Saturday, 3 February 2007

West Midlands Socialist Party Regional Meeting

Yes, that's right, another post on another meeting. Casual readers could be forgiven for thinking I don't do anything but sit in meetings and rush home to blog about them. And those readers would be right ;)

Today's meeting in the shining metropolis of Birmingham was the first Saturday regional get together of West Midland Socialist Party members for aeons. Comrades from around the region descended upon New Street in the morning and cleaned up in papers sold and money raised. Then it was onto the famous United Services Club, Brumland's slightly pokey answer to the capital's Conway Hall and Friends Meeting House.

The assembled came to listen to H, up from the centre, on the organisational challenges facing the party. The second session, on the party paper, its role and how we sell it will be visited in part II of this post tomorrow.

Before she got into the meat of the matter H put our party in political and economic context - the mainstream political monolith around neo-liberal policies, the sporadic but constant attacks on the working class, growth fuelled by debt and so on. H noted these had not provoked mass action by the class because of the drip-drip character of assaults and the inability and unwillingness of most union leaderships to take a lead in opposing them. The struggles against the NHS cuts are typical of this. It seems Unison in particular is hell bent on protecting New Labour, regardless of the cost to its members. In the absence of this lead, generally speaking the class's capacity to think itself as such, recognise its interests and self-organise in pursuit of them remains at historic lows.

This has meant in many ways our party has had to substitute itself for the campaigns that in previous periods would have developed spontaneously. For example, in many parts of the country groups protesting against NHS cuts would not have come into existence if it were not for the lead our party has taken in setting them up. This was certainly the case in Stoke. Unfortunately this has meant our eye has been taken off the organisational ball somewhat. Paper sales, monies raised, cadre development have proceeded well this past year but recruitment and retention has remained more or less at the same level.

The situation cannot continue. A recruitment campaign will be launched at congress in two weeks time (targets subject to the vote). This is not a bureaucratic quick-fix, it means honestly looking at the strengths and weaknesses of our branches, our ways of working, but emphatically not standing back from what we already do. We do pick up members from this activity but this is a by-product of the work, it is not something we consciously set out to do. Therefore we need to be prepared to ask more often, and have a division of labour in place to make the most of the contacts we're in touch with.

Turning to the calibre of members recruited over the last couple of years, H noted many who are coming to us are not raw, but already consider themselves to be socialists and at times repeated visits to discuss matters may be necessary to win these contacts to the organisation. Also on this theme recruiting young people needs to be a pivotal concern - the young are more likely to join and remain members. To borrow H's phrase, if a branch is entirely composed of comrades in their 60s even then youth work needs to be a priority. Her final point was the patient quiet work we do now, recruiting here and there, building our strength in unions and workplaces, will stand us in good stead when mass movements do erupt.

The meeting opened to contributions from the floor. TN argued that the period dating from the collapse of Stalinism has been difficult and our organisation has shrunk, but the organisation itself was maintained and to an extent the party's analysis of the period helped insulate the cadre. Now, with the labour movement in a decrepit state the job facing our party is going out and creating our audience. We should remember why we joined and use these experiences to inform our recruitment practices.

L, as a comparatively new member talked about how discussions and chats were crucial in bringing her to the party. G added that the branch meeting shouldn't necessarily be the first point of contact someone new has with the party - the idea of coming into a room full of strangers tends not to be the most inviting prospect for some. Returning to a theme touched on by other contributors, he admitted the campaigning ground work we do now does put pressures on the organisation but today's spadework means we won't have to organise "everything" in the future, as activists beyond our ranks are developed and the class finds its feet again.

Very often socialists who've been burned by their experience with "the sects" claim they put the narrow interests of the group before the broader interests of the class. I'm sure helpful readers will point out occasions when they think Militant/SP are guilty of this. But now, in 2007, being a member and recruiting to our organisation is to take part in the task of rebuilding the labour movement, and therefore the potential of our class to act. In this case at least, we "have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole".


Louisefeminista said...

"Then it was onto the famous United Services Club, Brumland's slightly pokey answer to the capital's Conway Hall and Friends Meeting House".

Ah, those were the days.... Attended many a meeting at the United Services Club in the good old 1980s.

Red Cynic said...

Any discussion on those indiscriminate arrests of Muslims over in Birmingham?
Did any of your comrades attend the rather lively meeting yesterday?
Guess not, looks like Respect has got the upper hand on this.

Phil said...

It did get a mention, but only a mention. As for the meeting, I don't know. Not every Westmids comrade was there. Guess we won't know until the next issue of The Socialist comes out.

