After the debacle of the Walton by-election the minority of the
Militant leadership attempted to draw a more sober balance sheet of
what had been achieved.
1. If we are to develop the organisation and prepare the ground for the future, we have a duty to seriously weigh up all our actions in the light of experience and learn the lessons of our mistakes. Those who fail to recognise their errors or admit mistakes, stated Trotsky many times, will never be able to construct a viable, healthy organisation.
2. To characterise the Walton result as some type of Victory is to completely misread the situation and miseducate the ranks of the organisation. Our first responsibility is to tell the ranks what is, and not what we would like it to be. To dress up a setback in this fashion is the worst kind of deception for a Marxist organisation.
3. In making these criticisms, we do not for a moment take away the sterling efforts and sacrifice of the comrades involved in the election campaign who sought against all the odds to secure an electoral victory.
4. The problem lies squarely with the false policy of standing independently.
5. The policy was rushed through the C.C. after it was given a completely exaggerated, and therefore erroneous, view of the position in Walton. The majority of comrades, unfortunately, allowed themselves to be influenced mainly by subjective considerations, i.e. their hatred of Kilfoyle. It is true that Kilfoyle is a gangster, but this is the case with most of the right wing candidates nationally.
6. The argument, used by the majority to justify their position, that we must orient our work for the next period ‘independently’ is nothing new. We have to a great extent, both nationally and internationally, been forced to do so by the collapse of Left reformism, the boom, the swing to the right by social democracy and the virtual collapse in many countries of Stalinist parties. But our orientation towards the mass organisations was crucial. To put up a candidate in Walton was to break with the method, perspectives and theory formulated over forty years. As is the suggestion now that, despite the defeat in Walton. candidates may be put up in Scotland and elsewhere.
8. Our greatest gain over a period of decades was that we became a crucial and component part of the left. Despite the collapse of the left in both the trade unions and the Labour Party. We would have been strategically placed to become an important and even dominant part of the left.
7. A great part of the political capital of the tendency in Britain and internationally was the fact that we were conceived as a component part of the labour and trade union movement. We were entirely different to the sects, who try and create phantom ‘mass’ revolutionary parties outside of the time, experience and consciousness of the masses.
8. Apart from a few countries the classical conditions for entrism have not existed for forty years. This was certainly the case in Britain. All our trade union and political work has to be determined by our orientation towards the Labour Party.
9. The classical conditions for entrism will undoubtedly arise during the next epoch – two, three, five or even ten years – as the crisis of world capitalism, and especially British capitalism, unfolds.
10. These conditions are:
1) A revolutionary or semi-revolutionary crisis.
2) The leadership of social democracy loses complete control of the Party.
3) The masses move to left reformist or even centrist conclusions – there is a social ferment within the party. The left membership becomes open to revolutionary and Marxist ideas.
4) The subjective factor is present to take advantage of the situation.
11. But by putting up a candidate or candidates this work is jeopardised. It can lead to a complete miseducation of the new layers, especially the youth, who may move towards us in the next few years. It is a complete miseducation of the cadres, who can draw dangerous conclusions. They can become ultra-left and adventuristic, this in its turn rapidly leading to passivity and substitutionalism.
12. There could be an argument for an independent revolutionary party, though incorrect. But to put forward the idea of an ‘alternative’ or ‘real’ Labour Party would necessarily be still-born. To be neither fish, nor flesh, nor fowl is to get the worst of all worlds. A few years ago we had a good laugh at the expense of the Lambertists (an alleged Trotskyist sect) in France who tried to create a substitute Socialist Party. Like the Lambertists, the attempt to create a ‘substitute’ Labour Party in Liverpool can only end in tears.
13. The perception of many workers in the trade unions – who regard the Labour Party as their party – would be that of regarding us as alien to their political aspirations. The propaganda in the Militant over the last four weeks would reinforce this impression.
14. Up to now workers have recognised that we are organised, but as a component part of the Labour Party. But now the setting up of an ‘organisation’ or Party in Scotland will break this view. The illusion that such an organisation or Party could gain affiliation to the Labour Party, like the Independent Labour Party (ILP) or the Co-op, is false and even dangerous.
15. The ILP and the Co-op, despite the former adopting a centrist policy for a time, had an affinity with the Labour bureaucracy. They were not afraid of the ILP, but regarded it as a possible left flank when the workers moved left, preventing them drawing revolutionary conclusions. They would be terrified of a revolutionary Marxist organisation or Party. The bureaucracy changed the constitution to prevent the affiliation of the CP in the immediate post-war period. There is no possibility of even the most leftward Labour Party accepting the affiliation of a Marxist party or organisation.
16. Now if before or after the general election Kinnock launches a mass purge nationally the results could be disastrous. Formerly if a mass purge was launched we would have retained the sympathy and support of wide layers in the Labour Party and trade unions. Now they would be indifferent. If you have an independent party or organisation go ahead and organise it. You can paddle your own canoe without being linked to the line of Labour.
17. The argument that when the conditions for entrism arise we can switch policies will not hold water. Youth and industrial workers, miseducated by an ‘independent’ orientation would not be prepared to change. We would have a crisis in the organisation of massive proportions. Moreover it would be very difficult to get back under these conditions. At the same time we would lose many if not most of the new movement.
19. At best this has been jeopardised by the ultra-left binge in Liverpool and now in Scotland. The full effects of the defeats in Liverpool and nationally will be shown in the next few years.
