Sunday, 14 April 2013

Our first meeting - a brief report

The International Socialist Network, launched on 11 March, held its first national meeting on Saturday 13 April in central London. 90 socialist activists from around Britain were joined by observers from the IS tradition in North America and some groups in Britain.

The meeting discussed the next steps for the IS Network – from organisational structures to relationships with the rest of the left in Britain and internationally and how best to continue and develop the best of the IS tradition, theoretically and practically. It passed a draft constitution and elected an interim steering committee.

Women members reported back from the caucus earlier in the day and news was shared of local IS Network meetings that have been held and others that are planned. Members made clear their commitment to transparency and in this spirit, minutes of the meeting will be published to members and on the website within the week. This practice will be adopted for all future meetings.

For further information on the IS Network email

Friday, 12 April 2013

On Cult-like Thinking

by China M.

It's disarming to a socialist when a rote canard of the right, that the far Left - let alone the group to which that socialist until recently belonged - is 'like a cult', is persuasive.

That accusation has been regularly levelled against the SWP during its ongoing crisis. It's easy to see why: the CC's and loyalists' panicked and bullying responses to perceived heresy; the faith in an infallible leadership (in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary); the argument by citation of holy (Cliffite) writ; the almost unbelievable refusal, even now, to admit to any mistakes; the growing sectarianism. But underlying all this, and perhaps the most damning and extraordinary component of such mentality, is a fervent idealism.

This idealism and its dogmas are self-perpetuating. They underpin many of the leadership’s appalling errors and dogged self-defence, and thus demand investigation. As the 'austerity' onslaught continues, there's an urgent need for serious far-left politics. The SWP remains a major player on the Left, its growing isolation notwithstanding. Its regime and fate will continue to have an effect. Getting right the story of what the SWP is getting so wrong is crucial for those of us who have left to ensure that it does not happen again - and for those still inside, to take stock.

Given the CC's lies about a perfidious 'witchhunt', and/or 'hostility to Leninism', it's worth recalling that this catastrophe unfolded when a large section of the SWP was aghast at the initial cover-up of, and subsequent shameful, sexist and indefensible 'investigation' into, allegations of rape and sexual harassment within the party.(1) A scandal in its own right, this episode also illustrated a deep cultural rot,(2) that shocked even those of us in the party who had long argued that there was a democratic and accountability deficit in the organisation. Things were, simply, much worse than we had thought.

But the truly extraordinary shift was from what one might decry as 'everyday' Machiavellianism - reprehensible but hardly unusual behaviour like packing meetings, lying about membership numbers and so on - to this cult-like idealism.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the CC's response to complaints that the members of the Disputes Committee who examined the case were close associates, friends and colleagues of the accused high-ranking member. '[W]e reject', they stress, in the most recent Internal Bulletin (IB, p6) 'the notion that "unconscious bias" in these matters cannot be overcome. We hold that, on the basis of their political commitments, comrades can operate in an unbiased manner. Indeed they took special care at their hearings to consider this factor and to overcome it.'

Such a position has been repeated at all stages. What inoculated members of the Disputes Committee, it is stressed, was their 'political morality'. Of course no one is suggesting that we're all in ineluctable thrall to the muck of ages in which our minds are steeped. Nor that people cannot make perfectly sincere efforts to put aside their preconceptions, with varying success. But unconscious biases are unconscious. The clue is in the name. One cannot know that one has overcome them, nor even that one is aware of them or what they are. One can certainly not be confident one has overcome them by 'special care', or by the sprinkling of some magic fairy dust called 'political morality'. For anyone to claim this is ridiculous. To hear this from those who consider themselves Marxists, with a materialist theory of consciousness, is simply astounding.

If you are Good enough, goes the claim, you can effectively shape your own consciousness, by choice. There are, of course, theories of mind according to which certain people can confidently step outside history in this way. A particularly degraded version of the liberal historical theory of Great Men [sic]; fascist models of ubermenschen, stamping their will through 'the act'; and religious conceptions of saintly souls. The last, religiosity, provides the most obvious analogy with the CC position, but there is also a strong strain of the first, 'Great Men' and Women. Who but the Great never make errors? Who but they deserve to so enthusiastically self-valorise, as the CC do, in, for example, their document 'For an Interventionist Party', proudly citing not only their ability to 'shift the situation in a direction more favourable to the revolutionary forces' (how's that going?), but even their bullying - 'our tradition of polemical leadership'.

