Friday 15 January 2010

Trade Unionist & Socialist Coalition: Prospects

This week's issue of The Socialist carries an article on the official launch of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC, or 'tusk'). This is basically No2EU without the embarrassing euroscepticism, the Alliance for Green Socialism (if you accept this Weekly Worker piece as good coin) and, more significantly, the Rail Maritime and Transport union. To try and dampen anticipated disappointment some comrades (not least Socialist Party members themselves) will have with the RMT executive's decision not to support TUSC, the article goes on to note that it still retains the support of Bob Crow, the Prison Officers' Association general secretary (and SP member) Brian Caton, and various national officers of the Public and Commercial Services union (i.e. in all probability, leading SP members in the union). It argues "While there is no formal involvement of a national trade union, this is still an important coalescing on the political plane of the most fighting trade union leaders in Britain today."

What prospects for the new formation? Leaving aside questions of electoral performance (which will surely be very modest outside 'star' candidates), there are two interrelated points against which it should be measured: can TUSC can break down the awful sectarian culture of the far left, and does it constitute a step toward a new left alternative.

On the first count, its potential is very mixed. Like No2EU and very much in line with the SP's favoured structure for alliances, TUSC has a federal character in the sense that a core series of policy positions exist but each participant is free to produce their own supplementary material. No one group rules the roost. This approach can provide a context for comradely relations across different organisations to grow "organically". But equally it can lock in the existing 'ourselves, alone' practice of the revolutionary left. With complete freedom for TUSC's components, would Communist Party comrades, for example, help out a SWP TUSC candidate (yes, they're sort of on board too) or concentrate their time and resources at a CPB challenge 20 miles up the road?

What about the role of independents? Again the federal structure is a double-edged sword. TUSC is operating a relatively open policy when it comes to candidatures. If left-inclined independents want to use its name for the general election, it's doubtful the steering committee would object (the cpgb's desire to use the name for their election campaign will probably be a different matter). But there's not a lot on offer for independents in areas where candidates are drawn from one of the core groups. Some might ask themselves if it's worth bothering participating in a campaign they have no say over.

Then there's the steering group itself. There are seats reserved for each of No2EU's core supporters, plus "stars" like brothers Crow and Caton. I imagine new "affiliates" would be co-opted - such as the SWP or localised groups like Wigan's Community Action Party - but, unfortunately, democracy is lacking. And where there is no accountability, the deliberations of the steering group are likely to remain opaque, just as it was in the secretive lead up to TUSC's appearance.

The next question to be asked of TUSC is what is it for? No2EU was very far from perfect, but at least for SP comrades there was a sense it was part of a process. Regular readers might want to cast their minds back to the European elections where I argued No2EU
was worthwhile because the RMT's involvement might have paved the way for other trade union-backed challenges in the future. As far as the SP was concerned, it offered an opening to advance its strategic perspective of founding a new workers' party. TUSC is viewed through the same prism. The article concludes it "is a modest but important step in the development of a movement of resistance".

The problem is, compared with preceding alliances in England and Wales, TUSC proceeds on a lower level than No2EU (i.e. lack of RMT), Respect (with its deep roots in a handful of communities) and the Socialist Alliance (which, despite its faults, developed its own relatively independent dynamic). It is more like the Socialist Green Unity Coalition - the skeletal electoral umbrella/non-aggression pact between several left groups during the 2005 elections - than its predecessors. It does possess more weight than the SGUC, but one shouldn't overstate the presence of comrades Crow and Caton. They will not deliver very many extra votes, nor is there any evidence they will attract union support from elsewhere (a point underlined by the No2EU experience). If the RMT were still officially involved (rather than its settled position of letting local branches determine who they wish to support, while the national union organises to make sure its sponsored Labour MPs are returned) it might be a different kettle of fish. But as it stands, regrettably, there's every danger TUSC could be less than the sum of its parts.

What makes this really frustrating is that after 15 years of regroupment projects, this is where the far left is at. Opportunities to lay the foundations for something lasting and with wider support has been squandered by sectarian interests, egos and petty control freakery, and each and every principal organisation of the far left shoulders a share of the blame. The lasting feature of our procession of unity initiatives has been the sinking of new wells of resentment - so much for the Marxist left being the socialist society of the future in embryo.

