The timely death of the British Labour Party

Below is an article submitted to Redline by Alec Abbott 

At its inception, the British Labour Party was a vehicle for the propagation of racist and imperialist views within the working-class. Such views are still widespread in the party, as they are in Europe’s Social-Democratic parties, though, in the case of the latter, these views are often presented in deceptive ways. European Social-Democrats speak as if they welcome the free movement of peoples, whereas in reality they favour the formation of an all-European border within which the EU citizenry can move freely, in much the same way as the British can move freely between, say, England and Scotland, or the Americans between California and Texas. This is not internationalism, but pseudo-internationalism. Genuine internationalists are opposed to immigration controls, whether applied within territories or between them.

The two factions of the British labour aristocracy – the nationalists and pseudo-internationalists – are now absolutely irreconcilable, despite what the Corbynite opportunists might say or do. Just as the British ruling class is hopelessly divided over the question of whether to form a bloc with the US or remain in the EU, so too is the British labour aristocracy, nurtured by that self-same ruling class, similarly devoid of any sense of unity. Those who are bribed from the crumbs of super-profits will inevitably lose their bearings whenever their masters turn on one another.

While it is impossible to predict with certainty what shape Britain’s political landscape will take in the wake of the split in the ruling class over Europe, this much is clear: The corresponding split in the labour aristocracy will lead to the complete disintegration of the Labour Party as we know it.

10 comments

  1. I think the comrade might be somewhat optimistic that the “complete disintegration” of the British Labour Party is on the cards. I wish it were, but I think the LP is too useful to the ruling class for it to be left to go to the wall. The ruling class prefers to have two large parties to alternately govern – a Tory party and a loyalist party that pretends to be an ‘opposition’. I tend to think that Labour will be around right up to the revolution.

    Phil F

  2. I think your right Phil. It’s sad to admit, but the odds are they will just keep stumbling along from one event to the next like some kind of patchwork Frankenstein’s-monster. Just when you think it’s going to finally get put out of its misery, some new wig will be plonked on its head, a jolt of electricity and viola it will gain a new lease of life for another few years.

    On the face of it, there should be ample evidence and experience to show that the Labour Party never was and never can be a vehicle for abolishing capitalism. We should definitely continue to devote time to point that out, but perhaps the bulk of our efforts should go into developing such a strong alternative, that when the collapse of Social Democracy (if that is still even a valid term?) happens, the anti-capitalist Left will become the pole to which people are attracted. Otherwise, you will get two possible responses 1) the regeneration of the left talking face of capitalism in some other guise or 2) the extreme (currently extra-parliamentary) Right will take advantage of the collapse.

    One thing that clearly doesn’t work is the tired Trot tactic of ‘Vote Labour With No Illusions’. Somehow voting in another Labour government will expose them as class traitors (which we’ve never seen before, right?!) and usher in a swing towards a small, obscure, boring, authoritarian, self-chosen vanguard of political necrophiliacs. Yes, that’s definitely going to happen! Or the associated Entrist tactic that involves trying to bury yourself inside the host organism for 30 years in the hope that the national AGM will one day pass a resolution nationalising a handful of industries and then you jump into taxis to deliver redundancy notices for council workers. Can’t help thinking its an implicit acknowledgment that their brand of politics itself is redundant.

    The only way out I can see is to keep criticizing the Labour monstrosity while simultaneously building a vibrant alternative. Hard work but ultimately the only chance anyone has of getting out of this fucking mess and achieving something better IMHO.

    P.S. Will re-post this article to our site.

  3. Completely agree with you about the utility of the Labour Party for propping up the system. Its a bit like a patched up Frankenstein’s monster. Just when you think its starting to fall apart, they pop on a new wig and give it a fresh jolt of electricity and voila, it lumbers on a few more years.

    One thing I think has proven bankrupt as a tactic is the classic Trot one of ‘Vote Labour With No Illusions’ . As if voting in a Labour Government will somehow reveal their class betrayal (like we have no evidence of that thusfar?!) and the masses will flock to a small, obscure, self-declared vanguard of political necrophiliacs. Or alternatively the Entrist approach of burying themselves in the host body for 30 years in the hope of eventually being able to pass a resolution nationalising a few industries (not that nationalisation has ever been a problem for capitalists and there are few industries left anyway) or being able to elect a few local councilors who end up jumping into taxis and delivering redundancy notices. Can’t help thinking its a tactic that implicitly acknowledges a lack of confidence in their own supposed beliefs. The LP can’t be used or engaged with if you seriously want to end the system it is designed to maintain.