It is hard to overstate quite how politically impoverished and theoretically vacuous the CC position is. Compared to this deluded sanctimoniousness, even bourgeois legalism is, at least formally, considerably more progressive, calmly acknowledging as it does the fact of conflicts of interest, and that, in certain situations, the least bad option is to recuse oneself.

Not, in this context, that the mere replacement of individuals would have solved the problems. Are all SWP members supposed to be able to perform this 'politically moral' trick? Are none ever sexist? Or does one have to be a member for a certain length of time to bleach away all such legacies? Perhaps to be active a certain number of hours a week? To sell a certain number of papers? Of course, defining the Elect can only be the prerogative of the priesthood.

And this is the rub. Not only does such degenerate Herculean moralism manifest in a range of SWP tics - from guilt culture to voluntarism and substitutionism - but recognizing it also goes some way to unpicking the peculiarly defensive and impoverished attitude to questions of oppression and identity, such as those around race, sexuality, and gender.

Among the many tasks facing us as socialists is to respectfully and open-mindedly engage with current approaches to these complex terrains. Not to dilute, but to strengthen our Marxist theory. The idealism of the CC is a model of how not to do so. A corollary of their idealism with regard to their own internalised biases and methods is an inability to deal theoretically seriously with internalised biases at the level of social structure and psychology.

The CC protest that they are shocked, shocked at allegations of SWP sectarianism towards feminism, but a leadership not lucky enough to be infallible might i) admit that this has been the case, and ii) take some responsibility for it. Such behaviour of course is related to the theoretical impoverishment that sees the same bibliography on such issues replicated year after year, refusing to address important advances in feminist (and indeed other) theory.

A knee-jerk unease and/or dismissal characterises any discussion of, for example, 'privilege', in terms of sexuality, gender, race, etc. There are of course excellent Marxist reasons to be cautious of such theories, but that does not justify traducing them, nor that the substantive content of some such are without insight. This possibility is precluded in the mainstream SWP discussion by a theoretically crass elision of the categories of 'privilege, 'benefit' and 'interest'.

This allows any discussion of such topics to slip rapidly into reassuring banalities. 'Workers’ objective interests are to win the greatest unity of their side' (IB, p10). This is true, but in and of itself not very helpful. When the conclusion drawn is the, sadly, patently false one that 'workers are forced by their objective circumstances to unite across the many divisions in the working class, the division of gender being the oldest and most deeply rooted', it is clear that the complexities of ideology and consciousness are not being explained, but explained away.

Normally one might associate such arrant Marxist determinism with the most mechanical materialism: here, however, it is inextricable from that idealism of a pure-souled priesthood. This Overcoming Of Division is an eschatology, a Rapture.

The crude materialism in fact serves and justifies the moralist idealism. There are two tiers: a few have the magic of Political Morality to efface reactionary detritus in their souls; and by their intercession, the cunning of history will do the job for the rest. There is, therefore, no need to detain oneself too long on these awkward theoretical issues of psychology.

It is one thing to have a respectful and sharp-eyed Marxist caution about identity politics. It is quite another to ossify a body of theory. Tactically it is bankrupt to leave members ill-equipped to engage with advances in radical social theory, particularly now.(3) Theoretically it is arrogant and stultifying not to be open to the idea that we might not only debate with but learn from different theoretical traditions.(4)

Key to any discussion of such issues, and of internalised relations of oppression, is what, in his discussion of race and class, Du Bois called 'a sort of public and psychological wage' paid to white workers (and by careful and cautious extension, in different ways, other groups). It remains the case 'that Workers objective interests are to win the greatest unity of their side', but it is nonetheless quite inadequate to insist that 'this "psychological wage" is not a material benefit for white workers'.

