20 June 2010

TUSC will return in...On Her Majesty's Secret Service

Good news greeted us last Sunday, as the meeting of Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidates in London decided that TUSC will continue in future elections.

This is an undoubtedly positive development. While TUSC did not achieve an electoral breakthrough, the mere existence of an alternative to Labour that trade unions can support and stand candidates with accomplishes plenty. I will confess I wasn't crazy about the results — I was hoping to at least reach 1% in Cardiff Central. But we received lots of open support from the trade union movement and plenty more quiet whispers; as Labour shambles toward political uselessness TUSC will grow to become a genuine, fighting left alternative, the basis for a new workers' party. I'm proud to have gotten out on the street and campaigned for Ross Saunders and I'm proud of each of those 167 votes we got.

It is insufficient, though, for TUSC to simply repeat itself in the Welsh Assembly elections in the same form, with the same people. In particular, in Wales, where we stood in two seats, TUSC today basically is the Socialist Party (the SWP contributed a little in Cardiff), and while it's good that our success means we have enough members to run a campaign from within our ranks, this is also not something that we should be doing. More important than standing in any particular seat is building the trade union tie, and building a socialist alternative across the entire working class. The working class needs a left political alternative, now. The cuts are coming, now. We face unique challenges in Wales, and we face them now. We must move forward, now.

So I'd like to put forward the following proposals for TUSC in Wales:

TUSC in Wales must be Welsh TUSC. From both outside and within, the way the United Kingdom is stitched together makes no real sense. One set of rules describes Scotland's place, another set describes Wales's, and no rules at all seem to describe England's place in the whole thing — the underlying assumption being "whatever England wants, England gets". But Wales has won its own Assembly, and Wales Secretary Gillan's chilly reception recently tells us the Assembly, if it will let itself, is willing to use all the powers it has just for the sake of annoying Westminster. We also have an excellent chance to get more powers: the powers referendum is coming and probably will come before the Assembly elections. A yes vote in the powers referendum, if that referendum called for full powers, would be a hugely positive step not just for the Welsh working class but for the struggle to democratize Britain as a whole. Yet we face the fact that there are three million people in Wales and fifty million in England; TUSC in England and Wales would get sucked into the dark vortex of council elections and leave Wales by the wayside, concentrating all its effort on the place where the fewest gains are possible. (TUSC campaigners from Swansea and Cardiff went up several times to Coventry to help campaign for our councilors there; I have no doubt the Cov comrades will come down here in the run up to the referendum!) If the referendum passes, and I think the odds are good, we do face a new political reality in Wales, one where we will be at a parity with Scotland and the case for organizations parallel to Scotland's will be just as tight. People who support Scottish devolution, either within political parties or within the British state, but who oppose Welsh devolution often argue that in Scotland, but not in Wales, there is a tradition of independence. If I was interested in tradition I would have joined a folk-dancing team; instead, I joined a political party. We should not ignore the situation now, when Wales is demanding more autonomy, and find ourselves forced to react to an easily-anticipated set of circumstances; it is far better to be pro-active and build Welsh TUSC now, fighting for full powers today, for good candidates in the Assembly tomorrow, and for the unique needs of the Welsh working class in Britain in the years to come.

Welsh TUSC must democratize. It is a truism that a mass working class organization without democratic oversight is, ultimately, doomed to hold the workers back. TUSC nationally, I am sad to confess, does not come across as a hugely democratic organization. The Weekly Workerhave a point when they criticize TUSC as "bureaucratic, top-down and secretive"; Workers' Liberty is correct to say that "open, on-going democratic discussion is the only way to forge solid and genuine left unity" although, as we say in mathematics, such a condition is necessary but not sufficient. I've spoken with both Clive Heemskerk and Dave Nellist and I'm reasonably confident there were no shenanigans intended; while there is, within any project dominated by a single political party, a natural desire for that party to centralize & control the project, I don't think it's conscious. Rather, the organizational problems in TUSC stem from the following premises and pressures:
1. The tie with trade unions & the organized working class is of paramount importance. If it comes down to a choice between getting one trade union on board with TUSC or one small left group, we need to go with what the trade union wants. If a trade union we're working with has misgivings about being in a formation with a small left group...well, our job is to elevate the consciousness of the trade unions, not abandon them when they don't do what we suggest.

