Wednesday, 3 January 2007

On this Day ... I joined the Socialist Party

A year ago today I plodded to Churrasco's in Hanley to have a chat with Andy B about joining the Socialist Party.

People who come to the party fall into two broad types. Comrades who join after their first meeting and those who like to chew on the decision awhile.

I am very very much of the latter category - it was NINE YEARS from my first branch to signing on with the comrades. Yes, it really did take me that long, with a brief Workers' Power fling and a lengthy cpgb association along the way.

The meeting I had with comrade Andy was not at all what I expected. In Michael Crick's flimsy "expose", Militant, I was led to believe new recruits are taken blindfolded into small dim rooms reminiscent of the Lubyanka and, under the pain of a severe haranguing, told of the secret existence of the Revolutionary Socialist League and its nefarious plot to topple the government by subverting the Labour party.

There was no hint Andy was going to cart me off to be interrogated by the party's cheka. Instead we had a jolly conversation about what attracted me to the party, some political dilemmas concerning my PhD (I then envisaged it might be necessary to prove my sincerity to SWP comrades by helping out with a Respect campaign or something), and mine and the party's respective positions on the Soviet Union. Incidentally this difference remains - a labotomy is not a requirement of SP membership.

These were really secondary. What impressed me most and still does about our party is its serious orientation to normal working people. It does not beseech, harangue or lecture. It doesn't think calling for the bloody massacre of UK troops in Iraq and Afghanistan is the best way of challenging the 'back our boys' sentiment widespread in the class. It doesn't think denouncing everyone with BNP sympathies as racists and fascists is a great way of breaking them from such views. Neither does it consider proposing ultra-revolutionary demands divorced from real conditions and consciousness a smart promotion of socialist politics. And the party is as active as numbers allow where and when working people come into struggle, seeking to assist campaigns rather than turning up with all the answers and trying to take them over.

This last year as an active member has been very fulfilling personally and politically. Time prevents me from reminiscing just now. But if you out there in blogland has dropped out of activity or are fresh to left wing politics, get involved. And when you do, give the Socialist Party serious consideration and join us here ;)

8 comments:

TheIrie said...

I just thought you could do with a comment so - Why do you support the socialist party? I consider myself a progressive, I strongly believe in democracy, human rights, and a method of organising society based on humanity. Out of my general concerns come specific causes: anti Iraq war, pro-two state settlement for Israel and Palestine (and recognising US rejectionism and Israeli expansionism are the root barrier), against the rise of private power (what you might, incorrectly, call capitalism), pro-globalisation, but a different type of globalisation etc.

All of these are, I suggest, completely mainstream issues, with the support of a majority of people. Therefore, why not, as a progressive, engage in mainstream activity, using existing systems which would work if only we used them. I'm talking about supporting the Lib Dems electorally, such that we can get electoral reform, and hence have a democratic country, which we don't currently have.

In my judgement, the SWP harmed the anti-war movement, because they took over and alienated the mainstream support.

Just thought I'd ask...

Duncan Money said...

Nice post Phil, rehearses pretty much all the reasons why I stay in the Socialist Party when all looks grim for the far left.

When I joined the party aged 15 it was actually quite difficult. I kept applying for membership or more info through the website and nothing happened. I persevered though and 3 years later I'm still here.

TheIrie,

I support the Socialist Party because the existing system does not work. I used to identify as a progressive. I wrote letters to my MP, joined sensible middle class campaigns on human rights and electoral reform and always thought if only more people would do this then we would achieve something.

I was wrong. If we fight for reforms alone we will be doing this forever. You say we currently don't have a democratic country. Agreed, but people have been campaigning for reforms to create a democracy using the existing system and main political parties for over 180 years!

I wasted enough of my time campaigning for the unachievable. Under capitalism we will never achieve democracy, human rights or a better method of organising society but we will constantly struggle to defend and maintain the little that has been achieved.

TheIrie said...