    Though it’s essential to continue attacking the LP theoretically, I wonder if as much or more effort should go into building a viable and attractive Left anti-capitalist movement as a pole of attraction when the system goes belly up. Failure to do so is likely to mean that while some will accept the critical analysis of the LP, the ultimate beneficiaries will likely be either the (currently extra-parliamentary) extreme Right or a new revisionist Social Democracy (if that term could still apply). Bloody hard job, but the only real way out of the mess we are in I reckon.

    P.S. Have re=posted the article to our site

    • I think I agree with everything you said there Barrie.

      The problem is that trying to build an anti-capitalist anti-Labour Party political vehicle hasn’t really worked either. That’s what we tried to do with the ACA/Workers Party. But it turned out that the soil wasn’t fertile and what we tended to recruit was the dregs of the current generation rather than the best and the brightest. We tried to build within the working class initially. Plus we oriented predominantly to the blue-collar working class. We made some gains but even where workers showed some interest, eg three dozen workers at a factory in south Auckland joined the ACA (and they initiated the joining) we couldn’t get them beyond a very limited degree of activity, even in a union sense.

      There is no sign that there is any militant or vanguard layer of politically-motivated workers at present. That may change and we have to be sensitive to the possibilities. But there’s no sign of such change being on the cards.

      We decided when we left WP in early 2011 to work on creating a loose group that did revolutionary propaganda work. (In fact, we’re not even a formal group; we don’t have meetings etc; although we have had online studies.)

      We have a global layer of readers and quite a layer of readers in NZ. In terms of unions, we have had a particular readership by firefighters and we have a smattering of readers in other unions and workplaces. But the working class has become so atomised – it exists more as a couple of million individuals than as a class which is conscious of its own existence.

      If you have ideas about how to deal with that and make some progress, we’d sure be interested in discussing them and up for helping host those kinds of discussions. There certainly does seem at present to be a huge anomaly – capitalism is materially exhausted, yet the opposition to it is weaker than ever in NZ. The left is largely a train wreck – and widespread left capitulation to postmodern gender theory is a striking manifestation of this.

      Phil F

  4. “But the working class has become so atomised – it exists more as a couple of million individuals than as a class which is conscious of its own existence.”

    This is something that i think has sometimes gone unrecognised as perhaps the ultimate achievement of the
    capitalism in its neo-liberal guise of the past 30 years. While the material and structural changes to the economy in terms of privatisation is always commented on, the (lets hope temporary) superstructural victory of people now viewing themselves as atomised individuals, gets overlooked. I talk a lot to my 16-year-old nephew and the majority of his peer group think this dog-eat-dog approach is as natural as breathing air, rather than a social poison that has been consciously introduced by our masters.

    Yes, the Left needs to reverse out of the blind alley or trap the Right has set of argumentation in terms of the ‘Culture Wars’ and all the nonsense that has entailed, such as post-modernism and identity politics. Apart from the doggedly reactionary elements on the Right, who don’t really hold much sway other than the occasional rhetorical outburst that may get media attention, the mainstream capitalists are perfectly willing to accommodate themselves to identity-based issues on things such as sexuality. The reason being that such issues don’t ultimately touch upon the crucial subject of who owns and controls the means of production. Any movement that gained serious traction when posing that question would soon see the very real limits of toleration the bosses possess!

    Your points about the difficulty in overcoming the current lack of consciousness are well taken. I guess the best the anti-capitalist Left can do is to keep pounding away on the theoretical front while building at least some rudimentary organizations that will keep the spark alive and hopefully gain momentum over time due to eventual recognition that the current approaches (e.g. parliamentarism, entrism, post-modernism) are misguided at best and downright harmful to our cause at worst.

