Sunday 9 May 2010

The Far Left After the Election

Whichever way you slice it the general election results for the far left were poor. The average scores in contested constituencies were 0.8% SSP; 0.7% SLP; 6.4% Respect (w/out Galloway, Miah and Yaqoob, 1.35%); and 0.9% TUSC. The various grouplets (WRP, AWL etc.) that also contested a handful of seats offer no improvement on these figures. With only a few exceptions (Camberwell and Peckham, Foyle, Manchester Gorton, Pontypridd, and Wellingborough and Rushden), every seat that was contested by a far left candidate in 2005 saw a decline in vote share on Thursday. In a situation marked by economic crisis, a partial delegitimation of the political system, and a slow reviving labour movement, to not poll scores in the traditional 1-2% range should be of concern to the leaderships and thinking layers of Britain's far left. What's going on?

I would agree with the analysis of Respect's performance at
Socialist Unity. In as much it has a media profile Respect is seen (and often introduced as) the "anti-war party" and its fortunes in the main are tied to the anti-war movement. But considering the scale of the split Respect went through with the SWP, that it still managed to poll extremely well in its core areas shows it's doing something right. Unfortunately for them the problems the 2005 results flagged up - highly concentrated strength and severe weakness elsewhere - was repeated in a more exaggerated form. Nevertheless, despite those eager to write Respect's obituary it remains the far left formation with the best chance of getting candidates elected at any sort of election. If it can continue to build its organisation in its core areas I fully expect Respect will be a feature of general elections to come - and see further successes as well.

There is no need to dwell on the SLP. Everyone knows this is a spoiler organisation with no life independent of Arthur Scargill's vanity. However it does show in the absence of any kind of campaign and media profile a far left organisation can poll similar numbers to other socialists who do the rounds of meetings, leafleting and door knocking. A sobering thought for the rest of the far left.

The continued decline of the SSP and Socialist Party/TUSC vote must be very disappointing for the comrades involved. Clearly the Scottish left hasn't escaped the shadow of the 2006 split - the SSP's support does not differ in degree from the rest of the far left's in England and Wales. But equally Sheridan's stock continues to fall. To poll under a thousand votes (2.9%) in Glasgow South West cannot be spun as anything other than disastrous for "Scotland's most iconic post-war socialist".

The SP vote across the board is stubbornly stuck in decline. The decision for the SP to stand under its Socialist Alternative label as opposed to TUSC in the majority of contested seats (apparently to capitalise on name recognition and assist simultaneous council contests in Lewisham and Coventry) may have acted as a brake on the scale of decline, but the tendency cannot be denied. Of particular concern must be Coventry. While it is true the SP's stronghold in St Michael's has a transient population, which helps explain why each electoral outing in the ward represents a massive challenge (though this time the SP's Rob Windsor saw a large increase in his vote, despite losing his council seat), this alone cannot account for a further decline in the SP's support. Its votes in Coventry North East, where Dave Nellist stood, declined almost by a quarter on the 2005 result. In Coventry South its proportion of vote share almost halved and in Coventry North West, which was contested for the first time, it could only manage 370 votes (0.8%). The SP simultaneously contested all Coventry's council seats and with just one exception outside St Michael's, the vote was poor (by far left standards) across the board (interestingly, Rob polled 1,783 votes - almost 200 more than the parliamentary challenge in the same constituency!)

This suggests two things. In Coventry the SP's support is so localised that outside of St Michael's its reputation does not translate into wider support. Second, its fortunes are tied to the electorate's perception of who is likely to win. Because Rob was the sitting councillor of many years and therefore was seen as a serious contender, he attracted more votes than Dave was able to secure. The same can be applied to the (apparently) anomalous votes in Lewisham, where each of the SocAlt candidates in Telegraph ward (including Ian Page himself!) polled much higher than the parliamentary vote.

If these processes are at play in the SP's core areas, what hope for election challenges outside of them? The lessons of this campaign suggests there are more openings at council level and that general election campaigns are recipes for disillusionment. For instance, I remember many local comrades lamenting the 0.9% Stoke SP polled in 2005 - to have it fall further to 0.4% can only demoralise. But at the next set of council elections there won't be a general election on the same day. Therefore if the far left want to build an electoral profile similar to Respect's it requires focused, consistent and community-centered work.

But this is problematic for Trotskyist organisations, and goes right to the heart of their political DNA. The party building model favoured by everyone from the SP to the Spartacist League is about building a centralised organisation around a newspaper. This is justified in the name of the Bolshevik experience who managed to do so (who on the far left hasn't heard the old newspaper-as-scaffolding metaphor?). But the continuation of this organising tradition down to the present day isn't because Trotskyist leaderships and cadre are stuck in an early 20th century time warp, it's an effect of operating in political situations where the far left space is tightly circumscribed. With a mass media indifferent and occasionally hostile to socialist ideas Trotskyist groups have no choice but to produce their own material, and doing so requires they spend much of their time gathering the resources to make this possible. Then, of course, this has to be distributed.

The much derided and lampooned basic repertoire of stalls, petitions, paper sales and fundraising are good for inculcating new recruits in Trotskyist politics and the need for regular rhythms of activism, but leaves little room for consistent work beyond this (excluding workplace activity). This is not helped by the unreadability of most of the far left press, which in turns is either boring or navel-gazing. This makes putting down new roots in the working class extremely difficult. Where, for instance, the SP has a real base (Coventry and Lewisham) the organisation here are of such a size that the branches can effectively divide their labours (this size however is ultimately the legacy of the organisation Militant was able to build while still inside Labour). In my experience of a moderately-sized SP branch, the comrades who did the paper selling were also the ones who did the 'wider work' too. i.e. organising/attending public meetings, union work, door knocking, etc. Theoretically a branch can reach the level of critical mass by recruiting the ones and the twos but all the time the door is revolving and existing members are lapsing into inactivity.

Therefore British Trotskyism is caught in a bind. Material necessity demands it prioritises paper selling and fundraising above all else, but this cuts it off from the opportunities focused, consistent community work affords socialist ideas. Continuing as is means keeping the printing presses going and the full timers paid, but also limiting the spread of its message. What is to be done?

There are no easy answers. The rest of the far left cannot pursue Respect's trajectory because of the constant financial demands of their party apparatuses. Neither will the far left join Labour
en masse, even though the organisational state of many CLPs means it would be easy for socialists to be selected for local office. The only way open to wider, sustained influence that eschews these alternatives is the one fluffed so many times by the left these last 15 years: unity. Having one multi-tendency party would cut down on the replication of existing party bureaucracies and enable an effective division of activist labour. You never know, it could produce a populist newspaper people might actually want to read too. But given the existing divisions and different ways of relating to the labour movement and the working class, the unions' dogged determination to stick with Labour, and the closing political space to Labour's left, the prospects of such unity is as bleak as it's ever been.


P H said...


I have to say what an incredibly poor article - I think you wrote this to get a reaction - well you have one here.

I will stick to the issue of Coventry, as that is where I am based. Your report isn't even factually true - didn't you know St Michaels isn't in Coventry North East?

Why would Coventry be a concern? We got 4414 votes in the local elections, fairly evenly across the city. This was with no press covereage whatsoever - and we always said in the organisation that this was the most unfavourable election for us in the city for some years - so those votes represent our 'baseline' which i would have thought you would agree isn't exactly bad for a trotskyist organisation. The fact is there was a huge surge to labour in the city - the tories came within a whisker of losing some true blue areas such was the turnout. So in fact, if you had bothered to ask us, you would find that we are far from down in the dumps, and are very pleased with our results.

We also had 110 at our election rally, raised thousands of pounds, gained new members and points of support in the city. Now your buddies in the labour party are in power in the city, will they cut services like the tories?

Again, if you had bothered to ask, you would know because of the situation in st micks we did very little work in cov north east, or any other parliamentary seat, which in part had an effect on the vote.

