Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Why I Resigned from the Socialist Party

This is not an easy post to write. After four years and one month of being an active member of the Socialist Party, I resigned a week last Thursday. I had been turning it over in my mind for a long time and it wasn't a decision I took lightly.

Why? Let me say my resignation is entirely political. I don't think Peter Taaffe has become the anti-christ. There are no personality clashes with other members. Nor do I think the CWI should retrospectively back the International Committee's split with the International Secretariat of the Fourth International in the early 50s. Instead it comes down to central questions of political strategy on three matters.

Firstly, I am opposed to
Stoke SP's decision to stand against Labour MP Mark Fisher in Stoke Central. There's no need to rehearse the reasons why - they are outlined in this report of the relevant meeting the branch held on the subject (though it's worth noting it still might not happen - the challenge is subject to national SP and the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition endorsement).

Secondly there is TUSC itself. In this
critical post I wrote on the new coalition I was very downbeat about its prospects after the general election as a vehicle that can weld the warring factions of the far left together and lay the ground for future developments. Since then there's nothing that has shifted me from my gloomy prognosis.

Thirdly is the question of the Labour party. For anyone concerned with socialist strategy and working class politics, how one deals with Labour remains *the* central strategic issue. Though I have blown hot and cold over the characterisation of Labour since being a SP member, I never believed the party's settled position that it was a straight party of capital not fundamentally different from the Tories and LibDems. Aside from the formal affiliation of most of the major trade unions, there remain thousands of small scale links. For instance the majority of union activists who are members of a political party are in Labour. You'll find thousands of Labour party members in community-based campaigns too. Neither can you hide from the fact that despite some decomposition in Labour's support, its working class base remains stubbornly welded to it. Where the far left have broken through, such as in Scotland in 2003 and Liverpool in the mid-80s the success has proven episodic. It remains an unfortunate political reality that despite the SP's excellent record in Coventry, every council election - including when Dave Nellist is up for re-election - is an up hill struggle.

All this is a round about way of saying there's life left in the Labour dog yet. At the next election it is highly likely the only socialists returned to parliament will be those standing on a Labour ticket. I've also become increasingly convinced over the course of the last year that it is in the interests of the labour movement to see the present government returned, despite its 13 year record of implementing a raft of regressive policies. Also, win or lose, because of the organic links to the labour movement Labour cannot insulate itself from debates and pressures coming from the organised working class forever. I think we've got to the point where the political space to Labour's left is closing and the space for socialist ideas are opening up inside the party (more on the character of that space
here).

It's plain to see that these strategic conclusions are not compatible with SP membership. That's why I have left and joined Labour and the Co-op Party. I don't join with any illusions. Stoke Central CLP has a job of work ahead of it to see off the challenge of the BNP's deputy fuhrer, Simon Darby. Things are not helped either by
an ongoing faction fight between the dominant faction in the CLP, and the city and regional party. Fun times!

I will however say this about my time in the SP. In contrast to the blood-curdling stories I've heard from ex-members down the years, my experience has been completely positive. The SP has given me an awful lot and I have much to be grateful for. But most important of all are the comrades and friends I've made, which made my decision to resign all the more difficult. When I told the local organiser I did not receive a curt note informing me of my responsibility to cancel my standing order but instead got an expression of genuine concern and regret. Other comrades I've spoken to have been the same. They disagree but have not cast me into the dark recesses of their minds. We *remain* friends and comrades and I wish them all the best.

There's something else I would like to say about the SP too. I may fundamentally disagree with its strategy but compared with the rest of the far left, including the SWP, its politics and methods of work are immeasurably superior. If you're an independent socialist I urge you to join Labour. But I know full well there are many leftists who won't touch Labour with a barge pole. If you fit in that category the SP is a serious Marxist organisation that avoids the twin pitfalls of moonbat politics and cult-like party practices. As I hope this blog has demonstrated, taking out SP membership does not mean you leave your critical faculties at the door.

What now? I plan to carry on dishing up the usual blogging diet of opinion, analysis and sectariana, but as you might expect my writing will be more pro-Labour than it has been previously. Please note, that does not mean uncritically so. I'm continuing being active too. I'm wedded to the same perspective as I was when I first joined the SP. The ongoing priority of socialists is the rebuilding of the labour movement. And whatever organisation we're in we should never lose sight of this.

146 comments:

jmedwards said...

Interesting, but you're now supporting a centre-right party, which is quite a swing. How do you feel about that?

bristolwestpaul said...

Welcome to the only party that has any mass working class support, even though it has to be said that it fails to recruit and organise in many working class areas leaving a vacuum for the BNP to fill.

In debates with SP members, they have talked about creating another party of the working class but then fail to get past the issue of how can it be built when SWP, Respect, SP and the myriad of others are too busy seeking to define the sell-outs and betrayals of the others than facing our real enemy - the defenders of privilege, patronage and prejudice. Hope you are welcomed in and engage in the deabte (as well as the work).

Phil said...

Labour have done plenty of things that have outraged me these last 13 years, and I've gone out and done campaigning against a variety of these policies. But that doesn't make them a centre right party overall. It was difficult to tell the difference when it came to policy prior to the economic crisis, but compare then now with the Tories and I think they're plain to see.

jmedwards said...

I tend to agree with Politicalcompass.org's estimation of where New Labour sits: http://www.politicalcompass.org/extremeright

For me, Labour are centre-right on wealth redistribution (especially how they have treated the lowest 50% of earners in this country in the past), law and order, human rights.

Nice to see bristolwestpaul here. He'll do well in a political career, I'm sure.

Phil said...

We're not a million miles away on this. New Labour's record of neoliberalism, war-mongering and authoritarianism is risible and should be opposed by socialists of whatever political affiliation. But for all that it doesn't alter the fact that Labour is organically tied to the labour movement. This does not preclude socialist involvement. It demands it.

Anonymous said...

This is geniunely sad news. I'm sorry to hear you are leaving the party Phil, but I wish you well.

I'm sure you are correct that there are handfuls of socialists within Labour, holding out against the odds, but I'm sure the majority of them are active within Labour with gritted teeth. It is a sincere hope that when we build a new mass workers party we will be able to provide a real political home for these activists.

Ben
SP Portsmouth Branch

Paul said...

As a first reaction, Phil, I am pleased to see your magnanimity towards the SP. As a leftie type who decided some while ago to stick with Labour, with a reasoning very close to what you set out here, I also think the SP has a great deal going for it and have been really impressed by some of its activity, not least around the refinery dispute.

I have no doubt you will come in for some criticism/abuse on this thread for your decision, but even where people disagree with it I hope they'll still be able to commend your political integrity.

I'm hopeful that as time goes on organic grassroots links between the SP and the LP will develop to the extent that they are, in whatever form, institutionalised. The manner of your transfer across is a hopeful sign in this respect.

Anonymous said...

On a purely academic point, the Labour Party can not be described as 'Neoliberal' no party that has tripled national spending can be described as neoliberal. Correct they do have some neoliberal policies but as a party they are not neoliberal. I will except that they are war-mongering though.

Jmedwards, I agree that 'New Labour' is centre right you do seem to be ignoring the fact that the party itself is in a mess and is going to have to reconsider where it stands on the political compass. The remaining members of the party are mostly 'Old Labour', the ex miners, trade unionists, and working class, the Labour heart land (and few remaining members) are demanding change.

Also economically the party is on its knees, ignoring the Trade Unions can not continue and the party will need to find some way of securing its economic future. The most likely direction for this to take is to throw the unions a bone, opening a window for organised labour in the process.

My final point is that like Phil I don't believe that the Socialist Party will make an impact electorally, due in no small part to their seeming inability to deviate from 1980's campaign tactics.

harpymarx said...

Hey Phil,

You can still join the LRC....!!

:)

Andrew Coates said...

The SP does have a tendency to see themselves a 'right' by definition, which can be irritating.

What is at stake here though is that the 'Coalition' idea has little purchase, and little political meat (as you have noted, and I briefly signaled as well).

I wonder though if being pro-Labour is a good idea. There are many in the Labour Party who are left - even if full-blown socialists are rarer. I would back the general thrust of supporting the labour movement.

But New Labour is really a skeleton on the ground, and has too close ties with the cadres of the 'market state' (almost though nto qutie as bad as some European SD parties like the defunct Italian Socialist Party).

I would wish a project for something like the French Front de Gauche - which would address the problem of groups like the SWP (they could affiliate for elections but never dominate) while still centring its politics on a left labour movement/new left.

This is no likely to happen. But then I have the principle of Hope.

tim f said...

Welcome, Phil. Obviously pleased, (if a little surprised) by your decision. Agree with you too that the SP are far more serious and constructive a party than the SWP. Hope you can continue to keep positive links with your comrades there and that your new comrades will appreciate the benefits of such links.

EddM said...

Very sorry to hear about this, comrade.

While I largely agreed with your analysis and criticisms of TUSC, it seems to be getting off the ground well in many areas. I don't think its vote will be particularly impressive but I think it will re-energise a layer of militants much more than activity inside the Labour Party can.

A couple of questions. First, would you be pleased to see some Labour MPs unseated in certain cases, for example the Hazel Blears Must Go campaign in Salford, or would you advocate her re-election? Also, do you plan to join an organised Left group within the Labour Party (LRC, Socialist Appeal, etc)?

In any case I wish you well, yours is by far the best Lefty blog I've read and I'm sure it will continue to be worth reading.

Riversider said...

You're leaving on open clear principled basis, so I doubt very much that there will be any of the disgusting abuse that people who leave certain other parties experience.

The question of whether you are right or wrong about the character of the labour party, and whether the working class will again move through it, despite it's neoliberal policies and lack of democracy is one that will ultimately be decided by history.

My feeling is that if you talk to working class people aged under 30, people who have no experience of 'old labour', they feel no affiliation whatsoever to the Labour Party. Those few youth who are in the party are the worst kind of careerists. They need to be seen to be believed.

Maybe you are right that this will change, and we'll all have to be open to the possibilities as events unfold.

The deepest issue facing socialist activists in Britain today though is still the crisis of working class representation. Helping the party of Hazel Blears, Peter Mandelson and Jack Straw, even as a loyal critic will not address this crisis.

Alan said...

Best of luck matey

Derek Wall said...

British politics is painfully blocked but if you are not getting stuck in supporting the small number of left candidates who can get elected you are pissing about,

Salma, Caroline, Dave Nellist! etc.

Adam said...

Hi Phil

i don't mind saying i've been checking every day to see when this would appear - and i'm glad the post has been well thought out.

tbh i thought it was a wind-up when i heard, i think it'll strike a lot of people as an odd decision, at an odd time.

then again, impatience is a bitch! it'll be a long and active struggle to develop an alternative to represent working people in Britain, but, outside the Labour Party, its a struggle with the potential for victory. I can't see any attempts to build that alternative from within New Labour as anything but a lost cause. I assume you're expecting a Tory victory - and from that discussions within NL to take place on reengaging with the base they've worked so hard to disenfranchise over the last 20 years. I've got to know - given the lack of opportunity to even discuss these questions democratically - how can these discussions lead to a change in its character? Sure, its possible that in the event of a tory victory, we'll see a left face adopted in opposition - but even then, ordinary people will see it for what it is, and so will, in my opinion, whats left of labours working class membership and passive rank and file TU support.

i hope that when fresh forces begin to add flesh to the bones that we're busy constructing - that you'll get involved and not cling to the hope of the next 'hero of the labour left' - whoever it is this time next year. If i see you with a 'vote milliband' badge ill throw up on it :-)



good luck and catch you later

Anonymous said...

'My feeling is that if you talk to working class people aged under 30, people who have no experience of 'old labour', they feel no affiliation whatsoever to the Labour Party. Those few youth who are in the party are the worst kind of careerists. They need to be seen to be believed.'

As someone who is under 30 and a member of the Labour Party I can assure you that such an all-encompassing description of us as careerist is at best mistaken and at worst fucking ignorant.

There are plenty of things wrong with the Labour party, and there are plenty of apologists for those faults across all age groups. However, to suggest that anyone under 30 would only claim to empathise with the ideals of the Labour Party for anything other than self-gain is to do my entire generation an injustice.

I joined the Labour Party because under Thatcher I nearly died because my parents could not earn enough to feed us. You have every right to criticise some of the decisions taken by the Government over the last 13 years but the truth is legislation like the minimum wage, reformist though it may be, quite literally saved my life. I'm sure it has done the same for countless others as well.

Have a little faith in the younger generation, and don't tar us all with the Wes Streeting brush.

Madam Miaow said...

Oh no! I was hoping that the SP was a little oasis of sanity in an increasingly weird left.

I'm feeling a lot of contradictory feeling about the coming election. As I've written elsewhere, I may end up holding my nose on the big day and voting Labour just to keep the Tories out. I don't want to for all the obvious reasons but, as this current aristocratic Tory leadership is even more right-wing than petit bourgeoise (in origins) Thatcher, they'll be scarily worse.

If we had a vibrant well-organised left with a leadership I could respect there would be no question of who to vote for. But we don't.

Anonymous said...

stupid move. This is what happens in the blogosphere. You get so wound up about left unity projects and electoral politics that you completely lose sight of the much broader horizons of class struggle. What do you think you're going to be doing in the labour party mate? Going down to picket lines? Helping organise demonstrations? Flogging copies of Tribune to entusiastic young comrades eager to hear about a radical alternative? Naw.

You're absolutley right, and nobody should forget it, that for members of the far left how we aprroach labour is a key tactical concern. How could it not be? And that we must find a way both to compete with and relate to this huge if degenerated working class institution.

But this one man entryism thing is an extraordinary waste of time. Win Labour back? Come on! Win it back to what anyway? Christ on a bike...

Everyones Favourite Comrade said...

I had heard through the grapevine that you had rsigned and joined the Labour Party. I am sorry to see you go, but good to see that the standard abuse and retrospective political and personal degradation which unfortunately so often follows resignations from left.

Though I do disagree with political analysis and can not really understand it.

Whilst many of the points you raise about the Labour Party are true I do not see them as the basis for the position you have come to. It is true to say that many grassroots campaigns involve members of the Labour Party, many of them although retainimg Labour Party membership for historical reasons are not active in the Labour Party anymore. Those that are active in Labour hold very little sway within it and are generally just used as foot soliders at election time and consequently remain extremely demoralised.

I was at the Labour Party Wales leadership hustings a couple of months ago which really highlighted the sad start of affairs, it was quite possible that there were more people protesting outside than there was at the meeting, the only ones in attendance were MP's AM's councillor and prospective candidates, and not even all of them. It really showed to me that the Labour Party was an empty shell.

Whilst there remains a trade union link to labour I can see more comparisions with the US Democrats than I can see with the labour party of old. Whilst many trade union activists remain tied to Labour, my experience shows that many more are not, but they are simply not active beyond trade unionism, however would probably join a mass alternative if it was built. My experience is that the most militant and combative trade unionists have moved away from Labour and are looking for an alternative.

