Galloway’s Workers Party: A sheep in wolf’s clothing

Following their leader George Galloway’s victory in the Rochdale by-election, the Workers Party of Britain (WPB) is making a bid to be the standard-bearer in the coming general election of the anti-Labour left. But what do their stand for?

They claim to be a socialist party but nowhere do they clearly define what they mean by socialism.

They are ‘committed to the redistribution of wealth and power in favour of working people’ (which is what the Labour Party committed itself to in its manifesto for the February 1974 general election; in more emphatic terms in fact, as ‘a fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of power and wealth in favour of working people and their families’). This ‘redistributive economics’, however, assumes the continued existence of a wealthy class some of whose wealth is to be transferred to working people. So, they are talking here about a change within the capitalist system. Its reform not its abolition. Socialists, by contrast, stand not for a less unequal ownership of wealth but for the common ownership and democratic control of the places where what society needs to survive is produced.

The WPB ‘believes in an economy that works for the working class people, the vast majority’. All parties say that, and not just the Labour Party either. The question is what is being proposed to try to make ‘the economy’ work in this way. Perhaps surprisingly, the WPB does not envisage the widespread nationalisation of productive industry that the Labour Party’s old Clause Four did. Not that nationalisation — the state take-over of some industry or business — is socialism. It is state capitalism under which workers still work for wages and are treated in the same way as by private employers, as many workers have learnt from experience.

Their position on this is that ‘we are not afraid of selective nationalisation especially of dysfunctional utilities and for strategic assets’:

‘Our nationalisation policy is based on a simple proposition that anything that is a monopoly or essential to the functioning of the country, especially those businesses strategically required in times of crisis, should be considered for re-nationalisation or nationalisation’.

These are precisely the reasons the Labour Party used to give to justify nationalisation when it supported this.

They go on:

‘We say ‘considered’ because full nationalisation may not be necessary in every case, such as national logistics, if the industry concerned is prepared to operate constructively in line with national planning guidelines and places the nation before investors. If we have to legislate to give the national interest priority over the market, we will not hesitate to do so.’

Since there aren’t any monopolies outside the railways and the utilities and since the Bank of England is already nationalised, the most that is envisaged would be a return to the pre-Thatcher situation in the 1970s which would still leave most productive industry in the hands of profit-seeking private enterprises.

They want ‘the state to guide the economic life of the country.’ Given their position on nationalisations, this means the state directing and trying to plan an economy in which large sections of productive activity remain in the hands of profit-seeking private enterprises. Reformist parties have tried this many times and have always failed since such a mixed economy means the government is at the mercy of the private sector which will refuse to invest unless there is enough profit in it for them and no ‘direction’ or ‘legislation’ can compel them to do so. This is why all previous Labour governments have ended up accepting that profits have to be made and themselves applying this capitalist imperative. A Galloway government would be no different.

Like Old Labour, the WPB sees its goal as being achieved gradually: ‘It may take many years to transform Britain into a secure democratic socialist state.’ In the meantime, there are ‘some things we can do immediately.’ There is a ‘Ten-Point Programme’ of immediate demands full of vote-catching reforms (but which doesn’t include any nationalisation measures) such as:

  • ‘Useful, secure jobs for all in decent conditions, with living wages, paid holidays, sick leave, maternity leave, etc.
  • Decent, cheap, secure housing for all.
  • Free and comprehensive healthcare with no waiting lists.
  • High-quality, free provision of all necessary support services for the
  • disabled, as well as the elderly.
  • Universal access to a cheap or free fully- integrated public transport system and all essential amenities: water, sanitation, heating, electricity, post, telephone, internet’.

Apparently, they believe that capitalism could be made to provide all that, but these free or subsidised services would have to be paid for out of taxes which ultimately fall on profits. In fact, profits would have to be taxed so much that it would undermine capitalist enterprises’ incentive to produce, provoking a slump in economic activity.

To be fair, they do get a couple of things right.

They define the working class as:

“It is the 99%. The workers are anyone who has to sell their labour power for wages. What does that mean? It means that if you have to earn wages, do jobs for money, you are a member of the working class.’

And they have seen through the Labour Party (as we did right from its start in 1906):

‘Labour are Labour in name only. Labour do not represent the workers, they serve the elite, the class that does not work: the ruling class. But Labour likes to pretend it is on the side of the workers. It has stolen the name “Labour”. Labour is the wolf in sheep’s clothing.’

On the other hand, they commit themselves to defending the state-capitalist regime in the old USSR.

“We defend the achievements of the USSR, China, Cuba, etc.”
“We shall defend the positive historical legacy of the Soviet Union”.

The Communist Party of Britain and the Scargill Labour Party (SLP) take the same position. It hasn’t done them any good. Quite the reverse. It is more likely to put people off as there is already a widespread understanding that the USSR wasn’t socialist but, as in the West, a class-divided society ruled by a privileged elite.

In short, the WPB is not the ‘socialist alternative to the corrupt Labour Party’ that it claims to be. It is just a return to failed, Old Labourism.


Next article: Labour and ‘the lower-working-class’ ⮞

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