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“Left-Wing” Communism: An Infantile Disorder?

The Morning Star this morning devotes its centre-spread to a critique of New Labour by Rob Griffiths, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Britain. Most people on the Labour Left and amongst Left union activists would agree with much of its analysis of the failings of New Labour. We obviously share Rob’s commitment “to counteract rightwards drift in the labour movement and the Labour Party”. Unfortunately, Rob’s article fails to make any distinction at all between four out of five Labour leadership candidates (all except Diane Abbott), or between any of them and  the record of Tony Blair.  This means that not only is it of no practical relevance to the Labour Left, but it is an implicit criticism of the Left in Britain’s largest unions who have backed Ed Miliband (or Ed Balls in the case of the CWU).

Rob Griffiths says, for example:

It is significant that neither David Miliband, Ed Miliband, Ed Balls or Andy Burnham intend to reverse the new Labour counter-revolution inside the Labour Party. They do not support public ownership of the railways – or of much else for that matter – or the restoration of Treasury responsibility for setting interest rates. They do not intend to replace Labour’s risible legislative commitment to cutting the public-sector deficit with a serious one to restore full employment as a central objective of government policy.

In relation to David Miliband,  this is  true though even here we should distinguish his position from that of Tony Blair who last week, on the deficit, essentially supported the Tory-led Coalition rather than the admittedly risible but also less extreme position Alistair Darling foisted on the outgoing Labour Government and which has nowitself  been rightly criticised by Ed Balls.

However, it is absolutely wrong to simply lump all four of these candidates together as if they were equivalent. Labour has a choice to make and, as is now almost universally recognised, it will come down in the end to a choice between the Milibands.  There is a significant difference between them: David, nuances aside, is the Blairite continuity candidate. Ed is not a left-winger but  he told the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy that he wants “to lead the party from the left”. We would place both him and Ed Balls in the centre of the party, but also in the mainstream of labourism and European social democracy. He’s clearly keen to put some distance between himself and the record of the last Labour government on many issues – Iraq, equality, redistribution and tax, markets and privatisation, industrial policy, trade union rights and working hours, and civil liberties. He is committed to serious action on climate change. He says he’s committed to the union link and to a party conference with genuine debate and votes.

We’re not convinced he’ll deliver on those things. And there are issues he is clearly not on our side – on nuclear disarmament for example (he wants in principle to preserve a nuclear deterrent though is happy for Trident to go into the defence review) – and many more where there simply isn’t clear enough evidence, like where exactly he stands on public investment versus spending cuts. But he listens and he is inclusive. He seems likely to end the active marginalisation of the Left, allow, even encourage us back in to argue our case on policy in a structure in which it is worth arguing. He is unproven, but that is better than a proven opponent.

Whoever, wins the leadership, the Left must continue to press its case within the Labour Party on policy issues and the reform of the party structure. And whoever wins, given the disastrous electoral performance of all parties at the last election to the Left of Labour (with the sole exception of the Greens in Brighton), it will continue to deserve the support of the Left outside the Labour Party and in the trade unions.

In his 1920 tract, Lenin criticised British communists for ultra-leftism in their negativity towards Labour in his tract “Left-Wing” Communism: An Infantile Disorder“. He famously argued that they should support Labour General Secretary, Arthur Henderson,in the same way as the rope supports a hanged man“. We clearly wouldn’t argue if support for Ed Miliband was conditional (though we might be more cautious with our phraseology), but to fail to express any preference between the Milibands in the Leadership election would be a return to the disorders of the past.

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