For a start, it is misleading to separate the 'psychological' component of the wage from the 'public', and Du Bois is clear that this latter included 'public deference and titles of courtesy', and access denied black people. Even now, when some of these overt and formalised expressions of racism have been overcome, can it be denied that such differentiation still forms part of the 'public and psychological wage'? And among other things these are material effects - and indeed, relative to the oppressed group in that moment, benefits, or privileges. And a nuanced materialist theory of psychology would acknowledge that even a nebulous and 'unformalised' sense of racist superiority, if in a complex and mediated fashion, is and has material effect itself. Indeed, the overlap of the two components of Du Bois's wage is arguably now stronger than ever: it is precisely when the 'public' element of the wage, including these immediate and local - shall we not hedge? -privileges relative to the oppressed are stripped of official validation, removed from 'formality', while retaining informal but real material power (as in the reality of structural racism in an era of formal legal equality), that their imbrication with the 'psychological' element of the wage becomes ever closer. To consider the material reality of oppression must include considering such social psychological factors.

None of which, it should go without saying, is to give ground on essentialist or inevitabilist theories of racism: to gloss and dismiss the approach to the 'public and psychological wage' tentatively sketched here as a claim that ‘white people benefit from racism’ is ridiculous, a function of an allergic reaction to the very word 'benefit' in these contexts, fostered by the CC's idealism, and their commissars of acceptable theory.(5) Strident citation of workers' objective long-term interests, even to those of us who agree that such are key and indeed exert a pressure for solidarity, are inadequate to tracing the contours of consciousness and ideology, including internalised bias and relations of oppression.

The SWP’s leadership can offer nothing better. Faithful to their idealist method, they pose a sharp division between Thoughts and Things, putting their faith in the latter and effectively dismissing the former (for most people - because their thoughts, we know, are magic, but those of others are not). In their risibly crude formulation, '[t]his is not about the consciousness of male workers; this is about their objective interest' (IB, p10). The obvious Marxist point is that this is about both: and indeed that the two are complexly related. This is how social psychology works.

It's almost tempting to apply a carefully modulated variant of Du Bois's model. Can a public (if on a pitiful scale) and psychological wage perhaps explain the leadership's investment in antidemocratic behaviour, unshakeable certainty in their own infallibility, and such political and theoretical dereliction?

Whatever the reasons, the fact is that under their watch, the dominant SWP culture is now one not only of defensive ignorance of the scholarly discipline of social psychology, but of moralistic and idealist suspicion of the very fact of social psychology itself.


1) It should be relentlessly demanded of all loyalists whether they defend putting the question 'Is it fair to say you like a drink?' to a woman alleging sexual harassment. There have in fact been a very few gutter-Jesuitical efforts to do just this, but for the most part, in what might be evidence of some dying-fish flappings of shame, the fact that this question was put is simply not mentioned, let alone acknowledged as shameful.

2) This rot was evident among other things in the disgraceful behaviour of the leadership and their loyalists; their denial of reality (in particular 'this is having no effect on the party's reputation', and 'this is entirely due to one member blogging and another giving a one-paragraph quote in a soft-left magazine', preposterous claims growing daily more dizzyingly absurd); their smearing and cynical misrepresentation of opposition members; and their wholesale gerrymandering of the 'special conference' in an effort not to engage with but to humiliate the opposition (including at least one largely loyalist district passing a special motion to underrepresent itself at conference, solely to exclude an opposition member).

3) This is particularly lamentable when the internet, even on its Dark Side, has, in its messy, scattershot way, brought such issues into the mainstream, as in the fantastic attacks on racist/sexist/homophobic tropes by bloggers. This should be a delight to the left, and the intemperate online critics should be among those to whom we relate.

4) After all, the IS has quite rightly done this before, over, for example, Gay Liberation. Compare even the rather theoretically wan SWP approach to LGBT issues now to, say, the cringe-making article from the 1957 Socialist Review on 'Equality' by 'C Dallas' (Chanie Rosenberg), explaining that with 'complete equality between the sexes ... homosexuality would disappear naturally'.

5) Breaking from this culture is bracing. It is not mere self-congratulation to point out how many comrades have stressed how much more stimulating, engaged and serious they have found intellectual life in the SWP opposition than for any time in years within the mainstream of the party.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Some thoughts on industry and the unions

by Kevin Crane

The emancipation of the working class is the act of the working class. That's the neat little phrase that summarises the definition of revolutionary socialism. In many ways, the wider aspects of our politics about how society can be transformed, and how the ruling class, its state and institutions can be confronted, all flow from this. The most famous feature of the IS tradition, the state capitalist analysis of Stalinism, had a significant effect on the way IS orientated itself strategically, placing heavy emphasis on 'socialism from below' and 'rank and file' strategies. What these strategies meant, applied concretely, has changed over time. What I think we ought to be discussing is what they mean now.

