John Pearson?s report on the May 16 Greater Manchester Socialist Alliance steering committee meeting, and how it came to vote against standing a candidate in Oldham, was extremely interesting. The reasons behind this decision will have to be scrutinised in detail asap after the election. The arguments deployed to justify it are, in my opinion, unbelievably stupid.
According to John Pearson, AWL member Mark Catterall argued: ?If we did not have adequate resources for an effective campaign, we risked getting less votes than the fascists - something which would be damaging to the alliance.? It seems to have escaped Mark?s notice that, by standing no candidate, we recorded a vote of zero. I would have been willing to give Mark excellent odds that the BNP did considerably better than that.
Of course it is true that by standing we risked revealing to everyone that we are (at this stage) incapable of securing more than 50% of the radical extra-parliamentary vote, possibly much less than this. But by running away from the contest, we have, in Trotsky?s well-chosen phrase, ?boycotted ourselves?. We delivered on a plate to the fascists 100% of this vital vote. This is sheer incompetence on the part of the SA.
The nearest thing to a sane argument used to justify not standing is that we lacked the resources to run anything more than a paper candidate. The question we must ask ourselves surely is how come, almost a century after the Russian Revolution, we, the extra-parliamentary left, have such shallow roots in the class that, in towns like Oldham, we cannot muster the resources necessary to run a better campaign?
Genuine Marxists need to understand that we find ourselves reduced to such a pathetic state precisely because, as entryists, we repeatedly wrote the Labour leadership one blank cheque after another come elections, while, as the SWP, we forgot the critique of anarcho-syndicalism delivered by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. We all need to go back to basics.
All component parts of the SA need to re-examine our past attitude towards elections. SWP members in particular need to do this. They must publicly recognise that standing in elections did not become the right tactic only when they decided that this was so. Any Marxist party that argued (as the SWP did as far back as the 1960s) that the Labour Party was not a suitable vehicle for building a revolutionary organisation, had no option but to stand candidates against it.
Ever since Tony Benn lost the deputy leadership election in 1981, Labour?s leaders have been determined to protect its right flank from the Tories and Liberal-SDP alliance, while, simultaneously, taking its radical working class base for granted. The only means of halting Foot, Kinnock, Smith and Blair galloping headlong further and further into Thatcherite territory was to expose the party?s left flank in the electoral arena. Had the SWP understood this a decade or two before it finally cottoned on, New Labour would never have been born.
In purely formal terms, the umbilical cord that is Labour?s union link has not yet been severed. But the content has changed radically. While happily taking union money, Blair delivers nothing in return. Even as a bourgeois workers? party, New Labour is drawing its final breaths. While the SA was put together far too late to resuscitate this walking corpse, it is still not too late to stop the BNP dragging itself up by its bootstraps into the mainstream, a l? Le Pen?s Front National.
By telling the alienated white youth of Oldham to vote New Labour, the SA lost their ear. By, in effect, admitting we have no solutions to their problems, we have given the BNP a massive head start in a race we simply can?t afford to lose - a disastrous mistake that must never be repeated.
Relate to Labour
I have just read two contributions attacking the Socialist Alliance: one from Socialist Appeal supporter Robert Collins (Weekly Worker May 31), and the other from Bob Pitt in the current issue of What Next? (No19).
Both make many good points against the SA, as currently constituted, on its attitude to the Labour Party and how to relate to the consciousness of the working class base of Labour and, implicitly, to ordinary trade union members. However, both are one-sided in their attacks, the contribution from comrade Pitt being by far the worst.
Comrade Pitt rejects the idea of a revolutionary vanguard: compare his comment on ?Leninist-Trotskyist methods of organisation, which seem inevitably to produce sect-like formations on both the national and international planes?, and his call to ?return to the methods [sic] of Marx and Engels? only. The Russian Revolution was a big mistake then.