I don't see the prospect of reclaiming Labour being a reality, even the LRC have eluded that it is no longer possible, they democratic structures have been eroded and the only youth to join are right-wingers in my experience.

I do not think that Labour is seem by most working class people as fundementally different, whilst there may be a swing towards Labour from the organised working class this is simply the product of lesser evilism. The most important aspect to me is youth consciousness and by youth i am stretching it to under 30s but particuarly under 25s. I am 24 now and became politically active at 17 campaigning against the policies of a labour government. and have done so ever since. Whilst I through my political activity have seen the reality of what labour used to me and how it has developed that is not the general experience. The general experience of my generation is that they are no different from the other main parties.

Whilst many may argue that previous Labour governments have carried out similiar pro-capitalist policies and attacked the working class, which of course is true the effect on the consciousness and the perception of the majority of working class people has fundementally changed

In my view over last 13 years the Labour Party has been given enough rope to hang itself. We should not be giving them yet more rope to loosen the noose but rather pulling it tight. WHilst there are individuals within Labour who warrant the support of the left we should be arguing for them to jump ship and let it sink. The task now is to build an alternative. I agree with the points already made about TUSC and I do not claim that this will be an easy task, but my aim is to change the world however hard the challenge is rather than settle for slightly lesser evilism.

Comradely
Glyn

neprimerimye said...

Phil,

Its very positive to read a sane comrade making a sane decision. Albeit I do feel that your decision to join the Labour Party is misguided.

Best of luck in the future,

Mike

asquith said...

Who's going to do all the leafleting in Hanley now? Are they going to recruit that relntlessly cheery bloke that sells the Big Issue? He'd certainly get attention.

I remember Darrell Goodliffe leaving the Lib Dems, an understandable thing to do, but why not simply do what I do & be non-partisan? I've obviously got my stances but they don't particularly align with anyone so I am there, watching them & slagging them off if need be.

Proper Tidy said...

Best of luck Phil. Have to say I'm disappointed but you've moved on for honest reasons.

I can't agree with your analysis of the character of the LP of course, and to the anonymous poster two posts above this, I would say that broadly speaking River is correct. There simply isn't the same connection between the young working class and the LP as exists for the over 30's, and a great many (okay, perhaps not all) of the younger members are blatant careerists with minimal ideological convictions.

The LP has a lot of problems, of course. This idea that has been bandied about that at rank and file level the LP is still 'Old Labour' doesn't stack up. One recent example - I'm on a trades council, in a post-industrial working class Labour heartland, and I am the only delegate who is left of Labour. Last night I was treated to diatribe on the foolishness of 'pursuing a socialist agenda'. In a trades council. I mean, really.

There are, however, some good people left in the LP and the social weight of the LP on the broader labour movement remains astronomical. Whilst I don't think it is salvageable - I can't imagine the state of the LP once another generation or two have passed - I wish you all the best. Hopefully you can help invigorate your CLP and bring them back to a spirt of being a fighting, campaigning local party.

All the best comrade

Ms Chief said...

OMG! What have you done Phil, what have you done? As much as I criticise the SP/CWI I wouldn't have left them to join the Labour Party. Oh no, never not even on pain of death - I've never even voted for them (well I did once in a Euro election because comrades told me I had to).

Phil the Labour Party were instrumental in the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq - they are imperialists, hundreds of thousands of people have been slaughtered in their name.

You won't be able to influence the Labour party and when people like you join you are giving them left cover.

Phil, you blinked!

I wish the socialists and left didn't look the way it does and we should be much further forward than we are but the Labour Party, Phil, the Labour Party?

I am disappointed but heh ho! Best of luck and all that.

Neil said...

Hi Phil.

Very sad to hear the news, its a loss for sure. Suffice it to say I don't agree with your analysis of the LP but there's no need to regurgitate recent articles from the Socialist.

However I will say this on moving the LP to the left. If the LP does lose the election (not a foregone conclusion in my opinion) and goes into opposition then it really is judgment day for the opposing perspectives of a new workers party v reclaiming the Labour Party. I believe there will be an attempt to shift the LP back to the left within the party by trade union types and activists. However I also believe this will prove futile as the democratic structures have been destroyed. The question for people like yourself will be what will you do then? Will you and people like you in the LP be reduced to level of the Lib-Labs in the US Democratic Party vainly hoping for a shift to the left that never comes or will you follow the road of those mid ranking trade unionist officials and left activists in the SPD in 2003 who saw the futility of trying to win the SPD to the left and broke away to form the WASG and later Die Linke? Obviously you can't answer that question now but it's something to think about.

As far as the SP is concerned, in my personal opinion, I think if we genuinely saw a move back to the left by the Labour Party and a turning to it by the best, most politicised workers then we'd hold up our hands, admit we were wrong (about the impossibility of reclaiming it, not our decision to leave in 1992) and go back into it. However I don't think that is the most likely thing to happen.

Still and all, who knows, one way or another we might end up back in the same party at some point in the future!

Neil said...

"Oh no! I was hoping that the SP was a little oasis of sanity in an increasingly weird left"

Not really sure what has caused you to change your opinion on that MM. The issues Phil is raising have been SP policy since about 1994. Surely you must be familiar with them from your days in the Socialist Alliance?

Or do you mean the decision to run in Stoke Central?

Southpawpunch said...

Everyone is being all nice and polite and fluffy about this, aren’t they?

No, or little, mention that the former comrade has joined the current ruling capitalist party; is already contributing to it with its plan to continue gutting what remains of the welfare state if it is re-elected. He would also have us believe that there is the slightest possibility of changing the course of the Labour Party, a combine whose actions are Stalinist, save the bullets, to any dissenters.

Nothing above stating that his horizons are so limited he sees a sad turn towards supporting some Labour careerists getting re-elected, rather than Tories a bit more to the right, as what socialists should focus on.

Let me say what is.

The author is a renegade; part of the problem now, not part of what will one day be the solution.

He will make a good Labour councillor.

Dave Semple said...

Sad to see you go Phil, since you were a big part of the reason why I shifted towards the SP.

I've written up a piece at my own place [ http://bit.ly/cERXXM ] looking at Labour in some of the key areas (as I see them). I understand this was a personal decision, so if you don't want to discuss it or are bored of discussing it (I'm sure there'll be an element of that before long!), I respect that.

At the very least I wish you luck comrade, I may be seeing you inside Labour at some point, who knows?

johng said...

I just wanted to do something unforgiveable that I will regret in the morning:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3GwjfUFyY6M

johng said...

what a mistaka to make-a. I was being irresponsibly sectarian about swp resignations. not about sp ones....

Mark P said...

Well Phil, I'm very sorry to hear that you are resigning.

I think that you are deeply mistaken on the issue of the Labour Party. However, although it is a tactical issue it is a very important one in the present circumstances as your attitude towards it and your analysis of it will determine much about the kind of political activities you think are useful.

I'm sure I'll be debating the issue of the Labour Party with you here in detail in the future, so for the moment I'll simply wish you well and note that time will tell who is correct.

Riversider said...

Hi Anonymous,
no such thing as an immutable category, so if in my generalisation I have insulted you, I apologise - there's an exception to every rule.

Reality is that child poverty is just as bad under labour as it ever was, job prospects for the younger generation are minimal, training schemes are derisory, places at university are evaporating, fees are escalating.

If you want a decent future for your generation, you could do worse than working with Youth Fight for Jobs.

Mick Hall said...

Please do not be offended, but you say your decision is solely political, but you have been on a journey for some years which has gradually seen you move rightwards.

I intend to blog on this as I see your resignation as more important that that of the SWP hack. You’re a very able chap and the rigidity of democratic centralism was never going to contain you, although I do question your timing.

To join the LP at a time when both the Labour government and party is supporting the war on the Afghan people and when operation Operation Moshtaraq is taking place, tells me you are able to ignore the big picture; and for what?

I understand why you may wish to leave the SP, it was inevitable but what is your hurry to join Labour.?

SamG said...

I would imagine the press if a SWP member had left in such circumstances. And the timing considering your recent posts is jaw dropping.

Anyway, I actually agree with Riversider up to a point. I don’t think the Labour party have the same hold over working class communities that they once did, I think we have seen a qualitative change here. More disturbingly the result of ‘political consensus’ has created a situation where the Tories are no longer seen an evil incarnate in those very communities.

I see zero prospects of New Labour shifting direction.

The problem is, as Madam Miaow points out, the left are in such a profound mess that it is hardly surprising that some people give up on socialism. (Which is what you have done).

Simon said...

Wow, from the Weedy to the Socialist Party to the Labour Party, at this rate in five years time you'll be back to your Tory roots.

Nah, just joking. I completly sympathise with your decision and have considered a similar move myself (incidentally this post inspired me to make one of my own justifying my reasons for not joining the Labour Party).

pluralprogressive said...

And so the left loses another to machine politics.

Something tells me you won't be satisfied in Labour for long, but the very best of luck anyways.

Phil said...

Now the Left Platform has announced its resignation maybe things will go quiet enough in these parts to try and follow up some of the replies.

Ad, you mean to say you've only been checking daily to see if I've put up my resignation? I'm hurt!

I see it like this. Because Labour is tied to the labour movement anything that happens in the latter will find its expression inside the party in some way. Because the labour movement has been weak since the early 90s, New Labour has ridden roughshod over the activist base and the trade unions. But if it grows union leaders and activists will look to use the tools they have at hand, which at the moment exist in Labour by virtue of affiliation and the mass base it still has among trade unionists.

This wouldn't be an unproblematic switch from Brownite soft-Keynesianism to something more palatable but, like everything, a process of struggle. I'm convinced we are at a point where this is becoming more likely. Labour are relying on the unions and the labour movement to an extent not seen since 1992. Win or lose there are opportunities to take socialist ideas and influence forward, which I think are greater than outside. If, for example, Jon Cruddas makes a pitch for the leadership doesn't it suit everyone to see him succeed?

And no, no 'vote Miliband' badge for me. I still have self-respect!

Phil said...

Edd, as a Labour party member I have to advocate voting Labour wherever the party stands a candidate. But let's say if Blears or any of the Blairites fail to get elected there will be few tears round this way.

And no, I have no plans to join an organised grouping within Labour yet. There is a local Compass organisation and I plan attending its meetings, but that's as far as it goes.

Phil said...

MM, the SP *is* a sane and serious organisation. I've always had some disagreements with the settled position of the party on a number of secondary issues, but I was never told to shut up and tow the line - unlike another left wing organisation of our mutual acquaintance. My resignation from the SP is a matter of divergent perspectives - that's all there is to it.

The Socialist Way said...

All the Best in your new Home:


The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it ~ Karl Marx

Phil said...

Anonymous, while it is true social being conditions consciousness, blogging has had very little to do with my decision. I would have reached much the same conclusion had I never written a blog post in my life.

As I've said, it's not about reclaiming Labour. I've read the books and know the history too well to believe Labour will spearhead the coming of a New Jerusalem. But I believe there is a space opening that socialists can use to help renew the labour movement, give confidence to our class and help popularise socialist ideas.

You say it yourself. Labour is a huge but degenerated working class institution. But it still remains a class institution. And as long as this is the case, there will be avenues in which the working class base can make its influence felt.

Madam Miaow said...

Glad to hear it Phil. But actually JOINING the Labour Party?

Neil, if you are aware of my experience in the SA then you'll be aware why I have more respect for the SP than the SWP.

No SPer ever stole wages from me (they were manoeuvred out before I realised the extent to which I was being ripped off), and no SPer ever hit me in the face with an LSA balloon because I'd done too good a press job at the 2000 Millbank launch.

But thanks for your concern, comrade.

ModernityBlog said...

Phil,

Strange news, but I echo the sentiments above, I could never understand why an intelligent individual like you would be constrained by "democratic centralism"?

Time to think for yourself.

But why did you feel compelled to join the Labour Party?

Surely, a break from organisational structures might have done you the world of good?

andy newman said...

good decision

sound reasoning

well done Phil

Neil said...

MM: Fair enough. I wasn't having a go at you or anything I was just got the impression you'd changed your mind and was curious why.

Anyway Caprica's about to start again so I'm happy to leave it here :)

Everyones Favourite Comrade said...

Phil, I can't say that you have answered my points as of yet, obviously there are alot of points still to be answered in the queue before me so to speak and I can see how it will take you quite awhile to get around to them al.

I feel that the most important of the points I raised and other comrades have raised in this thread is the question of youth particuarly the under 25s but also I am interested to know what you mean by a space for socialists to deveop in the Labour Party but not being able to reclaim it?

Jim Jepps said...

Phil, it doesn't surprise me that you've expressed this decision in a reasoned and warm hearted way but I do think you've made a mistake here simply because in the long term a Labour Party card is going to be more of a hindrance to your campaigning than a help.

Whilst I totally understand your views on electoral campaigning in Stoke, I might think the same if I lived there, but you didn't need to join Labour to follow through with that and once the election's over what then?

In terms of building up an alternative set of politics to the mainstream consensus you'll have real problems, I think. If anything you may, inadvertently, act to blunt radical critiques by channeling people towards the Labour family. It seems to me we should be breaking people away from that, but there you go.

Anyway, good luck.

Riversider said...

Here's an example of the more typical New Labour Youth, this clown went on record on his blog to insist that slashing what is already a pittance being paid to asylum seekers was a sign of how 'fair' Labour were being:

http://riversstream.blogspot.com/2009/07/labour-activists-response-on-asylum.html

Michael Fisher said...

I left the Militant/SP after 25 years membership because I concluded that it completely misunderstood the nature of post-Cold War, post-Keynesian, post-social democratic politics in the UK and elsewhere. Also, I concluded that many of its core theoretical positions (in relation to the class nature of the Soviet Union, a too uncritical defence of Lenin and Trotsky, the dynamics of class consciousness and capitalist development) were simply wrong.

Moreover, the lack of serious internal discussion on questions of history and theory (not, I should add, because it was stamped on by the leadership) meant that the internal culture of the organisation was overwhelmingly geared toward recruitment and activism at the expense of acknowledging and trying to understand why the radical left today is weaker than at any time in over 100 years.

But I would strongly urge you not to join the Labour Party. I take it you have access to a good library? Go to politics section and locate a book titled ‘The Labour Party and the Struggle for Socialism’ by David Coates. It is a historically-based account of why the organisational-electoral dynamics of the Labour Party systematically serve to weaken and marginalise those socialists who attempt to push the party in government to the left. The analysis was relevant when the book was first published in 1975. It is even more relevant today.

There is no alternative to building an independent socialist politics. Like you I have concluded that the SP is not the appropriate vehicle to achieve this. But that does not mean the Labour Party wins the argument by default.

Brother S said...

An historical assessment of the Labour Party as a workers' party might not be that flattering. But I strongly suspect that over the years it has done more for the working class than the Tories or Liberals. Most of us would agree that Labour has moved from being a social-democratic party to a neo-liberalist one (albeit with remnants of the old party at its grassroots).

Phil, I am not convinced that there are clear ideological differences betwen Brown and Blair. Yes Brown has introduced elements of Keynesianism but is that just down to short-term expediency?

