“Enough is Enough” and the Left
Kevin Bean, Richard Brenner, and Daniel Randall
Platypus Review 156 | May 2023
On November 10, 2022, the Platypus Affiliated Society hosted a panel discussion at the Mayday Rooms in London, regarding the “Enough is Enough” campaign and the cost-of-living crisis. This panel was moderated by Rebekah Paredes-Larson, and hosted in tandem with panels on the same issue in Germany and Austria. The speakers were Kevin Bean (Labour Party Marxists), Richard Brenner (Socialist Labour Network), and Daniel Randall (member of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), but speaking as an individual). A video of the panel is available online at <https://youtu.be/MazChmDtThk>. An edited transcript follows.
Across Europe, skyrocketing energy prices and inflation have created a cost-of-living crisis, amid the aftermath of COVID lockdowns and the ongoing war in Ukraine. Protests and campaigns have sprung up in response. The Platypus Affiliated Society invites you to discuss the meaning of the current crisis and responses to it for the Left. How do you understand the present crisis, its origins and conditions? How, therefore, has the Left responded, and how should the Left respond to this situation? What are the tasks facing the Left in the present crisism and what obstacles does the Left face? Are there any historical precedents for the Left to learn from?
Kevin Bean: I have thought long and hard about the issue of “crisis,” partly because it’s a very overused word, and when I became involved in organized Left politics in the early 70s, it was a frequently discussed topic — “the nature of the crisis in Britain” or, indeed, “the crisis in capitalism.” I want to frame it in a long- and a short-term way.
In the long-term, Marxists argued from the closing decades of the 19th century, certainly by the time of the First World War, that capitalism was in a fundamental crisis. It had reached its limits. Imperialism — the imperialist wars — had shown that. The sense that we are living in a period of extended crisis has been predominant throughout the 20th century, in particular the idea that we are in what Hillel Ticktin regards as “a transitional period.” The idea is that we are in the period in which capitalism has played itself out and, in a summary of the Gramsci quote, “the new is waiting to be born” — we are on the cusp of something. That’s a premise I am going to start from in the general sense. I’ve read a lot of Platypus material — I’ve even attended a few meetings that you’ve organized around the edge of Weekly Worker events — and I know that you are interested in the periodization of crisis.
I see the Russian Revolution and other attempts at revolutionary movements as attempts to overcome the crisis of capitalism, but the failures of those revolutions, and the type of regimes that they threw up, represent something of a dead end and a failure to surmount that crisis. Globally, there’s the phenomenon of areas of the world in which capitalism is still developing, so we might see the crisis taking different forms in different countries. It’s clear, for example, that if you think of geopolitics and the rivalry between China and the U.S., between a relatively declining hegemonic power and a rising power, that too will throw up particular forms of crisis.
In terms of a specific British or European crisis, I think of the immediate economic crisis that we see: “cost of living,” energy, attacks on living standards, and the attempt to shift the burden of paying for capitalist crisis away from property owners onto those who don’t have access to property, particularly sections of the working class and the middle class — attempts to shift the payment onto the poorest paid and the least powerful.
The other patterns of crisis are obviously political. Many people on the Left have made arguments about the questions of leadership, of party, of the alternative. There will be different views in this room, but responding to those ideas is a fairly central issue for the Left. It’s also a problem.
I’m thinking particularly of the collapse of many traditional forms of organization and traditional forms of politics. Those forms of crisis occur not only in the working-class movement, but also in what we might think of as bourgeois politics. In many ways we’re seeing something similar to the phenomenon that we saw in Italy in the early 1990s — the collapse of the established party system — in many European countries, particularly this one.
We have a generalized sense of change, of crisis, across all forms of organization. The recent developments in the Conservative Party are significant. To bring things closer to my own involvement in the Labour Party: I joined in 1970 and remained, through various degrees of activity, a continuous member until just recently, when I was expelled. The crisis there is not just of Starmer’s own electoral problems; there’s a deeper problem for the Left. The failure of the Left, particularly the failure of the mass Left-wing movement that was energized around Corbyn, points to some problems of strategy and tactics, of party and program, which are ideas that I’d like to take up further.
I certainly see capitalism as a system unable to develop productive resources, producing wars, producing ecological disaster, and I don’t see it having any degree of permanence. The acceleration of those elements has increased in my lifetime; it sped up in the post-1989 period.
What we’re debating is the nature of that crisis — have I overstated the crisis? Does capitalism have the ability to stabilize itself? And, if it doesn’t, what is the response of the Left? And, perhaps worryingly, what is the response of the Right? I’m not jumping on “fascism around the corner,” but it’s clear that states and mainstream conservative parties will turn to the Right. The failure of the Left and the working-class movement will prove disastrous if we don’t come up with an alternative, if we don’t develop our own politics.
Daniel Randall: I’m a London Underground worker, and as you have noticed we’re on strike today. I was on a picket line from five o’clock, so I hope you’ll make allowances for strike-induced fatigue.
It’s clear that we are now on the precipice of something that’s reasonable to call a new crisis. That’s not a crisis in the rather loose, generic sense, which Leftists have a knee-jerk habit of proclaiming at almost any moment.
There’s a timelessness about the phrase “the crisis of capitalism” that can rob it of some explanatory value, but now we are on the precipice of a real crisis, a real period of economic trauma, in which businesses collapse and people lose their jobs and their homes. The Bank of England says that we potentially face the longest ever recession that the country has faced, and the government’s response is very deep cuts, which will lead to a lot of social trauma in the lives of working-class people.
I will focus on one dynamic within the current moment: the strike wave that’s taking place in this country, which is of generational significance. That’s not an over-exaggeration, at least in terms of its scale. This year is on track to see the highest number of strike days since 1989. That’s nearly my entire lifetime, and perhaps longer than the lifetimes of some of the people in this room.
Obviously, the trade-union movement organizing these strikes is inadequate from a revolutionary perspective, and it would be easy to be a bit sniffy and dismissive about it, especially given that, in some ways, at least in terms of two of the highest-profile national disputes, the National Rail and the post, it looks like things have begun to falter. If we want our Marxism — I’m taking a shared point of departure for granted — to be a living instrument, to intervene in real life rather than an abstract doctrine developed by a priest-caste, then we must, as Trotsky put it, base ourselves on “the logic of the class struggle.” That struggle doesn’t happen exclusively in workplaces by any means, but it is embodied there in a specific and essential way. Mass action by workers, organized as workers at the point of production, is what you might call the sine qua non of any meaningful anti-capitalist politics, and that’s why I focus on the strike wave.
The overarching task of the revolutionary Left is to undertake a transformational effort within the existing labor movement that seeks to revolutionize that movement, for that movement to be capable of making a revolution in society.