The window of opportunity the far left has had to make an impact outside its ghetto is closing. The Labour party is, once again, starting to look like the place where the issue of working class representation will be debated and contested in the coming years - despite the stranglehold of the apparatus and lack of meaningful democracy. This means TUSC's prospects, even if it becomes something more than an alliance of convenience, are probably very limited.

Alternative take on TUSC by Dave of Though Cowards Flinch


luna17 said...

I probably agree with everything in this very sober, level-headed assessment. The one thing I'd add - which is perhaps a little harsher than anything above - is criticism of both the Socialist Party and SWP leaderships for emphasising behind-the-scenes talks at national level in recent months, while abstaining from doing much at local level. Tyneside, where I am, provides a strong example - various non-aligned socialists have sought co-operation in the last six months, but without the backing of the local SP and SWP organisations. They have been awaiting a national deal to be cobbled together.

Dave Semple said...

I for one am less than impressed by TUSC, and I think the SP leadership has been disingenuous in how TUSC has been presented, as is shown by the pull-quote released by (one suspects) Hannah Sell:

"While there is no formal involvement of a national trade union, this is still an important coalescing on the political plane of the most fighting trade union leaders in Britain today."

I don't think it is an important coalescing. Far from it. The SP could run under its own name and achieve the same effect. TUSC is in fact the opposite of a coalition - it is the result of all erstwhile coalition partners doing a runner.

But that aside, my views haven't substantially changed from before TUSC was announced.

I was pleased to hear, however, that down in Soton and Portsmouth, the strength of the local RMT has been put towards unity, and pooling the SWP and SP activists together, potentially to fight for an agreed-upon candidate. This is different to what I'd originally heard, which was that the RMT branch in Portsmouth had already decided upon its own candidate and was backing him regardless of what the Left groups did.

aberfoyle said...

Fair call, yet it has to be appluaded moving in a positve direction, if they can get Solidarity and with further discussion Repect, there you go.

Anonymous said...

Frankly if some on the left spent a bit more time 'doing' and a bit less time blogging these sort of projects would move forward far faster!

Clive (Nuneaton)

Dave Riley said...

Exploring an alternative way forward which is open  and  accountable: This vox pop video explores a rich vein of optimism and confidence which also celebrates some small but significant steps out of the left ghetto in Australia. The issue as always is to do something by trying to change the world by best of the any means available to us rather than be holed up in a patented banker or be held hostage to myopia.

Phil said...

Yes Clive, the few dozen Marxists who set aside an hour or so of their spare time to write blogs are the ones responsible for the slow and frustrating pace of left unity. I couldn't agree more.

Anonymous said...

I can't see why CPGB candidates wouldn't be allowed to be part of the coalition.

I reality, while NO2EU had the formal backing of the RMT, active engagement was limited to individuals and branches - I suspect TUSC will engage at least as many - and possibly more, as RMT branches will have to consider their involvement trather than let the national union get on with it.

The federal structure is a huge strength at this stage, as it gives the exsisting left groups (the building blocks of any future formation) the opportunity to participate without the control freakery and conflict which derailed the SA and SWP-Respect.

That this Coalition may involve the SWP is positive and significant.

That the Coalition offers a chance to rebuild a united left in Scotland is hugely significant - and all pragmatic voices in the SSP should work hard to engage with TUSC.

The Labour Party is not, and will not become again, a vehicle for mass participation of the working class. The structures nolonger exsst in the LP for it to happen - to pose the LP as a more hopeful avenue of struggle than realignment of the left outside labour is wrong. The Campaign Group will be decimated by this election - over half of which are retiring from parliament anyway.


macullam said...

What Luna 17 is referring to is an attempt of the North East Shop Stewards Secretary (recently subject to a vote of no confidence) and a few others to give support to the Tyneside socialist Forum with out any discusion or agreement within NESSN.
It appears that SWP in the north east even left platform supporters are supporting TUSC.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately I can't see much to disagree with in this assessment, it's a pretty depressing situation.

The most frustrating aspect is that, once again, this new formation has been launched only a few months (potentially weeks) before a General Election, greatly reducing the potential for it to have much of an impact. It seems like little has been learnt from the disappointing vote for NO2EU.

