Sunday, 30 September 2012

Learning the lessons from the socialist alliance

Just last week we had a excellent discussion at eastern region regional committee on the socialist alliance and the lessons we need to reinforce today in light of what developed at the last TUSC conference. I was not about during the days of the SA but those who were have clearly not learnt from the lessons of history still. The Socialist alliance was set up in the mid 90’s as a reaction to a growing feeling that the left needed to unite. We at the time were swept along by this and the old phrase aimed at socialists all the time is why you don’t all just get together. It’s not as simple as that and I’ll try to explain why here. In the socialist alliance which at first was made up of socialist party members and a few other independents on the left looked to contest elections on a federal structure initially. Until 1998 this was fine but when the SWP got involved seriously for the first time things changed. While I respect many in the SWP their general manner and approach to working with others on the left is a lot different to ours unfortunately. The SWP felt that a situation that we need demands a party and put forward calls for the SA to move to a more party based structure featuring a one member one vote set up. This was forced through eventually and this enabled the SWP along with a few other groups on the left involved at that stage including socialist resistance to pack the meetings and get their agenda through in affect putting them in control of the organisation. While one member one vote sounds democratic it really isn’t and we should not be afraid to stand up and say this. This move was the start of the end for the SA as it enabled factions in the SA with larger numbers to dominate. With TUSC we are still at an early stage with a federal structure with an elected steering committee with all having a vote and a veto. We do not feel at this stage moving towards a membership system will solve all our problems. For a start is it really fair giving a small left group with about 80 member’s equal weight in terms of voting as a trade union like the RMT who represent 80 thousand odd members and were democratically elected by their NEC to represent their members at the TUSC conference? At this stage we need to be taking the argument into the trade unions and setting up TUSC supporters groups inside the unions to get the name out there this coupled with standing TUSC candidates as widely as we possibly can next may in the county council elections will start to draw more workers in our direction. I don’t accept the argument that getting poor results at this stage is a sign we have failed. We will get some better results and some not so good. As we know as Marxists things do not progress in a straight line and there will be set backs but also times we can make big steps forward. The significance of the RMT fully supporting TUSC now financially and politically is key. But we must look to get more trade union support individual members and official structures involved. TUSC is not the final product it’s a working progress. But one we must be careful with and look to build where we can. If we look back in history the early labour party was a set up of federal partners from the co op to the trade unions Fabians society etc they didn’t go to a full membership system for a long time not until 1918 Individuals had to join via one of the affiliated organisations - yet are people really saying it wasn't a 'party'? On electoral activity, in fact, the early Labour Party had the approach that the affiliated organisations were to be "left free to select their own candidates without hindrance, the one condition being that, when returned to parliament, the candidate should agree to form one of the Labour Group there". We want to participate in an alliance of equals, with the right to conduct our own activity with our own ideas and methods, while working in common where we can. We believe that the new forces that will emerge to fill the vacuum created by the crisis of working class political representation - community campaigners, trade unionists fighting austerity and privatisation etc - will also wish to preserve their autonomy, while working with others. But that means we need an Alliance, with a federal constitution, and not a structure that allows the domination of any one organisation. While the SA was a step forward in one sense it also tech’s us some important lessons that simply uniting the left will not do it may make some of the smaller left groups feel warmer being in a bigger organisation but does it really help us advance the need for political representation for working people towards a new mass workers party anymore? I don’t think it does. While the trade unions are not perfect their members are rank-and-file working class people who we need to be attracting in this coming period not worrying about membership cards or whether we have a vote or not.

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