The Political Situation in Britain


Labour's landslide victory last month presents new challenges to the communist movement. New Worker Editor ANN ROGERS talked to NCP general secretary ANDY BROOKS about the way forward.

ANN ROGERS: Labour won a huge victory last May. How significant was it?

ANDY BROOKS: Well, first of all it was a very profound victory. It represented a rejection of the policies of the Conservative governments of the past 18 years by millions upon millions of working people in Britain. It represents is defeat of the most reactionary sections of the ruling class. The Tories have lost every seat in Scotland and Wales.

Senior Tory politicians have been dumped by their constituents. The Conservatives have been reduced to an English rump party. They've been dnven out df most of the major cities, and left with just their core seats in the rich rural areas and wealthy residential suburbs.

Some of their supporters have deserted to the Liberal Democrats, others to the Welsh and Scottish nationalists, but the major swing has been to Labour which now has a majority of 179 in parliament, the biggest in its entire history. Millions of working people who previously voted Conservative have been won back to Labour not to mention the votes of the new generation who were brought up under Thatcher and Major.

It's sometimes forgotten that the Tories have always relied on working class support to maintain their electoral machine. They could not have maintained their political ascendancy throughout the century without it. Now it's been lost.

Of course the slump in Tory support represents differing trends. Major's party was deeply split over European integration and under fire from maverick Tories who rallied round the Referendum Party and the fringe anti-European Union movements. These splits went far beyond the corridors of power. The bosses' newspapers were at loggerheads with each other on the issue.

Some papers, the most pro-European Union, even opted for Labour because the Blair leadership is in accord with the one issue that the majority of the ruling class favour -- closer European integration and the single currency.

But the major factor behind Labour's victory was the simple fact that millions of working people -- from the factories, offices, and housing estates voted for change for the better. And they believe that Labour is going to deliver it.

I should take this opportunity to congratulate all the comrades in the New Communist Party, whose hard work contributed to the Labour victory. In some constituencies comrades have said that their independent campaign played a vital part in bumping up the Labour vote.

Nationally, we called on people to vote Labour everywhere -- for the return of a Labour government with the biggest possible majority. We were probably the only party which campaigned on that slogan. Blair certainly didn't. We can justifiably be pleased with the result.

AR: Yes, and the high Republican vote in the occupied north of Ireland and the return of two Sinn Fein MP's has also boosted the hopes for peace. But getting Labour in isn't t an end in itself...

AB: No, and we've never said it was. And there can be little doubt that the current Labour leadership intend to pursue economic and social policies which differ little from those of the Conservatives.

There is, of course, a difference between a Labour and a Tory government, Had the Tories won it would have given the green light to the ruling class for a further vicious attack on workers' organisations and workers' living standards. It would have led to further demoralisation and confusion in the labour and trade union movement and there's no doubt that there would have been a further advance towards authoritarianism -- the "creeping fascism" which characterised Tory government from 1979.

Though Blair & Co have spent most of their time trying to woo business interests -- to assure the exploiters that capitalism is safe in their hands they knew that they had to retain and win working class support to come to office. They've promised reforms, and we want to keep them to their promises.

We want to see VAT reduced on heating bills. We want to see the return of low-cost council housing. We want smaller classroom sizes and we want to see the democratic reforms they've pledged in their manifesto. We support the establishment of Scottish and Welsh parliaments, and the restoration of local government in London and the other big cities.

We want a lot more than that. We want the restoration of the "welfare state" and the public sector as it stood in 1979. We want the abolition of all the anti-trade union laws passed since 1979 to allow free collective bargaining to operate once again and set the rate for the job. We want higher wages and lower hours.

These are not revolutionary demands. They can be met by taxing the rich, making them disgorge some of the plunder they stole from working people over the decades to pay for the crisis which is entirely of their own creation.

AR: Neither Blair nor Major talked of a crisis during the campaign...

AB: No, in fact Major claimed that Britain was booming, despite the fact that millions are out of work or on short-time -- despite the fact that the living standards of millions of people have declined dramatically since 1979.

The whole capitalist world is in crisis and the slump in Britain differs only in scale to that in the other imperialist heartlands. The exploiters didn't ratch up the notch over the past 18 years because they felt like it. It wasn't the personal whim of a Thatcher or a Major. They had no choice. Their class wasn't prepared to make any sacrifices and so the entire burden of the capitalist crisis was placed on the shoulders of those who produce the entire wealth of the country, the working class.

Blair and his cronies concede that there is a "problem" in society. But they say it is simply due to "bad management which they will remedy through social partnership, Reality shows that they will fail. If the crisis was simply due to mismanagement the capitalists would find others amongst themselves to do their bidding in a better way. If capitalism worked the ruling class and their politicians would be able to point to at least one capitalist country where it does solve the problems of the people. But they can't.

The world-wide economic crisis is the crisis of capitalism -- as a social system it's outlived its purpose, but it can only be replaced by socialism.

AR: Well, we all believe that socialism is the answer. Many in the Labour Party still think that it can come about through successive Labour governments and continuous reform. We call for "pressure" on the Labour government, but this can't lead to socialism either...

AB: That's right. The demands of the class on the Labour government are for more reforms. The demand to make the rich pay is not a revolutionary demand In itself, though it is one that the rich will never accept. We have to fight day-to-day battles to improve the living standards of the working class.-But at the same time we have to point the way forward to fundamental change, for socialist revolution and working class power.

Our task is to build the revolutionary party and its influence because the problems faced by our class can only be resolved by the end of capitalist society itself. We must, therefore, challenge social-democracy and reformism throughout the labour and trade union movement.

