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Workers Hammer No. 231

Summer 2015

SL/B National Conference

The fight for a Leninist party

The Spartacist League/Britain, section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), held its 23rd national conference in May. The conference debated, amended and adopted a document examining the political situation we face internationally and in Britain, and the tasks of our Marxist propaganda group. In addition to delegates from the SL/B, conference participants included a delegation from the International Secretariat (IS), the resident subcommittee in New York of the ICL International Executive Committee, as well as comrades from other European sections and from the Spartacist League/US and the Trotskyist League of Canada/Ligue trotskyste.

The conference was preceded by three months of organised pre-conference discussion. This included a discussion on the state of the working class and the trade unions, as well as a review of our propagandistic interventions in the black upheavals of the 1980s. The conference document suggested further research on the political influence of CLR James, whose legacy, including his opposition to Leninist vanguard parties, was carried out in Britain by his protégé Darcus Howe.

In the absence of substantial controversies to be thrashed out, a significant portion of the May gathering was also devoted to Marxist education. A highlight was a presentation centred on VI Lenin’s 1902 polemic What Is To Be Done? Against the trade union Economists of his day, who fetishised narrow trade union struggle, Lenin laid out the conception of the Marxist party as a “tribune of the people”, leading struggles against all forms of oppression — racial, national, ethnic and sexual. This question is particularly relevant today, as “anti-austerity” economism is rampant on the reformist left, as is the petty-bourgeois notion of “intersectionality”, which emphasises separation between sectors of the oppressed, treating the working class as just one more sector.

The discussion on the development of the Leninist party conception was enriched by supplementary presentations on three pre-Leninist revolutionary syndicalist leaders in the British Isles in the early 20th century: James Larkin, workers leader in the 1913 Dublin Lockout; the Irish revolutionary leader James Connolly; and John Maclean, leader of the militant Scottish Clydeside workers during World War I. Another educational session featured a lively first-hand account of the work of the SL/US-supported Militant Action Caucus (MAC) in the Communication Workers of America (CWA) in the 1970s and ’80s, which included a number of former feminists working in the phone industry and was based on the Trotskyist Transitional Programme. Unlike various reformist groupings within the union, the MAC fought to mobilise phone workers around a class-struggle, internationalist programme, centrally including opposition to the CWA bureaucracy’s support for the CIA’s anti-labour front in Latin America, the American Institute for Free Labor Development.

The educational sessions were followed by the opening of the conference proceedings. First and foremost was a discussion on the international situation and the state of our international party. The reports emphasised the importance of the work of our sections in South Africa and Greece, as well as the recently established Montreal branch of our Canadian section, areas which have seen significant social protests or strikes. Speakers also stressed the internationalist responsibility of all sections to assist in the production of Workers Vanguard. Given the infrequency of other ICL publications, the fortnightly Workers Vanguard is not only the press of the SL/US but the main vehicle for publishing key international line articles for the ICL as a whole.

The conference document noted: “There have been many changes in the European political landscape in the post-Soviet period, at times leading to serious disorientation within the sectional leaderships.” The need to combat narrow national and parochial pressures underlines the vital importance of being part of a democratic-centralist international. As Leninists, the ICL struggles to hammer out a common line under the guidance of the International Executive Committee. This contrasts with the federalism of various lash-ups of the reformist left, in which each section adapts to pressures of its national terrain.

On the domestic front, the document and discussion noted that given the deforming reality of having only a single local situated in London, it is all the more important to follow developments in Ireland, as well as in Scotland, Wales and the rest of England. The period in which we operate is difficult but not without opportunities. In order to get the most with our slender forces, we strive to produce more effective propaganda, which not only exposes the rightist positions of our opponents but explicates our basic Marxist principles and lays out our broader communist worldview. The conference elected a new Central Committee, including a number of younger cadre. As mandated by the conference, the incoming Central Committee reconstituted an Editorial Board for Workers Hammer, with the aim of creating a more effective division of labour within the leadership. The conference concluded with the singing of the Internationale, the revolutionary workers anthem. We print below selected excerpts of the SL/B conference document.

* * *

British imperialism is justly hated by millions of working people and oppressed around the world for its colonial bestiality in the past and its current role as auxiliary to US imperialism in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, resulting in the deaths of many hundreds of thousands of people and bringing chaos and devastation to the Near East.

We must guard against a tendency, noted in the documents adopted by the December 2014 plenums of the ICL International Executive Committee and the SL/US Central Committee, to succumb to the pressure bearing down on our party to weaken our opposition to imperialism. The reintegration of Crimea into Russia in the aftermath of an imperialist-sponsored, fascist-infested coup in Kiev and the referenda for “self-rule” in the East Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk were largely met with howls of outrage by the liberal and reformist left in the West.... We took a correct, Leninist stance in forthrightly declaring “Crimea is Russian” and in defending the right to self-rule in Eastern Ukraine.