One question that is posed sharply in the current strike wave is the question of democratic control: who’s in the driving seat of these disputes?
In the 2011 public-sector pension strikes, which was the last truly mass strike in this country, and which also occurred in the context of an economic crisis, the mass membership was essentially passive. The rank-and-file was effectively deployed as a stage army in a strategy wholly determined and controlled by union officialdom. To avoid a repeat of that in this strike wave we need democratic mechanisms that place the decisions about strike strategy as close to the shop floor as possible.
We shouldn’t assume that greater rank-and-file control automatically means greater militancy; but socialists are, or should be, for the maximum degree of democracy in any given moment. Our whole project starts from the development of class consciousness and confidence — convincing workers of the idea that we can determine our own destinies. If within our own organizations we understand our role simply as following orders from above, that’s not only a potential break on struggle but also a structural impediment to building up class confidence. If workers don’t see our own unions as something we directly and democratically control, the idea that we could directly and democratically control the running of society is going to seem like an impossible horizon.
Socialists will contribute most to the realization of new opportunities to develop rank-and-file independence, of mind and action, by throwing ourselves into this strike wave, by fighting to carry it forward, by spreading it in our own workplaces and industries, and by building local networks around trades councils — which there’s a real opportunity to revive now — and, where possible, local Labour Party branches, for practical solidarity and for discussion of the political questions that are posed by the disputes.
The panel’s title on the Enough is Enough campaign — if you’ll allow some gentle criticism — didn’t connect with the prompt that we were asked to consider. But local Enough is Enough groups could feature as hubs for developing strike solidarity, if they can be given real democratic life and if the campaign can move beyond its current form, which is essentially a vehicle for organizing rallies at which various trade-union leaders can make rousing speeches.
The last thing I want to talk about is how an upsurge in industrial militancy connects to political action and to the struggle for and the horizon of social transformation. For revolutionary socialists, workers’ action isn’t just a means to improve our material conditions under capitalism; it’s the key part of reshaping society as a whole.
The legal regime that confronts workers in this country is the aggregated product of a generation of defeats for our class, and is specifically designed to confine workers’ action to narrow economic channels. Legal prohibitions on strikes over political issues, prohibitions on strikes in solidarity with other workers, aim to prevent industrial action bursting its banks and flooding over into the political sphere. Often union officials, and not only officials, will internalize those constraints, and you’ll hear them bemoaning the politicization of those disputes. But some of those same officials are, entirely correctly, politicizing our disputes themselves.
For example, my general secretary, Mick Lynch, who has become a bit of a celebrity in this moment, has continually emphasized social inequality as a key context of our strikes. He said that the RMT is fighting for all workers to have a pay rise, and that’s a political question. A society-wide increase in wages and benefits based on a substantial increase in the minimum wage and inflation-proof pay rises for all. That requires government action. The more that striking unions raise this, the more current strikes will test the limits of that legal prohibition on unions striking for political demands, especially if there is substantial cross-union coordination.
Richard Brenner: Britain in decline is the underlying phenomenon — British capitalism in decline. There are two theses in British Marxist discourse as to why that is. We can discount the Nairn-Anderson thesis: the idea that Britain is not capitalist enough, that the institutions of finance capitalism have obstructed Britain’s capitalist development, that the monarchy, the Bank of England, the Treasury, and the City of London exist as some sort of institutional legacy of pre-capitalism due to the insufficiency of the British bourgeoisie in having not forced through its revolutionary aims in the way that the French did in the 18th century, when the British actually attempted to do so in the 17th century.
The institutions of British finance capital and the credit intensity of GDP in Britain are products of declining profitability in manufacturing. If we want to get all “Volume Three of Das Kapital” about things, what we’re seeing is an over-accumulation of capital, more capital generated than can be invested for sufficient profit, which is driven by the underlying laws of development. An increase in the technical composition of capital in Britain means that profitability declines, and we’ve seen attempts to offset that by “coupon clipping,” as Lenin called it in Imperialism (1916), by the overgrowth of the parasitic section of British capital: fictitious capital.
We’re sitting in the region that adjudicates the disputes that arise from the evermore complex forms that money takes in a country or a jurisdiction where fictitious capital plays an increasingly important role. That has caused Britain’s sensitivity to credit-driven crises and its political instability, because there is no stable single party of the British ruling class unmediated by the contradictions of the particular class alliances it has to put together.
The Tory Party is an attempt on the part of finance capital to establish for itself a dependable political vehicle, but they lack a social base sufficient to be able to construct a national political party. The solution the British Conservative Party had to put in place was to attach finance capital and its representatives to a sort of backwater, enraged Right-wing petit bourgeois, which became a bit too enraged after 2007–08 and was susceptible to populist agitation, which meant that their interests and the interests of the banks and the larger professional services that surround us went slightly out of kilter. Of course, there are always those in the hedge funds and other uber-parasitic sections of British capital that can capitalize on any form of instability, but nevertheless it was clear by 2016 and the Brexit referendum that British capital and its party were in a very serious structural crisis.
I’m not a great fan of David Harvey but in his book The Limits to Capital (1982) he has an interesting heuristic device about three cuts you can take when approaching a Marxist crisis. You can look at the over-accumulation of capital, and we saw that clearly in the crisis of profitability that was emerging in the mid-2000s. You then see a crisis in the credit system, which we saw, in particular, around property. The role of property in Britain was very important; it was the secret to the Tories’ strategy for stabilizing the British polity, that there should be permanent house-price growth to keep quiet their own supporters and an important layer of the 26–27% of the population that own property and therefore had an appreciating asset. And then we see the attempts at geopolitical relations used to switch the burden of the crisis.
The crisis is a seismic process of devaluation of capital, and if capital can grow in a fictitious way, it cannot be devalued in a fictitious way. It can only be devalued in real space, real time, real places, hitting real people. There’s a struggle between businesses over who will bear the burden of devaluation; there’s a struggle between states over who will bear the burden of devaluation; and there’s a struggle between classes. We’re seeing all of those things taking place right now. Inflation is a form of the devaluation of capital; it’s a form of the devaluation of the workers’ wages and what they get in return for that.
Platypus is interested in periodization, I hear; I’m not, particularly. I’ve spent far too long worrying about long, reified concepts of “periods” within capitalism. I’m interested in the epoch of imperialism, and I’m interested in situations. I’m also interested in the trade-industrial cycle, which, for whatever reason, does seem to map fairly closely onto a chronology of 7–10 years. In 2015, there was a significant downturn, and we were scheduled to have one in 2022 anyway, if you count it in sevens.
COVID, as a sort of exogenous shock, saw a disequilibrium of inflationary reactivation of economic activity after its artificial downturn, which has meant that we’re going into this particular crisis with consumer-goods inflation, with property-price inflation, and with inflation of a range of other assets.
