Getting our priorities right – a statement on the LRC affiliation debate

Marx was right!Below is a statement in response to the article by James Turley ‘Against the politics of purity‘ and the statement by Manchester comrades ‘No support for Labour – No support for the LRC‘. This is part of the debate in the lead up to our conference in March that will decide our perspectives for the year ahead.

It is important to place the current debate in Communist Students in its proper context, politically and organisationally. The decision to affiliate to the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) is a small tactical issue which comrades on both sides would do well to remember not to elevate into a principle. The change is being made in order to move CS in line with the political shifts of the CPGB majority. We need to be careful to ensure that CS is not simply an appendage of the CPGB, as implied by the way the affiliation was rushed through. It is also important to remember that members of the CPGB within CS are not united on this issue. Currently CS has no policy on Labour work and has sporadically worked with Labourites since our formation in 2006. What is being proposed is completely new: an orientation to Labour as something that can be won for Marxism. Some comrades want us to fight for Labour to become a “permanent united front” with Labour general committees playing a role akin to Soviets. This is the argument of Jack Conrad and his supporters within the CPGB. For CS this must be an issue to be decided on by the autonomous conference of CS and not just an automatic re-orientation in line with the CPGB.

In their quest to legitimise this turn some comrades have resorted to denying this re-orientation.‘The party line has changed, comrades; this has always been the party line.’ It is not true that LRC affiliation and subsequent work is nothing new. The recent adoption of new theses on the Labour Party by the CPGB represents a political and organisational re-orientation on the part of that group. The theses are deeply flawed and inaccurate, and yet out of this vague text our organisation is stepping up Labour work in a direction never undertaken by either the CPGB or CS.

Just as in the CPGB, the comrades for a reorientation to Labour work seek to place themselves in the tradition of the early Communist Party but then only tell half of the story. It is common on the left to have learned about Lenin’s advice to Marxists in Britain and the decisions by the Second Congress of the Communist International (Comintern): to try to affiliate to the Labour Party, expose its leaders, and win workers in Britain to a socialist programme. A united front was proposed to defend the interests of the working class. The preconditions of such an approach were spelled out by Lenin, Trotsky and the Comintern: there must be complete liberty of agitation and organisation within Labour and a unified communist organisation of serious number to carry out the work. Democracy is a distant memory in the Labour Party and CS is a small organisation with few resources which must choose its priorities wisely. It is a mistake to listen to only half of the lessons and advice from our history. Just as a serious, active intervention within the ranks of the Labour Party is not possible for today’s CPGB, it is even less likely to be so for CS.

No section of this debate is seeking to isolate CS and to not have comrades engage with Labourites and the left generally. The same comrades who produced the opposition statement opposing affiliation to the LRC have also worked with Labour Students in anti-cuts committees and are part of a branch that backed Labour Students members who were against cuts in Students’ Union elections. The pro-affiliation comrades are conflating engaging Labour members and organisations, and working within Labour. Understanding the Labour Party as a site of struggle does not automatically lead to work inside Labour. We must consider the preconditions stated above, the balance forces, what can be gained and, most pertinently for our organisation, where best to expend our energy and devote our time. The opposition statement mistakenly confuses joining the LRC with accepting and fighting for Labourism. Under some circumstances it is permissible, even advisable, to work within Labour. There is nothing necessarily unprincipled about doing so.

“The LRC is an anti-cuts group” we are told by our pro-Labour comrades. But it seems to have escaped them that the LRC is not just another anti-cuts group. These comrades note that the LRC is holding its conference under the slogan “Resist the Cuts, Rebuild the Party” and yet neglect to comment on the second half of the formulation. The LRC is a campaign to defend and strengthen working class political representation through the Labour Party. It is a group which, according to its constitution, is “committed to the election of a Labour government” – i.e. another government of cuts. This does raise political questions for CS to decide upon. Are we for a Labour government, or do we contest this aim of the LRC? What forces are there within the Labour left that will be open to our ideas? Can comrades both work within Labour and promote communist organisation? Do we think the Labour Party can be won for Marxism?

The comrades who are for a reorientation to Labour also claim that it is simply a matter of CS doing more than one thing. A simple division of labour. Yet they have stated that they hope this will be part of a long term engagement without providing any plan beyond affiliation to the LRC and an intervention at its upcoming conference. We must not fall into the same trap as many left groups: trying to do many things whilst failing to do any of them well. It makes sense that our organisation puts most of its forces where we can gain the widest audience and suffer the least censorship. We have been part of many successful interventions and actions over the past year and our organisation has produced twice as much material as previous years (including a campus-based bulletin for workers and students called Educator, which was snapped up by hundreds in Manchester). Our orientation should be, as agreed at our last conference, primarily towards the burgeoning anti-cuts movement. Within this movement we need to be unambiguous in our promotion of communist ideas and organisation.

