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Taking a broader perspective…

The Equality Movement…

Derek Wall is former Principal Speaker of the Green Party. He keeps a regular blog from an eco-socialist perspective at Another Green World whilst regularly contributing to the Morning Star.

Last Friday night I went to one of the most exciting political events I have ever been to. It was a Friday night, yet at least 600 people are crammed in, cheering the news of the revolutions in Egypt, Libya, Yeman wildly. I would say 95% are under the age of twenty, this is Britain’s revolutionary youth fresh from fighting the EMA cut and looking to new battles.

The audience is young but very diverse. In the front row are women in hijabs, applauding Clare Solomon the President of the University of London Union, as she puts LGBT rights at the centre stage of the politics of resistance. The Equality Movement put together by rapper Lowkey and journalist Jody Mcintyre is perhaps the biggest thing on the British left.

The event entitled ‘How do we resist?’ heard from John Rees, back from Egypt, Joe Glenton who refused to fight in Afghanistan and a host of other speakers but the rappers and poets made the event. Crazy Haze, Sanasino and JJ brought the meeting to an electrifying conclusion with some great poetry, see the video above.

The Equality Movement is something to watch, more details here http://equalitymovement.wordpress.com/

 

Filed under: Activism, International Politics, The Left

Defend the Lambeth Labour one….

I don’t intend to revisit the debate in this post about what Labour councils should do about the cuts. Regardless of where comrades stand on that question, I think there should be a degree of unanimity about basic democratic norms we adhere too. If we take that as something of a given the actions of Lambeth’s Labour Group in withdrawing the whip from Councillor Kingsley Abrams are totally unacceptable. Abrams only ‘crimes’ appear to be speaking in a forthright manner and voting against a draft budget that includes £37 million worth of cut backs to local services:

Abrams told cabinet members to “get yourselves real jobs”, and was told by leader Steve Reed that his behaviour was “disgraceful, coming from a Labour councillor”.

Quite why comrade Reed feels this way isn’t explained. Either he doesn’t like the way Abrams voted or the way he spoke; neither of which are cause for disciplinary action in a democratic forum. True, Abrams may have been being a little angular but I think we all can be at times and a robust and healthy democratic culture tolerates this and absorbs it. I find it hard to believe the Labour whip, Jack Hopkins, protestations that he is feeling heavy-hearted about this decision though given the fact that not only has he withdrawn the whip from Abrams but has referred him to his local party to see if any further action is merited.

Disgraceful is an adjective many would feel applies to Labour councils making these cuts in the first place. Nonetheless I have yet to see any serious arguments that all those who do should be subject to disciplinary action. Events in Lambeth seem to set a worrying precedent. Are all those local representatives who stand-up for their communities to be treated this way? You would hope not but you never know.  It really should not be the case that a case for the allowance of free speech and free action should have even to be argued for in this context. You would kind of hope it would be taken as a given. However, that seems still not to be the case even for the brave ‘New Generation’ and their Captain Miliband. The much-vaunted policy review process seems to be descending into high farce as the leadership does everything within its power to avoid consulting the membership.

Labour’s cultural grasp of democracy and commitment to it internally and externally  frankly leaves a lot to be desired still. This is not just a academic question but one of political principal and necessity. Labour will not become a government again by running the likes of Councillor Abrams over with the bureaucratic tank. It may be elected but it won’t be a government. Councillor Abrams should be reinstated immediately and something akin to a democratic revolution should be sparked to sweep through the Party and cleanse it of the utter nonsense spouted by messers Reed and Hopkins in Lambeth.

Filed under: Labour, The Left,

Why the left should take the AV Referendum seriously….

Keith White is the leader of the Labour Group on Dacorum Borough Council and blogs here.

One thing is certain there is going to be a referendum on whether we should replace the current First Past the Post voting system (FPTP) for the House of Commons with the Alternative Vote (AV) so for activists in the Labour Party and on the left to claim it is unimportant (campaigning against Tory cuts is much more crucial) and to try to ignore it is not only pointless but also a political failure – the left has as much of an interest in the future of democracy as anyone if not more.

