity’ and to reverse all cuts.  But, minus TUSC’s policy of nationalising the banks, the Greens ran on a program, which would seem very similar to most voters.  The Green platform was also backed up by a much larger organisation and a much better marketing strategy (using Facebook advertising heavily on polling day, for example).  And the SNP came across as convincingly anti-austerity under Sturgeon’s leadership.  A mass reformist consciousness which exists among a broad layer of blue and white collar workers of all ages was therefore channelled into those anti-establishment parties with the greatest possibility of success: the Greens and SNP on the left and UKIP on the right.”

Again, in Militantly Against, Taaffe was to pre-empt our comments… against Taaffe! After outlining how the CP’s program was fundamentally no different than that of Tribune, a reformist political current in the Labour Party, he even goes as far to say that on this basis there could be no justification for the Communist Party’s’ separate existence. Taffe comments:

“When confronted with two parties with the same programme … the workers will always prefer the larger one.  Only if it offered a clear revolutionary programme in opposition to other trends within the labour movement could it justify its separate existence.”

With the election of Corbyn to Labour leader and a groundswell of support from workers and young people, the problems TUSC encountered during last year’s elections will only be magnified in the upcoming local elections in May 2016. [An analysis of the May 2016 elections will be published in Issue 2 of the Marxist World Journal]. We believe serious Marxists should be orienting to the new layers in the Labour Party at this stage.





Militantly Against (Peter Taaffe)

Militant welcomes this opportunity to outline our differences with the CP and to explain some of our policies. Space does not allow a detailed explanation, so we would refer the reader to the latest issue of our theoretical magazine Militant International Review for a fuller treatment of the issues touched on here.

We agree with the CP on the necessity of supporting any movement towards the left within the labour movement. Within the unions, together with the CP and others on the left, we recently supported Bob Wright against Duffy within the AUEW, and we are at present an important part of the left within the CPSA which is engaged in a fight against right wing manoeuvres within the union.

But unlike the CP, while supporting these movements and individuals, we have always criticised the deficiencies of their programme, tactics, etc. Witness the CP’s uncritical support for Jack Jones and Hugh Scanlon for a whole period. Militant supported the steps which these leaders took which advanced the movement – and they did play a progressive role, e.g. against the Industrial Relations Act – but attempted to show to the workers that no matter how sincere, they would inevitably seek to apply the brake to the movements of the working class. Given the fact that their programme did not go beyond the framework of capitalism and they were not Marxists, this was inevitable.

The CP’s position on this and related issues was not at all accidental. It arose from their programme which in fundamentals is no different from that of the Tribune tendency within the Labour Party. On import controls, on ‘reflation’ of the economy (which is presented in a Keynesian fashion) and particularly on the issue of piecemeal nationalisation by a series of ‘Left Governments’, the CP are at one with Tribune.

Indeed, Gwilym Roberts, himself a Tribune MP, characterised the CP as “a minute impotent version of the Labour Party” (Morning Star, 25/3/78). If Robert’s harsh judgement is correct – and we believe it is – then there is no justification for the CP as a separate party. When confronted with two parties with the same programme (the policies of the Tribune have become the programme of the Labour Party if not the government), then the workers will always prefer the larger one. Only if it offered a clear revolutionary programme in opposition to other trends within the labour movement could it justify its separate existence. The British Road to Socialism is not such a programme.

Peaceful Transformations

The conception of a gradual shift towards the left through a series of ‘Left Governments’ is utterly reformist and is, moreover, completely utopian. The CP envisage the possibility of a peaceful socialist transformation in Britain. Against the sectarian grouplets on the outskirts of the labour movement, Militant has also argued that such is the balance of class forces in British society today that peaceful socialist change is theoretically possible. But only if the labour movement is equipped with a Marxist programme involving the taking-over of the 200 monopolies which control 85% of the economy. Prevarication and piecemeal measures cannot satisfy the demands of the workers but will irritate the capitalists, and give them the necessary time to organise sabotage, undermine the gains of the workers, stoke up the fires of inflation and inflame the middle class against a left government and the working class. Rather than eliminating the possibility of civil war and bloodshed it actually makes it more certain. The responsibility for violence and civil war lies with the reformists and those who wish merely to tinker with the system. Is this not the lesson of Chile and the present unstable situation in Portugal? The Allende Government presided over the nationalisation of about 30% of industry and important improvements in the living standards of the workers and peasants. Yet because the levers of economic and state power remained in the hands of the monopolies, the capitalists were able to overthrow the government and drown the workers’ movement in blood. In fact, the capitalists forced Allende to guarantee that he would not interfere with the army before they allowed them to take power. Even in Portugal, where 60% to 70% of industry has been taken over, because the process of the revolution has not been completed – due to the policies of the Socialist and Communist Party leaders – the capitalists are preparing the ground for a ‘Chilean’ solution. However, given the arming of a section of the working class, together with other factors, it is not certain that they will succeed in Portugal. Yet the peaceful socialist transformation of Portugal was entirely possible following the March 1975 events if a programme of workers’ and peasants’ democracy had been implemented.