Over last summer we were discussing plans in Carlisle to put up candidates in the local council and the General Election but put our plans on hold awaiting a decision from the steering committee in September. At the time this left us wondering whether a decision in the autumn would give us enough time to prepare for the election!

I disagree with this though:

The Labour party is, once again, starting to look like the place where the issue of working class representation will be debated and contested in the coming years

I think the decline of Western social democratic parties is terminal. Nothing that happens in Britain this year will halt or reverse this.

Also, I don't think you should dismiss Clive's suggestion so readily Phil. You'll notice that shortly after I stopped blogging this initiative was finally announced.

luna17 said...

macullam's comment is incoherent and I can't figure out exactly what they are trying to say. But just to clarify: I am referring to a meeting of 60 people last July then a meeting of around 45 people in September, which brought together a wide range of non-aligned left-wingers plus representatives from left-wing groups (though sadly not the Socialist Party).

This is the kind of local initiative that both SP and SWP could have got behind and helped provide shape and direction to. Neither party has done this - SP has continued to abstain completely, while SWP reps have effectively attended subsequent meetings as observers. I argued for more active and constructive participation while still a member of the SWP, a position which earned ferocious hostility within the party.

Part of the argument against us was that we should wait for a national deal, which was constantly 'just around the corner'. In fact we've lost valuable time: stronger local organisation and unity would have put all of us in a much better position now there IS a national agreement.

skidmarx said...

Maybe this as the theme song:
and this to describe the whole situation:

Mark P said...


Much of what you say is a reasonable enough assessment, if perhaps a touch pessimistic.

I think however that the last paragraph of your post is completely insane. There simply is no Labour left left.

The LRC, it's last significant institution, can muster about 200 activists to its open conferences. Its "youth wing" was weaker than the efforts of the piddling end of the Trot sect spectrum. The only reason anyone is even aware of the continued nominal existence of a Labour left is that a handful of bewildered, isolated MPs are still clinging on - and they will be lucky if there are more than about three of them left after the election.

Anonymous said...

i think phil's assessment is basically quite fair.

will local committees and branches be set up? will they have any democratic structure or say in the campaign? will they last beyond the election, leaving behind some form of unity in local areas? if not, why can't local branches keep going and actually do non- electoral campaigning against cuts / wars / privatisations etc?

i think a new socialist alliance, with individual membership and affiliations, is a v good idea. changing electoral name every 6 months and writing up new policy statements is evidently daft. we need a permanant organiaation that individuals can join and be active in, and that organisations can affiliate to (including left trade unions). such an organisation should develop a press, website, internal life etc. etc. and not be an electoral front.

whether the sp / swp or any other left group will actually initiate AND help build such an alliance, without wanting to dominate it or just recruit from it, remains unlikely.

as an aside phil, has there been any crack down on blogging in the sp? surely the so called 'democratic (bureaucratic) centralism' prevents you putting forward any non-official party positions in public?

anyway stop blogging and be more active phil, otherwise i will blame you for the state of the left too!


macullam said...

Luna 17,my comment is incoherent ? what has happened since september on Tyneside ? tyneside Socialist forum has been around for eons and made up of aged left liberal types including labour party members. I know of SP involvement in fact we have been involved since its inception but it has not developed beyond a polite talking shop.

The point I was trying to make was the NESSN was giving a push to support and even jointly sponsoring meetings with no mandate other than a whim of the former secretary.

Jim Jepps said...

I think this is a very fair minded assessment of the situation.

I also suspect that this initiative will fade away once the election is over. Those who have already done the work and laid the ground work will continue under their own steam as they would have whether this initiative existed or not, those who are only now thinking about possibly standing a candidate will have wasted a few months of effort with nothing to show for it at the end of it.

Unless the left changes it's modus operandi I suspect the next coalition will be announced a few months before the next significant election, possibly the next euro's in 2014.

If the left took elections as seriously as they took some of their other activities things might have looked very different. However, there are a few rays of light in the darkness and I'm more than happy to be standing in a sunny patch.

Highlander said...

The proliferation of left groups, and their seeming inability to unite under any umbrella banner for the purposes of elections, is a continued frustration. To an outsider it must often look like the 'Peoples Front of Judea'/'Judean Peoples Front' carry-on (pun intended) all over again.