The US, supported by Britain, is now at war with the Islamic State (ISIS), which was initially funded by extremist Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia. [An IS motion of 23 October 2014 said:] “We have a military side with the reactionary ISIL when it engages in military conflict with the imperialists and their local forces on the ground, including the Iraqi Kurdish pesh merga, the Baghdad government, Shi’ite militias and the Syrian Kurds. We give no political support to any of these retrograde forces.”...

With the British top brass now admitting that the imperialist occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq were costly failures in military terms, reformists and liberals such as the Stop the War Coalition have renewed their clamour for British imperialism to stop acting as Washington’s poodle and become more peaceful. The notion that British imperialism will cease to be militaristic is profoundly false, as is the view of the “special relationship” between Washington and London as a “mistaken” foreign policy. Britain is a formidable, nuclear-armed military power in its own right, but lacks the wherewithal to militarily defend its vast investments around the world and has long depended on the US.

The development of imperialism in the late 19th century, based on the dominance of finance capital, was accompanied by an enormous growth in militarism. Lenin noted “the extraordinary growth of a class, or rather, of a stratum of rentiers, i.e., people who live by ‘clipping coupons’” in Britain, whose income “is five times greater than the income obtained from the foreign trade of the biggest ‘trading’ country in the world” (Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, 1916). The imbalance between Britain’s industrial capacity and its financial wealth became more pronounced in the aftermath of World War II. As noted by Ceylonese Trotskyist Doric de Souza, when faced with competition from its imperialist rivals, “Britain did not seek to meet this competition by renovating her own industrial organization” but “took refuge and strength from a renewed export of capital”, and as a result the British economy “became more one-sided than ever, and took on a parasitic character” (“The Crisis of British Imperialism”, Fourth International, July-August 1947).

Following World War II, finance capital increasingly dominated the British economy. “The balance sheet of the UK banking system grew from about 50 per cent of GDP for the century prior to 1970, to a little over 200 per cent in the late 1980s, and over 500 per cent of GDP immediately before the crisis of 2007” (Martin Wolf, The Shifts and the Shocks, 2014). Not coincidentally, a vast expansion in the wealth of the City bankers came in the wake of Margaret Thatcher’s defeat of the 1984-85 miners strike, while the counterrevolutionary destruction of the USSR in 1991-92 gave an enormous boost to finance capital worldwide. Today, US (and German as well as Swiss) banks dominate London. Britain is one of the largest sources of foreign investment in the US, while Britain in turn receives massive investment from the US.

Such close ties do not prevent frictions between Washington and London. London has been less gung-ho than Washington for confrontation with capitalist Russia over Ukraine, out of reluctance to alienate the wealthy Russian oligarchs who invest in London. However, Britain is a bulwark of the NATO alliance and an unflagging ally of the US in the military build-up against Russia. The Cliffites [Socialist Workers Party] and other reformists — not to mention that apologist for Ukrainian fascism, Chris Ford — join with the imperialists in promoting anti-Russian Ukrainian nationalism. Our principled stand on Crimea and the Eastern Ukraine is no less counterposed to the “Solidarity with the Anti-Fascist Resistance in Ukraine” [SARU] coalition, whose call for unity of all “communist, socialist and left-patriotic” forces in Luhansk shows SARU’s vile adaptation to the Luhansk leadership, which is characterised by Great Russian chauvinism and saturated with anti-Jewish bigotry.…

The current crisis in the European Union (EU) exposes the fraud of a “social Europe”, propagated by social-democratic leftists and trade union bureaucrats, which is premised on European integration under imperialism. This notion flies in the face of Lenin’s view of imperialism and amounts to a latter-day version of what Lenin described as Karl Kautsky’s “silly little fable about ‘peaceful’ ultra-imperialism” (Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism). Kautsky’s “ultra-imperialism” posited peaceful integration of Europe under capitalism. Today’s neo-Kautskyites include the Cliffites and the Taaffeites [Socialist Party]. While individual candidates may posture as opponents of the EU, the Taaffeite-led Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition election platform: “What TUSC stands for”, does not oppose the EU per se but simply calls for “no moves towards a capitalist, militarist United States of Europe. No to austerity and anti-working class policies, whether from the EU or Britain”. At the same time, TUSC proudly upholds the reactionary 2009 strikes for “British jobs for British workers” in which the Taaffeites played a leading role. “No2EU”, which was founded by elements of the RMT union bureaucracy together with the Taaffeites, formally opposes the EU, but on a nationalist, protectionist basis, and likewise supported the chauvinist strikes….

While Britain’s membership of the EU prohibits outright bans on immigration from member countries, the major parties vie to be toughest in pledging measures to curb immigrants’ access to benefits. The current immigration from Eastern Europe, the main target of the furore, began with eight East European countries joining the EU in 2004. At the time, there was a labour shortage in low-paid jobs including in construction. Following the economic crash of 2008, with huge numbers out of work, there was an intense backlash against immigrants. Britain’s economy is heavily dependent on low-paid immigrant labour, as well as on outsourcing and agency working, which undercut the strength of the trade unions. We call for all these workers to be organised in the trade unions, and struggle against the chauvinism whipped up by the bourgeoisie. We oppose deportations and fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants.