20. As predicted the ‘Broad Left’ did very little apart from our own comrades. Now it will fall apart The Broad Left in any event comprises around 400 people – 100 in Walton, 300 in the rest of Liverpool.
21. The mistake of the majority comrades was not to understand that the ‘left’ in the trade unions and Labour Party was running in advance of the broad mass of workers. Now the entire Liverpool Labour Party and trade unions have been handed over to the right wing for a number of years.
22. The Liverpool organisation will have to maintain two apparatuses – the ‘real’ Labour Party and Militant.
23. The Labour Party nationally has been reduced to a skeleton. But it is not Labour which will ‘wither on the vine’ but the artificial Labour Party which is being created in Liverpool.
24. The ‘left’, having stubbed their toes on the reactionary policies of the reformists on the councils, in the unions and the national bureaucracy in their ‘impatience’ can draw for a while ultra-left and ‘radical’ conclusions, only later to go back to reformist conclusions because the mass of workers ‘let them down.’
25. On the industrial front we have the example of Pilkingtons in the early 1970s, when the selling out of a strike by the national leadership of the GMBU under Lord Cooper led in desperation to the setting up of an ‘independent union’. This was supported by the SWP, WRP, CP and the Tribune lefts. We alone opposed it and pointed out the consequences. The majority of workers did not support it and the employers and union bureaucracy joined together to smash the union.
26. Unfortunately many of the Liverpool comrades, on the basis of their success in the council elections, thought they could repeat this on the parliamentary plane. Instead of most of the leading comrades of the tendency firmly opposing this they capitulated to this mood. This will have grievous consequences for the tendency in Liverpool and nationally.
27. That is the lesson of the attempts to create independent ‘left’ Labour Parties in the pre-war and post-war period. All such efforts were doomed to failure. This new adventure on the part of the Liverpool comrades will inevitably fail, and will have as a spin-off a bad effect on the Liverpool organisation which right up to the present has to be subsidised by the national tendency.
28. The new layers in the trade unions, even with a right wing Labour government will not orient toward us but towards the Labour Party in order to change it. Far from being a ‘detour’, it is a blind alley to which the comrades are being led.
29. The argument that there was no alternative to standing is false from beginning to end. The fact that 500 workers attending Eric Heffer’s funeral wanted a candidate to stand showed the lack of objectivity and sense of proportion of the Liverpool and national leadership. Liverpool has a population of 500,000 – Walton is a constituency of 70.000.
30. The idea that we had to stand, due to pressure from the working class, was proved to be false given the vote and the lack of participation by the Broad Left. In effect, the organisation substituted itself for the Broad Left.
31. At each stage, the majority comrades had to change their over-exaggerated views and expectations given the response from the workers of Walton. As the campaign progressed, reports varied from Victory’ to ‘neck and neck’, then ‘substantial vote’, down to 10,000 votes, 5,000 votes, then lastly to 3,000 votes. Of course this change was not alluded to in our public material and seemed to disorient our comrades and supporters.
32. Big concessions were made to the non-comrades in the Broad Left: not to sell papers openly, collect F.F., etc, no Militant leaflets on the official canvass. Recruitment was not seen as the priority despite the majority targets of doubling and trebling the membership on Merseyside. Everything was subordinated to maximising the vote. Even the programme that we stood on was not a revolutionary one. There was no explanation of the capitalist crisis and the need for a socialist planned economy, etc. The programme we offered the workers of Walton was in effect a left reformist one. Our ideas were sacrificed to preserve the ‘unity’ of the Broad Left – which refused to participate in the campaign in any case. It ‘appears now they are preparing to attack us for undermining the campaign!
33. The argument that if we had refused to stand the rest of the Broad Left would have nominated a candidate is specious. We had a majority of the Broad Lefts and could have exerted pressure against this. In reality we pushed the issue. On the other hand if a splinter ‘Broad Left’ had stood we could have disassociated ourselves from them. We could have supported the official Labour candidate while criticising Kilfoyle and the local and national bureaucracy of the Labour Party and putting forward a socialist and revolutionary policy.
34. There is nothing ‘new’ in this. We have maintained this position in contra-distinction to the sects for many years. A campaign of ‘education of our tendency in Liverpool could have prevented the fiasco of Walton. In the next period we could lose members and supporters in Liverpool as the futility of maintaining a dead ‘real’ Labour Party becomes obvious to all.
35. For the last decades we have been criticised by the sects for alleged ‘passivity’ and ‘adaption’ to the bureaucracy because we refused to break with the Labour Party. We laughed at this stupidity. Now for want of a better argument the majority have adopted the same spurious criticism of the minority. A continuation of the tried and tested policy of Marxism is hardly passivity.
36. We have been to the fore in advocating that the tendency takes initiatives and independent work, but always with the proviso that all the work is subject to our general orientation, perspectives, strategy and tactics.
37. The action has undoubtedly played into the hands of Kinnock, Kilfoyle and Rimmer, who were able to portray the result as a victory for them and a rejection of the organisation by the workers of Walton. It will now be used, as was predicted beforehand, as the excuse for a purge in Liverpool and elsewhere.
38. In order that we can avoid disastrous mistakes of this type in the future, it is necessary to recognise the reality of the situation and draw out all the lessons concerning the medium and long-term development of our work.
39. Above all we must strive to avoid the sickness of ultra-leftism and impatience. The Walton episode can only be seen in this light. That is why the proposed ‘Scottish turn’ – the launching of an independent organisation would be a grave mistake and result in the abandonment of 40 years of entrist work.