  5. I find Phil and Barrie’s comments on my article highly abstract, as applicable to Britain 50 years ago as to any other imperialist country today. Neither comrade seems willing to come to terms with the fact that British imperialism has undergone a most profound and far-reaching change in its character – from colonial imperialism to usury imperialism. My article ‘The timely death of the British Labour Party’, though tantalizingly brief, was based on years of study and research into this transformation. The signs have been there for a long time. In 1974 the AAM commissioned Dorcas Good and me (then writing under the name of Michael Williams) to write a pamphlet on the economic crisis in Britain and its likely impact on the Apartheid economy. Luckily, I was able to gain an interview with a member of the Bank of England who was a staunch opponent of the Apartheid regime. He provided me with a vast amount of material showing that Britain’s overseas investments were increasing massively, on a scale never seen before. I reviewed this material with David Yaffe and we quickly realised that something important was happening to the British economy. Dorcas and I finished our draft the following year but was told by the AAM executive that it was too ‘Marxist’ for them to publish. In it we said that Britain was ‘fast becoming a usury state’ and that the British capitalists had no choice but to export their surplus capital to the neo-colonies, including SA, in order to counter the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. Fortunately, Ruth First intervened on our behalf and after a year of acrimonious haggling, the AAM finally yielded. (‘South Africa: The crisis in Britain and the Apartheid Economy’, by Dorcas Good and Michael Williams, AAM, 1976)

    David, in the meantime, was studying this issue with his customary zeal and thoroughness. His ‘Imperialism, National Oppression and the New Petit Bourgeoisie’ demonstrated clearly that Britain had entered a distinctly usurious phase of development. (Revolutionary Communist No 9, 1979)

    Over the next few year, the RCG took this analysis further, showing that Britain’s burgeoning financial sector together with its relatively declining industrial base made it necessary for the British ruling class to choose between the EU and the US. In 1999 Trevor Rayne devoted an entire article to this theme (FRFI No 147), as did Jim Craven in 2005 (FRFI No 185). Jim was adamant. While Britain wished to ‘keep a foot in both the European and US camps’, it could not do so for much longer, not while the European and American imperialists came into ‘greater and greater conflict’ with each other. The real issue behind the Europe debate was ‘the role of British imperialism and whether it has any future as an independent power.’ In the not too distant future, he concluded, when the British ruling class makes its final choice, ‘British imperialism will lose any independent status it presently retains.’ Then, in 2006, the RCG published David Yaffe’s ‘Britain: Parasitic and decaying capitalism’, perhaps one of the most underrated articles by a British Marxist of that period. (FRFI No 194, Dec 2006/Jan 2007) In it he proved conclusively that Britain had gone so far down the path of usurious imperialism that it had no choice but to cleave to the EU or the US. My argument about the imminent demise of the British Labour Party as we know it was a logical extension of David’s article. (It is well to remember that I was speaking in relative and not absolute terms, hence my use of the expression ‘as we know it’.)

    Phil and Barrie imagine that the Labour Party, detestable as it is, will somehow bounce back, renewed and refreshed, ready to act as British imperialism’s loyal servant. They ignore the social, economic, political and constitutional crises through which British imperialism is passing. With the exception of the Labour Party, Britain’s parliamentary parties are now either Brexit parties or Remain parties. And just as the Conservative Party had to shed its Remain component (if only in part) to project a Brexit image, so the Labour Party will have to undergo its own convulsions before it can resume its post as a defender of British imperialist interests. This is an excellent time for the left to strike a blow. Rather than remain indifferent to the Labour leadership contest now underway, or, worse still, campaign for one of the contenders, the left should explain that the exercise itself is futile. The two factions of the British labour aristocracy – the Brexit nationalists and the Remain pseudo-internationalists – are utterly incapable of forging unity around their traditional opportunist goals. What is needed is a genuinely independent workers’ political party and not some farcical pursuit of unity.

    What is at issue here is not whether the Labour Party will ‘bounce back’, but whether the British usury imperialists will be able to pursue a relatively independent course. I say they will not.

  6. Thanks for your comments Alec. I recall years ago reading your work in RC. I admire a lot of David Yaffe’s work over the years too. I have the first 8 issues of RC, plus earlier stuff of his in ‘Science and Society’, ‘New Left Review’ and the ‘Bulletin of the Conference of Socialist Economists’. His work was very influential in my political education in the field of Marxist crisis theory, in particular.