How did this dysfunctional Tory Party deal with it? Boris Johnson got himself tangled up through his own inadequacies, but Liz Truss was brought in, and her attempted fiscal actions clearly exacerbated the situation in one way only, which was that the bond markets — we talked about the dependency of British capitalism on credit — hated it. They hated the fact that there were tax cuts that couldn’t be paid for, that this threatened to burn down the pension system, and burn down the ability of people to repay their mortgages: fixed-rate mortgages that come up for renewal within the next two–three years, and variable mortgages which immediately go up massively. This threatened to destroy the Tories’ own base as well as to undermine the key underpinnings of social stability in Britain today.
So, they got rid of Truss, and now Sunak and Hunt propose to do the opposite. They’re going to undertake pro-cyclical action, such as cuts in public spending, but they’re also going to allow significant interest-rate rises from the Bank, which they hope will propel real interest-rate rises, because they’re concerned about inflation. Not the inflation that your rent is going to go through, or that 500g of mild cheddar goes through, which is 40%, by the way, not 14%. That was found out by the comrades in Leicester Enough is Enough, on their own. They are running their own cost-of-living index, because one of them had read Trotsky’s Transitional Program (1938), and thought that would be a good idea. Instead of being “for” it and going to a university and recruiting two people to this idea, they decided to do what they were supposed to do with it and involve people in bringing it into being. Clearly, the real aim of the pro-cyclical action is to devalue workers’ wages further, and to make them pay the cost of that devaluation. That’s what Daniel is on strike about.
The pervasive sense of social crisis that began at the beginning of 2022, particularly in February when the price rises started coming through, when people started to realize what was going on, was magnified by the crisis of the Tory government and regime. We saw the huge demonstration in June, which was so big that even the Morning Star called for councils of action all over Britain. The general secretary must’ve fallen out of the Trotskyist side of the bed that day. The Socialist Labour Network wrote to him, the Communication Workers Union (CWU), and the RMT, asking, why don’t we form joint committees all over the country? The next day — nothing to do with our letter, by the way — Enough is Enough was formed, but without the Communist Party of Britain, without Momentum, without a whole number of people, and my understanding is that the RMT was not consulted initially about the launch.
First, we’re supposed to be about uniting the working class. The “united front” is a tactic, yes, but uniting the working class is a strategy. In every town, in every city — whether it’s called Don’t Pay, Enough is Enough, the People’s Assembly — without waiting for the leaders, bring the people together in coordinating struggle to support the strikes, to get in the faces of the energy companies, to get in the faces of the banks, and to organize action.
Secondly — none of the British far-left groups seem to have remembered or understood this — we are not supposed to be building sects. Marx said don’t build a sect. Lenin didn’t build a sect. None of the Marxists that actually managed to build mass working-class parties built sects. We’re supposed to be bringing together existing forces in a credible process for the co-creation of a real political party.
KB: The difference that I have with Daniel is that he obviously sees working-class militancy, trade-union activity, as important, but he doesn’t talk about the importance of politics. In particular, he talks about the way that strikes can develop confidence, class consciousness. Of course, we’re going back to debates that were held in the movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They’ve been a persistent theme. Does political consciousness arise simply from the struggle for democracy in the unions? Does it arise from the resistance of employers through the law? Or does it arise through a particular political project? I would argue that we need a conscious political project. Without that, our struggles remain confined around the conditions of wage labor.
The comparisons with the 1970s are interesting — the clear differences. I don’t say this with any enthusiasm; in fact, I say it with a degree of depression. The Left — meaning people who claim to be Marxists, or revolutionary, which may include some people on the left of the Labour Party — is probably much weaker now than at any time in my political life, which extends in various forms back to the early 70s.
The task of building the Left, and in particular the party and the program — the sort of points that Richard was making — is central. The industrial militancy that we’ve seen is a starting point; it draws people towards those developments. My own union will be going on strike shortly, and I’ve seen the way that strikes do have an impact on confidence, but without a specifically political program and the idea of building a principled party of the Left around Marxism, we will be left with militant trade unionism.
The experiences, whether of the Communist Party or the Socialist Workers Party in the 60s and 70s, point to the limitations of strike struggles. To argue that these struggles will produce a particular type of political consciousness automatically, and in particular that it will arise from out of the confrontation with the law, is very limited.
DR: I was talking about precisely this question: how industrial militancy connects to the question of politics and the horizon of social transformation. I was also talking about the potential testing of the limits of the law, but I don’t think that there’s an automatic progression from industrial militancy, to the testing of the law, to a confrontation with the state, to workers’ power.
So, how do these things connect? Mick Lynch, my general secretary, has recently said that he believes that socialism, which he defined as the elimination of poverty — we can debate if there’s a bit more to it than that — won’t be achieved by what he called an “ideology-based party,” but rather through “the pragmatic reform of our system.” I don’t need to point out to anyone in this audience that the belief that socialism can be achieved through “pragmatic reforms” is very much an ideological claim. These comments give some sense of the thinking of a section of the union leadership, which essentially is that we can achieve some degree of social transformation via an aggregation of industrial struggles over fairly narrow economic issues.
The prompt asked us to consider historical precedence for this moment. Like Kevin, I wanted to draw out the surge in industrial struggle in the 1970s, which saw a strike wave topple a Tory government — I’m oversimplifying, but not too much. Part of what held back, limited, and ultimately led to the defeat or failure to realize the potential of that upsurge, was the failure to develop a program for working-class political power, workers’ government. This amounted to the abandonment of the political terrain to a Right-wing Labour leadership.
The idea of workers’ government, that will govern as a partisan for our class as explicitly as the Tories govern as partisans for the rich, can be thought of as the apex of what I’d call a transitional program, which is an old idea, but one that is still serviceable in terms of how socialists should think about our politics. The purpose of a transitional program isn’t — contrary to the vulgar conception of it that one often encounters on the Left — to raise demands that are unrealizable under capitalism and which fighting for, and failing to win, will cause the reformist scales to miraculously fall from workers’ eyes. Rather, the purpose of a transitional approach is to find demands which can build a bridge, or act as the “next link in the chain,” as Lenin once put it, between immediate struggles and the revolutionary transformation of society. In an immediate sense, that might involve doing things like forming ad-hoc, cross-union, local strike committees.
Richard comes from a particular tradition that likes to talk about “councils of action” at every possible opportunity; I wouldn’t use that terminology, but maybe there’s some shared perspective in terms of seeing a need for local, cross-union strike committees that attempt to coalesce and cohere some of those forces. Two policies that need to be particularly central in a transitional approach are public ownership of all utilities and services, including banking and finance, and the complete abolition of all legal restrictions on the rights to organize and strike.
