Year 2000 No. 36, February 28, 2000

Does the Centenary the Labour Party Is Celebrating Have Any Significance?

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Does the Centenary the Labour Party Is Celebrating Have Any Significance?

Birminghamm People Demonstrate To Defend Public Services

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Does the Centenary the Labour Party Is Celebrating Have Any Significance?

When the Labour Party issued its annual report for the 1999 Labour Party Conference, they entitled it a centennial report, alluding to the fact that the Labour Representation Committee was formed on February 27, 1900.

This is the first indication that New Labour is not being altogether straightforward about yesterday’s centenary that it is celebrating. The Labour Representation Committee was not yet the Labour Party. It had definite aims, while in 1906 there were also definite reasons why the LRC gave rise to the Labour Party, rather than it being a name change without significance. This may be a quibble, but the issue is that the New Labour is having no qualms about rewriting history to suit its aims in 2000, and of saying without blushing that the Labour leaders through the 20th century would have been proud to be members of New Labour at the start of the 21st century, that New Labour upholds traditional Labour values in modern circumstances.

The point here is not first and foremost to give a judgement of leaders from Keir Hardie and Ramsay MacDonald onwards or get upset that New Labour is claiming them as its own. It is to underline that New Labour is being dishonest about historical facts and developments, and not giving a straightforward appraisal of how things have changed. Why was the LRC formed, how has the Labour Party developed, how has the world changed and what features does New Labour think it is responding to? Instead, New Labour writes about its "core values" – in which it includes such phrases as "social justice", "strong communities and strong families", "reward for hard work", "decency" – and asserts these were the "founding values" of the Labour Party.

History shows that as the working class movement developed in the 19th century, the demand for the working class to have its own party also developed. Hitherto, the Liberals had been the champions of reform, the defenders of the downtrodden and the advocates of great public works. Working class leaders appeared on the Liberal platforms and at the beginning of the 20th century, this was still the case. But with the LRC, and then the formation of the Labour Party, the issue that the working class should have a party of its own was put on the agenda. Of course, at that time, its function was not to declare itself as a socialist party but as an organisation to put up independent labour candidates for parliament. In 1906, it was concluded that the workers had to have a Party in parliament to take a stand against the anti-union and anti-working class legislation, and the Labour Party became a fully constituted political party.

If we examine the development of capitalism in 1900 and the early 20th century, we find that capitalism is entering its monopoly capitalist stage, the era of imperialism. The need for an independent party of the working class was becoming the order of the day. Social revolution was put on the agenda. It is not that the Labour Party became that instrument of social revolution, far from it. The bourgeoisie was doing everything to ensure that social revolution did not take place. But the Liberals who had had the workers and the rebels as their constituency finally lost, because the workers found they had a political party which they could call their own. Only then did the Conservatives stage a come back and were associated with everything that was old and reactionary. But now the Labour Party is even trying to create nothing but confusion about its origins, rather than honestly saying that it too stands opposed to the new, to the independent role of the working class, to the socialist road.

Other developments have taken place in the 20th century which New Labour will not honestly address. When the Labour Party was created, it represented the interests of labour, and was directly connected with the organisations, the trade unions, that defended the interests of the working class in the class struggles on the economic front against exploitation. But as monopoly capitalism was emerging as the 20th century emerged, so also the bourgeoisie was perfecting its party system with the express intention of keeping the working class away from political power. The Labour Party has always had reactionary leaders, that is, leaders whose heart was with the bourgeoisie and not the working class. But its development and the experience of Labour in power has shown that it has finally consummated its role as a party of the old type, which is a champion of the bourgeoisie and depoliticises the working class and the mass of the people, an electoral machine of the type suitable to ensure that society pays the rich and that the bourgeoisie’s agenda is carried forward.

One hundred years after the LRC was formed, the issue presents itself anew that the working class must build its own mass party. Our Party, RCPB(ML), is addressing the issue of laying the foundations of a mass communist party, a communist party based on modern definitions. A party based on modern definitions does not strive to come to power on its own account, but is an instrument for politicising the people. A mass communist party organises the working class to constitute itself as the nation and ensure that it is the people who are empowered.

The aspiration of the working class to have its own independent party and utilise that party as its instrument to bring about a socialist Britain is one that the 20th century has left as a legacy for this, the 21st century. It is evident why New Labour does not want to draw this conclusion from 100 years of history. An independent programme of the working class is the order of the day, and New Labour has never stood more opposed to such an objective.

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Birminghamm People Demonstrate To Defend Public Services

On Saturday, February, 26, at 12 noon, several hundred people marched from Victoria Square through the centre of Birmingham, in a demonstration to defend public services. This is part of the growing movement of the people to STOP PAYING THE RICH and INCREASE INVESTMENT IN SOCIAL PROGRAMMES. On the demonstration there was a contingent of the Birmingham Branch of RCPB(ML) who distributed copies of Workers' Weekly and handed out a number of leaflets. Other organisations present were GMB (APEX), The Campaign to save the Selly Oak and Queen Elizabeth Hospitals, Defend Council Housing, The Solihull Branch of the West Midlands Pension Convention, Coventry Pensioners Association, Residents Action Group for the Elderly (R.A.G.E), The Campaign against Euro-Federalism and various other socialist and trade union organisations. The demonstration was called by UNISON. There were a number of banners and placards carried by the participants. Some of the slogans of the demonstration were, "No to Privatisation of Elderly People's Residential Homes," "No to the Sell-off of Council Housing," "Stop Paying the Rich," "Increase Investment in Social Programmes," "No to Privatisation of Hospitals" and " Defend Public Services."

Various messages of support were read out from the speakers' platform including, Tony Benn MP, Mark Thomas and John Lister of London Health Emergency.

The day's action informed people of various issues. Birmingham Labour Council is planning to privatise its entire stock of 92,000 homes. This will be a disaster for tenants. Already, activists from residents' campaigns have taken High Court action to force the council to reconsider its plans, but this has not succeeded.

Graham Fletcher, from one major residents' action group has said, "We will not give up the fight!" As a consequence people have taken their protest to the streets.

The Council stock is in a bad state, but the money is there to improve it. UNISON has provided figures to the Council, which have been effectively ignored. The "New Labour" government has used blackmail. It has said that it is willing to "write off" the Council debt of £633m if the homes are privatised. Birmingham people say that the debt should be "written off" irrespective of whether they are privatised or not. Tony Blair's "third way" politics in effect amounts to tenants suffering and private companies benefiting.

A number of people on the demonstration were protesting about the crisis in the health service. In particular there was vocal opposition to PFI (Private Finance Initiative). The Campaign to Save the QE and Selly Oak Hospitals has always tried to point out that plans have been agreed by Birmingham Health Authority, which are detrimental to the future of these two key hospitals. The plans include loss of beds and huge job cuts.

The demonstration through Birmingham was the first of its kind for some time. The march shows that ordinary working people are refusing to be marginalised by the Labour government. There is a growing protest movement, in the city and throughout the country, demanding that people have a voice. They are determined to defend hard won welfare rights.

West Midlands Correspondent.

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