Labour Party. In 1900, representatives from the ILP, SDF, Fabians and other organisations joined trade unionists in setting up the Labour Representation Committee, to establish ‘a distinct Labour Group in Parliament’. In the 1906 general election 29 out of the 50 LRC candidates were successful and it was decided later in that year to change their name to the Labour Party. Lloyd George, a Liberal, claimed that the name alone was worth a million votes.
At the start the Labour Party was intended merely as a trade union pressure group in Parliament. It had no socialist pretensions, and was indeed merely the tail end of the Liberal Party. Nearly every Labour MP returned before the First World War owed his election to Liberal votes in accordance with a shady deal Ramsay MacDonald had made with the Liberals. In 1918, under the influence of the Fabians, the Labour Party adopted a new constitution that included the now rejected Clause Four. This clause in fact committed it not to socialism, but to state capitalism which was the real aim of the Fabians.
The first Labour government, kept in power with Liberal support, was in office from January to November 1924. The second Labour government, returned in 1929, again had Ramsay MacDonald as Prime Minister. He had promised to reduce unemployment, then standing at 1,164,000. But within a year it had gone up to 1,911,000, and in two years it had more than doubled, at the record level of 2,707,000. In 1931 the Cabinet were split over what was to be done about the economic crisis. The upshot was that the Labour Prime Minister, MacDonald, formed a National Government along with Liberal and Tory leaders, and the Labour Party was split in two.
When in 1945 Labour were returned with an overall majority they set about nationalising a large section of industry; but those who thought that state capitalism coupled with a Labour government was in the interests of workers soon learned the truth. In administering capitalism Labour did what was required to protect and further the interests of the British capitalists. They retained war-time legislation banning strikes; they sent troops into the docks; they put striking gas workers and dockers on trial; they imposed wage restraint and then a wage freeze; they introduced peace-time conscription for the first time; they began the development of the British atomic bomb; they sent troops to help American imperialism in Korea - but they did not solve the housing problem as Bevan had promised.
Elected in 1964 and 1966, Labour were once again able to show their commitment to capitalism - another wage freeze, incomes policy legislation, proposed trade union legislation (‘In Place of Strife’, dropped in the face of a storm of union protest) and a tougher immigration bar. In 1974 Labour was elected with Harold Wilson again as Prime Minister. In the same year Labour’s Chancellor, Denis Healy, had said: ‘We will squeeze the rich until the pips squeak’. But over the next two years the richest 10% of the population increased their share of the wealth from 57.5% to 60.6%. During the Labour government 1974 - 1979 unemployment went up from 628,000 to 1,299,000, while the general price level rose by 112%. It was a Labour government led by James Callaghan, trying to hold wage increases down to half the increase in the cost of living, that led to the ‘Winter of Discontent’ (1978 - 1979) and the sending in of troops to break the firemens’ strike.
After defeat at the polls with Michael Foot (1983) and Neil Kinnock (1987 and 1992) as leaders, the Labour Party had moved away from policies favourable to state capitalism towards openly accepting market capitalism. Under the leadership of Tony Blair (1994 - 2007) and Gordon Brown (2007-2010), Labour remodelled itself as ‘New Labour’ and Labour governments (1997- 2010) have not been afraid to pursue the interests of the capitalist class, including offensive wars against Iraq and Afghanistan. Labour are still the enemy of labour.
The evolution of the Labour Party is a practical confirmation of the theoretical case against reformism. With a working class that has never at any time understood or wanted socialism, the Labour Party, instead of gradually transforming capitalism in the interests of the workers, has itself been gradually transformed from a trade union pressure group into an instrument of capitalist rule. (See also FABIANS; NATIONALISATION; REFORMISM; SOCIALIST LABOUR PARTY; TRADE UNIONS.)
