From the December 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard
Why does anybody join the Labour Party? Some join to make a career for themselves; to become leaders, rulers, future Labour Lords, men and women entrusted to run capitalism. At every Labour Conference it is easy to spot the opportunists: minds dominated by the opinion polls, concerned to be seen supporting whatever illusions or prejudices will win them seats in the places of power; red ties and smiles for the rank and file, but really they are aching to get away from all the noise, back to "the real job" of becoming successful politicians. The average Labour voter is being used by them.
Then there are those workers who join the Labour Party because they want modest reform of capitalism. They want to attend to this or that symptom of the capitalist disease. but will not get involved in the revolutionary work of abolishing the cause of the problems because “that would be immoderate - a vote loser". These Labourites devote hours every week and years of their life trying to make the profit system just a little more humane. They have been at it since 1906 when the first Labour MPs entered parliament: trying to empty the ocean of social distress by the bucketful. These people belong in the Labour Party because it is, at its best, a party of capitalist reform
There is another category of workers who join the Labour Party: those who want to change society — transform it. This category includes not only the infantile Leninists of the Militant Tendency (whose conception of revolution is as outdated as it is elitist), but very many other ordinary Labourites who think that the election of a Labour government is the way to bring about socialism. It is to these people in particular that The Socialist Party — an organisation entirely separate from the Labour Party — addresses itself. It is our claim that by voting for and joining the Labour Party you are not in any way furthering the cause of socialism; the election of another Labour government would indicate that the workers do not yet understand or want socialism.
From the outset there have always been Labourites who have said that they are out to achieve socialism. Their sincerity is not in question. At the 1925 Labour Party Conference. George Lansbury stated that "Socialism is inscribed on our banners . . . we intend that the land of Britain and all its resources shall be owned and used in the service of the British people". In Labour's 1945 election manifesto, Let Us Face The Future, workers were told that: "The Labour Party is a socialist party and proud of it. Its ultimate purpose is the establishment of the socialist commonwealth of Great Britain." When that 1945 government was elected many workers thought that this was it — the dawn of socialism. What happened? Industries were nationalised — only to leave workers like the miners exploited under state capitalism. Troops were sent to Korea, the NATO gang was joined, the British atom bomb was secretly initiated, and support was given to the bombing of Hiroshima — all by a so-called socialist government. The dockers' strike was smashed by the use of troops. Bevan promised there would be no homeless workers in Britain by the time the Labour government left office; in 1951 they lost the election and capitalism in all its ugliness was still wholly intact.
Then came the Wilson and the Callaghan years: radical transformation remained something to talk about at Conferences, but running capitalism in accordance with its harsh economic laws was what those governments were all about. Many workers voted Labour in 1945, 1964 and 1974 and concluded in disillusion, "If that's socialism, we won't bother to vote for it". That is why Labour s share of the vote in the last election was its lowest since 1918: workers do not believe the promises as much as they used to — and they are right not to.
"But we've got the wrong leadership". This is the perpetual cry of Labourites who are mystified as to why the great change is not coming. It is not very long ago that Neil Kinnock was the golden boy of the Left. But now he has become a "realist", as all leaders seeking to run capitalism must. The recently published Labour Party programme does not even mention the word "socialism". Tony Benn, a member of the last Labour government, has described it as "violently anti-socialist". Therefore it would seem that the only option demanded by honesty and reality must be to leave a party which possesses such a programme. Of course, you will hear rousing speeches from Leftist leaders who will tell you that "Socialism is inscribed on our banners"; you will meet Labourites who will tell you that "anything" is better than That Bloody Woman; you will hear on the grapevine that there is a new socialist leader waiting in the wings and when s/he gets power, socialism will be back on the agenda. The dogmatic belief that another Labour government is in the interest of the working class is one that will be thrown at you from every angle. But in your own mind you know very well that you will never see the establishment of socialism by sending Labour MPs to Parliament.
Socialism will only be established when the vast majority of workers understand it, want it and democratically organise for it in a party which is not out to mend capitalism, but to end it. Socialism means the total abolition of capitalism. An end to private and state ownership and control of the means of wealth production and distribution. Production would be solely for use, with all people having free access to the common store of goods and services, instead of production for sale on the market with a view to profit. To win workers to organise for socialism is a massive task and it is easy to be demoralised and deceive yourself that there is an easier way to initiate the new system. But there is no alternative to the hard work being carried out by The Socialist Party — and the sooner those who want us to succeed join us, the sooner it will be done.