Winning sections of the movement to that transitional approach — the perspective of a workers’ government — is some way off, and the current wave will almost certainly recede before it is won, but while the meager forces of the revolutionary Left in this country can’t determine the outcome of the moment at will, we can make a difference. If we intervene in our workplaces and unions for rank-and-file independence in thought and action, for transitional demands that draw out the political implications of disputes, and, as the apex of that, for a workers’ government, as the labor movement’s governmental alternative to Tory government of the rich, for the rich, we’d have the best chance of at least making advances rather than being set back.
RB: What’s the missing element in what Daniel just said? If you want to have a government, what do you need to have? You need an organization that is committed to fighting for political power: an organization of a class that struggles for political power, that sets the goal as being the establishment of a government of the working class, which will then act, unconstrained by any law, to dispossess the ruling class and hold it down so that it can’t get its property and its power back, using whatever dictatorial measures are required against the former ruling class. How can you do that without a political party?
What is a political party? A political party is the term that we use for an organization that strives for political power. The critical component, if we’re going to go from mass strikes and rebellion — not just in Britain but around the world — is to advance towards a political party. Where such a party does not exist, Marxists are supposed to organize for the independence of the working class, and that is synonymous with the organization of the most advanced sections of the class, the sections that are in struggle, into a political party.
How do we form such a party? The traditional methods adopted by the Left in Britain, and in other countries, are twofold: one is to attempt to take over a bourgeois institution. That method always fails. The other method is to say, I’ve got a nice new party here; the cargo-cult method of building a party, where you set it up on the side-lines, you have a logo, you have membership forms, and you say, “Come and join our party, our program is very good, it’s different from that other party so you should join us.” You recruit ones and twos, and you lose threes and fours, and you spend an awful lot of time fussing about those ones and twos, and it’s not a party.
But there is another method: the example of the formation of the Social Democratic Party of Germany. Okay, we know how it ended, but they did build a mass party, and it could’ve ended differently, if that mass party had adopted a different path. But, without a mass party, they would’ve gotten nowhere near as far. Ditto with the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party. I’m not one for disparaging the efforts of the Russian Social Democrats; as Daniel has already suggested, I’m quite keen on taking historical analogies and trying to make them a reality, such as the organization of the “councils of action” in Britain in the 1920s. You’ll have great difficulty securing victory in a general strike if you leave it in the hands of the Trades Union Congress. Therefore, local organizations that bring together workers need to be organized. But, without a political party, we will never take power.
We have to go to all of the organizations and layers of workers that are moving into struggle, with a formation of Marxists that agitates in favor of a credible process to jointly design, among all of those forces, a party. I.e., the program is something that we discuss with them, a draft that we discuss with them, a process that we draw people into in order to develop a political program. Where there are disputes and arguments among the Marxists, we have them in context, in relation to what their actual consequences are for our conduct in the class struggle. When we design the form of the party, we do that as a political question as well. But first, we have to go among the sectors that are in struggle. Some 700,000 people signed that Enough is Enough thing, and apart from being asked to be bums on seats, they haven’t been mobilized. 100,000 signed up to Don’t Pay; 200,000 left the Labour Party in disgust, and they’re not all idiots. There are also scores of thousands in struggle all over the country now.
If Corbyn revealed one thing, it’s that even if you have a Left-reformist leader of the Labour Party, you can’t take over the Labour Party. So let’s forget about trying to take over the Labour Party. That doesn’t mean I’m saying to Kevin, “Walk out now,” because I want you to organize and take as many people with you when they come for you, but do what they did in Newham when they come for you, don’t do what they did in Camberwell and Peckham. In Newham, they came for them, and Newham said, “We are not going to dissolve, you cannot have our officers, we are going to stick together,” and they formed a breakaway organization which has then organized a large Enough is Enough and food banks. Ditto in Leicester, where some of them are in the Labour Party, some of them are out of the Labour Party, but they work together around it. Don’t do what they did in Camberwell and Peckham, and say, “We’ll elect a new secretary of our Labour Party branch on the sole policy of not doing anything to get ourselves suspended from the Labour Party.” That is not a program of action that can advance the working class in any meaningful way.
Where will that leave you? Kevin, it’s going to leave you outside the Labour Party. We’re going to need to bring forces together in a credible process for the formation of a party, and that is how the Marxists formed a party in Germany and in Russia. What political basis do you establish for it? That is a matter of struggle, i.e., the Marxists need to conduct that argument, we need to advance a Marxist policy, a Marxist strategy, we need to saturate the movement with propaganda, not just agitation, for the doctrine, strategy, tactics, program, and method of Marxism. We don’t need a sect; we need to be advocating the formation of party; we need to be advocating unity in action at the local level, and we need a working-class media center that can saturate the movement with the ideas of Marxism in context as we attempt to organize and direct the movement towards a real challenge for political power.
Q & A
On a panel organized by the Anarchist Communist Group (ACG), with representatives from Don’t Pay UK, rs21, and the Angry Workers, the organizers from Don’t Pay described themselves as the “practical response to the crisis,” and said that Enough is Enough was the “political response” filling a political vacuum. There was a scepticism about Enough is Enough as the foremost organizing point for the Left in the UK, because of its affiliations with the Labour Party, which liquidated a lot of the youthful energy and historical experience of the Left, rendering it very weak by the end of Corbynism. Would a new form of politics away from the Labour Party, as well as from the tradition of Marxism, prioritizing workers’ and community councils, not be a better opportunity for independent workers’ politics? Why still defend the form of the party?
DR: I contest the idea that it has failed every time. Any of the moments of meaningful confrontation with the question of power on the part of a working-class movement that we might want to talk about — the Russian Revolution, Spain in 1936 — ended in defeat. We can analyze those defeats, but to have even gotten to the point of potential that those movements got to, they had to have a party at their core. The anarchists had a party in Spain in 1936 called the FAI. At every historic high point for anarchist politics, there was a party-type organization. Even in terms of their own tradition, the idea that they represent a kind of hyper-novel break from the necessity of the party form doesn’t withstand historical scrutiny. The panel you were attending was organized by the ACG — that is a small-p anarchist political party.
We cannot do away with the need for a party-type organization. Now, there’s obviously a big discussion to be had — even on this panel, there is probably quite a lot of disagreement — about the type of party, and how it should be organized, and certainly how it comes into being. But there probably is agreement around the idea that a formal political organization is necessary, and that it isn’t good enough to organize either through just expecting industrial militancy to carry you forward on its own logic, or through community militancy of the Don’t Pay type, without the need for explicit politics.
The Labour Party is a fact of labor-movement political life in this country, and even if you’re somebody who wants to see it split apart, broken from, and superseded by a revolutionary — or even a class-struggle social democratic — party, the path to that lies through insurgent struggle within it, rather than attempts to go around it. There is no path to a better form of independent, working-class political representation in this country that doesn’t go through insurgent struggle within the existing one. It’s not a terrain that socialists can avoid.