Poor phil, poor. Good luck in your new career as a freelance labour 'commentator' and developing your blog

yours in disappointment


P H said...

just seen this as well
'Therefore British Trotskyism is caught in a bind. Material necessity demands it prioritises paper selling and fundraising above all else, but this cuts it off from the opportunities focused, consistent community work affords socialist ideas. Continuing as is means keeping the printing presses going and the full timers paid, but also limiting the spread of its message. What is to be done?'

pathetic comrade!

in coventry we do both - again if you had bothered to investigate you will know as well as the above stuff, we have also led the campaign against pfi parking charges in the city (brought in by your party) - rob as a cllr with the local branch of the sp helped organised the biggest community meeting in hillfields earlier this year over a 'bread and butter' community issue to name just a couple of things


Phil said...

I don't write for reaction, Paul. I'm interested in the state of the left and the political situation so I can try and make sense of the way ahead.

I take your geographical point about St Michaels, but you cannot escape the awkward fact that more people still voted for Rob than Judy Griffiths - even though the elections were ran simultaneously; and that this effect was repeated in Lewisham Stepford and Telegraph Hill ward. None of this disproves the argument (made in the above piece) that the far left generally stand a better chance in local election contests - which you acknowledge re: the decision to concentrate campaigning in St Michaels. The question you comrades have to ask yourselves is if parliamentary contests are the best use of scare resources, especially when they're peripheral to what you regard as your main priorities.

Also the 4,414 votes across 18 seats doesn't sound bad. It works out at a 3.5% average in the council contest, which is well above the 1-2% benchmark for far left electoral performance. But take out the 1,783 votes for Rob from St Michael's and the overall average percentage across Coventry's 17 other seats is reduced to 2%. Put it like this, has Stoke SP stood in everyone of Stoke's seats in 2008 under the same conditions of zero media coverage there are no reasons to believe it would have polled any higher or lower than a 2% average - especially when it then managed 5% in a single seat never contested before. I'm sorry Paul, but comrades outside of Coventry - whether they're in Labour or not - would see your "we're very pleased with the results" as nothing but spin and official optimism.

You will also note I acknowledge Coventry (as well as Lewisham) is able to do both kinds of work (i.e. basic and campaigning work) because of the size of the branches. I assume you overlooked the whole paragraph devoted to developing the point that while this isn't a problem for big branches, it puts severe limits on what small branches can sustain over long periods.

Lawrence Shaw said...

But Phil, what about the thousands of new members who will have been recruited from the campaign, mostly of who will be young and fresh and strong and untainted by impure past political allegiances?

What about the, literally, thousands of people who were champing at the bit to vote for TUSC/Respect but agonised for hours over whether or not to break from the Labour party and ultimately, this time only, couldn't quite make the break?

What about the lionised general secretaries who bravely take a stand against the Labour Party - thousands upon thousands of working class people hang off their every word?

Sorry for the sarcasm, but I find it beyond belief that anyone can try and defend losing every sitting councillor up for election and scoring roughly half the size parliamentary votes across the board than at the last election as a success. TUSC and the other left forces have completely FAILED and part of the problem is in the organisational methodology.

I don't particularly enjoy having to cheerlead for the party that took as to war, deplore strikes and suggest that members of the public should cross picket lines.

But from an entirely pragmatic viewpoint, it is even clearer that the left is further away from forming a new left party now than it was even ten years ago. We have had illegal wars and the collapse of credit-card capitalism - something all socialists predicted was going to happen - and yet because of the moribund and tired old tactics of the past, we have been completely unable to be in a position to make gains from these once in a generation opportunities.

TUSC and everyone else will become even more and more irrelevant to people as time goes on. Blame the bosses media, blame the "squeeze" on votes, blame anything else you like. But the problem lies in the tactics...

luna17 said...

A very interesting, thought-provoking article. Unlike the comments from P (who is clearly living in complete denial of reality), it is an honest and realistic assessment.

It has to be said the Coventry and Glasgow general election results were spectacularly bad: this is partly explained by the squeeze on minor parties, the rallying of support to Labour and the way FPTP makes life hard for those who stand no chance of winning. But the results are so bad they must also reflect subjective weaknesses.

I'm a bit more cautious than you about Respect's prospects. I'd like to see it prosper - despite being 'on the other side' in the split - but don't underestimate how damaging it is to lose your only MP and most of your councillors.

I also think it's important to recognise how much the far left has been affected by the pull towards Labour (in defiance of the Tories) - your own change of affiliation makes it obvious this is a real phenomenon! It's not as straightforward as economic crisis etc making things better for the left's chances, although in other (non-electoral) ways I do think the left's response to the crisis has been inadequate.

It's definitely true that local elections are much more fertile ground than Westminster elections. This is a lesson the SWP doesn't currently get, and perhaps the SP is little better. I think there's a lot of truth in your deeper analysis of why socialist organisations struggle to sustain electoral work or get roots in local communities. The needs of 'the party' - selling papers, routine branch meetings - dominate, making sustained activism in either movements (anti-war, climate change etc) or electoral coalitions much tougher.

I don't think that's inevitable. It depends on how you formulate the relationship between 'party' and 'movements'. There were tensions within the SWP about this, which led ultimately to some of us splitting. The party has evolved in the direction of an old-fashioned 'party routines come first' model, despite this not fitting the real context we're in today. We need a different way of doing the relationship between organised left and wider movements and coalitions.

Is 'left unity' the answer? No, not really. For one thing it's so obviously not going to happen - we're further from it than ever, if you're thinking of a common electoral project. But also we need to get beyond simply thinking in terms of a hybrid of current far-left groups, which is in fact a very limited ambition. Anything credible wil have to strech much further.

You're definitely right to say there'll be demoralisation inside the SP and SWP at the results for TUSC. That's the biggest danger inherent in standing in elections. During the campaign members feel there's momentum, but a very disappointing result can mean more harm than good is done.

Inside the SWP specifically, there'll now be some people who were always unconvinced by the strategy saying I told you so. Meanwhile, the small number who did a lot of campaigning will be pissed off. I'm not sure how it'll all turn out, but I expect a further retrenchment into largely unsuccessful (and increasingly isolationist) 'party building'.

P H said...

Hi Phil
Re the general election and the locals - we recognised the fact that many of our supporters would vote for us in the locals but not in the general elections - thats not a revelation, precisely because we understand that at this stage we are not challenging to win those seats! this has been recognised by us all along, and we take a very friendly attitude to workers who assume that position.

you really have turned in to a patronising person phil, calling my comments 'spin and official optimism'. if you don't feel that is something to be at least fairly satisfied with, thats your business, but we will get along with what we are doing, work out where we can build and improve, where we went wrong or could have done things better.

don't feel you have to justify yourself mate about joining labour


Adam said...

Phil, theres almost too much here to argue with. I was expecting more tbh

but just to deal with a couple of your basic assertions.

The balance between basic party building tasks and wider work is of course very important. For what its worth, i think it'd be difficult for you to argue that anyone on the left, strikes this balance better than the SP. Ill make the argument anyway

the two aspects of party building which you pull apart and in fact turn upon each other, are in reality interconnected and mutually dependent. They need to be in order for socialist ideas to develop into anything concrete.

Any socialist organisation worth its salt is dependent on both the momentum and structure which develop out of basic party building tasks. At the same time, without an organic and consistent connection with the working class, the trade union movement and communities, socialist organisations die a slow death. You are well aware of the work of the comrades in stoke and the success those comrades (you included at one point) have had in developing points of support in key workplaces and communities. That success has largely been as a result of the balance between party building and wider work, as well as the balance between trade union work and standing in elections Obviously, successes for genuine socialist ideas are mainly limited to modest gains at this stage - and yet, one workplace which looks to socialist ideas for leadership is of much greater significance than 12,000 people voting in another privateer, with no connection to working class communities or indeed the city he's been elected to represent, as a 'lesser-evil'.

We all know that the left was thrown into decline following the collapse of Stalinism (although i find myself wondering, just how much understanding has fallen out of your head over the last few months). This means that alone, any trotskyist organisation or local group that has successfully developed a base of support in an area of work or in a community, has managed to swim against the current. Through hard work and a programme which finds an echo, the comrades in Coventry and Lewisham have in fact, proven that even under incredibly difficult circumstances, socialist ideas can and will attract support from the working class, when that alternative is available.

That isn't to say that trotskyists can simply go it alone. Ignoring your post for a moment, what about your experience in the socialist party makes you think thats ever been an opinion, held by anyone, anywhere?