2. We were in a hurry. I said it when TUSC was launched and I'll say it now: the biggest, most fundamental problem with No2EU and TUSC was that everything was put together in such a damn rush. Some of this is down to the nature of a federal organization of democratic centralist groups, and I don't have a solution: if a proposal originates in one part of TUSC, it would need to go to the executive of the originating group, be discussed, then go to the steering committee to be discussed, then put around to the executives of all the other participating groups to be discussed...at each step slowed by whatever group had to wait longest for their next executive meeting. Premise (1) above, meanwhile, meant that we in the Socialist Party couldn't and shouldn't have just proclaimed TUSC to exist and expected the trade unionists to climb on board. The discussions for the 2010 election should have started in 2008, in order to have things ready in time and use the EU elections as a flame-tempering; but instead the discussions started in January 2010 for an election that formally started in April.

3. We didn't want another Socialist Alliance or Respect. I wasn't here when the Socialist Alliance fell apart and I wasn't politically active during the Respect split, so everything I've heard about what happened is second-hand. My understanding of the Socialist Party's experience in the Socialist Alliance, though, is that it perceives incompletely-thought-out democratic mechanisms as having been abused, leading to a shutdown of meaningful democracy, while the trade union links were never forged. The Socialist Alliance's failure reinforced the desire to keep a firm hand on the tiller and insur against any sort of attempted takeover of TUSC. In hindsight, this response was probably an overreaction.

In any case, we now do have the time to do things right, the trade union links are being made and made quite fast, and in Wales at least the numbers game has changed; rather than resist other organizations' attempts to take over the formation, we have to resist our own desire to control it absolutely. The obvious solution to this is a living TUSC, with public meetings seeking consensus decisions on policy and with total review of candidate selections and campaign strategies, drawn from not just partisans and party full-timers but the broader working class.

Welsh TUSC must broaden. At the moment TUSC operates on two layers: the level of political parties and on the level of trade unions. I won't claim that, merely by existing, TUSC deserves the votes or support of either of these groups; but I think it's fair to say that we are now a natural pole of attraction for them. For the moment, though TUSC is something that for most trade unionists in Wales was merely there and gone again, if they heard of us at all. This must be overcome. When we appear at trade union events, the TUSC banner should fly alongside or even above the Socialist Party banner; in the unions without political affiliation (e.g. PCS or UCU) we should seek the explicit support of the organized united lefts and local branches in Wales. TUSC needs to be a name people know; we get on the streets at elections but why pass up the opportunity to do joint left work, drawing in a broader layer of the working class, in "ordinary" time, especially in this building time of struggle?

Hence of course we must broaden at the level of political parties as well.

There really is no reason not to include the Communist Party of Great Britain or Workers Power, who have been critically supportive of TUSC, in future campaigns, while the objections raised by AWL have been answered by what is outlined above. The CPGB took part in campaigning in Wales already, and it was absolutely right to include them; we shouldn't turn anyone away who's on the side of the working class, and if we're confident in our arguments then the smaller groups pose no threat politically (if, meanwhile, the smaller groups are winning arguments in open, fully-informed discussion, it means we're doing something wrong anyway). Besides, in the current political climate th media will call us "scary and dangerous" for demanding a raise in the minimum wage; groups to the Socialist Party's left must generally note the progressive nature of TUSC's platform as something that can be critically supported.

Meanwhile, in its position as a party thoroughly Fourth International but willing to talk to the British inheritors of the Third, the Socialist Party can play a key role in bringing organizations to our right (e.g. the Communist Party of Britain, the Socialist Labour Party, in the case of the CPB taking advantage of their federal structure) into activity. We can also bring the Alliance for Green Socialism, which comported itself well and which stood in Northeast Wales, back into the fold; I have heard many reasons why they were not part of TUSC, but none of those reasons have been good.

On the whole, it would be nice to get as many people who call themselves liberators of the working class in the same room, on the same campaign. It would be nice — but it is also not the point. Something we hear often from the less-organized left is "why can't all you little parties get together?" This puts the following analogy in my mind: when the first asteroids were discovered, all in similar orbits between Mars and Jupiter, the idea was quickly advanced that the asteroids were all part of a planet that had been catastrophically destroyed. One problem with this hypothesis is that the supposed planet would, itself, have been so tiny as to have barely been worth noticing. You will never create a mass party out of just sticking together the current memberships of all the left parties (I'd be surprised if you got more than about 11,000 people).