Red Cynic said...

Thanks for that info comrade Phil.
Nothing on national SP website or your Stoke SP site, considering its the biggest story up your way, isn't it letting the side down a bit?
Compare it to
Its headline news. Cllr Salma Yacoob (one of their better representatives in my opinion) has been on national radio all week. If a similar arrests are made in Coventry, can we expect cllr Nellist to make a similar intervention?
Or is the SP trying to pander to BNP voters while ignoring the most opressed sections of our community?

Red Cynic said...

Why don't you post on it as you're relatively local? Or does the SPs narrow economism mean that the views of lumpen grunts and petit bourgouis wannabees who may vote BNP (an extremely tiny minority of the working class) set the agenda?

Paul Hunt said...

hello red cynic,

not being rude but who the fuck are you?
ive just come back from campaigning in a bedworth by election for a pro nhs, pro labour movement candidate, trying to win people away from the bnp. you may call them lumpen grunts, i call them disillusioned working class people. your attititude is astonishing.

Paul Hunt

Red Cynic said...

I am Red Cynic, who by the way has spent all my adult life on the anti imperialist left both in Britain and abroad. So who the hell are you? Please don't be so rude if you don't mind, I haven't insulted anybody so far. All I was doing was asking Phil if those raids in Birmangham came up at your meeting and what was the local SP branches doing around it. I am astonished that as a leading organisation on the left is wasn't even discussed and a statement and/or press release issued. after all it was on Phils patch and happened to piss off a lot of working class people in Birmingham and elsewhere, including no doubt a lot of SP members.
So you let a tiny minority of grunts set the agenda? Did you mention racism, defence of asylum seekers, racism, imperialism, all issues that affect working class people in your election material by any chance?

Red Cynic said...

Look Paul, I dont know who you or Phil are, am perfectly happy to engage with you on what I and no doubt you guys consider important issues for the left, lets just try to keep it comradely and not to make it personal and insulting,ok?

Paul Hunt said...

Hi CR,

thats fine, but perhaps we could start by not calling working class people who are being tempted to vote BNP 'grunts'.

i am a member of the SP in Coventry. what orgs / campaigns are you / have you been involved in comrade?


Red Cynic said...

Excuse me, I can call people what the fuck I like, it wasn't a personal insult at you. did I call you a grunt? No, so chill out. Economism again.
Ill do another post about me soon, just got to go get some fags

Red Cynic said...

There is a fine working class tradition of saying what you mean, ie a spade is a spade.

Mark P said...

One of the best indicators that someone on the British left these days is a complete and utter crazy left is when they start slinging the word "economism" about with abandon.

For the record, the arrest of a few people in connection to an alleged kidnapping plot is not the biggest issue facing socialists in Birmingham or anywhere else. If people are fitted up and convicted of a crime they didn't commit then that would be a major issue to campaign around. That isn't currently the case, you know, and the information available to socialists at the moment about what exactly is going on is limited to say the least. Respect may be willing to launch a campaign on the basis of next to zero knowledge of what happened, but I'd suggest that people who are a bit more serious about their politics and a bit less concerned with semi-communalist electioneering would wait until they actually had some idea. What are you suggesting? That we should run about telling people that it's a disgrace that anyone was arrested because somehow we know that nobody in Britain could possibly be crazy enough to do something like that?

The Socialist Party, by the way, has a long record of campaigning for people who have been wrongly accused or convicted of crimes. We also have a long record of campaigning against racism and for that matter of opposing the scapegoating of Muslims.

Red Cynic said...

Hello Mark!
Dont understand what you say about the left and economism? Its also known as "vulgar Marxism" Do you prefer that term? I don't.
I think the mass arrest of Muslims under the terrorism act with possible 28 day detention is an issue for socialists. As you well know not many end up being charged, so statments/press releases condemning such practises would be seen as something positive by the local working class community.
Im not a member of Respect, in fact im homeless party wise at the moment. Last thing I was in was the Socialist Alliance until you guys and the SWP fucked it up and it all ended in tears. I may well join whatever new workers party comes along, btw hows that campaign going? Has it ben put on hold due to a lack of interest?
As far as Im concerned the Brit left are a really bad bunch and nothing at the moment seems to be the best of that really bad bunch. The SP get some things right and Respect do well in others.
Yes Im well aware of the SPs admirable record on some things, and those of you who Ive known through the years, are actually a good bunch of guys, and a good laugh, and I would probobaly trust them at the barricades more than any other Brit group.
Can you tell me why at every election, the SP literature omits any mention of racism, defending asylum seekers etc. even at these critical times when the BNP are jackbooting all over the place and New Labour and the gutter press are persecuting asylum seekers big time?

