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A New Year Meeting of Party Activists was recently organised by the leadership of RCPB(ML) to discuss the Partys programme for 2005, which promises to be a decisive year for the polity in general and the Party in particular.
The orientation for how to advance the work is set in the course of solving the problems of organising and making the maximum impact, focusing particularly on the working class which has the mission to lead the transformation of society, constitute itself the nation and vest sovereignty in the people. Party activists have been discussing the question of discussion itself and how this is connected with actually organising, how grasping this issue of discussion and what it means underlies the organising work for the Workers Opposition, for the Partys programme for the election and all the other aspects of the Partys work, including the technical base, the importance of discussion in order that everyone participates in taking decisions so then they get implemented. On every front of work, the deliberations identified the importance of this kind of discussion, discussion that is working out guidelines to action, working out what plan is appropriate for the particular circumstances. The New Year meeting was therefore organised with the aim of beginning the year with this kind of discussion on what the Partys programme should be in 2005 within the framework of its line of march set by the 3rd and 4th Congresses, the various National Consultative Conferences and its whole work, bearing in mind that it seems reasonably certain that this is going to be an election year. As always the bourgeoisie tries to keep the initiative in its own hands, so that while it is an open secret that the election will be on May 5, it is not officially announced. It if suits them not to have it May 5, then there is no reason they cannot postpone it for another year. So while it seems that the bourgeoisie has started its election programme, particularly New Labour, the people are put at a disadvantage. How are they going to respond in this situation? So discussion on these issues and what precisely the Partys programme should be in 2005 is very important.
To facilitate discussion, three short presentations were given: on the theoretical underpinning for the Partys work in 2005, on the objective situation, the crisis in New Labour, what that is pointing towards, what it suggests as the programme for the future and the Partys work, and thirdly a presentation on what New Labour is saying at this time in preparation for the election, what kind of things it is putting forward and what their significance is.
These presentations began the discussion, not necessarily taking up every question, but to pose what the problem is that RCPB(ML) is trying to solve in its work in 2005. It was agreed at the conclusion of the meeting that further work and investigation be carried out and the Party activists meet again in a number of weeks to further the elaboration of the Partys programme.
In this issue of WDIE we are reproducing edited versions of the three prepared presentations.
Before deciding on any programme of action, or even discussion of a programme of action, it seems important to go back to what we were talking about when we met last year, that the starting point has to be not some general line or preconceived notion but identifying what is what what is actually going on in front of our eyes. So when considering the likely upcoming election, the whole agenda of the bourgeoisie, the stand and tactics of the Party in regard to the election or the Blair government generally, the first question is what is Tony Blair up to, what is Tony Blair and why is he there? What is going on?
Last year, in talking about what do we mean by discussion, we referred to an article by Hardial Bains in the first edition of Discussion Weekly published in May 1994, entitled "Introducing Discussion". Discussion is not a question of taking up some general line or some preconceived notion, but begins from real life, what is going on nationally and internationally. In the same edition he also wrote an article entitled "Democratic Renewal". In this he explains that throughout his political life he has repeatedly heard people say that on one hand they dont like what is going on, on the other hand they dont understand what is going on. In saying they dont like what is going on their drift is generally right, they are in tune with things, whereas in saying they dont understand what is going on they are generally wrong. He explains that the brain, as part of the real world, receives messages about and from that real world. If a person takes note of those messages, their own experience of the real world, they will be generally right, that they do not like what is going on. But when trying to comprehend this, basing themselves on what the bourgeois politicians, the bourgeois media, say, what is put forward as an explanation, they cannot make head or tail of what is going on. The reason, he says, is that they do not base their understanding on their own experience, the messages from the real world to their brains, but on an agenda set by someone else with different aims and interests. If however a person rather than basing their thinking on what the bourgeois media and politicians say, does take note of the messages to their own brains, then they can get together with other like minded persons; they can take note of the experience of like-minded persons from the past; they can study the agendas of other forces; they can make use of social science; scientific thinking, some can take up social science themselves. There is a possibility that they can begin to set their own agenda, which puts the working class in the lead, puts the people centre stage, rather than being marginalised, and able to control their own lives, making the decisions themselves which affect them.
