I am a proud supporter of TUSC. I am also extremely critical of the electoral strategy it has pursued for a long time, from the beginning I guess. I would be calling for that to change asap (and for other changes as well, such as creating a space for activists who can participate without joining either the SWP, SP and RMT) even if it wasn’t for Ken Loach’s appeal for a new left-wing party, an appeal that has found quite a powerful echo amongst the activist left. I want to propose a plan of action for the core components of TUSC. I hope what I say will be taken into consideration. We shall see.
I signed the Left Unity petition early on. I should probably have done it immediately. I am pleased that the Independent Socialist Network have voted unanimously to participate in this Left Unity initiative: http://www.independentsocialistnetwork.org/?p=2020.
Some members of the SWP and SP are less than friendly towards this: “It should be strangled at birth!” appears to be attitude of some of the more sectarians comrades. This is not good enough. A much more sophisticated approach is needed. What should that be?
For the last few weeks I have embraced the image of Chris Harman as an avatar on t’internet. I had considered this for some time. I didn’t think I deserved it. Then again, I have been using the image of Rosa Luxemburg and Antonio Gramsci for years. Do I deserve to associate myself with them either? Of course not. I decided that Harman had been dead long enough for it no longer to be tasteless to use his image. What I am doing, I hope, is to get radical youths to ask themselves who Harman was, then to do some research, and to try to see the world through his eyes. One of the things I respect Harman most for was his attempt in 1985, in the immediate aftermath of the defeated Great Miners Strike, to try to fuse the cadres of the Socialist Workers Party and the then very large cadres organised by Peter Taaffe. Had Harman got his way, the new party would have over ten thousand activists, with roots in the working class, and with no serious organised competition outside Labour: 1984 and the shape of things to come.
The new party could have done what Scottish Militant Labour started to do on its own when they split from Labour a few years later, then with others as they formed the Scottish Socialist Alliance, then the Scottish Socialist Party, which eventually convinced the SWP to join. However….
By the time the SSP fell apart, the left across the UK had seen many attempts to challenge Labour from the left, one after another, come and go, raising expectations, leaving behind acrimony and disillusion. Even before the SSA was formed, we had Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party. He refused point blank to allow Militant to organise as a faction, and he denied the right of members of the SWP to sell their literature, or would have had he been asked. What this meant was that the SLP could not do what was necessary.
In Scotland, from day one, the SSA was boycotted by the SWP. This was justified with a set of extremely poor reasons. By the time the SWP did their deal with the SSP, most of the cards were held by the latter. The SWP ended up agreeing not to sell Socialist Worker in public in Scotland, which was a restriction every other faction in the SSP refused to accept.
George Galloway’s RESPECT ignored the democratic accountability of the SSA/SSP and of the SA in England and Wales, the popular policy of workers MPs on workers wages, and defense of all oppressed groups, rather than allowing elected representatives to pick and choose which oppressed group to support, finding it acceptable to dismiss women’s rights and gay rights being ‘shibboleths’.
The founding of RESPECT was a terrible mistake because Lindsey German and John Rees misunderstood the difference between united fronts and ad hoc electoral pacts, on the one hand, forms of unity which could and should have been offered to George Galloway and oppressed Muslim activists from, on the other, an utterly unprincipled electoral bloc that paralysed socialist activists, transforming them into mere voting fodder for George Galloway.
Ever since Tony Blair succeeded in tearing up the Labour Party’s commitment to the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, there has been a need for socialists to re-enfranchise the wage slaves, those with nothing to sell but their labour power, those who are exploited, bled dry by surplus value vampires, the richest 1% whose reckless gambling has put all our futures at risk. That necessity has not gone away. What has changed over the years is how an alternative to Labour can be built.
The inability of the left to cohere sufficiently to pose a credible electoral pole of attraction, by tapping into the radical alienation from the Blairite traitors, has allowed Labour to take its core vote for granted. The genuine left have to hold our hands up and accept that responsibility for this is, at least in part, our own fault.
While these radical protesters are chomping at the bit for a repository of their protest vote, candidates extending olive branches, striving for unity to give the Labour leadership a good kick up the arse to remind them we are more than mere voting fodder for Ed Miliband, the best that tends to happen is that those disillusioned with the Labour leadership simply sit on their hands on polling day. And that is nowhere near good enough.