Also, you are rightly making a lot of the organic link between the party and labour movement. But this link has been severely weakened, mostly by the party. For this link to remain important, it has to deliver benefits for workers.

If the Labour Party re-embraces social democracy and re-engages meaningfully with trade unionism, then it has realistically to be the best available option for those on the left. I won't be joining yet. However, Don Valley CLP appeals (Ms. Flint floats my boat)!

Ross said...

Hi Phil,

I don't usually write on these things but your decision is such an exotic specimen I feel I have to comment on it.

Some groups inside the left had a similar position to you on the inevitability of the workers turning to their traditional organisations when they move into struggle but they're a bit like Jehovah's witnesses serially announcing imminent Armageddon. I've met some workers who say they'll vote Labour in the gen elec but none who have contemplated joining it.

It's not ruled out that the workers might, at some stage, turn to the LP again but I think you're wrong to imagine that the environment will be more healthier than outside attempting to build a real workers' voice.

The careerists and free-market fundamentalists will ferociously resist the attempt by the workers to gain control and they have the double advantage of having captured the commanding positions and being protected by the complete absence, now, of mechanisms for turning the views of the rank and file into policy.

This is incredibly unlikely - but if the workers do turn to the LP in huge numbers and do battle with Mandelson's mates, they'll have to expend enormous amounts of energy that, in a healthier environment, teh working class could use to take real steps forward. Thankfully, it's much more likely that the workers will bin the LP as a bad job and follow the example of Germany, Spain, France, Brazil and many other countries, where it's no picnic for the left of course but where the battle has at least been joined.

Ross

Phil said...

I'm going to have to return to this tomorrow, comrades. So Glyn, you'll have to wait a little longer!

nationofduncan said...

I can't say this is a huge surprise given some of your recent posts but it's a shame to see you go all the same Phil. You'll be missed comrade.

Everyones Favourite Comrade said...

I knew I shoud have been looking out for this post more reguarly than i did so i was further up the queue although i my defense i hadeen told topost would be tomorrow

Anonymous said...

@Riversider: Having seen your link it is clear that people like Jon Chambers are a disgrace to the labour movement, and if those are the sort of youth you've been confronted with in the Labour Party I can understand your previous comment.

However, in my experience there remains a solid core of individuals within organisations such as Labour Students and Young labour whose ideologies lie well to the left of their government. A far more serious issue, and one which has been touched on earlier, is the fact that the structure of the Labour Party now operates in such a way that those good individuals rarely get a look in when it comes to the commanding heights of the party.

It will be interesting to see what becomes of the careerist wing of the party should Labour suffer any major electoral defeat. I daresay that for many of them the leap to the Tory ship will be a simple one. I for one cannot wait to see the back of them.

Nick said...

I'm in the PCS and I'm our branch Make Your Vote Count Co-ordinator. As such, I've been tasked with drafting our branch's response to the consultation on political representation.

So far, I've not heard one member ask us to consider affiliating to Labour. I have, however, heard a lot of people oppose that ever taking place. I have also heard views ranging from tentative but encouraging to extremely supportive in favour of standing or supporting independent TU candidates in elections.

It would be interesting to see what the response would be if a similar consultation process was embarked upon in other unions, affiliated and otherwise. The results of Socialist Party candidates in the UNISON NEC elections are telling as they were the only candidates to explicitly call for disaffiliation whilst others equivocated on this subject.

Fairly recently, the New Democracy party in Greece were elected in a backlash against the ex-social democratic PASOK. There was no transfer of worker activists to PASOK at this point. SYRIZA was set up as a new left formation and gained rapidly. The NDs were then kicked out after the killing of a young boy by the police and PASOK regained power as they were seen as the main opposition (like conversely the Tories are now in Britain). Look at Greece and the popularity of PASOK now who are overseeing an absolutely brutal attack on the working class.

Phil, I have a lot of time for you. I have read your blog for years now and will continue to do so. But I have to disagree with you on this one. The fragmentation of Labour in Stoke must give you some hint as to how fundamentally it has changed as an organisation. In the post-war consensus, the two main parties had 95% support. Where is this now? Good luck comrade, but try and see reality for what it is.

splinteredsunrise said...

Well, we shall see how useful you find Labour as an area for work, and we can look forward to some perceptive blogging on the subject.

But you could at least reassure the comrades here that you're not going to join Socialist Appeal. That really would be an exotic move.

ModernityBlog said...

Phil,

You could do something revolutionary too, change to Wordpress!

Riversider said...

Thing is, Jon Chambers feels really comfortable in the Labour Party and is already a council candidate.

More disgraceful however than his vocal support for the attacks on asylum seekers allowances, which were motivated by a desire to look 'tough' on immigration as well as a prelude to much deeper cuts for everyone on benefits and the public sector, was the embarrassed silence maintained by the rest of the Labour Party on this issue, right and left.

Are there left wing fighters left in the party, or are they a few demoralised remnants clinging on miserably out of habit and misplaced loyalty to people who don't deserve it?

Anonymous said...

Good luck, Phil. That my favourite blog is no longer by SPer is a shame. But it'll still be my fav blog.

Jota

Journeyman said...

Phil - I'm sorry to see a fellow SP blogger go.

I have to say that I think you are profoundly wrong about the prospects for Labour but I have the utmost respect for the even-handed things you have to say about the SP. All too often there is a very dishonourable 'falsification of history' when individuals and Left organisations part company.

Fraternally
Journeyman

Anonymous said...

I guess it'll no longer be 'sociology with a militant twist' then.
Wrong move. Labour is dead in the water. How on earth do you expect to revive it?

Phil said...

Got a bit of free time to knock together some replies now :)

Glyn and Proper Tidy, I can understand why you've reached the conclusions you have. But the depth to which Labour has been emptied out varies from region to region and depends heavily on the locality. In Stoke for instance most of the trades council are members of the Labour party (delegates' politics range from the revolutionary all the way through to straight economism). Similarly the Labour students branch I'm most acquainted with is dominated by the left.

And holding a Labour card is by no means a handicap when it comes to activism. I was speaking to a stalwart of the local scene the other night and I asked him about his membership. He said being a member enables him to have the ear of local notables in the party and trade union movement. Seeing as he has a proven record of getting funding from the unions for the projects he pursues, this seems an entirely reasonable and justifiable trajectory to pursue.

Re: Glyn, I know from your posts that you take a rather harder line toward Labour than most. But do you really think the outcome of the next election matters not a jot to the labour movement and the prospects for socialist politics?

Phil said...

Asquith, there are plenty of other SP folk in Stoke. It is a fair sized branch with a large number of core active members relative to its paper membership. So while I won't be freezing my arse off on a Satday morning selling papers anymore (I'll be freezing my arse off doing leafleting and anti-fascist stalls no doubt), I know a lot of others who will.

Phil said...

Ms Chief, there are no blinkers here - I'm fully aware of the vicious nature of some of the policies the government has pursued these last 13 years. But there is a distinction to be made between the government and the majority of the PLP on the one hand, and the rest of the party on the other. For instance would you hold John McDonnell and other LRC comrades responsible for the things the government have done?

Phil said...

I agree with that perspective, Neil. Politics and class struggle will show which perspective is right. If I turn out to be wrong I'll say I am.

Southpaw, do you ever listen to yourself? Perhaps your criticisms would count for something if you did more than pontificate from the safety of your keyboard while hiding behind a pseudonym.

As for renegacy, your posturing is fine and dandy for someone whose comments result in getting another comrade dragged through the courts while refusing to lift one finger to help him.

ModernityBlog said...

Phil,

Sadly you didn't address the issue of, why it is necessary to join another **organisation**?

Are you compelled to join an organisation?

Is there some social aspect to this?

Useful for networking? etc Or do they provide a political comfort blanket? etc

Phil, surely as a sociologist you'll have to ask yourself these questions, why do certain individuals feel almost compelled to join organisations when there isn't necessarily such a compelling reason?

What part do these organisations play, outside of their traditional role, in terms of human interaction?

Phil said...

Hi Mick, I'm not offended at all. We've known each other long enough to speak plainly without getting into a huff!

Re: democratic centralism, I don't think this is an issue regarding how it's practiced by the SP. Over the years I've favoured a more open interpretation of it (probably coloured by my cpgb days), but I've never felt "stifled" by the party. I think if you're in the business of building any kind of political organisation you need discipline of some kind, otherwise there's the danger of it being less than the sum of its parts. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts about where party discipline begins and ends.

Re: wider politics, see my reply to Ms Chief above. The reason I've joined now is because I believe it's crucial for working class politics that Labour and not the Tories win the general election, that Labour see off the challenge locally from the BNP by a crushing margin, and that the space and potential for socialist ideas opening inside the party is greater than that of staying outside.

To reiterate, I didn't leave the SP because I was fed up - I left because of a genuine difference in political strategy.

SamG, I don't understand your point. I would big up the SP against the SWP any day of the week, regardless of whether I'm a member or not. I've always found the SWP flighty and ra-ra-revolutionary. The far left and the labour movement generally would benefit from having its influence eclipsed by the SP's.

Paul said...

Phil - left this comment on my co-blogger Dave Semple's piece at Though Cowards Flinch (he being critical of your decision, me being supportive), but as the main debate is (quite rightly) here, I'll do a cross post just this once......

This will have to be brief for the moment as I’m due elsewhere but I did promise…..

It can also be brief as I’ve written copious amounts on why I think, broadly speaking, the Labour party is not a dead duck as far as proper engagement with the working class goes, and how it is important not simply to ignore the remaining resource base (money, people, institutional franework with unions) that go with it.

In an earlier engagement, Dave, I think we’ve jointly acknowledged that an overall answer on whether SPdom is more better than LPdom is more effective is difficult because we simply don’t have the information base for a national scope analyis. How many active members are there really? How many were there? What are their real ages? Who’s really coming in and going out, getting less active/more active? To what extent are unions really engaged? None of this we really know, so we rely quite understandably on anecdotal and experential evidence. As you rightly suggest, my experiences in Lancashire are very different from yours in Oxford and Canterbury.

But therein lies a key issue, I think. My simple view is that where the LP is so weak as to be useless, socialists should affiliate elsewhere, including with the Greens where need be. Where the LP is strong enough to work with, join that, and the same for the SP. It’s simply a question of working with what you’ve got and trying to build alliances where you can. Yes, there’s the question of electoral affiliation (standing with/standing against) but we should try not to let that get in the way, especially at local council level – remember that local government politics overblows its own importance, not least as ony 5% of publuic spend goes via local authorities; the real action is elsewhere.

I sympathise with your predicament, where there is simply no organisational set up to align to where you live and work. That kind of situation is always at the back of my mind when I bang on about creating local blog/activist platforms. These can operate, I suggest, independent of left organisational structures; those structures will come to find the activist platform if they have any sense, and add to the resource base.

There’s a lot of interesting comment at Phil’s place on the historical trajectory of the LP, and the suggest (esp from David Coates’ work) that the LP is on an inevitable road to nowhere. I disagree, though I see what they’re getting at. I’ve set out, again in some detail, how control might be wrested back within the party structures. The LP is in much the same place, in many ways, as it was in 1979. What we need to do is learn the lessons of the the Labour left in the 1980s, building on what they achieved in terms of new member momentum but avoiding the pitfalls (identity politics over class, and too great a focus on local government and local economic development) which led to short term gains (and glory) becoming a long term barrier to left growth. To stay historical, one way to do that is to take on board for an electronic age the lessons of the 1890s about the almost (well in some cases, real) evangelical spreading of the word and action. For the Clarion, read the local editions of Though Cowards Flinch. That can happen in and out of the LP; the important thing is that it should happen.

Yeah, I know I sound like a broken record. Would be interesting to hear Phil’s view on my argument, as he notes in a tweet that he found my earlier dronings about this ‘persuasive’.

No time to cover the growing international aspect, maybe later. Sorry this is rushed.

Phil said...

MM & Mod, I think I've explained why I have decided to join Labour. The strategic differences with my SP comrades are all about the extent to which class politics are possible inside Labour. In short, I'd have looked a total dick to have argued that position, resigned and *refused* to join (some may argue I've made myself look a total dick anyway, but that's by the by).

Glyn, you are right to quiz me further about 'political space'. Too often we on the left hide behind unexamined assumptions. What I mean by it is new opportunities for bringing the trade unions more into political activity, opportunities to push Labour to the left, and opportunities to build the 'capacities' (how I hate that word) of our class.

Andy at Socialist Unity has blogged a great deal about how his union, the GMB, has only now began flexing its muscles via its links with Labour. It's also true Labour depends on the unions to an extent not seen in recent years - a point incidentally that has been acknowledged by and is causing the Tories some concern. Because of this shift inside Labour toward the unions, the situation is bound to change. They will not stay quiet forever.

This, I believe, presents an opportunity for socialists to get progressive policies around nationalisation, mutualisation, constitutional reform and trade union rights back on the agenda. Especially if, assuming Labour loses and Brown steps down, a figure from the left steps forward with a radically different policy agenda and makes a serious leadership bid.

Jim, I refer you back to one of my earlier replies. Because Labour has been the establishment in many ways in Stoke for what seems since time immemorial, a Labour card can open doors for activists in ways it probably doesn't round your way.

Phil said...

Michael, I refer you to the reasons above why I've decided not to become an 'independent' activist. I've read plenty on the history of Labour, including the seminal and not-at-all dated Miliband classic, Parliamentary Socialism. I join with my eyes wide open.

Brother S, I expect we'll chat more about this when we have our next cuppa. I do agree with you on Brown and Blair. Had the latter been in charge when the economic crisis hit I expect we'd have seen exactly the same response. If a difference exists, it's on the question of the role of personality in politics and marginal seat strategy (there's probably even less of a difference between the SWP majority the the far left's latest addition).

Re the link, it is weakened, but it's there and can be reactivated. But as you say we need more policies for our class, not ones that kick it in the teeth.

ModernityBlog said...

Phil,

Fair enough you've clarified your reasons, but surely as a sociologist you can see that from the outside things might look different?

I was thinking how this might relate to your doctorate? I have known lots of lefties skip between organisations trying to find one that satisfies them politically, personally and equally as important socially.

I'm not saying this is your reason, but surely you accept that why people do things and their spoken justification are not always the same? It is often a bit more complicated than that?

But echoing many of the much better arguments above, surely it's going to be difficult for you to put a case to reelect Gordon Brown as PM?

skidmarx said...

Good luck to you, it's always hard to make such decisions. Hopefully you won't leave a legacy of bitterness between you and your ex-comrades.
On Labour and the election, there clearly is still a gulf between the reasons why people vote Labour and for the other big capitalist parties. And if people really are concerned about the return of a Tory government, it is a little contradictory to only support those left candidates that pass a left litmus test.
On membership of the Labour party, it is the traditional home of individuals and small groups needing someone to relate to. But I'm not sure that having an "in" with local notables is more than an illusory benefit in the long-run.

Phil said...

Ross, I'm glad you found my post an 'exotic specimen'. It's always good to stand out from the crowd!

