Monday, 12 November 2007

Socialism 2007: A Taster

This weekend sees four gatherings of the far left taking place. Millions of key strokes have been spent on "official" Respect and Respect Renewal, and discussion lists haven't been able to move for the constant adverts for the Labour Representation Committee. In this melee, the Socialist Party's annual event, Socialism 2007 has been somewhat overlooked. This is a shame as chances are this will be the biggest gathering of the four, and will feature debate on practically every issue under the sun. It comes as no surprise that AVPS endorses the weekend without reservation. If you're planning on attending one of the others, because we're spread over two days, you could always attend on the Sunday. Still not convinced? Well, I've appended an old and slightly edited report I posted on the UK Left Network last year on Socialism 2006. Enjoy!

I've been asked to contribute my thoughts on the sessions at Socialism 2006 to tonight's branch meeting, so I hope comrades won't mind me sharing them with the good folk of the UKLN.

The first session I attended on the Saturday afternoon was Robin Clapp on materialist dialectics. About 30 comrades listened to a short lead-off aiming to demystify some of the crap that has congealed around dialectics over the years and set out in easy to understand terms what it's all about. The ensuing discussion was quite varied touching on the 'spontaneous' dialectics of scientists working in the field of 'hard' sciences, the relationship between dialectics and historical materialism, and whether there can be a place for morality in a world view that rejects outside interventions from deities, ghosts and aliens.

The second meeting was Sunday morning's question and answer session on the BNP with Alistair Tice. Well it was billed as such but what really took place were a series of short debates around a number of questions - can the BNP still be described as fascist, is the state an anti-fascist ally, is no platform still the best way of tackling them, and what can we as socialists do to fight them. All contributors to the debate agreed that the BNP remained fascist, but that it had adopted a right wing populism in an attempt to draw a simple demarcation between the white working class on the one hand and the New Labour state, the rich, and minority populations on the other. There was also broad agreement the state cannot be used as any repressive 'anti-fascist' measures it adopted would invariably rebound back onto the left (though one comrade offered a dissenting voice). Most debate however came over no platform - some argued it was out of date and no longer reflected the strength of the BNP on the ground, while others suggested it need be enforced by the workers movement wherever possible. However during the course of the discussion both positions showed some flexibility and I would suggest a consensus began to emerge around viewing no platform as a tactic requiring skillful application if we are to undermine the BNP's support. Also, Unite Against Fascism did not come in for blanket condemnation. Though it was criticised for its liberal anti-fascism comrades from SP branches not in a position to contest the BNP at the ballot box argued it was sometimes necessary to support UAF campaigns, depending on the character of their interventions. A comrade from Cumbria made this point, arguing his local UAF branch comprised a number of experienced militants.

The afternoon session saw Tony Saunois and Peter Tatchell take the platform on homophobia and LGBT liberation. As the Tatch was late Tony gave an overview of the distance LGBT issues have travelled over the last 25 or so years but also drew attention to continuing inequalities and discrimination LGBT people still experience. He also condemned those who've sought to label Tatchell as a racist for having the temerity to raise LGBT issues in relation to some Islamic countries and Jamaican dance hall music. I can't remember what comrade Tatchell said in his opening (lack of caffeine got the better of me I'm afraid) but I think he covered the same general ground. From the floor comrades raised a number of points about homophobia, but for me two questions stood out. One comrade raised the issue of biphobia and transphobia within the gay and lesbian scenes and asked what cde Tatchell thought about it. Thomas House (in a lengthy contribution ;)) challenged Tatchell about his membership of the Green party. The comrade cited the example of Brighton where Green councillors had voted for the housing stock to be taken into arms-length management. This measure would have the effect of making the material circumstances for LGBT residents less secure and therefore less able to challenge homophobia. Unfortunately I had to leave before the end so I never heard his replies (it would be interesting if comrades there could fill me and the list in).

