The following is an extract from the document of the 25th National Conference of the Spartacist League/Britain (see page 3).
The Covid-19 pandemic has triggered a worldwide health, economic and social crisis. In Britain as elsewhere the last year and a half has been disastrous for the working class and oppressed: over 150,000 Covid deaths, brutal lockdowns, repression, massive layoffs, furloughs, speed-ups, school closures. The leadership of the workers movement betrayed the proletariat in this crisis, shackling it to the capitalists and collaborating in their devastating offensive. The Labour Party — from its Corbynite wing to the Starmer leadership — the trade union tops and the reformist left all supported the lockdowns and joined behind Johnson’s Tory government in preaching national unity and class collaboration. The Labour Party administered lockdowns in cities throughout Britain and is directly responsible for bringing devastation and misery upon working people.
The position of the British pseudo-Marxist left — the Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Party, Communist Party of Britain, Socialist Appeal, Revolutionary Communist Group, etc — has been not only to support lockdowns but to crusade for harder and longer lockdowns on the Australian zero-Covid model. Any pretension by these reformists of struggling for anything which would be in the interest of the working class in the pandemic is an utter sham given their support for lockdowns.
This conference repudiates the SL/B Central Committee’s June 2020 motion, which capitulated to the government’s national unity by supporting lockdowns. That position was based on the argument that “in the absence of more meaningful public health measures, it [the lockdown] has some efficacy towards the extremely minimal goal of slowing the spread of Covid-19.” This means accepting the moral blackmail of the bourgeoisie, which dictates that the only way to defend public health is to support the government’s anti-working-class measures. It also fuelled illusions that the bourgeois state is an instrument to protect the people rather than an apparatus of violence to subjugate the proletariat.
The only way the working class can genuinely protect its health and combat the social causes of the crisis is through class-struggle means against the bosses and the state. Lockdowns are reactionary public health measures which impede this struggle in every way. They not only have devastating social consequences but also leave the working class disarmed and chained to the bourgeoisie.
We oppose the lockdowns on the basis of a revolutionary working-class programme. Any other basis for opposing lockdowns, whether on a scientific, civil libertarian, conspiracy-theory or trade unionist basis, simply promotes alternative bourgeois programmes to manage the pandemic. Revolutionaries do not seek to reconcile class antagonisms but to use the crisis to advance the struggle for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. If the pandemic shows one thing clearly it is that capitalist class rule is utterly bankrupt and cannot even begin to address the needs of the masses. The working class must fight for its interests now, starting with its most minimal and basic needs. But to be successful this struggle must be tied to that for international socialist revolution.
The leadership of the workers movement in Britain have been standard-bearers for the ruling class’s national unity campaign, parroting its cries to “Stay home! Protect the NHS! Save lives!” Everyone knows the Tories don’t want to save the NHS and are happy to “let the bodies pile high”. Only with the complicity of the labour traitors could the bourgeoisie feed workers the lie that in the pandemic there is a common interest which stands above all classes.
In this crisis, just as at all times, the class interests of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat are irreconcilable. Workers obviously have an interest in protecting themselves and their families from a dangerous disease, but safer working and living conditions can only be achieved by fighting against the bosses and the government, not by working with them. “Protecting the NHS” cannot be achieved by relying on those who have gutted it: the Tories, Labour and the capitalist parasites.
Behind its noble slogans the bourgeoisie pushes its own class interests. It wants to limit the spread of the virus because it is bad for business. It advocates staying home to save the NHS because it is a cheap way to stave off the total collapse of the decrepit healthcare system. The working class has every interest in defending the NHS and fighting to obtain a healthcare system of the highest quality, particularly in a pandemic. But to advance its interests it must cast off the bourgeoisie’s ideological blackmail, which presents any struggle against its rule as a dangerous public health hazard.
