There are several problems with the report on the Independent Socialist Network’s last meeting.
Firstly, I want to get on the record that many of the criticisms made of how TUSC has developed are ones I share. I have made that crystal clear for a very long time.
Secondly, like members of the ISN, I too signed the Left Unity petition some time ago, and I would welcome the SWP and SP discussing amongst themselves their respective attitudes towards it and then, hopefully, agreeing to engage with it constructively, at least since all it is committing anyone to at this stage is a debate. What is wrong with debate, comrades?
Those who have been drawn into the orbit of a handful of socialists around Ken Loach are a considerable number of potential left-wing activists, activists not presently minded to join TUSC nor, alas, vote for it neither. Many of the signatories are good people. TUSC needs to have a dialogue with them.
Dragged along into the Left Unity project are other sorts of people. We have Labour Party members who want to co-opt it, or who may actually (perhaps) be willing to accept the status of well-meaning fellow travelers of the left external to the Labour Party: Owen Jones, perhaps.
We witness sectarians jumping aboard, the enthusiasts for leaping onto any passing bandwagon that can be used as a sectarian stick with which to beat the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party, and the ISN too, unless of course they surrender to these sectarians.
We also find anarchists. Apparently there are supporters of Left Unity who are utterly hostile to the notion of any new organisation standing candidates for parliament, local councils, as MEP candidates, etc: how convenient is that for Ed Miliband, Alex Salmond, Greens, etc? Coincidence? I think not.
We have no shortage of academic ‘Marxists’, professors and would-be professors who hope Left Unity could prove a splendid place to rehearse their latest mind-numbingly dull papers on how many Althusserians can dance on the head of a post-modern ideological horizontal thingamybob.
We have charity campaigners who want to prioritize practical work, specifically to deal with the victims of capitalist austerity in the here and now: setting up soup kitchens, distributing clothes to the homeless. At least the latter group is motivated by good intentions, but most of the others are not.
Is it not better for socialists in TUSC (for all socialists in TUSC) to participate in the debate to stop the sectarians, the Ed Miliband groupies, the academic witch hunters destroying this potential? Surely it is.
Inside this swamp we will find Richard Seymour and Chris Bambery’s cheerleaders attempting to smash up left unity, just as they have been trying to do in Glasgow in recent weeks, along with the Scottish Socialist Party. The SWP and SP need to be there to stop them getting away with that.
What else is necessary? The SWP and SP have to engage with the argument about the role of democratic centralist organisations working constructively inside a broad workers party.
Within the ISN and Left Unity we find a broad range of opinions. We know for an absolute fact that both groups have their Kinnockite Tendency, sectarians determined to destroy left unity by attacking anyone who caucuses to try to improve their chances of persuading the majority of comrades to their point of view, whether on policy, or selecting who is the best candidate when it comes to internal and external elections. The bankruptcy of this Kinnockite Tendency has to be exposed. The sooner the better. That cannot be done by boycotting Left Unity.
The debate on the role of factions within a broad workers party will take place with or without the SWP and the SP. I would suggest both organisations have more to gain by seeking to become full participants from day one, or asap.
Why are those opposed to democratic centralism so sure their ideas are more democratic? The reality is that they are not. They are considerably less democratic, at least when democratic centralism works as it is supposed to. It is an ideal to be worked towards, with specific faults identified and corrected. We don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
There are examples aplenty as to why the absence of democratic centralism is a problem for any party of the left. In the first place the alternative is live-and-let-live, do what the fuck you like individualism. How could trade unions have been built on such a basis? How can we sustain them today? We can’t. What is the point of picket lines if every minority of one is free to ignore majority votes and cross picket lines? And another thing…
Reading the ISN report, we are not told who argued what precisely. We are not told who, if anyone, disagreed with a point made. We are told nothing about the strengths of feeling of one proposal, as against alternatives. I would back a lot of points made but vigorously challenge others.
How do I know who is deserving of support in elections if there is just background noise surrounding everyone, with no one having much of an idea who believes what? All I know is that some people at this meeting argued good thing and some terrible things. How can anyone know who deserves their votes if no one is willing to pin their colours to any particular mast, just blowing in the wind from one day to the next?
Democratic centralism may have certain undeniable drawbacks. However, at least everyone knows where comrades stand prior to the vote when they wear their allegiances on their sleeves and stand behind a banner while selling literature of their particular faction.
After the vote, a comrade may have to accept a certain loosening of discipline from their political organisation in order to abide by a new set of collective discipline, with new guidelines. There are swings and roundabouts here, with downsides to taking up an elected post. But at least no one can pretend that the voters didn’t know what they were getting. This is actually one respect that helps everyone from all across the political spectrum.
SWP and SP comrades elected to leadership bodies within a broad workers party will be voluntarily abdicating certain commitments to their particular faction within the broad workers party. If they can’t abide by this collective decision making, then they are free to return to their roles as lay members and seek to win the arguments within the rank and file. What that means is that the broad workers party that everyone is uniting around is itself taking on many of the strengths of democratic centralism. A quid pro quo. Everyone’s a winner.