Labour will simply swallow the bullshit of SKY, BBC and Channel Four News that these abstentions represent yet another aspect of a general shift to the right. That in turn ‘justifies’ the mass media shifting even further rightwards. This gave Kinnock, Blair, Brown and Miliband their much sought after excuse to keep leapfrogging the other pro-capitalist parties onto extreme Thatcherite territory. And this process has progressively altered the political climate, and not in a positive direction. The sooner we understand how this works, the sooner we can do what is required to mobilise the necessary forces that will shift things back in the opposite direction.
The electoral platform of a fused SWP/Militant party during the mid-1980s could have tapped into the politics of these organisation and those who resented Kinnock’s abandoning unilateral nuclear disarmament, indifference to trade union laws, abandonment of a radical extension of nationalisation, etc. However, as the political centre of gravity has been allowed to shift considerably to the right, the only way to pile up votes today is to somewhat moderate our transitional demands, relating them to those consciousness of workers who are to the left of Labour, who want to register this at the polls, but who remain insufficiently to the left to actually sign up to the SWP, SP or whatever.
Where exactly should a Left Unity or TUSC group find its manifesto? It has to be less radical than that which is required to sign up to join the party. It has to be relate to a sufficiently large section of our class to force Labour and the trade union leaders to sit up and take notice. That is only the way to force the Labour leadership to shift to the left. They would have to try to stop a hemorrhaging of their own support to the left. Regardless of how Labour would respond, TUSC and/or Left Unity benefits. Either way, our class benefits.
The only way to maintain a stable relationship with our class is to see to it that any vote is sufficiently strong to make some progress to replacing Labour as the party looked to by workers. Votes simply will never be won on the basis of arguing that unless a socialist party forms a majority government, then nothing is possible. That is both wrong, and dangerous in that it gives workers no reason for paying any attention whatsoever to that electoral challenge.
Prior to forming a majority government, any socialist party will inevitably go through a series of moves forward: saving deposits as a matter of course; securing representation as a consequence of those rare proportional representation votes; successes in forums with a class composition favorable to the left (trade unions, for example); low turnout elections in local government, where we can mobilise activists as the mainstream parties suffer from their inability to enthuse anyone; and high profile by-elections, where the government is not going to change just because of a risk of that by voting for the candidate you most want, you might end up helping the one you least want.
All these factors have to be taken into account to move from where we are today to where we want to be in the future. We have to relate to the consciousness of workers as they are now, not an ideal class at some future date. We have to play with the cards we are dealt, not bluff when everyone knows we are bluffing.
The SWP and SP have to deal with the fact that Labour has alienated so many workers that they will be organising themselves with or without the SWP and SP. If the latter, then that is bad for everyone, except all parties of capitalism, primarily Ed Miliband’s party. Such division would only prolong the paralysis of our socialist alternative.
TUSC is paying for its mistakes. Refusing to negotiate with these new forces released by Ken Loach’s appeal will be a disaster. Sectarians want to use the witch hunt against the SWP to justify excluding them from the Left Unity initiative. How very convenient for them. These tend to be the same individuals who have spent the last period undermining TUSC and other electoral challenges to the main parties of capitalism, including Labour and the SNP. Richard Seymour and Chris Bambery are two such traitors.
These sectarians cannot be allowed to get away with this because it is a betrayal of our entire class. Apart from everything else it can only justify the SWP standing candidates against Left Unity. The same clearly goes for the SP.
What we clearly need is a broad workers party. We need a party that allows individuals to come to debates with open minds, who tell the larger groups to convince them of their respective proposals. We need a party where there are no dominant groups who make conferences a waste of time because Arthur Scargill can produce a card with more votes than all the other delegates put together. We need a party where there is no single democratic centralist organisation capable of mobilising sufficient cadres to outvote everyone else. That is a travesty of democracy. But we do need a party that allows factions to mobilise to try to convince the majority.
That is fine. Given the electoral system we face, that is the only way for the SWP and SP to go forward. Such a party can pile up the votes. And it can win sufficient votes to force Labour to steal our clothes. And it will pile up enough votes to peel off one trade union after another as Ed Miliband will never be willing to give the organised working class what it needs.