Localist dead end

A theme which ran through many of the contributions at last weekend’s LSA general meeting was the view that local work was paramount. Many comrades expressed the opinion that the alliances, if they are to be real, can only be built “from the bottom up”.

This contention posed several problems which were not resolved at the meeting (not least due to time). Firstly, even if the comrades believed in the primacy of “building roots”, why did that lead them to oppose the CPGB’s proposals for an inclusive, democratic structure? For example, David Lyons of the SDG stated that the CPGB believed that structure was “the answer”, in opposition to “grassroots work”. Clearly the two cannot be posed as opposites in this way.

Dave Packer of Socialist Outlook also condemned the CPGB. In contradiction to what Communist Party speakers actually said, and against all the evidence and experience of the LSA steering committee’s method of work, he stated that the CPGB wanted it to become “like a central committee”. He too opposed inclusive democracy for the LSA because “we need to build real forces, not a committee of sects”.

Julie Donovan of the Socialist Party thought that the alliances should “spend our time convincing people of the necessity of socialism. Then we can make the LSA real.” And George Thompson, also of Socialist Outlook, thought the CPGB’s stress on central structure was all wrong: “We must build the local alliances first,” he said.

Again, it needs to be asked, why does this perceived necessity preclude democratic coordination? What is stopping any of these comrades from throwing all their energies into local action? Or are they saying that there is no need at all for a London-wide body?

Their localism - at the expense of any centralisation, apparently - is completely one-sided. In fact there is a dialectical relationship between spontaneous local activity and the need for centralised organisation. The two develop and grow together, gaining strength off each other. CPGB comrades pointed out that the formation of the LSA, far from inhibiting local work, had itself acted as a stimulus for the setting up of borough alliances.

Comrade Lyons believed the LSA had “failed” precisely because it had not organised or coordinated local activity: “The vast majority of activists have never heard of us,” he complained. But the borough alliances are hardly household names themselves, are they?

The problem that we face is that for the moment the working class is by and large not combative. There is no mass movement. Local campaigns - no matter how much stress is placed on them - will not win the left scores of new recruits; far less convince people of “the necessity of socialism”.

The reason why “the majority of activists have never heard of us” is that our forces are abysmally weak. They are already disorganised - in dozens of different organisations, in scores of campaigns - that they can make almost no impact at all. Yet our opponents in the LSA want to dilute them further.

The CPGB does not wish to impair the autonomy of the LSA’s affiliates. Each borough alliance is free to launch new campaigns or participate in existing ones, as it sees fit. But surely our energies could be used to greater effect by concentrating our tiny resources? Yes, we can intervene unitedly in industrial disputes or mass campaigns - if they occur. However, we can make our small forces felt by acting politically - on the big national and international issues.

That is why we ought to begin work now for an effective intervention in next year’s elections for mayor, the London assembly and the EU. If we prepare well, we can reach hundreds of thousands of workers in a united campaign.

Peter Manson