This is the basis of discussion. Throughout our Partys history, and particularly over the past ten years, we have repeatedly called for widescale discussion and debate, particularly in the working class, but in the whole polity, on what we were putting forward. We did so when we published our general line, There is a Way Out of the Crisis, when we published our Draft Programme for the Working Class, when we put forward the slogan Stop Paying the Rich, Increase Investments in Social Programmes, when we published The Line of March for a New Society, when we called for the building of the Workers Opposition and so on. We have had some advances on that. In order to do that at this stage, which is so crucial, we have to be clear what it means to have discussion. What we meant by discussion was discussion based on the principles developed for The Internationalists discussion groups in the period 1963-67 and which our parties have followed ever since. It is important to remind ourselves what those principles were. What was discussed was real life. Discussion is not a gabfest; it is not based on some document or phrases, even those of Marx and others, but based on real life, on the problems facing the people involved in the discussion. Discussion means work, it means investigation of the problem which was being confronted. Slogans were put forward like No Investigation No Right To Speak, and Understanding Requires Conscious Participation, An Act of Finding Out. The starting point is to take a political stand based on analysis of the existing problem; ideology serves this and comes with this development, and cannot be used as a point of demarcation or to split the ranks. Above all, organisation has to be provided at the appropriate level, identifying those in whose interest it is take up and solve this problem, having some organisation. In other words, how does the problem pose itself and what to do about it?
When considering Tony Blair it is important to recognise, speaking theoretically, that his government, in fact any bourgeois government, have become instruments of the bourgeois state, and the crisis which they face is that of the bourgeois state, and the problems it has in taking public opinion with it. This is an important theoretical point. [ ] Looking at history, from todays viewpoint, we see that when the current epoch began with the October Revolution bringing into being the possibility of a new world, the British bourgeoisie, along with the others, pinned its hopes on fascism to destroy that new world and its effects. But it did not work for them! The contradictions between them dragged them into an inter-imperialist world war which when the Nazis finally turned on the Soviet Union became an antifascist war. The anti-fascist alliance triumphed and the times cried out to go further in eliminating fascism for good and creating a world of peace, democracy and well-being for the people. But instead the anti-fascist alliance was transformed into a crusade against communism and the bourgeois governments like the British imposed the welfare state, in part to deflect the workers from socialism. This did not work either! By the 1970s welfare state capitalism was in deep crisis and again the times cried out to go further. Instead the clock was turned back to Thatcherism, to neo-liberal globalisation. Needless to say, this did not work. The crisis deepened. Huge opposition developed that threatened the bourgeois system. Again the times cried out to go forward. Again the bourgeoisie went backwards, staging the coup which brought in Tony Blair to carry further Thatcherite reaction which the Tories could no longer deliver, under the banners of "social justice" and linked to "Labour". While such illusions had some effect in 1997, little illusion is now left that Blairs is a government of warmongers, international criminals, promoting 19th century colonial values, racism and chauvinism, criminalising whole communities, selling off and handing over the public assets for private profit, turning the clock back to medievalism and putting in place all the structures of the corporate fascist state.
The present Blair agenda, the actions of the Anglo-American imperialists, confirms what Comrade Bains and our parties said ten years ago, that in this period of disequilibrium, with everything up for grabs, the forces of retrogression were set on destroying every progressive development of humankind since time immemorial, especially since the time of the Renaissance, and creating a world of bestiality like that of the Nazis. Time has also confirmed what was said that millions would come forward to affirm their humanity, and that people had no choice but to bring into being the opposite, to bring to fruition all the progressive developments of humankind.
There has grown a whole movement for an alternative world. This movement cries out for coherence to be provided and for the millions of people to be developed as an organised force. Its agenda is still that demanded in 1945 but unrealised: peace, democracy and the well-being of the people.
Here in Britain, the Iraq war saw this movement grow in unprecedented diversity and size. In that intense atmosphere we saw developments such as the Peoples Assembly, when literally thousands of delegates gathered representing their peer groups. However, though it was a positive and interesting development, it was organised in the old way: the agenda set beforehand by a closed group, big name speakers, and a block to mass participation in the decision-making, to report back meetings, etc. The initiative fizzled out, but was an instructive experience. Other developments have occurred, offering something positive, with millions of people aspiring for the way forward, but as yet not able to make a clean break with operating in the old way.
