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Socialists Anonymous? – a practical approach

Michael Murray

 I welcome David Brown’s analysis of the dilemma independent socialists face in contemplating the chronic schisms of the British left.


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 intractable contradictions!


But I think that there is a solution, based on the new technologies and the possibilities that organisation via the web can offer.


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.



January 2005


For Socialist Unity ~ For Internationalism ~ For Peace ~ For Justice ~ For Unity ~ For Socialism