Signed by:

Cat Rylance (CPGB and CS Executive)

Chris Strafford (CPGB and Manchester CS)

Dave Isaacson (CPGB and Milton Keynes CS)

Liam Conway (CPGB and Manchester CS)

Alex Allan (Manchester CS)

James O’Leary (Manchester CS)

Sinead Rylance (London CS)


  • An opportunist perspective of transforming the labour party into a socialist party or a half way house to communism is not a small tactical issue. There is something unprincipled about having a view that the labour Party can become a party not dominated by the PLP,parliamentary electoral reformism and constitutionalism.

    It ignores the History of Labourism and would constitute an attempt to repeat the long detour away fom socialism/communism from below represented by dismal illusions in labour party. It would repeat the left reformism of the British Socialist party who were the main conponent of the early CPGB.

    The BSP argued that the Labour party could be transformed into a socialist party. like the CPGB majority today this view results in the tactic of trying to push the leaders of the labour party in a left wing direction on the assumption the mass struggle will flow through the Labour party despite all the historical evidence that it has not and the Labour party is not a mass party in that sense.The spirit of the CPGB majority is for a ginger group inside Labour as was the case for the BSP comrades in the early CPGB. In fact labour reformism transformed the CPGB rather than the other way round.

    The Affiliation tactic of the CI only served to strenthen the left reformism of the early CPGB. With a tiny membership and a very low level of communist culture looking to a parliamentary/electoral party only undermined any potential to build a communist organisation.

    Outstanding revolutionaries like john Maclean refused to join, since while he was fighting the state during the war the future leaders of the CPGB were not raising the issue of the war in their trade union agitation(gallagher) building locamotive boilers in manchester (pollit)sitting at his desk in whitehall (Rothstein) Sylvia pankhurst did join but was soon expelled for daring to publish criticism of Lenin.

    A speaker from the floor of the second congress of the CI in 1920 made the obvious point that communists intervened in the elemental class struggle and so did not need to join or vote for the labour Party to meet workers.But in 1920 the self emancipationn of the working class had been lost sight of by the leaders of the Bolshevik party. It was all about the influence of leaders and dubious parliamentary tactics connected with that.

    In any case the united front was a tactic for mass communist parties which never existed in Britain and the historical context is fundamentally different.The phrase bourgeois workers party is not very helpful either. politically the leadership and programme of the Labour party are bourgeois as the evidence of recent Labour governments demonstrats. The labour party is a bourgeois party as lenin aknowledged,butthe sociological addition of the word workers, to make the phrase bourgeois workers party implies that the Trade union bueaucracy represents the historic interests of the working class indirectly through the Labour party. (their party.) This misrepresents the nature of the trade union bueaucracy and the Labour party.

    The Labour party emerged out of the bowels of the TUC following industrial defeats and represented a trade union attempt to have parliamentary representation. kier Hardy choose the name labour to avoid class and socialism.But it did not avoid liberalism and in that sense new labour returned to its roots. Lenin and Kautsky were in favour of allowing the labour party to join the second international because they wrongly believed that if the Labour party did not recognise the class struggle and socialism the class struggle and socialism would recognise the labour party. it did not . lets not forget the Historical lesson.

  • We do not think an orientation is a small tactical issue. We think the affiliation to the LRC is. The statement opposes the orientation to Labour that is being undertaken within the CPGB and implied by the affiliation and motion from Communist Students to LRC conference.

  • I completely agree with the points Barry has made. And I don’t think affiliation to the LRC is merely of minor importance as you’ve been implying Chris S. because it can’t be separated from the wider questions.

  • At best the Aim of the CPGB in the LRC is to build a workers party or a party of Labour or a hybrid party of revolutionaries and reformists. This is a view the Leadership of the CPGB has strongly rejected in the recent past.See the polemics with The socialist paty,Phile Sharp in the CMP,And steve Freemans schemas for the unity of Labourites and communists. (all in back issues of WW)

    Given the historical weight of the Labour party and trade union officialdom these politics will probably translate into a call to rebuild the labour party.But with the usual illusions thrown in-more democratic and more (!) socialist.

    Its not just an area of work, of a some kind of technical issue, but a political choice. I will develop this further when I get more time

  • Ronan,

    You do not ride a bike looking at the handle bars, you have to look up and see where you are going. The affiliation is important and controversial because of the long-term strategy it implies. In that sense, affiliation is a minor issue compared with the wider political orientation we are discussing.


    I do not think comrades see LRC or the Labour Party as a half-way house project. Some see Labour as a possible “permanent united front” of the class where communists would keep their organisational independence.