Welsh TUSC must deepen. The end goal of this assemblage of partisans is not to assemble partisans; but rather, any socialist who's doing it right is active in their trade union, in their community, in their university, that is, building an activated working class that can be a mass base for a new workers' party. Accumulating political parties and the tops of trade unions is a means to an end and treating it as anything more is subsitutionism. Furthermore, as Trotsky reminds us, trade unions at their peak include no more than a quarter of the working class. The day when TUSC becomes something really capable of meaningful change is not when the first trade union affiliates to it but when it begins to accumulate workers in the thousands from outside the trade union movement, people from the community, people for whom TUSC membership leads to trade union membership rather than the other way around. This day is the moment we should build for and it will be brought about not through a trade union fetish — we know from experience that a trade union leadership much more advanced than, but detached from, its rank and file can lead to inadvertent disaster — but through community work, which by its nature builds not within a particular sector of the economy but across several sectors. When we campaign in the streets in defense of our communities, say for example against an incinerator being built against the wishes of working-class residents, it is best to do so with the TUSC banner above us. If electoral success is to be a goal at all, it will be achieved only through being recognized in the broader community.

Welsh TUSC must stand. There is no doubt, meanwhile, that electoral activity is of growing importance in Wales. Standing in South Wales and looking east, the Big Four form a syzygy of failure: Labour and Plaid Cymru govern in Cardiff Bay, gleefully handing blame for savage cuts off to Tories and Liberal Democrats who rule from far Westminster. Nowhere else in Britain are all the big parties of capitalism and class-collaboration so effectively refuting themselves in word and deed. Not to take advantage of this opportunity would be tactically disastrous, but what is more the Welsh working class want us to succeed; I hardly need to mention the long, successful history of independents and small parties in Wales compared to Britain as a whole. We sit electorally now where the Greens were ten or fifteen years ago, with sympathies rising quickly. Meanwhile, if we did not stand — whom, exactly, would we call for a vote for? Headless Welsh Labour? Schizophrenic Plaid Cymru? Class-dumb Greens? Welsh politics demands we take up the role of left alternative out of sheer desperation!

Welsh TUSC must get underway now. We can do great things, with proper organization. We will not win AMs in 2011 unless the stars align as they never have before. Other voices will take up the call, in their own ways, for a successful powers referendum vote. Our guidestar is not the 2011 election, or the 2012 election, but what now seems to be a point at infinity: where will the organized working class stand when capitalism breaks down again? Will our voice be loud enough to be heard when people ask for fresh answers to the oldest social question? Market economics is intrinsically unstable, more so now than in decades. It does not follow a law of averages, crises are not "early" or "due". The next financial collapse could come in ten years, or in ten days; today, in June 2010, nobody on Earth can predict the economic outlook we will face in May 2011. Hence, if we are resolved that TUSC should go forward at all, and if we have some picture in our minds as to what role it should play, the work of realizing that picture must begin now. Complacency negates the predictive power of all the historical analysis we do; rather than tell ourselves "we must be ready by" such and such a date, instead we should seek to be as ready as we can be at any time. While we do our campaigning, we cannot afford to wait for a rest break to build TUSC's democratic structures; rather than set those structure in stone first and present them as a fiat, we should include our comrades in their drafting and implementation, openly and fairly; working with those comrade we should bring a TUSC message, supplemented by each of our parties' messages, to the working class, grimly confident that British capitalism will provide us with so many immediate crises, multiplied in severity in Wales but with the greatest opportunities before us, that the debate over analysis of the class character of the Soviet Union cannot become overriding; and we should take up every opportunity to advance this TUSC message, the simple and iconic message of Marx & Engels followed by the statement of TUSC which we must make true: "Socialism is the doctrine of the conditions of the liberation of the working class." TUSC is the biggest formation in Britain interested in liberating the working class, and the one most capable of doing so. TUSC is made of ordinary people working to free each other. Join TUSC and we will help to free you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

TUSC is a waste of space that is going nowhere. Just because you look like Allen Ginsberg doesn't make you right.