Networking to nowhere
Sunday May 21 saw an important meeting of the Network of Socialist Campaign Groups in London. Paradoxically it illustrated, on the one hand, how weak the Labour left is and, on the other, the impact the London Socialist Alliance is beginning to have. There were speakers both for and against the LSA. Those for included Alan Thornett and Piers Corbyn.
The attendance was the first thing of note: only about 50 people were present, and this for a significant component of the Labour left which has the support of a relatively large group in parliament - the Campaign Group of MPs is a separate but ideologically symbiotic formation. This poor turnout shows that despite the Livingstone meetings and the high votes for the centre-left Grassroots Alliance the left within the Labour Party is still not building up a coherent, attractive or active opposition to the Blairites. There is a passive mood against Blairism within the Labour Party and the class as a whole.
The central plank of the Campaign Groups' plan to 'fight back' is an attempt to reinstate those figures that have been forced out of the Labour Party by Millbank's manoeuvring, and a protest against the lack of democracy in New Labour. A resolution put to the meeting reflected this internalist approach with only limited space being devoted to classic left reformist demands for less privatisation and more money for public services. The fact that these demands, while being a part of the Campaign Group's programme, are not given as much prominence as would have been the case in the past is interesting: it illustrates perfectly the crisis that reformism finds itself in. The fact that even the limited reforms undertaken by the current Labour government have been made in the face of sometimes bitter criticism from big business should illustrate the increasing unwillingness on the part of capital to grant any kind of meaningful concessions.
The resolution clearly aims to give the opposition to Blairism an organised character. However, this for the Campaign Groups means a narrow-minded Labour Party and trade union orientation - wider layers of the class are excluded. It was pointed out, correctly in my view, that any campaign within the party needs to be linked to the unions. But this immediately poses a question: namely, if work with socialists outside the Labour Party is to be rejected, how can the CG relate to those socialists in the unions who are members of groups like the SWP?
The fact that the LSA was raised at all gives the lie to those who see it as irrelevant. Several speakers spoke positively of the alliance and said they would have had no problem working with it. The LSA is clearly operating as a pole of attraction for segments of the Labour left (in fact a couple of 'non-revolutionaries' spoke in favour), and this should be built upon.
The sectarian culture of the left is unfortunately very much present in the way some comrades spoke. Even though she probably would not volunteer to do it herself, the comrade who thinks that every socialist who voluntarily leaves the Labour Party should be "put up against a wall and shot" is hardly expressing a progressive sentiment.
The comrade admitted that despite "26 years of bitter defeats" she was still fighting from within. The fact that she feels the need to display this 'badge of honour' admits by implication the absurdity of her position. While we do not advocate that individuals simply leave in despair, those Labour socialists who are beginning to look towards the LSA are in fact expressing a positive sentiment in their rejection of the Labour Party as a vehicle for the transformation of society and should be encouraged to draw revolutionary conclusions from that.
The lack of any clear programme means that the Campaign Groups end up trying to compensate for this with internal activism alone, which will doom them to increasing irrelevance. The fight to give the CG and other formations like it a programme for revolutionary change is one that we should undertake, for there are undoubtedly healthy elements around these groups that can be won to a communist programme. We do not need to adapt our programme to make it sound left reformist: we need to advocate our programme with confidence and clarity.
The debate about cooperation with comrades in the socialist alliances is one that also needs intervention. Those sectarian elements who refuse to struggle in the common interests of all workers deserve to be exposed in front of the class. In areas where there are both Campaign Group branches and socialist alliances in existence they should link up on as many issues as is possible.
If those healthy elements that are still left in the Labour Party can be brought together with those outside then it will strengthen the fight for a single united party which has a clear programme for the overthrow of capitalism and the defence of working class interests.Mike Speed