Tuesday 7 May 2024

What is the Point of TUSC?

There were some very good results for the organised far left in last week's local elections. But only if you count George Galloway's "Workers' Party" as a left wing organisation. It won four seats in all. In the WPB's new Rochdale stronghold, the party won two seats and 13% of the votes cast across the borough. Leaving aside the very significant issues with the organisation's politics, this could be interpreted as a straight forward protest against British complicity in the massacre of Palestinians. Moving to another stronghold, and I use that term advisedly, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition stood in all the seats in Coventry's council elections. After more than 30 years of standing under a variety of labels, TUSC managed a princely 2% and failed to come close in any seat. The results elsewhere were hardly encouraging. Despite promising to publish its results on social media as they came in, they were so bad TUSC's Twitter feed publicised just two: the five per cent achieved in Blaydon ward in Gateshead, and the (admittedly very good) 32% in Bevois in Southampton. For some reason, presumably an oversight, the other 16 TUSC candidates in the city didn't merit a mention. And it's not hard to see why. It could only manage 1,072 votes between them, and in Coxford - a ward a TUSC-aligned Independent held as recently as 2019 - the coalition came at the bottom of the poll with 43 votes. Or, to you and me, 1.5% of votes cast.

In a lengthy piece in last week's issue of The Socialist, Socialist Party general secretary Hannah Sell regurgitates exactly the same arguments that were put forward when TUSC officially launched 14 years ago. It is "gaining ground" and "TUSC is not a mass party but it is an important lever to fight for steps in that direction." This is pure piffle. For instance, not only does TUSC's vote not improve from one election to another it lost its sole trade union affiliate a couple of years ago. Some progress.

There are three interlinked problems with TUSC. The first is political. Its pitch as doughty defenders of public services is worthy, but completely uninspiring. They say cutback we say fightback is alright for chanting on demonstrations, but does nothing to contest the politics of public service provision. When politicians have talked about the "necessity" of cuts since before the Tories took office in 2010, simply saying "no cuts" and pretending everything would be fine if local authorities launched campaigns to get back the money denied them is, at best, a prospectus for a society in which there are greater generalised levels of class consciousness than there is now. In its absence, the SP and TUSC are doing King Canute cosplay. They do not explain the class politics that lies behind programmes of cuts, despite positioning themselves as the working class opposition to them. And without this, they don't tell a story that punters might find engaging and convincing. For example, one reason why Jeremy Corbyn was successful for a time is he did offer a simple explanation that linked up society's ills. It owed more to moralism than class analysis, but his brand of anti-cuts politics proved much more effective and appealing than the SP/TUSC's economistic fare.

The second is strategic. In all the years the SP and its forerunners have been involved in left regroupment projects, it has fetishised a federal arrangement for participants. It often cites the original Labour Representation Committee to give their stance a principled gloss, but in reality it's about protecting the sanctity and coherence of the SP itself. Over 20 years ago in the Socialist Alliance, it preferred to walk out of the organisation rather than accept majority voting and a membership structure. And now, in TUSC, it reserves the right to stand as Socialist Alternative in seats where they think the opportunities for party building are particularly strong. Needless to say, results show that label doesn't offer any electoral premium over TUSC's. The behave like this because they have a very narrow, Leninist view of themselves. I.e. That they are the revolutionary party, and it's through participation in broader parties and movements that they will grow and, hopefully, overthrow capitalism. With such a millenarian conception of themselves, TUSC, their allies in TUSC, the rest of the labour movement, and so on are but foils for their grand ambitions. In this they don't differ any from the Socialist Workers' Party, the newly minted (and absurdly named) Revolutionary Communist Party, or virtually every other far left organisation that claims some fidelity to Lenin and his works. Where they differ is how they get to become the Bolshevik top dog.