A familiar argument against changing from FPTP is that alternative systems, such as AV, benefit the smaller parties disproportionately and that the so called centre ground third party will be the major gainer. This argument is based on the somewhat flawed assumption that all votes cast under FPTP would translate to first choice votes under AV, whereas in reality the weaknesses and distortions of the current FPTP system in many areas influences voter choice.

Since the mid to late 1980s, in particular since the 1987 and 1992 General Elections there has been a significant build up of willingness to vote tactically in many constituencies, and a growing advocacy from political parties for tactical voting where it is perceived to benefit them. Hence, the “It’s a two horse race”, “Labour/LibDem/Tory (delete where applicable) can’t win here” leaflets; all seeking to convince the electorate that if they don’t want one political party to win they must vote in only one alternative way. This style of campaigning has fuelled the negative view of politics that it is all about saying how bad the opposition is rather than what the party in question is actually going to do. In this climate it is much easier to justify the “their all as bad as each other” reason for ignoring elections and voter apathy increases alongside the perception of a lack of choice. The ultimate result of tactical voting, FPTP and negative campaign fuelled voter apathy is the 2010 General Election result.

The electoral dynamic created by both the FPTP voting system and ‘anti-party’ campaigning, which if anything is more prevalent in marginal seats than any other, is to increase the influence of the compromise party. Why vote for your first choice party if they have no real prospect of winning, why not ensure your vote has influence by voting against the party you don’t want to win by voting for the perceived ‘middle ground’, the other ‘anti’ party?  The Liberal Democrats built most of their appeal by presenting themselves as an ‘anti’ Conservative party that could win in seats where Labour could not and in some areas by being an ‘anti’ Labour party that could win where the Conservatives could not. They built support as a ‘safe’ protest party precisely because of the distorting effective of the FPTP voting system. The nature of the FPTP voting has meant that as this ‘alternative anti’ and/or ‘safe’ protest they have gained votes they would not otherwise have received, often on a perception and without any real scrutiny of their policies or what they stand for.

On this basis it is arguable that the Liberal Democrats will lose first choice votes through a switch to AV rather than gain as, over time, people return to casting their first choice vote for the party and candidate they identify with most rather than against the party and candidate they don’t want to win.

Equally as candidates campaign for first, second, and in some constituencies, third or even fourth choice preference votes they will be forced to campaign positively. On what they will do and what their policies mean. Minor parties will start to gain influence, not through protest voting but through policy challenge as major parties frame an appeal to attract transfer votes from their supporters. Here for the left the way Labour addresses the concerns of the Greens will be crucial. Just as interesting will be the influence UKIP transfer votes might have on the Tories, will it strengthen the hand of the Euro-sceptic right?

And what about the Lib Dem surge that will come from being everyone’s second choice?

There is no longer any reason to think that they are. The prospect of them being the automatic second choice of Labour voters has been largely burnt following 2010’s General election and the actions of the Coalition Government. In any event the benefit of them being ‘second choice’ only works in constituencies where they can gather enough support to be in first or second place when all other parties have dropped out and their votes transferred. Without the pressure to tactically vote enforced by the FPTP system there is no reason to believe that the Liberal Democrats will achieve this in any more constituencies than present. Given the current state of party support in the polls it is much more likely that in seats that Labour won in 1997 but fell to third in 2010 that Labour would find it easier to bring back lost votes and move back in to the top two. It is here that Ed Milliband’s appeal to Liberal Democrat votes is important. In an AV election the size of a Liberal Democrat vote transfer, second or third choice votes, could make the differences in many seats. Electing Labour MPs through a progressive left policy alliance building a positive policy platform that is attractive to Labour, Green and left of centre Liberal Democrat voters.

