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.