The deference to central committees over localised activity is also a sticking point. Duncan said "this new formation has been launched only a few months (potentially weeks) before a General Election, greatly reducing the potential for it to have much of an impact" and then went on to say "Over last summer we were discussing plans in Carlisle to put up candidates in the local council and the General Election but put our plans on hold awaiting a decision from the steering committee in September" - why? Why didn't you just carry on with your plans at local level? People, in general, relate far more to local issues and activity than they do to national ones.

The far-right appears to comprise the BNP for electoral purposes and the EDL for intimidation purposes so, if you happen to be of that persuasion, then the choice is obvious. Not so on the Left which weakens it's impact.

Anonymous said...


Why didn't you just carry on with your plans at local level

It was to try and avoid one of the frequent problems of interventions in elections, the inability of leftist groups to stand in two successive elections under the same name.

The informal group in Carlisle discussing plans to stand in the elections was wider than the Socialist Party (there were only a couple of us here at that time) so we needed a name and policies acceptance to most in the group.

So having reached the conclusion to set up some sort of local group, and being aware of a movement towards a coalition nationally, we were faced with three choices: set up a local organisation with a name and policies then simply change these if and when a national coalition comes into being (which would be confusing), set up a local organisation regardless of what's happening nationally (potentially missing out on the benefits of nationally produced resources, election broadcasts, publicity, etc) or put up candidates as a local Socialist Party branch with our name and policies and tell everyone else involved to either join us, help us or get lost (which would have obviously alienated most people).

We decided to delay things locally until a national coalition was launched. Perhaps we were wrong to do that and should have set up a local independent organisation but I think to characterise what was a difficult decision made on the basis that we had highly limited resources and numbers as deference to the central committee is misleading.

That's why we didn't carry on with plans for an electoral intervention at a local level. These deliberations were not the sum total of our plans for 2010 though. All comrades here are involved in local campaigns or their trade unions anyway so our decision was not either we stand in the council and General Election or do nothing but what areas we prioritise.

Phil said...

Jota, I don't have any problem with the cpgb standing as TUSC candidates - but I imagine some on the steering group might. Assuming TUSC wants to reach out to trade unions there might be objections to the cpgb's forays into ultra left lunacy. Remember when they ran a students' union campaign that included the demand for a workers militia in their platform?

Phil said...

KS, I've never received censure or been pressured to moderate what I write. I think everyone who reads this knows I'm not speaking for the SP but for myself.

As for activity ... I do more than blog. It's just I choose not to write about a lot of it. Do comrades really want reports from my union branch committee and North Staffs TUC meetings?

Jim Jepps said...

Quite right Phil, me too. No one want to hear a blow by blow account of a leafletting session or every meeting I go to - particualrly the other I've just come back from.

Also like everyone sometimes I'm more active than at other times, I'm not sure I want to highlight when I'm going through a peak or a trough - it would feel like boasting when things are going well and embarressing when I'm not being very effective.

Phil said...

Re: the Labour party (Re: Jota, Duncan and Mark), first I don't think the LRC are the sole representatives of the Labour left. All they represent is that section of Labour closest to the politics of the far left (and not completely either - I know a handful of local Marxists in Labour who are not supporters of the LRC). The Labour left extends well beyond this into (some elements of) Compass and thousands of "unaligned" party members.

Second I cannot see how Labour will *avoid* a debate on the issue of working class representation. Of course it wouldn't use that language but it's there - just see the current debates in Labour between 'core vote' and 'aspirational' strategies. And that's before the election - what about after, assuming Labour is dumped from power? Nearly everyone is expecting it to tack left. The unions will certainly expect more 'old Labour' pro-worker policies given the party's current dependence on them for funding. Likewise the party cannot go on ignoring the more social-democratic minded activist base forever.

This doesn't mean the party can be "reclaimed" - after all Labour has only ever at best represented working class interests in an ambiguous fashion. But it commands not only the support of the bulk of trade unions - but also trade unionists too. And despite everything most of Labour's core working class support remains. I think it would be a very serious mistake if we pretended what happens in Labour has nothing to do with working class political representation.

Paul said...

