TUSC - give critical support despite many political shortcomings

But continue to fight for partyist unity around a Marxist programme, urges Peter Manson

Despite the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition’s refusal to accept the candidacy of CPGB comrades under the Tusc umbrella in the general election (see Left unity, not exclusion, this issue), we will still be recommending a vote for it. Tusc’s platform is openly pro-working class, whatever its weaknesses.

However, we do have strong criticisms. First, what is its purpose? Like ‘No to the European Union, Yes to Democracy’ in the June 2009 EU poll, Tusc will merely be a campaign that aims for a protest vote. Of course, its platform is an improvement on the nauseating Europhobic left nationalism of No2EU.

The Socialist Party in England and Wales has always been clear on its aim for Tusc: it sees leftwing electoral challenges promoted by trade union leaders as integral to the formation of a new working class party of some kind. However, although SPEW provided the bulk of the foot soldiers and signatories for No2EU - a situation replicated in Tusc - its main coalition partners in both cases are less clear about their purpose.

In No2EU the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain was in the driving seat. Its Brian Denny - an RMT employee - was chiefly responsible for its xenophobic platform. However, the CPB majority, against the stated position of general secretary Rob Griffiths, is against any new “party of labour” and wants to continue with its futile reformist attempts to ‘reclaim’ the actual Labour Party.

In Tusc, the Socialist Workers Party speaks only in general terms about beginning “to offer working class people an alternative, one with socialism at its heart”. Hopefully the coalition will be “a stepping stone towards a stronger and more rooted electoral organisation”, writes SWP national secretary Martin Smith (Socialist Worker February 6). So the SWP aim is a permanent leftwing electoral protest-vote formation then?

It is true that the SWP is playing a junior role in Tusc - it will have only four candidates, not the “five or six” it originally talked about (in addition to Karen Reissmann in Manchester Gorton and Maxime Bowler in Sheffield Brightside, who are listed on the Tusc website, the SWP will also be standing Jenny Sutton in Tottenham and Angela McCormick in Glasgow North). On the other hand, SPEW has 16 of the 25 candidates so far confirmed on the website.

But what kind of workers’ party does SPEW want? Something pretty similar to what comrade Griffiths favours: ie, a Labour Party mark two. The SWP is all for halfway houses too, but does not think the SPEW trajectory is realistic. In this the SWP is correct - the genuine article still exists and no meaningful layer of trade union bureaucrats is about to abandon Labour in order to set up another version of it. Especially when the real thing faces Cameron’s Tories with the possibility of electoral disaster in May or June.

That is why Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT union, did not dare propose support for Tusc on his executive committee. While the RMT had sponsored and financed No2EU, comrade Crow knew he would not be given the time of day for a coalition in opposition to Labour in an election that really matters. And if one of the most militant, non-Labour-affiliated unions thinks there should be a vote for Gordon Brown’s party, which union will recommend otherwise?

SPEW’s constant urging of left union leaders to work for a new “mass workers’ party” is in vain. Its whole strategy is a dead end - it is just not going to happen. But even if, by a miracle, the likes of comrade Crow was willing or able to conjure up a new Labour Party, how would that serve our interests?

It could well be correct to join such a formation and fight for what is really necessary - a Marxist party. But the revolutionary left would hardly be given an easy ride by the Labourite bureaucrats. The nearer they came to power, the more they would need to persuade British capital and the British establishment that they were not planning anything too drastic. That would mean keeping their left wing firmly under control - if it was tolerated at all.

All this is amply demonstrated by Tusc’s long birth pangs - intense talks among the chosen few behind closed doors, as SPEW desperately tried to persuade comrade Crow to take the lead (and that it could be trusted to keep out ‘undesirable elements’). It is also demonstrated by the actual exclusion of groups to SPEW’s left.

Of course, the SWP can be trusted to stand candidates on a ‘responsible’ social democratic platform, but what about the CPGB and Workers Power?  While the latter group has in mind a marginally more leftwing version of a new Labour Party than SPEW, it is liable to come out with the odd revolutionary phrase or two.

That is why Workers Power’s application for its candidate in Vauxhall, Jeremy Drinkall, to contest as Tusc was rejected. The official reason given for the rejection is also informative. The Labour candidate in Vauxhall is rightwinger Kate Hoey. But she is a member of the parliamentary Trade Union Coordinating Group, which is supported by left-led unions, including the RMT, and so cannot be opposed.

It may be useful to have even rightwingers speaking out in parliament in favour of union causes; but as an MP Hoey does not have a shining record of siding with the working class against capital, of opposing British imperialist adventures, of consistently standing against attacks on our class. But not even the RMT left is prepared to upset a rightwinger like her - she does, after all, occasionally speak up for union bureaucracy priorities in parliament.

So, while Martin Smith may welcome the creation of Tusc for its “policies the left can unite around”, the coalition is not an attempt to unite the left at all - and most certainly not on a principled partyist basis. Not that WP favours the unity of revolutionary Marxists either.

The same goes for the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, which had been toying with the idea of coming to an arrangement with Tusc over its candidate in Camberwell and Peckham, Jill Mountford. The AWL has now decided not to be part of the coalition, even if Tusc had been willing to accept comrade Mountford as a candidate.

In fact, that had not been likely in any case. Nick Wrack of Respect - whose Socialist Resistance-dominated Southwark branch had itself been eyeing the constituency - was hoping that the contest would be run by Tusc, not Respect. Last month he organised a meeting of Tusc supporters, including SPEW, SWP and SR Respect comrades, where the possibility of standing a Tusc candidate was discussed, but the fact that this would mean two rival left candidates was not considered worthy of serious consideration.

Not that the AWL has an automatic right to a free run in Camberwell and Peckham. No left group should be able to ‘claim’ a constituency just because it has done a little campaigning work in recent months. The left ought to organise joint selection meetings in order to agree on a common candidate. But to do that would itself be to recognise the desirability of left unity, not the hopeless aim of establishing a Labour Party mark two under the control of a handful of left union bureaucrats.

We would urge all comrades to get involved in the Tusc electoral campaign. Sign up as a sponsor, help with canvassing, speak out at public meetings. And make the most every opportunity to point to the kind of unity that the current situation is crying out for: partyist unity around a Marxist programme.