Ted Grant

Democracy and discipline

Source: Socialist Fight, Vol. 4 No. 6, July 1962
Transcription: Francesco 2009
Proofread: Fred 2009
Markup: Niklas 2009

The right wing majority on the NEC is trying more and more to consolidate and extend its grip on the party machine with all sorts of manoeuvres, expulsions, bans and tricks. At the same time its leading exponents constantly appeal to the Constitution and utter appeals for unity in the party. Gaitskell, speaking on the result of the West Lothian bye-election, made the latest appeal for unity so that the labour movement could seize what was in his opinion the greatest opportunity for forming a Labour government the Labour Party has had since 1945.

Farce of Russell’s subscription

At the same time there has been the petty trick of the organisation sub-committee to declare that Earl Russell is not a member of the party because he has not had his dues collected for 1962! One can be sure that a telephone call or letter would soon have set right any oversight on this question. The capitalist press has seized with joy the opportunity to ridicule the Labour Party at such a mean and stupid manoeuvre to avoid the issue of expelling or not expelling Earl Russell for attending a Conference in Moscow called by an organisation on the Labour Party’s proscribed list.

Perhaps the NEC sub-committee hoped that by the time the dues were paid the Conference would be over and done with long before its next meeting and that of the NEC! Thus they could avoid the issue of principle.

Earl Russell himself wittily put forward the issues when he was solemnly warned that he was violating Conference decisions:

“…There seems to be two sorts of decisions at Labour Party conferences. There are the decisions that Gaitskell approves of—those are binding upon every individual member of the Labour Party. There are the decisions that he does not approve of. Those are not only not binding on him, but the opposite is supposed to be binding on everybody else.”

Alienation of young people

Not only on this question but on other issues as well the leadership of the Party is behaving in a bureaucratic fashion. There is the issue of the seven members of the National Committee of the Young Socialists whose views are apparently too much to the left for the majority of the NEC. They have been interviewed by the organisation sub-committee and their fate is to be discussed by the NEC. This intolerance may ruin the possibility of building a viable mass youth movement. Certainly the attitude towards the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) has prevented thousands of young people from joining the Labour Party.

To make sure that the Parliamentary Party is firmly under control, Transport House is exerting pressure to see that only “orthodox” Gaitskellite or right-wing candidates are selected. Ernie Roberts, assistant general secretary of the AEU, has been refused official endorsement despite the wishes of the constituency party which selected him. Councillor Harrington of Paddington, an active supporter of CND, selected by the Dover constituency, has also been refused endorsement by the NEC because of alleged associations with a proscribed organisation. Councillor Harrington commented “It is shocking that the right wing can act so venomously and risk throwing up seats which have to be won at a general election. This case is a dangerous precedent…”

Protests needed

The labour movement justly prides itself on its democratic procedures and traditions. But unless the membership asserts itself the party can become a bureaucratised shell. If the policy of the party is to be decided by the membership and not imposed from above then the constituencies and union branches must actively protest against all violations of democratic procedures and violation of conference decisions.

The attitude of the lower ranks of the party was demonstrated when despite the furore of the capitalist press and a demagogic and mendacious campaign the London and Glasgow Labour parties refused to take any action against those young members guilty of rushing the platform as a result of the provocative speeches of Gaitskell and George Brown. Very sensibly and in order to promote real unity in the party they let the issue die. If the leadership is seriously desirous of promoting the unity of the party they would follow this example. Unity will only be obtained by making a serious attempt to carry out the socialist aspirations of the rank and file.