Opposition Statement to LRC Affiliation: ‘No Support for Labour – No Support for the LRC’

At a Communist Students’ Exec meeting on the 13th of December, a decision was made to affiliate to the Labour Representation Committee (LRC).

The driving force behind this was Ben Lewis of the Provisional Central Committee of the CPGB, which has recently adopted a set of theses on the Labour Party.[1] Some points of which would get support within the ranks of the LRC, for example the democratisation of the Labour Party.[2] Crucially important though for the issue at hand is the dangerous conception of a permanent united front between Communists and the Labour Party contained within the theses. Where the CPGB’s contradictory perspective of simultaneously organising a political force independent of social democracy and at the same time trying to transform the Labour Party into a “real party of labour” and putting the Labour Party into office in order to expose its leadership, is made.

The LRC was set up in 2004 to act as a pressure group within the Labour Party; It now boasts 150 affiliated organisations, including six unions and 1,000 members. It is clear by the noises that it makes that it seeks to “rebuild” the Party.[3] The LRC is committed to “restore (sic) the operation of a fully democratic Labour Party”, “encourage people to rejoin Labour” and the “election of a Labour Government”.[4] Membership is barred to all those who belong to a party which stands candidates against the Labour Party.[5] Communist Students should not support any of these aims and by joining the LRC and accepting its constitution we are not helping to win workers away from social democracy but doing the opposite – implying that there is something worthwhile at the root of left-labourism and reinforcing its politics. Worse still, we are contributing to the socialist cover that the LRC provides.

Those who support affiliation argue that Marxists should use the LRC to argue for communist politics, as they have attempted previously.[6] This is a typical position taken by the Weekly Worker, that of an orientation towards ‘the left’. Those present at LRC conference will either be members of various socialist groups or similarly committed followers of social democracy. While it is necessary to win people away from such politics – it is idealist to think this can be achieved through work within the LRC because it fails to understand that its membership corresponds to particular ideas and consciousness that expresses the politics of a certain section of the labour bureaucracy.

In response to our opposition to LRC affiliation we are characterised as taking as taking a sectarian position, not wanting our revolutionary credentials to become muddied by mixing with the dirty reformists of the LRC. However, this treats affiliation and engagement with LRC members as mutually exclusive. The LRC members who are most likely to be won to Marxism are those whom we shall meet on demonstrations or work with in anti-cuts groups, LRC affiliation does not affect our contact with these layers.

The CPGB thesis implies that the labour left wing is an ally.[7] This is an error, LRC councillors in London have already admitted that they will by implementing the cuts agenda. This clearly shows that the Labour left wing is not an ally in the struggle against all cuts.

For a group of such meagre resources, affiliation to the LRC sends out a message about our priorities and orientation. The LRC makes up some of the working class, but not all of it. Our immediate aims should be to engage with our peers and work colleagues, newly politicised students on demonstrations and workers on picket lines. Affiliation to the LRC is at best a distraction from this struggle.

Mark Harrison (CS Exec)
Ronan McNabb (CS Manchester)
Sebastian Osthoff (CS Manchester)
James O’Leary (CS Manchester)


1. ‘Draft theses on the Labour Party’

2. Ibid, point 18.

3. D. Lewis, ‘Good start made’

4. ‘Labour Representation Committee Rules and Constitution’

5. Ibid.

6. At the founding conference of the Socialist Youth Network (youth section of the LRC) CS was able to pass a motion calling for ‘open borders’.

7. ‘Draft theses’, point 24.


  • This statement opposing the affiliation of CS to the Labour Representation Committee is to be welcomed as broadening out a debate we had been having internally for some time, and I hoped both sides would be able to solidify their positions.

    The problem with this statement is that it does not really clear up what the viewpoint of the opposition actually is. The signatories are not opposed to engaging with the LRC, we are told, they just oppose affiliation. Why affiliation constitutes crossing a line, and means we would actually be ‘implying that there is something worthwhile at the root of left-labourism and reinforcing its politics’ is not explained. Being affiliated to Stop the War Coalition does not mean we endorse being friendly with the Iranian government. Indeed part of the reason we affiliate is to go in there and fight for principled internationalism.