I don't think there's an inevitability about workers moving through Labour - that's an example of the kind of magical thinking that has hobbled our traditions. But there is every indication unions will expect something and are beginning to push their influence in the party again. Whether this will result in an influx of new working class members is something we'll find out in the immediate period ahead.

But in return, there isn't a mass of working class people crying out for an alternative either. As Die Linke in Germany is a product of the crisis in social democracy (and is very firmly within that tradition, albeit with far left input), Labour's declining fortunes are a crisis of Labourism. Its winners so far have been populist anti-politics that have strengthened "apathy" and, to a lesser extent, UKIP and the BNP. This crisis depends on what Labour does next.

Phil said...

Nick, I never expected you'd agree with me! I don't want to repeat my points, I think I've gone into them enough above and I might write another post (in response to Dave's considered critique) later.

But, as always, the blog is open to SP comrades (and others) who fancy penning a guest post on some aspect of their activity. Drop me a line at the usual if you're up for it.

Phil said...

Splinty, there's no way I'll be joining the bizarre cultists of Socialist Appeal. For starters, I don't agree with their position on the extinction of the dinosaurs!

Socialist V said...

As an SP member, it's always a shame to hear a comrade leave. I'm just glad it's on amicable terms and that you can still work with us (unlike some other groups when comrades leave, naming none in particular). Though I have to disagree about Labour and its future.
The Labour party is dying inside though, and though I'm sure it varies from region to region, my experience of it has been almost no activists on the ground and outside of its full time office staff and councillors, it just consists of a layer of older trade unionists who are still involved out of loyalty.
Young people especially remain disengaged and don't remember the days where it was a party for the working class. My experience of Labour Students has been entirely negative and I have met very very few genuine young Labour activists, and those that I have met, despair at those around them. The youth wing of the party is just a careerist machine and I have been told normally is more right wing than the party itself. Their actions in student unions and the NUS is nothing short of disgraceful, and ask any socialist activist involved and they'll be able to give you a list of their crimes. Labour students will not become trade unionists but rather see it as a career move over a principled one and with these as the future of the party, what chance do we have?
The LRC are real socialist fighters, and we should be supporting them where we can. However, they appear to be an isolated wing in the party, a throwback to its glory days rather than a growing force and with internal party democracy decimated, I see no chance for any kind of reclamation (though I’m open to hearing how it can be done).
TUSC may seem small now, but it represents a significant step forward and though the path will be long and hard, it is the necessary one.

Everyones Favourite Comrade said...

"Glyn, you are right to quiz me further about 'political space'. Too often we on the left hide behind unexamined assumptions. What I mean by it is new opportunities for bringing the trade unions more into political activity, opportunities to push Labour to the left, and opportunities to build the 'capacities' (how I hate that word) of our class"

With all due respect Phil, I don't see how this can be an answer to the points I raised, but rather simply making a statement you hope is true, rather than based on any real analysis of the situation.

I do not think I have been more critical towards Labour than others in the SP, my recent blog posts have been a response to discussions with other lefts who advocate a vote for Labour. I position that I believe is alien to my generation.

I can not see how Labour Party memership can bring you any infuence on the one hand you acknowledge that it can nor be reclaied but on the other you elude to a candiate of the left emerging when Brown goes. Quitehow you expect this to happen with no deocratic structures is not explained and I thought we learned from McDonnell that that was not possible.

You mention a discussion with a Labour Party member about the influence he has being inside the Labour Party amongst trade unions. But I see this as a red herring. If there is no thing that I've earnt during my time in the SP it is that there is no shortcut to socialism. I am able to get funding for things like YFJ from trade union branches as well and obvious without labour party membership. In Cardiff the SP has a good relationship with many trade union branches, but that was ecause of 20 years of hard work by corades building up a position on the trades council.When I was elected to the trades council I did not have to earn the respect of the other delegates, the gave me that respect instantly, because of the hard work of other comrades over the years they knew that as an SP member I was a serious Trade Unionist,the same can be said of the other 3 delegates the SP had under the age of 25. and by far the yongest delegates. To e that is how you build infuence amonsgt the trade unions, by what you do and the seriousness of it.

Everyones Favourite Comrade said...

You also mention Labour Students, hardly the est example to use in my opinion as members of Labour Students many of whom are in the cabinet now notoriously started of as marxists and have since become the bastards they are today. In the University of Glamorgan where I study possibility the University placed in one of the most solidly labour areas histrorically wherethe mojority of students come form the local area now has no Labour Students, the place has been filled by Socialist Students who have een able to build up a good working relationship with the UCU branch precisely because of the seriousness we have displayed.

So to me it is clear that all the advantages you say bring with Labour Party membership can actually brought with hard work on the ground.

But what of the disadvantages, the labour party is hated by so many who feel betrayed aongst those are some of the most militant trade unionists and comunities in the heartlands of Wales, Even amonsgt the tired who continue there membership I know many who would jump ship if something new was built. A question you haven't answered at all though and tome the most important is the question of the under 25s who no of nothing but the labour we see today, do you honestly think you will gain you respect by advocating a vote for Labour. That brings me on to say that the Labour left is ageing and not really recruiting many youth,those youth who join are generally right-wingers so what is the prospect for future. I am not going to claim the stalinist theory of social-fascism here as I do think it is possible to campaign alongside sections of labour, but as Labour can no longer engage the working class particuarly the youth in politics some one else will. Many of the people I have spoken to about the etrayels of Labour have hinted at voting for the BNP.

Am I concerned about who winds the next election? Of course I am as any class conscios person is. DO I see that there will be a difference between who winds? Definately, I was living in Sweden when the Moderates (tories) beat the Social Democrats in 2005 and I saw an immediate change. That being said are you asking me to side with 1 right-wing party over a more right-wing party at the expense of alienating a whole generation, particuarly as this is an untenable position, What woulld happen if by some miracle you were able to group around you thousands of supporters in order to try and change to course of the Labour Party, such supporters would have to be militants in order to get things done. But how do you think the Labour Party leadership would act towards thousands of militants?

Basically what I am saying is although you have responded to so many of the points raised, with all due respect and no offence in intended I am yet to see an answer or explanation

Everyones Favourite Comrade said...

Did not realise that my posts were going to be this long sorry Phil.

I generally do not like the those on the left who bring out quotes to justify there position but its exactly what I am going to do here.

Lenin advocated support for the Labour Party in order to expose them for what they were, he said we should give them only enough rope in order to hang themselves, Do you not think that in the last 13 years they have been given enough rope and have hung themselves by now?

Everyones Favourite Comrade said...

by the way, is now a good time to remind you it is your responibilty to cancel your standing order?

PaulK said...

Micheal (several posts above)says he doesnt think there is a proper culture of discussion in the CWI/SP (although Im glad you note no one treid to sit on discussion). Hope things going well now you have moved to Oz (Hi Micheal!) but my memory is that -for example- when you wanted to raise some points of difference on the economic analysis in a conference perspectives document, your statement was circulated to all delegates with a detailed response - although you were the only comrade raising these points. I think Peter Taaffe said something about the importance of debating what might seem abtsruse economic questions in order to clarify ideas and to develop a new generation of marxist economists. Doesnt that suggest a positive approach to debate? Its true much conference debate focusses on immediate tasks - but isnt that ineviatble in a serious party? My memory is also, by the way, that you thought we were being "catastrophist" about the the economy - surely you wouldnt say that now? Your right about Phils move to Labour though!

Southpawpunch said...

I think those who join Labour are (almost all) not worth bothering with but I will do so now just to correct two slurs.

I do a fair bit of activity but as I use a pseudonym (to protect my employment) you have no way of knowing whether that claim is true or not. Yet you chose, on the basis of nothing, to state that I don't. You just don't know.

And you claim that I have refused to "lift one finger to help" a fellow Labour Party of yours, who is being sued. You will be well aware that I have said that I will give my reasons for not giving a statement (and which I am sure justify my decision to any reasonable socialist) after the case. To do so now would not help the person being sued. You have chosen not to report this salient fact and this is a slur.

This is all no big deal but suggests to me you will follow the trajectory of many who join Labour in that a hardening of the political arteries and a quick recourse to the sloppy marshalling of facts is already occurring. I mean SP comrades may be being comradely but shortly you will be working for opposing candidates in Staffs. The politeness won't continue.

I have known quite a few revolutionaries who have done as you do whilst claiming to be true (or very near) to their former politics but the very act of selling out is inevitably the harbinger of a shift in these politics that day to day activity in what is the main capitalist party in places like the Potteries entails.

In five years from now you are very likely to be in two places - embarrassed by your youthful radicalism and part of the Labour machine, or disillusioned and non active

You make two slurs

Anonymous said...

I can't believe you resigned, took flight, over something so (essentially) trivia. Hardly setting an example for the rest of us.

wcg,
Eddie Ford

Neil said...

It might interest you to know Michael we use your submission on productive and unproductive labour as part of the reading material for discussions on Marxist economics.

Ms Chief said...

Phil BC said "Ms Chief, there are no blinkers here - I'm fully aware of the vicious nature of some of the policies the government has pursued these last 13 years. But there is a distinction to be made between the government and the majority of the PLP on the one hand, and the rest of the party on the other. For instance would you hold John McDonnell and other LRC comrades responsible for the things the government have done? write "

Oh dear Phil - two things - the issue is that the local Labour Parties are NOT influencing the PLP and Government there is a gulf between - a massive gulf. What the Labour Govt have done in regards to Iraq and Afghanistan is unforgivable - totally unforgivable and what power did the local branches have? Absolutely none! Zilch! Nada! Nothing!

On the issue of John McDonnell or Paul Holmes (or anyone like them) who is standing for UNISON General Secretary on a left ticket is that they are a collection of one offs they do not accurately reflect the constituency of the Labour Party. Don't get me wrong - good for them but John McDonnell is one person, almost a fig leaf for the left and the LRC - the one person leftys in the Labour Party can hold onto because there is nothing else.

And I think there is a big difference between people who have a historical connection to the Labour Party still being in it and someone who would call themselves a Marxist in 2010 joining the Labour Party.

Apart from Ruth Black who was the only Solidarity councillor Solidarity had (elected in 2007) I do not know anyone who has joined the Labour Party in the past decade. There are better ways to get out of paper sales than joining the Labour Party.

I predict one of three things -
1. you will join the Labour Party and hate it and become lonely and stay because you are too embarrassed to leave

2. as above but don't care about your vanity or how embarressed you are and leave because its too awful

3. you move to the right and get a career/status position from the Labour Party.

I hope I am wrong about No3 though because you seem like a good guy.

Of course I might be really wrong and you have the time of your life in the LRC and campaigning for John McDonnell and there is a left revival!

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

We keep coming back to this same tired protestation about the 'right-wing, careerist Labour youth'. Once again I have to point out that this view paints a very incomplete picture. Certainly there are individuals such as Wes Streeting and Tom Christian who long since left their ideals at the door, if they ever had any to begin with. However, there are plenty of decent people in the student movement and the NUS itself who would hardly be categorised as careerist. Incidentally, there is nothing careerist about achieving a position of responsibility per se. If that were the case then people elected to office under the TUSC banner would be careerist, in the unlikely event that any of them strike lucky this time round.

Two years ago when I first joined Labour Students it was a pretty horrible place, populated primarily by toffee-nosed Oxbridge twats who thought nothing of branding anyone with left-leaning tendencies a 'dirty trot'. I can honestly say that since then things have got much better. We have a new layer of comrades who genuinely care about what happens to our society, including a number of former members of Socialist Students who made the switch not because of a swing to the right, but because they found their Socialist Students societies lacking in organisation.

In Keele University, we have been coexisting peacefully with Socialist Students for the last two years and have worked together on a number of campaigns against Tuition Fees and against the unfair dismissal of staff in a recent industrial dispute. Our new committee contains several self-professed socialists, one of whom has also served as an organiser for socialist students.

I appreciate that this may once again come down to regional differences, with some places being better than others, but do stop suggesting we are all drinking the Nu Labour kool-aid.

Anonymous said...

Michael Fisher, I hope you are enjoying the weather in Australia! How is your new job in the national office of the ACTU going? I hope the pay is enough!

Luckily your new comrades in the ACTU understand the nature of post-Cold War, post-Keynesian, post-social democratic politics!

I also here that Jeff Lawrence has very good theoretical positions in relation to the class nature of the Soviet Union.

Of course Sharan Burrows is very critical of Lenin and Trotsky and understands the dynamics of class consciousness and capitalist development very well.

From all reports the he ACTU conference last year was very democratic and was proceeded by a very serious internal discussion on questions of history and theory.
I'm sure your submission on productive and unproductive labour was received well.

Its good to hear that you still agree that there is no alternative to building independent socialist politics. It seems like you are doing a great job inside the ACTU!

Forward to socialism comrade. Please send greetings to comrades to Jeff and Sharan from the CWI.

Nick Fredman said...

Phil, Andy Newman reports your more under the title 'Into the Mainstream, somewhat unfortunate from an Australian socialist perspective, as it’s also the title of a useful short book on the Communist Party of Australia by Tom O’Lincoln, now of Socialist Alternative, particularly charting the CPA’s rightward turns in the 70s and early early 80s (it was written in 1985), culminating in the CPA’s leading role in constructing the Accord social contract of the unions with the Hawke Labor government elected in 1983, now recognised as a disaster by virtually everyone in the union movement. O’Lincoln correctly predicted the CPA would fizzle out into social democracy soon after (a previously split off pro-Moscow group reclaimed the CPA brand after the Eurocommunist fizzle).

The analysis of Labourism by you and Andy seems to be a functionalist view of Labour largely being what it is because that’s the consciousness capitalism produces in the working class most of the time, plus a conspiratorial view of a clique on top. This crucially misses the heavily mediating role, between the working class and the Labour leaderships, of union and parliamentary bureaucracies, with particular material interests, and which along with professional layers have a much greater role in the middle and even lower levels of social democratic parties with much smaller mass involvement than previously.

Sure the particularly circumstances of the long period of Thatcherism conditioned New Labour, but so did the enticing lessons of the long Hawke-Keating Australian Labor governments (1983-96). The latter consciously crafted a social democratic version of neo-liberalism without a great deal of pressure from a previous long-term conservative regime to do so (the previous Fraser government was only really strong in its first period, about 1975-78, and was then crisis-ridden, nearly losing the 1980 election, before Hawke waltzed in, on a fairly “old Labor” platform, in 1983, only then announcing the great need to deregulate and privatise).

In short I think you downplay the generally pro-capitalist effect of these mediating layers (though of course there’s significant variation in the outlook of union officials), and the particular effect on these broad layers (not just top leaderships) of the neo-liberal turn in capitalism in the late 70s and early 80s.

Michael Fisher said...

Hi Paul

I agree on the productive labour issue. But my point was really to do with how history/theory is used in relation to strategy.

A recent example of this is the analysis that underpins the CNWP initiative.

