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
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
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
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.
Socialist Unity ~ For Internationalism ~ For Peace ~ For Justice ~ For Unity ~