The complete subservience of the Labour Party and the trade union bureaucracy during the pandemic has meant that anger against the government, particularly against its brutal lockdowns, has found only non-proletarian, amorphous and heterogeneous expressions. In the spring and summer of 2021, massive anti-lockdown demonstrations took place in London under the slogans of “democracy”, “individual rights” and “medical freedom”. The government, media and Labourite swamp have all united in condemning these demonstrations, presenting anybody who opposes the bourgeoisie’s measures as necessarily reactionary.
While the programme of such movements is entirely bourgeois, they are fuelled by legitimate anger at the government. We must condemn the pro-government propaganda barrage against these demonstrations as well as their repression. Our aim in intervening in such movements is to win the opponents of the devastating government measures to the programme of communism, breaking them away from the civil libertarian, conspiracy-theory and sometimes reactionary politics of these movements.
Given the absence of a polarisation along class lines during the pandemic, the questions of vaccination and vaccine mandates have become major social issues. On one side of the debate are those who will support anything the government does if it is done in the name of increasing the vaccination rate; on the other side are those who oppose any encroachment on civil liberties, any form of mandatory vaccination and sometimes the vaccines themselves. As communists, we reject both sides. We seek to break through this polarisation fostered by the government by posing a class axis. Our guiding principle is the interests of the working class.
It is in the interest of the working class that everyone on earth be vaccinated against Covid-19. We are for mandatory vaccination, ie being forced to get a jab in your arm. It is not a democratic right to refuse to be vaccinated and spread the virus. But we oppose its enforcement through policies which attack the working class in the name of vaccination. We oppose the government firing NHS workers or any other worker because they aren’t vaccinated. Mass layoffs are an attack against the working class and the unions; we oppose them no matter the reason. We also oppose the vaccine passports, which would track every movement of the population and turn every pub employee and shopkeeper into a cop auxiliary.
Trotskyists v reformists
The pandemic has shown two central truths: 1) that the bourgeoisie is utterly reactionary, cannot even start to meet the needs of the working class and must be overthrown, replaced by workers rule; 2) that the current leadership of the British working class — in the trade unions and the Labour Party — is totally prostrated before the bourgeoisie and the government. It is the task of revolutionaries to show clearly to class-conscious workers and youth seeking an alternative that all of the British self-proclaimed socialist groups share the same fundamental politics as the labour traitors and continue to betray the working class. To expose this, we offer a point-by-point programmatic counterposition to the reformist left over some of the key questions of the hour:
Healthcare is even more miserable now than before the pandemic, the housing crisis is as bad as ever and the school system is in ruins. The workers movement must be mobilised to fight for a massive public works programme to build new schools, low-cost quality housing and healthcare infrastructure! To get immediate funds, land and buildings for schools, healthcare facilities and housing, seize the estates of the monarchy and the church! To fund the NHS, to reindustrialise Britain and establish a planned economy, expropriate the bankers and industrialists! These demands are utterly counterposed to the reformist left fantasy that workers’ needs will be met by the election of a left Labour government in Parliament which will “tax the rich” and nationalise the “commanding heights of the economy”.
The bosses will not be voted out of power or gradually dispossessed and the monarchy will not be abolished by a law in Her Majesty’s Parliament. Labour administering the capitalist state is a bourgeois government. The working class needs a workers government, ie the dictatorship of the proletariat to expropriate the bourgeoisie and break the resistance of the exploiters, on the model of the 1917 Russian October Revolution.
The bourgeoisie is waging massive attacks on working conditions: NHS workers are getting their pay cut by the Tories, inflation is rampant, wages are miserable and millions work in part-time and precarious jobs. The unions urgently need to organise the unorganised and fight for a major, across-the-board wage increase pegged to inflation! Scrap zero-hours contracts! Against overwork and unemployment, unions must fight for a 30-hour workweek paid like 40 to spread work among all hands. For trade union control of hiring! Against racial divisions fostered by the bosses, the unions must fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants in order to unify the working class in its struggle against capitalist class rule.