It rests partly on a very one-sided and historically inaccurate analysis of the Labour Party and its relationship to the working class. Workers in Britain supported Labour for a wide range of reasons. For some Labour promised radical social change. For many more Labour was a party that promised mild pragmatic reform in the context of having fully supported World War One and declaring its loyalty to the core institutions of the British imperial state.

Labour became a mass party, not despite its ideological ambiguities and support for the fundamental structures and institutions of British capitalism, but because of them. This is because the shift from Liberal to Labour reflected not an ideological transformation of the working class, but was primarily an electoral shift based on a series of specific historical circumstances which saw the Liberals crumble. While many workers came to reject the Liberal Party, most did not reject the mild, pragmatic, parliamentary approach to reform that it embodied.

To any serious historian of the period none of this is controversial. But none of these complexities were engaged with in the run up to the CNWP being launched. Instead the argument was that we need a new (and distinctly anti-capitalist) mass party because Labour no longer serves that function. Labour never did serve that function. Labour always subordinated class interests to those of the ‘national interest’. This is why the first minority Labour government refused to meet with the TUC: the Cabinet did not want to appear to be too pro-union.

The simplistic analysis of the origins of the Labour Party resulted in over-optimistic expectations for the CNWP. You would surely agree, 4 years on, the prospects for a new mass workers party appear bleak. A better understanding of the history of the British labour movement explains why.

As for the GFC, I did not argue that the SP was being catastrophist. I argued that we should follow and analyse the crisis as it unfolded before making sweeping judgements about its political significance. The crisis has, in some respects, been a catastrophe. Who would have thought, say 30 years ago, that the biggest crisis in post-war capitalism would yield such limited political benefits for the CWI in Britain and many other countries?

Anonymous said...

Hi comrade,
Have you heard of and what do you think of this campaign?

http://stopthetoriesandfascists.wordpress.com
http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/group.php?gid=329979706753&ref=ts

Phil said...

Mod, returning to the points you made about the sociological reasons for joining and sticking with an organisation - obviously I have an interest here as I've completed a PhD on this very topic! Socially speaking I was very happy in the company of Stoke SP comrades. In many ways it is a model branch. It puts the work in and gels together very well. And this isn't because it's composed of time servers either - most of the active members joined after me (this isn't a round about way of saying I recruited them all!)

Because of those friendships, my decision was very difficult. While it is true I have a number of friends and comrades in the local Labour party too, I would have still done the same if they weren't there.

As for electing Gordon Brown, that's what anyone who's saying 'vote Labour' is agitating for anyway. But it's not about the personality of the leader, it's to do with pursuing a strategy informed by a particular analysis I'm convinced of.

Phil said...

Cheers Skidders. One of the positives I took from my brief stay in the SWP's orbit 14 years ago was its understanding of Labour, and it's one I think that stands up to scrutiny better than the SP's.

Phil said...

Glyn, don't worry about the length! (Those helpful souls at Blogger have decreed we can now only have a max of 4,096 characters anyway - there was no announcement made about this).

But anyway, your experiences of Labour Students don't tally with mine at all. I refer you to the contributions made by the anonymous Keele comrade on this thread. She is right. I've met some appalling careerists among young Labour party members, but I've met just as many who are motivated by the same things we are.

I do take issue with this idea I'm looking for a short cut (something that cropped up in Ad's comment near the top). If I was after short cuts I'd have found the flighty practice of the SWP attractive. But there are no short cuts to building a socialist society. It's a long hard slog of struggle on the industrial, political and cultural fronts. Where we differ is how best to carry that forward. Are the prospects for rebuilding the labour movement and propagating socialist ideas better outside Labour? I no longer think so.

When we're discussing strategic issues it's always difficult to offer concrete evidence of its success or failures. You can point to the hollowness of Labour (I've done it myself enough!) as proof positive that it's dead, and I can note the multiple failures to build anything substantial outside. The jury is still out on this one - but as Neil says should Labour lose, what happens next will be crunch time for both perspectives.

Another point while I remember. The working class can be forgiving. One of the things I've been turning over in my mind about the lessons of the Burslem dispute (where - for readers - royal mail management made an attack on a militant CWU branch and tried to sack 12 workers, most of whom were key union activists) is their attitude to Labour. It was the government who were driving the attacks, and because our branch already had influence in the depot our arguments around the CNWP fell on fertile ground. But shortly afterwards one of the regional CWU organisers took control of the dispute, the local Labour MP helped out and various Labour notables showed their face on the picket line. Because of this action, even though it was a Labour attack the branch was fending off, nevertheless on a local level it was demonstrated that the link can work.

Aside from the CWU full timer's activities, it is debatable how useful the rest of Labour's actions were. But nevertheless its intervention shored up the reputation of the MP and, by extension, the Labour party locally.

This is because the crisis in working class representation is simultaneously a crisis of Labourism. If Labour act like Labour, workers will support it.

Phil said...

Southpaw, after you've got a comrade into libel difficulties (even if he's a "renegade" like me) and then refused to support him ... you'd better have a bloody good reason.

As for the rest of your points, you don't know me or the comrades involved so you have no idea how the campaigns will relate to each other - if at all. You will not see anything on this blog angrily denouncing TUSC and the candidate, Southpaw-stylee. It might come as a shock to you, but friendships can transcend political differences.

Phil said...

Eddie, even the dogs in the street know a party branch can't possibly expect someone to campaign for something they fundamentally disagree with. You should learn from your own cpgb experience with Respect. You simultaneously tried to hold on to a leading comrade who was for full critical engagement with it and a group who were fundamentally opposed. In the end you lost both.

Sometimes splits and resignations are necessary.

Phil said...

Ms Chief, what do you mean "seem" like a good guy? lol.

The only thing I can say is 'we'll see'. Obviously I think I'm doing the right thing.

Re: careerism I doubt there's any danger of that. I don't have the time to pursue one (or the desire!) So the powers of darkness will find it very difficult to tempt me.

Anyway, I fully intend to be as self-reflective and searching as this blog's always been. If by some hideous stroke of fate you'll find me in 40 years hawking the UKIP manifesto, it'll all be on the blog or whatever comes along to replace them.

ModernityBlog said...

Phil,

Fair enough, I wasn't criticising you personally, but I think there is a dynamic to political groups which takes on the social as much as a political form.

But look on the bright side, if you manage to get your doctorate by observing a few Trots, then you've got years, probably decades of research papers on the Labour Party! Plenty of material there.

I take your point about Gordon Brown, but communicating that on the doorstep in a few simple words will be a lot harder.

I don't envy you canvassing for Labour.

Phil said...

And I'm sorry if you thought I was being narky in response, I wasn't!

I have done a spot of phone work for Mark Fisher and - contrary to expectations - I didn't get one arsey response. Other comrades have said the same thing. It might be different in person on the doorstep. Whatever, I'm sure it will all be blogged in meticulous detail.

Everyones Favourite Comrade said...

Phil,

I don't think you have really answered any of the points that I have raised at all, that may simply be because you have misunderstood what i was trying to say.

Using isolated examples of Labour Students is not realy a good analysis of the situation at all. You only have to look at the role that Labour Students play within the NUS to see the reality of the situation, lets not forget that it is these same people leading Labour Students on a right-wing tradectory who will be MPs or parliamentary candidates, councillors etc of the future. You also fail to address the issue of the current right-wingers leading the party started of as those very same radicals in Labour Students which you pin so much hope on in the future. I can not see why you would see this generation of Labour Students will not follow the same path whenthey will be subject to much more of a right-wing influence than previously.

By a short term perspectve I meant in terms of gaining influence amongst trade unionists, I think I have already highlighted how this can be done. But you argue that it is easier to do that within the Labour Party in essence you advocate a short cut here, and you argue to gain influence for the labour party on that basis, i am baffled by this, what influence will this be? especially when you agree it is unlikely to be reclaimed.

This brings us to the fundemental point which I cannot see that you have addressed, whatinfluence doyou expect the left can have over the Labour Party.

I think it is also worth pointing out that to be knowledge (although Imay be wrong) but the SP hss recruited more from the lib dems than we have from Labour such is abour's degeneration.
I think it is also worth a re-read of the comments left by young comrades on this thread as well.

Adam said...

"I do take issue with this idea I'm looking for a short cut (something that cropped up in Ad's comment near the top)"

in the interest of clarity, thats not what i was implying.

my point was that the struggle for political representation will be a long drawn out campaign, including successes and failures, victories and defeats, whether waged within New Labour or without. That, in my opinion, only that process taking place outside has a chance to lead to the development of a working class political organisation - at this stage. It will take an organised response to the social and political crises that are now beginning to unfold to bring about the conditions for either a new left formation or a revitalisation of New Labour - where we differ is which is more likely and therefore where the energies of socialists should be spent.

i won't go over the arguments again, but i certainly don't see joining new Labour as a 'shortcut'. more like a dead-end

Phil said...

In the context of this discussion, the AWL have launched an interesting campaign - The Socialist Campaign to Stop the Tories and Fascists.

Will reply tomorrow, Glyn.

Anonymous said...

Everyone's Favourite Comrade: I'm beginning to doubt that you are my favourite comrade. In all honesty I don't see where you are going with this Labour Student argument. As I have tried to explain (or maybe i'm not being clear enough with this) Labour Students has changed and is shifting to the left.

Ed Marsh - Has urged more Labour Students assistance in trade union disputes.

Helen Gibson - Describes herself as a Trotskyist, has criticised the anti-left sentiment amongst some Labour Youth and is a strong critic of government policy.

Estelle Hart - NUS Wales Women's Officer, staunch feminist who has called for significant increases in female representation within LS.

And the fact that other people who have previously been labelled as 'dirty trots' have now been asked to stand for executive positions points to the fact that there are opportunities opening within the organisation for those on the left.

These are not isolated examples and your argument seems to be purely based upon Wes Streeting and a handful of other right-wing individuals as far as I can see.

Proper Tidy said...

I do wonder how you're going to cope with certain questions when you're out canvassing - the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example? Obviously you've not become a rabid imperialist, so I'm not suggesting you'll defend the actions of the Labour govt - but surely membership of the LP will temper criticisms somewhat.

Brother G said...

As someone who has canvassed for the Labour party my response to questions about Iraq are usually something along the lines of this:

"You're absolutely right, we have no right to be there, we're doing no good there and if I had my way Blair would be up on trial for war crimes."

You don't have to agree with all the actions of the labour government to be a member of the Labour Party. Nor should you necessarily blame a broad, diffuse political organisation for the decisions of a warmongering cabinet.

ModernityBlog said...

Phil,

You have to develop a LP cough when someone brings up Iraq, etc or Blair, on the doorstep you'll have to go "cough, cough, imperialist bastards the lot of them, cough cough" :)

and remember the old adage: the Left always looks for traitors whilst the Right looks for recruits!

Proper Tidy said...

Brother G - wasn't an attempt to smear rank and file for the decisions of the cabinet, I promise you. It was a genuine question, and thanks for your answer. I was just curious because it isn't always possible to offer anything too nuanced when it is very direct, like canvassing, stalls etc.

I'll leave it at that. Good luck Phil, I'm sure the blog will keep the same impeccable standards regardless. And at least join the LRC!

Phil said...

What Brother G said, Proper Tidy. I've been in politics long enough to know people appreciate honesty. Luckily we're helped in this regard by an MP who isn't always on message as far as the government are concerned. For instance, recently Stoke Central distributed a leaflet outlining Mark Fisher's opposition to the war in Afghanistan and various other policies.

Just so comrades know I probably won't be able to respond quickly to comments over the next few days as I've got a lot of (non-political) stuff on my plate.

Callum said...

Not really surprising. I'm sure anyone who reads your blog even sporadically, like me, could see this coming a mile off.

Anyway, I hope you and you comrades Mandelson, Hoon and Darling are successful in your battles on all three 'fronts' and that the New Labour machine morphs - over time surely! - into a fighting organization of the class.

Or..you'll become progressively disillusioned, decide you're no longer a socialist, "renounce Marx", get a job as an academic ex-socialist, become an MP, vote to cut benefits to single parents to encourage thrift and die, fat and bloated with misty-eyed features and a broken heart.

We'll see.

ModernityBlog said...

Phil,

Doesn't the last exchange from Callum illustrate the problem with the British Left?

Often supposed comradeship is barely skin deep, have a disagreement (being or small) and you're liable to be written off forever.

(The recent shabby treatment of Lindsay German is but one example.)

And with such intolerance, for differences, then it's not terribly surprising that the British left as a significant problem recruiting and retaining people.

Unlike many others here I wouldn't dream of condemning you, I think you're wrong about the Labour Party, but it's your political judgement to make with your life.

I think you'll find in the next year or so who your real friends are, and who went along with you, because you politically agreed with them...

Phil said...

Mod, yes. But there is a difference between the responses from comrades I've got to know over the years (whether online or in real life) and casual drop ins like Callum above.

I hope to write a post this weekend on the prospects of a new party being formed. Clearly there will be attention paid to how the left's culture can and does work against such a perspective.

Callum said...

No, Modernity, the fact that the British can't attract people has got more to do with the fact that it's filled with people who are not morally serious - as tactics like "entryism" demonstrate.

We're supposed to respect the motives of individuals who join a party committed, root and branch, to expansion and militarism abroad and authoritarianism, gutter racist politics and neo-liberalism at home, on the basis of "comradeship"? Anyone who can seriously posit that either doesn't understand what is entailed by the term 'comrade', or does and is just a moral charlatan.

The fact that the comrade dresses up his miserablist defeatism in sophisticated analysis about the 'class nature' of our ultra right-wing government is even further proof that there are people on the British Left - and I'll include in this list, every single self-declared socialist who carries a Labour Party membership card from Jon Cruddas down - who are implicated, and I mean this seriously, in advancing a mindset that leads directly to the destruction of our class at home and genocide abroad.

Anyone who was at all serious, and at all realistic and pragmatic about building a humane society, would spend their political life agitating, directly and indirectly, for a communist revolution.

Anything else is pretense and it's shameful - completely fuckin' shameful.

But, yes, I suppose I am the problem.

Phil said...

And this comment, so shot through with iron certainty, arrogance, black and white thinking, and a complete lack of strategic sense succinctly demonstrates why Callum and his ultra-left buddies (assuming he has any, he wouldn't be the only one for whom the existing groups of the British left aren't sufficiently revolutionary) will never get anywhere.

Phil said...

Glyn, I once again refer you to my anonymous Keele comrade. She knows what she's talking about.

Re: short cuts, entering Labour in the belief that being inside is a better place to rebuild the labour movement is not "in essentials" a short cut. If it is, then every strategic or tactical decision taken by any activist or organisation ever is a short cut. For example, when the SP initially argued against the London Socialist Alliance standing in the 2000 London Assembly elections in favour of the Campaign for Tube Privatisation, was this on the belief supporting the latter was a "short cut" to building a new left alternative, or based on conclusions that the CATP offered better prospects?

