More resignations

Pat Strong of the Socialist Party - Fight for revolutionary programme

The ongoing degeneration of the Socialist Party continues unabated this week, as the confirmation of the resignations from the organisation of long-term cadres Margaret Manning and national committee member Morag Allen filter through from Manchester.

This latest manifestation of our party’s decline is yet more bad news, not just for party rank and file, but also for an increasingly troubled leadership. Possibly though, the most depressing aspect of the steady exodus marking the party’s downward trajectory is the apparent absence of any kind of split along revolutionary lines. From Liverpool to Scotland, from Pakistan to Manchester, the trend is liquidationist.

Does this mean that the leadership’s espousal of “our organisation as a clear, distinct, revolutionary organisation” (Members Bulletin No16, March 18 1996) is simply too much for comrades unable to grasp the nature of the period? Has the ‘revolutionary cutting edge’ of our party “become blurred in the minds of some comrades” (ibid)? Ironically, while this is a factor, and notwithstanding the leadership’s revolutionary posturing, a large section of comrades are demoralised and disorientated precisely because of the absence of a clear, distinct revolutionary programme.

Whilst the 40-year entryist project and its accompanying siege mentality engendered a cohesion and unity amongst the rank and file, it has clearly rendered us unfit for life in the real world. Failed predictions - year in, year out - of imminent capitalist collapse, and assurances that this would somehow, magically, translate into “big opportunities for our forces in the coming period” (P Taaffe, speech to the March 1993 conference of Militant Labour), could be ignored while the Labour Party Young Socialists continued to provide a steady influx of new recruits. Besides, the sheer amount of time and energy involved in capturing and retaining ‘positions’ left little time for detailed politics.

The sneers of other lefts regarding our “parliamentary cretinism” and “reformist” programme were smugly dismissed. All that nonsense about an “enabling bill” and “peaceful transformation” were only a ruse, you know! Riding high on the success of Liverpool city council and the poll tax struggle, such details were rudely forced into the background.

However, the political schizophrenia required to face in two opposite directions at the same time produced political fault lines which today are manifesting themselves as organisational earthquakes. Lying to Labour Party bureaucrats was one thing: lying to ourselves and the class was quite another. For that reason enthusiasm and a palpable sense of relief greeted the decision to embark upon the ‘open turn’. Here at last was an opportunity to confound our critics who dismissed us as “reformists”. Here at last was an opportunity “to raise the independent, revolutionary character of our organisation more clearly in the eyes of workers” (ibid). After all, we really were a revolutionary organisation - weren’t we?

It was perhaps inevitable that away from the womb-like security of the Labour Party reality would set in. And so it has proved. It must now be apparent to all but the blind and the wilfully stupid that all the chickens now coming home to roost are not the fault of this or that mistaken ‘tactic’ or ‘turn’, but are a direct result of a fundamental weakness of politics and programme.

This point is glaringly illustrated by the ‘open turn mark II’ - ie, the name change to ‘Socialist Party’. Not only was any remaining revolutionary programmatic content effectively abandoned; its justification that revolutionary ideas and an openly Marxist programme is “too far ahead of consciousness at the present time”, and that it would “frighten” workers - to use the oft-repeated phrases of many a full-timer - is nauseating. Patronising on the one hand; blatantly dishonest on the other.

And so, from the “red 90s” to the “crisis of expectations” - theorising and liquidating ourselves in order to tail-end an “existing low level of consciousness” - we stagger on. A punch-drunk prize fighter, reeling from one blow after another. Such are the consequences of opportunism and an absence of a revolutionary - dare I say it? - a communist programme.

However, criticism, particularly with the benefit of hindsight, is easy. Can we effect a change, or are we content to bemoan the decline and fall on the sidelines? Are we self-critical, scientific socialists, or a bunch of Taaffe clones, fit only for cheerleading the leadership’s crass, opportunist blunders? If the former is the case a small - and I emphasise small - glimmer of hope may be perceived in the form of the forthcoming one-day special conference to ratify a constitution.

Unremarkably the constitution, at least in draft form, allows no formal provision for factions. Instead we have the following (from clause 4, part 4, ‘Democratic unity’, section A):

“Based on the ideas of democratic unity, we believe that after full discussion we then agree to act collectively. All members of the Socialist Party are entitled to express their opinions and campaign for their views within party structures, whilst making every effort to arrive at common agreement. Every member agrees to work to implement current decisions of the governing bodies of the party” (‘Draft constitution’ Members Bulletin No24, November 1997).

This obvious bureaucratic sleight of hand, intended to side-step genuine debate about such fundamentals as faction rights and democratic centralism, at least provides a platform, however small, to campaign for a genuine revolutionary programme. If this seems like an organisational solution to a political problem, allow me to conclude with a quote from a clearly perceptive communist that illustrates the reasoning:

“We see democratic centralism as a process, rather than a set of formal operating procedures and relationships between higher and lower bodies, etc. The essence of the process is the struggle to win and maintain unity around a revolutionary programme. Thus, at the heart of democratic centralism is the question of politics, of the organisation being the form of mediation between theory (ideas embodied in the programme) and practice. The fight for democratic centralism not only means fighting for openness in the organisation as a precondition for fighting for scientific truth; it also means fighting for revolutionary politics, not any old sect perspective. The two - a revolutionary programme and democratic centralism - are actually inseparable”.