Add new comment

Submitted by martin on Wed, 03/01/2007 - 11:27

1. Tom introduced the term "business-unionist" as his preferred definition of what is special about the Labour Party today. I responded by saying that I can't see how the unions today, let alone the Labour Party today, fit the classic model of "business unionism", which is historically associated with Samuel Gompers. Tom, in response, accuses me of introducing a straw doll by mentioning Gompers.

But if someone introduced a straw doll by mentioning "business unionism", it was not me but... Tom. If Tom wants to say that the labour movement in Britain today is "business-unionist", but in some fashion that has nothing to do with the classic "business unionism" of Gompers, then please explain.

2. Tom accuses me of more straw dolls. But everything he writes is still on the lines that (a) rather little has changed in the Labour Party; (b) such changes as there have been are a reflection (in a largely unchanged "mirror") of changes in the working class and in society beyond the Labour Party structures.

3. I don't have the materials to hand to engage in detailed debate about Labour Party funding. But if it is indeed the case that the trade union leaders have given much larger donations to the Labour Party than commonly supposed, that does not undo the basic changes in the Labour Party (summarised by me, above, in eight points, none of which have been questioned). It is a secondary point.

4. Arthur says we should be in the Labour Party because that is where we can speak to workers. This argument depends on how many, and what selection of, workers you can actually find in the Labour Party branches. You can't say you must be in the Labour Party to speak to workers, but it doesn't matter whether there are actually any number of workers in the Labour Party branches! There is plenty of evidence - take the number and character of CLP delegates to Labour Party conference for an easily available index - that there are fewer workers, and in particular fewer workers open to militant socialist arguments, in the Labour Party branches than in almost any other period in its history. Of course there have always been defunct Labour Party branches, of course the whole organisation of the Labour Party has always been sluggish and bureaucratic, of course there are a few relatively lively branches even today, but the situation has changed, and dramatically. Actually I agree with Arthur that Marxists should, if possible, hold Labour Party membership cards, and certainly, at the very least, "keep an eye on" the CLPs. I don't agree that they can and should in present conditions see the Labour Party as their main channel to "speak to workers".

5. Yes, the 1945-51 government attacked strikers! It was a bourgeois government. But I submit that someone who can't see any big difference between the reforming 1945-51 government and the Blair regime is suffering from a very, very bad case of the "nothing-has-changed" syndrome. Between repealing anti-union laws and maintaining them; between founding the NHS and wrecking it; between nationalisation and privatisation; etc: such differences are minor details which fully pumped-up Marxists should regard as trivial and unimportant?

6. Whether Marx's and Engels' tactics with the Democrats in 1848 were right is a moot point. See David Ryazanov's Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, where Ryazanov argues that (a) their tactics were wrong, in part because in fact they made it harder for Marx and Engels to get across to the most militant workers; (b) Marx and Engels later came to think that they were wrong.
But even if Marx and Engels were right in early 1848, you can't deduce a tactical conclusion for Britain in 2006 directly from that.

7. I don't deny that the Labour Party is still, in general terms, a bourgeois workers' party. But since when has it been an iron law that Marxists must always join bourgeois workers' parties if available? Are French Marxists duty-bound to dive into the Socialist Party, German Marxists duty-bound to immerse themselves in the SPD, etc? I would say that such things are matters for concrete tactical judgement.

When Lenin advocated that the British CP seek to affiliate to the Labour Party, he made his argument not on the basis of the Labour Party being in the general category "bourgeois workers' party", but on the basis of the Labour Party's relative openness.

8. As I pointed out above, AWL's analysis of what's special about Blair-Brownism has not been developed "in the last few years" (as Tom puts it), but was pretty much fully developed, in essentials, seven or eight years ago. What was then new and possibly fluid is now hardened, but the essential shift took place that far back. Tom will remember that he himself wrote some of the articles analysing the changes back then. He knows thinks that he, and all the rest of us, were wrong? Fair enough. But Tom should not pretend that what he is arguing against is some new idea developed only "in the last few years".

Martin Thomas

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.