The final session was the mighty show down between SP comrades and the massed ranks of the International Bolshevik Tendency. The provocatively-titled meeting, 'Why the Socialist Party is not Socialist' quickly assumed the trappings of an event destined to go down in the annals of sectarian lore. At first it seemed we could look forward to farely dull polemical fare, four SP comrades vs the eight or so IBT'ers, but then it soon brightened up. Five or six cpgb's and some supporters piled in, then some more SP comrades no doubt attracted by the blaze of publicity this meeting had on the UKLN and elsewhere. And then the piece de resistance - the Sparts turned up. After the collective groan had subsided Barbara Duke opened the meeting. Michael Wainwright outlined his reasons for leaving the SP, which pretty much followed his critique carried on the CWI's website. For those who haven't read it this turned around the PCS pensions issue, the character of transitional demands, the enabling act slogan, and the demand on democratic control of the police. This 'reformism' and 'centrism' was despite the 'revolutionary subjectivism' of many SP comrades, he argued. Alan of the IBT (and also self-confessed UKLN lurker) came next and recapitulated pretty much the same criticisms. Tina Becker from the cpgb spoke first from the floor touching similar points - the necessity of a revolutionary minimum-maximum programme, and so on. However much to my surprise most of her polemical fire was aimed at the IBT, criticising both cde Wainwright for the manner of his limp exit from the SP as well as hopping on board an organisation with a lot less internal democracy! Spart legend Eiblin McDonald came next with a few tame criticisms of the SP before really laying into the IBT. Needless to say no Spart intervention would be complete without an off-beam contribution, which she duly supplied in bucketloads. I can't remember much about what she said except she finished off by noting how IBT guru Bill Logan was expelled from the Sparts for gross moral turpitude (chortle). Given the Sparts' famous abusive internal practices this was really pots and kettles stuff, something not missed by guffawing SP comrades. Paul Hunt's contribution met the Wainwright/IBT critique head on. Once again cde Wainwright was criticised for not bothering to conduct a political struggle in the SP for his views. Then cde Hunt defended the SP's approach to transitional demands by noting the importance of relating them to the existing consciousness of the class. He suggested the types of r-r-revolutionary slogans the IBT favour (of the 'smash the cops' type) hardly constitute a skillful application of the transitional method.

These 3 contributions more or less set the tone for what was to come from the floor. cpgb's Phil Kent and Simon Wells spoke, the former suggesting 5 minute contributions weren't long enough to get a proper dialogue on our politics going, while cde Wells (fresh from his SWP expulsion) argued for the necessity of the rank and file to hold their leaderships to account. Another Spart chimed in, deciding the actions of the IBT at a 1,700 strong Mumia Abu Jamil rally in New York several years ago was an appropriate contribution to make at a meeting ostensibly about the politics of the SP. Colin for the SP responded to some of the points raised and IMO gave a good account of what revolutionaries should be doing in 21st century Britain. A couple of IBT'ers joined in too but I have to apologise to these comrades as I can't remember what they said. I managed to make my two pennies worth, drawing an analogy between the origins of the IBT from comrades who had left the Sparts without a political struggle and cde Wainwright's gravitation toward them after a similarly unserious exit (the Sparts loved that one - am I the only non ICL'er to have ever been applauded by them???). I also asked how the IBT implemented their unique understanding of the revolutionary method in the here and now, and how they managed to square their not participating in the Campaign for a New Worker's Party or before it the Socialist Alliance (which they denounced as 'left-populist') with their earlier entry into Scargill's SLP.

After this I had to leave. However I hear that in response to criticisms cde Wainwright argued he had "too much work on" to conduct a struggle for his views (he still found time to plunge into Militant's archives to dredge up quotes from 1981 and 1985 editions of the paper!). Also apparently Alan made an angry reply (swearing 3 times forsooth!) to the polemical mugging the IBT got. All hilarious stuff.


Charlie Marks said...

It's worth noting that Tatchell is a supporter of the Green Left socialist current within the Green Party of England and Wales, so is probably not in favour of eroding social housing.

Let's hope that next year there won't be as many conferences...

ian said...

It is a sorry state of the left that practically all on the same weekend we have all these left 'get togethers.'

A little bit of coordination could have led to them being held in the same building so intersested socialists could have gone and experienced each!!

Seriously though, I notice the LRC one being the only one with prominent left MPs and TU leaders speaking, also the LRC is the only one the three militant unions FBU,RMT and CWU are affiliated to.(check their website)

I appreciate the SP has TU speakers but wouldnt they love a TU affiliation or two as well?
Socialism will be by far the largest event.

Phil said...

Ian, it would be lovely to have a trade union affiliation, but I very much doubt any union would affiliate to a revolutionary socialist organisation!

Incidentally, as an amusing aside, I refer you to the latest post at Stroppyblog on the LRC. What can we make of the union's and MP's commitment to the project when they won't even stump up the cash for a creche?

Duncan said...

Actually it will be 5 left events held on the same weekend.

Workers Power are holding a not very well advertised 'day of discussion and debate' on November 17th at Leeds University.

Phil said...

That makes six - there's a conference/event on Palestine as well. If someone were to nuke London on Satday, almost the entire left in England will be wiped out! Good oh!

Imposs1904 said...

Make that seven. I believe that James McFadden will be playing on the left-wing at Hampden Park on the 17th.

ian said...

Point taken about the creche. The Socialism event seems to lead the way there.
Can anyone tell me wether the UK left are the laughing stock of the left internationally because of the amount of splits and fallouts we have?
Do you think it is a good idea maybe for our comrades internationally to form a sort of UKLeft Solidarity organisation in order to assist us in getting our acts together?