RB: We just had that, and it lost. And there is still the need for a party. Anybody who thinks that the Right wing of the Labour Party hasn’t learned an important lesson from the experience of 2015–19 hasn’t been watching what has happened since. The Right wing has determined that it will never allow the other key institution of the stability of British capitalism — the Labour Party — to be undermined by the Left again. The Left failed because they thought, foolishly, that they were going to win an election, form a government in alliance with the Right wing of the Labour Party, and institute a series of pro-worker reforms that supported the oppressed.
What a ridiculous idea! What an illusion! What bankruptcy that was! They would never have allowed it to happen, and even if Labour had won the election, the Parliamentary Labour Party would have chosen a new leader overnight, and the Queen would have invited them to form a government. If Corbyn had ruled, he would either have done a SYRIZA, a Lula, or an Allende; they would not have instituted socialism. But most likely is what actually happened: an ignominious defeat as the result of failing to stick to their principles and fight, and failing to take their ideas adequately into the working class when they ran contra the main line of bourgeois ideology at the given moment, and then not drawing the lessons.
Why would anybody say that the path has to be through the Labour Party? Possibly venality, because they want to be a councilor or an MP, or they already are. Possibly a lack of imagination. Or possibly, because they do not have any clear strategy for establishing the independence of the working class in Britain.
The FAI was not a party, nor is the ACG, because they are not organizations that are striving for political power, and, in the case of the ACG, because it lacks any sort of mass that would enable it to struggle for power. Where Daniel is right is that the FAI was an analogue, in the anarchist movement, to what the Marxists had in the form of political parties and sects. But it wasn’t a political party, because it did not fight for power; in fact, it opposed the idea of the Left parties fighting for political power. The Friends of Durruti may have realized that it was necessary to form some sort of proletarian dictatorship, but at that point they, by definition, broke with anarchism, because it is a fundamental precept of anarchism that we must not take political power.
You can’t just dissolve power from the ground up; you need the central organization and direction of the smashing and dismantling of the capitalist state, and the centralized suppression of the exploiters. You can’t get it without a mass working-class movement, the strike movement, and workers linking up at the local level. As Kevin says, those things won’t spontaneously turn into a recognition of the political tasks. It’s the task of Marxists to organize a party and to commit the party to that perspective.
Let’s talk about failure, and what conclusions we draw from failure. If we were to say that every moment in the class struggle that ended in failure should be abandoned, then we abandon not only Marxism but anarchism, trade unionism, political organization; we abandon every lesson from every historical moment of the class struggle, and we abandon hope. Because all we would be doing is observing that the class struggle has not yet been completed, and we haven’t won yet. What we have to do, I’m afraid, is look at each moment, institution, historical event, concept, and analyze whether its failures were contingent, subjective, or baked into the wrongness of the whole idea. The failure of the idea that you can create a mass party through individual recruitment to a sect is baked in, just as the failure of capturing bourgeois institutions and turning them into working-class ones is baked in. But what is not baked in is the idea that a party can conduct itself in such a way as to bring the working class to power, and avoid degeneration.
We have to find out for ourselves what the mechanics of that will be in the class struggle. We can’t assure ourselves of the outcome a priori. The independent action of the enemy is also a factor, and you can’t know what they’re going to do. Marxism doesn’t provide us with a looking glass that tells us what is going to happen. It’s a science, not a dogma. But we do know that there are things that have been proven to be absolutely, irreducibly essential in the course of the class struggle: that we have a theory, that we have industrial and workplace organization, and that we have a political party. It’s also clear that we’re going to have to fight in the more direct meaning of the term.
KB: To respond to your anarchist interlocutors: they do implicitly have a political project; they just hide it behind non-politics. The same will be true of the Don’t Pay campaign or Enough is Enough. With all forms of spontaneous organization, there are politics; it’s just that they’re not explicit. Daniel raised a series of transitional demands around public ownership of resources and dealing with the energy crisis. Groups like Don’t Pay will, possibly, shy away from those demands as political. The anti-poll-tax campaign was very much the product of political groups. These things are rarely spontaneous, and they inevitably raise political questions, which anarchists should recognize. The history of “movement politics,” as we’ve had since the 1990s, has rarely built successful campaigns, or, indeed, sustained ones. Campaigns like Enough is Enough have a certain mass character. They are areas in which we can intervene, areas of struggle. But that requires some sort of political perspective, not the aimless coming together of amorphous forces. That is a fundamental difference between my part of the Left and anarchists.
One of the central problems that we have is not just the existence of Labour, but Labourism. Many of the existing Left groups do, either in terms of their demands or their practice, tend to put forward the perspective of some sort of left-Labour government. The Communist Party of Britain’s British Road to Socialism is probably the ultimate version of that. John Rees, in a recent discussion with one of my comrades from Liverpool, Audrey White, talked about voting for Starmer, putting him into power and then putting pressure on him. That’s a misunderstanding of the nature of the Labour Party — I agree substantially with Richard on that. But one area of difference, without saying that we should cling onto Labour at all costs, is, to take the point that Daniel makes: that Labour exists, Labourism exists, and that is one of the central areas in which to fight. We have to challenge that politically. The battle is not just against capitalism; for Marxists, it’s against those sorts of politics, particularly the idea that the state machine can be utilized in that way, that socialism can be achieved through a series of piecemeal reforms.
The Labour Party does have a possible future. This is where the idea of crisis comes in. Labour is, to use the old cliché, the other party of British capitalism, but it’s also a party which has its roots in the trade-union movement. Through that and other forms of political action, you could see movements occurring through the Labour Party. I’m not talking about the immediate revival of Corbynism; I’m just saying not to rule it out. The attacks that the Labour Right have launched on the Left, the controls that they have over the party machine — Liverpool is virtually a one-man system, with party officials controlling all appointments at all levels, and suspensions of meetings — I understand all of that. But there is still the possibility that Labour can be a battleground again.
I don’t see Labour being transformed. I still think that our aim as Marxists is the creation of a Marxist party — not a sect, but one that arises from the fullest discussion. Discussions like this, and discussions such as we’ve had in Liverpool, point the way forward. I am a member of the Socialist Labour Network, and a number of my comrades are as well.
RB: Are you?
RB: Oh great. I didn’t know that.
KB: I’m also a member of the Merseyside Pensioners. Actually, they are the most militant group on Merseyside. We were the ones who did the stunt with Keir Starmer.
The serious point is the question of the party. How do we develop socialist consciousness, and how do we conduct the sort of demands that will do that? The failure of the Left has often been to limit its struggles to economic struggles, and not to raise those bigger questions of power. Richard did that effectively in terms of the state. Labourism is an intrinsic part of the state, and that is where our battles need to begin.
