Making the leap

Lee-Anne Bates spoke to Steve David, a new Communist Party supporter from East London who saw the need to go beyond trade union politics after being active as a signal technician during the recent signal workers’ dispute

You were in the Socialist Workers Party for a short while. Why did you join originally?

Basically because it was big and it seemed to be doing things, and especially because of the solid work they put in during the signal workers’ dispute.

In that case why did you leave?

Because it tails the Labour Party. At this time I think there is real opportunity for growth on the left, but all the SWP can do is to tell workers Labour will be alright if it forms different policies or if the leadership was different. They tell workers to vote Labour without illusions, but by saying this they are actually fostering illusions.

We have been urging you to stay in the SWP and argue your views through. What made you feel that you couldn’t do that?

There was no forum to raise arguments. The branch meetings are deliberately small. The district meetings were limited to talking about technicalities, about trying to get more papers sold. It was an absolute obsession with selling papers.

It is not good enough that at the only meetings where people can get together in large numbers you can’t talk about new ideas and theories and hammer out what the correct position is.

You raised the question of elections at a district meeting?

Yes, but I was told that wasn’t the place to raise it. When I asked where, I was told the branch. But you’re only talking to five people in the branch and you can’t go from branch to branch expounding your view because that would be seen as forming a faction. I strongly disagreed with their policies and didn’t see any way that I could change them.

You’ve been sympathetic to the Communist Party for a while now. What was it that made you decide to become a supporter?

It was really coming to an understanding of what the Party is. The need to allow factions within the Party - and so to enable a minority to become a majority as long as there is unity in action - is vital, although I did have my doubts at first.

That certainly isn’t the case in the SWP because minorities cannot form factions. Minorities can’t use the party press to publish and cannot even publish themselves except prior to conference. Therefore I can’t see how new ideas and correct ideas can come to the fore.

You originally joined the SWP because it was big. Now you have left to join us, a very active organisation, but obviously much smaller. How do you see the CPGB as being the way forward?

Because, although it is a small organisation at the moment, it is brave enough to take the leap necessary today. It is not telling workers to vote Labour, but trying to break them from Labourism by standing candidates. And that is not because we have any illusions in the parliamentary system but it is a way of getting communist propaganda across and raising the profile of the Party to let workers see that there is actually an alternative to Labour.

You were previously involved in anarchist groups. What made you leave those?

I was involved, though not a member, of the Direct Action Movement and believed things could be changed through the trade unions. I was a member of one of their groups, the Transport Worker, which was an anarcho-syndicalist group on the railway.

Through that experience and my experience in the RMT I learnt that you cannot change things simply through the trade unions.

I have tremendous respect for some anarchist groups. A lot of them are much more revolutionary than the Trotskyite left in this country. You wouldn’t get the anarchists saying ‘vote Labour’ for a start. Unfortunately though they don’t really offer a viable alternative.

What first involved you in politics?

I lived in Derry originally and I think by default you are involved in politics there. I wasn’t a member of any political party. The marches and rallies around the hunger strike were my first political experience. But it was quite a narrow one, I think. The Irish Republican Socialist Party put out socialist propaganda and Sinn Fein’s rhetoric was sometimes socialist, but it wasn’t really in practice a socialist party.

When I first came over to Britain the impression I had of the left was that they were just a load of paper sellers. They were all students who sold papers and went on demonstrations. Having come from a culture where people actually fought for what they believed in I couldn’t take it seriously at first.

But I think my experience of working in the trade unions in Britain actually made me more political. I only became seriously involved after the signal workers’ dispute because of personal experience and seeing how organised the ruling class were and how unorganised we were. You need a Party, professional revolutionaries in a way, to organise and spread propaganda for the working class as a whole.