Regards influence, I have explained this before. The balance of forces in Labour have changed. The right wing are weakened and the unions hold the purse strings. While there is no resurgent left there are moves only now by unions to make the link work. Yes it may have taken them 13 years, but as you know you have to be patient about such things :P

As I said earlier to Mod, I hope I will have the time to write a piece on the prospects of a new party emerging at some point by looking at the most likely scenarios as they stand now with the class struggle still at a low ebb. Hopefully you and other comrades who've contributed to this discussion will find it interesting.

Phil said...

Hi Phil,

I think leaving the SP for Labour is probably a mistake. This is for two reasons, both tactical more as much as political. Firstly, I think as an active Labour member you'll find it hard to avoid lining up with policies, candidates & positions (e.g. towards other parties) which you'd much rather reject - and the temptation will be to blend in. I'd hate to see you taking the same route as Paul Anderson or Dave Osler - from (respectively) anarchist Trot-basher or IMG all-the-other-Trots-basher to plain old everything-Left-of-Labour-basher. Secondly, I think as an active Labour member these days you'll be rather bored, at least once May's out of the way. I don't get the impression the party has anything like the level of activity or the social & political life that the SP has.

But politically you may be correct; New Labour is dead but the Labour Party isn't. There is, perhaps, an opportunity for something better to emerge within Labour. At least, there had better be - dearly as I love RESPECT, it's not big enough to fill the left of the British electoral spectrum. (I won't go into where this leaves TUSC.)

Jim Denham said...

Probably the correct thing to have done. But if you want to stay on the serious left I'd respectfully suggest you at least put your name to the Socialist Camapign to Stop the Tories and Fascists:
http://stopthetoriesandfascists.wordpress.com/

Dominic Smith said...

I heard about your desision to leve the SP and join Labour yesterday, for a split second I thought it was a joke then reflecting over various commnets in your posts over a long period, esspecally the more recent ones, it suddenly made sense.

To comrades who don't know me well I can come acorss as highly excentric and even politicaly erratic, for those that do though, they know that underneith this lies a impenatrable 'orthodoxy' towards the SP/CWI built upon a obsessive and unrelenting stuty of our history, going as far back as the Workers International Leauge in the 30's, possessing as I do rare journals from that period (FYI: the lengthy artile we wrote attacking the CP captulation to imperalism in WWII following the attack on the USSR is one of the best I've read in articulating the Marxist concept of imperliasm) along with contrasting said political analisis and posistions with other trends in the workers movment.

I indulge in, it must be said, a great deal of passonate zeal when reading about our histoy and our steadfast refusal to captulate to Stalinism, reformism or the psudo-Marxist theories of the petty-bourgios. While we are far from perfect, we have in my humble opinion continued to march foward while the majority of our former 'rivals' the Independent Labour Party, Workers Revolutionrty Party, The International Marxist Group, The Communist Party and even on an international scale the 'Starlinist Comentern' and the 'Degenrate Fourth International' have either imploded or declined to a fraction of their formoer posistion if not pratically dead. Even our former cormades in Scotland (with I might add massive international support from much of the ex-Trotskyist left) have all but disintergated and as for Socilalist Appal and the IMT, they are a joke.

All this may sound like it's leading up to me leaping to the political defence of the SP and unleashing a barrarge of political attacks aganist your dissision, but this is only partly so, I think other cormades here have already made all the relevent points regrading the Labour Party that I and others still don't think you have been able to answer, instead I wish to focus on a few different points, the first few relates to my more detailed knowlage of our history, the former raising some rather uncomftable comparasons to you and another 'former comrade.'

Dominic Smith said...

Before dealing with them I want to naturally echo the walm senterments made by other cormades and I belive that in spite of this 'tatical divergence' you are still a Marxist and more so are still a comrade in the broarder sense in that from your various comments you look foward to a reassocation with the SP in the future, if assuming your perspectives are indeed correct and the SP is then forced to re-enter the Labour Party, you know the comrades well enough to know that you will be given due credit for your forsite and having proved yourself would be highly incorraged to rejoin the, hehehe 'tendency' likewise if the reverse happned and after a few years of the further stagnation of the Labour Party and the development of a real new fomation outside you threw in th towel you'd be welcomed back...although of course some comrades would never let you live it down, :P

First and formost I want to dispell any notion whatsoever that if Phil's perspectives are correct it would mean that we had been 'wrong' to leave the LP in 1991-92. The orignal basis of our leaving the LP was puraly tatical, that we felt greater opptunities existed outside at that time was and NOT becase of a change in the class character of the party, we simply did not hold this view at that time. On this point I belive that we were proven historicaly correct and although I do not want to assume so pelase correct me if I'm wrong Phil, that Phil does not in any way dismiss or call into question our past orentation. While the 90's were indeed a bitch of a decade for socialsits, I've no doubt that we would not have been able to make the, admttdly still modest, gains we've made in the recent period if we'd of had the strait jackket of the LP around our necks.

The issue of the SP analsis of the class character of the LP, while not being relevent to our leaving, is extreemly relevent to the question of us 'going back,' although even then I'm sure comrades would agree that given the completlly different conditions another 40-years of 'entrism' is not on the agenda. It is necessary to dispel another myth, while the SP does aruge that a qualtive transformation has taken place in the Labour Party (the 'exact' date being as difficult to determin as the 'exact' date the German Social Democrat Party stopped being Marxist) we NEVER put foward the posistion that for that reason it was completlly and utterly exclused that even the a complellly bourgious LP could not be pushed back towards the left, as Taaffe outined in 'Militants Real History,'

Dominic Smith said...

"It can never be theoretically discounted – nor have we ever said this on any occasion – that an ex-workers’ party which has degenerated into a bourgeois formation could, under the impact of mighty economic and political events, begin to shift once more towards the left and transform itself into a vehicle for workers. It is not theoretically excluded that the same thing could happen to the Labour Party in Britain, with Blairism being rejected, a big shift towards the left taking place and a new arena of struggle opening up for socialists and Marxists." - 2002

The difference of course, as Taaffe indicated, is that given our charterisation of the LP we argue that it would require much, much more intence events to force this shift, I would say at the very least seeing elemnts of a pre-revolutionry situation, like in Italy in the 60's and 70's that with such a massive, seaving anger and radicalisation of socity and with no other even small mass establised left party to flood towards could see workers turning to the LP as the only option. Perhaps the consequences of the recession would lead to such a situation, but I sincerly dobut it.

Again, not wanting to assume anything but it seems that while Phil rejects our charaterisation of the LP he seems dissmissive about the LP transformation back into 'old labour' and more about the prospects of the struggle and potentail gains to be made in terms of winning people to socialism and strengthing the workers movemnt in general.

This, however quickly brings things into a sharp controdiction between Phils perspective and the logical conclusions you delvelop when you take them to the very end.

Phil has left the SP and joined Labout from the 'imcompatbulity' of his perspectives and the political tasks they pose and his membership of the SP that at the moment is baseing itself on a counter prespective and would not unreasonbly demand that cormades attempt to carry them out. Very well, but let me put it to you bluntly Phil, on the basis of your perspectives would it not be overwhelmingly favourable for the whole of the SP to reorentate to the LP, those of us who are not black listed joining and merging Socialist Studends with Labour Students (while of course retaining our own Marxist orgnisation, the revolutiionry party in embro, or else we can no longer clain to stand on the fondation of revolutionry Marxism at all.)

Dominic Smith said...

Of course you cannot but answer 'yes' and will respond with the simple fact that winning the SP to your perspectives at the next confrence is an impossabulity, agreed, your revial perspectives document would probbly get less votes than the Grant/Woods minory back in 1991, but that does not settle the issue at all. You see, if you are true to your own perspectives, then hanging on inside the SP for just a few more months until the next confrence, engaging in the open and democratic debate on this question, getting a document circulated to the whole of the membership, could mean that during this processs you win a small number of cormades to your posistion who might them leave with you when your document is inevitalby rejected.

In this respect Phil, while I hate to say it and other comrades might think it's out of line, you have acted in a way not discimilar to the renagade Wainwright. Politics is a serious bussness, we are talking about building and ensureing the sucess of a socialsit movment that will change human history and in the short to medium term, eleviate the wost and most horriric injustices and suffering of the working-class. If therefore you become convinced that a perspective, a program, a theorectical anlaisis will advance that struggle, it is your revolutionry duty to take every reasonble measure to push it foward, it is the failure to do this that I belive constitues a real betrayl of 'communist morality' not the leaving of one orgnisation for another, just as the communists left the social democracy for the third international, the Trotskyists left the Stalinised parties, or our own group the Militant Tendency finally turned our back completly on the USFI in 1965 folllwing our semi-explusion for our refusal to captulate to Maoism, a revolutionatrys loyalty to the working class transends 'party loyalty.'

Can the few months your individual efforts in the LP between now and confrence really compare to the potental of the small number of cormades you might have taken with you on the basis of the above political dussusion in the party?

Dominic Smith said...

This brings us on to another realted point as well, the SP has a modest but significant base in the orgnised working class, in the unions and trades councils ect along with our very dedicated membership. I'm sure it occored to you Phil that on the baisis of events if you are proved right, given the SP are not a stagnent, sectarian orgnisation that ignores reality we will follow you in due time....BUT, by you choosing to just leave without bringing your perspective to the whole party in a detailed dussusion leading up to and during confrence, you potentialy disarm the party, rending the process more protracted than necessary and result in the SP joining you later than it needs to be, having missed out on vital opptunites and possbiley even given ground to a new version of the Tribunes that may develop in some form although I doubt it would use the old name, possibly a group growing out of the LCR.

For these reasons Phil, while I understand your dissision, I can't honesty say I respect it, the thinking behind it seems to be more in common with a libral individulist mindset than a serious socialsit revolutionry. Again to complletly clarfy and leave no room for misunderstanidng, I do NOT see your new perspective or your dissision to leave the SP for Labour as a betral of 'communist morality' but I DO see it in the methord you have chosen.

I know it might seem hash comming from someone who had the full weight of the party behind them to crittercise you while you are all alone, but I've gone it alone before when in the Southampton 2006 pre-confrence dussusions I put about 6-amendtments to the branch on the perspectives documents covering numerious issues and had the full political weight of the experences comrades thrown at me, along with on most of them and overwhelming majory of the cormades, leading to none of them getting voted though.

Anyway, thats all I have to say on the matter, I'm sorry if I sounded somewhat sharp, but I wanted to raise these points in front of you and other cormades and I hope I make it clear you still retain my respect.

Regards,
Dominic

Phil said...

Phil, I don't plan on being *just* a Labour party bod. I do anti-fascist and trade union stuff too. That will ensure I have plenty that keeps me busy during the quiet times of the electoral cycle.

Dominic, cheers for the long and considered response. There are a couple of things I would take issue with your contribution.

1) As far as I know the SP has not produced an analysis explaining roughly when and how Labour passed from a bourgeois workers party to a straight party of capital. Did it happen once Blair was elected Labour leader? Was it the abolition of Clause 4? Was it when Labour came to power in 1997?

2) Obviously I dispute your characterisation of my resignation. I know full well that faction fighting is time consuming, exhausting, and that the cards are stacked against you when you're fighting on a fundamental strategic issue - not least because you know most people disagree with you, but also that those who meet any challenge from the base have the luxury of being full time activists. And seeing as my differences had emerged at a time when immediate action was necessary, there was no time to wait an age until the next members bulletin was produced. Had I gone down your recommended route I'd have undertaken work I think is politically mistaken and ultimately damaging to the wider interests of the labour movement. A split, even a small scale one, would have left behind it a legacy of bitterness and rancour. I've yet to see one resolved amicably in my 15 years on the far left.

Re: Militant in the early 90s, after the split with the Grantites initially Militant adopted a twin track approach - open work in Scotland and Liverpool, but everywhere else they remained in Labour. In some areas there were still Militant supporters in Labour as late as 1994 (that year Wally Kennedy was elected as a Labour cllr). So the open turn wasn't initially unambiguous.

Was Militant right to leave Labour when it did? I don't know. I will say that the influence Militant built during the 80s was contingent on them being in Labour. But I don't think being in Labour would necessarily have seen Militant decline any less than it did in the 90s. You just have to look at Socialist Appeals fortunes - they more or less stayed the same. However, because Militant were bigger it is not beyond the realms of possibility that some of its members could have been selected to contest seats, just as Wally Kennedy was.

Everyones Favourite Comrade said...

If that is your explanation of the left within Labour Students then I thank you whole heartedly for proving ME correct.

It makes absolutely no difference what you call yourself it is what you do that counts, and what have they done.

The NUS Wales office is literally a 2 minute walk from the locations of pretty much all Labour Movement demonstrations in Cardiff but I am yet to ever see Estelle Hart engage in any campaigning activity.
Nor do I see any of the others usuing their profile within the NUS to mount a campagin against fees or cuts which the NUS leadership is not doing. So all it does for some of them to call themselves trots is to give left cover to the leadership.

Your dismissal of streeting as just one person is extremely disingenuous a best. It is on par as saying Blair or Brown are just one person. Whilst technically this is true they are the elected leadership for Labour an the sameis true of Streeting within Labour Students because of his position within NUS that is what counts.

While you are able to only provide me with 3 very weak examples you gleefully ignore the attacks that Labour Students have engaged in against the left within the NUS.

and bying saying that the fact ex-trots means there is room for the left is blantantly wrong. It is like saying that because there are ex-paid cymru members in the tories it means that the tories support Welsh independance!

Meanwhile most young people want nothing to o with Labour because they see them as no different from the main parties`

Everyones Favourite Comrade said...

A new post appeared in my e-mails but it has not appeared here nevertheless I will respond to it anyway. The post sai

"Most young people don't want anything to do with the Socialist Party either. How many members?"

Well I would argue that the SP proably has more active youth that the Labour Party fro my experience. When you add that together with the youth of the rest of the far left in particular the SWP we can see that the majority of politically active youth are outside of the Labour Party.

Whilst it is true that the SP is numerically small I don't think that is a true reflection of the situation at all. I take no joy in saying that the SP is small but on the other hand look at what we are able to do with such small forces, I do not think it is necessary to give a list of them.

When I first attended a branch meeting in 2003 it was a shock to me. I had for a few months been campaigning alongside SP members before I attended the branch ans seeing all that they were able to do in that time I expected at the very least to see 50 people at the meeting upwards to 100.
I was shocked to see there was about 10, for a few seconds it was extremely off putting but then I realised, If these 10 people were able to do what they have done imagine would we could do once we are bigger!

Its not about how big you are its what you do with it that counts.

Phil said...

I didn't approve the comment so how it got emailed out is a mystery. But anyway it seemed too yah boo sucks to me, which is the kind of debate I wish to avoid.

Anonymous said...

The SP are particularly weak in the field of student politics, certainly by the standards of the SWP and even the disproportionately influential AWL and their fronts. Their interventions at conference have been misguided at times and lack a coherent direction and strategy, hence the other student groups tend to dismiss or ignore them as a force.

This largely because there is no clear direction, nor a coherent orientation toward students. Delegates at conference often do not stick together, there is rarely anything in the way of informed discussion or caucus and, it has to be siad, the 2 full timers are neither dynamic, show any leadership or even seem to know what is going on (sorry, don't mean to be personal, but they are woeful, politically!).

