Our loyalty must be to our class…
PCS Secretary Mark Serwotka raised in February 2008 the issue of an electoral alternative to New Labour. He said, “Our loyalty must be to our class, not to our party card.” This is a sentiment I echo entirely, and it’s one of the reasons I’m such a supporter of the Labour Representation Committee and John McDonnell in particular.
The LRC, more than any other Labour-orientated group since the demise of the Militant Tendency, has been willing to engage with groups to the Left of Labour. From the AWL to the Communist Party, the attendees at LRC and SYN meetings have been varied. My only regret is that it has not been more of a success, though I don’t intend to analyse why just now.
A new call has just been issued to the same effect as Mark Serwotka’s 2008 appeal by the AWL. The AWL have announced that they would like to see a new Socialist Alliance formation, by which to begin reclaiming the loyalties of the working class and by which to re-organise our activists and class for the fights that will inevitably come after a Tory election victory.
For those who don’t remember, the Socialist Alliance was originally a federally-structured body that tied together pretty much most of the existing groups on the Left – including the SWP and the SP. The Socialist Alliance was dealt a body blow by SP withdrawal following plenty of in-fighting between the SP and the SWP.
Since this call has been issued, and since I agree with it in principle, I thought it might be a useful exercise to look at how we should structure such an organisation, why structure matters and how we might get past the failures of the previous Socialist Alliance. The election of the BNP to European parliamentary seats lends this some urgency.
An inchoate militancy on the part of workers, shown at Lindsey and Visteon among other strikes and struggles, needs to find a Left voice quickly. If it does not, the seemingly populist demands of the fascists will win support instead. Offering a clear, militant alternative which has deep social roots will hopefully stop and reverse that process.
In fact, as some media sensationalism over the BNP has shown, it is probably the only thing that can stop fascism.
A new Socialist Alliance should be a federal structure. Joining a new Party requires trust and frankly, as an individual who would consider joining such an endeavour, I don’t trust the SWP or the AWL or a couple of the other sects on the Left. Internal democracy is a vital component of any organisation and the concept seems to elude some socialist groups.
A federal structure, with a cap on how many national offices can be held by any one group, would offer some reassurances. A delegate-based conference system, reporting in from localities organised by electoral constituency and apportioned according to the number of members, would further strengthen the representation of even the smallest groups of activists.
I believe this system would also be best at allowing independent individuals the chance to go to conference and put their arguments. It was on this issue which the Socialist Party broke up last time, after the SWP used the sheer weight of their numbers to pack meetings and vote down a federal structure, preferring instead a one-member-one-vote system.
Judging by the sentiments expressed at the time on behalf of the SWP, the purpose of this manoeuvre wasn’t out of a belief that it was the more democratic system. Instead OMOV was seen as being the key to subordinating the whole Socialist Alliance to the SWP, which has more members than the other group, and excluding some sections from running for office.
Bearing in mind that fragile coalitions of this nature attract people by virtue of not having an entrenched elite to dictate the course of events, such a move would shatter the popular appeal of a Socialist Alliance. And so it did. A short time later, the Socialist Alliance was wound up and the SWP ran off to launch RESPECT, which is also a dying – if not quite dead – duck.
Ultimately, any such coalition should aim to establish a new Party of the Left. I suspect it will be argued by some that we’ve passed the point at which an electoral coalition would come in useful as a springboard to a new party and that we need the new party now. These would no doubt be convenient arguments to proponents of RESPECT or CNWP.
I don’t mean to slander members of those organisations as opportunists; no doubt many of them genuinely feel it is time for a new Party and not one more electoral slate. On the other hand, there are a number of independent activists and Labour members who will have no truck with a Party until the minority parties demonstrate some maturity and democracy.
The only way an electoral coalition could be sanctioned would be if the people running for office weren’t simply paper candidates. They should be involved in their localities, and should be the consensus choice of the different activists and minority parties. They should also be the front of efforts at increasing unionisation, upping terms and conditions and waging other essential local struggles on transport, healthcare and housing.
Where these situations don’t exist, or where there aren’t enough activists to mount a sufficient campaign, supporters of a new Socialist Alliance should be allowed to endorse the local Labour candidate, or opt instead to campaign for an SA or other party candidate in a neighbouring constituency.
By such displays of good faith and good tactics, an organisation may win around local trades unionists and even Constituency Labour Parties. In the aftermath of a total wipeout for Labour at county level in England and severe local council defeats, CLPs must begin looking to ways of co-operating with other groups on the Left in their area.
I don’t for a moment buy into the end-of-Labour nonsense. However, the major advantage of Labour has always been its activist base – the average people prepared to spend nights campaigning, or traipsing to meetings to organise the next campaign. This activist base is declining in all but average age and our inability to escape the media narrative reflects that.
A key demand, therefore, of any new Socialist Alliance vis-a-vis Labour and the Trades Unions must be greater democracy at local level. Allowing scope for CLPs to nominate and campaign for the same candidate as a new Socialist Alliance, or allowing District Trades Councils to allocate money to a new SA will be key parts of building social weight towards a new Left Party.
By this advocacy for a new Left coalition, I utterly reject the notion that voting for minority parties allowed the BNP to get their MEPs elected this the European Parliamentary elections. As Phil at AVPS makes perfectly clear, many of the people who vote for minority parties would not otherwise automatically transfer their allegiance to Labour.
I voted for Labour in the county council elections, because I knew the candidate, but I did not vote for Labour in the European elections. My vote will go to the party I most agree with, or the candidate I most agree with. On both counts, Labour’s European Parliamentary campaign failed dismally. Election disaster has ensued and it’s time to move on.
Where we move on to must now been on the agenda of Left-groups within Labour, especially the LRC and Compass. Such groups must take cognisance of their potential allies, lest they become just as bigoted and sectarian as they believe the far Left to be.