Supporting AV may well be the best way to prevent another 2010 General Election. It may also be the best way to renew progressive politics and build a new debate across the broader centre left. Tribalism may well be forced in to history, but not because coalition government is the inevitable consequence of shifting from FPTP but because open positive debate between parties might be the only way to convince the electorate and to secure the first, second, and third choice votes necessary to win the seats and therefore the election.

This might just be our best chance to make politics real again.

Filed under: Electoral Reform, Green Party, Labour, Liberal Democrats, The Left

Mutual attraction….

Derek Wall is former Principal Speaker of the Green Party. He keeps a regular blog from an eco-socialist perspective at Another Green World whilst regularly contributing to the Morning Star.

Lenin’s Tomb has condemened the recent advocacy of mutuals and cooperatives on the left. As a hombre who loves to give his Co-op card a good spanking on the trip to buy a Morning Star, some mushrooms and unfeasible quantities of beer, you might expect me to lay into Lenin’s Richard Seymour with abandon.

However my feelings are a little more complex.

I am sceptical for reasons which are complex but include the problem of enclosure of the commons (whether of cyber space or rainforests), speculation, inevitable exploitation and inequality that markets are ever fully effecient or desirable. I am also critical of traditional ideas of central planning as an alternative. The bankruptcy of market economics is leading to calls for alternatives but there is scepticism about traditional forms of socialist economics as well.

For me the alternative is commons, alternative property rights based on economic democracy, think wikipedia, think the web and think forms of communal land management. These alternatives sound utopian but from Tim Bernes-Lees to the work of the Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom the commons is back in fashion.

Nonetheless, the commons based commonwealth will not be created over night. So alternatives are needed that are may be less radical. If communism is about economic democracy, surely economic alternatives based on common ownership and control like mutuals and cooperative are appropriate.

It is also worth remembering that Marx was an advocate not of state control but an economic democracy accompanied by the ultimate ‘withering away of the state’. In Venezuela there has been an explosion of new cooperatives; 21st century socialism in Latin America is about popular economics with decentralization of the means of production in contrast to the Soviet experience.

I think institutions like the Co-op or Waitrose (part of the John Lewis Partnership), where profit is shared, are good examples that show that even within capitalism, profit sharing rather than share ownership can work.

However, Lenin’s Tomb is correct to identify that coops, mutuals and partnerships have some practical weaknesses. The John Lewis Partnership has virtues but is not workers control (its still way ahead of Tescos though!), the Co-op is not an instrument of Marxist advance, although I like to shop there. I once went into a socialist supermarket in down town Caracas but even this I guess was not the whole of a practical utopian alternative for food retail (although they did have some very neat cartoons explaining the new constitution on the packets of rice).

In a capitalist society, cooperatives while laudable are going to find it tough going. We live in a society where competition distorts what we do, in a market society, we dance to the tune of the market. Co-ops can involve self-exploitation, workers working longer hours and cutting corners to survive in globalised markets.

Co-ops, mutuals and partnerships have their virtues and communism is more about self-management than hierarchichal control. However, Richard is correct to challenge those who would mutualise state controlled institutions that work well such as the Royal Mail. By arguing that postal services need to be mutualised, this seems to be pushing a state owned institution in a more market based direction.

This is a dangerous strategy for fighting neo-liberalism.

Filed under: Economy, The Left, , , , , , , , , ,

The cold, deathly hand of ‘vanguardism’…..

By Darrell Goodliffe.

Something has sprung into life; a movement that may just carry the seeds of some radical social change. I don’t want to jinx it and certainly don’t want to say we are knocking on the door of a revolution (because we aren’t) but a combination of factors just makes things feel, well, a little bit different and more promising this time. However, there have been promising movements before which have floundered basically as they have been led into a cul de sac. Consistently, the left insists that the crisis is a perpetual one of ‘leadership’ and that if movements are to succeed they only need to accept our leadership to be successful. So, while we have something of a natural recess in the movement due to the Christmas holidays perhaps now is the time to consider slaying some sacred cows.