Far from peacefully uniting Europe, the EU has fuelled Great Power chauvinism in Britain, Germany and other imperialist powers and led to a growth of nationalism within the debtor countries, notably Greece, Ireland, Spain and Portugal. Discontent with the EU is widespread, but with the social-democratic left and trade union leaderships promoting illusions in it, the main beneficiaries of opposition to the EU are far-right racist and fascist parties, including Golden Dawn in Greece, the National Front in France and the virulently racist UK Independence Party in Britain.

Appealing to UKIP’s base, Cameron has promised a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. Investment bankers in the City oppose a British exit, which they fear would be harmful to London’s position as an international financial centre. London hosts some 250 foreign banks, employing 160,000 people. According to the International Monetary Fund, the UK is the largest net exporter of financial services, insurance and pensions in the world, generating a huge surplus in trade with other EU countries. And the leaders of manufacturing industry — especially car makers, almost all of which are foreign-owned — are strongly opposed to a British exit. The Obama administration also opposes a British exit….

The conference takes place in the context of significant changes in British society, reflected at the parliamentary level in the fracturing of the two-party system. The protracted demise of Labour as a bourgeois workers party has created a political vacuum which the Scottish nationalists and Greens on one hand, and UKIP on the other, are trying to fill. The “United Kingdom” was shaken up by the near-victory of the Scottish independence campaign last September. The Labour Party, which led the Tories in a crusade to save the Union in the run-up to the referendum, has seen the utter collapse of its Scottish vote in the general election, to the benefit of the nationalists.

As opposed to much of the reformist left in England and Scotland, who are outright cheerleaders for an independent capitalist Scotland, the SL/B advocated neither a “yes” nor a “no” vote in the referendum. The referendum showed that the population was pretty evenly divided: many people who voted for independence viewed their vote as a rejection of Westminster government austerity; on the other hand, many working-class people understandably fear economic insecurity in an independent Scotland and, distrusting the nationalists, voted “no”. Pro-independence sentiment has continued to grow since the referendum.…

Our current position on the Labour Party is based on a motion voted 13 years ago in an IEC Group meeting of 13-14 April 2002 which reads (in part):

“The split of the working-class base of the Labour Party from the pro-capitalist tops is not taking place in the way envisioned by Lenin through leftward motion in the proletariat, but in reverse. Tony Blair’s Christian New Labour leadership has taken the initiative to break from its proletarian base and even the trade union bureaucracy which surmounts the base. Blair has gone some ways down the road in his proclaimed project of transforming the British Labour Party into an analogue of the U.S. Democratic Party, a bourgeois party. This process is not finished and a working hypothesis that this party has been transformed from a bourgeois-workers party to a capitalist party needs to be tested in the course of social and political struggles.”

From the time this motion was passed, our propaganda ceased calling to split the base from the top of the Labour Party — which was previously strategic to our perspective of constructing a revolutionary workers party in Britain.…

[A European IEC group meeting held in April 2014] discussed whether the outcome of Labour’s special conference meant that the process of transforming Labour into a bourgeois party had been concluded. But in the absence of any compelling evidence of a qualitative change in the relationship between the party and the unions, no conclusion was drawn and no motion was passed. To date there has been no clear-cut example that shows conclusively that the Labour-union link has been severed. Such evidence will present itself in the course of future events, the nature of which we can not know in advance. Until such time, our position remains as was voted in the 2008 SL/B conference:

“The Labour Party in Britain today is somewhat anomalous. On the one hand, it has not severed its ties definitively with the trade unions, on the other hand, it does not act like a classical social-democratic party. New Labour today is moribund as a reformist party of the working class.”…

The British ruling class’s vindictive running down of the industrial base exerts a pressure on the SL/B to be dismissive of the social power of the industrial proletariat. Notwithstanding the scale of deindustrialisation, there remains a substantial industrial workforce in the country. As an imperialist country, Britain retains a significant weapons production sector, including for export, and there is a sizable number of car factories, largely foreign-owned. Our physical restriction to one local in London should not blind us to these facts, and we must make efforts to intersect, at least occasionally, workers in these areas. Also, particularly in London, there is a huge construction industry, directly employing 260,000 people in 2011, as well, of course, as public transport.

Workers Hammer No. 231

WH 231

Summer 2015


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Women & Revolution

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Down with campus anti-sex witch hunt!


Quote of the issue

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Ireland: Socialist Party backs call for cop “union”


SL/B National Conference

The fight for a Leninist party


The rise of British imperialism

Part two: Capitalism and slavery


British divide-and-rule lives on under neo-apartheid

Cecil Rhodes-colonial pig