The electoral alternative socialists need has to embrace both the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party. That much should be a given. We also need to keep the RMT union. Accomplishing that means bringing other trade unions on board. How on earth do we do that, comrades? We need credible votes. The big battalions of the trade union movement won’t switch affiliation from Labour to an organisation whose vote is as poor as ours traditionally has been. Why is our vote poor? That, comrades, is what we need to discuss, and as a matter of urgency.
Unlike at least one high profile member of the SWP (who I suspect was speaking on behalf of many others; possibly a majority), I do not believe the reason is primarily caused by objective factors beyond our control. I am not a voluntarist regardless of what this comrade claims. I don’t believe acts of will and acts of will alone change everything. If I did I’d suggest we held the keys of Downing Street in our hands already; that a majority TUSC government will usher in a socialist utopia within a year or two. That, clearly, is nonsense. However, just because a lot is ruled out due to objective factors that doesn’t mean everything is beyond our control. We can’t control the oceans, but we can ride a wave, if we develop the appropriate skills. What do I believe TUSC has been getting wrong?
I believe many comrades are blaming the broadcast media (and print media too, of course) for their media blackout of us. Have these comrades taken a long hard look at this media? The agenda pursued by SKY, BBC, and Channel Four News is that of NATO, the richest 1%, profiteering gambling idiots, unelected heads of state, burying stories about police corruption and brutality after a brief moment or two airing the establishment’s dirty linen in public. Nationalisation is not even on the radar for them. Renationalisation (not to mention its extension) is costly, apparently. It’s also, apparently, undemocratic. How come the broadcast and print media get away with all this bullshit?
Tony Blair’s tearing up of Clause Four has had consequences. One of the main parties of government in Britain was committed to a vision of society that implicitly (if not explicitly) supported Marx’s theory of surplus value: without public ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, the workers cannot obtain the full fruits of their labour. This passage in the Labour Party’s constitution, printed on every member’s party card, pointed to the notion of exploitation. That, in turn, explained and justified resistance to the profiteers. The BBC, SKY News, Channel Four News now treat the idea of wage slavery as the sociological equivalent of the Copernican revolution during the latter years of Galileo. Marxists have been placed under house arrest as far as the official media is concerned. There is no debate with us. Our polemics have been tippexed out of the history books. We’re dealing with falsification worthy of Josef Stalin himself. If they mention us at all these days, the official media do so to ridicule us as political Flat-Earthers, if not cheerleaders for totalitarianism. Why does this matter, comrades?
Workers who are unaware of the legitimacy of class struggle (due to it being an act of resistance by the exploited) are far less effective in that struggle than those who know the truth. We need to repopularise the idea of surplus value, and why public ownership is indispensable for both political and economic democracy.
How can we possibly gain access to use the broadcast media to get our message across? Face fact, comrades, we can’t do that at all unless we stop embarrasing ourselves in our electoral results. We have to demonstrate that credible support exists out there for our ideas. This, comrades, is a chicken and egg problem. But there are solutions. And here are a few of mine:
There are going to be mass strikes, coordinated across trade unions, as workers prove unable to tolerate the cuts in the pipeline. Contrary to what some individuals seem to believe, the cuts demanded by Cameron, Clegg and Miliband have barely begun. When they do Labour will be found wanting because Balls anemic Keynsian borrowing ‘strategy’ is as bankrupt as George Gideon Osborne’s Plan A. Labour’s alternative is as bankrupt as is global capitalism itself. Labour, sooner or later, is going to plunge in the polls, joining the Tories and Lib Dems. If there is no credible left-wing alternative, then the ever-growing protest vote will go elsewhere.
As with nature, politics abhors a vacuum. It is obvious to anyone with half a brain that main beneficiary is going to be, as has been the case for some time, UKIP. The Greens do expect to benefit also. But their ambition of mopping up disillusioned Lib Dem voters won’t help them draw upon workers in struggle. The Greens are liable to be torn apart as will every other cross-class organisation, and that includes the forces of the state: armed forces and the forces of law and order.
TUSC has to have established itself as a political player (if a very small one) by the time Labour joins the Tories and Lib Dems in falling down a pollster’s mineshaft. If we have not swept up the best of the debris of the activist left, they have the potential not to build themselves, but certainly to do damage to us. If we have not established ourselves as THE socialist alternative, others will throw their hat in the ring and voters won’t know which to opt for.
Comrades, we can do this. We can build TUSC by anticipating tension between the trade unions that are going to need a voice in parliament when wide-scale strike action leads to the police and the army being deployed at a national level to help scabs. Workers will need a political voice when the courts threaten to seize trade union assets. As Ed Miliband jumps to the tune of BBC, SKY News, and Channel Four News, we need to be there as an already established voice, one that will exploit every opportunity to defend our class with as much enthusiasm as the Tories and Lib Dems support theirs. We can do this, comrades.