Labour Party online: www.labour.org.uk/
H. Pelling & A. Reid, A Short History of the Labour Party, 2005
Labour power. The capacity to do useful work which creates value in the form of commodities. Workers sell their labour power to capitalist enterprises for a wage or a salary. As a commodity, labour power has an exchange value and a use value, like all other commodities. Its exchange value is equal to the sum total of the exchange values of all those commodities necessary to produce and reproduce the labour power of the worker and his or her family. The use value of labour power is its value creating capacity which capitalist enterprises buy and put to work as labour. However, labour power is unlike other commodities in that it creates value. During a given period it can produce more than is needed to maintain the worker during the same period. The surplus value produced is the difference between the exchange value of labour power and the use value of the labour extracted by the capitalists. (See also COMMODITY; EXCHANGE VALUE; WAGES.)
Labour theory of value. The labour theory of value explains how wealth is produced and distributed under capitalism, and how the working class is exploited. Human labour power applied to nature-given materials is the source of most wealth. The wealth produced, however, belongs not to the workers but to those who own and control the means of wealth production and distribution (land, factories, offices, etc.). Wealth production under capitalism generally takes the form of commodities produced for sale at a profit.
The value of a commodity is determined by the amount of socially necessary labour time required under average conditions for its production and reproduction. Subject to any monopolies or government subsidies, it is around a point regulated by value that the price of a commodity fluctuates according to supply and demand. (See also CAPITAL; COMMODITY; VALUE.)
A. Filho & B. Fine, Marx’s ‘Capital’, 2010
Frequently Asked Questions about the Labour Theory of Value:
Law. Most laws are a set of state-sanctioned commands with the overall aim of conserving the power and privilege of the ruling class. The capitalist state, including its judiciary and police, exist to protect the prevailing capitalist property relations. This becomes obvious with certain aspects of the class struggle, such as strikes and picketing, The capitalists and their apologists want the workers - those excluded from owning more than relatively insignificant amounts of property - to regard the state as protector of rich and poor alike and for everyone to be equal before the law. In reality, the state historically developed as an instrument of class rule and the capitalists’ monopoly of the means of life ensures that the law can never be impartial. If capitalist property is threatened the law must defend it above everything else, or else the whole legal system is threatened. This is why the modern state and its laws arose and puts into context the incidental laws which may not seem to be directly necessary for class rule - for example, laws dealing with health and safety at work.
Of course, capitalism being the essentially vicious and anti-human society that it is, laws may seem to be a permanent necessity to protect us from some of our fellow workers. But there is no reason why, on the new basis of material sufficiency and social co-operation, human behaviour can be very different. In world socialism there will no doubt be various democratic procedures for dealing with unacceptable behaviour, but there will definitely be no state and its laws. (See also HUMAN NATURE; STATE.)
Hugh Collins, Marxism and Law, 1986
Leadership. Working class emancipation necessarily excludes the role of political leadership. The World Socialist Movement has an absolute need of supporters with understanding and self-reliance. Even if we could conceive of a leader-ridden working class displacing the capitalist class from power such an immature class would be helpless to undertake the responsibilities of democratic socialist society. (See also CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS.)
Left-wing. A term which comes from the old French legislature, referring to that section of the membership sitting on the left side of the chamber (as viewed from the president’s chair) holding progressive liberal opinions.
Socialists reject the conventional method of political analysis that seeks to understand politics in terms of ‘left’ or ‘right’. The left and right are different only to the extent that they provide a different political and organisational apparatus for administering the same capitalist system. This includes those on the left who aim for socialism some time in the distant future but in the meantime demand some form of transitional capitalism. For this reason the World Socialist Movement cannot be usefully identified as either ‘left-wing’ or ‘right-wing’.
M. Rubel, & J. Crump, Non-Market Socialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, 1987
Lenin, V.I. (1870-1924). Real name: Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov. Born in Simbirsk (called Ulyanovsk after the 1917 revolution, but since 1991 renamed Simbirsk), the son of a school inspector. At sixteen years of age his eldest brother Alexander was hanged for complicity in a plot to assassinate the Tsar. Soon after, Lenin devoted himself to anti-Tsarist revolutionary activity, was arrested, and spent three years in prison in Siberia. In 1900 Lenin joined Plekhanov in Geneva and the following year he adopted the pseudonym ‘Lenin’. He helped to set up a newspaper, Iskra (The Spark), which would articulate anti-Tsarist opinion and activity. Lenin set out what he saw as the necessary organisational structure for a revolutionary political party under an autocracy in What Is To Be Done? (1902). In 1903 he became the leader of the Bolshevik wing of the Russian Social Democrats.