Both comrades lump together two separate, if closely related, tasks facing the revolutionary vanguard of the class at this juncture: comrade Pitt on semi-reformist principles; comrade Collins on incorrect revolutionary theory.
The two tasks are:
- Building of a mass revolutionary socialist vanguard party to overthrow capitalism.
- Winning the support of the mass of the working class and their middle class (or peasant, depending on national characteristics) allies to its revolutionary socialist programme to achieve No1.
Corresponding to the two tasks are two methods of approach, which are not mutually exclusive, but dialectically interdependent. That is, revolutionary socialists are required to employ mass propaganda which is aimed to win a political vanguard to revolutionary socialism, its ideas and its practice. The second is mass agitation, of correspondingly lower political level (?Land, bread and peace?, ?Repeal the anti-union laws?, etc), which is aimed at mobilising votes, strikes and ultimately revolutionary insurrection.
It follows logically that you cannot accomplish the second if the first is absent. Christine Shawcroft and Labour lefts will never do this if they remain left reformists. Though, of course, a successful forcing through of ?significant legislative reforms? even short of the total repeal of all anti-union laws (though why not fight for that?) would open up the space for revolutionary propaganda and agitation for action by the masses if revolutionary socialists are there to fight for that.
Comrade Collins may well object to being bracketed with What Next? and its editorial attack on everything to the left of Christine Shawcroft, but Bob Pitt has made similar (if more leftist) arguments for many years before explicitly rejecting any means of bringing about the revolution he presumably still supports. But Robert Collins distorts the history of Militant to pour scorn on the SA, and his ex-comrades in the Scottish Socialist Party and the Socialist Party in England and Wales, his real targets. Despite Militant winning large numbers of recruits within Labour, this was on the basis of an ?enabling act? to legislate socialism through parliament, which sowed deadly illusions in the prospects of the impartiality of state forces in a revolutionary crisis. Remember Chile! Moreover it is a bit rich to (correctly) accuse the SA of standing on a left reformist programme when Leslie Mahmood did just that in Liverpool. Grant, Woods and Taaffe were in the same group.
Therefore I would suggest it was not a mistake in principle to pull the bulk of the Militant out of the Labour Party at the time. The extreme hostility and right turn under Kinnock made mass work impossible. The group was sure to shrivel in those circumstances. But it was profoundly wrong to pull the entire organisation out and then to make a virtue out of necessity by theorising that the Labour Party was no longer a workers? party of any type. Taaffe was here adopting the reverse side of the coin to the prospect of winning the leadership of the Labour Party (with which Grant/Woods agreed totally).
It is equally wrong to make a principle of remaining within Labour in a period when no youthful revolutionary cadre can be won by this tactic and very few serious trade union activists. So, in my opinion, it is best in this period to work within the SA to recruit and train revolutionary socialists so we will have the cadre to re-enter Labour (in whatever forces are appropriate and possible) when there is a left movement in the unions and the Labour Party, whilst still maintaining a minimal presence in Labour if possible and calling for a Labour vote where the SA are not standing to keep the Tories out.
Workers? Liberty are approximately correct on this, as on union affiliations to Labour. The SWP was far to their left on the bombing of Serbia; Workers Power are correct on many other issues, but wrong on Serbia also. Socialist Outlook may be trailing the SWP because they are talking to the French USFI (LCR) and SPEW may be correct in many ways on how to relate to workers in struggle. The point is that for independent leftists and those who seek to fight for revolutionary socialist leadership for the class struggle the SA is where to be right now. All this has already begun to develop joint work in important trade unions, a vital point for the revival of the class struggle, totally ignored both by RC and BP.
There is no reason why Socialist Appeal (whose work on Marxist philosophy is very serious, as is the SWP?s John Rees?s) could not join SA and maintain some membership in the Labour Party. But it is impossible to see why Bob Pitt would ever want to join. It really is necessary to have some vision of a revolutionary socialist future for humanity to do that. The What Next? editorial was full of realistic sound common sense (like another political party in this election) - though of a left reformist variety. But returning to the method of Engels, we might recall that he pointed out that sound common sense was an excellent fellow within the four walls of his own house, but when he ventured forth into the wide world he encountered wondrous adventures.
