The I.L.P. as the ‘Open’ Party

It would be impossible to describe within a single article of reasonable length the policies of the Independent Labour Party. They stand for just about everything. No cause is too small to merit their attention: Black Militancy; Irish Nationalism; Military Strategy; Liberation of Vietnam; and now, Workers’ Control. These are in addition to their almost unlimited stock of reforms in Housing, Education, Health. You name it, they’ve got it — that is, with the notable exception of a Socialist policy.


With such a universal platform the ILP continues to decay and is, in fact, a political joke. The reasons are that the big battalions of social reform, the Labour and Tory parties, have monopolised the field leaving the ILP and its associates in the position of the small shopkeepers opposing the supermarkets. Another reason is that the policies of the ILP have become so discredited over the years that it appears to them nothing less than a new approach based on new policies will stop the rot.


At its 81st annual conference held at Scarborough earlier this year the new face-lift (third in its history) was performed. The conference made the discovery that they had been wrong all the time, and had a sectarian approach to politics. Sweeping changes in the constitution were made. By a large majority the delegates agreed that there was no value in participating in parliamentary or local elections at the present stage of the class struggle, and voted that no branch or division of the Party should put up candidates in the future, unless in exceptional circumstances. Coupled with this decision was support for “workers’ control” to subvert the organisation of the capitalist class (Socialist Leader, 8 April 1972), and also that members of the ILP would be free to join other political parties and work within them. (This ancient policy was advocated by the Communist Party forty-five years ago, and described as “boring from within”. It proved to be useless as well as dishonest, but this is lost on the ILP).


Their position on Parliament, despite the conference decision, is confused. On page 3 of their pamphlet Towards Socialism they state:


There is little to be gained by relying on the procedures of Parliamentary Democracy. The ILP must therefore recruit members in local communities, in colleges and universities, and at the point of production, for organised subversion.


But on page 4:


Meanwhile the ILP advocates policies and initiates activity, including direct action and Parliamentary activity, designed to strengthen the institutions of the working class and subvert the organisations of the capitalist class.

This contradictory position is all things to all men, and is nothing more than political opportunism. The curious logic which impels the ILP to partly repudiate Parliament arises purely from the fact that they cannot get in there. Political power, which they have courted dearly and cannot have, now they regard as useless. The Parliamentary system is blamed for the failure of their policies. Forgotten is the fact that the first Labour government in 1924 largely consisted of ILP members, including 45 MPs. The second Labour government contained 111 members.


So we return to direct action and workers’ control — theories which are at least 150 years old. This is the “modern” ILP! These emotive policies, borrowed from other antiquated organisations (anarchists, Trotskyists, etc.) are dear to politically immature workers and students. They have that romantic ring, and are removed from a clear and objective appreciation of what makes capitalism work. Incidentally, they have never satisfactorily explained, and none of the organisations which support workers’ control has explained, how you get the capitalists to relinquish their control.


Cartoon by Jack Gold.
Whose Power ?
The claim by the ILP “that real power exists outside Parliament and the Courts” (page 3, The Way to Workers’ Control) is rubbish. This is based on the assumption that the workers have economic power and can use the strike weapon to enforce political reforms as well as wage demands. They are wrong on both counts. It is the capitalists who have economic power, it is they who can and do dictate the conditions under which they will produce, hire or fire. The economic power of the workers is restricted to fighting a series of rearguard actions through trade unions against the unending encroachments of capital. In the field of political reform, no strike action by unions over the past 150 years has produced any reform even in trade-union legislation. Political power and economic power is the prerogative of the capitalists. They dominate society, and the workers support them. Direct action could only be carried on by isolated minorities, and is doomed to failure as long as the majority of workers give their political support to capitalism.


The most recent example of the workers’ “economic power’’ and “control” was at the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders. This was inspired and led by Communists, supported by the ILP, Trotskyists, SLL, and IS. Viewed as the revolution they thought would be, it proved to be an utter fiasco. Based on the absurd principle that the workers work for nothing, being paid by other workers’ donations, they produced things for the capitalists to sell. No wonder the capitalists did not bring in the forces of law and order, having reaped the benefits of unpaid labour! It eventually deteriorated into a position where the militants led by Jimmy Reid, a prominent CP member, agreed to sit down with the new owners Marathon, a group of American capitalists, to discuss redundancies. Home-grown capitalists were evidently not good enough.


There are numerous instances which show that sporadic gestures of workers’ control are worse than useless. The ILP, SLL, CP, Trotskyists, etc. — the “militants” — are really the running dogs of capitalism. At election times they will come to heel and urge the workers to vote for the pro-capitalist Labour Party. The strange philosophy which impels these people is one which regards trade-union militancy and reform movements as permanent conditions of the workers’ existence. They see no way out.


None of these organisations understands Socialism, and they do their damnedest to make sure that the working class will not understand it either. They are fighting a losing battle, however. The policy and principles of the Socialist Party of Great Britain are easily understood, and we offer them to workers who are prepared to learn something new. Without the understanding of the Socialist Party’s policy and principles the workers cannot achieve Socialism. The Socialist Party of Great Britain will not repudiate Parliament — on the contrary, we aim at political power for the sole purpose of establishing Socialism.


Jim D’Arcy