Vanguardism is relevant as a concept because it’s actually not just the creed of Marxist-Leninist-Trotskyist groups who charge around the place like proverbial bulls in a china shop proclaiming themselves to be the ‘vanguard’ of the working class. Implicitly, there is something of an acceptance of vanguardism in Labourism which replaces the revolution with the election of a Labour Government on the assumption it, having been duly elected, will rain manna from heaven and, in the case of the old Clause IV, deliver for the workers the fruits of their labours to them. It sees Labour, in control of the state, as the agent of progressive change and implicitly the Labour Party as the rightful vanguard of the movement. This can be just as disempowering and atomising as the harshest ‘democratic centralist’ regime.

In  my mind, ‘vanguardism’ is the notion that to succeed a movement must be led by an organisation (usually a political party) because in and of itself a movement is not able to effect sweeping social change. This is true just as the a priori vanguardist assumption that some will lead and some will follow is; however, its a one-sided truth. The two things are related because the vanguard organisation is the organisation of these ‘leading individuals’.  Its true that the vast majority of us don’t have the time, energy or wherewithal to bury ourselves in theoretical study or even to attend every protest. Not everybody can, or probably should, be a leader; even in the most brilliantly formed democracy some will shine and others will retire as their individual nature dictates. Furthermore, vanguardist political organisation also made sense in an autocratic state for precisely the reasons that render its purist application in a representative democracy a little errr disconnected from reality.

However, there the truth telling ends. Although they may not be able to reguitate at will Marx’s theory of surplus value people can generally grasp complex truths about the nature of their condition, position and society around them and are able to logically follow from that a clear articulation of their needs. Also, they can form from that a vision of how not just their life may not be better but also how the world in general can be a better place. Maybe they can’t attend every protest or meeting but that doesn’t stop them feeling a burning sense of anger at a government waging war on them and wanting to do something about it. As such they can contribute without being ‘leaders’ per se to all our struggles.  Finally, we should always remember something the left always seems to forget; context matters and the brilliance of our past heroes stemmed primarily from their grasp of the world around them which they combined with their knowledge of what had gone before to shape that world in their here and now.

Vanguardism and ‘vanguardist’ political organisation unleavened by democracy (which provides the living, dare I say it dialectical, relationship between movement and organisation), democratic understanding, struggle and demands, could become the cold deathly hand that chokes this movement at birth. I am sure nobody reading this truly wants that……

Filed under: Labour, The Left, , , , , ,

The NUS and far left strategy….

Zain Sardar is LSE Green Party Society Chair and masters student. GPTU and Barnet TC youth officer.

The National Union of Students as a whole is more and more splitting into two great hostile camps, into two great factions directly facing each other: Labour Students and the far left. Despite the eloquence of the above statement it is a bit naughty of me to portray the far left as a homogeneous amorphous mass when in reality it is divided and subdivided into itself- a distinction Marx would make between the ‘genus’ and ‘subspecies.’

However, the same is true of Labour within the NUS except not on the same tragicomic scale. The ‘Organised Independents’ are a faction within NUS that hold a thinly veiled pretence on being politically independent; when the faction itself was set up by Labour students in the first place in order to build up a façade of democracy or a semblance of political competition (a poorly keep secret).

This was mainly because on a circadian basis the far left present themselves as the sacrificial lambs, at NUS conference’s full time officer elections, to be slaughtered year on year at the sacred alter of the Gods of political moderation.  This perpetual circle and soap opera, a kind of inverted and perverse permanent revolution, is the structuring principle of NUS conferences.

During last year’s NUS conference at Gateshead, Newcastle the then outgoing president, one Wesley Streeting, tweeted that he and another sabbatical were perceived as playing the part of ‘pantomime villains’ for the far/ hard left. It seems in one sense he was right – there are ‘pantomime villains’ in the NUS, but it is the far left itself that continually takes on this role. When far left candidates stand in NUS full-time officer elections; their demands for such things, God forbid, such as free education become concurrent with some devilish trickery which would signal the political end of the NUS as a credible political force. Ordinary rank and file students at NUS, if anything, are mobilised and polarised to vote in order to keep these characters out.

