Dissolve and join us
The Liverpool-based campaign for a new working class party met on Saturday July 24. Dot Gibson and Dave Craig give their assessmentThe founding document of the Campaign for a Mass Party of the Working Class came out in the name of the sacked Liverpool dockers and the 47 surcharged Liverpool councillors. It was comprised of a short explanation: that the Labour government has left millions of workers disenfranchised and therefore there is a need for a new workers’ party; it also set out some points of principle and stated that there was no need for the process to be hurried: there should be discussions over the next year.
The founding meeting was addressed by Dave Nellist, a leading member of the Socialist Party, and the steering committee of five was accepted: Terry Teague (sacked docker) and John Kennedy (former councillor) as joint secretaries, Jimmy Nolan (sacked docker) and Tony Mulhearn (former councillor) as joint chairs and Mickie Tighe (sacked docker) as treasurer.
The campaign supported all socialist candidates in the local elections on June 10, but did not express support for any Labour Party or Respect candidates and did not support the founding conference of the Labour Representation Committee, since the campaign is not about ‘reclaiming the Labour Party’.
A number of socialist organisations and trade union branches were approached and they have sent representatives to meetings. However, they became somewhat repetitive: the same speeches about the importance of the initiative, etc were made. Despite that more groups were taking an interest and word was spreading, so that representatives were attending from further afield. It was decided to have a high-profile meeting with Tommy Sheridan of the Scottish Socialist Party speaking, on June 19.
At that meeting the Socialist Party handed out a leaflet stating that the organisation should continue to be a “trade union and community”, campaign reaching out to trade union members and local campaigning groups, and not jumping too quickly into becoming a party. However, the dockers saw this as prolonging and strengthening a situation in which, whatever their intentions, the groups see themselves as the party which workers should join and see a campaign as a place where they can recruit members into their party. The dockers therefore considered it necessary to move forward to the new party and called for the submission of proposed party names and constitutions.
The July 24 meeting discussed the various submissions:
- The International Socialist League suggested ‘United Socialists’, and submitted a brief outline of the new body’s proposed constitution and development.
- The Revolutionary Democratic Group called for ‘Republican Socialist Party’ and submitted a policy and strategy statement.
- A Socialist Labour Party member proposed ‘British United Socialist Party’ and put in a full 21-page constitution.
-l Ian Hunter made a presentation based on the Scottish Socialist Party constitution.
- The steering committee suggested ‘United Socialist Party’ and submitted a draft outline of aims and objectives.
- Workers Power did not put forward a name, but put in a document covering aims, membership and the right to platforms.
-l The Socialist Party did not suggest a name, but submitted an outline or guide to a more detailed submission at a later date.
In addition there were two others submissions - without movers present. ‘United Socialist Group’ was suggested and a document submitted covering aims and principles, structures and procedures. Eddie Roberts suggested ‘Unified Socialist Group/Party’ and submitted proposals on how to move from a campaign to a party.
A sub-committee was set up comprised of the five steering committee members, the proposers of the various names and constitutions, including those who were opposed to establishing a party at present (ie, the Socialist Party and Workers Power), plus a pensioner and a community representative. All the documents will be made available to this sub-committee which will submit to the next meeting a proposal for a name and constitution. If the committee cannot reach consensus, then two or more proposals will be put to the meeting and voted on.
Terry Teague, introducing the steering committee’s proposals, said that only by making a break with the old situation, and establishing something new which we could all join, could an advance be made; he said that he and his comrades no longer wanted to be referred to as “sacked dockers” but wanted to be “members of the United Socialist Party”, or whatever name was finally agreed, and they hoped that everyone else wanted the same thing. He said socialist groups which have their own organisation and newspapers should be asked to join on the basis that they have a year (but in any case by the time the next general election is announced) to dissolve themselves so that there is only one party and one newspaper. The steering committee proposed that this should be Unite.
A Socialist Party speaker was concerned about the speed of this process. He said that it was all very well to start talking about names and constitutions, but first we had to prove ourselves to workers and their communities by taking solidarity actions and joining picket lines, etc.
Jimmy Nolan replied: “But that is precisely where we come from - we come from our dispute and its picket lines and before that our solidarity strikes in support of workers both here and internationally! We will continue to support campaigns and strikes. If workers get in touch and say, ‘Will you come down to our picket line?’, we will say, ‘Certainly, and we will do all we can to support you.’
