I don’t think the Portsmouth Socialist Party article is ‘spot on’, as it has been described by one SP comrade: http://www.socialistportsmouth.co.uk/tusc-declaring-new-workers-party-isnt-same-building-one/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter. I think it fails to hit its target. My position is substantially the same as the one put forward in this article on the ISN website, written by Nick Wrack and Will McMahon (http://www.independentsocialistnetwork.org/?p=1417). I strongly suspect most TUSC members already agree with Nick and Will, at least in their identification of many problems if not necessarily with all the solutions suggested. Even most SWP and SP members are probably convinced by the power of the analysis, although they may wait to see which way the wind blows within their respective organisations before endorsing the key points.
The Portsmouth SP article is very different. It doesn’t address the issues raised by Nick and Will, which is profoundly depressing. It also introduces straw men that distract us from what we need to be talking about. For instance, who seriously thinks the alternative to the existing TUSC constitution is to prioritise recruiting Maoists? Not me. Not Nick or Will. Not the ISN. No one does that. What about recruiting Trotskyist grouplets and giving them the same rights as the Socialist Workers Party, SP or RMT? Who supports that? If such comrades do indeed exist within parts of the ISN (and I doubt it), they don’t speak for me. I opposed that anarchistic shambles in the Scottish Socialist Alliance, and I think it contributed to the collapse of the other Socialist Alliance. Such a change would further paralyse TUSC, adding to the existing problems, rather than solving those we already know about.
If small groups do hope to hitch a lift on TUSC by reproducing the structures of the SA, they need to be told we’re not going back down that road to nowhere. But we still need to stop giving other fragments of the left any excuse for splitting the left-of-Labour vote. TUSC has to let these comrades join. Otherwise we bear as much responsibility for their standing candidates against TUSC as they do. But scooping up tiny groups to stop them acting as space debris smashing our small satellite to pieces before it becomes viable is only a small part of the justification for having a membership component to TUSC. It is not the most important part neither. Far from it.
The issue Nick and Will want addressed is how to recruit those who are uninterested in, or ineligible for, joining the SWP, SP or RMT. The Portsmouth SP comrades propose no solution to that and don’t seem to appreciate why this matters. With nothing to join, all those comrades who want an electoral challenge to Labour from the left are given no option but to vote for, and donate to, an organisation that isn’t interested in their democratic input. But isn’t that precisely the argument we use against Ed Miliband’s Party: taking trade unionists’ cash and votes while dancing to the tune of the richest 1%, parroting SKY News and BBC bullshit? Miliband’s party betrays these voters to the class enemy: the owners of the means of production, distribution and exchange, with their warmongers and Royal family figureheads. TUSC won’t do any of that. But if TUSC wants to be a mass party it has to reach out to the voters, engaging in a dialogue with them. If we don’t do that then the Labour Party left will do it for us. They’ll recruit them to Labour. And that will damage TUSC. A membership component of TUSC is indispensable to stop this. Isn’t that obvious?
Recruiting people far to the left of Miliband’s shadow cabinet (and all but a handful of their MPs) is key to building TUSC. These potential recruits are often young, full of energy and enthusiasm for taking on all the vested interest. They’re vital for TUSC in every sense of the word. Such people will canvass for us in by-elections including those just around the corner, which will otherwise be stolen by Miliband and UKIP. But they will only do this if we care about what they think. And that means having a public profile between the handfuls of elections that punctuate Britain’s anti-democratic society. Recruiting these people will prove good for TUSC in so many ways. They will, for instance, help us moderate excesses of sectarianism by individual comrades in the SWP and SP. The caricature of the left as ferrets in a sack (The Peoples Front of Judea versus the Judean Peoples Front and anyone other than the Romans) is funny ‘cause it’s true. Or, to be precise, it’s funny to those of us who want to see socialists squabbling amongst ourselves while the global economy burns and the mass of the exploited and oppressed are disoriented. Do such comrades exist in TUSC? If so, identify them and show them the door because they’re poisonous to the socialist project.