  • Chris S.,

    Well, as far as those who are pro-affiliation – I think they do argue for the type of formation Barry mentions above, how else is one to interpret an orientation which has as a strategic objective to drive the right-wing out of the Labour Party.

  • Ronan,

    They are arguing for a united front of the class through Labour general committees. Communists maintain their independence in united fronts. Whether this plays out that way in practice is another question. Historically we have had organisation like the National Left-wing committee movement that whilst being a CPGB project did not propose a communist programme and was under the spell of the trade union and Labour lefts like Purcell and Cook.

  • Affiliation to the LRC by the CPGB is not a minor issue. Its an aspect of policy and programme.

    In the communist tradition there is no such thing as a permanent united front. Its like the SWPS united front of a special kind. Its an opportunist invention. A communist verbal fig leaf to cover somthing not communist.

    Organisational unity in the same organisation is not a united front. The united front was a tactic for a mass communist party that had won over a significant section of the working class, say a third or even more but needed to win over most of the rest. It was temporary unity based on action over specific issues,in a specific historical context, that does not exit anymore. No mixing of banners or organisation was the general rule that was broken many times in the CI (china for instance )

    Now communist and reformist organisational unity in the same organisation is a half way house, a hybrid political formation which the CPGB leadership has dismissed in the recent past in the harshest possible terms. The CPGB majority do not descibe their proposals as a half way house for obvious reasons. It would make the leadership appear to be nasty fickle and superficial-toy town Bolsheviks.

    If the leaders of the CPGB can ignore the history of the Labour party then they can easily ignore or rewrite recent pary policy. who cares what they said yesterday.Well the members should. Look at the savage arguments against Phil sharp or the Socialist party for their call for a workers party or a party less than revolutionary, but more than reformist. true old labour or the Labour party mark 2

    During the general strike in 1926the cpgb said there was a fundamental devide between right and left Labour. Drive out the right, support the left leaders. But there was no fundamental difference. Right and left sold out. Or rather they were not in favour of overthrowing capitalism in the first place.They feared workers revolution more than the state. They were reformist who knew their place.But the CPGB had unity with the reformist left in the labour party.What did that mean and result in. Do we want to repeat this terible defeat for short term influence with Trade union and labour lefts?

  • To be fair to Phil Sharp and the Socialist party they did not argue that the labour party could be transformed into a marxist or socialist party. That was the line of Ted Grant and the militant. The right wing would be spewed out of the labour party as a foreign body. This prediction was proclaimed for over twenty five years.

    But the subborn fact was the labour left or social democracy disintergratted and the right wing emerged as the natural leaders of the labour party. Other Trotskyist entrists claimed that new Labour was an alien implant into the Labour party and old Labour would reassert itself. But it was old labour which died and new liberalism or new labour which won out.

    The New CPGB established its political credentials by making a profound critique of trotskyist adaptations to labourism. Stan KEEBLE stood agianst the left labour candidate ken Livingstone. (look at the reasons they gave in WW 1997?)It was a marked contrast to today’s politics.

  • Barry,

    It is Communist Students not the CPGB that has affiliated to the LRC. The CPGB is not an affiliate.

    Affiliation is a tactical issue that can flow from a strategy of positively overcoming the Labour Party. In that sense it is a minor issue when discussing the broader and long-term approach of communists to the Labour Party.

    I think if you look at the arguments of Jack Conrad he does not argue for liquidationism but dreams about turning Labour into a united front of the class with a Communist Party being an affiliate. This conception lies not in half-way housism but a backwards view on the peculiar nature of the Labour Party and the unitary nature of our movement. I am sure Conrad and his supporters will explain in the Weekly Worker, but from my understanding, he considers the creation of Labour general committees akin to the formation as Soviets in terms of creating a united front of the class.