British Road [to Socialism] and Nationalisation

A similar fate would undoubtedly await the working class in Britain if the CP’s policies were to become those of the labour movement as a whole. The British Road [to Socialism] outlines the power of the monopolies, yet argues for the nationalisation of only “the key firms amongst the top firms which dominate the economy”. Why not propose the nationalisation of all monopolies? The document argues that by nationalising only these “key firms” the ruling class would be divided and counter-revolution would be avoided.

On the contrary, and attempt to take over even one profitable industry would provoke the combined resistance of the ruling class as a whole. They would correctly see this as a springboard for further nationalisations. Their resistance would take many forms, including armed resistance if conditions permitted this. Where the relationship of forces is unfavourable to them and they are forced to accept some nationalisations, they would retreat and prepare to crush the government and the labour movement at a later stage. The document even concedes the possibility of developments along the lines of Chile. Any thinking Communist Party member would draw the conclusion that if the leadership envisages this possibility on the basis of piecemeal measures, why not propose the labour movement should be armed with a programme for completely eliminating the power of the capitalists? Such a programme, if implemented, would completely undermine the social reserves of capitalism and ensure peaceful change.

The same utopianism is also shown by the CP in relation to the “broad democratic alliance”. It is entirely correct to advance the idea that the labour movement must win over the intermediary layers within society. But to imagine that this is possible through an alliance of the labour movement “with many of these sections of the capitalist class” is completely false. Marx, Engels and Lenin showed that the middle classes can only be won to the side of the working class by demonstrating in action that it was the only force which could provide a solution to the problems of the petit-bourgeois. Rather than forming blocs with the alleged leaders of the middle class – Lenin called them ‘political exploiters’ of the little man in town and country in the employ of big capital – it was necessary for the workers’ movement to unmask them in action before their followers. This would not be possible through forming political blocs with them as the CP did, for instance, in linking up with the right-wing chauvinist Tories during the Common Market campaign. On this issue and the whole question of alliances with the Liberals and some ‘progressive’ Tories, the CP is to the right of the average Labour Party member.

Reformist Ideas in Labour Party Undermined

With this programme, the CP will never be able to become the mass revolutionary force which the leadership hopes. In a situation which has seen the undermining of right wing reformist ideas within the labour movement (with left reformism posing no real alternative programme or action against the right wing), the CP’s membership and influence has fallen. Hundreds of thousands of workers within the labour movement have looked for an alternative to reformist ideas. This accounts for the growth in the influence and support of Militant within the Labour Party and increasingly within the unions. Yet during this period, the CP has declined in numbers and influence. It is not, of course, discounted that the CP may temporarily grow along with other left tendencies when an upswing in the class struggle takes place, but the deficiencies in its programme will soon undermine any growth which takes place. This will be reinforced by events in Russia and Eastern Europe. The CP criticises the more abhorrent features of these regimes, yet still characterises them as ‘socialist’. This tramples the very idea of socialism in the mud and discredits the CP in the eyes of advanced workers.

The workers of Eastern Europe and Russia are in revolt, not against nationalisation and a plan of production, – these are enormously progressive features as opposed to rotting capitalism in the west – but against the bureaucratic elites and their one-party, totalitarian regimes. New upheavals are being prepared in these countries with the masses striving to overthrow the bureaucracy and establish workers’ democracy. Despite the isolated criticism of the worst features of bureaucratic absolutism, the CP is still associated in the eyes of the mass of the British workers with these totalitarian states.

Only if the CP worked out a real Marxist programme on Britain and international issues by returning to the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky would it be capable of playing any decisive role in events in Britain.

Given the character of the Party and the leadership – which still looks towards Moscow for support – this is unlikely. However, we believe that some of the rank and file of the CP will seek a genuine Marxist road by linking up with the Marxist Left of the Labour Party in the fight to re-arm the mighty British labour movement with a programme capable of guaranteeing victory over capitalism in the period which lies ahead.


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