This is an interesting debate. Phil (@ 19.27), I think you are dead right with your assessment of the Labour party. There are many more leftwingers currently unaliged within the Labour party than there allied to the LRC. While some may engage with Compass from time to time, Compass’s think tank structure doesn’t give it any activities actually to be part of, and the LRC for reasons I’m not quite clear on has not developed any organizational strength despite the best efforts of a few. The party’s numbers are not as reduced as the simple membership figures would have us think; many of the leavers of the party are the 1997 afficianados who fell out of love and out of membership when it was no longer sexy or respectable to be in the party, and while some leftwinger have gone to the SP etc, many more with decent organizational and political skills hewn from Labour party drudgery remain, ready to rekindle energies.

I’m quietly optimistic about a wing leftwards swing in the party post-election, even if Labour hangs on to power. I don’t think a possible decimation of Labour left MPs will hamper that; indeed it may actually aid it, in that the rank and file won’t be tempted – as they were post-1979 to look to the left on the PLP for a salvation they can’t deliver. The left will be forced to look to grassroots activity, aided by the technologies unavailable in 1979.

Likewise, the major changes in local government, and general disaffection with all think local democracy, will mean that the Labour left (I hope) won’t make the mistake of thinking that regaining city councils, and even announcing their leftwing ambitions, are the real deal; the loss of local democratic power will ensure there are n, or at least very few Liverpool c.1983-style pyrrhic victories. Instead, local activists will be forced to look to where power really lies.

And I think you’re right that there is already a discussion going on about the need to return to class-based politics and working class representation, even though the language used may be somewhat different. Again, this time round is different from 1979/80, when post-Marxist New Social Movements were gaining ground and taking over the ethos and activities of local Labour parties (as with your Gramsci post). This time around, that sexy new continental/’end of class’ appeal is not there.

This is not to say that I’m not in favour of other left parties doing their thing where they can and will, but I’m glad that you at least recognize there’s life in the old Labour dog yet, as long as it’s fed a healthy rehabilitative diet.

Highlander said...

Duncan, thanks. That makes sense now where the original comment didn't. Sorry you had to give me the wordy explanation all over Phil's comments page.

We still desperately need that umbrella organisation that all parties to the left of Labour (who isn't these days) can cleave to happily though.

Mark P said...

Jesus Christ, Phil, both you and Paul are arguing about imaginary armies. Of course there are some unorganised, bewildered, ageing, isolated, left wingers outside the LRC but they too are an irrelevance.

It's a frankly pathetic line of argument. Which is why quite quickly the two of you end up talking about Compass and "social democratic minded activists" and the like, when what you are actually talking about are people who are "left" in the sense that the Democrats are the left of the Republicans and not in any sense that is meaningful to socialists.

I repeat, the LRC is the only - the only - remaining institution of the Labour left. Everything else is gone or so tiny as to be utterly invisible. And yet the LRC operates on a scale significantly smaller than either the SWP or the SP, in fact on a scale closer to the runts of the Trot sect litter. This isn't because the LRC is wildly incompetent or because there are hordes of Labour leftists looking elswhere, it's because there isn't a significant Labour left for it to build something out of. So you get nonsense like your contribution above, a mixture of wishful thinking and self-delusion.

Anonymous said...

"As for activity ... I do more than blog. It's just I choose not to write about a lot of it. Do comrades really want reports from my union branch committee and North Staffs TUC meetings?"

I was only joking Phil, so no defence necessary! Your blog alone is good contribution to the movement anyway! Put the labour movement commission of enquiry into your activity levels on hold! hahah

As an aside, some thoughts on the Socialist Alliance, which stood 98 candidates in 2001 (ave. 1%).

It had the support of Matt Wrack (was he Gen Sec of FBU by then?) and Mark Serwotka, as well as other trade unionists. It did have some independent activists. It brought together most of the far-left and some (but not many it's true) labour lefts.

...and here we are, 9 years later, and do we have anything better? No.

I realise all the problems that existed in the SA. But these were in reality created by the SWP's extreme control freakery and eventual destruction of the SA. They wanted to control every little thing, over the candidates of course, leaflets, should we canvass or not(!) etc etc. True, they put resources in and helped to build it, but not build it as an independent democratic organisation.

The SP also needs to acknowledge that it failed to build the SA beyond a very lose federal alliance. It never took any initiative or responsibility to build it as a real organisation. It didn't recruit to it, help develop local branches, publications etc. etc. I can fully understand that it was worried the SWP would dicatate to it, but the answer to this was to build enough support within the SA to counter-balance the SWP.