It can't be completely ruled out that labour could once again be a pole of attraction for working class people, although i think its the most unlikely of all the possibilities. Much more likely is that, either through the pressure from rank and file trade unionists or by legislation by a Tory government, that the largely financial connection between the trade union movement and the Labour party will be removed. What will be your justification then? my guess would be that your posts will have to have less principle, less thought, less evidence, less discussion and less of a basis in order to fit your new political environment.

Anonymous said...

Some good points, Phil. The problem the SP (and SWP)have is that we have kept a disproportionately large full-timer base. Without the sub-minimum wage full-timers working their asses off the paper and centre would fold. The need to sustain this apparatus means that 90% of efforts go into stalls, taking pounds off grannys and shoving papers into shopping bags. This can be sold to the membership as 'the best way to meet the class', but if it is, we really are fecked. However I fear the effect is to create an organisation as attractive to join as the religous nuts we are so often next to in town centres.

Add to this the subs levels demanded as a show of commitment (in reality to feed the centre), as an additional barrier to stay a member, you end up with an organisation demanding total committment of members and potential members - at a time when many people will think twice about wearing a sticker. An organisation which, therefore, remains stuck as a small, self-replicating fringe group.

The party structures, completely dominated by full-timers entirely dedicated to the centre, can never recognise these problems which makes regform impossible. Which is why we ghave exactly the same structures as simmilar groups 130 years ago (SDF). With simmilar results - brilliant class-fighters speaking to thesmallest of small audiences.

You look at what Rob Williams or Keith Gibson can do with a wider audience, and you can't help but feel that sustaining the party is waste of their talents.

I think I'll stay anon for this one.

Phil said...

Calling a spade a spade is not patronising. It is however patronising in the extreme to expect your comrades and others in the movement to accept the council results in Cov outside St Micks as some sort of success.

As I've noted on here time and again the statistical benchmark for far left electoral performance is in the 1-2% range. By those standards, anything below is under performing. Anything above is a good result.

But what should be of concern to comrades is that the higher profile Cov SP has did not translate into breaking through the "natural support" for far left electoral challenges. For instance, the SLP ran no campaign to speak of but its results were 4.2%, 0.8% and 2.1% in the three council seats it contested - results that do not differ in quality from Cov SP's.

Lenin once quipped that one should try to be as radical as reality itself. But the condition for doing so is an ability to look it square in the face.

Phil said...

Don't worry, Ad, I haven't forgot the promise I made re: your earlier questions.

I do think the SP strikes as good a balance it can between basic work and campaigning work, and yes, sometimes they do complement one another. I think most of the left acknowledge this and that is why the SP has a much better reputation than the SWP, for example.

But the mutual interdependence between the two exists more in the realm of theory than reality. As you know, in 2006 we were able - to an extent - to link the campaign against cuts at the hospital with our election campaign and basic party activity. It gave us a hot issue to petition on on the streets, a conversation starter on the doorsteps and a certain legitimacy in the NHS SOS campaign itself. But after the election it solely became a paper selling issue because a medium sized branch such as ours did not have the members to keep the "fusion" going indefinitely. The campaign collapsed and the very good Abbey Green vote was not built on. To this day no SP work as such beyond occasional leaflet drops have been done.

This isn't to blame the branch. But it is to recognise a small group of activists cannot fuse the different kinds of work indefinitely. You need numbers for that - which is why Coventry and Lewisham (as well as several SWP branches) are able to ride a number of horses simultaneously.

I don't recognise your point about Stalinism - with 50 posts on this blog dealing with socialist strategy and numerous reflections on class and class consciousness, not coming to grips with how things are is not a charge that can be credibly made. That said more relevant to Britain and working class consciousness were the defeats of the labour movement in the 1980s, structural changes in the composition of the working class (smaller workplaces, casual contracts, etc.) and the defeat of Labour in 1992. While Stalinism has had a significant presence in the British labour movement, it nor the Soviet Union have had as much support here as in other West European countries.

But also you've got to start asking yourself how long the fortunes of British Trotskyism can be blamed on events of 20 years ago. It's a bit like locals round here blaming the Tories for the state of Stoke - as if 13 years of Labour government doesn't bear any responsibility. Yes, the labour movement is weak. Yes, class consciousness is very low. But the theory and practice of British Trotskyism - as a whole - remains unchanged since of the collapse of the Revolutionary Communist Party 60 years ago.

I think one way the far left could move forward is by taking the challenge of unity far more seriously. Perhaps TUSC will surprise everyone and be useful in this regard, but I doubt it.

I'll leave your final paragraph for the promised post. But I will say your attempts to cast me as some unprincipled, defeated refugee from Trotskyism is shoddy and entirely unbecoming of you.

Phil said...

Those are fair points, Alex. You always have to ask what unity is for, and one would think in Trotskyism's case that unity should be around the interests of the working class. What we have instead is unity around certain sets of ideas and methods of working which makes unity difficult to achieve. Difficult, but not impossible.

Maybe I am being a bit too optimistic in Respect's case. For it to develop outside its core it does need to be part of something broader - some may dismiss TUSC and the organisations involved, but they do have the energy and activists a broad formation requires. But I think it can continue to do well in its core areas. As an electoral organisation the promise of another general election, local elections, and mayoral contests give comrades something to work towards.

I maybe in the Labour party, but I do want to see the far left prosper. The stronger it is the better able it can pull the centre of political gravity to the left. But it needs to think more seriously about its strategy and practice, otherwise it'll never get anywhere - never mind lead a revolution.

P H said...

well all of this depends what your expectations are - it appears laurence, phil etc had higher expectations and more unrealistic ones than myself and many other socialist party members. it was fairly obvious that the left would have their votes squeezed, actually we said this many many times.

did we say we would score high results?

that being said, the election results in their totality (for marxists this means not just the number of votes) were a success in coventry, again whether you like it or not, as phil and laurence you have clearly given up on doing the same things or having the same aims that you did in the not too distant past.

all the best


Jacob Richter said...

The "centralised organisation around a newspaper" was a compromise to something bigger: the all-out, total organization that was the SPD model.

May I suggest party-organized food banks as a way to jump-start this alternative culture of cultural societies, sports clubs, funeral homes, etc.?

Phil said...

Some of that's already there - in the form of the cooperative movement!

Paul mate, when you're in a hole it's best to stop digging. Judged on its own terms the far left vote was bad. No one thought the left would do well outside Respect's target seats and so there are no expectations dashed here, especially among seasoned trainspotters like Lawrence and I. But despite the dampening down of expectations in branch meetings and an article appearing a week before the election blaming the media for lack of TUSC coverage, you know as well as I many comrades will find the results demoralising. It's one thing to expect a low vote and quite another going through the experience of receiving one. But as you also know most comrades with doubts will keep quiet, adding to their private pile of grumbles, cynicism and disagreements to such a time as they drop out of activity. No amount of saying the results were good will make them so. I know that, you really know that, and so does everyone else.

P H said...

whatever phil!

all the best


Phil said...

You go, boyfriend!

Phil Brighton said...

Just a few thoughts, some might be 'official optimism' but I think this is where we stand.

On the Coventry/Lewisham Council issue it has to be recognised that if a general election wasn't on we would have been home and dry. The votes went up but were swamped by the huge increase in turnout, people who don't normally vote in local elections and, I would hazard a guess, don't pay much attention to party campaigns not on the telly/in the papers.

I am not really sure on a local level there is anything we could have done to keep them. I expect we can get some seats back at another round of local elections in cov.

On the national level all small parties were squeezed very badly. Caroline Lucas down my way is really an exception. The Green vote nationally was low, Respect were squeezed out, Nellist vote dropped, all because of the national factors.

Now to blame these votes on lack of media coverage, fear of the Tories etc is true. The problem we face is that this will be true next time and the next time. So, as someone said once, what is to be done?

While a new workers party will only be forged by events, a rise in class struggle, (sorry to sound stereotypical but its true) I do think we need to take seriously our job of providing a socialist organisation that can make the process of constructing a new party more likely when things kick off and the Labour Party is nowhere to be seen.