Between 1968 and the late 1970s, IS applied its rank and file strategies by getting members in workplaces involved in workplace organisation. You can read about some of the most important experiences from this in Birchall's biography of Cliff – the article about rank and fileism on Soviet Goon Boy's blog is also very useful.

The SWP's official position on rank and file tactics have been pretty consistent since the 1970s and the old adage of the “three cogs” was pretty well drummed into us: the militants, the rank-and-file, the union. There is, however, room for debate as to what this really means today.

One of the key goals of the Thatcher government was to prevent trade unions from playing the decisive role in British politics that they had since the 1940s. In 1972, a Tory government collapsed as a direct consequence of failing to break major strikes by powerful groups of workers. A popular joke among Tories at the time was “What three institutions can never be questioned? The church, the judiciary and the National Union of Mineworkers.” What Thatcher did in the 1980s was gradually weaken and isolate the unions, starting with less significant groups then culminating in massive confrontations with sections like the print workers and the miners.

Organising under neoliberalism

Since that time, union strength has never recovered and the anti-union laws have been gradually made more and more restrictive, to the point where some left-wing lawyers question if they breach United Nations declarations on labour rights. Thatcher's legacy is even more keenly felt, though, in the last effect the 1980s had on work and working life as a whole. The large 'Fordist' workplaces in which 1970s trade unionism had flourished declined severely. British capitalism expanded through financialisation, which delivered profitability for the ruling classes, but was not very good at creating jobs and led to increasing proportions of people being employed in the public and service sectors. The Labour party internalised this down-ranking in the importance of the unions that it had originally existed to represent by pledging allegiance to neoliberalism, symbolised by Tony Blair's scrapping of Clause Four, an action that would lead to a fundamental contradiction once they got into office.

It wasn't so noticeable in New Labour's first term, due to goodwill from a grateful public that the Tories were out and a number of genuine reforms like minimum wage and education maintenance allowance, but the relationship between Labour and the unions was destined for constant strain. The unions had come to believe that the fall of the miners meant they had no way to fight, they needed Labour to give them pro-working class legislation. Labour however, under the likes of Blair and Mandelson, were determined to keep Thatcherism going – which meant more privatisation and less public spending, viewing the unions as little more than sources of election campaign funding. A change did come over the unions at this time as, with the exceptions of UNISON and GMB, more or less all of them had profound changes of leadership in which stuffy, mealy-mouthed pro-Blair union general secretaries were suddenly replaced with a new generation of younger, more vocal and more openly socialist officials like Mark Serwotka, Bob Crow and Tony Woodley. It was still to be a while before the first woman gen sec, mind.

From 2000-2001 the unions would occasionally put on actions against New Labour, but they were permanently fighting with one hand tied behind their backs, unwilling to inflict defeats on 'their' government. This was first seen in a really catastrophic way in 2002/3 when the left-wing leader of the Fire Brigades Union allowed a massive fightback over pay to get defeated, essentially because he could not rise to the challenge of defeating the government as the Iraq war loomed.

Political trade unionism

The SWP at this time actually had quite a contemporary take on the situation. It argued that the “dead hand of Labourism” was going to carry on holding the unions back while Labour could claim to be the only possible political expression of working class interests. The party also pointed to the fact that the unions had some considerable work to do in presenting themselves as relevant to the working class as it was by the early 21st century: it borrowed a phrase, “they are too male, pale and stale” - the profile of the unions was lagging behind a younger, more female and more multicultural workforce. The party repeatedly state at the time that there was no point in waiting for the 1970s working class, represented by white men in boiler suits – as if that were ever fully accurate - to come running over the hills to the rescue.