We all need to analyse how we ended up in this mess, and aim to build a real democratic left unity organisation in the future.


Mark P said...

Matt Wrack was not General Secretary of the FBU back then.

Phil Brighton said...

I think this is a surprisingly downbeat look at the TUSC project.

How about this for optimism?

The coalition stands in a number of seats with RMT branches and regions backing a good number.

The RMT are involved in high profile industrial action before the election to to protect track maintenance jobs and rail safety.

This action brings more publicity to candidates than expected and helps the campaign.

The campaign decides to keep going after the election and the PCS after a their ongoing consultation is finished join in.

The next round of local elections sees the RMT officially back the coalition alongside PCS and a large number of well resourced candidates can stand.

This in turn brings more of the left on board and so on...

Now I am not saying this is the most likely outcome far from it, and no it isn't a proper analysis, but it is worth aiming for, surely...

Jim Jepps said...

Phil I notice your list doesn't include any candidates getting good results. I think that matters.

One of the problems with standing and doing badly is that people who support the candidate at that election tend to drop away for the next one and those who might have been tempted will be confirmed in their idea that it's not a realisitic choice.

It's demoralising to lose a deposit, crushing to get less than 1%.

The only left candidates that will do well are already in place so the vote of these candidates (let's say Dave N and Salma Y) wont actually assist the coalition continue.

I'm also wondering if this is actually a coalition or whether it is a non-aggression pact. Will members of rival groups travel to support 'their own' candidates or will they be enthuiasts in more local campaigns?

Jim Page said...

From scottish perspective, the SSP, once again, are not even being invited to any unity talks.

And although i genuinely wish people well, its only those candidates from a party whose name people recognise (Respect) or have local roots (SP in some areas) that have a hope of doing well. It is a positive that the SWP are putting up 6 candidates however.

All in all, and sorry to say, too little, too late to have much of an impact. Woudl agree with Jim Jepps that thsi is little more than a non agression pact- but welcome nevertheless

I can only hope the BNP etc don`t take advantage of this to pull even further from us in the election stakes- don't think they will do well as it goes

EddM said...

I more-or-less agree with this post.

I think Labour may well swing leftwards, but only rhetorically. This might make our job harder, but it doesn't mean the Labour Party will be any more "reclaimable."

Some of my own thoughts here:

Michael Fisher said...

The far left is in no condition to conduct a serious intervention into the forthcoming general election. It is tiny, bitterly divided, and lacks broader political legitimacy. To intervene in these conditions will do more harm than good.

Pitiful results will reinforce the dominant view inside the big unions that there is no feasible alternative to Labour. It will demoralise many of those who do the hard electoral leg-work. It will reinforce the view that the far left is an irrelevance to meaningful politics.

Losing your deposit (again) and getting less votes than the fascists (again) is hardly consistent with claiming to represent the 'real interests of the working class'.

Of course the leaders of these groups have a different view. It is important be 'bold' and offer a ‘real’ alternative they argue. To argue otherwise is to be guilty of 'pessimism' and/or possessing 'petit-bourgeois' tendencies.

In the midst of embarrassing electoral results they will over-generalise from the handful of less appalling results to argue that 'this shows what can be done'. The specificities that explain why certain candidates keep their deposits (such as 30 years of dedicated activism, including 14 years as a Labour MP, in the case of Dave Nellist) will be glossed over to suggest that workers are yearning for socialism if given the correct leadership.

Until the far left accept that the situation facing Marxists in Britain is not fundamentally a 'crisis of leadership', but is more fundamentally a crisis of subjectivity rooted in the historically unprecedented subordination of social life to capital, they will make little sustained impact.

The job now is to unite where and when we can, develop an adequate theoretical understanding of why we are where we are, and fight in those workplaces and communities where we have meaningful bases of support. We are in a period that requires patience, reflection, and taking small steps and part of a long-term strategy of regroupment.

Electoral interventions should only be considered in those localities where recent mobilisations of workers offer a real prospect of delivering significant electoral support. They should be used to help consolidate and build upon already existing struggles – not serve as indicators of political irrelevance.

Michael F

Phil said...

Sorry Mark, your description of Labour Party activists doesn't tally with my experience online and in the real world. Nor does your definition of what counts as left. I'm sure you wouldn't complain if a few thousand of these "unorganised, bewildered, ageing, isolated, left wingers" became involved in the process of working toward a new party? (Come to think of it, there's plenty of these types knocking about the Trotskyist left as it is!)

