Andrew Northall, in his reply to Jim Denham on the “Anti-Monopoly Alliance” in Solidarity 589, writes:
“Jim says... the Labour Party and unions are the arena for the debates and struggles that take place within the British working-class movement’. Really? So Black Lives Matter, Reclaim These Streets, the Sarah Everard protests, opposition to the Police Bill etc., are down to the Labour Party and the trade unions or not relevant to ‘the British working class movement’?” By contrast, Andrew writes: “The strategy of the BRS [Britain’s Road to Socialism, the Communist Party of Britain program] is precisely to transform the current minority and sectional role of the labour movement into leading an overwhelming majority of the working class for socialism, not by burrowing deep into the Labour Party, but transforming the labour movement through building alliances with the wide range of progressive and democratic movements fighting against exploitation, oppression and all the negative impacts capitalism has on all aspects of our lives”.
In fact, as Andrew must know, supporters of Solidarity have mobilised for the Kill The Bill and BLM demonstrations, and other actions outside Labour and trade-union routines like climate protests, whereas the Morning Star is invisible in such activities and more likely to be seen at higher levels of the trade-union and Labour machinery.
The original British Road to Socialism from 1951 until the late 70s was very much about “burrowing” into the Labour party and trade-union movement. It saw socialism as coming via an alliance between a left leadership of the Labour Party, a left-led trade union bureaucracy, and the Communist Party. The “Anti Monopoly Alliance” tag meant mostly that the immediate goal of the alliance was not to be the overthrow of capitalism but rather a stage of “anti-monopoly” capitalism and national economic autarky as set out in the so-called Alternative Economic Policy. Alliances with “progressive” forces outside the working class were advocated to win that intermediate stage, but for the original BRS, the existing labour movement with all its bureaucratic limitations, its existing consciousness, and (a section of) its existing leadership were at the heart of it.
The “Anti-Monopoly Alliance” which Andrew presents is a reworking of a reworking. As socialists and the labour movement suffered a series of defeats from the late 70s onwards, the leadership of the Communist Party of Britain proposed a new sort of “alliance”. They saw the labour movement as predetermined in a “minority and sectional role” by the development of capitalism. Eric Hobsbawm elaborated the argument in The Forward March of Labour Halted (1978). The Communist Party (CP) leadership evolved over the course of the late 70s and 1980s to a position where the labour movement and working class were to be just one part of a “Broad Democratic Alliance”. The shared ground of this broad democratic alliance wasn’t anti-capitalism, or even being at the sharp end of capitalist oppression.
Shopkeepers, farmers, businessmen
In 1979 Mick Costello, industrial organiser of the CP, wrote: “The alliance involves forces beyond the working class. These include the important strata of the liberal professions, doctors and lawyers, people in the top fields of science, culture and sport, the self-employed, the shopkeepers, small farmers and businessmen, the church, many in the state machine itself — the army and police. These sections of the population have to be won to the alliance if they are not to remain seeing their interests falsely as tied up with the ruling class, and thereby contributing to the maintenance of bourgeois rule”.
This wasn’t a matter of seeking individual recruits from the better-off classes, as socialists have always done. The diverse and in some cases fundamentally conflicting whole interest groups to which Costello appealed could not be united with the organised labour movement on the ground of socialism. What do the typical businessman, the police officer, or army officer have to gain from that?
The CP and others advocated a unity that could include the Labour right, the Social Democratic Party (SDP, a Labour split soon subsumed into the Lib-Dems), Liberals, the Church, and “wet” Tories, around an (ill-defined) programme of democratic reform, against Thatcherism, and supposedly draw in the “social movements” too.When it came to the test, in the key conflict of the 1980s when Thatcher’s project could have been defeated, the miners’ strike, the bourgeois elements of the potential alliance — the SDP, the Labour right, liberal newspapers etc. — did not rally to the miners’ banner. They actively feared a victory for the miners. Many CP members were active in the miners’ struggle, but the CP leadership responded by largely ignoring the subject to continue courting Kinnock and the SDP. By contrast the best elements in the women’s movement, the gay liberation movement, and anti-racist movement understood the centrality of class struggle and the victory of the working class movement to ending oppression, and so offered heroic solidarity which the miners reciprocated.
The old CP fell apart in the late 1980s. A minority closer to the 50s-70sBritish Road to Socialism formed the Communist Party of Britain (in 1988) and kept control of the Morning Star. The CP majority leadership dissolved their party in 1991, and scattered.
The original 50s-70s British Road to Socialism from the 50s to the 70s was based on an optimism that the labour movement and “socialism” worldwide were steadily “marching forward”, so that for the victory of socialism in Britain the labour movement needed only unity and a confident “left” bureaucratic leadership. The main thread of CPB’s version of socialist strategy today is a subdued and downbeat version of the same story. Echoes of the 70s-80s version of the “Broad Democratic Alliance” still rattle around the CPB today, as Andrew’s letter shows.
Disillusioned by the defeats of the 1970s and 80s, and the crumbling and collapse of what they thought to be “really existing socialism” in Eastern Europe and the USSR, the old leadership of the CP took the opposite conclusion that the working class could not achieve socialism via its own organisations and required alliances with elements of the bourgeoisie to achieve even the most moderate objectives. Increasing numbers of them came to think, with some good reason, that those more moderate objectives were in fact better than the sort of “socialism” they had previously endorsed.
Workers’ Liberty believes that, in Marx’s words, “the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves”.
That includes emancipation from all forms of oppression inherent in capitalist class rule: racism, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia. That’s why we fight for the labour movement to take up those fights and to become as Lenin said a “tribune of the oppressed”.
In the green movements or Black Lives Matters protests or such, we argue for a working class orientation, because it’s the working class organised as a class that has the agency and social power to bring about the overthrow of capitalism.
We know the importance of unity and left leadership in the labour movement itself, but of themselves, those will not bring victory. Hostile ideas pervade our class, leading it to defeat, nationalism, reformism, and most pertinently Stalinism. Our unions suffer from bureaucracies. Their leadership and officers, whether right or left, are divorced from the day-to-day struggle or interests of workers.
We prioritise the need for the labour movement to be rebuilt root and branch, for socialism from below, for political education, for rank and file leadership and the building of a real internationalist workers’ movement. There is no national road to socialism. There is no socialism in one country.