As a man of the far left I would like to think we on the far left of NUS are open to new and innovative ideas. What I recommend we do for this year only, by way of experimentation, is do nothing at all. Of course we continue – SWP, Student Broad Left, the left in the Labour party, the Green Party etc. to fight the cuts, and convince students of the need to fight the cuts; firstly university cuts and then them all. However, what I am proposing is an amnesty- that we refrain from running for full time positions within NUS for this year only.

This would be a strategic move par excellence which is an exemplar of Slavoj Zizek’s notion of ‘passive aggressivity.’ He elaborates on this-

‘passive aggressive behaviour…is a proper radical political gesture, in contrast to aggressive passivity, the standard ‘interpassive’  mode of our participation in socio-ideological life in which we are active all the time in order to make sure that nothing will happen, that nothing will really change. In such as constellation, the first truly critical step is to withdraw into passivity, to refuse to participate- this is the necessary first step that, as it were, clears the ground for a true activity, for an act that will effectively change the coordinates of today’s constellation.’ (Slavoj Zizek, The Universal Exception, pp. 223).

The effect of this would be subvert NUS full time elections in order to change the relations it enjoys with ordinary rank and file members at NUS conference. This limiting of choice and quite graphic emptiness on ballot slips will correspond with the raising of consciousness and doubts in students’ minds of the health of NUS democracy.

This year can be a fresh start for the far left in the NUS, a chance to be active against the cuts, while withdrawing from NUS democracy in order to highlight the superficial, anti-pluralistic and Labour Students hegemony within it. It is only when we ‘go on strike’ so to speak that the NUS will really appreciate the far left’s contribution within it and we can start to draw students afresh to our politics once again.

Filed under: The Left, Trade Unions, , , , , ,

What the Tea Party and the Left could learn from Tony Blair…

Cory Hazlehurst blogs at Paperback Rioter.

I haven’t read A Journey yet – I will probably wait until it comes out in paperback. At the moment all I know of the book is derived from virtualstoa’s lengthly – and undoubtedly masochistic – tweet-by-tweet of it, as well as blogs on its clunkiness and bad sex. One passage that struck me from the New Yorker review of the book was this one that they quoted:

With each successive Tory leader, I would develop a line of attack, but I only did so after a lot of thought. So I defined Major as weak; Hague as better at jokes than judgment; Howard as an opportunist; Cameron as a flip-flop, not knowing where he wanted to go. . . . Expressed like that, these attacks seem flat, rather mundane almost, and not exactly inspiring—but that’s their appeal. Any one of those charges, if it comes to be believed, is actually fatal. Yes, it’s not like calling your opponent a liar, or a fraud, or a villain or a hypocrite, but the middle-ground floating voter kind of shrugs their shoulders at those claims. They don’t chime. They’re too over the top, too heavy, and they represent an insult, not an argument. Whereas the lesser charge, because it’s more accurate and precisely because it’s more low-key, can stick. And if it does, that’s that. Because in each case, it means they’re not a good leader. So game over.

Passages like that remind you of just how astute a politician Blair could be. He is absolutely right to say that milder rhetoric generally beats some more fierce invective.

A case in point is the Tea Party movement in the US. Obama and the Democrats are weak politically, but the main line of attack on Obama comprises of a series of insults: that he’s a Muslim, Communist, or that he’s not even American – that fall far short of the mark because they’re too angry and ignorant to have much of an impact.

Blair’s words should also be borne in mind by those wanting to build resistance to the impending spending cuts by the coalition. Merely winning the economic argument will not be enough. As well as challenging the economic consensus, the coalition of groups contesting the wisdom and severity of these cuts needs to also develop a political narrative.