I remain confused about your respective relationships to the Labour Party, and I don’t understand what it means to be a Labour Party Marxist, or to be in the Socialist Labour Network. How have those convictions changed over the last seven years? What might be the prospects for the next seven years? What could become of the Labour Party, as an obstacle and as an opportunity?
KB: I joined the Labour Party in 1970, partly for family reasons. I came from a Left Labour Party family, some of whom were members of organized Trotskyist groups in the 1940s and 50s. In many ways, I had the perspective that Richard has criticized, which is that, for want of any revolutionary group, I was in the Labour Party and would agitate there for Left positions. The groups that I was closest to would have been the various tendencies of the International Marxist Group, and even Militant. That’s where I would have been for quite a long time. I lived away from the big cities, so the politics of the 70s and 80s were more around industrial struggles, struggles against cuts. The London Labour Left was something that you read about in papers, but it never percolated up into West Yorkshire.
My arrival at my position was prompted by the failure of Corbynism. I recognized that a lot of people who joined the Labour Party, who came back in, were of my generation. In Liverpool, for example, it would be wrong to say that it was a youth movement; the phrase there was “Militant with a bus pass.” A lot of people came back with the old politics. It was funny to hear people coming out with slogans that I’d last heard in 1975. Although Socialist Appeal do say them as well, it’s always a trip down memory lane to talk to comrades in that way.
I arrived at the idea that transforming the Labour Party bit by bit, getting half a million people into it who were all committed on the Left, was going to fail. I say this because at this point I was still a part of these politics: people didn’t realize the nature of the battle they were getting into. You hear this cliché: “the Labour Party is like a bird that needs two wings to fly,” which used to be a nice way of saying that the Left is legitimate in this party. I was increasingly of the opinion that the Left shouldn’t be legitimate in the Labour Party, because it isn’t a party that you want to be legitimate in. A lot of my comrades in the Left tendencies in the Labour Party were happy to see the Labour Party in that way. Their failure to take the battle to the Labour Right, not just the leadership and the official Left, was also true of many of the people at the grassroots. That was because their project was not one of building any sort of revolutionary movement. I began to move towards the position of a distinctive revolutionary party, which I had shied away from for much of my life.
I’m sorry if this sounds confessional, but I’m describing an experience I went through. It was important to realize that the things you have been thinking aren’t going to happen. Corbynism was probably the best opportunity. My constituency Labour Party went from 800 to 1800 in a matter of months. But when we started to really confront the Right —
Sorry, was that a good thing?
KB: It was a good thing in that these were people who now identified as socialists. It meant that there were people you could now debate with. It became clear that they were confined within Labourism. This is the danger of posing Labour as merely a site for struggle.
The position that Labour Party Marxists hold is that, agitationally, we can talk about refounding the Labour Party as a united front. But our clear point now must be a Marxist party, i.e., a separate Marxist formation. The way we might deal with that organizationally is, e.g., the refoundation of Labour as a united front, open to all socialists and working-class organizations, i.e., its original formulation until it settled by 1905 or 1906.
We don’t think we can avoid the Labour Party. Labourism is the problem. But we also can’t magic up a party out of nowhere. The history of the Communist Party in Britain in the very early 1920s shows how it arrives out of particular struggles and particular forms. Our position is towards the building of a Marxist party, but not simply saying that Labour is irrelevant, because it’s an important force and it has a distinctive character.
It is conceivable that the current Labour coalition of the unions, sections of the Labour Left and the Right could fracture. Indeed, it’s possible that Starmer could complete Blair’s project of breaking from the trade unions. That might give Labour something of a different character. Likewise, if there is any sort of electoral reform, though I doubt that’s likely to occur, that might open up spaces for Left currents. The Newham example that Richard refers to, if we look at the local campaigning there, does show some forces that might emerge. But at the moment they are disparate. The Labour Left is demoralised, disorganized, and confused. That was a more personal reply than I would have done normally.
RB: Kevin has given something of an individual confessional. In the family I grew up with there is more of a tradition of collective atonement, so I’ll talk about things less personally. I will say that I have tried to be a Leninist and a Trotskyist since about 1983. The idea that the Labour Party is a bourgeois workers party — we can talk about dialectics in a minute — has always been important since I got involved in the movement. It is an institution that therefore needs to be broken up if working-class independence is to be established.
The Labour Party isn’t irrelevant at all. It’s one of the key props of British capitalism. We’ve got to get it out of the way and when we form a party, we will have to continue to fight it. We need a party to contest the control of the Labour and trade-union bureaucracy over the working class politically, industrially, and organizationally.
There have been numerous schemas around the Labour Party. Militant’s idea was to take over the Labour Party, elect a Labour government, use an Enabling Act and expropriate the top 200 monopolies. The Communist Party’s idea that we would have a Left-wing Labour government which would form an alliance with the Communist Party and pursue essentially the same approach. The idea of the Labour Party under Corbyn was that we’re going to flood into it, to build a social movement, and create a Left-wing government. These were all illusions. Let’s not come up with an even more rarefied schema to reestablish the conditions that the Communist Party faced when it was formed in 1920 — by compelling the British sects, against their own disposition, to merge with one another under the leadership of the Communist International — and imagine that what we will face its relationship to a somehow more benign, early-stage, less encrusted, less bourgeoisified Labour Party, which it can influence in some form of alliance. That’s a fantasy — a schema trying to reproduce conditions that we recognize.
Let’s recognize one thing only, that our priority is the construction of a party, which involves bringing together real forces to discuss how we might combine in order to fight for power. The Marxists have to champion that process in order to establish the moral and political capital to be able to influence its program, tactics, operations, and organization. That is the task of organization, agitation, and propaganda, and that is what we have to do.
My relationship to the Labour Party has therefore been one of antagonism since I became a Marxist. But when I have been in it, it was in the expectation that I’d get disciplined and thrown out, in the hope that when that happens I’d take people with me. The reason that that didn’t happen between 2015 and 2019 was the absence of a sizable Marxist association capable of leading in that context and confronting and overcoming the prejudices, group-think, and the bullshit that we saw on the Labour Left at that time, both inside and outside of the Party. Hundreds of thousands of people have left the Labour Party, some of whom are so embittered by their experience that they are now saying, “I personally couldn’t bring myself to vote for Starmer; therefore I don’t want a general election, therefore I’m not going to the People’s Assembly demonstration.” There’s that overreaction. I know Platypus did go, because I saw your banner.