    But affiliation aside in fact the comrades seem unclear whether we should engage the LRC as an organisation, or not:

    ‘While it is necessary to win people away from such politics – it is idealist to think this can be achieved through work within the LRC because it fails to understand that its membership corresponds to particular ideas and consciousness that expresses the politics of a certain section of the labour bureaucracy.’

    Instead the comrades propose that we engage with LRC individuals active in the anti-cuts groups. The problem is that the LRC members whose ‘particular ideas and consciousness’ express the politics of the labour bureauracy are the same people who are involved in the anti-cuts groups! If it is ‘idealist’ to engage them at LRC events, why does it become OK to do so in an anti-cuts group? There is no left-right divide between LRC members who are involved in these groups and those who are not. The politics are more or less the same, whether members are more or less active; left Labourism. We should not be surprised that an out-of-power Labour party has members who are active in grassroots working class organisations. For Britain this is perfectly normal.

    As CS members have discovered, the space for political debate in the majority of anti-cuts groups is very small (largely due to the revolutionary left’s determination to only discuss defensive demands, natch). So engaging with any Labourites is restricted to people you may bump into at the pub afterwards. Not good enough, comrades. We can’t just tackle reformism when we meet it incidentally, we need to go to the source. At LRC conference and events those members are talking politics and programme and that is where we can hit hardest in terms of this section of the British Left.

    Our affiliation does nothing to imply any degree of support for a reformist programme. Not if you’ve read anything we’ve written on the subject of the LRC or the Labour party. It is for us a tactical move based on a strategic orientation of overcoming Labourism. The argument that the relatively trivial matter of affiliation is the central issue is a fig leaf. If comrades oppose engaging with the Labour left in an organised and political way on a matter of principle, they should say so. Previously we have always tackled the various manifestations of opportunism, populism and sectarianism coming from the revolutionary left in a direct and head-on fashion. Why in this case, because the people concerned are open and honest reformists for a change, should we shirk their events, essentially ignoring the problem?

    The comrades appear to want to have their cake and eat it. We should engage, but not affiliate, which would be a step too far. And it is just a matter of priorities anyway; we should be focussing on the anti-cuts groups instead of the Labour Left, being a group of ‘such meagre resources’. While it is true that we are a small organisation with few funds, this is a red herring; it is really not beyond our ability for a few comrades to attend LRC conference or some of the handful of other events they put on. Or to critically engage in the election campaigns of LRC candidates, though as the statement points out we cannot support candidates who implement the government’s cuts agenda. I don’t think the CPGB theses really make the Labour left out to be a consistent and reliable ally; rather a temporary, possibly long term one which can be useful to the working class and certainly embodies the politics of a not insignificant part of it. Politics which must be overcome, not ignored and allowed to spread unchecked.

  • Just to reply in a personal capacity and I’m not speaking for anyone else here but I do think affiliation is crossing a line that should not be crossed. I don’t think CS making labour a long term ally would be useful to the working class at all in fact it would be detrimental to it’s interests. It would imply that it is OK to vote labour, a party which has for it’s entire history consistently put the need for continued existence of capitalism before the needs or desires of the working class. The LRC does not even want to change this fundamental principle of the labour party.
    Affiliation sends out the wrong sort of message to people potential new members who in these testing times are looking to join a revolutionary organisation. Simply engaging with LRC members outside their own organisation and trying to win them round to Marxism is different as it wouldn’t imply that we think that what the LRC is doing is worthwhile. I think there’s a clear line there and I for one don’t want to cross it.

