Creating a space to think and fight
The following is a transcript of part of the discussion at the RMT conference on working class political representation. Hilary Wainwright is the editor of Red Pepper. You can read our account of the conference here
As John McDonnell said, I like many of you, have been at it for a long time. I set up with others (about three of us) a tendency in the International Marxist Group called Break Labourís Monopoly Hold. But I think this means that weíve got too depressed about the difficulties sometimes. We have a wealth of experience, a wealth of lessons, from which we can learn.
Also I think that, and this might be a bit Polly Anna ish, but I think that we have a certain advantage when we look at other experiences of electoral parties of coming late to this project, that we know that electoral politics is not going to be the main driving force of socialist transformation.
We should turn our lateness to our advantage in the sense of putting the emphasis on developing, as people have been doing, that the power at the point of production and in the community and really developing a structured movement outside of electoral politics whilst making the most of electoral politics where we can and aiming towards a consistent form of representation.
So I want to draw one or two lessons from the experience Iíve had. In that opening a structured movement must be our next aim In England. It is important to recognise the Scottish experience, where they began as an alliance long before they declared a party. They were a broader kind of alliance.
I think that the commitment for developing a party, creating the conditions for a party, does not meaning declaring it. It means that the conditions are partly objective, and they are partly what we must do. Creating the conditions isnít necessarily the same as saying we must have it now.
How do we in the particular situation of Britain with our totally undemocratic electoral system create the conditions for a party? There are a number of things to bear in mind. Firstly, though I always agree with almost everything, certainly 80%, of what David Nellist said, thereís the 20% I donít agree with strategically.
I think he implied, I think the Socialist Party imply that If youíre in the Labour Party like John McDonnell is and some of the others who arenít here, fighting away, working away, therefore your strategy is to change the Labour Party. Johnís left unfortunately but Iím sure heís got no illusions about changing the Labour Party but on the other hand [people can use] the resources and structures that have been created. We have got to start from where we are and keep our options open. Work from all sorts of different angles towards what we all want, which is a mass party of the working class to represent us in all different electoral institutions.
I think the other thing to bear in mind, learning from people like Dave Church in Walsall, for the whole of the UK is the unevenness of breaks which happen, the unevenness of struggle. And the fact that often its at the local level like in Walsall and Coventry where you can make these breaks. We need a structure, a way of working together, that recognises the unevenness in the strength of some of the cities in the north compared to other conditions in the south.
I think the other thing is that the point that unity comes from campaigning is absolutely crucial but itís really important to recognise that the campaigning thatís developing now isnít single issue and we need to take the issues on which we can develop the widest possible political unity in struggle. I think that is the whole issue of fighting privatisation because they are doing it in a Conservative way.
We all know that Health privatisation education privatisation are all coming from the same political model and in a sense that if we are to develop our campaigning in a way that brings together all those fighting privatisation and developing an alternative I think we can have a highly political movement without it being a party.
At the same time as developing unity in struggle we do need a concept of reflection. We need a way of building trust with each other and learn lessons from the past, and learn lessons internationally. Look at what happened in Brazil, Latin America is positive in many ways, but look at what happened in Brazil learn those lessons. The lessons from Italy, Rifondazione, the elections coming up, all the lessons that can be learned from that.
We need to meet again and I urge the RMT to do that but in a way that is both about unity in struggle and about a space for reflection and thoughtfulness. Both from the international experience and our own experiences including Respect and the Socialist Alliance and so on
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