Richard

Everyones Favourite Comrade said...

I hate to break this to you but not every young person is a student particuarly as student numbers have dropped in the last decae an in my opinion neither is the NUS the best arena for struggle

Anonymous said...

I agree with you EFC, however there is a group called 'Socialist Students' and it was them I was referring to. I am aware of the 'Youth Fight for Jobs' campaign and it does seem to be a positive and right step to take in the circumstances.

I have no beef with the SP, but was just pointing out that their student work is beyond poor. I do think this is to do with the full-timers in this respect as the SP work in other arenas, while I may disagree with some perspectives is generally sound.

The NUS is certainly not the best arena for struggle thanks to Streeting and his cronies, but it is an arena none the less.

Richard

Everyones Favourite Comrade said...

thats my exact point I am an organiser for Socialist Students and most of our work has taen place away from campus.
Socialisr Students along with YFJ were far the biggest organised youth groups confronting the EDL?WDL can't say I saw one young member of Labout at all

Everyones Favourite Comrade said...

but isn't that the point, the SP were able tomobiise youth where Labour can not

and considering the difference in size and resources that itself speaks volumes

Anonymous said...

Ok I take your point that i'm not going to be able to convince you, but I do still feel that you are tarring all Labour Students with the same brush which is a pity.

As someone that has been involved with both Socialist Students and Labour Students I have to say I don't think that Socialist Students do mobilise youth.

I guess most of this does come from different peoples experience. Everyones Favourite Comrade you have shared your experience now I am going to share mine.

Socialist Students on campus have been well hardly seen, and I can't say that I think that they have had an overwheming presence at local industrial disputes. I agreed wholeheartedly with YFJ campaign but this campaign was so disorganised it barely got off the ground here.

In confronting the EDL well I can tell you there were Labour Students at the Stoke march, I can also tell you that there were a team of Labour Students campaigning in areas like Longton and Meir against groups like the EDL and BNP.

You say that you didn't see one young member of Labour but its not like we have a sign above our heads saying we are members of the Labour Party.

I do not gleefully ignore Labour Students attacks on the NUS in fact I shouted from the rooftops in my union that I disagreed with them. I don't take pride in it, however I don't think i'm here to send apologies for every mistake Labour Students has made. As for Labour Students attacking the left, I have to say that I went to NUS conference I had my Labour Students voting list put in my hand a number of 'the left' that we attack were on that list. Anyway, the point I was trying to get across is that it is getting better and moving to the left. This is based on my membership for the past 3 years and gradual improvements that I have seen in this period (and especially this year).

I also apologise if I came across that I thought Wes Streeting was the only careerist (thought i'm sure I did give more than one example). There are more but the argument that you seem to be making is that all Labour Students are careerists and aren't really socialists, if this was the case they would join Socialist Students.

'Its not about how big you are its what you do that counts'I 100% agree. This brings me to what have my club done in two years, fought for better wheelchair access on campus, ran campaigns about tuition fees, fought against prescription charges, raised awareness about domestic violence (all of this without national Labour Students help)among a number of other things. Our membership is just above that of Socialist Students (and I mean just), many members are member of both Labour Students and Socialist Students, however in my experience we engage with young people more, which is highlighted by the numbers we have at meetings and out campaigning compared to Socialist Students.

Labour can't mobilise youth I disagree. I also disagree about your point to do with size and resources. I have not once got financial help from National LS. They don't provide me with my campaign materials, posters, website for my club, its all sourced from members. On a local level I have not gained any resources from LS and my Labour Student club has done it all themselves, its a level playing field, yet we can still engage with large numbers of youth. So these resources that you talk about, really they aren't there at a local level.

Anonymous said...

Just noticed this thread and Michael Fisher’s declaration he's resigned from the CWI/SP and his headlined political reasons for his decision.

I understand that Michael never formally raised these differences inside the SP, at any time, and neither did he ever formally tell the CWI/SP he had resigned.

What does that say about a serious approach to discussion and debate (which Michael claims is lacking inside the SP)?

Michael, who puts so much emphasis on understanding the “core theoretical position”, decided not to bring his views to the attention of SP members.

Michael claims that there is a “lack of serious internal discussion on questions of history and theory” inside the SP. But, as 'PaulK' pointed out earlier on this blog, this sweeping claim by Michael does not at all tally with the approach the SP took towards questions of economic theory that Michael himself raised a few years ago (“serious” discussion, and SP resources, were given over to debating Michael's views - held only by him inside the SP - on 'productive and non-productive' labour etc).

Michael Fisher said...

There is a long tradition of individuals leaving socialist groups without pursuing their disagreements – of which I am a part.

No doubt the reasons for this vary from case to case.

In my case I had come to disagree with many core positions held by the SP/CWI on such issues as: the class nature of the Soviet Union; the democratic status of Lenin and Trotsky’s politics; the nature of the British Labourism; the viability of Leninist party building under contemporary conditions; the sources of socialist consciousness; the interpretation of key historical events such as the British General Strike and the events of 1968.

I could go on.

If I disagreed on this or that issue then it would make sense to pursue these disagreements via the internal structures.

But I didn’t. I came to disagree on a large number of core political issues that are closely bound-up with the particular history, traditions and leadership of the SP/CWI. The scale and nature of my disagreements were such that I concluded I had very little in common with the particular politics represented by the SP/CWI.

In such circumstances I made a decision that there was little point in engaging in a very time consuming and probably fruitless individual battle of ideas. Maybe my judgement on this and other questions is wrong. I don't think I am but events in the years ahead will judge.

Everyones Favourite Comrade said...

But the point is Mike that the points you raised about the internal regime of the SP and its seriousness to discuss theory have been shown to be false with numerous examples given by several comrades.

I myself remember your document being circulated on productive and unproductive labour being circulated and a serious discussion amongst Welsh comrades taking place on the topic

Anonymous said...

Michael Fisher’s justification for not openly discussing his differences inside the SP remains unsatisfactory and disappointing for SP members. When you put together all his cited differences, they do indeed indicate fundamental differences. But did Michael come to these conclusions all at once, over the last few months, when he was thousands of miles away from the SP (E&W) in Australia? Or, as is much more likely, did Michael develop them over a period, during his 20 years plus membership of the CWI? If the latter, then it remains disappointing to SP comrades that Michael chose never to raise these important differences inside the party, as they arose. Amongst other things, it indicates an unfortunate attitude by Michael towards the SP membership.

Anyway, the deed is done. Michael clearly has fundamental differences with the SP/CWI. But concerning the manner of Michael’s leaving the SP/CWI, and the way he chose to announce his differences and resignation, a line of Shakespeare’s comes to mind: “Nothing in his life,
Became him like the leaving it.”

Michael said: “There is a long tradition of individuals leaving socialist groups without pursuing their disagreements – of which I am a part.”

I agree …and they often go onto a path that leads to abandoning revolutionary socialist politics. There can be all sorts of reasons given (including genuinely held political differences, of course), and motivations for, individuals abandoning Trotskyism and revolutionary Marxism. It is never done in a vacuum. The pressures of bourgeois ideas and society, pressure of the retreat of left intellectuals on certain layers, tiredness from the active struggle and party building in more complex, difficult periods, pressures to conform and adapt to the bureaucracy and structures of the official union and labour movement... and many end up in the camp of a “League of Abandoned Hopes”.

Sometime those leaving Trotskyism will cite, as Michael does, that they “disagree with many core positions”. We’ve heard it before. A split in the US SWP in the 30s, began over a questioning of the ‘dialectic”, as Trotsky pointed out, and ended up with the split’s main proponents ending up in the camp of imperialism.

Michael can explain, if he wishes, where he now puts himself on the Left spectrum, how he describes his political viewpoint and whether that means playing an active role in workers’ movement and politics etc.

Going by Michael’s other postings, he appears to now hold to a quite pessimistic and static perspectives. But SP members will genuinely hope that Michael still adheres to Marxism, although clearly not of the character of the CWI and Trotskyism, and that Michael will contribute to the broad Marxist and workers’ movement.

Michael now headlines the “core positions held by the SP/CWI” that he differs with (though not all of them, apparently) but again he does not actually explain them. Perhaps this will come later. Nevertheless we can now make a fair assumption about Michael’s opinions going by the tenor of his short descriptions. With all due respect, I doubt there is anything particularly new in Michael’s arguments e.g. “the class nature of the Soviet Union; the democratic status of Lenin and Trotsky’s politics; the viability of Leninist party building under contemporary conditions…”) that have not already been discussed and debated many times before and, in my opinion, comprehensively answered by the Trotskyists in defence of genuine Marxism and its methods – including defence of 1917, analysis of the rise of Stalinism, defence of democratic centralism etc – against the attacks of social democratic reformists, bourgeois academics and commentators (e.g. Robert Service’s new book on Trotsky), Stalinists, ultra lefts and anarchists (as Michael says, “I could go on.”).

Finally, I do agree with Michael at least on one issue: that “the years ahead will judge” who is correct (just as, in my opinion, the previous years have proved the correctness of Trotskyism on key historical issues that Michael highlights).

Michael F said...

Re: the comments from Anonymous

Anonymous raises some important points. Unfortunately, clarity is not helped by the mode of his/her expression:

a) The quasi-Biblical solemnity (‘the deed is done’, ‘the League of Abandoned Hopes’). This is what it must feel like to be instructed in one’s sins by a priest.

b) The arrogant assumption of other peoples’ views (‘SP members will genuinely hope’, ‘it remains disappointing to SP comrades’).

c) The child-like belief in the existence of a ‘genuine Marxism and its methods’.

d) The clumsy use of a Shakespearean quotation to imply a frame of intellectual reference much wider than that suggested by the rest of the text.

Setting all the rhetorical dross to one side, the key criticism appears to be that my disagreements are nothing new. As I had not claimed originality I am not sure why this point is being made. Leninism and Trotskyism have certainly been subject to much criticism and abuse over the years – some of it utterly baseless (from Stalinists and some historians such as Robert Service) and some of it worthy of further discussion (the work of Samuel Farber, Hal Draper and Marcel van der Linden comes to mind).

But knowledge and debate in relation to any particular political topic is rarely settled. Historical and political understanding inches along on the basis of new evidence or on the basis of re-evaluations of existing evidence.

So, for example, I think Trotsky’s analysis of the Soviet Union is wrong, not because of what Max Shachtman wrote in the 1930s, but because our understanding of the historical dynamics and political consequences of Soviet economic development in the 1920s and 1930s is so much better than it was 70 years ago. The work of historians such as Donald Filtzer and sociologists such as Simon Clarke (both Marxists – but whose ‘genuineness’ has yet to be measured) provides, to me at least, sufficient reason to conclude that Trotsky’s analysis was probably wrong.

It is possible to advance an argument that appears superficially similar to that held by others, but which is rooted in new evidence and alternative forms of reasoning.

Only the most sterile and dogmatic mindset would assume that because Shachtman was wrong 70 years ago that the validity of Trotsky’s analysis is therefore settled. Knowledge and understanding is dynamic and historical – dialectical even.

The point applies to many of the other issues I have raised. But the simple passage of time does not mean that the quality of analysis increases. So, for example, the 1975 book by Richard Hyman and Richard Price on the industrial politics of the British CP in the 1920s, and their implications for the conduct of the General Strike, is considerably more useful and reliable than Peter Taaffe’s book published in 2006.


Should I have done more to advance these views within the CWI? Yes. Does my inaction render the points invalid. I don’t think so. But others will disagree.

Anonymous agrees that the years ahead will judge who is correct. I hope so.

Should the CWI fulfil the predictions of one of its founders by becoming ‘the decisive force on the planet’ then I will be both staggered and pleased. However, I sincerely doubt the CWI’s planetary capacities and so cannot remain a member.

Most members of the CWI, even those few hampered by a naive faith in a particularly dogmatic interpretation of Marxism, are genuine and dedicated fighters for a better world. Even though we disagree on many things, I hope to be able to work with them where and when I can.

Anonymous said...

I intend this to be my last words on Michael Fisher’s public resignation from the SP/CWI and his comments on political differences, unless Michael raises new very contentious issues or makes statements that I do not regard as factually true and which demand answering. (It seems many internet warriors on the left have a tendency for robustness and polemics in cyberspace but will be found wanting when they have had the opportunity to put their differences to their comrades in organized democratic discussion and debate).

Michael seems upset by my “mode of expression”. It reminds us of Trotsky’s comments in the 30s concerning the US SWP political petty bourgeois opposition which made all sorts of wild allegations and then complained about the ‘tone’ of the opposition during debates. Yet Michael’s comments show he is not averse to employing some “rhetorical dross” (and outright caricature) e.g. “the CWI’s planetary capacities”, “naive faith in a particularly dogmatic interpretation of Marxism” etc.

Having fired the first shots (online) – publicly attacking the CWI’s method of internal debate and discussion and its “core” theory and ideas – Michael can hardly be surprise when SP members reply firmly and point out the glaring contradictions in his account.

Michael did himself no favours in the eyes of his former comrades, “after 23 years activity” in the CWI, by the manner of his leaving the SP/CWI and his airing of differences. Michael’s actions do a disservice to his own past role.

This is no “assumption of other peoples’ [SP members] views” on my part. I have had communications with several CWI comrades, in Ireland and Britain, most of whom know Michael, and they all expressed disappointment, frustration and even dismay at Michael’s public resignation on this blog, and his sweeping, contemptuous denunciations of the internal life of the SP/CWI and its approach towards theory, history and ideas.

Michael now tantalizingly states: “Anonymous raises some important points” …and does not address them. But he does now concede it was wrong of him not to first raise his differences inside the SP/CWI (“Should I have done more to advance these views within the CWI? Yes.”)

Unfortunately Michael goes on: “Does my inaction render the points invalid. I don’t think so. But others will disagree.” This is tilting at windmills. No-one said Michael’s decision not to put his ideas to democratic discussion and debate “rendered them invalid”. No doubt, we will not agree with Michael on his differences - if we ever get to see them in full - but our point concerned Michael’s approach towards open debate and discussion and his caricature of SP/CWI internal life.

Anonymous said...

For Michael, the CWI/SP, and Trotskyism, in general, it seems, is now all so much sterile dogma, a “child-like belief in the existence of a ‘genuine Marxism and its methods’.”

Interestingly, Michael did not reply to my earlier query about where he now puts himself on the Left spectrum, how he describes his political viewpoint and whether that means playing an active role in workers’ movement and politics etc. Is Michael still a Marxist (‘genuine’, academic or otherwise?).

Michael’s is agitated over the term “genuine” Marxism, as he attempts to caricature the CWI as a closed, dogmatic, rigid organization, with no scope for learning and developing Marxism etc.

The CWI is not just its programme and policies today, but bases itself on the collective experience of the working class internationally, the experiences and lessons of the four internationals and on the ideas of the great Marxists. The CWI is proud of its achievements – real, concrete achievements that made a difference to workers’ lives (for example, poll tax, Liverpool, former MPs and MEP, water charges in Ireland). These were not accidental but derive from the CWI’s understanding and application of Marxism.