After the revolution of March 1917 Lenin returned to Petrograd (as St Petersburg was renamed because of its German connotations, which became Leningrad, and has now reverted to St Petersburg) in a sealed train provided by the German army. No doubt they counted on Lenin and the Bolsheviks spreading disaffection amongst the Russian army. But after an abortive coup in July he fled to Finland. Lenin then put to paper his views on the state and the socialist revolution, based on his theory of imperialism and giving special emphasis to his interpretation of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, in State and Revolution (1917). He returned to Petrograd in October and led the Bolsheviks to power with a successful coup.
As head of the new government Lenin was preoccupied with the chaos produced by an external war with Germany and an internal civil war. His response was to re-emphasise ‘democratic centralism’ in which the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ came under the increasingly totalitarian control of the vanguard party. However, since the number of people in any country who wanted socialism was very small (Russia especially), the Bolsheviks had no choice but to develop some form of capitalism. When he died from a stroke in January 1924, most of the main feudal obstacles to capitalist development had been removed, together with all effective political opposition.
With his concepts of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ and the leading role of the vanguard party, and a transitional society of ‘socialism’, Lenin distorted Marxism and thereby severely damaged the development of a socialist movement. Indeed, Leninism continues to pose a real obstacle to the achievement of socialism. (See also LENINISM.)
Neil Harding, Lenin’s Political Thought, 2010
Lenin online: www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/index.htm
Anton Pannekoek, Lenin As Philosopher, 1938 (online at: http://www.marxists.org/archive/pannekoe/1938/lenin/index.htm)
Leninism. According to Stalin, Leninism is ‘Marxism in the era of imperialism and of the proletarian revolution … Leninism is the theory and tactics of the dictatorship of the proletariat in particular’ (Foundations of Leninism, 1924). Accordingly, this ideology is often referred to as ‘Marxism-Leninism’. This, however, is a contradiction in terms: Marxism is essentially anti-Leninist. But not everything Lenin wrote is worthless; for example, his article entitled The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism (1913), contains a concise exposition of Marxism. Why, then, is Leninism objectionable? Because, for socialists, it is anti-democratic and it advocates a course of political action which can never lead to socialism.
In What Is To Be Done? (1902) Lenin said: ‘the history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own efforts, is able to develop only trade union consciousness’. Lenin argued that socialist consciousness had to be brought to the working class by professional revolutionaries, drawn from the petty bourgeoisie, and organised as a vanguard party. But in 1879 Marx and Engels issued a circular in which they declared:
‘When the International was formed we expressly formulated the battle cry: The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves. We cannot, therefore, co-operate with people who openly state that the workers are too uneducated to emancipate themselves and must be freed from above by philanthropic big bourgeois and petty bourgeois.’
Nor is this an academic point, since the history of Leninism in power shows that allowing elites to rule ‘on behalf of’ the working class is always a disaster. Working class self-emancipation necessarily precludes the role of political leadership.
In State and Revolution (1917) Lenin said that his ‘prime task is to re-establish what Marx really taught on the subject of the state’. Lenin argued that socialism is a transitional society between capitalism and full communism, in which ‘there still remains the need for a state… For the state to wither away completely, complete communism is necessary’. Moreover, Lenin claimed that according to Marx work and wages would be guided by the ‘socialist principle’ (though in fact it comes from St Paul): ‘He who does not work shall not eat.’ (Sometimes this is reformulated as: ‘to each according to his work’.) Marx and Engels used no such ‘principle’; they made no such distinction between socialism and communism. Lenin in fact did not re-establish Marx’s position but substantially distorted it to suit the situation in which the Bolsheviks found themselves. When Stalin announced the doctrine of ‘Socialism in One Country’ (i.e. State Capitalism in Russia) he was drawing on an idea implicit in Lenin’s writings.