  • Comrade Stevens,

    – What sort of line do you think is being crossed? Do you think that by ‘crossing this line’ communists then automatically cease to be communists?
    – How does affiliating to the LRC – an affiliate organisation based on membership of comrades in and outside the Labour Party – imply an undifferentiated vote for Labour? Where have you read that in, for example, the CPGB theses on Labour? (http://www.cpgb.org.uk/article.php?article_id=1004137)
    – You seem to drawn an equals sign between affiliating to something and then absorbing its politics, which is wrong.
    – Do you think it was wrong, for example, for leading CS members to sit on the leadership of the LRC youth wing (SYN) and win a motion for the LRC to affiliate to Hopi and co-organise some important solidarity actions/fundraising/events for the release of Jafar Panahi? Were we crossing a line there and ceasing to be communists, internationalists, anti-imperialists?
    -Do you think it is necessary to fight for a Communist Party of millions? If so, how do you think it is possible without struggling for Marxism in the unions, the Labour Party etc? Or do you think the trade unions should all disaffiliate from Labour? Where should they go then?

    I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

    With communist greetings


  • You might be interested in this article I wrote in 2010, critiquing the concept of a ‘real Labour government’.

    I still stand by it. There has been no damascene conversion in my politics on Labour, as some comrades are suggesting:


  • Hiya Ben,
    Firstly I don’t think that by crossing the line one automatically ceases to be a Communist or an internationalist or an anti-imperialist, please don’t get that impression. Communists have been arguing over wether its a worthwhile tactic to work with the labour party or not since its formation and it’s debate I doubt will be resolved anytime soon and its good that we’re having it.
    Second I didn’t say affiliating would imply an undifferentiated vote for labour. I meant that for example if I told me mate Matt that CS had affiliated to the Labour Representation Committee then he could get the impression that we saw the labour party as a force for good, which I really really don’t.
    I disagree with the CBGB’s assertion that:
    “18. The Labour Party can be made into a real party of labour. By that we communists mean establishing the Labour Party as a united front for all pro-working class partisans and organisations. Undemocratic bans and proscriptions should be rescinded and all communist, revolutionary socialist and left groups encouraged to affiliate.”
    I think the labour party was fucked from the moment of conception and has always been an obstacle to the overthrow of capitalism and it’s existence is not in the interests of the working class. I think we should be decrying it at any available opportunity not seeking to turn it into a united front.
    Thirdly that’s a toughie. Obviously winning more support for HOPI is always a good thing and anything that can be done to save the lives of Comrades being persecuted in Iran should be pursued. However saving the lives of Comrades in Iran is not what this affiliation is about, I though the point was to to campaign at the conference for:
    1. All trade unions to affiliate to the Labour Party.

    2. The Labour Party’s undemocratic bans and proscriptions to be ended and all communist, revolutionary socialist and left groups encouraged to affiliate to the Labour Party.

    3. All trade unions to be encouraged to affiliate to the Labour Party and all trade union members should be encouraged to pay the political levy.

    4. All trade unionists to be encouraged to join the LP as individual members.

    I disagree that CS should be trying to achieve these goals.
    On a personal level I do think trade unions should disaffiliate from the labour party. I’m not as well read as most folks in CS and at an early stage in me political education but I feel the trade unions don’t need friends in parliament to exercise their power.
    I’m also as yet undecided on the party question wavering between it and a syndicalist approach. I know it says its one of the things that we fight for as a group but I’m not wholly comfortable with the idea of Communists standing for election as it gives an air of legitimacy to Bourgeois democracy.

  • Comrade Stevens,

    Thanks for this.

    1. On line-crossing. Thanks for the clarification. I agree this is a big debate historically and one needed now. But you still have to tell me, just what line are we crossing? What principles are we dropping etc? I see none, just another way of bringing our politics into the movement against cuts – ie a section of the trade unions, Labour left and the non-Labour left (it looks as if the Coalition of Resistance will be in attendance, for example). By affiliating to Stop the War, we did not suddenly become popular frontist ‘peace’ activists did we? Similar things apply here.

