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The cynicism that lies behind the Socialist Party claim to want a merger with Labour

Dave Nellist of TUSCI read with interest that the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) have decided to stand aside at a February council by-election in the Lower Stoke ward of Coventry. According to the Cov Telegraph, TUSC are seeking talks with Jeremy Corbyn about a merger between TUSC and Labour, and an alliance to fight the next round of local government cuts the Tories are due to impose on councils. Speaking for TUSC, Dave Nellist (who else?) said:

Unfortunately TUSC hasn’t yet had the opportunity to sit down with Jeremy to discuss what he can do to get Labour councillors, in Coventry and elsewhere, to refuse to implement Tory cuts … So, on this occasion, the Socialist Party (SP) has agreed not to stand a candidate, so that there is no artificial obstacle to having that discussion with Jeremy and his supporters …”

Dave goes on to say that TUSC are happy to have conversations with Jeremy supporters “serious about fighting the cuts.” But if nothing is forthcoming, “any politician who votes for cuts cannot expect to have a free run at the ballot box, no matter what party label they wear.”

You’ve got to admire the chutzpah. For one, TUSC is but a minnow set against the Greens, let alone Labour – and that was before the Corbyn surge had taken place. We’re talking no more than 2,000 people here on paper as against Labour’s 380,000-odd. Second, TUSC as such doesn’t exist. It’s a banner the Socialist Party and a smattering of SWP candidates and independent lefts choose to use at election time, and apart from a conference here and there and placards on demonstrations, it has no independent dynamic of its own. The fact Dave himself interchangeably uses SP and TUSC to refer to the same entity suggests this assessment is shared by the (nominal) leader of this still-born project. And thirdly, their election results are almost universally embarrassing. Of the 257 local council by-elections in 2015, it could only muster challenges in 15 seats and accumulate a grand total of 878 votes between them. I would say TUSC is in Elvis Bus Pass Party territory, if it wasn’t for the fact he routinely beats them at the polls.

Okay, let’s cut the crap. Rolf Harris has a greater chance of resurrecting his national treasure status than the SP “merging” with the Labour Party. You, me, even the old bloke from the John Lewis Christmas campaign knows this. And, yes, that wouldn’t have slipped the notice of Dave and the SP executive committee either. What is going on? Is this a genuine offer to unite against the cuts, or is there more afoot?

Whatever one thinks of the SP, they are committed socialists. Their strategy might be less than optimal and counter-productive to the interests of the labour movement on occasion, but it is sincerely held. That, of course, doesn’t rule out the use of cynical tactics to advance one’s agenda. Anyone and everyone active in politics will have done so at some point, be it a little white fib on the doorstep, the use of petitions that were never meant to get delivered, or shafting someone for the greater good. I’m afraid to say this alliance-talk is also a transparently cynical move.

Since 1992, coincidentally coinciding with the abandonment of Labour Party entryism by Militant, the SP have held that it is a “capitalist party” and the chief political objective of the labour movement is to set up a new workers’ party that can represent the interests of our class. This view is based on an understanding of Labour bequeathed to the communist movement by jolly old Lenners’ speech to the 2nd Congress of the 3rd International. Though not a phrase of Lenin’s, ‘bourgeois workers party‘ is a formulation routinely used in far left circles. It describes how Labour is a contradictory fusion of a pro-capitalist leadership and a mass of proletarians whose interests ultimately lie in an antagonistic direction.

While right at a superficial level, it’s a touch more complex than that. As far as the SP were concerned, entering Labour and recruiting to their undercover revolutionary outfit was justified because that’s where the workers were. After 1992, those workers were abandoning the party and so reasoned that pickings would be juicier on the outside. But in so doing, they argued that Labour had become a straight party of capital no different in qualitative terms to the Tories and LibDems.

The rise of Blair and the diminution of member-led (in reality, constituency-led) democracy, and subsequent over-friendliness to business confirmed their position. Of course, an actual analysis of what was going on in the Labour Party would have located Blair’s hegemony in the weakness of the labour movement as a whole, which thanks to its formal/bureaucratic and multiple, substantive informal links and interdependencies with the party, saw this weakness reflected in the party’s composition and policy orientation.