The CWI has never claimed to have all the answers or expertise, or never to have made mistakes. The CWI- a ‘committee’ not the mass international, which yet has to be built - does and will work with others in broad formations, where possible and useful, on a principled basis (TUSC, in Britain, today, for example). The CWI will grow partly by collaboration and sometimes merging with other Marxist and left revolutionary trends (already including those from a Mandelite and Moreonite tradition etc). The CWI will welcome the active involvement of intellectuals, as long as they put themselves on the side of the working class. I am sure we will not agree on all issues, including historical issues but there will be an agreement to construct a new mass international on the basis of revolutionary Marxism. The CWI will also differentiate itself sharply from other trends. Or does Michael think classic Stalinism and Maoism – with all their crimes against the working class - are just the same as the Marxism of Trotskyism and that, in best post-modernist practice, they all have a right to be considered the same, as all ‘genuine’?

Anonymous said...

On the CWI’s approach to ideas and debates and taking up other ideas, is there any other international Marxist tendency that is so open, so much on display? Just go the websites of the SP/CWI, where the ideas, programme, policies and perspectives of the CWI and its sections, and vital debates inside the CWI, particularly over the last 20 years, are presented and discussed.

On issues that Michael raises – Stalinism, 1917 and the role of Lenin and Trotsky, social democracy, Kenysism etc, there are volumes of commentary, analysis and debate. On the general approach of Marxism today, the CWI produced an entire book, as well many articles, books and other material.

Michael may not agree with all or any of these ideas or think the discussion sufficient or taking into account other ideas, including those from academia, and so on. But then Michael chose never to bring any other viewpoints and ideas to the SP membership (except for his one welcome discussion on ‘productive and non productive' labour). No attempt to start a debate. No attempt to critique the CWI analysis.

Of course, the SP/CWI will take into account the work of academics where they bring something new to the movement and discussion and also on occasion to contrast our ideas and methods with those hostile to Trotskyism. (It is pity that Michael never saw fit to discuss with SP comrades presenting a critique of the academics, he cites, and their works, in the pages of the SP’s journals – it may have been useful and instructive, even if there was no agreement between Michael and other SP members on these matters).

By the way, why does Michael appear to think the CWI entirely bases its class characterization of Stalinism on “what Max Shachtman wrote in the 1930s”? The Trotskyist movement grappled with this issue for decades and to some extent still does. It is well-known that Ted Grant initially took a state capitalist position after WW2, only to change to a “degenerated workers’ state” position. Anyone reading online CWI material can see the ongoing discussions and debate in CWI ranks on the class character of China today.

Anonymous said...

As far as Michael’s own views are concerned, from what we can tell he now seems to favour academic relativism and some sort of a-historical, post-modernist approach: “But knowledge and debate in relation to any particular political topic is rarely settled.” Michael goes on: “Historical and political understanding inches along on the basis of new evidence or on the basis of re-evaluations of existing evidence.”

“Rarely settled”?” inches along…”? Of course, new light can be shed on every event and process and, as Michael puts it, “Knowledge and understanding is dynamic and historical – dialectical even”. But we can define processes and events and we can make categories. A worker is worker, a boss is a boss. We live in class society. We need a mass class-conscious revolutionary socialist party to lead the working class and all oppressed strata to change society, 1917 was a historically justified and hugely progressive development etc,

Maybe this is all so much rigid dogma to Michael. Going by Michael’s comments above, and his earlier postings that reflected pessimistic, mechanical and static perspectives, we can see the theoretical and political distance he has drifted from Trotskyism. To continue along this present trajectory can lead only to the complete repudiation of whatever remains of the political convictions that Michael espoused previously.

SP members hope this is not the case. We will follow with interest his public opinions.

Anonymous said...

On the CWI’s approach to ideas and debates and taking up other ideas, is there any other international Marxist tendency that is so open, so much on display? Just go the websites of the SP/CWI, where the ideas, programme, policies and perspectives of the CWI and its sections, and vital debates inside the CWI, particularly over the last 20 years, are presented and discussed.

On issues that Michael raises – Stalinism, 1917 and the role of Lenin and Trotsky, social democracy, Kenysism etc, there are volumes of commentary, analysis and debate. On the general approach of Marxism today, the CWI produced an entire book, as well many articles, books and other material.

Michael may not agree with all or any of these ideas or think the discussion sufficient or taking into account other ideas, including those from academia, and so on. But then Michael chose never to bring any other viewpoints and ideas to the SP membership (except for his one welcome discussion on ‘productive and non productive' labour). No attempt to start a debate. No attempt to critique the CWI analysis.

Of course, the SP/CWI will take into account the work of academics where they bring something new to the movement and discussion and also on occasion to contrast our ideas and methods with those hostile to Trotskyism. (It is pity that Michael never saw fit to discuss with SP comrades presenting a critique of the academics, he cites, and their works, in the pages of the SP’s journals – it may have been useful and instructive, even if there was no agreement between Michael and other SP members on these matters).

By the way, why does Michael appear to think the CWI entirely bases its class characterization of Stalinism on “what Max Shachtman wrote in the 1930s”? The Trotskyist movement grappled with this issue for decades and to some extent still does. It is well-known that Ted Grant initially took a state capitalist position after WW2, only to change to a “degenerated workers’ state” position. Anyone reading online CWI material can see the ongoing discussions and debate in CWI ranks on the class character of China today.

As far as Michael’s own views are concerned, from what we can tell he now seems to favour academic relativism and some sort of a-historical, post-modernist approach: “But knowledge and debate in relation to any particular political topic is rarely settled.” Michael goes on: “Historical and political understanding inches along on the basis of new evidence or on the basis of re-evaluations of existing evidence.”

“Rarely settled”?” inches along…”? Of course, new light can be shed on every event and process and, as Michael puts it, “Knowledge and understanding is dynamic and historical – dialectical even”. But we can define processes and events and we can make categories. A worker is worker, a boss is a boss. We live in class society. We need a mass class-conscious revolutionary socialist party to lead the working class and all oppressed strata to change society, 1917 was a historically justified and hugely progressive development etc,

Maybe this is all so much rigid dogma to Michael. Going by Michael’s comments above, and his earlier postings that reflected pessimistic, mechanical and static perspectives, we can see the theoretical and political distance he has drifted from Trotskyism. To continue along this present trajectory can lead only to the complete repudiation of whatever remains of the political convictions that Michael espoused previously.

SP members hope this is not the case. We hopoe Michael will contribute to the Marxist movement and will work with CWI members where possible.

Michael F said...

My own final comments…

The impression has been given that I announced my resignation from the SP/CWI on this website. The CWI knew that I no longer considered myself a member before this thread began.

It is clear from a careful reading of my comments that I have not characterised the CWI and its members in general as holders of ‘sterile dogma’. The penultimate sentence of my previous post began:

‘Most members of the CWI, even those few hampered by a naive faith in a particularly dogmatic interpretation of Marxism…’

The clue to my view resides in the words: ‘…even those few…’

I know from my own experience that there are a large number of CWI members involved in union work that take anything but a sterile and dogmatic approach to what they do.

Points ‘a’ to ‘d’ were made in specific reference to the comments made by Anonymous. Anonymous misleadingly seeks to imply that I intended some of the terminology to have a more general application. If I thought the CWI in general had a ‘child-like’ approach to Marxist theory, then I would have said so.

Making and understanding these distinctions is important to effective political discussion. Anyone who can be bothered to re-read my comments, and who examines how certain of my phrases are then quoted and used by Anonymous, will see that he/she has unfortunately chosen to take a dishonest (or at least very careless) approach to this exchange.

But the fact remains I do not think Trotsky and Trotskyism has much to offer the left in terms of how to re-build under the very difficult political circumstances that have prevailed since the fall of Communism.

I concluded that trying to convince an organisation that defines itself as ‘Trotskyite’ that Trotsky and Trotskyism were best left to historians would almost certainly be a colossal waste of time.

That didn’t, and still doesn’t, seem to be an unreasonable conclusion.

So, let’s move on….

Anonymous said...

I wish we could "move on" but as I said in my last posting, I reserved the right to respond to Michael Fisher, notwithstanding my earlier intention to sign off. Amongst other things, natters of factual accuracy and Michael’s accusation that I was “dishonest (or at least very careless)” demand a reply.

1. Michael states: “The impression has been given that I announced my resignation from the SP/CWI on this website. The CWI knew that I no longer considered myself a member before this thread began.”

Why does Michael introduce this point? The substance of this debate concerns Michael’s sweeping and unfounded attack on the approach of the SP/CWI towards internal debate and discussion, and also his sweeping and unsubstantiated attack on the SP/CWI’s ideas. These were the points SP members objected to and replied to.

But as Michael now raises the question of resignation, I will attend to it. Announcing his resignation publicly, and the fact that “the CWI knew that” Michael "no longer considered himself a member”, are two separate things. It is a fact that Michael publicly announced his resignation from this blog. He never volunteered a resignation elsewhere. I have consulted CWI comrades about this matter. As far as is known, Michael never formerly resigned from the CWI. The CWI discovered from a third party (non-CWI member) that Michael had left the CWI. Michael was contacted by the CWI and asked to confirm if he had left the CWI. Michael confirmed he was no longer a member and stated he had political differences but he did not elaborate. A few short weeks later, Michael posted his public resignation and attacks on the SP/CWI.

2. Michael protests: “It is clear from a careful reading of my comments that I have not characterised the CWI and its members in general as holders of ‘sterile dogma" and "Anonymous misleadingly seeks to imply that I intended some of the terminology to have a more general application.”

Is that so?

Any reading of Michael’s first posting can clearly see he made sweeping claims, denouncing the SP/CWI (and by inference its membership and leadership):
“…it [SP/CWI] completely misunderstood the nature of post-Cold War, post-Keynesian, post-social democratic politics in the UK and elsewhere… many of its core theoretical positions…were simply wrong… the lack of serious internal discussion on questions of history and theory… the internal culture of the organisation was overwhelmingly geared toward recruitment and activism at the expense of acknowledging and trying to understand why the radical left today is weaker than at any time in over 100 years…”

“Completely misunderstood”…”simply wrong”…”lack of serious internal discussion”… if this damning description does not amount to saying the SP/CWI is an organisation that is “sterile” and dogmatic, what does?

Michael went on to attack the CWI’s analysis of Stalinism, referencing Trotsky’s debates with US SWP oppositionists. Michael concludes: “Only the most sterile and dogmatic mindset would assume that because Shachtman was wrong 70 years ago that the validity of Trotsky’s analysis is therefore settled.”

Most generously, we can say Michael conflates the SP/CWI position with the “most sterile and dogmatic mindset”.

Michael now states he only means there are a “few” in the CWI who are “hampered by a naive faith in a particularly dogmatic interpretation of Marxism…”

For SP/CWI members, a “few” taking such a position would be a few too many - if it were true! Does Michael’s "few" include the leadership of the CWI and the authors of SP/CWI articles and publications he attacks?

If, according to Michael, there are “a large number of CWI members involved in union work that take anything but a sterile and dogmatic approach” does that infer a minority of SP members do take a “a sterile and dogmatic approach” to union activity? If so, where is this “sterile and dogmatic approach” evidenced in SP union work? Does this small minority of SP members include leading SP union members?

Anonymous said...

Michael has already retreated over the issue of whether he should have raised his differences when he was still in the SP/CWI. If Michael now wishes to draw back from his sweeping assertions, as he implies, that is very good (although I reject Michael’s attempt to cover his previous assertions by now setting up a false distinction between my position and that of the rest of SP/CWI members).

However, Michael’s continuing dismissive approach towards the SP/CWI, Trotskyism, and apparently revolutionary socialism, in general, is continued in his last posting (and still unsubstantiated with any detailed arguments): “I do not think Trotsky and Trotskyism has much to offer the left…”

We wait to see what Michael has to offer the Left (he certainly has not offered the SP/CWI any critique, beyond naming a few authors of books he’s read and headlining political differences).

Anonymous said...

3. Michael makes the following statement: “I concluded that trying to convince an organisation that defines itself as ‘Trotskyite’ that Trotsky and Trotskyism were best left to historians would almost certainly be a colossal waste of time.”

I do not know if this is meant to taken seriously or not (and I accept that Michael can set the record straight). If we take it at face value, it is an incredible statement and just shows how far Michael has departed from the political ideas he used to espouse.

In the first place, the SP/CWI does not define itself as ‘Trotskyite’. Michael puts this term in single inverted commas but why does he use this term in the first place? As is well known on the Left, ‘Trotskyite’ is a pejorative term, with anti-Semitic connotations (which, to make clear, I am not accusing Michael of). It is a term of abuse used historically by Stalinists, reformists, fascists and the bourgeoisie to attack Trotskyism.

The idea that the SP/CWI should leave “Trotsky and Trotskyism to historians” is an astounding and absurd statement. Such an argument advanced inside the SP/CWI would indeed be a “colossal waste of time” for all concerned. Perhaps the Tories should leave the study of Churchill and Thatcher to historians or Labour members should leave the analysis of its former leaders to the academics? As Michael knows, it is not just a question of individuals but ‘Trotskyism’ has come to be equated with a distinct set of ideas and movement (and, in the opinion of the CWI, the modern expression for revolutionary Marxism).

This statement, if serious, shows that Michael is constructing an artificial wall between academia and political movements. It indicates, alongside his other recent pessimistic and mechanical perspectives, that Michael is unfortunately moving into an ideological and political marsh.

The CWI has always placed great emphasis on historical analysis. We aim to see events in their historical context and to understand the processes that shaped and given rise to these events (and the process of the examination and re-examining history is never a finished article). This is undertaken to learn from the past, as part of the process of developing perspectives, so that we can anticipate and prepare for the mighty political, social and economic events that impend.

I conclude by saying this definitely will be my last posting on this issue. I expect Michael will reply (wanting the first and last word seems a common approach of cyber polemicists– just a shame the SP/CWI were never even presented with a hint of Michael’s differences, which then could have been scrutinized and tested by the membership in an organized and democratic manner). Any further sweeping and unsubstantiated claims from Michael will just have to go unanswered, by me at least. With the prospect that this is unfortunately likely, I will leave my previous postings as my general reply, and I of course refute any possible mendacious statements.

I think this debate has been useful, in at least that it revealed Michael has not been able to, or prepared to, substantiate his initial assertions about the internal life and methods of the SP/CWI, and he has failed to provide a serious analysis and critique of the CWI’s ideas etc.

Anonymous said...

It would make it a lot easier if Michael just admitted that he decided to leave the CWI after he was offered a high paying job working for the right wing leaders of the ACTU (Australian TUC).

While he is quick to criticise the CWI's politics he reserves no such criticisms for his bosses Jeff Lawrence and Sharan Burrows.

The bottom line is that he has retreated from revolutionary politics and decided to dedicate his time to being a lackey for some of the worst class collaborationists in the world!

He no longer plays any progressive role. In fact he is now part of the problem propping people who stand firmly in the way of change.