The Convention of the Left
Susan reveals something I didn’t know about the Convention of the Left, though I doubt it was a secret: the Socialist Party won’t be attending the Manchester conference. Bearing in mind that the Socialist Party has been at the forefront of efforts to create the basis for a new worker’s party to replace the Labour Party, I was curious as to their justifications. Unfortunately I couldn’t find anything about it on either the SPEW website or that of their International, the CWI.
I must confess, I didn’t know much about the Convention of the Left to begin with, but more and more this complete blank in the direction of the Convention by the Socialist Party intrigued me. After all, even the Communist Party of Great Britain (PCC) has decided to attend, despite their Campaign for a Marxist Party. Surely there could be no reason for the people behind the Campaign for a New Workers Party not to attend? So, I have been casting around for information.
Apart from the Socialist Unity blog, the two Convention websites and scattered other resources, there isn’t a huge amount of information circulating. The Convention of the Left is backed by many of the usual figures and organizations, a list of which is on the CotL website. More and more, therefore, I wonder what the point of the whole thing is? Is it to rival the Labour conference? Is it to pull in new faces in northern England? Both are worthwhile goals – but the fanfare about the Convention doesn’t seem to be quite merited.
A few discussions, the submission of a few research papers and the eventual dissolution of the Convention into its constituent components after its conclusion seems to be about all that will be achieved. The more I read, the more it occured to me to ask, don’t we already know what needs to be done and aren’t we merely talking because it distracts us for a while from the hard graft of doing it?
Most people won’t dispute that the remnants of socialism in the UK are fairly pathetic. Each political party has a handful of activists and a members on various bodies amongst the trades unions. Each is concerned with starting campaigns that will allow it to recruit members from amongst students, community activists and yet more trades unionists. Yet for all of this, the absolute decline in socialist consciousness has continued more or less unabated among workers.
In most cities, the basic building blocks of trade unionism no longer exist, rendering the acquisition of elected positions within unions pretty pointless. When there are a great number of workplaces without any unionization and a great number where the unionization is largely passive and doesn’t stretch to activist shop stewards, the muscles of trades unions have atrophied and little can be done except on the ground, recruiting new members. This is the easiest method whereby we can bring in the mass numbers of people whom we will weld or will weld us into a unitary political grouping.
People like Bob Crow and Jeremy Dear who support the Convention come from opposite ends of the union spectrum: one from a union that survives because it is so militant and because it has thoroughly unionized its workplaces, the other from a union that is virtually toothless but represents a profession which is being squeezed ever harder. The other unions, surviving on ageing (and declining) members are evidently too busy with bureaucratic manoeuvres to be interested.
Whilst I support the concept of a democratic, centralist, socialist party as a vehicle for organising any potential revolution (obviously several steps down the line), I’m most inclined to simply trust individual socialists at the moment. Trust them to work in their localities with other socialists, regardless of party labels and with a sense of independence from party lines. Party lines haven’t done so well over the last few years, whatever the various propagandists of each party may say.
RESPECT was little short of a disaster, so secretive that most of the members only found out about its dissolution with the rest of the country, via the Socialist Worker or the blogosphere. The Campaign for a New Workers Party doesn’t seem to have moved much forward in its three years of existence. Similarly the various other groups don’t seem to be progressing much either. Campaigning goes on as usual – for activists on the verge of deportation or for dismissed unionists and so forth, but only very unusually does the level of activism achieve the critical mass necessary to bring in wider layers of workers.
It is to the achievement of that critical mass which we should be turning our attention. For example, there are many GAP stores throughout the country – and the vast majority have no trade union representing any of the workers. Having activists building up a basic level of trade union activism not as an end in itself but as the means to educating workers in socialism seems to me much more important than the building of each sect to the point where it feels competent to launch a campaign for a mass party.
None of this detracts from the socialist theory that the most advanced layer of the working class will form a political party and this will organize class struggle on a national scale. Yet this party has to be built out of living, breathing people who are themselves involved in political and economic struggle with capitalism. The Convention of the Left could be a good opportunity to send people away with the message that they should begin looking around them for allies to help in the recruitment of these people, and be ready to disregard their party political leadership.
That’s a lesson which the members Socialist Party could probably do with, if their silence on the subject of a Convention of the Left is deliberately orchestrated. I am glad, however, that the Convention is taking place in Manchester. Another lesson the Left could do with is, less protests in London, more working in the localities. Without wishing to be accused to propagating a ‘stage-based’ theory of revolution, one has to walk before we can all learn to run. Running in step is another lesson still, but if we can actually begin to organize local issues having to bus in protesters, we’ll be well on our way to learning it.