How, then, should David Cameron, Nick Clegg and the coalition be portrayed? One that paints them as “evil” or “same old Tories” will not be sufficient to win over popular support. David Cameron does not come across as “evil” or as a divisive figure like, say, Thatcher. Following Blair’s maxim, we must find something more silent, yet more deadly in the long run.

In my view, this line of attack would be to portray David Cameron, George Osborne and the rest as “out of touch” and unaware of the catastrophic consequences these cuts would cause. The privileged background of the vast majority of Cameron’s cabinet is common knowledge. It’s very unlikely that Cameron would have used a Sure Start Centre, a neighbourhood Post Office, or the number 27 bus, and so would be completely ignorant of how people can come to rely on these sorts of services. The background of George Osborne: Eton, Oxford, Modern History Degree, Career Politician – is hardly filled with economics experience, and it would be a relatively straightforward task to paint him as inexperienced and out of touch with the needs of ordinary people.

Those challenging the cuts need to emphasise that they are unnecessary, often counter-productive, and not our only option. If we can couple it with an accompanying political narrative, we can seriously begin to challenge the coalition of cutters.

Filed under: The Left, , , , , , ,

Labour’s next big idea….

By Darrell Goodliffe.

We have all heard the leadership contenders talk about the need for Labour to put values back at the centre of politics. I agree. However, we need at least one big idea that encapsulates those values; that gives the electorate a clear demonstration of what those values mean in practice. Ed Miliband is coming closest to this with his campaign for the Living Wage. Combined with his proposals on a high pay commission this shows a willingness to strike hard at inequality where it bites; in your pay packet.

However, alongside the Living Wage, I think there is another ‘big idea’ waiting for expression. Namely, welfare reform; and before people think I am going to write something horribly right-wing I would ask that they at least consider the case. Nothing inherently wrong exists with the left championing radical reform; in fact, if it is to regain its radical spirit then that it is exactly what it must do. Ed Miliband’s ‘Living Wage’ would necessarily mean an increase in benefits; as wages go up prices will too and therefore the necessary benefit level will increase. I think we can do a lot better than that though; I have long been a strong proponent of the ‘Citizens Income’.

This would be the ultimate simplification of the benefits system; they would simply be abolished and replaced with the idea that the state would guarantee each and every citizen a certain income. In principle, this is a similar idea to the Child Trust Fund which guaranteed each child a certain amount of capital so in and of itself it is hardly earth-shattering stuff. However, in practice it would be as revolutionary as foundation of the welfare state itself; it would make quite clear that the state will provide where the market will not and that the market, which would in some way no doubt provide the necessary funds, serves the people not the other way around.  It would also give people a proper stake in their society and could be creatively linked to community and voluntary projects and the enrichment of the ‘big society’ that is so cherished by Cameron & Co.

It would simplify the system to the point where debates around ‘means testing’ and so forth would become meaningless and unnecessary and the current situation; where not all benefits function as proper benefits currently would not endure. Implementing this would require a change in attitude about what the welfare state is and how it can function not just as a safety net of last resort but a springboard which can launch people into better things. A properly supported and simplified welfare state alongside a real incomes policy would strike huge blows against social inequality. However, the two things cannot exist in isolation but have to act in tandem.

A ‘Living Wage’ is all well and good but it will not make a proper dint in inequality unless you consider those out of work and remember that the nature of society is that there always will be people out of work. A Citizens Income can and should be Labour’s next big idea….

Filed under: Labour, The Left, , , , , ,

Compass and pluralism

By Rupert Read,

The following article was cross-posted from the blog of Rupert Read with his kind permission, he has been a Green Party City Councillor in Norwich since 2004. If you want to find out more about Rupert visit his blog and twitter.

Compass does not allow members of non-Labour-Parties full membership; it is considering changing that rule; it must make the change, if Neal Lawson’s claim that Compass is a pluralist organisation and part of a movement towards a genuine Left-pluralism is to be both true and seen to be true.