Because TUSC is a means, this flows into its third problem. Because the SP is the revolutionary party, its energy has to be devoted to reproducing itself as a combat party of class conscious militants. This means prioritising the much derided stalls and paper sales, the trade union work where its approach to class politics has, in the past, awarded the SP some profile, and whatever it determines its organisational priorities to be. Putting energy into TUSC dilutes the SP's primary purpose. What this means in practice is TUSC is a useless electoral front that has no real life of its own. And this is a problem if you want to use elections to push an anti-cuts politics. For example, the current surge in support for the Greens to the point where they're in contestation for a handful of parliamentary seats hasn't come from nowhere. It's the result of targeting and campaigning consistently in the same seats over years. For the SP, supposedly the repository of the most advanced theory ever wielded by the working class, this super basic approach to building a profile has passed them by. Either that, or the SP don't want TUSC to grow into anything other than a conveyor belt of one of two recruits per election campaign. Readers can be their own judge.

We've already seen that the pathetic failure of the SP and TUSC to amount to anything has left the floor open to Galloway. Remember, this is not only a party whose ostentatious anti-woke posturing effectively attacks the working class it claims to speak for, it has selected candidates who are antisemitic and anti-Muslim. This will be the face of the extra-Labour left going into the next election, giving the enemies of the labour movement another stick to beat us all with. But everything is not lost for TUSC. It's too late to make a difference between now and the next election, but in the longer term it could profit from the same disaffection with Labour the Greens and Liberal Democrats are poised to do well put of. Provided TUSC dumps its unserious approach to elections. Nadia Ditta's campaign in Southampton did well because it appears she is a community rooted campaigner who has and is likely to continue working her seat. She points to TUSC's future as a viable opposition to Labour. But only if the SP allows it.

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Robert said...

Maybe the change from the fossilised leadership of Peter Taafe to Hannah Sell will bring a change in SP strategy. Sadly I'm not holding my breath.

Zoltan Jorovic said...

Isn't there a more fundamental problem with all of these far left groups? They are founded on a social structure which no longer exists, and a class struggle which has metamorphosised into something very different from that which they articulate. The world has changed, and they have not. They don't offer any solutions that resonate with the vast majority of the public. Worse, their diagnosis is seen as equivalent to a medieval doctor, where whatever the problem it is always a result of an imbalance of the humors, and the solution is to bleed the patient. Very few take their ideas seriously and all they achieve is to discredit the movement, such as it is now.

There are three overlapping crises, economic, social and environmental. The first two cannot be solved without addressing the third, and such groups rarely have anything useful to say on this, even where they acknowledge it at all. Because they are founded on a view of society mediated through the industrial revolution, they are unable to provide any solutions to the post-industrial, information driven, digital landscape and the underlying ecological decline which threatens it.

They are not alone in this, as the main parties are equally incapable of addressing the triple crisis, for essentially the same reason. They still believe in growth as the answer.

John Maxwell said...

I don’t think I disagree with anything you say on TUSC, but I’d like to pick you up on what you say about the Galloway Party. You note that the WP “has selected candidates who are antisemitic and anti-Muslim” but still say their 13% “could be interpreted as a straight forward protest against British complicity in the massacre of Palestinians”. If that is what they had campaigned on, perhaps, but Billy Howarth’s 19% in Balderstone was nothing to do with Gaza, but his own ‘parents against grooming’ campaign. Farooq Ahmed’s campaign in Central was all about ‘get me back on the council’ (he was removed as a Labour councillor previously for homophobic abuse of another councillor - an incident for which he was convicted and fined - and then tried to stand as a LibDem). None of these, nor Tom Byrne in Castleton, campaigned on Gaza. Some of the others did, certainly, such as Uzair Mehmood in Littleborough, but he only got 17 votes. Minam Ellahi’s campaign in Deeplish was about Minaam Ellahi. The Workers Party campaign was a hotch-potch, with Galloway-style anti-woke being the only real common factor, as with his ‘alliance’ members of the Middleton independents. The same was true of Galloway’s own by-election campaign, with his now-famous targeted leaflets about Gaza in some areas and not mentioning Gaza once in other areas (focusing instead on opposing ‘what they are teaching our children’ and Primark!). Just what Galloway is putting together needs a bit more thinking through, I think. Gaza is something he is exploiting, certainly, but it is only one part of the mix. www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=61557377039112

Phil said...

Cheers for that John, very useful.