I'm not interested in creating imaginary armies. I'm interested in facts so we can determine where we are now. And it is simply untrue to pretend the meagre forces TUSC has behind it is more significant to working class politics than what goes on inside the Labour Party. Once again, Labour still commands the allegiance of tens of thousands of *lay* trade unionists, as well as the most significant unions themselves and millions of working class votes. My argument is we - as in the left outside had a chance to decisively break the mould of working class politics while Labour was under Blair's thumb - but now that political opportunity is changing, and not necessarily for the better as far as the far left are concerned. The new situation of a more leftish Labour in opposition presents building a lasting mass alternative with more of a challenge.

Phil said...

I knew you were yanking my chain, KS.

I agree with both your points about the SA. But on a point of trainspotterly trivia, Matt Wrack was then a member of the SP. He stayed on in the SA after the SP left (in a personal capacity?) and then dropped out the SP at some unspecified time between 2001 and his election as FBU gensec.

Btw, are you coming over to Stoke this Sat? Would be good to catch up :)

Phil said...

Phil Brighton, yes it's a pessimistic piece but then again the pessimism is well-founded. Look at the last 15 years of regroupment attempts - their fates don't exactly inspire confidence. Of course it would be great if TUSC put on flesh and became the core of something but surveying the situation we're in I can't see it happening. We will see what happens over the next few months.

Phil said...

To the Jims, I agree with you. And I fear what Michael F says is correct.

How can any of us who claim some kind of Trotskyist inspiration hope to lead the working class with all its contradictions, tendencies, uneven experiences and complexities if we can't sort ourselves out?

Anonymous said...

Surely, Phil, when the Tories win the election (or New Labour, we will see massive attacks on the public sector - which will provoke uneven but bitter resistance, as well as private sector industrial action as workers fight against below inflation price rises when petrol, food, and utilities go up.

New Labour will be in no position to channel this anger into their structures, and only partly into the polling booths on their behalf. Industrial conflict makes class conflict analysis more real to wider layers. We do not have a declining window but an opening window. Now is the time to build locally and nationally to be in a position to take advantage of the post election situation. This is the potential of TUSC.

Yes the last years have been disappointing in many ways - as you have analysed elsewhere the relative strength and flawed tactics of the SWP made left unity almost impossible in 1990s. We have an opportunity to show the SP will not blow it in the same way - hopefully with the SWP on board.

Yes the last years have been disappointing - but I guess the earlier efforts of Hardie and co were pretty unrewarding too - knocked back by theunion chiefs year after year - until the industrial situation matched the socialists' analysis - then a seismic shift occurred. Is it impossible to hope for and build for a simmilar seismic shift over a period of intensified class conflict?


Phil said...

You misread my point, Jota. I'm not arguing the Socialist Appeal position that masses of working class people are going to turn to Labour. I'm making a different point. And that is the remaining links Labour has with the labour movement and the working class at large means it will be a site, if not *the* main site where the crisis of representation will be debated and tackled. Because these links are real and exert a decisive influence over the labour movement today, I've never subscribed to the view that Labour is purely a bourgeois party - despite the policies it has pursued in office.

Prinkipo Exile said...

Whether the SP are serious about a broad based democratic organisation will be seen by their response to requests to participate.

For example, why have the SP not responded to Socialist Resistance's (the Fourth International in Britain) request to join TUSC?

This group participates in Respect but also favours broader left wing unity, so why the silence? It wrote to aske to affiliate to support No2EU last year, and some of its members were even No2EU candidates, but it was still kept out of the organisation.

As is well known, the Fourth International dissolved its French section to set up the NPA, which I believe the CWI in France supports, and the FI is also the main force behind the Portuguese Left Bloc and Danish Red-Green Alliance which I had thought the CWI also was supportive of? It was part of the SA with the SP well before the SWP became involved, and stuck to its guns when the SWP went loopy in Respect.

So why the silent hostility to SR from the SP?

Phil says seats will saved on the steering committee for those supporting it, so what about the seats vacated by the AGS, CPB and RMT? One is being reserved for the SWP, but what about SR?

