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Revolutionary unity must be built on firm foundations

The present time might seem a difficult one for the revolutionary left in Britain to seek to unite its fragmented forces, writes Dave Stockton.

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The Socialist Workers Party (SWP), by far the largest far left group, is in disarray, if not in meltdown. The Socialist Party (SP) continues to think of itself alone as being the centre of the labour movement, and everyone else as being “on the fringes” of it.

The five-year crisis of world capitalism has led to a crisis of the far left. This is an international and not just a British crisis. In France it is expressed in the splits and dramatic decline in numbers of the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA). In Italy it is reflected in the splintering and demoralisation of the Italian left – a painful contrast to the flourishing situation of Rifondazione Comunista and the social forums and centres in towns and cities the length of the peninsular, witnessed ten years ago.

Even the libertarian left, which many in 2011 thought had found the answer with the US Occupy movement, has seen this movement dissipate, leaving little in the way of permanent organisation.

These splits in the left extend into the movement of resistance against austerity that cries out for maximum unity in action if the jobs, rights and social gains of the working class, young people, women and migrant communities are to be defended.

It might seem that the People’s Assembly movement has overcome this – to some extent successfully sidelining the rival “fronts” of the SWP and SP. But it has done so at a price. Counterfire – its core organisers – have struck a Faustian pact with The Communist Party of Britain-Morning Star and the Unite – the union bureaucracy to keep it firmly within the orbit of Labour and the official policies of the “left” unions- presently in full retreat from nay “coordinated action” against the cuts. Indeed this last moth of so has seen neither coordination nor action – unless their headlong flight was coordinated.

Comrades like Luke Cooper and Simon Hardy in the ACI, former members of Workers Power, say that it is the very nature of socialist groups (the sect form), each preserving their own programmes and internal discipline, that is to blame. They are not fit for purpose. This of course depends on what you conceive their purpose as being. If you mean that the SWP and SP are not fit for the purpose of being parties of the working class, challenging the sell-out bureaucrats and exposing the Blue Labour traitors we agree.

But if you accept that propaganda groups are the necessary embryos of a future party, where programme, policies, tactics and cadres are developed and trained then such propaganda groups, big and small, have always existed, and will continue to do so until and unless a real sizable party of the working class vanguard unites all those who are not willful sectarians, actually uninterested in the class struggle. That there are far more embryos than develop into parties is –as in nature – just a law of political life.

Workers Power has always rejected the idea that as soon as a group reaches a few hundred or a few thousand members, it can simply proclaim itself “the party” and thereafter just invite the working class to join its ranks. Thus the proclamation of the Socialist Workers Party in January 1977, the Socialist Party in 1997, and the Scottish Socialist Party in 1998 did not mean they had in fact “built the party.”

Such false consciousness leads to developing a false relationship to the struggles and mass organisations of the working class. Hence their mutation of the revolutionary tactic of a united front with the mass organisations of the working class, (that is, trade unions and mass parties still under reformist and bureaucratic leadership), into “campaigns” on issues like war, antifascism, and anticuts organisation in the unions, which from day one are firmly under the pseudo-party’s organisational control. Meanwhile the illusion of a genuine united front of mass workers’ organisations is maintained by rallies misnamed as conferences, at which prominent left union leaders and MPs speak, but at which nothing of significance for the movement at large is decided.

Thus rivalry of the pseudo parties is extended into a movement of resistance against austerity that cries out for maximum unity in action if the jobs, rights and social gains of the working class, young people, women and migrant communities are to be defended.

So can the forces on the revolutionary left – added to by those comrades in the International Socialist Network who have broken with the SWP earlier this year over the shameful treatment of women comrades and the lack of democracy in the party, plus perhaps those who will likely be forced to break from it around its conference – succeed in achieving a principled revolutionary unity?

We believe this can happen – if we take certain definite steps together.

The first means seeking agreement on a common immediate policy to defeat the Coalition’s attack on the post-war gains of the working class. The second – a far more difficult one it must be admitted – is to work towards creating a revolutionary party with a programme for working class power, drawing into its creation as many as yet unaffiliated working class and youth militants as possible.

What are the key policies we believe are needed today?

• Fight within the People’s assemblies to transform them from passive audiences for platform speakers to bodies representing the grass roots of the anticuts movement, capable of planning and coordinating action.

• Work in the unions from branch and local level upwards to stop the leaders and put strike action on the same day, escalating from one to several to all out action to halt the cuts and closures

• Campaign to make the TUC call its promised “mid-week day of action.”

• Work in the People’s Assemblies, trades councils, unions and student bodies and local anticuts campaigns to get them to create delegate-based councils of action to coordinate the defence of our jobs and services.

• Build a rank and file movement in every union and across the unions to democratise the unions, taking action with the official leadership where possible, and without it where necessary.

• Build an antifascist workers’ united front to stop the marches and meetings of the EDL and the BNP, denying them any platform for their racist filth.

• Support the autonomous student and youth organisation RevSoc and launch  a publication and potentially groups aimed at young and working class women – a sort of re-launched Women’s Voice.

• Build international solidarity and pan-European action, especially with Greece, and with the resistance in the Arab world, especially Syria.

On such a basis we can prove ourselves capable of united and effective action in the class struggle. But this unity in action would not last beyond the present conjuncture unless it is accompanied by a serious and loyal debate, both internal and public, to establish the strategic questions that unite us and those still dividing us.

We should start by discussing the text of a short focused revolutionary action programme – addressing the main challenges facing us today and showing how a revolutionary anticapitalist solution is the only one which can answer them.

As well as the question of programme we need to debate what sort of organisation is necessary to fight for it. Recent events show all too clearly how vital it is to ensure that a pre party just as much as a party organisation does not succumb to bureaucracy, and that means establishing genuinely democratic centralism. Apologists for capitalism, reformists and anarchists alike say that this is a contradiction in terms. That it was always a bureaucratic and undemocratic way of organising. This is not true.

Democratic centralism – as the Bolsheviks practised it – means the maximum of debate and discussion within the party over the correct strategy and tactics to adopt. It means the right of members to form temporary groupings, as well as longer-term tendencies and factions with no constitutional time limit. But an open and flourishing democracy and well thought out policies and tactics should also mean that such groupings spontaneously and voluntarily dissolve and are not permanent features, or even the “normal” way that internal debate is conducted.

However, when a decision on a policy or specific action has been reached, it requires disciplined unity in its implementation by all members in a loyal manner, to the best of their abilities. Then, once the campaign or battle is over and the results can be seen, it allows for full and democratic appraisal of it once again.

If we can reach an agreement on this matter – and doubtless agreements to differ and principled compromises will be necessary on all sides  – we should try to create a common paper for intervention in the class struggle (not just a discussion forum – though this too). The editorial team of such a publication could greatly speed up the process of clarification and effective common work.

Is there a guarantee we will succeed in unifying those presently willing to do?

No, however the history of the revolutionary movement proves that the unification of revolutionaries hailing from diverse traditions is a real possibility. Not to try to do so today during an unprecedented time of flux on the British left – a crisis of leadership not only of the official movement but of the far left too – would be criminal. Workers Power will certainly put all its very limited resources into the search for revolutionary unity.

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