Compass is a major sign of life in Labourism, and a source of pluralism on the Left (http://www.newstatesman.com/uk-politics/2010/06/pluralist-party-labour ). Take for instance Compass’s call for tactical voting, at the recent General Election: (http://www.compassonline.org.uk/news/item.asp?n=9314 ), and its support for electoral reform.

But there remains a contradiction at the heart of Compass’s pluralist mission. Compass, while not formally affiliated to the Labour Party in any way, has a rule that forbids members of other Parties from being full members. In other words, Compass’s ‘pluralism’ is very strictly curtailed, because members of other parties cannot participate in Compass’s formal democratic structures, and thus cannot play any democratic part in determining Compass’s own direction.

This came home to me with full force recently. Applying to Compass for membership, I was told that, as a Green Party member, I was entitled only to associate membership, with no voting rights. I received my membership pack, and rather bizarrely this included a letter that stated “You’re a member of a democratic organisation. Every year Compass members get a say in how the organisation is run through our management committee elections [etc.]”. I queried this with Gavin Hayes, Compass General Secretary. He replied that I received this letter, the same as any other Compass [full] member gets, because there are so few associate members that it is not worth there being a separate letter written for them (us). This seems a rather unsatisfactory response: it is rather insulting or at least bemusing to receive a letter telling one that one is part of a democratic organisation – when in fact one is excluded from its democracy. Compass would without doubt attract more members who belong to political Parties other than Labour, if it were to change the rule excluding us from full membership.

I queried with Gavin Hayes (Compass’s General Secretary) the status of the rule excluding members of other political Parties from full membership in Compass. He replied: “The rule is something we examining at the moment.” Another senior Compass source spoke with me at greater length, and explained that “It’s certainly not inconceivable that we change that rule. We could for instance disaggregate the membership of Compass, allowing those Compass members who are compatible with Labour-Party affiliation to vote in those of Compass’s affairs that exclusively concern Labour – such as the ballot we are holding on who Compass should back for Labour Leader – but allowing all Compass members, including members of the Green Party and of other parties, to vote on all other matters.” (This same senior Compass source went on to say, fascinatingly, that “If Caroline Lucas were a member of the Labour Party, then she’d probably be elected the next Leader of the Labour Party – so it certainly seems reasonable to try to work out a way for her to be able to become a full member of Compass…”.)

Compass is to be applauded for pushing at the boundaries of Labour tribalism, while retaining influence and leverage on Labour. Allowing Caroline Lucas to speak at its conferences for example has been a brave move that has paid dividends (http://liberalconspiracy.org/2009/10/02/compass-was-right-to-invite-the-greens/ ).

But this question of who is allowed to join Compass as a full member is a vital test for Compass, and for the future of Labourism. If it really wants to embrace a pluralist politics, a politics suitable for a politically- and electorally- reformed U.K., if it really wants to prepare the way for the new coalitional politics which AV and PR will bring (see http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/06/28/why-the-left-will-always-be-at-a-loss-without-vote-reform/ ), then Compass needs to change this rule. So long as Compass forbids members of other progressive political forces from full membership, then it remains tacitly nothing but a glorified Labour Party faction. But if Compass were to allow the likes of me — and Caroline Lucas and Adam Price and Salma Yaqoob and so on — in, on equal terms, then it would be practising what it preached. That would be pluralism in action.

Filed under: Labour, The Left

The first festival of summer….

Simon Childs is a member of the Green Party and as well as writing on his own blog regularly contributes to Newcastle University newspaper, The Courier and the Fresh Politics blog. He also founded and edits the left-wing Newcastle newsletter; The Grey Matter.

The final act has just left the stage to rapturous applause having finished the performance with a run-down of greatest hits, leaving the audience sweaty, inspired, and wanting more. As the audience leave the arena they are bombarded with opportunities to pledge their allegiance by buying merchandise. As they get further from the stage, they are accosted by pedlars of fake merchandise, almost indistinguishable from genuine article, and festival officials encourage people to go for the real thing. Welcome to Marxism 2010- Ideas to change the world.

