George Walford: Doing the Splits (42)

The Labour Party Conference of October was remarkable for the prevalence of agreement; unlike earlier ones it did not justify Norman Tebbit’s description of the comrades and brothers as “firmly united in fraternal hatred of each other’s guts”. An editorial in the Independent of October 7 spoke of “a respectable measure of unity at most levels of the party,” and the same issue noted “a striking display of Labour unity.”

All these admiring comments go to confirm that the normal tendency of this party is in the other direction, and accounts of the Conference suggest a reason for the difference. The second article quoted above (after suggesting that the unity may be more apparent than real), goes on to note that the activists of the extreme left have been largely isolated, the editorial remarks that Labour is on the way to becoming an electable party, and a writer in the Red Review has remarked that where Labour used to have to promise to do things to get elected now it has to promise not to. The reduction in disunity has appeared together with a reduction in the influence exercised by the more strongly eidodynamic elements in the party, which is of course what theory would lead one to expect. Writing in THE RAVEN 7 (July 1989) Peter Cadogan notes the opposition within the Tory Party between the ‘Lollards’ and the 1922 Committee, and says there are and will be other factions. Factions within the Labour Party are ‘too legion to list,’ and the Communist Party is ‘the most divided of all.’

Peter Neville notes that “There are anarchist movements and anarchist movements rather like the layers of skin in an onion. London particularly is prone to splits and factions which frequently continue long after the people who originally quarrelled have moved on.” (FREEDOM, September)

Paul Preston, in reviewing Richard Gillespie’s book, The Spanish Socialist Party [1] speaks of the internecine struggles of the exiled leadership, the problems of reconstructing inner-party splits, squabbles over ideology and alliance tactics, factional fighting, the tradition of doctrinal intransigence and sectarianism, the party’s divisions during the Civil War and the internecine wrangles which followed. He regards this emphasis on ideological squabbles as lopsided, and sets against them the transformation which created the basis for the strong renovated party of the post-1974 period. Giving full weight to these final comments, it remains to be explained why it is so consistently the left, rather than the right, which provides the material for accounts of ideological squabbles.

Division commonly attracts more attention than unity, so the cohesion of the eidostatics receives less comment than the splits of the eidodynamics, but Brian Pippard notes that scientists normally use a rhetoric of persuasion rather than polemic, that the quarrels that do occur among them are less over fundamentals than details of interpretation, and that they “stumble towards consensus.” (TLS 29 September)

But nobody enquiring into unity and disunity can afford to ignore the Conference of the Conservative Party. In the Independent of 12 October Terry Coleman says of these affairs that “A typical motion will congratulate Her Majesty’s Government on its policy, and call upon it to continue. I call this a ‘congratulate and call upon motion.’ There is the occasional ‘congratulate, but call upon’ motion, but such deep dissent is rare. The debates are processions of praise.”

One of the more active sources of potential conflict within the Tory Party lies in the differences between Mrs. Thatcher and Michael Heseltine. Heseltine (Coleman is satisfied that he hopes for the Leadership eventually) held his own fringe meeting, apart from the Conference, where he hacked at Mr. Lawson’s trade deficit; but also defended his rise in interest rates. “… above all this was a loyal speech. It had to be because Tories destroy those whom they deem disloyal.”

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LENIN noted that the unaided working class does not develop more than a trade-union consciousness. The remark is sometimes condemned for condescension, but it seems more likely to have expressed the perception that the working class, defined by the economic position of its members, remains an economic entity and does not act as a political unit. Contradicting Marx’s prediction in the Communist Manifesto, the proletariat has not come to form one political party.

The only thing wrong with Lenin’s remark is the implication that with help the workers will become a political entity; for the most part they reject all attempts to urge them -in this direction, spurning the communists, and the other movements claiming to express their interests, as vigorously as do most of the bourgeoisie.

[1] Gillespie R. 1989 The Spanish Socialist Party; a history of factionalism; Oxford: Clarendon Press. Review in TLS 8 September.

from Ideological Commentary 42, November 1989.