Last night I cross-posted an excellent comment from Neil Williams which he left on the Socialist Unity Network website. This was helpful to us in many ways. One or two of the positive features of Neil’s comment is perhaps counterintuitive. I want to explain what exactly was so helpful. Neil has similar anxieties about the existing state of TUSC as I do, as many ISN comrades do, and as some of those socialists knocking at the door of TUSC do: specifically Socialist Resistance. Far from undermining TUSC, it is defense by a critic like Neil that has exposed the nonsense that we are undemocratic. TUSC has to embrace thoughtful dissidents, and it has to make a virtue of the fact that we are not all singing from one hymn sheet. While there may be limits, we should let a thousand flowers bloom. Dig up the weeds of sectarianism, and personal bile, but let’s invite all socialists to participate fully in a democratic membership organisation. The alternative to this, as Neil pointed out, seems to be nothing more appealing than entryism into a party that is betraying workers over and over, an entryism that is nothing more than a scarlet fig leaf for Ed Miliband. It is obvious to Neil that this is a road to nowhere. It is obvious to me too. We need to patiently explain to Owen Jones and to his significant periphery why this is the case.
Why do I insist upon a ‘patient’ explanation? Why can’t we simply laugh at Owen Jones pretentions to be anything other than a Tony Blair clone? I reject this for a couple of reasons. While it is a pointless waste of socialists’ talent to bury themselves in Ed Miliband’s Labour Party, the reality is that comrades like Owen Jones remain socialists, good socialists – socialists who have got lost, but socialists nonetheless. TUSC needs to send out a rescue party. Why do we need address the arguments they use rather than straw men arguments we might wish they’d use because the latter are so very much easier targets? This is not simply about recruiting longstanding apologists for voting for Ed Miliband’s Party when they ought to know better. No, it’s about undermining their potential to continue to do that with wider layers of voters, voters who should be ours. How do we win these people? How do we win their voters?
What will the Owen Jones tendency do when the only candidate embracing most of their left wing policies stands under TUSC’s banner in the forthcoming by-elections? Most of us may be a bit further to the left on some issues. I know I am. But we can only replicate the kind of electoral upset that plunged Galloway back into parliament if we give those repelled by austerity lite something to do between elections. something to join. And that something has to be the Independent Socialist Network.
The Independent Socialist Network has to transform itself into the membership component of TUSC. Then it should be promoted as such by all of us. It needs to be given official status within our constitution. If, as I predict, this strategy leads to a large influx of new members, they would need greater representation on TUSC’s leadership according to how big they grow. Details can be negotiated by the existing leadership, possibly with an input from members of Socialist Resistance. I do not see why the SP, SWP or RMT should be afraid of this. Surely this has to be the way to galvanise the anti-capitalist youth. It could be a problem for the RMT if we didn’t reassure them that all these new members would prioritise working within the trade union movement to explain why unions have to switch affiliation from Labour to TUSC. But we are going to reassure them.
As previously stated, the accusation leveled against me of voluntarism doesn’t hit home. I know the potential for winning elections under first past the post is pretty awful for the time being, especially at a general election, and that could still be a long way off. But there are proportional representation elections. And these are as key for us as they were for the Scottish Socialist Party when it had 3,000 members and six MSPs. They are key for our Irish comrades, who have proven how well the SWP and SP can work together. To get past the PR threshold is less difficult. But we still need to undermine all competitors to the left-of-Labour vote. We need to ignore independents in all but very special circumstances. But we do need to prove to voters that if there are electoral clashes with Respect, CPB, or any other socialist force, our hands are clean. That is how the SSP did it before it ceased to be a socialist organisation. And this brings me to something that does put me at odds with the majority position of the SWP, SP and RMT.
I am united with both the SWP and SP in not wanting to set a precedent by giving Socialst Resistance affiliation status. I don’t have a closed mind on this. I could be convinced. But prior to getting such status they would need to explain how they will stop other – even smaller – groups using their inability to obtain such privileges as a ready-made excuse for setting up a rival electoral organisation. I think the best solution would be for SR to join the ISN, and to do so immediately. While that could create problems for the latter group, these are not insurmountable problems. There should be quid pro quos. Having Socialist Resistance activists on board, should raise the status of their paper to that of an unofficial paper of the ISN, the official membership component of TUSC. This has to be good for everyone. We could give those who vote for TUSC in the coming by-elections something to use when we moved on the day after polling stations closed.
Socialists not on board TUSC have one thing in common. Whether they are inside or outside Labour, they are dismissing us as people who hate each other. We need to demonstrate that isn’t true. If SR do join TUSC, helping establish the ISN as the official membership component of TUSC, they can strengthen themselves and the rest of TUSC. Everyone’s a winner. And the biggest winner of all: who might that be, exactly?
The biggest winner would be those socialist activists looking for home, most of whom will be new to politics. And, because we would be focusing all these comrades (anti-capitalists who would otherwise abstain or reluctantly vote Labour, SNP, Greens, maybe even UKIP), we would have a bigger, much more enthusiastic contingent of trade union activists, those looking forward with confidence to gaining voices in the European Parliament, Holyrood, etc. In the interim, as our vote grows, filling the political vacuum as the capitalist parties all flounder, TUSC will start to chip away at the media’s boycott of us. They will have little option but to allow us on as guests on Question Time, Any Questions, Sky Papers etc. And we will find our message echoed by the viewers on the shop floor, offices, student unions the next day and all the days to come. That in turn will make the inevitable class struggles more conscious and, thereby, much more effective.