“But what is most important now is how we do that. We say that we must go and support them as the party, and we ask all workers to join the party. As soon as the party name and constitution are decided, we will circulate this information to all those who supported our dispute - not only in this country but internationally”.
Dave Craig of the Revolutionary Democratic Group gives his view
The July 24 meeting was to move the agenda forward from a campaign to a party. There are three possible options. The first is the old Labour option of trying to rebuild or reclaim the party. This is the politics of an alliance or popular front of liberals and socialists, which is at the heart of Labourism. The campaign had previously rejected this option.
The second is based on the model of the Scottish Socialist Party, or a republican socialist party, if we are to use the generic term. This is about fighting for the unity of all socialists, including those from a Labour left political background and from the Marxist tradition.
The third option was the democratic centralist, revolutionary, Trotskyist-Stalinist party. This means the unity of Marxists alone. It is pure communism and rejects the idea of a party with non-Marxists. This option is usually proposed by communist sects, but it has no resonance with the wider class movement. None of the small communist sects at the meeting proposed this openly.
The Revolutionary Democratic Group was the only one to propose a name, but we have already rejected the idea of a mass, revolutionary communist party as sectarian in current conditions. The only viable or serious immediate proposition for communists is the Scottish Socialist Party model.
Options one (Labour) and three (pure communism) have been either implicitly or explicitly rejected by the campaign - this was made clear by the decision to invite Tommy Sheridan (SSP) to address the campaign on June 19. The issue arose then as to how quickly to proceed.
In essence the choices before the July 24 meeting boiled down to two basic names - ‘Republican Socialist Party’ and ‘United Socialist Party’. The latter, supported by the dockers and the steering committee, is in pole position for the discussion before any decision is taken.
In conclusion, the meeting was constructive. It was a step in the right direction. But there are problems that must be resolved, if this initiative is to succeed where others have failed before. I hope we will have a wider discussion about this in the Weekly Worker.
Submission from the RDG
Proposed name for a future workers’ party: Republican Socialist Party
A republican socialist party is a workers’ party which:
(i) aims to replace the constitutional monarchy with a democratic, secular republic;
(ii) aims to replace capitalism with a socialist society;
(iii) unites all socialists (ie, socialist and revolutionary communists) into one single party of the left. It is a socialist unity party.
A republican socialist party is not another liberal-Labour party, nor another revolutionary Marxist or Trotskyist party. It is party like the Scottish Socialist Party, but which emphasises democracy rather than nationality.
A republican socialist party is a party which has a strategy to enable the working class to win political power. It is based on the idea that the working class is the only genuinely democratic class in modern society and that consequently the working class must champion the cause of democracy. In fighting for a radical extension of democracy, the working class prepares itself and society for socialism.
A republican socialist party could have a variety of official names. But ‘Republican Socialist Party’ is the best name, because it accurately summarises the politics. The Republican Socialist Party was the alternative name proposed at the 1903 conference which set up the Socialist Labour Party. (In 1920 the SLP became one the main components of the new CPGB. James Connolly, who was at this conference, later set up the Irish Socialist Republican Party.)
In England there is a strong republican tradition from Cromwell, the Levellers, Tom Paine and the Chartists, which was carried into the new socialist movement pioneered by Marx and Engels. A Republican Socialist Party can and should draw on this radical democratic and republican tradition.
But a republican socialist party is not about the past. It is about present problems and solutions. It provides answers to the current problems of capitalist exploitation and oppression and bureaucratic government. It is about the need for modern democratic and socialist solutions, providing a means of reaching our goals.
The Labour Party supports the constitutional monarchy, capitalism and the market. A republican socialist party stands in direct opposition this. Our alternative puts the case for democracy, republicanism and socialism. However, there are many republican socialists, such as Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn, on the left of the Labour Party. Our aim is to unite all these republican socialist into a single party in opposition to Labour. Until that happens we should form a united front between the RSP and the Labour left against Blair and New Labour.
As a starting point for discussion we submit the programme of the Socialist Alliance, Profit before profit. The purpose of this is to give a guide to the kind of left unity politics we are proposing.