Thursday, 21 February 2008

Branch Meeting: Socialist Party Finance

At tonight's branch meeting A spoke about the importance of finance to building the Socialist Party. He started by outlining the various tasks our branch has before it locally. We plan on standing a number of candidates at the local elections. Burslem threatens to reignite at any moment (Royal Mail have gone back on some of the agreements hammered out in the deal), we have comrades involved in the SEMS dispute at Keele, and we're starting to get involved in the campaign against city schools closures. But there's more. Never a week goes by without some local NHS scandal getting covered in the press. At any one time a dispute can flare up seemingly out of the blue. On top of this the branch must continue its regular street activity, contribute toward building the CNWP and NSSN, and get our campaign around young worker union recruitment off the ground. Nationally, the party as whole has to do this and fund its small apparatus, its events and conferences, interventions, and the production of The Socialist, Socialism Today, and various pamphlets and leaflets.

Each of these tasks are important, and they are achieved week in, week out by combining our human and financial resources. Unlike the three main bourgeois parties whose objective is to manage capitalism, our political project is far more ambitious and complex: the socialist transformation of society. Big business has no interest in funding an organisation diametrically opposed to its interests and has the Tories, New Labour, and the LibDems to look out for them. As far as the SP is concerned, they're welcome to their backers. Our party refuses to be beholden to a handful of wealthy individuals - our politics demand we raise resources direct from the working class themselves, for it is our class who has a material interest in seeing the abolition of the exploitation of its labour power. For us, socialism is more than just a nice idea, it is the realisation of the aspirations of working class people everywhere.

The SP has two main income streams - the fighting fund and members' subscriptions. The FF is raised through stalls, paper sales, door to door campaigning, and other forms of street work. As Brother S has previously pointed out, not everyone who comes to a stall is conscious they're making a donation to our party (despite the placards, leaflets, etc. clearly displaying our name) but there are, in Stoke at least, a growing layer of people who return week after week to sign the petitions, have a chat, and take a paper. Money raised this way goes to fund the paper and leaflets. Subs are different. They're a conscious sacrifice made by members and these go toward paying for the apparatus, including the wages of full time activists. Unlike other organisations a full time party worker is not a cushy option for SP members. True, most members would see working full time to promote socialist politics as something of a privilege, but the 'renumeration package', as management-types would call it, is very low indeed. This is not just an effect of being an organisation that can burn through its bank account in no amount time: it helps insulate the party from careerist pressures. Low wages means those who take up full time positions tend to do so because they're dedicated, not because they're looking to enrich themselves.

In terms of raising finance, the SP has a tradition of doing so that is widely admired on the left. For example, during the Miners' Strike Militant raised in excess of £100,000 over the course of the dispute to support their struggle. When the NUM in Wales had its funds sequestrated under the Tories anti-trade union laws, the Militant print shop ensured its leaflets and material continued to be printed. In the aftermath of the 1983-7 struggle in Liverpool, the 47 councillors were surcharged to the tune of £500,000. Militant and the best of the labour movement rallied round and raised that money so no councillor had to face homelessness. In this last year, and under very different circumstances, the SP was nevertheless able to raise £51,000 to pay for a new printer. This was on top of £95,000 fighting fund, £8,000 at congress, and over £20,000 at Socialism 2007. Locally Stoke SP had a record year for the fighting fund, helping the West Midlands region surpass its target. This meant our region qualified for a rebate, which, in theory, we can spend on whatever we wish. For us we used the money to help develop the region's printing capacity.

At the moment the party is campaigning to raise the more money through subs the organisation can function more effectively. For example, one objective is to increase the numbers of full timers. Everyone is well aware that if we had a full timer in every city in the country our ability to influence the course of events would be massively increased, and the shape of the party transformed. There are three ways this can be done. Seeing inactive members more regularly to collect dues and get them on standing orders so subs get paid regularly. Second is to ask members to increase their contributions. And finally, recruit more members.

In the discussion, J and D noted how bourgeois practices of party fund raising is generally done on the back scratching principle, and we can see how this extends to other areas. For example, if the mayor and the city council get their own way and replace Stoke's schools with City Academies, government money will be further greased by private cash from business. In return for their donations of up to £2,000,000, they have a say over the curriculum.

P suggested this should be contrasted with how we raise money. First, relying on small donations from thousands of working class people every week allows for our political independence. In the second place, it keeps us honest. If we don't make ourselves relevant in the court of working class opinion, we'd have a harder time raising funds.

Overall it was useful to remind the branch of the basics of finance and see many more figures I've omitted to mention. Help make sure I'll be writing about far larger sums this time next year by donating here, or, even better, sign up!

10 comments:

Leftwing Criminologist said...

We're going to be having a discussion in our branch on finance (and building the party generally) - however, consisting pretty much of students and unemployed people i think our best bet is recruiting more members and fortunately we have an awful lot of contacts.
As for stalls, I always tell people exactly what it's for - it's always a good bit of propaganda that we don't rely on big business backers.

Phil BC said...

Good luck with integrating those contacts. We always have a healthy number of people expressing an interest, but its getting them into the party that's the challenge.

Darren said...

Phil,

Hope you don't object but I'd like to repost your Peter Watkins post on this page on MySpace.

Naturally giving you full credit, a bucketful of kudos and distancing yourself from the SPGB.

What say ye?

Phil BC said...

Sure thing, Darren. Just makes sure this blog gets linked too :)

Jim Jay said...

Hi Phil,

I'm increasingly worried about my own geekiness as I found this post extremely interesting.

This wasn't the post to do it but I think there's a lot more that can be said about the post of full time organiser - what it means for the person in that position and what it does to their status among their comrades, and if at some point you're thinking of posting on that I'd be very interested to read it.

I once turned down the job of regional organiser for a *cough* different left organisation and the whole experience was a very interesting one.

Darren said...

Phil,

Posted with proper acknowledgement. Cheers for that.

Forgot about mentioning the financial appeal. Remind me next time. ;-)

Cat said...

If you ask a million people for a pound you'll have a million pounds. my partner when he was a militant full timer sold his train set for the fighting fund appeal - he buys little wooden train set bits now for his grand daughter to fill the void :(

Phil BC said...

Cat, are you really sure your partner wants that to be broadcast on t'internet? After all, everyone knows who he is :P Bet he spends more time playing with the trains than his granddaughter, lol.

A Grandparent said...

There'll be a defamation action in the post if there's anymore of this talk.

ajohnstone said...

When are you all going to start dying off and leave your Party inheritances - thats what we in the SPGB tend to do . Stagger from one legacy to another - and slip hemlock into the rich members tea