Despite the disappointing results I think TUSC can be part of this. From my experience in Brighton we had an excellent coalition of groups (particularity SP and Socialist Resistance but wider as well) backed by the RMT.

The wrong thing to do would be to be disappointed at the vote and drop TUSC. The right thing to do is be consistent. Keep the name, keep the coalition, publicise it continue to build support for it in local unions, fight local elections.
Consistency is the key.

If this sounds like a re-run of the Socialist Alliance, I think that is fair criticism but but hopefully with unions more at its core.

If we get a PR system then the need for this type of long term umbrella
is all the more urgent.

Adam said...

Phil, ill wait for your next post to say what i want to say RE the left and Labour.

but i will answer a few of your points

Firstly on Stalinism. Of course by 'collapse of Stalinism', i refer to not just events in the Soviet Union, but its reflection and after shocks throughout the international workers movement. This is not to 'blame' the weakness of the left "on events of 20 years ago", but to recognise the processes which have led to an historic weakness, not simply impacting on Trotskyism or socialism but of the entire leadership of the working class, from the parties of social democracy and the forces of reformism to every layer of trade union organisation. They are the processes which ultimately drive these discussions - driving back to the left, making it necessary to return to these basic (or "old" as someone refered to them) questions.

Refrom or Revolution, new mass parties or 'traditional parties', how we organise ourselves, how we connect to the working class. All these questions have to be discussed afresh, as they have been throughout history at every junction - particularly following a period of defeat and retreat for the working class.

For those reasons i don't expect, at this stage, that your 'unity' is likely to develop - at least in isolation from the advanced working class. 'Regroupment' will take place, but only on a principled basis and when significant layers of the working class, particular the trade unions, have caught up with that perspective. Socialists need to rebuild those connections, with workplaces and with communities - as well as other trends of thought and activity.

You seem to imply that its trotskyists who have lost grip with the objective situation. i'm waiting for the phrase which seems to some up the discussions between those in Labour and those outside of it, namely, 'the real world'. What is the real world? what is it to look reality 'square in the face'? i think its where, anyone regarding themselves as a socialist fights on a day to day basis to forge binds between themselves and there organisations and the working class, one where disappointing election results, like any other disappointment are viewed in their objective (and historical) context.

I'm sorry you view my comments as 'unbecoming'. I did write on here yesterday i think, that i hoped you'd show the comrades involved in these campaigns the courtesy of discussion before drawing up your balance sheet. You offer a benchmark of 1-2%, i assume thats some sort of historic average for far left votes? however you've come to that figure, it clearly doesn't take into account the actual material circumstance in which campaigns have been waged or the complex moods and trends arising out of the specific characteristics of this past election. If your membership of labour and recent posts on Labour and the left are on a principled and thoughtful basis then show it.

I have no doubt whatsoever that some comrades will be disappointed by some of the results. My gripe is with how you've presented these results, without context, without understanding and without discussion as the basis for your argument of a fundamental flaw in trotskyism! not only that, but a fundemental flaw which hinges on the assertion that the costs of organising a paper and basic branch and party tasks, are in conflict with how socialists connect with the working class and draw in wider layers. thats poor by anyones standards - and equally unbecoming.

Anonymous said...

Where are you getting that Tommy Sheridan was "soundly beaten by the BNP" in Glasgow South West from?

The BNP candidate, David Orr, got 841 votes to Tommy Sheridan's 931.

Anonymous said...

I have to say if this election was all about getting new members then its an expensive way of going about things.

You could do the same thing from standing in council elections.

Nevertheless I hope the recruits are pouring in, and that they are looking forward to shivering in the rain humouring pensioners.

Budapestkick said...

I just want to address two points. I agree with the point that 'if the far left want to build an electoral profile similar to Respect's it requires focused, consistent and community-centered work.' I'm writing from an Irish perspective as a member of the SP's sister organisation where despite sharing essentially the same politics there are significant differences in the nature of the work. For example, the British comrades have had far more success in the industrial sphere (both in terms of elected union reps and strikes like Linamar and Lindsey) than we have, while we have have done better in terms of community work, reflected in the fact that we have 6 councillors and an MEP seat as well as a strong base in communities like Finglas, Northside of Cork City etc and the fact that we were able to elect and maintain a TD for ten years in spite of small resources and a period of intense capitalist boom and then elect an MEP with a fraction of the resources of the other parties (We spent 27 grand on that election, every other party spent 350,000). This is obviously helped by PR and the fact that its easier to have a national profile but it is also reflective of the way we organise. So while I agree with you on that, I really disagree with the idea that 'this goes right to the heart of their political DNA', being as we share the same political DNA. My experience has been that the work in an Irish branch is divided more or less equally between recruitment and community work. A simple example of this is the fact that we sell the paper door to door in working-class commmunities where you can engage in a dialogue with people, find out about local issues, build a profile for elections etc. while still maintaining sales and so forth. I would imagine given the local support garnered by the Swedish section that a similar situation prevails. So, while I agree that there needs to be a change in orientation and strategy, the idea that this is a problem inherit in the organisation's political DNA to be untenable and an example of leaping to conclusions totally out of kilter with my own experience.

LS said...

as one of the many comrades who was there pretty much every step of the way during the campaign in coventry. I is disturbing and patronising that a bloke who has a phd on trotskyism, can't even get the basic facts right before he makes a critique.

your near on obsession with votes in election merely proves your out of touch approach to revolutionary politics and the labour movement as a whole.
the vast majority of people who vote labour do not vote for them because they support them, they do it because they hate the tories more.
the fact that so many people in Coventry made a decision to vote for us in the locals but labour in generals shows this.
pretty much every vote we got in st michaels was a vote FOR US not a vote against anyone else.
we were swamped by the labour vote as others have indicated purely due to the general election on the same day. the huge increase in turnout, many who do not usually vote and the massive number of blank local ballots we saw during the count showed many votes didnt know what the 2 ballots were actually for.

again, we did not expect to win loads or get hight votes in the places we stood in coventry, we got more than many of us predicted. what we did in this election was gain the trust, respect and support (Not necessarily transferred to electoral votes) of a whole vast of people in Coventry. Who saw us out every day, campaigning against the PFI (Labour supported) hospital parking charges, organising a parking scheme for residents (a very ultra left approach).
hopefully phil, you get your councillor position, and your brief dwellings in the struggle for socialism will be seen as little more than a youthfull fetish.

andy newman said...

hilarious Phil

These responses are like those from a jilted lover.

did you break their hearts?

JM said...

Electioneering is a funny old game.

We narrowly missed retaining a councillor in St Michaels in 2007, and then returned Dave Nellist with an increased majority (from memory?) in 2008. I've heard Rob Windsor got the best ever Socialist vote in St Michaels a few days ago which should stand us in good stead in the next round of elections in 2011.

Likewise, Joe Higgins losing his seat in the Dail a few years ago and then bouncing back as an elected MEP not long after.

I'm proud to have played a small part in the Cov SP/TUSC campaign. I think its a testament to the hard work of the activists on the ground that we got a decent vote across the city, despite the small budget and anti-Tory squeeze.


Derek Wall said...

lets get stuck and support Jerry Hicks

Anonymous said...

WP's analysis of the election here,2368,0,0,1,0

Of eurozone crisis here

and of greece class struggle here:,2369,0,0,1,0

Callum said...

I don't suppose it makes much difference but Sheridan beat the BNP.

But yeah, we better all run off and become comrades with Lord Adonis...

Mark P said...

Perhaps Phil could explain how phonebanking for a Mandelson protege imposed on a local New Labour branch is a more effective way to win workers to socialist ideas?

The Socialist Party for all that most of the TUSC results were poor will have recruited hundreds of people to socialist activism over the last couple of months. Phil will have convinced some people to vote for a New Labour privatiser over a Liberal or Tory privatiser. Which you consider to be a better use of the time is rather up to you.

Denzil said...


A non-marxist would look at these results with despair: they might give up politics or even join the Labour Party.
However, the marxist remembers their dialectics (and schoolboy physics): if you put heat into water, no phase change occurs until you reach 100C.
Elections are exactly the same, if the mass party exists, working people will be turn to it in exponentially increasing numbers at a certain point.
Marxist theory is the key to why organisations like the SP don't just throw in the towel.