It’s going to be difficult to dispel some of those ideas and get people on the right path. Socialist Labour Network is not a Marxist vanguard organization. It’s not democratic centralist. It doesn’t have a program. It doesn’t have discipline. Its age profile is awful. But what do we have? It’s real: there are 700 people all over the country. We discuss issues. We did adopt a policy of calling for building united Enough is Enough / Don’t Pay / People’s Assembly, etc. We called them “action councils” because that was the easiest term, and also frankly because that is the high point of the tradition of organization. We are in favor of a party. We have launched an appeal asking people to sign up to the idea and then start to organize clubs, unions, associations, or initiatives in favor of it around the country. But within that, if a spinal column of conscious Marxists don’t associate themselves and push this forwards, even if it succeeds, it will fail. I’ll leave the question of the bourgeois workers’ party until later, because that is a concept which is widely misunderstood.
My name’s Jonathan Silberman. I’m a member of the Communist League. The people on the platform say they’re part of the Left, or feel that they have something more in common with the Left, or people who identify as socialists. But the Left has nothing to do with working-class politics. I’m thinking of the Corbyn thing, which I guess you all see as positive. Big state welfarism, antisemitism, covering up for Russia and China in world politics, cancel culture, and other attacks on democratic rights. This is the vanguard? That has nothing to do with communism. Marx was trying to build a working-class movement. He was recruited to the League of the Just. He fought for a program. Lenin: “give me an organization of revolutionaries and I will overturn all Russia” It was fundamentally programmatic. We are in the tradition of Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Fidel Castro, Che Guevera. In the case of Marx he didn’t lead a revolution, but Lenin, Trotsky, Fidel, and Che did. You have to start from world politics, world economics, and the history of the international class struggle.
The Labour Party is not a labor party. It would be great if there were a labor party in this country. But the conditions which gave rise to what was a labor party were giant working-class struggles, which allow for the striving for political independence by workers from the choice between Liberals and Tories. I agree that the low point of union fights is behind us. But there’s no strike wave now, my goodness. When I was organizing strikes, you went on strike and you didn’t go back to work until either you won or decided you couldn’t win or whatever it was. One day here, one day there: that’s not a strike wave. In time there will be giant working-class struggles. That’s the lesson of history. Then there will be a possibility of breaking from capitalist politics and establishing a mass party of labor. It will be done, in a country like Britain, under union impulse. There is no way out of that. Right now the task is to do what Lenin started to do in the early years of the 20th century, and what the Communist International (Comintern) did. The first four congresses of the Comintern were the vanguard. The Communist Party was made up of a bunch of sectarians — I agree with you. But the fact that Lenin and the Bolsheviks insisted that, in this country and the U.S. they should unite and form a party, was brilliant and I stand in that tradition. We need to build parties like Lenin and the Bolsheviks. If we do that with a program that was advanced by Lenin and the Bolsheviks in the first four congresses of the Comintern . . . The one thing I did agree with Daniel on: the transitional program. But the Left — What’s the Left got to do with that?
DR: Proclaiming that what the Left needs to do is do what Lenin did and build a party like the Bolsheviks — I agree with that. I’m a Bolshevik; I identify with the Bolshevik tradition. But the fact that you consider yourself to be part of a discrete tradition that includes Marx, Engels, Lenin, Fidel Castro, and Che Guevara suggests that we have different conceptions of what that tradition is.
It is true that there were subjective political failings within the political DNA of Corbynism — this is not a view that will be shared by my fellow panelists — that contributed to its potential going unrealized. Political failings over issues like Brexit, antisemitism — that will be controversial on the panel — the kind of campist approach to international politics that you referred to as well, that’s all factored in for me.
The key failing of the experience of Corbynism was the hegemonic view: “One more push and we’ll get Jeremy into No. 10 [Downing Street] and that will be that.” Some had a more insurgent conception of that and thought that that would lead to struggles. Some people had a naïve conception of that: they thought Jeremy will get into No. 10 and then we’ll have socialism.
Corbynism replicated the apolitical New Labour approach to electoral politics which was about data crunching, which fatally left out of the picture how any serious socialist movement inside the Labour Party has to see itself in insurgent, oppositional terms. The Labour Party is not something that can be taken over wholesale. In fact, it misses the point to critique Corbynism on the basis that it tried to take over the Labour Party and that can’t be done. It didn’t try. That was a big part of its downfall. It consciously avoided those confrontations from the get-go. It avoided a confrontation over mandatory reselection and democratizing the bureaucracy, so the machine was left intact.
I have a significant difference of emphasis and perspective from the other two panelists, although there is a superficial similarity in some of what I am about to say. A key lesson from that experience is that socialist or Marxist activity in the Labour Party has to be insurgent and oppositional rather than attempting to accommodate or see the Labour Party as something that can be captured. Corbynism bounced between those two ideas: accommodation and getting Jeremy into No. 10. That led to demoralization and diffusion.
RB: In the U.S., “Left” might include liberals, but it doesn’t here, and it doesn’t in Europe. “Left” means the working-class movement and political organisations associated with the working class. The “Right” means the organizations associated with the mainstream of the bourgeois political establishment. The “center” means bourgeois liberalism.
The populist parties position themselves in relation to that fundamental taxonomy of modern bourgeois democratic politics. Therefore, if that’s what the Left means, I’m of the Left and if it’s not, then I’m not, and I have no further interest in that subject.
I am interested in the question of where we start methodologically. I first met Jonathan Silberman in 1983 when I was at the Young Workers’ Assembly, and he was slightly too old to be there. He made a brilliant speech from the floor about Ireland, which was a topic that had been glossed over by the organizers. There was a rebellion in Ireland at the time, and it was an excellent contribution. Since then, I think I’ve seen you about twice in my life.
I agree that we start analytically, methodologically from world economy and world politics when we analyze situations. We must proceed from that to an analysis of the domestic conditions. We need to understand the polity not in a vulgar way, simply reading it off from economic and class relations. We need to understand the constellations of interests that are being corralled into political parties and how they act and interact in a particular conjuncture. The basis of a Marxist analysis is an understanding of all the classes in society not only in abstracto but also concrete: what the historical conjuncture has brought them to, what they are trying to achieve, what their contradictions and weaknesses are, and how we can exploit them.
We have to zero in on the weaknesses of our own class, and I will not tire of repeating that the absence of a political party of the workers in any given country becomes the priority that the Marxists in that country must address. It’s stated by Engels in relation to the German and the British situation repeatedly. It’s stated by Eleanor Marx in her polemics with Hyndman, where she argued that what is necessary is not a sect but the organization of a mass party. Plekhanov advanced it against the Populists in the early years of Russian Marxism. Lenin, in his arguments against the Narodniks and the emerging Socialist-Revolutionary Party, argued that a workers’ party was needed, and that it would not be a sect, because it would be defined by its tasks and it would embed itself in real struggles, in order to promote strikes and workers’ organization.
