Report of LRC Special General Meeting
The LRC’s Conference and the Tasks before US
The Labour Representation Committee was founded in 2004. In that year Tony Blair was Prime Minister. The Parliamentary Labour Party and the Party machine were under the complete and overwhelming control of the right wing. The left seemed completely marginalised, huddled under the banner of the LRC.
The political transformation began in 2008. That year saw the most serious crisis of capitalism since the 1930s. It heralded a decade where working class living standards fell over ten years for the first time since the nineteenth century. Capitalism had failed. Though the crash discredited New Labour’s claim to economic competence, its first result was to bring the Tories to power in 2010. Tory austerity imposed the entire burden of the crisis on to the backs of working people and the poor.
Where was the fightback? It began from an unexpected quarter. The failure of Labour under Ed Miliband produced a Labour leadership contest in 2015. Jeremy Corbyn stood as a 200-1 outsider demanding change, while all the other candidates offered more of the same. Hundreds of thousands were swept up in a mood of radicalism to join the Labour Party during the 2015 and 2016 leadership contests.
The next stage in this radicalisation took place during the 2017 general election. Assured by the commentators that Labour was on a hiding to nothing, Labour’s programme, ‘For the Many, Not the Few’, came as a shaft of sunlight and a revelation. Though it was actually a moderate social democratic programme, it succeeded in convincing millions that there really was an alternative to austerity and that, with a revitalised Labour leadership, Britain could become a much better country to live in.
Labour has the most left wing leader it has ever had. John McDonnell, one of the LRC’s founders and our current President, is Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer. Labour is on a roll while the Tories are in turmoil. While the right wing still predominates in the PLP and the machine, Corbyn’s position as leader is at present unchallengeable on account of his formidable performance during the election.
The Labour Party is the biggest political party in Europe. Hundreds of thousands of new members are enthusiastic Corbynistas, willing to work their socks off to get Jeremy into number 10. Where does the LRC stand on this movement? We are part of it – 150% supportive of the crusade Corbyn has inspired. Socialism, ridiculed and ignored for decades, is now back on the political agenda.
The LRC’s Special General Meeting took place on February 10th. Over the course of the day between 130 and 150 comrades were involved. The Conference was thoroughly democratic with the election of officers and a new National Executive Committee, voting on and discussion about the outgoing NEC’s statement ‘Preparing for a Labour Government: the Tasks of the Labour Left and debate on resolutions moved by local LRCs and affiliated organisations.’ Criticisms of resolutions could be answered by their movers.
The LRC is not just sympathetic to the cause of the trade unions. We are actively involved in trade union struggle in our localities. Two of the most left wing unions in the country, the Fire Brigades Union and the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union are affiliated to the LRC nationally. We also welcome regional and local affiliations of trade union organisations. We take the issues, achievements and problems of the TU movement seriously as our issues, achievements, and problems. A feature of the debate was that trade union and political struggles were not seen as separate, but indissolubly linked with the political struggle against the Tories as part of the movement for working class emancipation.
During the course of our Conference, apart from speeches by John McDonnell, our Chair Matt Wrack, who is General Secretary of the FBU, Ian Hodson, President of the Bakers’ Union, Maria Exall from the CWU and others, we heard contributions from Charlotte Austin of Red Labour, Leah Levane of Jewish Voice for Labour and Deborah Hobson from the Grassroots Black Alliance. All three made powerful speeches. They are part of a burgeoning movement on the left of the Labour Party taking up issues from different perspectives, but definitely heading in the same direction as the LRC. It is clear we can make common cause on campaigning issues with such organisations that have sprung up as part of the left surge within Labour.
The LRC is a small organisation. What do we have to offer a mass movement? In the first place we are thoroughly democratic. Our Conference decides policy and elects our officers. Secondly we have a vast core of political experience preserved from the years when the left of the Labour Party was completely marginalised. Socialist traditions have been eroded over the long years of Tory rule and that of their New Labour imitators. It is our task to take those traditions out to a new generation caught up in enthusiasm for the Corbyn project and eager to learn.
Precisely because we are part of the Corbynist movement we have to maintain an independent political voice. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have shown enormous resilience in maintaining almost alone the traditions of Labour’s left. Huge pressures weigh upon them. Labour’s bureaucracy has not ceased its squalid intrigues and malign witch hunts. The majority of the PLP show no enthusiasm for a programme and a project that they fundamentally do not believe in.
There are enormous pressures upon Jeremy to make concessions in order to take the Party forward. Everybody knows he is a consistent unilateralist. Yet he accepts the Labour Party Conference decision to renew Trident. We do not have to make such concessions. The LRC will continue to campaign against nuclear weapons. To match the pressures from the right, we will represent a pressure from the left on policy. At our Conference on February 10th we declared an independent position on a number of such important issues.
The tasks before us are enormous. Our forces are tiny by comparison. Between the tasks ahead and our forces lies a chasm. We must strive to build a bridge to cross that chasm.