I have some sympathy with Mark's argument. I said the same sort of things last year when the People's Assembly initiative launched. This from then:
I am tired of what appear to be cyclical motions of activity of the left and the labour movement. It goes something like this.I think Mark and many activists of similar mind make two common related, but fundamental errors. The first point is sort of voluntarist. There is no strategy beyond the set pieces because the "trade union bureaucrats" want to keep a lid on things. The one thing the bureaucracy fears more than a Tory government with a fresh mandate is an active membership pushing for action. There might be an element of truth to this ... if you went back to the 1970s. Nowadays things have changed somewhat. These days your trade union full-timer is less a bureaucrat and more a full-time activist. Unfortunately, as the labour movement has declined paid employees have had to pick up the work once done by lay elected officials and trade unionists. It has increasingly fallen on them to do the representing and the organising. Scared of autonomous rank-and-file activity? Chance would be a fine thing, would come the reply. Mark's argument is premised on the opposite view. That the trade union apparatus is and continues to be a break on action, and that workers would brush austerity aside if only the right leadership were in place. This Trotsky-inspired position reduces all political questions to a matter of working class leadership. Sort this out and the rest will follow.
We start with an issue, say a looming unpopular war, a perceived deficit in working class political independence, or opposition to austerity.
An organisation or group of organisations hold an exciting and energising set of meetings. These are usually along the lines of a massive speakerthon in London - typically at Friends Meeting House or ULU. And followed by local launches elsewhere that often see leading figures of the new movement feature as special guests.
The immediate objective laid out by the Steering Committee is a big set piece event, such as a demonstration, a day of action, or a general election campaign.
Once that objective has been met and a Herculean effort pulled off by all concerned, the next target appears - a local mobilisation or another large set piece such as another national demo, another day of action, another set of elections.
For some, especially those who were tempered by the initial 'heroic' phase of the movement, start getting disillusioned. It might be because there's other things going on in their lives, or they're feeling a bit burned out, or their activity is appearing to have little appreciable effect, or, all three.
As disillusionment sets in for large numbers, people start dropping out of activity.
Those remaining, who by this point are inveterate protestors of all types and self-decribed revolutionary organisations, typically turn in and blame each other and the SWP for screwing it up. "If only the right leadership were present."
If only it was that easy.
I'm not going to go into great depth about the changed political economy of the working class. I've banged on about it for yonks. But when you have a whole class of wage and salary earners who are mostly outside of their trade unions, and those who are in them display low levels of combativity, political opportunities for big-P politics industrial action are somewhat circumscribed. If you want to talk about the less-than-optimal outcomes of most labour disputes, always pinning it on the "sell-out" antics of unspecified bureaucrats is an abstention from analysis - and for the Trot groups who should know better, betrays an infantile approach to industrial politics.
"Hold on a minute, you might be letting the trade union leaders and full-timers off the hook. Aren't you excusing inactivity? If the TU tops got their fingers out and showed a fighting lead, we can organise a fightback. Look at the late Bob Crow!" The most crucial resource trade unions have is solidarity, the capacity that when push comes to shove, members will respect the ballot decision and abide by it as a disciplined collective. When you lose disputes, the confidence underpinning solidarity erodes. Hence full timers and officials are relentlessly pragmatic. They know it is not a resource to be squandered. And this is doubly the case when we live in an era of industrial peace conditioned by labour movement weakness. If disputes are routinely patchily observed, if membership densities are low, if ordinary members' participation in union structures remains historically depressed, then you can understand why general secretaries pay zero heed to calls for immediate general strikes and indefinite action - let alone using trade union power as a weapon on issues not directly related to members' workplaces.
Sorry to be such a gloom, but disempowered working people and the restricted political opportunities this allows feeds into the treadmill of demos, one-day strikes, more demos, etc. It's not an inability to absorb lessons as such. Yet I remain fundamentally optimistic for a resurgent labour movement. Things cannot and will not stay the same forever. There is something in the air, a sense that the old ways are found increasingly wanting, that politics is disconnected and that working people are getting a raw deal. Presently UKIP and the anti-politics brigade are reaping the benefit, but why not our movement too?