I welcome David Brown’s analysis of the dilemma
independent socialists face in contemplating the chronic schisms of the
How do we involve ourselves without adding to the chaos?
That would be simple if we all joined the same organisation, but we must
recognise that the existing organisations on the left are historic
failures in recruiting members and more particularly, retaining members.
The number of ex-members of the SWP and the SP and all
the others must easily outweigh the combined existing membership. But
have all of these ex-members become non-socialists? I doubt it very
much. Added to the fray now are, presumably, the thousands of left
Labour Party members who have left in disgust, as well as the countless
others who have been politicised by the war in Iraq.
And these were the underlying reasons for trying to
organise in the Socialist Alliance and Respect. People recognise that
there is a large constituency that can be organised, for the most part
WANTS to be organised, but remains, elusively, beyond organisation
partly because of the perceived paranoia and sectarianism of existing
left organisations. People, to some degree, are wary of involvement with
the existing left organisations, as they would be wary of a sect.
But how can we make any advance when these organisations
cannot be ignored if we want to develop a real working class party? Nor
should we want to exclude people who are, usually, the most committed
and active comrades. But we, and they, worry about the domination of a
new party by any one group, and a new repetition of the splitting such
domination, or the perception of such domination, causes.
I think the logjam is immovable if we concentrate on
trying to build an organisation in the short term. We cannot create any
new organisation that avoids the contradictions faced in turn by the SA
and now Respect. We cannot get to the sort of critical mass that would
avoid domination by one group without that group being actively involved
in building the new organisation.
It is not only capitalism that faces apparently
But I think that there is a solution, based on the new
technologies and the possibilities that organisation via the web can
I propose that we build for the future. We need to gain
the commitment of as many socialists as possible to join a future
organisation, one that does not yet exist but that promises to be a mass
party of all socialists from the revolutionary to the reformist.
I would also suggest that many of the triggers for schism
can be avoided with the new technology. We can create forums for
democratic discussion and decision making that are entirely open to all
members. We can work out our policy in a democratic fashion as it is
needed. We can all be involved with the creation of party structures and
practices, with party aims and objectives. We can, in effect, build a
socialist party by practicing democratic socialism!
But why should this be for the future and not now? Let us
suppose that the new party was launched now. It would of necessity be a
proposal of one group or another and would thus automatically ensure the
voluntary exclusion of many other groups and individuals, as we must
recognise has been the case with Respect.
Let us say that we intend to collect socialists’
commitment to future membership, and that we intend to recruit enough
commitments, say 10,000, to ensure that any existing group joining en
masse would not be a majority. Let us say that we will restrict
ourselves to collecting membership commitments until that number is
reached and that then we can start to exercise party democracy and
organise ourselves based, with luck, on a real and effective national
network of members, ready to be formed into branches and be active. We
would also have sufficient numbers to command much more attention than
the existing left is presently exposed to.
If we reach that critical number then it would not be in
anyone’s interest for existing groups to remain aloof, particularly if
they were being welcomed into membership.
So I suggest we need to have a minimum requirement for
membership of a new left party, perhaps based on the old Clause IV of
the Labour Party, one that identifies us as socialists but is not too
high to be exclusive in the manner that a correct position on the nature
of the Mongolian Communist Party, or some such, might be.
I think the way forward is possible and practical and I
hope comrades will welcome these thoughts and contribute to the debate
that David Brown has started.