    2. You said that [LRC affiliation] “would imply that it is OK to vote labour, a party which has for it’s entire history consistently put the need for continued existence of capitalism before the needs or desires of the working class.” I am saying it does not necessarily do this: (a) because the LRC is an affiliate, membership organisation open to those in and out of the Labour Party (a similar point is made by Chris Ford of the Commune) and that (b) the question of who to vote for in elections is one of tactics, not an ageless principle set in stone handed down over the ages.

    3. The Hopi question is not a toughie. It is a no-brainer. If we can affiliate and win support for good causes then that is surely uncontroversial? You are right though, this is not immediately at issue (although being an affiliate to the LRC should faciliate even more common work). The issue is on bans and proscriptions. So again:

    -Do you not think there will be a battle in the LP and the unions over the cuts and opposing them? If yes, then surely communists want to be able to put forward their ideas freely and join that struggle? This links to the ‘real party of Labour’ point which comrades seem to be fetishising – is it not in the interests of a Communist Party seeking mass roots to have a site for struggle, a protracted fight against the pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist right wing? How else is a Communist Party (or say, syndicalist federation) going to win millions to its banner and win revolution?
    -If you want the unions to disaffiliate from Labour, then where should they go? Some hitherto history of trade unions going elsewhere is the left-wing UKIP (No2EU) project and the ‘Make your vote count’ campaign in the PCS, which saw trade unionists voting for the SNP etc. What is the point in that?
    – I think you are radically wrong on the question of parliament: would it not be beneficial to have working class MPs make speeches in support of striking workers, to counter the lies of the bosses, to heckle the slanders made by the bourgeois politicians in front of the TV cameras etc? To ask the question – I think – is to answer it.



    PS: I would like to point out to you (and other comrades) this speech by Trotsky against Gorter, which is a classic defence of communist activity and intervention against standing aside from struggle in parliament, the existing trade unions/mass organisations of the working class. This is a particularly pertinent passage:


    “The hearts of workers – according to Comrade Gorter – are far too filled with a slavish worship of parliamentarianism. This is true. But one ought to add that in the hearts of certain ideologists this slavish worship is supplemented by a mystical fear of parliamentarianism. Comrade Gorter thinks that if he keeps a kilometer away from the buildings of parliament that thereby the workers’ slavish worship of parliamentarianism will be weakened or destroyed. Such a tactic rests on idealistic superstitions and not upon realities. The Communist point of view approaches parliamentarianism in its connection with all other political relations, without turning parliamentarianism into a fetish either in a positive or negative sense. The parliament is the instrumentality whereby the masses are politically deceived and benumbed, whereby prejudices are spread and illusions of political democracy maintained, and so on and so forth. No one disputes all this. But does the parliament stand secluded by itself in this respect? Isn’t petty-bourgeois poison being spread by the columns of the daily newspapers, and, first and foremost, by the Social-Democratic dailies? And oughtn’t we perhaps on this account refrain from utilizing the press as an instrument of extending Communist influence among the masses? Or does the mere fact that Comrade Gorter’s group turns its back upon the parliament suffice to discredit parliamentarianism? Were this the case it would signify that the idea of the Communist revolution, as represented by Comrade Gorter’s group, is cherished by the masses above everything else. But in that case the proletariat would naturally disperse the parliament without much ado and take power into its own hands. But such is not the case. Comrade Gorter himself, far from denying, on the contrary grotesquely exaggerates the masses’ respect and slavish worship of parliamentarianism. Yet what conclusion does he draw? That it is necessary to preserve the “purity” of his own group, i.e., sect. In the final analysis Comrade Gorter’s arguments against parliamentarianism can be leveled against all forms and methods of the proletarian class struggle, inasmuch as all of these forms and methods have been deeply infected with opportunism, reformism and nationalism. Warring against the utilization of trade unions and parliamentarianism, Comrade Gorter ignores the difference between the Third International and the Second International, the difference between Communism and Social Democracy; and, what is most important, he fails to grasp the difference between two specific historic epochs and two specific world situations.”

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