Housey said...

Current Labour Party members should take virtually no credit for the millions of votes Labour continues to receive.

That credit belongs to the new unionists of a hundred years ago, early Marxists and - for all its faults - the programme of the post-WWII Labour government that gave working people the NHS.

People that the AVPSs of their day would have advised to stick with the Liberals!

It's easy to sneer anonymously at people who sell papers from behind pasting tables, but when have 'alternative methods of organisation' or whatever's in vogue on the internet this week ever won even the smallest rise in living standards for the working class? There's more of value to a Marxist in a drizzle-soaked conversation with a retired shop steward than blogging in favour of Tristram Hunt.

I share my SP comrades' disappointment with Phil's sneering tone.

Phil said...

I'd pretty much agree with that analysis, Phil. I'm under no illusions the Labour council vote was the side effect of people coming out to vote Labour in the general election - it happens every time. But what should be of concern is the continued decline of far left support at the ballot box - this is the second successive election where the left vote is down across the board.

This isn't to say comrades should give up. But it does mean people have to be honest about where they are, which seems to be anathema to some contributors to this discussion.

Phil said...

Ad, in case you hadn't noticed I'm not bound by the discipline of the SP. And I'm sure you also noted that discussion and analysis about the far left's results are available for anyone who knows how to use google. Any comrade doing so would stumble across the two pieces by the SP on the results that were published before my piece appeared.

Going from the tone of your piece it seems you have a very dim view of the intellectual capacities of SP comrades. Believe it or not they are quite capable of interpreting the results on their own without having a branch discussion beforehand. As active socialists fighting "on a day to day basis to forge binds between themselves and there organisations and the working class" they're quite aware of the context of this election, the state of the left, and the reasons why the labour movement is in the state it's in. The small numbers of SP'ers who read this blog don't need me to repeat the arguments prior to analysing anything to do with the far left.

I also see you completely misrepresent my argument about the tension between basic work and wider work and completely fail to answer the points above where I took the time to elaborate it.

There is a fine tradition running through the CWI on the need to patiently explain things. Unfortunately your response shows there's still some way to go before 'patiently listen' is added to the party armoury.

Phil said...

Anonymous re: BNP - it clearly said they had done on election night. Being the sad man I am I was adding the results as they came in. Blame the BBC - I've modified the post.

Phil said...

I'd accept those points, Budapest. My points about the tension between accumulating resources and wider campaign work is based on my experience of SP practice in England (and observation of the SWP - the points equally apply there too). But out of interest do new, small branches adopt the strategy of going door to door?

Michael Fisher said...

The comment from Denzil is astonishing: it reads like a parody of the mechanical puesdo-scientific Marxism of the Third International at the peak of Stalinist orthodoxy.

Housey's comments display the characteristic Trotskyist contempt for the working class as it actually is: electoral support for Labour is merely a residue of history. The possibility that workers support Labour partly because of what they stand for today is simply discounted.

I don't think Labour offers a credible vehicle for socialist advance - but that does not excuse this degree of political self-deception.

Phil said...

Do catch up, LS. That mistake was acknowledged and put to bed at the top of the thread.

I'd be interested to know what you base this on "the vast majority of people who vote labour do not vote for them because they support them, they do it because they hate the tories more."

I certainly thought that before I went canvassing in this general election. I expected to get a lot of abuse and hostility on the door step, but I didn't. Sure, some people grumbled about Labour and said they were voting to keep the Tories out, but equally I spoke to dozens who were enthusiastic to see a team of Labour canvassers descend upon them. This by far shocked me more than anything else. Despite the shitty things Labour have done, among layers of the working class there remains a very deep affective attachment to Labour - they still see it as their party, as the party for workers. So when you have thousands vote for what Ad called a 'privateer' (Tristram maybe many things, but a pirate he is not), these are not votes of no consequence - they express a positive identification with their class. This was something Militant once understood.

Also LS, if the votes don't really matter why are so many of you tetchy about anyone pointing out the obvious - that 2% outside St Micks is a poor result?

Adam said...

Phil, you keep asserting that somehow comrades have their heads in the sand.

in fact, its a point made in original post long before anyone has commented.

Lets be as clear as possible, the support for the left at the ballot box is very poor - at least viewed in comparison with the votes for mainstream parties. why is that?

well, we could all put together a few thousand words on the objective situation, the hangover of the defeats of the last few decades, the 'triumph of capitalism' and the ideological wrap party that followed. We could talk about the shift away from manufacturing, going hand in hand with the degeneration of the industrial unions. We should also mention the effect of 13 years of a Government under the banner of 'labour' repeatedly battering the working class, in warping and stunting class consciousness. We can also discuss the historic weakness of the left, the splits, the missed opportunities. All valid factors and important topics for discussions for socialists wherever they work.

but you haven't done that, have you? you've taken a snapshot of support for the left, determined by all the factors i've mentioned as well as the immediate conditions and trends which characterise this election and celotaped to it, an ill-thought out conclusion that Trotskyism is somehow fundamentally flawed.

being honest is to be methodical in your thought as well as your activity. The comrades involved in the campaigns in Coventry and elsewhere have spent months, not just knocking on doors and doing stalls, but judging and gauging the many complex and subtle shifts in consciousness, they've encountered throughout the campaign. So when those comrades say they're quite pleased with the result, its not an 'official optimism' or a denial of failure - but the result of a sober and consistent analysis at every stage of the campaigns.

Its been pretty clear for at least 4 weeks that there was every chance we would lose our councillors in Lewisham, its been freely discussed by the comrades involved at every stage. I assume similar discussions have taken place in Coventry and elsewhere. What should be the conclusion of those comrades who are expecting defeat? should they give in? It made no difference to the comrades involved, except maybe to lower their expectations a little and i expect thats why the comrades are pleased with the result - ultimately they had a sense of perspective and proportion that your post lacks. This is not a question of honesty or denial, its a question of a sober analysis or a leaping hissy-fit

Phil said...

Perhaps Mark you could tell us how Militant campaigning for 40 years for Labour candidates who were sometimes on the right aided the fight for socialism?

As I explained to LS, workers positively identifying with Labour as an expression of them seeing themselves as working class is not to be sniffed or sneered at. There's your way in to discussing socialist ideas.

andy newman said...

"It's easy to sneer anonymously at people who sell papers from behind pasting tables,"

actually I am happy to sneer without it being at all anonymous.

this exchange is priceless.

Phil has published an analysis which considers that the left groups are as much a product of their social environment and practice as any other part of society.

that is a Marxist analysis, that the left groups have a practice which has its won inbuilt institutional biases and interests.

What is most hilariouis is that the SO would probably agree wth that analysis if it bwas directed at another of the left groups.

It seems there are no mirrors in the house of Militant

Phil said...

Denzil, I'm sure the comrades in the SP (and the rest of the far left) who will be despondent over these results will be comforted to know their entirely understandable deflation is a symptom of not being Marxist enough.

It's all very well to say election results aren't important, but nevertheless they offer a slightly distorted snapshot of the levels of support certain kinds of politics command in the population at large. This is certainly how the overwhelming bulk of activists, trade unionists and rank-and-file workers in the labour movement will view things. With that in mind, do you think they will be inclined to break from Labour when they see how pitifully low the far left poll? It seems the lesson the RMT exec drew from the No2EU campaign has yet to be digested by some.

andy newman said...

"equally I spoke to dozens who were enthusiastic to see a team of Labour canvassers descend upon them. This by far shocked me more than anything else. Despite the shitty things Labour have done, among layers of the working class there remains a very deep affective attachment to Labour - they still see it as their party, as the party for workers. "

Exactly Phil, and I spoke to people who were proud of how many Labour posters there were in their own street, with the sense that there was a collective and emotional engagement, that somehow it meant their community were doing well by showing their solidarity.

This wasn't a calculating anti-Tory vote, it was a class vote.

Phil said...

Housey, the sneering tone is entirely in your head. That a reasoned and dispassionate analysis of the far left's election results can provoke such a hysterical response from SP comrades is not only disappointing, it makes you all look no better than the brittle bolshevism we can expect from the SWP's keyboard warriors elsewhere.

