The result of the Tottenham by-election is certainly something to celebrate. It has built on the LSA vote in the GLA elections and will give confidence to the left nationally.
Even John Nicholson of the Socialist Alliance network (England), someone who has been very much against standing in elections in his Manchester base, lent his voice to the chorus of approval after Thursday's vote. He sent an e-mail the next day to comrades involved in the LSA, congratulating us on the result and urging immediate action to sort out a coherent and strong socialist alliance challenge in the general election.
His response is welcome. It is indicative of a growing mood of confidence among the left nationally. But a lot needs to be done. Initiatives must be taken to form alliances and electoral agreements up and down the country, including Scotland and Northern Ireland. Leading Irish leftwingers like Eamonn McCann of the Socialist Workers Movement (sister organisation of the SWP) could spearhead an alliance uniting the left from across the spectrum in Northern Ireland with the left throughout Britain. Initiatives like this would mark a qualitative step forward for the workers' movement.
Issues of programme need to be debated out in the coming months. We will fight to include questions of democracy for Ireland, Scotland and Wales in an all-UK manifesto. If we are to unite our class together against the United Kingdom state then we must make self-determination a vital component of what we stand for. We will not win workers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland unless we fight for their democratic rights. Calls for more jobs and less cuts is simply not enough and will leave us with a fractured working class movement. We have an important opportunity in the coming general election to build a united working class challenge. Let us do it on the basis of the most advanced thinking, not on the lowest common denominator.
Tottenham showed the possibilities open for the left to make a breakthrough. It also showed the dangers that need to be fought. The SWP avoided standing in elections for many years by telling its members about the dangers of electoralism. It now risks sowing precisely the same illusions in parliament that it criticised Arthur Scargill for. Electoral propaganda for revolutionaries should base itself on the example of the Bolsheviks when they stood for the tsarist Duma. The SWP has republished the experiences of AY Badayev, one of the Bolshevik deputies, but many members seem to be unaware of this history or have forgotten it.
Revolutionary parliamentarianism is our tradition, not Labour Party-type reformism. The idea that you can win the working class to revolutionary ideas by peddling low-level, bread and butter demands - demands that do not even begin to challenge capital's hegemony - is one that has been criticised and exposed as a complete non-starter. From Marx to Lenin to Rosa Luxemburg, revolutionaries have argued against this type of opportunism.
Getting votes is important. But it is more important to win the workers that we do influence to a concept of their own self-activity, not a dependence on reforms from above.
It is in that context that I am critical of Weyman Bennett's speech at the count. While he quite rightly slammed the rightwing policies of Labour and David Lammy, his defence of the welfare state was an uncritical one. With the experience of the Soviet Union behind us we need to stress more than ever the need for workers to put forward their own independent agenda. We should do this in our leaflets and our speeches.
The welfare state created by the Labour Party in the aftermath of World War II is actually an example of how the bourgeoisie bought off our militancy with reforms. Revolutionaries standing for parliament should not fight for the return of that welfare state, explicitly of implicitly. In fact we need to stress the need to go far beyond the kind of approach that harks back in a sentimental way to the post-war consensus.
Yes, we need to fight for economic reforms, for a standard of life that allows our class to develop a cultural level commiserate with our aims. But we need to agitate for what is necessary now in elections, not transform ourselves into left reformists. Our demands - whether for a £300-a-week minimum wage, for open borders, or for self-determination for Scotland, Wales and Ireland - must be framed in such a way as to win workers to challenge the UK state itself and its constitutional monarchy system. They must be part of a revolutionary programme.Anne Murphy