If this sort of sectarian exclusion continues, then TUSC will go nowhere and the only effective left wing campaign at the General Election will come from Respect.

There's still chance to change direction, so Phil and other SPers, why not ask Dave Nellist and Clive Heemskirk, why they continue to ignore support from the one group that has shown itself to be seriously interested in left wing unity?

By the way, your position on the Labour Party is closer to that of SR than the SP, Phil.

Phil said...

I don't think it's a question of hostility, but rather indifference. I can imagine the calculations that are going on behind closed doors. The hope is "weighty" local community campaigns and the like will clamber on board, and so the committee isn't minded to accept all comers just yet. One reason I imagine is that the SP wishes to avoid TUSC being seen as an alliance of "the sects", which, if you follow the leadership's thinking, was one of the reasons for the original SA's failure.

As far as I'm concerned the behind the doors nature of the leading committee is making the whole exercise look farcical. SP members, generally speaking, are as much in the dark as you are.

Anonymous said...

''as an aside phil, has there been any crack down on blogging in the sp? surely the so called 'democratic (bureaucratic) centralism' prevents you putting forward any non-official party positions in public?''

That comment from KC is very right, I was told by a member of the SP if I wrote anything critical online about them then I would be kicked out.

Phil said...

It depends on who you ask, I guess. I would like to think this blog is living proof that SP membership does not require a lobotomy.

In one of the reports I read about Socialism 2009, Peter Taaffe apparently declared that the SP membership does need to be critical in order to hold him and the rest of the leadership to account. I've heard several leading members say the same things at several meetings over the years too.

I think comrades are fully aware that free flowing criticism and discussion is a necessity for any functioning Marxist organisation. Which is why I've never been "slapped down" for voicing my own opinions on here.

Liam said...

This is a measured and realistic assessment of TUSC. In particular it does not shy from pointing out the chronic lack of democracy which seems to be an integral part of the project.

Without clear democratic processes any formation of this type is going to be attractive to only tiny numbers of activists and that seems to be soemthing the British far left is incapable of grasping.

Rev9 said...

As most have commented, this is a very good and fair assessment (which, of course, is ultimately a shame). Are the CP even on board any more? I lost count of their turns on this one and I can't see anything on their site.

The secretive, last-minute discussion process that has characterised the formation of the group is perhaps the most depressing element. I wonder Phil, is this something that has been debated inside the Socialist Party? I'm not hearing much enthusiasm about TUSC even from its own ranks - generic 'what we really need is...' comments in 'The Socialist' aside - but has this disappointment led to internal criticism? (That's not meant as a sectarian finger-wag, by the way, I'm just interested to know what the feeling is.)

'And that is the remaining links Labour has with the labour movement and the working class at large means it will be a site, if not *the* main site where the crisis of representation will be debated and tackled'

This is precisely right and crucial for socialists to grap now - we have to have a sophisticated analysis of the current dynamics of reformism and social democracy if we are to have a hope of intervening with any effect. But I have to say this has been one of the greatest weaknesses in the 'Militant' tradition (on either side of the mirror) - there exists only this binary analysis of reformist organisations, where either they are 'workers' parties' which form the chief site of working class political engagement, or they are 'bourgeois parties' which bear no relation to the former.

I think we all know that neither this black or white picture holds, leaving both Socialist Appeal and the CWI's understanding of the LP and reformism as deeply flawed. (I've always thought it amusing that, with the split in the CWI, 30 former 'workers'' parties - suddenly, in synchronicity - became bourgeois parties... as the Taafe side saw it.) We all know why SA's approach is a dead end. But the SP's position is also seriously limiting - there was and never will be any subliminal state transformation between 'workers'' and 'bourgeois' parties - and thus there is no great vacuum that can unproblematically be filled by a campaign for a new workers' party, no matter how common-sense one themselves believes thair position to be. Engaging with the decay and transmutations that have occurred in European social-democracy is such a more complicated, difficult thing.

Phil said...

I can't speak for the rest of the organisation, but we haven't debated TUSC as such in our branch. We have debated the feasibility of standing a candidate in the general election (see here) under the TUSC name, which looks like it's happening.

There is a regional conference taking place at the end of the month in Coventry. If there is a debate this will be the forum for it. My suspicion however is most comrades will get their heads down and work hard, as they did with No2EU.

I agree with your points about Labour btw.