Unfortunately for the SP and its theoreticians, analysis made way for exercises in Marxist box ticking. Because Labour under Blair, Brown, and Ed Miliband didn’t conform to their ideal type of what a workers’ party should look like, not only did it justify their own independent existence but also provided their own derisory election results.

Fast forward to summer 2015 and Jezmania is sweeping politics. The media are fixated with the prospect of a Labour leadership being taken, for the first time since the 1930s, by someone decidedly on the left. An exciting time for some, a depressing one for others. Plenty of people who analyse politics to inform activity were confused. Some of us were even honest about it. The SP, however, reacted to a complete collapse of its perspectives by maintaining they were right all along.

What Jeremy Corbyn and the movement he inspired are doing is creating a new workers’ party. Certainly, Labour is very much a new party thanks to the tidal wave of members, yet the SP are at a loss to explain why if the Labour Party was over for the purpose of socialist politics why this “founding” was taking place … inside the Labour Party. Rather than address the yawning deficit in their analysis (and understanding of the Marxist method for that matter), they have retreated into a theoretical bunker.

Since Jeremy’s election as leader, whole sections of the far left have collapsed into the Labour Party. Some of it has been organised, other have just seen a drift. Left Unity, for instance, has practically disintegrated as members have simply upped sticks and followed the radicalised tens of thousands into the party. Lots of comrades caught up in last year’s Green Surge have decamped, and not a few “independent” TUSC’ers have drawn the same conclusion. It is increasingly tenuous to maintain a revolutionary socialist outfit independently when the ideal audience are now Labour Party members. How then to stop the SP from getting eroded by the currents streaming towards Labour? By setting up a narrative to insulate its supporters from the allure of mass radical politics.

It goes something like this. Jeremy’s election is a welcome step forward for the working class in Britain. Yet he now has to work to deselect “Blairite MPs” (i.e. anyone not on the far left). He has to restore the sovereign decision-making powers of conference. He must work to restore Clause IV, committing Labour once again to public ownership. And he has to be consistent with his anti-austerity rhetoric and order Labour councils to refuse to pass on Tory cuts, thereby forcing a confrontation with the government.

As we know, most Labour MPs are facing compulsory reselection anyway thanks to the coming boundary gerrymander. Conference and NEC changes are being muted. Clause IV, if changed, is more likely to reflect radical cooperative principles than the SP’s nostalgia for 70s Keynesianism, and there is no prospect whatsoever of local authorities revisiting the ill-fated experience of the 1983-7 Liverpool City Council. Yet what this allows the SP to do is draw a line between Labour and themselves, and tell their members that there remains a clear red line between us and them, between themselves as tough class fighters and Labourites as shilly-shallying reformists and Blairites.

It is in this context that Dave’s proposal for an alliance should be received. It has no prospect of getting taken up, but the refusal of Labour to even acknowledge the hand of the SP’s hardened anti-austerity crew plays well at the branch meetings and regional conferences. The proposed joining of forces is all about shoring up the SP, of remaining thekeepers of spotless anti-cuts banner matters more than anything else. I believe it was Marx who said that the very definition of a sectarian organisation is one that puts its own interests before that of its class. By placing its shibboleths out there to inoculate members against contamination by what’s happening in the Labour Party, the SP, for once, is conforming to one of Marx’s analyses.

12 Comments

  1. Ric EUTENEUER says:

    What’s in it for Labour? TUSC get a derisory amount of votes. When I stood 3 years ago for County for Labour, the TUSC candidate got a massive 15 votes !

    TUSC want a “merger” solely on their terms. And, the net result would be that TUSC (i.e. the SP) would become a faction in the party. Again, I ask, what’s in it for Labour ?

  2. Verity says:

    Without this information I would not have known. Why are so many words diverting from the challenges we face?