Over the past 180 years a considerable amount has been achieved through constant reforms - including universal suffrage. There is no magic solution to all problems, they have to be addressed one by one. So, if we identify problems, say that the electoral system is undemocratic, which it is, we should look for specific (electoral reform via lib dems and various campaigning groups) rather than general (socialist revolution) solutions.

The fact is, if only more people would commit to relatively mainstream progressive causes, rather than fragment into radical groups, we would be able to change things.

Darren said...

I thought Crick's book on the Millies was pretty good in its day, and if I remember rightly it was an ex-Millie in the book who spoke of the hoops one had to jump through when joining the RSL in its early days.

I'll stop short of armchair ultra-left sniping there. ;-)

Gus said...

Hi Phil - we're back. Thanks for your comment. Gus A www.1820.org.uk

Phil said...

Theirie said:

"Over the past 180 years a considerable amount has been achieved through constant reforms - including universal suffrage."

You're looking at this one-sidedly Theirie. Yeah sure there's been heaps of reforms but these did not spring out of the head of enlightened politicians. They had to be struggled for. The right to vote at 18 would not have been won if it wasn't for the struggles of the Suffragettes and before them, the Chartists. The same is true of counter-reforms. Neo-liberal labour relations did not merely pop into Thatcher's head - it was part of a strategy to reassert the primacy of capital over labour and was pushed through parliament only because she used the machinery of the state to inflict strategic defeats on Britain's labour movement.

"There is no magic solution to all problems, they have to be addressed one by one. So, if we identify problems, say that the electoral system is undemocratic, which it is, we should look for specific (electoral reform via lib dems and various campaigning groups) rather than general (socialist revolution) solutions."

You do not ask why there are problems. Socialists argue that the problems the human race faces today - war, environmental catastrophe, poverty, unemployment, discrimination, alienation - are rooted in the way our society is organised. Furthermore those who own the means of production - the factories, supermarkets, media, and so on, have a material interest in the continuation of capitalism. Those of us who have to sell our labour power to live do not. We create the wealth but only see a tiny fraction of it.

As far as socialists are concerned these are the basic facts of life. By your logic if we addressed problems one by one, by the time we've passed from one to the other the former will have flared up again. Ask yourself why New Labour hasn't solved the problems of carbon emissions, child poverty, unemployment. And then look at why current and previous governments the world over have not done so. Governmental incompetence can only account for so much before you come to the systemic causes of contemporary crises.

"The fact is, if only more people would commit to relatively mainstream progressive causes, rather than fragment into radical groups, we would be able to change things."

It's not as simple as that. The job of radical groups such as the Socialist Party is to assist those who create the wealth (the working class) to become aware of its interests and help organise for the realisation of them. This, in the words of Marx, is the movement of the immense majority in the interests of the immense majority. It stands for a thorough-going democratisation of society far more radical than anything the LibDems can envisage. We stand for consistent political democracy and accountability in both politics and economics. This means replacing the totalitarian anarchy of the market by planning, so that the difference between economics and politics ceases to have meaning. Only then once the human race is in a position to consciously regulate its economic life and its relationship to nature can the poisonous legacy of capitalism be banished to the history books.

ejh said...

I used to be a member of a (different) far-left organisation, though that was twenty years ago. These days I don't really agree with the approach. It's far too tight-knit and it invariably involves denouncing other leftists who, despite having differences with one's own organisation that are actually quite small, nevertheless not only do everything wrong, but are ill-motivated at that.

I caricature, but not that much. Solidarity is far more important than denunciation and there's too much of the latter.

Phil said...

I don't know. It's very easy to go to lefty battlegrounds like the UKLN and Urban 75 and see sectarians knocking lumps out of each other, but I think public displays of such have declined in recent years. For instance at the last event I went to where lots of lefts were present from all sorts of groups (Stop the War march, Manchester, Sept 29th - I think), there was very little of it going on.

Herein lies the dilemma. I think most lefts agree, including those not in any left group at present, that we need disciplined organisation if we are to effectively organise in the class. How do we do this and avoid becoming a caricature of what a socialist organisation should be?

A serious orientation to the class is not sufficient in itself, as the experience of the Socialist Labour League/ Workers' Revolutionary Party testify.