In State and Revolution, Lenin gave special emphasis to the concept of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’. This phrase was sometimes used by Marx and Engels and meant working class conquest of power, which (unlike Lenin) they did not confuse with a socialist society. Engels had cited the Paris Commune of 1871 as an example of the dictatorship of the proletariat, though Marx in his writings on this subject did not mention this as an example, since for him it meant conquest of state power, which the Commune was not. Nevertheless, the Commune impressed itself upon Marx and Engels for its ultra-democratic features - non-hierarchical, the use of revocable delegates, etc. Lenin, on the other hand, tended to identify democracy with a state ruled by a vanguard party. When the Bolsheviks actually gained power they centralised political power more and more in the hands of the Communist Party.
For Lenin the dictatorship of the proletariat was ‘the very essence of Marx’s teaching’ (The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, 1918). Notice, however, that Lenin’s Three Sources article - referred to above - contains no mention of the phrase or Lenin’s particular conception of the dictatorship of the proletariat. And for modern Leninists this concept, in Lenin’s interpretation, is central to their politics. So, for its anti-democratic elitism and its advocacy of an irrelevant transitional society misnamed ‘socialism’, in theory and in practice, Leninism deserves the hostility of workers everywhere. (See also BOLSHEVISM; COMMUNIST PARTY; IMPERIALISM; LENIN; RUSSIA; TRANSITIONAL SOCIETY; VANGUARD.)
H. Gorter, A. Pannekoek, S. Pankhurst, Non-Leninist Marxism: Writings on the Workers Councils, 2007
Neil Harding, Leninism, 1996
Luxemburg, Rosa (1871-1919). Born in Russian Poland, she moved to Germany where she made a name for herself as an opponent of Bernstein’s revisionism in the German Social Democratic Party (SPD). Her pamphlet Social Reform or Revolution (1899) was an attack on the view that capitalism could be gradually transformed into socialism by a process of social reform. A courageous agitator, she was arrested many times. The Socialist Standard for January 1907 carried a report of Luxemburg’s trial at Weimar and commented:
‘Well done “red Rosa”; you have grandly expressed the sentiments of the class-conscious workers of the world and may you live to see the Social Revolution accomplished.’
But Luxemburg was not opposed to all reforms; she agreed with the SPD’s tactic on reform: that the working class should be encouraged to struggle for them in order to prepare itself for the eventual capture of political power. By 1910, however, it became obvious to her that reformism was not confined to Bernstein but included Kautsky, Bebel and other leaders of the SPD. She still did not blame advocating reforms as such and in fact her answer to the danger of reformism was to involve the workers themselves in a ‘mass strike’. This was a tactic she had picked up from the 1905 revolution in Russia in which she had participated.
In her main theoretical work, The Accumulation of Capital (1913), Luxemburg argued that capitalism would collapse due to its inability to sell an ever increasing surplus product over and above what the workers could buy back. She believed that as capitalism approached this point the growing economic instability would cause the working class to establish socialism before the point of collapse was actually reached. However, she made the mistake of assuming that the level of demand was determined exclusively by consumption whereas in fact it is determined by consumption plus investment (capitalist spending on new means of production as opposed to consumer goods for themselves).
Luxemburg led the opposition to the First World War in Germany, and eventually helped to form a new party, the Spartacus League. She had to spend most of the war in prison and it was there that she wrote the classic socialist statement against the war, the Junius Pamphlet (1915). She had already criticised Lenin for his conception of a centralised vanguard party in Organisational Questions of Russian Social Democracy (1904). She had also criticised Lenin for his insistence on the right of nations to self-determination - even describing Marx’s demand for Polish independence as ‘obsolete and mistaken’. And yet the differences between Luxemburg and Lenin are often exaggerated. In The Russian Revolution (1918), she again criticised the Bolsheviks for their attitude towards democracy; but in other respects her sympathies are unmistakable: ‘the future everywhere belongs to Bolshevism’, she concluded.
Rosa Luxemburg was freed from prison in late 1918 and participated in an armed uprising in Berlin. In January 1919 soldiers responsible to the SPD government murdered her and Karl Leibknecht.
Luxemburg online: www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/index.htm
Norman Geras, The Legacy of Rosa Luxemburg, 1985