So in considering our stand and tactics for the coming election, the question poses itself how to manoeuvre in these circumstances, what role do various forces play and how should we unite and work with them, and introduce the new way of doing things, with people involved and conscious participation and so on. We are not without experience and standing. We fight for peoples empowerment and mass participation within the struggle for democratic renewal, in the anti-war movement, in the struggle to safeguard the future of the health service, among the organised workers, within academic and cultural circles and the youth and students, among women, in the struggle for national rights, in the struggle to defend the rights of all and in national minority communities, and we fight for the unity of the communists and to unite the working class and people around a fighting political programme. We do not start from nothing. We have our general line, our draft programme, our Congress decisions and so on. These have to be taken into account.
But in discussing and deciding on our Calls and our tactics for the election and beyond over this coming year, bearing in mind these considerations, we have to start from real life, by identifying what is what, what is going on in front of our eyes, from the real problems confronting the polity. These are some considerations in discussing the programme.
Tony Blair was brought to power as the champion of the bourgeoisie on the basis of all the illusions that here was New Labour and it was going to bring about a New Britain. That was the overall grand illusion that was put forward. Here was the opposition to the neo-liberal agenda of Thatcherism, Reaganomics, that whole period, and people were demanding change. The bourgeoisie organised what we called an electoral coup against the people, particularly against the working class. If you remember it was carried out on May 1, 1997, which was no coincidence. It was at that time that the Party put forward its fighting programme for the class, Stop Paying the Rich, Increase Investments in Social Programmes! This is the fighting programme which the class needs to take up what the bourgeoisie is organising against the working class and people.
Labour put itself forward as representing everyone except the aristocracy, as representing the "whole nation". To make this ideologically possible for itself, it cut out any vestige of socialism from its programme, it did away with Clause IV which itself had been put in after the October Revolution, "the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange", as a diversion or response when the issue was to defend Russia from intervention at that time, to defend the first workers state.
What the bourgeoisie was organising as part of the response to the dissatisfaction with Thatcher, was to bring in Thatcherism, the neo-liberal agenda, in a new form. Labour said it was the centre ground, represented everyone apart from the aristocracy, and the Conservatives were the ones that were opposed to socialism, "democratic socialism". The Third Way programme was the programme suitable for the imperialist, capitalist crisis of neo-liberal globalisation. The illusions of the electorate were to some extent shattered during that first Labour period. But Labour during that period kept talking about the problems remaining from the period of Thatcherism, it had to make sure it was the party of "economic competence". The illusions were shored up by such arguments as that at least Labour was better than the Conservatives, that it was the lesser of two evils, that it represents a mass workers party and backed up by this, the bourgeoisie was able to elect New Labour for the second term.
It very quickly became evident that far from being a party of economic competence, moving on to "social justice", that this social justice meant an intensification of the anti-social offensive.
Then with 9/11, the day Tony Blair was due to address the TUC Congress, when there were people in the conference with their t-shirts against privatisation, which was going to be the big battle of the day, Tony Blair came and said that from now on the main enemy in the world is going to be "mass terrorism", that everything is subordinate to eradicating this evil. Therefore, far from addressing any problems that people experience, that they face, this was now the agenda, the "war on terror" was now the context for everything that was going to happen in the world, that this is the main problem in the world and everyone should unite behind the agenda of the "war on terror". This is why Blair has been such an ally of Bush, that this "war on terror" is the whole agenda of exporting Anglo-American democracy, because these "terrorists" are the "uncivilised" forces in the world, redefining Islam so that it is "tolerated" by the "host" community, and so on. This whole chauvinism has been the agenda for the second term of the Labour government.
Clearly the opposition of the people has grown. When we held the 4th Congress, which was practically on the day of the invasion of Iraq, we said that this puts us now in a war context. This was what the Third Way programme was revealing itself to be, this programme of aggression and war abroad under the signboard of "civilised values", and at home it is what increasingly becoming a fascist state, this growing fascism, this draconian legislation, this whole period that we are of a "state of national emergency", which itself is giving rise to crisis because of the fact that the judiciary is savaging this declaration, that it is "disproportionate" and "discriminatory". There is the whole arsenal of what one can call draconian legislation, which in this war period which has been launched by the Anglo-Americans, it is this fascist conception of rule by exception. The power represented by the royal prerogative is concentrated in the hands of Blair, but it is impossible to call him to account, this whole power is concentrated there. The fact that two million people demonstrated on February 15, 2003, and that the government went to war anyway shows is that there is this implacable contradiction between the peoples will and the agenda of the bourgeoisie, as represented by the government in this period that it is carrying out. It is not that that force is inconsiderable or has not justice on its side, but that the government can simply say that despite this, we have our programme. And this is exemplified by Blairs "conviction", that this is his belief, that despite whatever the real world says, whatever the facts show he says he has to admit that no weapons of mass destruction have been found nevertheless, his conviction is that this was the correct course of action. This is a Hitlerite conception, that the leaders will is the will that goes, this is the fuehrer.