I agree with Jonathan that the Comintern was right to force the warring sects in Britain to come together. They set down 21 points for affiliation, which were clear and revolutionary. They had the authority and the scale in the international movement to do so. The Comintern needed to do so in order to organize people who were breaking from international Social Democracy into a force that would fight for revolution and defend the workers’ state in Russia rather than equivocate on those questions. The sad fact is that the Communist Party formed in 1920 had 2,000 members. Trotsky was right when he argued that it was never really a party; it was nothing more than a propaganda society, and so it remained.
That is why Lenin also insisted it would need to develop tactics towards the Labour Party at that time, with the clear goal of splitting the Labour Party just as the Comintern supporters attempted to split the mass Social Democratic parties in other countries — until the fifth congress came along and started to supplant democratic struggle for leadership with the ultimatist policies of the Zinoviev-ite Comintern. That is what we need to be focused on today — not as an historical re-enactment society, but because we do have real forces.
I don’t agree with Jonathan, that we don’t have a mass strike wave. We do. We have many more strikes than we have had before. Yes, it is true that the RMT and the CWU are both in talks. Daniel is right that these isolated strike days are not a sufficient strategy. The Enough is Enough leadership, instituted by the CWU, are thinking of winding things down. In the correspondence I have had with the general secretary of the Communist Party over this question of what to do with EiE, their view is that the government might be about to try to promote a settlement with the RMT and the CWU to get them off the battlefield, because they realize that they are facing a public-sector-pay battle, and they want key battalions of the private sector off the battlefield. Therefore, there are real forces coming into battle. We need to promote unity.
There is an inflation and energy crisis, and no one has mentioned the war in Ukraine as a potential cause of that.
The public-sector strength and private-sector weakness in trade unions is often remarked on. Obviously, there are hundreds of thousands of people being balloted at the moment, but there are tens of millions of people in the country. Lots of them are working class and having nothing to do with organized labor unions or the Labour Party. Think about the political moment as well as the economic moment. We have had a Conservative government for 12 years. The attempt to have a soft-Left Labour leadership has failed. The position of the Labour Party is to have a general election now. That is what the People’s Assembly march was for: the People’s Assembly for Keir Starmer’s Prime Ministership. What is the meaning of this strike wave, when you have lots of public-sector workers pushing for a situation to vote out the Tories? Some of the upsurge in public-sector and transport strikes is motivated by an attachment to the Labour Party in the sense of getting the Tories out. The default position of the Left every time an election comes around is “Tories out!” whether you are for an independent working-class party or transforming the Labour Party.
KB: It is clearly not the strength of the strike wave we would have seen in the 60s or 70s. the composition of the labor movement has changed. We know about the restructuring in the economy. The conditions under which you strike now, e.g., the various restrictions on turnouts, and changes in the social security law, have an impact. We are on a different plateau from that earlier period.
The reasons why certain groups of workers are more organized than others — I think we all know the sociology of that. The transport workers work collectively — it’s a good way to organize. My union, the UCU, has a real problem, because in many institutions, particularly in the universities, workers are atomized. The vote in the UCU is particularly significant, because it draws in large numbers of people who are in much more precarious conditions. I would still define it as a strike wave, because the phrase is relative.
There is a strong formally organized Left leadership in my union, but I am not sure that people are going to go on a strike before Christmas in order to have something to do with the Labour Party’s agenda. If anything, much of the militancy behind the strikes, and particularly the type of solidarity networks that were involved, are a rejection of Labour.
I am not in favor of saying “you must vote Labour all the time” or that any Labour government is better than a Tory government. I would not take that line. I also don't favor the general-election slogan, because of the way it focuses on the choice within two bourgeois parties.
Some of the leaderships of the unions, even those who are some distance from them like Mick Lynch, want a Labour government because they may be able to attain some concessions for the labor and trade-union bureaucracy. For many of them, the leverage aspect is important. As for the rank and file, I think not. It is an economic focus.
DR: You cannot say that the current strikes are not significant. We have also seen the indefinite strike reappear; barristers and some sections of Unite bus drivers either launched or had plans to launch indefinite strikes. There has been a proliferation of local struggles. Another indefinite strike is in a Quorn factory in the north-east — a small workplace, but it is typical of a number of disputes like that in private-sector manufacturing workplaces. It is private-sector workers employed by private-sector employers, who have been at the vanguard of this strike wave. The health sector and the education sector are following. The moment is significant and it is worthy of primary orientation.
Lastly, I would share some of the critiques of the weirdly sub-political way that the general-election slogan is used. It is unfortunate that the People’s Assembly demo, which was initially launched around a series of policy demands, were all subsumed into the general-election demand. Having said that, I am for a Labour government explicitly. Maybe that is a difference of emphasis from others on the panel. That is the only governmental alternative to government by the Tories. Given that reality, if the Left, the trade unions, and the broader labor movement don’t directly contest the political content of that government, we are repeating the mistake of the 70s, which was to abandon the political terrain to a Right-wing Labour leadership.
We have had a lot of talk about a Labour government and the Labour Party, as well as socialism as doing away with inequality. What does socialism mean to you? What are the ends of your politics?
KB: It is not social equality; it is human emancipation. When I made the point about transition, I was talking about not only the fact that capitalism is unable to provide various material needs for the world’s population, but its social impacts on us. I begin with the idea of freedom, particularly the idea of the working class as, still, the universal class that can achieve that. The changes in the economy, the collective ownership of property — all of those things are subservient to that.
DR: As you can tell, I am a member of an organisation that chose to put the word “liberty” in its title. There is also an emphasis on socialism as an emancipatory project, as a project that is about a radical expansion of human freedom. We can talk in formal terms about socialism as a system of economic organization, and democratic control of the means of production, etc., but to say only that would miss out the element of expansion of human freedom. I see my political project as pursuing the conquering of social, political, and economic power by the organized working class, and, through that, a radical expansion of freedom and democracy.
RB: Socialism is a classless society, which means that in taking power the working class must strive to abolish itself, as well as dissolving all other social classes. It is an aufhebung (self-overcoming, self-cancellation) of the emancipatory potential of the working class, not merely an imposition of the suffering and the current status of the proletariat on the rest of society. We have to abolish the status of the working class. It is a class of wage slaves. The working class can only do that themselves. Marx spoke of the working class as being the universal class, because in abolishing class relations, in establishing direct organization of production and distribution, in unlocking human potential, the working class has no lower strata of society to exploit in order to establish a new reactionary exploitative mode of production. Therefore, in this process, it emancipates humanity from its pre-history, raises the human potential to previously un-recognized and unthought-of levels, and we can begin to live life as we should. |P
Transcribed by Mike Atkinson, Efraim Carlebach, Rory Hannigan, Thom Hutchinson, and Stanley Sharpey
 Federación Anarquista Ibérica (Iberian Anarchist Federation).
 First published in 1951, last revised in 2020.