I am confident the class will confound the cynics when political conditions mature. Part of that maturing requires conscious political struggle for revolutionary socialism. That is surely what we are here for.
Relate to Labour
Relate to Labour
End for Gates?
James Bull?s article on Napster is too pessimistic (Weekly Worker May 24). Napster is dead - but long live www.aimster.com, www.limewire.com and www.bearshare.com. These all do everything that Napster used to do and there are others. There may be other court cases, but the technology races ahead of capital?s attempts to defend its profits.
What is to stop some bright spark setting up one of these in North Korea or Libya and then see Sony squeal? I firmly intend never to buy another CD and am not alone. A CD writer will set you back about ?60, and blank writable CDs are ?1.50 each. Who is going to pay ?12 for a pretty picture of Destiny?s Child?
Microsoft?s Windows XP may have the ability to prevent MP3s being shared, but no-one is forced to buy it. Windows 98 does everything everyone needs, so maybe this could be the beginning of the end for Bill Gates?s bloated empire - and not before time too.
Keep up the good work. Socialist Alliance paper soon.
End for Gates?
Thanks for Mark Fischer?s article on canvassing (Weekly Worker May 31).
I have been asking the same questions in our local SWP-dominated SA. I have enjoyed working with the comrades, but canvassing was not on the agenda. It seemed to me that we should be canvassing areas and communities particularly hit by the neo-liberal policies of recent governments and engaging people and recruiting people to the SA.
Only if the SA is rooted in the areas will it develop realistically.
SP mark I
I enclose ?20 for the fighting fund, despite the fact that I am a member of a different political party, the Socialist Party of Great Britain.
Your recent articles on the General Strike were excellent. One question though: you are enthusiastically reprinting early coverage of the Bolshevik revolution, but I know you do not support the state and system which consequently emerged.
So what, if anything, could the Bolshevik regime have done to produce a different outcome to the bureaucratic socialist/state capitalist society which did result? If there was no alternative within the confines of Russia (ie, assuming no other revolutions did break out in support), how can we support the events of 1917?
SP mark I
SP mark I
SP mark II
I have enjoyed Weekly Worker which I am receiving on the three-month introductory offer. I find it a very good read and am greatly impressed that you let your critics have space amongst your pages.
I am a member of the Socialist Party (although not active due to heavy domestic commitments at present), having joined in thorough disgust of what the Labour Party has finally become. I had never been a member of the Labour Party, but had always voted for them, believing that socialism was the goal of most of those within. With the ditching of clause four, I felt awkward about voting for Blair, but like so many of us eager to see the back of the Tories, I did. I will not be voting New Labour ever again.
Let us hope with the interest being shown in the Socialist Alliance, and stirrings within some of the unions for directing political funds to those who represent their aspirations better than the Millbank Tendency, we may be seeing the beginnings of a new workers? party.
SP mark II
SP mark II
I?m involved in the S26 collective which organised action in Birmingham on May 1. None of the left press - Workers Power apart - have bothered to report the facts: 14 people arrested, nine charged, five of whom were from S26.
To be honest, although I?m a member of the Socialist Alliance, it seems to be building itself as a reformist organisation and I?ve not the time to do both libertarian class struggle and SA work. Maybe the letter Victor and Emma sent (Weekly Worker May 3) had some faults in it, but it reflects the impatience of those anti-capitalists with the fluffy reformist mentality of those we come across on the left (which is not to say I don?t have lots of respect for individuals within those groups).
The CPGB?s characterisation of the anti-capitalists as ?bright young things? in your ?And? column was an unneeded jibe and only reinforces the myth that anti-capitalists are all middle class dropouts (Weekly Worker April 12).