Phil said...

Well Cynic, if memory serves we did have something about racism in the election leaflets we put out in Abbey Green last year. This, please note is a ward where the BNP won.

If you are an old sweat on the British left you will know our organisation has a proud record of facing down the fascists, be it on the streets or at the ballot box. We're not afraid of defending oppressed minorities and challenging prejudice or bigotry. Believe me the amount of arguments we've had on stalls with people who blame nurses from overseas for the crisis in the NHS, or asylum seekers and Poles for Stoke's shit wages are countless. Everytime we're out you are guaranteed to come across at least one quite happy to spout on these topics. Therefore if we as an organisation ducked these issues we would be woefully unprepared to sell our ideas in our public activity.

On the Brum arrests, I'm afraid your comments have more of a whiff of London-centrism about them. You might not be aware of it but Stoke is an entirely separate city to Birmingham. There is plenty for us to do here without dropping everything and making an intervention on an issue where next to no information has been released.

Nor do I feel obligated to blog about it. I talk about things I know. I don't suffer the little Lenin syndrome and so I will not be making an arse out of myself by pretending to know what I talk about. Besides, I have a difficult enough time not making myself look foolish talking about the stuff I *do* know ;)

Red Cynic said...

I am aware that Birmingham is a different city to Stoke! You said that the WM cdes had a meeting there, so why not release a statment/press release? Im realy surprised that it was hardly mentioned, it should have been! If its good enough for Respect to inervene, its good enough for you, come on you can and should do better than them! Miaow!
What about your Birmingham cdes?
East London cdes did intervene after the Forest Gate raids, went on demos, held public meetings in the area etc. good for them, exemplary work. Newham in East london has a similar ethnic and social mix to inner city Birmingham. Social issues such as health, housing are identical and its the working class muslim community whos at the bottom of the pile.
You may have anti racist material in your particular material, but what I have seen of SP election literature, its hardly mentioned.
I like to think Im not London centric, I love the big Northern cities. I admit i may have a predudice against the mainly white drossvilles like Barking, even though that is technically in London. These places in outer London, Kent and Essex is where whith londoners move to to escape multiculturalism, so it would have more than its fair share of racists who would naturally be drawn to the BNP, especially when multiculturalism eventualy reaches them.
Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Newham for example are a lot poorer according to every indicator of social deprivation, and they are still majority white working class with large ethnic minority working class population. But unlike Barking and other similar places The BNP don't stand much of a chance in these places.
My point is its a very tiny minority who vote for the far right, a lot less than in other European countries.

Phil said...

I can't speak for the Birmingham comrades. If they do intervene I'm sure we'll hear about it.

As for the BNP, I do agree with you. One point often not picked up on by the left is that despite all the hostility to immigrants, despite the daily outpouring of xenophobic bile in the press, the BNP still only has 50 odd councillors. Obviously we'd love that many but in the gran scheme of things it means nothing.

However despite their size the far right populism they espouse has struck a chord in a significant layer of the white working class. Not all of these will be willing to support or vote for the fash, but it helps reinforce the barriers we socialists have to break down if our class is ever going to be in the position of remaking society. That's why anti-BNP work is important and why we shouldn't write off this section of the class, which you give the impression of doing.

Off to bed, nite.

Red Cynic said...

Where did I get that impression? I meant to say is some, a small minortiy, not all white working class people move out of inner city areas to escape multiculturalism. Anyone who cant see this is in serious denial.
As far as my prjudices against the mainly white drossvilles, you can condemn me for that, but it is shared by a lot of people, including some of your ceds who would rather not go to these places unless they had to, and definetely wouldnt live there unless they were truly desperate! And as I said before these places are generally not as poor as mutii racial inner city areas. So Im not writin off the most opressed sections of the working class white or otherwise.
Anti BNP work is very important, so is socialists grabbing the bull by the horns and saying what we mean, without apology, none of should believe in immigration controls for example and we have to be honest and show leadership and be pro active in what we say and stand for, not everything we say is going to be popular, for example not every strike has mass public suport, but we don't hesitate that its the right thing to do. Same with defending asylum seekers and asserting their right to be here as well as demanding jobs, housing, hospitals, schools for all.
In my opinion its more important to have well positioned socialists in trade union NECs where thty can do more useful work than having councillors who can be pretty impotent in numbers against large tory and new labour majorities.