All this is fine. If painting me as a renegade, a reformist, or something else from the Trotsky book of insults makes you feel better then go ahead. But the arguments won't go away. I know that, you deep down know that. And so do the audience of this blog.

Phil said...

Ad, we could indeed. In fact I have poured out thousands of words on that very subject on this blog. So forgive me if I don't feel the need to preface my analysis with repetition of those points. What I have done that is different this time is point to what I consider a problematic characteristic of Trotskyist political practice. It is not the sole reason why the far left is in the doldrums, but it's certainly worth consideration is it not?

I take your point about the campaign, but it's a bit like what happened with N Staffs NHS SOS. I think as a whole we were pleased with our intervention, but that doesn't hide the fact the campaign failed.

You also need to consider how the election campaign would be perceived outside of SP circles. Comrades maybe pleased with papers sold, members recruited, etc., but the rest of the labour movement see none of that. As the SP is in the business of campaigning for a new workers' party, getting a low vote in a key party stronghold isn't going to convince any trade unions to take the lead in setting up a new party.

I think people can read the above exchanges and conclude for themselves who the ones throwing a hissy fit are.

Budapestkick said...

Phil, in answer to your question: Yeah small branches do go door to door. As a general rule, most branches regardless of size have a basic weekly routine of Meeting - Estate Sale - Stall plus whatever else is going on. typically smaller and newer branches will concentrate sales in a particular area to build up a base while bigger more established ones can balance between sales in core areas and opening up new ones. Additionally, once a branch is established one person is usually pushed forward as a public rep to be the local face of the organisation and ran in elections etc.

In terms of the more general points in the discussion, I don't think there's anything wrong with discussing a change of strategy in a fraternal way. I agree particularly with the point that socialist candidates shouldn't have to go in under a different name (SA, TUSC etc.) each time. However, despite the dissapointing results, I think that TUSC has a lot of potential and that it should be maintained. I would think that a step forward would be a national congress involving all orgs and individuals to discuss where to go next. As well as that, each candidate that was ran under the slate should continue to do community work under the banner of TUSC to build a base for the next elections.

As well as that, I don't think it's unmarxist to regard elections with a degree of importance. Having public representatives and a local voice at council level or higher gives a real boost to recruitment and can give more publicity to socialist arguments and ideas that a dozen paper sales.

However, I still think that identifying a strategic mistake and elevating it to a core ideological/political flaw is a mistake. I see no reason why, with a correct approach, the Far Left can't make big electoral gains at the next local elections.

Mark P said...

Perhaps Mark you could tell us how Militant campaigning for 40 years for Labour candidates who were sometimes on the right aided the fight for socialism?

Well Phil, the most obvious answer to that is that the Labour Party was a very different party 40 years ago. However, as you are willfully blind to that reality, we can leave that aside for a moment.

Militant raised its own distinctive programme and policies in its work in the Labour Party. It recruited people to its own distinctive socialist current within the Labour Party. It was, if you recall what the right wingers used to claim, a party within a party.

You aren't building a distinct socialist organisation. You don't have your won socialist programme or policies. You aren't in a position to raise your own politics with the workers you encounter while working for Labour.

To be fair to the borderline cultists of Socialist Appeal, they are actually fighting in their own deluded way for a socialist programme within Labour (Canute, King, see under), but you aren't dong that. You weren't distributing your own leaflets or other socialist material. You weren't taking the opportunity on your phone banking to ruthlessly criticise the actions of Labour in government and the views and ideas of the Mandelson protege you were working for. You were and are just one more phone banker for a Blairite shitbag.

Congratulations on winning the agreement and admiration of Andy Newman though.

There's your way in to discussing socialist ideas"

Except of course Phil, that you didn't use that supposed "in" to discuss socialist ideas did you? Because the first thing you'd have to explain is that your candidate stands for none of those ideas. So this is an argument about something a fictional organisation could in your imagination have done during the Labour campaign. It isn't a report about what you actually did, while phonebanking for your Blairite shitbag.

Perhaps a remedial course based on "Problems of Entrism" would do you some good.

Dave Semple said...

Lastly, I think you could do with re-reading some of the straight histories of revolutionary socialist organisations. If the example of the Russian organisation is too cliche, or too over-dramatised and ossified into mythology, pick somewhere and somewhen else. Revolutionary socialist organisations can be mass organisations - but this is usually only at the moments of key weakness in the hegemony of the ruling class.

On a local scale, when you are leading campaigns that have played right, it is easy to see the sinews of a mass party of the working class almost knit themselves. But we are operating from a very low political level, even from the point of view of supposed revolutionaries, never mind normal people.

Instinctively, or from whatever survives of practices transmitted from the past, people know of strikes and such, for economic ends. But beyond that? Everything is sketchy at best, so revolutionary organs are fighting a two pronged battle - to raise political consciousness utilising the scaffolding not of a newspaper but of the experiences an individual's life may throw at them and to turn that political consciousness into the self-confidence necessary to organise and act.

That's something the Bolsheviks were virtually excused. Even when the Bolsheviks had gone through decades of intense and well-organised class struggle, over a relatively compact geographical area, in which the ruling class had fewer weapons than ours has, the actual overthrow of capitalism still came close to not happening at all, and did not move at a tempo set by the Bolsheviks themselves.

There is an ebb and flow to events as well as to consciousness - though several of your criticisms above seem to imply that you expect things to be rather linear, and I doubt you would discard your Marxism so quickly - so perhaps a rethink, or at least a rephrasing is in order.

Dave Semple said...

If it makes people feel better to view you as a renegade, Phil? I thought you were trying to stay above the sneering? Nevertheless, let's leave that to the side.

I think your analysis is found wanting in several areas. First, your brief analysis of RESPECT indicates a worrying change in your outlook if it 'doing something right' can merely be reduced to polling 'extremely well in its core areas'.

By that analysis, surely the Conservatives are doing most right of all? How can electoral success - especially on such a limited scale - be any measure of what a group is or isn't doing right? Certainly it can't be, independently of a group's political line.

And you have no comment on that here, which, rightly or wrongly, makes you seem a little opportunistic.

Second point, in a number of places you've been flagged up as factually mistaken. Not a huge thing by itself, but in the case of a 'continued decline of the...Socialist Party/TUSC vote' it surely has a bearing on this that in Lewisham, the SP vote went UP.

Third point, you bypass the point that, it being a general election at which it looked likely the Tories would get in, votes could be mobilised more easily. Activists too, come to that. You yourself were caught in this phenomenon, despite being a solid SP member, and joined Labour.

There is undeniable class content to this swing, but merely repeated ad nauseam - as Andy Newman and others seem to - that it is a 'class vote' doesn't make it any more helpful to the Left. It just means that the Labour leadership will have to kick workers about a bit more, and socialists will have to work a bit harder, before an alternative organisation is found. It is not an affirmation that the current organisation is suitable.

The processes which allowed New Labour to seize control of the party and to preside over the wreckage of its political consciousness and the rump of well-meaning if politically unsophisticated activists have not gone away as if by magic. I'm not saying you have asserted this, but others have, with the death-of-New-Labour nonsense, and such conclusions I find almost incipient amongst what you have said.

A squeeze of the far Left vote, in favour of Labour, need not say anything positive about Labour - and I've yet to see a concrete argument advanced to the contrary.

Fourth point, as many SP comrades would no doubt recognise, there are deficiencies in how things are done. For example, the paper is still, by and large, dull as dishwater. But it's not meant to be art, and it's not meant to attract people to the party. It's meant to convey information. It would be nice if it could do this without lapsing into cliche, but I suppose the truth is that many cliches are called such for a reason: the frequency of their use is caused by their accuracy.

There are other aesthetic points which could be made, and further points about the nature of branch meetings in various areas and so on. And few people would find these objectionable, except from the point of view that most of us feel comfortable with what we know best - and in some cases that's a forty minute lead off followed by absolute silence or forced contributions. But not all, by a long chalk - and it seems a bit presumptuous to imply such not just for the SP but for a fair number of organisations beyond it.


andy newman said...

