This letter has been circulated on several discussion lists from the Campaign for a New Workers' Party. I will let it speak for itself and add some comments after:
Thank you for your continued support for the Campaign for a New Workers Party (CNWP), which has enabled us to sustain and develop the arguments that working people need a new independent political voice arguing the case for socialism against the three main parties who now occupy the common ground of support for big business.
To take our campaign to the next stage the officers have decided to organise an extended Steering Committee at the end of this month to widen participation in the discussion on a number of key initiatives. The Steering Committee will be open to all supporters of the CNWP, but those fully able to participate and vote will be CNWP members who have either paid the current membership subscription or have a standing order financially supporting the campaign. There will be the opportunity to join the CNWP on the day.
The meeting will take place on Sunday, September 26, 2010 from 12 noon to 4 pm at the University of London Students Union building (ULU), in Malet Street, London WC1E 7HY. If you're travelling from outside of London, ULU is a 10 min walk from Euston station. If you're travelling from within London ULU describes which tubes or buses you can use at the following webpage: http://bit.ly/dvv9Yy
The officers have decided that a capped pooled fare will operate, with everyone attending contributing £10 and the campaign making up the difference for those who have to travel the furthest. Please make sure that you take the opportunity to book cheaper train or coach fares well in advance in order to reduce costs.
The main business of the day will undoubtedly be the campaign's response to the huge levels of cuts in public services which the ConDem government are due to announce on October 20th. With a target of £113 billion a year reduction in public spending, (£9 billion more a year than what is currently spent on the NHS!), the government are attempting the biggest cut in the standard of living of ordinary people and their families for over 80 years. The trade union movement in general, and public sector unions in particular, will undoubtedly engage in battles to preserve services and protect jobs. But a crucial question will come next May when elections are due to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, and to local authorities throughout the country - where is the political alternative going to come from, how are people going to be able to vote for anti-cuts candidates?
There will also be a number of other discussions including widening membership of the Steering Committee by co-option, setting the details for a full campaign conference in the first six months of next year, relaunching the CNWP declaration in the light of changed political circumstances, and discussing reports on membership, finance, website and social media use etc. There will be some time for discussion on resolutions and one area for discussion of which we already have notice is from those comrades wishing to set out the process by which the prototype of a new left party could be established. If you want to submit a resolution for discussion please send it to me by 10 am Wednesday, September 22nd at the latest.
The meeting on September 26th will be an important stage in the development of the CNWP and I would urge you to make every effort to attend. A leaflet advertising this meeting and promoting the CNWP can be downloaded here.
Yours, in solidarity
Cllr Dave Nellist
National Chair, CNWP
No one reading will be surprised that I think the prospects of the CNWP range from bleak to non-existent.
One thing that attracted me to the Socialist Party in late 2005 was its decision to launch a formal campaign around this issue. Its line had long been that Labour was a straight party of capital, and a new party of the working class was required to fill the space Blair and Brown had consciously vacated. I viewed the Labour party differently, but I subscribed to the same conclusion. Almost five years on I now don't think the political space was ever there for a new mass party, but there was certainly an opening for a small but serious left formation - an opening that was let slip by the fractious and irredeemably sectarian nature of the far left.
But even then with New Labour constantly tacking to the right, treating the trade unions as embarrassing relatives, and dumping on all things social democratic, the CNWP had precious little purchase in the labour movement and society at large. In the trade unions political representation did become more of a live issue, but this was more due to the efforts of SP activists working as SP activists and the appalling record of New Labour than the CNWP's profile.
On the streets it was even worse: the CNWP met with almost total indifference. On dozens of campaign stalls punters would happily sign petitions against whatever we were peddling and they might have even nodded when we (patiently) explained that working class people needed their own party, but very few would then go on to sign the CNWP the declaration. If there isn't a more damning indictment of the CNWP's failure than the few thousand names of SP and other far left activists who signed the declaration over a five year period, I don't know what is.
The SP could possibly have done more, and Workers' Power and the cpgb framed a number of unanswered polemics around that theme. But the pace of work in our branch and limited personnel meant something else would have to be parked on the back burner had the leadership decreed 'CNWP work' a priority. And if the SP followed the example of its erstwhile comrades in Scottish Militant Labour and liquidated itself into the CNWP, it is very doubtful anything other than a re-branded SP plus a few independents and sundry ultra-lefts would have resulted.
This is a roundabout way of saying that if the CNWP was a dismal flop when Labour was consciously estranging itself from the labour movement, what prospects does the campaign have now the party is in opposition and is busily renewing those links? Tens of thousands of trade unionists are not looking at forming a new party but instead working to ensure there is no repeat of the Blair-Brown years. Some 30,000 have joined Labour since May because it is seen as the natural opposition to the Tory coalition. The SP's branches are rammed with anti-cuts campaigning and party building and won't have the time and energy (or enthusiasm) to simultaneously push the CNWP. And if anyone's expecting anti-cuts opposition directed toward Labour councils will reopen the question of working class political representation, I fear those comrades are going to be very disappointed.
The objectives Dave's letter sets itself sound fine and dandy, but why weren't they done when political circumstances were more benign? It all smacks of having missed the boat.