    On the British Labour Party, let me repeat that I wish you were right. I’m just not convinced that Labour is finished. People have been predicting the demise of LPs for a very long time. While I agree with much of what you say in your comments above, I still think that Labour parties continue to have useful functions to capital – functions too useful for ruling classes to let them just die.

    LPs can be quite flexible too, because they are no longer social-democratic in any meaningful sense. Social-democracy is pretty much dead. These parties are liberal-bourgeois parties, and have been for decades.

    In New Zealand, the LP engenders little enthusiasm among workers, gets less workers’ votes now than National and is dominated by the urban liberal middle class – as are the Tories here, actually.

    The working class have been disenfranchised in countries like New Zealand, Australia, Britain, the USA, Canada. . .

    I think whether the Brit imperialists will be able to pursue a viable independent course and whether Labour will survive and bounce back are two separate issues. With all that surplus-value sloshing around thanks to their imperialist exploitation around the globe, I think the British bourgeoisie will be able to continue to keep a couple of political parties alive.

    There’s nothing abstract about the fact that ruling classes in the imperialist world need – and can sustain – several political parties.

    But I’d be really interested in seeing more stuff from you about the changes in British imperialism and also the relationship between the possibility of a genuine independent workers’ movement and the wealth of British imperialism. How long will British imperialism be able to continue to buy off a labour aristocracy and what conditions will need to come about to mortally damage that labour aristocracy and create a new working class that can establish a new labour movement?

    • Thanks for your latest comment, Phil.

      You rightly state: ‘The ruling class prefers to have two large parties to alternately govern – a Tory party and a loyalist party that pretends to be an “opposition”.’ But the ruling class in this instance is one which has still to resolve the issue of where its destiny lies. As the RCG has shown over the years, the British ruling class has to choose between drawing closer to the EU or forming an anti-EU bloc with the US. Although parliament has voted for Britain to leave the EU on the 31st of this month, the battle between the two factions of the British ruling class has barely begun. Under these circumstances, it is inconceivable that the British Labour Party, devoted as it is to the maintenance of British imperialist interests, can remain unaffected by the choice which the British ruling class has to make about its future.

      What is at issue here is not the formation of a Triple Entente or a Triple Alliance type of arrangement, but the re-orientation of British imperialism itself. When Britain underwent the transition from colonial imperialism to usury imperialism, the country’s base of operations remained unchanged. Today, however, the very existence of that base is in question. Once the British ruling makes its choice, the source of the country’s global plunder, as well as the methods of generating it, will undergo a change too. This cannot but have the most profound impact on the Labour Party.

      The Labour Party is the only parliamentary party which refuses to identify itself as either a Brexit party or a Remain party. This is hardly surprising. As a parasitic stratum of the working class, the labour aristocracy is decidedly nervous about the squabbling that is taking place among its masters. It wants its ‘own’ ruling class to continue to plunder the Third World in the old ways, when in fact this is no longer possible. Corbyn deluded himself that he could turn the election into an anti-austerity election (i.e., an election for improving the labour aristocracy’s economic standing) but failed miserably.

      The left needs to explain why British usury imperialism is now unsustainable, and why, in consequence, the Labour Party is incapable of uniting its members around purely economic reforms. The party’s wilful ineptitude in addressing this issue beggars belief.

      The Labour Party is doomed to reconstitute itself either as an openly nationalist British Labour Party or as a pseudo-internationalist European Labour Party. Either way, the Labour Party as we know it will cease to exist.

  7. Cheers Alec. I found your comments here very interesting (and important). They actually flesh out your article quite a bit, and I think it might be worthwhile, if you are interested, in writing up the stuff you have added in the comments section, as a follow-up article to your initial article. More people would read them in an article than tend to read comments sections (unfortunately).

    In NZ, much of the left hasn’t got a clue that there even is a labour aristocracy. Some of them think it is a joke to talk about the NZ ruling class being able to buy class peace because they have the profits of imperialism to draw from. They are actually amused that people like us think such things important! We have the most philistine left in the world here. They’re way too busy congratulating each other on being “awesome” for every tiny thing they do to ever bother spending time on deep analysis of NZ capitalism – ie NZ imperialism – and its impact on the working class and the passivity which prevails here.

    Phil F

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