The SWP's strategy in industry shifted toward 'political trade unionism', which was a phrase coined to try and bring to some of the radicalism and excitement from the mass protest movements that had built up in those early years of the decade. Trade union participation in Stop the War was maximised, as it was in the new Unite Against Fascism as well as in anti-capitalist events like Mayday and the G8 and in Make Poverty History. This had some real effects and its easy to forget with everything else that on the day the war broke out, March 20th 2003, small strikes and workplace shutdowns occurred in protest up and down the country. There was also a genuine engagement by the union movement itself: the CWU leadership said that members who attended anti-war demos were 'the future reps'. Tony Woodley seemed to take to Stop the War a great deal and seemed to have a theory of political trade unionism of his own, which has certainly influenced his successor Len McCluskey.

The need to break the “dead hand” was the theoretical underpinning for the SWP pushing for an electoral project that ultimately became Respect. This is important to remember: the objective in Respect had never been simply to get a few councillors elected, it was open up a space to the left of Labour in politics. Incidentally, Respect did attract some enthusiasm from sections of the smaller unions, at least at first, and received affiliation and funding from RMT and PCS branches. The Socialist Alliance never did this: it is not true that dissolving the SA was simply a turn away from labour movement politics – the SA had been a failed attempt at turning toward it.

Networks of resistance?

The conditions in which the 'political trade unionism' strategy developed are now long gone. By the end of the decade, the unity around Stop the War dissipated, Respect split acrimoniously, the economic crisis hit and the Labour government finally failed to stand up in an election. So what became the industrial strategy?

The SWP, like numerous groups on the left, responded to the economic crisis and the looming threat of Tory austerity by launching a series of initiatives: People Before Profit Charter, Open Letter to the Left, Right to Work and finally (?) Unite the Resistance. Many of these seem to overlap with each other and the other campaigns launched by other left groups: the norm with all of them is mainly propagandising – call a rally with some trade unionists and 'other activists' about the threat posed by cuts, end that by calling a demonstration, then call a rally. These activities are no bad thing in themselves, but I believe the evidence that they were reaching out beyond a fairly typical SWP periphery is scant and their impact on stopping austerity is even more so. Also, it's not actually an industrial strategy – it's a protest strategy.

Protests are hugely important to our overall vision of organising of course: in 2010, after witnessing the successive big struggles without corresponding victories of the postal workers, BA cabin crew, London Underground workers and firefighters again, it was mass protests by the students that finally made resistance to austerity a reality. Those student protests helped give a kick-start to the process that led to the TUC calling the excellent 500,000 strong demo on March 26th 2011 and further onto the co-ordinated strikes of June 30th and the mass strikes of November 30th. SWP members were fully involved in all these things, and in the small unions, the SWP had large-ish memberships and some influence on the NECs that called J30 which had paved the way for N30! So a new strategy was born, right?

Fighting and not fighting

Martin Smith declared in autumn 2011 that Unite the Resistance, which had previously been merely the name of a pre-strike rally to J30, was now an organisation 'like the Minority Movement'. He theorised that because the left in the small, militant public sector unions had acted, they had seized initiative from the right in the large public sector unions and forced action to occur. He re-emphasised that rank-and-file organisations, in the classic sense, do not exist and cannot be established on a national scale. That point is not deniable – the public sector doesn't have strong rank-and-file organisation even in the most densely unionised areas.

N30 happened and was a massive day, a celebration even of public sector strength, but as has become the routine, very soon after the strike the union leaders were back round the table with the Tories, more or less conceding historic cuts in public sector jobs and terms and conditions. Throughout much of 2012, the SWP attempted to act out Martin Smith's theory of the left in the unions seizing the initiative – the results were not the desired effect. It proved possible to win some strike ballots in NUT and PCS, but not nationwide. In UCU, where the SWP has both a large membership and NEC representation, strike ballots returned a no. NUT eventually got talked out of striking by an agreement with its rival NASUWT. The big unions, Unison, GMB and Unite, were not for turning at all. The SWP had predicted a 'hot autumn' over attacks on the public sector, instead a deep chill set in.

In my view, the SWP simply theorised the chain from M26-J30-N30 incorrectly. The picture of the SWP-led Broad Lefts in UCU, PCS and NUT passing resolutions that ultimately bounced the sleeping giant of Unison into getting up and fighting was not right – if it were, it would be reproduceable. Rather, I think N30 fits the pattern of having been a bureaucratic mass strike – that is a response by the union leaderships to pressure from below (of which the SWP will have been really quite a small part) calling big action to harness but also dissipate the energy of workers, firmly under their control. One SWP loyalist claimed to me that this was dismissive and that N30 was 'half a rank-and-file strike', which I think is silly. Half a million workers were involved – if their rank-and-file pressure were such a force, how did Dave Prentis switch it off like a tap?

