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Proletarian issue 59 (April 2014)
Obituaries: Bob Crow and Tony Benn
Bob Crow

Bob Crow was a life-long trade-union militant who rose to the top job in the RMT union. Unlike the vast majority of British trade-union leaders, he did not put his faith in the Labour party (although he had friends who were prominent within that imperialist party) and his political life followed an unusual path.

He joined the revisionist Communist Party of Britain (CPB) following a strike at P&O Ferries, after he had been impressed with the support that the Morning Star had given the workers in struggle. He was immediately put onto that party’s Executive Committee, despite a lack of any communist training.

He did possess common sense, though, and could not stomach the CPB’s venal support for the Labour Party for too long. When Arthur Scargill declared the formation of the Socialist Labour Party (SLP) in 1996, Bob left the CPB and joined him, being elected to the National Executive Committee through the trade-union section.

A couple of years later, he also left the SLP, for reasons unknown, and subsequently gave support to various Trotskyite and revisionist electoral groupings, although he never again joined a political party personally.

Bob Crow did not understand or accept the need for the revolutionary overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, but he did understand the need to fight for his class within the economic arena and was one of a very small group of decent trade-union leaders in Britain.

As things stand today, the working class has still to raise itself to even mount a defensive struggle for wages and conditions under the capitalist system, never mind stepping beyond those bounds and committing itself to the fight for socialism. All the signs are there, however, that conditions are ripe for this to change as the ruling class hammer workers harder and harder in an attempt to make us pay for the current worst-ever overproduction crisis.

With the leadership of a rare trade-union leader of principle and honesty, who stood up for his members’ rights at a time when other unions were retreating, Bob Crow’s RMT bucked the trend of falling union memberships and disillusioned, dispirited workers. His courage and determination will certainly be missed as the coming struggle heats up.

Bob Crow was born 13 June 1961 and died 11 March 2014, aged just 52. A life tragically cut too short, but given to struggle.

Tony Benn

Tradition and good taste usually dictate that one does not speak ill of the dead. However, can revolutionaries allow themselves to be confined by such conventions when someone from a left-social-democratic tradition dies and is instantly held up as a paragon worthy of emulation by all kinds of pseudo-revolutionaries?

Perhaps it would be better to say nothing, but as the pseudo-revolutionaries have been gushing out praise with regard to how the great Tony Benn supposedly was as an inspirer of socialist ideals among the youth and a raiser of political consciousness, it falls on us to point out, once again, the role of left social democracy.

Our rulers in an imperialist society will always seek to crush resistance from workers, even as life experience is pushing many of those workers into seeking a better life for the working classes and impelling them to find out about the alternatives to capitalism. There is an upper ‘elite’ in the working class that Lenin described as the “labour-lieutenants of capitalism” and their ‘job’ is to mislead the rest of the working class about the source of their problems and about what the solutions might be.

These traitors are to be found in the greatest numbers inside their own political party, the Labour party, but they also have their little helpers inside the revisionist and Trotskyite parties and groups. The leadership machine within most trade unions – at both national and local levels – is awash with such ‘activists’, who understand that there are two reasons for getting to the front of a movement: 1) to lead it forward; and 2) to hold it back.

When it comes to fighting for socialism, the social democrats are always there for the second reason. The ‘left’ social democrats fulfil the same function whilst at times mouthing ‘left’ and even ostensibly ‘revolutionary’ phrases to give an illusion of a march towards socialism to the gullible, while leading them by the nose back to their ‘proper’ place of dutifully allowing themselves to be exploited by imperialism.

Tony Benn earned every penny of his long years of parliamentary wages as he railed against violence, preached forgiveness and placed the goal of convincing the imperialists of the justness of the working-class cause above any idea of an actual socialist revolution.

“But he gave so much support to the miners in 1984,” the cry will go up. In fact, he could safely afford to, because it was always clear that his party, the Labour party, would stand side by side with the Tory government, whilst he and a handful of other Labour ‘lefties’ got the chance to play the ‘workers’ heroes’ without any real fear of a workers’ victory.

If anyone is still sceptical as to our view of Benn’s true allegiances regarding the miners, just ask yourself one question: Which British energy minister oversaw the closure of the most coal mines in the twentieth century? For those needing a clue, it was under a Labour government ...

Here are just a few incidents from Benn’s illustrious career ‘fighting for socialism’:

- As minister of technology in Harold Wilson’s Labour government in the 1960s, Benn's department sold nuclear material to the zionist regime in Israel.

- In 1968, Benn secured a contract for uranium from apartheid-occupied Namibia. Despite a UN decree banning the mining and removal of Namibia’s natural resources, Benn and the Labour government held to the contract.

- Benn happily sat in the Labour cabinet that in 1969 put British soldiers on the streets of working-class communities in the north of Ireland, triggering several decades of anti-imperialist armed struggle – a struggle that he, needless to say, never supported.

- In 1979, speaking on a platform of the Anti-Nazi League, Benn was heckled by black youth, angry at his role in the previous Labour government in implementing the racist 1971 Immigration Act.

- Also in 1981, with uprisings taking place across Britain, Benn attacked the youth and said that “the Labour Party does not believe in rioting as a route to social progress, nor are we prepared to see the police injured during the course of their duties”.

- In 1982, Benn called for economic sanctions on Argentina, and said of the Malvinas (Falklands) war that: “There is unanimity in the House of opposing the aggression of the [Argentinian] junta. There is also unanimity on the right of self-defence against aggression.”

- When Iraq reclaimed its historic province of Kuwait, Benn disgracefully promoted a call for sanctions on Iraq, falsely claiming them to be an alternative to war, whereas they were in fact a prelude to war and a form of war in themselves. The sanctions that followed the gulf war claimed the lives of 4 percent of the Iraqi population, including almost half a million children.

- In 2003, before the second Iraq war, Benn and Stop the War Coalition signed a letter to parliament that StW believed that “the case for war against Iraq has not yet been established, especially given the absence of specific UN authorisation, but in the event hostilities do commence, pledges its total support for the British forces engaged in the Middle East, expresses its admiration for their courage, skill and devotion to duty, and hopes that their tasks will be swiftly concluded with minimal casualties on all sides”. (This was the same line taken by all the bourgeois opponents of the Iraq war – debate before hostilities broke out, but full support for ‘our boys’ once the war started. It was essentially left to the communists to point out that, in an unjust war, we needed to be calling for a victory for the other side, not for our ‘own’ imperialist invading army.)

Tony Benn is dead. Unfortunately, left social democracy continues its treacherous work – in the majority of trade unions, in the anti-war movement, in the anti-cuts movement and in all the other working-class and progressive bodies that are supposed to represent the interests of workers against capital and oppressed people against imperialism.
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