The objective situation is that the system is in crisis. There is a massive crisis of legitimacy, there is an economic crisis. One can look at what Gordon Brown has been saying about the economic programme for the next term. He argues on the need to adjust the British economy, because it cannot compete with manufacture in Asia, that Britain has to compete with in the global market under the umbrella of the "knowledge-based economy", of British high skill and high-tech, further selling off public assets, recognising the growth of China and India as economic powers to make trade deals with them. He makes the prediction that by 2015 Asia will account for 25% of the worlds manufacturing. On foreign policy, the orientation was set by Tony Blairs Mansion House speech, which we summed up as one of how to "Make Britain Great Again", in the context of the "clash of civilisations", in which he put forward the issue of how to "make Britain great again", which means how to return to its colonialist past, the "white mans burden", how to in present-day circumstances to get the map painted imperialist red again. But it is with building alliances with the US and Europe. Whereas in the past the conception had been of Britain as a "bridge" between US and Europe, this is still there, Britain as the agent of the US, but it is very much Britain manoeuvring its way in the world, this vain dream of the greatness in the imperialist sense. In the sense of the "clash of civilisations", these are the values under which this imperialist adventure is being carried out, the values which were formulated in the Paris Charter this is how it is presented multi-party democracy, human rights based on private property and the free-market economy. So this has to be imposed everywhere. And Blair is imposing it by force.
At home, there is this whole raft of draconian legislation. The very day that parliament broke up and all the concentration was on the uproar over the Fox Hunting Bill, they brought in the Civil Contingencies Act, which allows the force of the state to act with impunity, declare local emergencies, sequester property and so on.
This is what the bourgeoisie is setting out its programme to be for Blairs third term. Part of the preparation is sheer demagogy and rhetoric. Part of it is making deals with the big trade union leaders so that they deliver the workers votes to Labour. The war on Iraq is seen is something "out there", that although you might not agree with it, at least we have got these 56 concessions from the Warwick Policy Forum and therefore we can put pressure on the Labour government to carry out a "radical third term". It is shot through with the chauvinism, or at best these Old Labour values, which at best represented the organised workers, organised in defence of their interests in the trade unions. [ ]
That is the objective situation. Then what faces the Party now is how to manoeuvre in that situation. The Party has its fighting programme for the working class and people, it has a very strong analysis about what is the objective situation and what it is pointing towards, we have our declaration "For a Socialist Britain". But the whole issue is to put content into that. The working class is the force which has to be organised to spearhead changing the situation.
[ ] The election will be an arena of class struggle, and our orientation is to develop the Workers Opposition, to organise the peoples forces to take action to put a block on the tsunami wave of reaction.
New Labours main themes to the next General Election appear to be outlined in recent speeches by both Blair and Milburn, as well as the latters recent press briefing. The way elections are run, things are kept away from the people, but it is possible to draw conclusions from these speeches. In that Milburn, the election supremo, speaks of a "watershed election" that will represent the "last stand of the Thatcherites". According to Milburn, the election campaign will be based "on the strength of the British economy" and its focus will be "less national more local," with more face-to-face meetings between ministers and the electorate. The Opposition have claimed that the PM is "terrified of facing proper scrutiny" and is dodging the press etc but Milburn responded by saying that Blair remained Labours "central election asset". There is as yet little evidence that foreign policy issues loom large in the governments electoral plans, although it is difficult to imagine how this cannot be the case, when so much emphasis is being placed on Iraq, the Middle East and Africa, but it maybe that the government hope to put more emphasis on a "new localism" and its big idea of empowerment based on a firm and stable economic foundation. At the same time its clear that the strategy on foreign policy the export of democracy is well established and may be strengthened by Gordon Browns proposal of a "compact" between rich and poor countries. The outcome of the elections and situation in Iraq will be significant, and by the time of the general election both the Middle East conference and the Report of Blairs Commission on Africa will have taken place.
