1. How the new facts change the prospects

Submitted by AWL on 9 July, 2009 - 5:07 Author: Sean Matgamna and Martin Thomas

"When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"
John Maynard Keynes

"You say that in all this time you have not departed by an iota from the platform of 1925, which I had called an excellent document in many respects. But a platform is not created so as to 'not depart from it,' but rather to apply and develop it. The platform of 1925 was a good document for the year 1925. In the five years that have elapsed, great events have taken place".
Leon Trotsky (remonstrating, in 1930, with Italian communist-oppositionists).

"The test of the seriousness, the maturity, the honesty and the ultimate viability of any revolutionary organisation is its attitude to its own mistakes. Marxists make mistakes - inevitably. Those who are serious face their mistakes, analyse them in the light of further experience, analyse why they made the mistakes they did, and thereby avoid making a merely empirical alteration without fundamentally learning from the experience. Those who are not serious, or who are first of all concerned with 'face', prestige, and factional self-defence seek above all to evade an honest accounting: they subordinate fundamental questions of method and approach to what are essentially secondary and, in the final analysis, unimportant considerations".
Introduction to "IS and Ireland" (AWL pamphlet, 1969)

How the new facts change the prospects

1. The world capitalist crisis is the worst for 70 years. Its efforts are likely to be big and prolonged.

2. Barring an improbable political miracle, New Labour is heading for a crushing defeat in the next General Election.

3. A Tory government will attempt to slash public spending. It will attack the working class in a way patterned on the Thatcher government at the start of the 1980s, and perhaps more so.

4. The Tories have already radically separated themselves from the statist turn of Labour economic policy over the last year. They have come forward as the party of "fiscal responsibility as the foundation of our economic policy", i.e. of drastic cuts.

5. The union-Labour link has (bar the FBU and the RMT) survived the period of New Labour government. (PCS was never affiliated to the Labour Party). The period when the neo-Thatcherite New Labour government might have provoked a decisive breaking-up of the old Labour-union link is coming to an end with the union-Labour link seriously modified, but intact.

6. The looming era of Tory cuts opposed by the unions and a re-faced Labour Party under new leaders (and here it makes no difference that it may be hypocritical or self-contradictory opposition) - that is the gigantic fact, the shaping and reshaping fact, that we must now take into our calculations.

7. The unions that have hived off from the Labour Party have done so towards political disengagement (FBU) or towards only episodic (and sometimes regressive: No2EU) political ventures (RMT).

8. The ostensibly revolutionary left remains weak, electorally and in every other respect, especially in its politics. The old-Labourite political constituency, though disillusioned with Blair and Brown, has mostly responded passively. Although most of its adherents are scattered outside the Labour Party, its known leaders and relatively concentrated bodies of people are inside.

9. The internal channels of the old Labour Party have become occluded and moribund. The Bournemouth conference decision of 2007 added a further layer of cementing-over to the structural changes of 1997.

10. Within the general category of "bourgeois workers' party", the Labour Party has moved drastically towards the bourgeois pole. It remains in general terms a bourgeois workers' party.

11. The affiliated unions still have the latent power to change the Labour Party constitution, to play a big part in Labour leadership elections, to intervene in local Labour Parties, etc.

12. Several pressures are therefore likely to bear down on the apparatuses of the affiliated unions and of the Labour Party in the first few years of the probable Tory government.
a) Gordon Brown will be discredited, and to some degree the whole neo-Thatcherite course of most "New Labour" economic policy will be discredited.
b) The Labour Party will probably elect a new leadership which will seek to put a fresh face on it.
c) The new leadership will want to rebuild some active membership to enable it to operate as an opposition party.
d) The unions and the Labour Party will be pushed together by the mechanical pressure of their common need to stage an opposition (even though, surely, on our criteria, an inadequate one) to the new Tory government and its policies.
e) There will most probably be recriminations within the Labour Party over its loss of support, and maybe over what the Blair-Brown gang have done to the fabric of the Labour Party.
f) The union leaders, who have been openly very critical of Blair-Brown policies for several years (though, in a period of relative prosperity, preferring to haggle with the Government rather than do anything vigorous about those criticisms) are likely to be drawn in to that process of recriminations and of seeking renewal.

13. All those factors point to the possibility of some revival of the affiliated-unions/Labour complex as an active force in working-class political life. Unfolding events make it seem a serious probability. In any case, we cannot, on the facts, deny that it is a serious possibility that we must reckon with.

14. There is a strong history of apparently long-dead or near-dead "bourgeois workers' parties" reviving under a variety of new pressures. Such formations cannot be politically bypassed just by the growth of political disengagement and disillusion. The durability of working-class based parties - Social Democracies and even Communist Parties - long after they should be dead and buried because of their deeds, is a gigantic fact of 20th century history (and in terms of its consequences, a very tragic one).

15. The forms of a revival are impossible to predict. It may be limited and unspectacular, as for example the Labour Party revival in 1970-4 was, and yet important enough to require some reorientation from us.

16. The practical conclusions for us now are:
a) We monitor developments in the affiliated unions and the Labour Party, with the possibility of a revival in mind, and make ourselves ready to use openings for intervention as they develop.
b) In affiliated unions we oppose disaffiliation, counterposing an effort to make the union leadership fight within the Labour structures (on every level possible, and up to and including a fight to a split).

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