TUSC comrades looking for any opportunity to fight with other TUSC comrades over anything, however petty, forever dragging others in out of tribal loyalty, have to be put back in their box and told to grow up. Both the SWP and SP share this problem. The majority of both organisations do try to rein them in, alas not always successfully. The anti-sectarians in both organisations would be infinitely strengthened by fresh blood, comrades who don’t care about why Tony Cliff split from Orthodox Trotskyists on the theory of State Capitalism literally generations ago, long before most of us were born, or even before our parents were born. Unless anyone can relate theoretical questions that turn them on to the struggles of the day, then let them become the preoccupation of small groups, groups that are free to try to persuade the rest of us why they are right and why these issues do indeed have practical significance. They may be right. All scientific progress starts with one or two individuals. Those new to left wing activism will help all of us learn to behave ourselves. I know this for a fact because I witnessed the strength of it first-hand inside the Scottish Socialist Party and its predecessor the Scottish Socialist Alliance which did allow members from day one.
All the big battalions in the SSP (SWP, CWI and ISM) needed to build coalitions to get anything through SSP conference, and most were ordinary members who listened to what everyone said. We had genuine debates, with everyone having prepared for votes with long articles, and meetings prior to conference to discuss differences. This sharpened the arguments of every comrade making it easier to win them in the outside word. No one could win an automatic majority, as Arthur Scargill could with his block vote in the SLP. And this brings me to the RMT.
Yes, the RMT is the most militant union in Britain today. Great. But we want others. We want TUSC to become a workers’ party, not simply a railway workers’ party. That means recruiting union activists in all unions. These activists will form TUSC scouts and then whole battalions, winning workmates on the ground for switching affiliation from Labour to TUSC. And I am advocating switching affiliation, not merely jumping on a bandwagon set up by the Tories, Lib Dems, CBI, IOD etc. in calling for simple disaffiliation from the Labour Party.
The same method that justifies unions switching affiliation from Labour to TUSC has to inform how TUSC behaves towards Labour voters on a day-to-day basis, including in cyberspace. Labour Party members who are trade union activists, or activists fighting racism, in struggles around war, disability, students, and pensioners have to be treated differently with a degree of respect, especially if they are deemed sufficiently left-wing that we would be happy to recruit them. We have to adopt towards the best of the Labour left criticism, yes; but criticism with the tone of ‘more in sorry than in anger’. Focusing our anger on Labour leftists like Owen Jones plays right into the hands of Labour, right as well as left. TUSC cannot recruit in substantial numbers employing such sectarian methods.
What if those we galvanise don’t want to join the SWP or SP (or who are not wanted by those groups) and don’t work on the railways? What then? What do we do with them? Here’s a suggestion: Let’s raise the profile of the Independent Socialist Network. Let all of TUSC promote them as the membership component of TUSC. Let’s use them as a thought experiment, to test exactly how popular the idea of an official membership organisation is.
Additionally, let Counterfire and Socialist Resistance comrades join the ISN today, if that’s what they want. Alternatively, set some minimum threshold for political groups to have equal affiliation rights. If either of these other groups passes it, then let them affiliate in their own rights. But keep the threshold relatively high. Possibly the test should include more than just numbers, but political weight, however defined. TUSC must never become a federation with a large number of components. That paralyses everyone, and helps our class enemies.
Let me end by reiterating that TUSC wants the existing left-wing groups to participate partly for the negative reason of denying any of them a credible excuse for splitting the socialist vote. Secondly, The ISN should remain the organisation for everyone to join who can’t or won’t join one of the existing affiliated political groups and because the group they do support is insufficiently strong to justify being allowed to affiliate as a group. This would be a temporary solution to a long term problem. If this proposal proves successful, the ISN could grow in a way that dwarfs both the SWP and SP. In such circumstances, the latter should have equal rights to join the ISN, while perhaps retaining distinct privileges as especially powerful affiliated political groups. Everything would depend on the relative weight of all the component parts of the TUSC.