Communists fight to build fractions in the unions based on the full transitional programme, connecting the most immediate economic demands with the need for a workers government. This is contrary to the British fake socialists, whose programme in the trade unions is based on supporting left-talking bureaucrats like Sharon Graham [Unite] against right-wing ones and on pushing a minimum programme of reforms and trade union militancy.
All wings of the trade union bureaucracy are committed to a programme of class collaboration: seeking to renegotiate the terms of exploitation of the working class while upholding capitalist class rule. Against the reformists, whose entire perspective is to pressure the current pro-capitalist labour bureaucracy, we counterpose the need to build a new revolutionary leadership of the working class. We say: Oust the labour bureaucrats, left and right! For a class-struggle leadership of the unions!
Throughout the pandemic, all of the pseudo-revolutionaries — echoing the trade union tops — have preached the lie that the capitalist state is there to protect workers. Their programme to protect health and safety has been to advocate harsher and longer lockdowns, more plant and school closures and stricter safety rules and Covid guidelines enforced by the health agencies of the bosses. This is suicidal and a betrayal of socialist principles!
Unions are the elementary defence organisations of the proletariat. Their purpose is to defend workers on the job, not fight to send them home! Unions must fight now for trade union control of health and safety! The unions, not the capitalist state, should determine what conditions are safe to work under. Fake socialists always talk about “workers control” of safety or production. But if it is not based on class independence of the proletariat, an irreconcilable opposition to the capitalist state and a programme for proletarian power, “workers control” amounts to workers management in partnership with the capitalists and their state, ie institutionalised class collaboration.
The capitalist state is the armed fist of the bosses. It exists to enforce the exploitation of the working class, not to provide safe working conditions! Revolutionaries fight for the complete independence of the unions from the bosses and the capitalist state! Cops, security guards, screws out of the unions!
While the labour movement is on its back — thanks to its treacherous leadership — the British imperialists have increased their depredations abroad. To strengthen their position and deflect anger away from them, they are whipping up working people against China. The enemy of British workers is the British capitalists! Opposition to British imperialism is posed pointblank with the need to defend China against the intensifying imperialist counterrevolutionary drive. China is a bureaucratically deformed workers state and the international proletariat must defend the gains of the 1949 Chinese social revolution! In order to defend and extend these gains, Trotskyists fight for a proletarian political revolution to oust the parasitic Stalinist bureaucracy. But all fake socialists in Britain oppose this perspective.
While some Stalinists support the reactionary Chinese Communist Party bureaucracy, the social democrats and fake Trotskyists beat the drums for the British and US imperialists’ programme of capitalist counterrevolution by ranting about “Chinese imperialism” and campaigning for “democracy” and “human rights”. It was under the same watchwords that the imperialists pushed for the capitalist counterrevolution which destroyed the USSR, a stunning blow to the world proletariat that all pseudo-Trotskyists applauded. Now they are doing the same with China, North Korea and all remaining deformed workers states. Down with British imperialism and all its alliances! Down with NATO! Down with AUKUS! Donate Trident to North Korea!
The Labour Party has shown once more its total subservience to capitalist rule during the pandemic. From Starmer’s right wing to the Corbynites’ left wing, they all betrayed the workers and have been a crucial help to Johnson’s Tory government. Workers need a new, revolutionary party fighting for workers rule, part of a reforged Fourth International. The fake Marxists in Britain are a political obstacle to this. For over a century, their whole strategy has been to pressure Labour’s left wing to adopt a socialist programme. They do this either from inside the Labour Party (like Socialist Appeal, when they are not forced out) or outside the party (like the Socialist Party, whose strategy is to build a new mass reformist obstacle to revolution). This has led only to defeats and betrayals.
From Bevan to Benn to Corbyn, the Labour lefts’ bourgeois programme of administering the British capitalist state necessarily leads to the betrayal of the working class’s interests — this is the central lesson of Corbyn’s leadership. Against the reformists who fuel illusions in the Labour left, revolutionaries must break the working class from Labour — right and left — on the basis of a revolutionary programme in order to build a Leninist vanguard party.