"There is undeniable class content to this swing, but merely repeated ad nauseam - as Andy Newman and others seem to - that it is a 'class vote' doesn't make it any more helpful to the Left. It just means that the Labour leadership will have to kick workers about a bit more, and socialists will have to work a bit harder, before an alternative organisation is found. It is not an affirmation that the current organisation is suitable."

No - that is wrong.
What happened during the Blair years was an erasure of class from the vocabulary of the Labour Party in particular, and even within the unions to a certain extent

Class consciousness is a necessary precondition for socialist organistion and the rebuilding of shop floor organisation.

So I see an unexpected resurgence of class manifested in this election as an unalloyed GOOD THING.

You are ambivelent it seems over whether it is a good thing, becase it complicates your a priori presumptions about what organisation form such class consciousness needs to be atached to.

A revival of class consiousness in attachement to laboursm means that overall the workers movement is stronger.

and that is the criteria by whch we must judge it.

Journeyman said...


I don't have a problem that you are questioning the SP's electoral tactics - even if you were still a member - it is legitimate to question what were undeniably poor results generally for TUSC.

But I do have a problem that to counter this your have a position which I'm afraid can only be described as 'hope for the best' entryism.

TUSC was/is a modest but necessary beginning - and I would suggest that what is needed now is consistency and patience rather than excessive navel contemplating.

Your criticisms about the conservative nature of revolutionary parties do have a ring of truth. But it's not a new point - and it needs very careful consideration less we end up liquidating ourselves into some sort of post-Trotskyist think tank.

Talking of sterile meetings though - I would have thought that after a few Labour Party branch meetings (do they still have them ? ) you must be remembering SP meetings with fond nostalgia!


Danielle said...

I'm sorry, Coventry comrades, but it appears the fact that 2,631 people voted for us in wards we had NO CHANCE OF WINNING is a failure! That the £2000+ we raised leading up to the election on stalls - which were mainly staffed by volunteers - plus the trade union cash is a mere irrelevance! That the new recruits through the campaign are no gain whatsoever, all because we lost a councillor and got a poor vote in the general.

Phil, you've given up on the struggle, 'comrade', and I pity you.

Phil said...

This is where we part company with our analysis, Mark. You and the SP believe there has been a fundamental change in the character of Labour (try as I might I cannot find the article/set of articles that roughly point to when this qualitative change took place - care to enlighten me?) I don't.

And where does your strange obsession with phone canvassing come from? I knocked on doors, I spoke to people and, yes, talked about socialist policies and ideas with dozens of loyal, wavering and former Labour supporters. And this could not be otherwise - the only way I know how to canvas is as a socialist.

I resent your snidey aping of comrades above trying to cast aspersions on my political character as a clumsy means of trying to wriggle out responding to the measured points the article makes. You're not doing yourself or your organisation any favours.

Phil said...

Dave, this is an analysis of election results. If you play the electoral game expect the outcomes to be judged by the rules of the game. So yes, from the standpoint of results, clearly Respect have got something right in being able to draw in mass but localised support from some of the most oppressed sections of our class. This is something no left group has managed independently of Labour since the proper CPGB pulled it off after the war. So I find your bringing the Tories into the discussion rather peculiar and not particularly relevant, because we're not comparing like with like.

Re: the point about the SP's declining vote. It's pretty obvious I was talking about the general election vote. 2010 declined on 2005's figures. 2005's were a decline on 2001's. I don't have the 1997 ones to hand to see if the trend stretches back that far.

On the class vote, no, the Labour party isn't fit for purpose. But how could it be? It is after all a bourgeois workers' party. My arguments around the Labour party have always been that the opportunities for rebuilding the labour movement and bringing masses of working class people into politics are greater inside the party than outside it. If I turn out to be wrong I will say so - I have no compulsion to be seen to be always right - but with a Tory-Lib government pretty much a certainty now, I think the gaps and opportunities to Labour's left that existed earlier in the 00s are largely gone.

Btw, where do you think I've provided a linear argument?

Dave Semple said...

Are the rest of us to get a response, Phil, or shall we draw the curtain down for now?

(Incidentally, and not to intrude on the argument with Mark, the 'fundamental change' in Labour is easily asserted in the quantitative decline of its membership base and the practices and traditions upon which its affiliation with the working class depended, resulting in a qualitative swing observable in the attitudes of the Parliamentary party. Now I'm not arguing "Labour is the same as all the rest", and other SP comrades are entitled to their view - but things aren't as unsubstantiated as you suggest. As I say, I don't want to get involved there and we can have this discussion another time).

Dave Semple said...

Ignore that bit about whether or not the rest of us are getting a reply, you've just put your reply up - curse my impatience!

Phil said...

Journeyman, I can understand your reading of my position even though I disagree with it. The problem is seeing the TUSC vote as a 'beginning' is very difficult when the SP has stood independently in one guise or another since 1992. As I said earlier if you play the electoral game you invite to be judged in those terms. If a bourgeois party sees its vote decline from contest to contest it asks itself serious questions. I see no reason why working class organisations shouldn't do the same.

You're dead right about meetings. Labour meetings are dull and all about business. That said I've sat through worse and there are openings to try and address this lack of politics at the heart of the organisation. It's something I'll be looking at over the coming weeks. But every ex-SP comrade I know locally looks back at party meetings with a certain fondness.

Phil said...

Get real, Danielle. There's more to socialist politics than flogging papers.

Phil said...

Dave, your wish is my command.

On the point about Labour, of course all those things have happened. The point of dispute is whether that has forced a qualitative change in the character of the Labour party from a bourgeois workers' party to straight bourgeois party. I don't think so, for reasons outlined elsewhere.

Mark P said...

Actually Phil, I'm not questioning your character. I'm questioning your judgment and your politics. I'm told you are quite a nice lad. And you didn't at all address my point in your rush to take offence.

As I said at the start of my last comment, lets leave aside the question of the class character of the Labour Party for a moment. Let's leave you your delusion that Labour now is in its essentials the same as it was in Lenin's time.

Even if you are right on that (and you aren't), what you are doing is politically confused and politically unprincipled. You aren't trying to build a Marxist tendency within the Labour Party. Thus far your "strategy" has been to join as an individual and to work as an individual to get a Blairite shitbag elected.

You have uttered barely a word of criticism of said Blairite shitbag on this blog since the stitch up that selected him was completed. Here you have something of an outlet - are you ruthlessly exposing said shitbag? Are you carefully measuring his neo-liberal business as usual politics against a Marxist programme? Are you carrying out Marxist work in the Labour Party?

No, you aren't. You have disappeared as an atomised individual into a party which only has one use for you. And already you are adapting to that changed social reality.

Even if you get involved in the LRC, the last concentration of leftists in the Labour Party, you will find yourself working in a barely functional and deeply reformist current. Again, not Marxist work in a mass party. You have no strategy to accomplish anything - at least not one that you have outlined in even the most basic terms.

That's not an example of me questioning your character. I'm questioning your political judgment. As for me reflecting poorly on my party, perhaps I do. You reflect well on your own, if only because it otherwise mostly consists of right wing filth.

I suggest again that if you are serious about accomplishing something in the Labour Party that a remedial course in entry work may be in order.

By the way, the reference to phone banking isnt an obsession of mine. It's an obsession of New Labour's, with nice scripted messages. Are you telling me you didn't spend much of the campaign phone banking? Because if you didn't Stoke Central is quite unusual.

Dave Semple said...

Phil, if the game is to be judged by "who got the most votes", well the Tories got a healthy share of working class votes - healthier than Respect at least - so there is an element of comparing like with like.

Moreover, if the 30,000 this time denotes 'doing something right', are we to reach the same rather facile conclusions about the 117,000 first preference votes for the SSP in 2003? Or about the 68,000 in 2005 for Respect? For all that, nothing much seems to have come out of it.

My point was, and analogies to the side, that this criterion for judging elections - on votes alone - is a bad one precisely because genuine socialist parties don't play the 'electoral game' with the same methods as bourgeois parties, nor, truthfully, with the same aims. One aim is to get votes - but there are others, which are more central.

For socialists, these provide the key to engagement with our class, and a means to get a response moving when the next wave of attacks come along. For Labour, recruits can come or go. There's no class-based, action-based orientation on the part of any CLP that I've ever seen.