  3. John P Reid says:

    Serious thought, after the 2020 election, if unfortunately Labour, get smashed and someone like Dan Jarvis takes over, do you reckon the libdems could merge with labour,vas summing the libdems don’t have a SDP style bounce with moderate labour voters ,jumping ship,as if anything they’d probably rather vote Tory than libdem

  4. peter says:

    This piece is awful. You’d think this new real labour with a more left wing slant would want to embrace all socialist leaning comrades. If this is the petty bickering that we can now expect we are doomed.

  5. Paul says:

    Jon, Liverpool was building the majority of council houses being built in the whole country at the time of the “ill fated” 1983-7 experience; some would say there might be positive lessons in that.
    Unite’s local government national committee have called for Labour councils to set ‘no cuts’ budgets – not just the Socialist Party. it seems you want to avoid that question in the vain hope of avoiding splits with the right. This gives you impossible dilemmas: the way to maximise Jeremy’s strength is to build a wide anti austerity movement and that is exactly what the majority of Labour MPs can’t accept. You talk about fibs to advance a political cause but surely saying that the SP has nostalgia for 70’s Keynesianism probably falls in to that category? It would be better to address the serious question of how to fight to defend what is left of local government; if you think Unites local government committee are wrongheaded let’s hear why and what your alternative would be.

  6. Ric EUTENEUER says:

    John

    You may not have read the Paddy Pantsdown or Tony Bliar autobios, but what you postulate was seriously on the cards in 1996 – it was only when the scale of Labour’s victory became apparent the idea was dropped. Even then, Blair wanted Ashdown in the cabinet but was overruled. Peter Mandelson has gone on record as wanting this to happen – partly because he thinks it’s the only way to dissociate the party from the trade unions.

    And yes, most Lib Dem swing voters are Tories IMHO.

    I see no point in merging with a party with 8 MPs and a handful of councils.

    1. John P Reid says:

      Maybe it would be the only way to stop the right of the Labour Party ,going to the Tories

  7. Bazza says:

    Don’t have anything to do with the top down bourgeois socialists who like some others hovering around are perhaps only interested in recruiting.
    They believe in the banking concept of political education – they just need to deposit their ready made programme into the heads of the working class/working people and then their elite central committee will then deliver Socialism FOR when we need the opposite – grassroots, bottom up, left wing democratic socialism WITH working class people/working people.

    1. Richard Tiffin says:

      I agree, we need bottom up socialism, but it needs focus and organisation. I am not advocating that the SP are it, for my two penny worth the ‘open turn’ and leaving labour was a mistake (a mistake that the minority never made by the way). My question is where is this focus and leadership of the bottom up left going to come from whilst Corbyn is the prisoner of the PLP?
      Events in Egypt show that the huge energy of the working classes comes to nothing without focus, direction and leadership. Despite the power it exhibited it ended in a military takover, unstable for sure, but they are in the driving seat.

  8. Danny Speight says:

    The only reasons a revolutionary Leninist party would want to join a social democratic socialist party would be to either take that party over and/or recruit members. Outside of a mainstream party they find it extremely hard to be more than just a minor player.

    Now if Burnham, Cooper or Kendall had won they may well have found an opportunity to join a left alternative such as we saw in Greece or Spain. Fortunately Corbyn winning has removed that possibility for a while at least.

  9. swatantra says:

    Labour should be telling TUSC to go and get stuffed. We don’t want any entryism, thank you.

    1. John Penney says:

      I agree TUSC should be told to take a hike. But that quite clear “party within a party with its own distinct programme and structures” , Progress, with its massive billionaire and big business funding, and its quite clear programme to convert Labour permanently into another party of neoliberalism, should be proscribed and banned too.

      The new overwhelmingly Left oriented Labour Party membership doesn’t want cynical big Business sponsored entryists like Progress (and their many heavily backed PLP creatures) continuing their destructive work in the Party either. The real large scale, and highly effective, entryism of the last 20 years into Labour has all been from the Right.

      Don’t suppose that sort of entryism bothers you at all though , swatantra.

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