  • The problem that has emerged here is the inability of the CPGB to counterpose a Leninist revolutionary party to a reformist bourgeois workers party. The truth is that the CPGB is a libertarian radical reformist Kautskyite party. Hence the necessity to harness Lars T Lih to ‘prove’ that there was no essential difference between the Leninist Bolshevik party and the Kautskyite German Social Democratic party. The project of a party of the whole class is inherently reformist as is the ‘extreme democracy’ – the inability to distinguish bourgeois democracy and its parliamentary road from workers democracy which must result in a workers state and a proletarian dictatorship if it is to be successful. The inability to have a no platform position on fascism is more libertarianism. We will produce a major article on this for the next Socialist Fight (No 6)
    The report on the LRC AGM puts forward clear reformist conceptions. Stan Keable, in line with the CPGB, says:
    “Motion 10 was defeated by a two-to-one vote. In truth the comrades opposing motion 10 were not downplaying the burgeoning mass anti-cuts movement, but emphasising that to be victorious it must be channelled into the fight to unite the left and to transform the Labour Party into a political alternative, a real party of the working class.”
    That is a fool’s errand if ever there was one. Motion 10 was the real test and the CPGB and the AWL took the reformist line. Just prior to that Stan gave the game away:
    “Simeon Andrews (who romped home onto the NC with 81 votes) gave the motion the kiss of death by announcing that he did not want to “transform” the Labour Party, but to “replace” it. And, sure enough, when I checked his election address, there it was in black and white: “… we need a movement that can not only bring down the coalition government, but can lay the foundations for a new party which can once again represent the interests and aspirations of the people.”
    It is true that Simeon may be seeking a more radical leftist reformist party but we do need “a new party which can once again represent the interests and aspirations of the people” – a Leninist/Trotskyist revolutionary party. Stan “forgot” about even the CPGB version of the substitute because it is not counterposed at all in theory. Indeed, despite all its Marxist rhetoric, the SPD turned to be just as reformist and a thousand times more counter-revolutionary that the British Labour party because it was put to the test. The Labour party would have done the same in Britain, as it does in all its foreign wars when in Government.
    That does not mean that the opponents were right in anything other than a healthy opposition to a reformist parliamentary road to socialism. Ultra-leftism can now creep in where we declare, with Barry Biddulph, that
    “In any case the united front was a tactic for mass communist parties which never existed in Britain and the historical context is fundamentally different. The phrase bourgeois workers party is not very helpful either. Politically the leadership and programme of the Labour party are bourgeois as the evidence of recent Labour governments demonstrates. The labour party is a bourgeois party as Lenin acknowledged, but the sociological addition of the word workers, to make the phrase bourgeois workers party implies that the Trade union bureaucracy represents the historic interests of the working class indirectly through the Labour party. (Their party.) This misrepresents the nature of the trade union bureaucracy and the Labour party.”
    The United Front, or Workers United Front as it is better to call it, is not just a tactic for mass communist parties but the communist method of work in the trade unions in relation to the Labour party. It is a ‘tactic’ which we apply outside of revolutionary situations when the masses have lost their illusions in reformism and are directly turning towards the revolutionary alternative, i.e. right now no matter where we are and how big or small a group we are in. It is no good telling us that they have “lost their illusions in Labour” which they supposedly had in 1921 when Lenin and Trotsky developed the tactic. It was precisely because they have illusions in REFORMISM that we need the tactic. Barry is a ultra-leftist who is so strongly anti-Leninist that he feels himself far more left wing than Lenin or Trotsky because of his scorn for reformist workers.
    Barry is wrong about the trade union bureaucracy also. They were just as bureaucratic and counterrevolutionary in Lenin’s time as today. The Labour party was always the alliance of the TU bureaucrats with opportunist capitalist politicians who rode on the backs of the working class. It was formed as such, Lenin knew this well when he wrote his Left Wing Communism and so did Trotsky even in 1936 when he demanded a vote for ALL Labour party candidates where revolutionist or centrist were not standing. When was it or which leaders were better than today; in 1918 or in 1926 with Thomas, Henderson, McDonald? Did Lenin and Trotsky really believe these capitalist politicians really represented the historic interests of the working class? ALL Labour leaderships and Governments are capitalist/imperialist governments; the question is the party as a whole, the relations of the TU to it and the mass of the workers who vote for it and who to win then to revolutionary politics in struggle.
    In Socialist Fight no 3 page 24 Bourgeois-workers’ parties: behind the mask of pseudo-revolutionary intransigence by Ret Marut and Philippe Couthon ( we spelled out in detail what was wrong with this ultra-leftism:
    “In the letter, having described how the communists must approach the ranks of the reformists parties (but not place demands on their leaders), he (our opponent) characterises the Workers United Front (WUF) thus “This tactic may be termed a united front from below to bypass the traitorous leaders”. Of course the ‘traitorous leaders’ cannot be ‘bypassed’; they must be fought, exposed, unmasked and defeated in order for the revolutionary socialist party to be built. ‘Bypassing’ was certainly how the Anarchists, Bukharin and the rest of the ultra-lefts understood the UF at the time but this misunderstanding was fought by Lenin in Left Wing Communism, by Trotsky in his address to the 1922 Fourth Congress of the Comintern and by the best Bolsheviks at the time.”
    If you do not seek the road to the mass of the working class by this work you are no use to the revolution. Of course entryism into Labour or fully independent work is a tactical question as is affiliation to the LRC. The question is can you fight for revolutionary politics to builds a revolutionary party when in the LRC? Yes you can. Can you fight for this in the Labour party proper as a whole, not very well now but ground may open up. Wherever you are your goal is to build or gather the forces to build a revolutionary party counterposed to Labour. If you cannot to that you are a reformist and that is what the CPGB and the AWL are looking like now in their Labour party projects.

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