Which is why Labour have armies of happy-go-lucky election warriors and socialists don't. It's easy to win people across when you're not really asking them to commit to much beyond some vague ideas of equality. The same is probably true of elections, come to that.

Election results go up and down, and I'm sure there are some lessons to be taken from this, but it can't be done from the one-sided picture of the figures alone. Money brought in off stalls, contacts made with local unions or community groups and doors knocked on, versus money spent and votes gained - these are some more indicators which are absent above.

I'm not saying I agree with TUSC's strategy completely - though I like that local unions and activists in various areas came together under the banner with their own candidates and hope that this will lead somewhere. There are criticisms to be made - but the weakest one is to say "the figures are crap" and then to go on and smack organisational structures about on the strength of that alone.

Bearing in mind this focus on electoral activity, it's easy to see why some comrades have thought you are simply seeking electoral success and will dispense with things that get in the way of that, regardless of their other uses. Under such assault, how these things can be better used - e.g. the paper - will lie by the wayside.

And, to bring this to a conclusion, this is where I get the impression that you seek a linear development. Of electoral numbers going up - crystallised in your comment to me about how the SP have stood in elections since 1992, but that their figures don't seem to be going up all that much, if it all, when they aren't going down.

Which may be true, but even a cursory comparison of the organisation in the 1990s, after the tidal wave of the poll tax had subsided, with what it is today, should show that things are getting better from a nadir, in terms of membership numbers, morale and even the political development of comrades. These improvements - some of which are bettered by pushing comrades on to the streets, in the intense atmosphere of a GE campaign - will prove to be more important in swinging the unions and working class into action than the 8 million votes of Labour.

Which, as Kinnock showed all through the 1980s, can count for nothing.

Anonymous said...

Will no-one reply to Michael Fisher and assuage his need for very serious attention to his latest pompous, cynical diatribe?

Please Michael, give us a searing critique of the ACTU and the neo-liberal ALP.

Michael Fisher said...

As I am not a member or a supporter of the ALP I would be happy to critique them. Should Phil initiate a discussion on Australian politics I will be among the first to join in.

Frenchie said...

I think this is a very informative debate. I have learnt that TUSC wasn't a failure because, as many people (SP members?) pointed out, the Socialist Party recruited a lot of new members and raised some money. I'm eagerly waiting for TUSC 2.0. Let the recruitment drive begin!

Phil said...

Fair enough Mark, I accept your points. What I have been trying to do since joining is find out who the like-minded people are, who have sound politics, etc, and then take it from there. Sure, I'm not building a distinctive Marxist tendency - but with 57 varieties about to suit all Trotskyist tastes I don't consider that particularly pressing. What is more important is to use the Labour party to enable people to become involved in working class politics - be it in the trade unions, communities or whatever - and propagate socialist ideas. I might just be one person, albeit with a small group of like-minded comrades, but I believe the opportunities for this sort of work are better in the Labour party than being part of a small disciplined collective outside the Labour party.

On Problems of Entrism, it is funny you should mention that because I have been planning to read it for a long time. Generally speaking I think there are lessons the LRC can learn from Militant's experience in Labour, even though it's not a democratic centralist organisation.

And as for Tristram Hunt, I'm sure not even Militant called right-wingers of old every name under the sun during election campaigns. We know where each other stands - we meet eye to eye on the importance of cooperatives, local regeneration, and the rebuilding of the local party - but on little else. I see little point in denouncing someone for having crap opinions when I have to work with them.

Phil said...

Dave, elections more or less provide a snapshot of support candidates and/or parties have among the electorate. The reason why I think the Respect votes are significant is because their vote effects the mass but localised support they have in their core areas. To have held on to that and, in Salma Yaqoob's case, increase her vote suggests to me that from the point of view of building an independent left wing challenge the sort of community graft Respect does is something the left can learn from. This is why I find your point about the Tories confusing.

This is also why I went on to talk about the political practice of British Trotskyism. From years of being on the far left I know very few groups really care about election results - yours and others' arguments on this thread demonstrates that's still the case. I also know Trotskyist organisations would like to put down roots in working class communities. So when their votes are in decline election on election, it is reasonable to suggest something might be going awry with the way it organises community work. What I've outlined here is one obstacle as I experienced it to doing that kind of work.

Anonymous said...


We'll await your views on Australia then but on the current discussion - you dismiss New Labour and you dismiss the TUSC and SP and it seems all other left projects outside of Labour.

So what is your alternative? Do you have one? Do you want to see a broad workers' political formation in Britain? If so, how do you see it concretely developing? What role do you see for socialists, Trotskyists and Marxists?

Jacob Richter said...

Meanwhile, a proper bourgeois worker party across the English channel was a big winner in regional elections, having been formed not on the heavy reliance of trade union money, but by active ordinary workers, rank-and-file trade unionists, pensioners, intellectuals, and students on the basis of some sort of populist socialism.

The two leader's of this party's regional organization belong to the left wing of the national party, the first person belonging to the Socialist Left and the second belonging to the Anti-Capitalist Left.

Of course, I am writing about none other than Die Linke, and regional leaders Bärbel Beuermann and Wolfgang Zimmermann.

Anonymous said...

Phil, you missed the point about the general election. TUSC was created as a place holder, mainly to prevent others from stepping into the grass. This was the reason for the little efforts invested in it and the poorer results.

Mark P said...


What you are describing, at best, is the building of a leftish reformist tendency (the LRC) inside the Labour Party without raising any kind of Marxist banner. That may or may not be useful, but it certainly isn't Marxist work of a kind consistent with any aspect of the Trotskyist tradition.

The closest parallel I can think of is the opportunist period of the Healyites when they hid their own politics and pretended to be Tribunites. Although Tribune in that period was to the left of today's LRC and the Labour Party was certainly to the left of New Labour, so their opportunism wasn't quite as extreme as yours.

And jokes about 57 varieties aside, there is essentially nobody trying to build a Marxist tendency in the Labour Party. Every group has given up the ghost, fallen apart of left the Labour Party. Even Socialist Action (if anyone considers them Marxists) have largely decamped to Respect, while Socialist Appeal are only nominally in Labour and do all of the little work they do outside the party.

Now you may think that there's nobody attempting to build a Marxist tendency in New Labour because every other Marxist in Britain lacks your penetrating insight. I tend to think that it's because it isn't possible under current conditions. But if you are serious about your Marxism and you are serious about working in Labour, that's what you should be doing.

But you aren't doing that and have no intention of doing that. Which leads me to conclude that your shift to the Labour Party isn't a case of a tactical disagreement with the Socialist Party, but reflects a shift away from the whole idea of building a revolutionary tendency anywhere.

Michael Fisher said...

Re: the questions raised by Anonymous above...

Rather than clog-up Phil's blog with my reply I have posted a reply here:

I invite those interested in the future of the Marxist left to read my comments and post constructive responses.

Phil said...

Erm, no Mark. I would agree that the building of a democratic centralist organisation inside Labour would have been very difficult during the last 16 years. Difficult, but not impossible. I still believe there was a space to the left of Labour where a small but significant party of the left could have been built - the SLP and Socialist Alliance were the best bets but a mix of stupidity and sectarianism scuppered their chances. And now that space is closing it will be even more difficult to build a political alternative that would attract mass working class support. So difficult that faced with a growing mass of pissed off workers that the SWP and SP will revert to type and concentrate on narrow party building. That's all fine and dandy but it does not address the crisis of working class political representation as theorised by the SP.

But returning to the point of the discussion, we are faced with the situation where the bulk of organised Marxists - in the SP, SWP and the rest - are politically isolated from the bulk of politically active workers, who are still found in the Labour party. If wanting to be part of this mass and attempting to influence it (albeit in a very modest way) makes me an opportunist then I would say other Marxists could do with a dose of opportunism. The alternative is a warm feeling of superiority and self-satisfaction - but at the price of being largely ignored by the working class.

Anonymous said...

Bloody hell Phil, we've come full circle! That last sentence sounds like something Kinnock would have said at the 1985 Labour Party Conference.

Phil said...

Or something any socialist wanting a mass audience for socialist politics should be seriously considering.