Vote United Socialists?

Around the left

Nobody ever said left unity would be easy. Or if they did, they were being foolish. There is still a long way to go. But it is important not to lay the blame for our current non-unity purely on a history of bad will, prima donnaism, chronic sectarianism, etc. We all come from very different historical and theoretical traditions. Therefore, there is no magical short cut to unity and rapprochement.

In other words, we are involved in a process. The United Socialists initiative, for all its obvious shortcomings, is part of this process of edging towards unity - or at least a ‘pre-unity’ stage. A wide and broad number of left groups have been pulled into the United Socialists orbit.

It is encouraging that one of the group that attended the January 5 meeting to discuss this year’s Euro elections was Workers Power, even if it was only as an observer. Traditionally, this tiny - and growing ever smaller by the month, it seems - Trotskyite group has been one of the most Labour-loyal organisations on the left. Its auto-Labourism made it instinctively hostile to any left group that dared to challenge Labour at the ballot box. No vote for Arthur Scargill; no vote for Dave Vellist. Dogma decreed - and still does - that instead WP is “for the building of a revolutionary tendency in the Labour Party, in order to win workers within those organisations [?] away from reformism and to the revolutionary party”, as it says each month in the Workers Power ‘where we stand’ column. (The leadership of the League for a Revolutionary Communist International really needs to take another look at this column.)

Happily, life itself is eating away at WP’s dogmas. The collapse - and continued decay - of the (degenerated/deformed) ‘workers’ states’ and the rapid de-Labourisation of Labour under Blair is forcing WP to engage with formations like United Socialists. Thus, the editorial in Workers Power, entitled ‘A socialist challenge?’, states:

“The shine is beginning to rub off New Labour ... However, in the absence of an upsurge in militant action against the government, disgruntled ex-Labourites and far left groups are turning towards elections as a way of opposing Blair. The Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Party, Workers’ Liberty, Socialist Outlook, Weekly Worker and the Independent Labour Network (a group of left reformists around expelled Labour MEP Ken Coates) have come together to form the United Socialists to fight the European elections in the London region in May” (January).

It goes on to say:

“The US electoral platform was published in December’s Socialist Outlook. It fails to provide a revolutionary way forward, and to outline the link between today’s struggles and the need for socialist revolution. Its calls for a 35-hour week without loss of pay, a minimum wage of £6 an hour, full trade union rights and taxation of the rich to pay for a improved services are good. But when the platform tackles the question of nationalisation it blurs the dividing line between reform and revolution. It calls for ‘public ownership and democratic control of industry and finance’. But what does this mean?”

Yes, in some respects WP is quite right. What does it mean? Yet this is precisely why communists and socialists should welcome the advent of United Socialists, the Socialist Alliances, etc. They are sites in which we can openly - in theory anyway - fight the battle of ideas - ie, struggle for clarity and a scientific Marxist understanding of the world. Just thumping down the Transitional programme or WP’s Trotskyist manifesto at meetings as ‘the answer’ will persuade no-one

Naturally, and quite rightly, WP has its own solutions and answers. It tells us:

“Only the expropriation of the rail companies - nationalisation without a penny in compensation to the private profiteers - and placing them under the control of the workers who run the trains and those who use them, can answer our need for a cheap, safe and clean transport system. This is a revolutionary answer. But to pose it clearly in the platform would split the forces that make up the US. So we are left with a confusing fudge, which each part of the alliance can spin differently.”

The editorial also objects to the United Socialists call to “scrap all racist immigration controls”, saying: “What immigration controls aren’t racist?”

All these issues need to discussed in great detail. Does the call for “nationalisation” really represent the ‘reformist’ and ‘revolutionary’ dividing lines? - and are the immigration controls of the British state racist? Some might disagree. And what about constitutional-democratic questions, which the WP editorial in its criticisms does not even mention. These important issues have to be hammered out.

Don Preston