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Socialists Anonymous?

David Brown considers the options for independent socialists

I began writing this article prior to the Respect national conference and it was born out of my own experience as an independent socialist not knowing where to start. A large number of comrades are dormant - put off by the division in the left and with no natural home. As I've begun to read the various reports on the Respect conference the need for independent  socialists to organise seems to be of crucial importance.

There are many reasons why comrades who call themselves socialists remain outside parties, often isolated. Isolated individualism is contrary to the basis of working class politics. And let me make myself clear - I am talking about parties, not coalitions or alliances of parties. In part it is due to exasperation with the sheer number of choices - Tony Blair should be proud of the deregulated British left! The problem of sectarianism remains. Every group denounces the other as sectarian and claiming its criticism is given in a comradely fashion. The second problem is the isolated nature of many groups. The SWP is pretty much the only group that can claim a nationwide network. This, it can be argued, is why it has relative success in recruiting - why bother joining a party that only appears to be active in London.

With the decline of the Socialist Alliance and continued arguments over Respect, it is demoralising to try and engage with the left. The result is that a proportion remain independent or concentrate on one issue campaigns, such as Palestinian or anti-war campaigns. Participation in these is not wrong, but becoming increasingly divorced from the politics behind these campaigns results in a loss of class-consciousness and weakens the movement as a whole.

At this point each group will cry 'Join us! Join the real socialists.' Well, comrade, if there was just one party to join okay but. The simple fact is disunity puts people off.

So - what is to be done? What if independent socialists organised themselves as a kind of 'socialists anonymous?' A simple nationwide network of 'indies' not attached to a particular brand of socialism. To flesh out this idea, I'll answers some FAQs that will crop up.

What exactly would be the point?

For those in political parties this is the first question. What can a loose group of people with varying political views achieve? Quite a lot the parties can't. It would provide a home for those unwilling to get muddied in sectarianism by joining one group. It would provide a starting point for those just joining the struggle. It would enable socialists to engage with each other and feel part of the movement. It would allow the creation of networks - networks that may encourage closer co-operation between the left. It would be a morale booster and a support group. It would allow people to crystallise their politics without fear of a party line or accusations of splitting or sectarianism. This in itself could result in increased membership of parties with comrades approaching membership with more rounded decisions and stronger politics.

How would it be organised?

As I see it there would have to be one golden rule - members of parties should not be in control. Respect, the Socialist Alliance or similar groups okay, but not groups such as the SWP, CPGB etc. The reason for this is to exclude 'party' politics that so infuriates people and to ensure such an organisation would remain independent. The moment it is accused of being a front or recruiting ground for a particular party is the moment such a project fails.

This is not to say that the left-wing parties should be excluded. Indeed their support would be essential. Engagement and debates would stimulate the left. Debates between parties under the remit of independent socialists would increase dialogue in a neutral atmosphere and strengthen and clarify the politics of all concerned.

The organisation would run parallel with the left - growing and feeding into campaigns and parties.

What would it do?

Bring people together. From this starting point discussion and action can begin to take place. However the extent to which such an organisation took on a definite political character would have to be limited - there is no point in simply creating another left grouping. The creation of networks and discussions, engagement with campaigns and parties would help bring the left together.

Perhaps the greatest thing such an organisation could do is in the direction of unity. I believe, with no factual basis, that there exists a silent socialist majority. If this can be organised then a further layer of socialists get mobilised. For any 'unity' project to gain credibility as non-sectarian, this group would have to be won over and convinced. The balance of power would shift in intra-left politics and such an independent organisation would give credibility to any organisation it backs. The greatest achievement of such an organisation would be dissolving itself into a mass working class party. Such an organisation may have altered significantly the events at the Respect conference.

I do not know how such an organisation can come into existence - perhaps through this website. What I do know is that if disaffected comrades aren't made to feel part of something, they will be lost to the cause. It looks as though there are likely to be high profile resignations from Respect (some have already begun). I do not believe that the SWP should be ashamed of being a majority or that it should not continue to be active within organisations and alliances. But there is the risk of those frustrated with the SWP walking away and turning their back on the fight. This would be a disaster.

It is time for independent socialists to organise.


January 2005


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