The constant theme presented by both Blair and Milburn is that of "empowerment of the individual" the need for a new type of government in which local people and communities have a bigger role and in which the citizen and the state work together in a new way. So this new relationship or contract between government and the individual appears as a new element in Third Way programme as Blair says: "The shift in the role of government towards empowerment of the individual has profound implications. Properly understood and developed, it has the capacity of staking out a new middle ground, a consensus around which progressive politics, thoroughly modernised can prosper." As Blair expresses it: "People dont want a minimalist state but nor do they want the old centralised state. Instead they want the state to empower them, to give them the means to make the most of their lives." This seems to be a very big deal for the Labour Party.
The other main theme is "opportunity and security in a world of change" both of which require "fundamental reform". By security they mean increasingly repressive legislation as outlined in the Queens speech, and that which has been introduced in the last few years, reform meaning a continuation of the anti-social offensive and privatisation. All this underpinned by the rhetoric of "economic stability" which the government has allegedly created in its first two terms. The way they present things is that such reform will now be providing "personalised" public services and empowerment, but once again there is the underlying aim not only of paying the rich but also allowing the big monopolies of take full advantage of globalisation. In this regard Blair agreed with the view that "globalisation was made for Britain". They argue that reform of the welfare system for example should be aimed at getting all who can work into work, while Blair openly spoke of the NHS as being "as much about individual opportunity and economic stability as it is about individual well-being", not least, Blair argues, because its vital that the taxpayer relieves business of the cost of providing health insurance. This is being presented as that there needs to be a new relationship between citizen and state, reform in order to put power in the hands of the people.
It seems evident that in the government will make much of this issue of empowerment and the alleged new relationship between citizen and state at the election, not only in order to mask the undemocratic nature of its programme but also to deal with the more general issue of the contempt people have for politicians and the whole party system. This is recognised as a problem by both Milburn and Blair in these recent speeches and is one reason why they plan to make the next election more local and more focused on people and their problems. Milburn kept talking about the "new localism".
Alienation from and opposition to the existing political system was an issue that was central to Milburns speech on December 8 which was actually entitled "Power to the People: The modern route to social justice". Here Milburn interestingly argues that it is not just the institutions of government that need changing but the method of government itself is out of date and needs to be dealt with. His conclusion is that one of the things necessary is to move power away from Whitehall to local people and local communities. In this regard he makes much of the view of Nye Bevan that the purpose of winning power is to give it away. According to Milburn the task of "progressive government" is to provide opportunities, to be enabling, so that people have more choice and control over their lives.
At the centre of Milburns concern is what he calls "disengagement from democracy" which he claims is a major problem which "fuels poverty and inequality". Essentially this means disengagement with the party system particularly amongst workers and the poor. He accepts that 19th century representative democracy and its institutions are under strain and not capable of dealing with the new world. In his view people are now more concerned with local politics and issues as well as "alternative forms of political activity". Giving people more control at local level is one way to deal with this problem and will be bringing people into the "decision-making tent". He argues that "progressive change" does not come just from controlling the "commanding heights" of the state through elections. Now local people must also have a chance to make decisions. "In a modern society, voting at elections is not sufficient. Democracy needs to be broadened and the states role reformed. The challenge over the next decade is to move power irreversibly to those who use public services and the communities which rely on them, doing things to people will no longer do. Doing things with them is the key whether to improving health, fighting crime or improving neighbourhoods."
So this "new localism" will replace the current target-based approach as a means to further "reforms" in education, the NHS, pensions, as well as for crime prevention, and will be presented as a means to empower the people, to provide them with a diversion from empowering themselves and genuinely becoming the decision-makes. Again and again this presented as establishing a Britain run by the many not the few, governed from the bottom up.
Milburn concludes: "As we look to the next general election and the prospect of a historic third consecutive labour term in office we can commit ourselves to delivering what Labour has long advocated but never achieved: giving power to the people." This according to Milburn and Blair is where the battle of ideas will be fought, the crossroads for New Labour and most of the "progressive left" in Europe how to chart this new Third Way course.
This seems to be the big idea and where New Labour is heading at the present time.
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