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Sticking to the Union

In response to:

Laboring Fabians from the March 17, 1977 issue

To the Editors:

Frank Kermode’s “Laboring Fabians” in your March 17th issue appears to suggest that my book Social Democracy and Industrial Militancy “holds it right for Labor to accept the obligation to serve both class and national interests,” and that I provide a “favorable interpretation” of the Labor Party’s perpetual call for sacrifices from the workers. It is difficult to know whether this gross misrepresentation of my argument stems from a misplaced footnote number, from awkward sentence structure, or from not having read my book. Whatever, the impression created is such that I could not, in conscience, let the matter rest.

The thrust of my argument is precisely that Labor’s gradualism, parliamentarism and elitism, which Kermode notes, is rooted in the Party’s original rejection of the Marxist principle of class struggle as the cornerstone of socialist ideology, in favor of a view of socialism as growing out of class cooperation and social harmony. The result has been that Labor restrains and reinterprets working class demands in light of a conception of the “national interest” which is shared with Britain’s dominant classes. Far from considering this to be “right,” or interpreting it “favorably,” I show how this has harmed the working class materially and prevented the development of a distinctive political consciousness on the part of the working class.

In light of Professor Kermode’s discussion of the most recent attempts by the Labor left to “bore from within” to change the Party, it is useful to remember that such endeavors have repeatedly proved to be not only boring, but futile. Indeed, my book comes to the conclusion that “a necessary precondition for the development of a revolutionary political consciousness on the working class would appear to be a break between the trade union movement and the Party.” (p. 257)

Leo Panitch

Department of Political Science

Carleton University

Ottawa, Canada

Frank Kermode replies:

My footnote reference should have read, “This argument is discussed by Leo Panitch, etc.” I did not use the words “bore from within” as Mr. Panitch appears to suggest.

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