Reformist and social-democratic ideas are deeply rooted in the British working class. There is a widespread belief, encouraged by Labour leaders and the employers, that the existing system can be made to work more fairly. During the post-war boom, which lasted until 1970, it appeared to be true.

We had low unemployment. We had a "welfare state" which we were told was the envy of the world. To a certain extent it was true. Two of British imperialism's major rivals, Germany and Japan, had been defeated in the Second World War and out of the plunder robbed from the peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America the ruling class could well afford to respond to working class demands at little or no cost to themselves.

Now, in the threes of deep crisis, there is little basis for reformist ideas as the ruling class cannot make any major concessions without threatening their own wealth and privileges. But these ideas live on. The huge Labour vote in May is a reflection of their strength. It also reflects the potential power of the working class, which could lead the fightback to defend the class.

We can make the rich pay for the crisis -- up to a point. But there eventually comes a point when they are no longer prepared to make any concessions and they then turn to open dictatorship -- if they can. The role of a revolutionary communist party is not just to stop naked dictatorship but to lead the class in overthrowing the old order and ending bourgeois role once and for all.

AR: Some of the Trotskyites say the answer is to smash the Labour Party and replace it with a party of their own...

AB: Yes, that's a common view amongst these tiny sects, whose links with the labour movement are minimal or non-existent. And sadly it was reflected in this year's campaign by Scargill's Socialist Labour Party, which, it has to be said, is largely staffed by Trotskyites.

But the position of the two largest Trotskyite movements, the Socialist Workers Party and Militant's Socialist Party are variants on the British Roadism of the revisionists, arguing to vote Labour except when their own candidates are standing or "vote as left as you can".

The stand of all these ultra-left groups revolves around two fallacies. The first is that the Labour Party is the major obstacle to working-class advance and the second is that the solution is to build another "revolutionary" labour party to replace it.

Both arguments are rubbish and have proved to be nonsense by the experience of all these groups over the decades.

Let's look at the argument we know best, that of the British Road to Socialism, a left social-democratic theory whose only achievement was to isolate and cripple the communist movement in Britain.

This theory was the lynch-pin of the old Communist Party of Great Britain and it lingers amongst its heirs, the Communist Party of Britain and the Communist Party of Scotland. It argues for a parliamentary "road to socialism" based on the election of communist MP's who together with the left in the Labour Party would build a parliamentary blee which would introduce socialism through legislation, backed by what they used to call "extra-parliamentary" activity.

It always ignored the fact that the British parliamentary system and the first-past-the-post ballot is designed to produce a two-party system -- a government, mainly Tory, and a "loyal opposition" drawn from social-democracy.

Attempts to build a rival left social-democratic party have failed time and time again because you simply cannot compete with one which already exists, one which has deep roots in the trade union movement, no matter how revolutionary your slogans are. People vote for a government or an alternative government -- not pious phrases and empty slogans.

Now on the face of it few of us would disagree with the demands made by the SLP or those of the other left parties or the major Trotskyite movements. We would all want to see mass nationalisation, a free "welfare state", full employment and a free education system. Their shopping list mirrors the genuine demands of the working class. But it's not going to be won by their small parties let alone be passed in the bosses' parliament. Working people see through them. That s why the actual votes obtained, even by the best of their candidates, remain derisory.

I should add that even if the British electoral system was different -- if we had the propertional representation for instance -- it still would make little difference. Of course fringe parties, including the racists and fascists, could get into parliament under PR, and so could mass-based communist parties under certain circumstances. But what good would it do?

The communist movement in France and Italy grew enormously after the war. They built huge parliamentary blocs -- in Italy the old Communist Party was once the biggest single party. But the Italian and French workers are no nearer socialism today than they were in 1948.

Working people can never come to power through elections or parliament. That is the concrete experience of the working class movement throughout the world from the October Revolution to this day. You know, some of them, those who claim to be "Marxists" or even "Leninists" try to quote Lenin and the experience of the Bolsheviks in the Czar's Duma to justify their futile electioneering.

But it wasn't the Duma which brought down Kerensky and the Provisional Government -- it was working people s organisations, the Soviets led by Lenin and the Bolsheviks which led the Revolution.

AR: Well, the Labour Party today is dominated by the rightwing and so is the trade union movement as a whole -- what role can it play as an instrument for progressive change?

AB: Labour remains, under its present composition, a party largely financed by the trade union movement and still largely influenced by the views of organised labour. It cannot replace the Conservatives as the party of the ruling class as long as it retains that link.

Some elements, those close to Blair, want to sever that link and create a "New Labour" party devoid of any input from the trade union movement. This trend can still be defeated. But if it were to succeed it would split the party and weaken the movement as a whole.

Whatever happens, social-democracy and the illusions it fosters will remain until there is a mass based communist movement to challenge it and pose the communist alternative to the class.

In the immediate future the struggle must go on to build fighting trade unions with a working-class leadership, and a class conscious labour movement. That struggle will become the school for the revolutionary movement. It goes hand in hand with the fight to build the revolutionary party.

That's the task we set for ourselves when we were established in 1977. We can be proud of our achievements. We have kept alive the ideas of Marxism-Leninism when parties millions strong in Europe have abandoned them. We have forged strong links with the remaining socialist countries and the national liberation movements across the globe. We campaign for peace and socialism, for a better tomorrow for working people in Britain and the rest of the world.

Our party is the product of hardwork, struggle, and self-sacrifice by our comrades and supporters. Future generations will thank them for laying the foundations of the mighty movement which will end the rotten system of exploitation in Britain once and for all.

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