The ‘artist’ is Judith Orr, a member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) central committee, the ‘hits’ are not songs, but rabble rousing slogans such as ‘Tory scum’ and ‘tax the rich’. The ‘merchandise’ is…well…merchandise. “Get yer Marxism 2010 t-shirts! Show yer mates yer lefty credentials!” The ‘fake’ merchandise comes from other left wing parties, all of them claiming to be the only true disciples of Marx.

‘Marxism’, is a five day annual ‘political festival’, hosted by the SWP. For those unfamiliar with the concept, there are less bands, more lectures, and hipsters discussing bands are replaced by revolutionaries discussing the ‘great day’. (At one point I walked past three separate conversations, and the only word I caught from all of them was ‘revolution’.) Oh and there’s no camping.

Marxism is a strange event, as it seems to be somewhere in between a party conference and a genuinely open forum for discussion. The line up is excellent. Gary Young’s ‘Backlash- Obama and the American right’, and Tony Benn’s ‘Democracy- the real revolution’ were particularly interesting, and a speech by a BA striker combined the passion and the arguments to counter Willie Walsh’s lies. The array of speakers and topics addressed is so impressive, in fact, in common with the more conventional music festival, punters are often left frustrated by an annoying clash:

“Oh no, Slavoj Žižek is on at the same time Jeremy Cobyn.”

“I know man, and I dunno if I should go to the Anarchists and the Spanish Civil War or Palestine’s fight for freedom.”

Each speech is followed by a debate during which time any member of the audience is allowed to come to the front and voice an opinion. However, the speakers are mostly SWP members, and what feels like at least half of the audience are SWP members, so debate is almost invariably skewed somewhat towards the party line.

I overheard one person ask what conclusion to the debate which his friend had attended was. “Well, the line was…” answered the friend.

Every wall is adorned with Socialist Worker posters and every time you leave a lecture theatre you’re asked someone in a red t-shirt if you would like to join the SWP. The idea is clearly that having sat through the debate, you have come to realise the infallibility of the SWP line, and will want to be signed up straight away.

For the uninitiated, the SWP line, in common with that of other Trotskyite parties is that, since the revolution is coming, there needs to be a revolutionary party which can channel the revolutionary enthusiasm of the working class. It sounds fairly logical, but my problem with it is that it inevitably has sectarian consequences. Everything is subjugated to ‘building the revolutionary party’. Other lefty organisations, rather than being seen as comrades (I really don’t like that word) in the struggle against capitalism, become competitors in the very niche market of anti-capitalist politics. A great deal of energy is expended fighting other left wingers rather than winning over people to an anti-capitalist point of view. I’m not saying that debates within the left shouldn’t happen, but currently the picture is one of an introverted left so busy squabbling amongst ourselves that we don’t have the time to reach out to the rest of society. Building a revolutionary party can also undermine immediate political goals, such as stopping a war, because while it might be nice to stop a war, it’s more important that we use that movement to gain recruits, right?

This is the attitude of the party as an organisation. Individual members vary from the madly sectarian to completely non-sectarian.

An example of this sectarianism arose during a talk I attended on Marxism and ecology which was somewhat spoiled for me, as a member of the Green Party, when someone claimed that the Green Party had failed to support the Vestas workers because it’s tied to capitalism, a smear which I have also read in an article in The Socialist newspaper, organ of the Socialist Party. The Green Party was, in fact, fully behind the Vestas workers and was in a leading position to support them since Caroline Lucas was then the MEP for the Isle of Wight. I have no problem with debating the pros and cons of the Green Party and by no means see it as a perfect organisation, but lies such as this do nothing to promote a rational, honest debate. If I told somebody that the SWP thought that the USSR was the best thing since sliced bread it wouldn’t contribute to a debate because it isn’t true.

Sectarianism, though, isn’t about rational debate; it’s about getting more people to join your gang than the other gang, and it’s sectarianism that is one of the main weaknesses of the British left.

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