What's the vanguard?

The odd thing about the SWP's response to the rise and slump in the public sector struggle, aside from it being used as a psychiatric explanation for why such a large chunk of the membership suddenly became infected with creeping feminism-autonomism, is that all the while the SWP threw all resources at Unite the Resistance's 'solidarity' with the public sector struggle, there was a successful alternative strategic orientation. The electricians ('sparks'), under Unite, fought a nail-biting battle and got a hard won victory against some of the most brutal employers in Britain and the world, led by Balfour Beatty.

To be fair, the SWP did promote and support the electricians' strikes (producing a quite a good pamphlet on it), but made no major attempts to generalise the victory, even as the public sector workers went ever further on the trajectory toward defeat and Unite the Resistance was running out of things to unite with.

Why was this? I think the party had made an 'ideological turn' over the shape of the working class and the sparks, despite actually having delivered a victory, couldn't be shoehorned into the vision. Many SWP members have, over the decades, ended up in public sector jobs, particularly teaching, and this has lead to a significant numbers being members of the respective unions. At the same time, a space has opened up in many of those unions, I suspect due to the decline of ordinary Labour Party membership that has allowed increasing numbers of far-leftists, including SWP members, to get senior positions previously unavailable to them (sometimes against their will in the case of UCU). This has had a significant influence over the prevailing thinking of the SWP toward these sectors and unions, as the party has become influential in them in a way it previously hadn't been.

These public sector workers were always going to conflict with the Tories over austerity with their high union densities (and generous union facilities) and their decent pay scales. They resemble, well sort of, the kind of firm unionisation that was common before Thatcher.

The sparks simply do not fit this bill. They are part of the now more common form of workers, on temporary contracts with a real risk that fighting over anything means losing your job the very next day. They are, in a word the SWP is oddly hostile to, precarious. It is true that a significant amount of writing on precarious workers is at times unhelpful – but it is also true that precarity is fast becoming a norm throughout the job market and affecting younger workers disproportionately. What the sparks have proved to us is that this doesn't have to make those younger workers a lost cause – they can and have fought, albeit in ways that don't resemble the orderly one-day strikes of teachers and lecturers, instead holding rowdy protests and storming workplaces.

The fact that public sector workers were a target for the Tories, even coupled with a reasonably large presence of socialists, does not automatically mean that they are a vanguard, like the 1970s NUM, ready to bring down a government. The public sector workers may have had relatively good terms and conditions up to now, but there is not necessarily the confidence to fight for those and much less the belief that they can fight for another generation, getting recruited onto much worse contracts (not least thanks to older workers taking voluntary redundancies). N30 was a reminder of just how massive the trade union movement, still the largest voluntary movement both here and worldwide, actually is. But our knowledge of how unions operate, their half-way position between capital and labour and their leaderships that represent but also control workers, tells that that alone is not what makes historic struggles.

I don't think anyone would have been able to predict that the electricians would have been the big industrial victory of 2012, and the next major fight may not be predictable either. I would, however, propose that there are some useful lessons.

Firstly, the small public sector unions can't just run to the front of the class and pull everybody else behind them – they were able to be ahead of the curve and during a period of mounting pressure in 2011, but that simply wasn't repeatable in 2012.

Secondly, getting workers, and for that matter others in the movement like students, to simply hail the bravery of public sector strikes has not forced those strikes to keep going – Unite the Resistance was not inappropriate when it was organising pre-strike rallies to try and link the wider movements to a genuinely exciting industrial action, but became somewhat bizarre when people from far beyond the public sector were being asked to come to meetings to discuss the importance of strikes that had already been called off!

Thirdly, there isn't a substitute for rank-and-file struggle – the sparks forced the bureaucracy of the massive Unite union to support militant industrial action it was desperate not to call, a world away from the process of the left banging its head against the walls of the bureaucracies in the small public sector unions, and having people on NECs passing motions does not resolve this on its own.

But finally, on a more positive note, we should view organising in precarious workplaces as our new challenge and one with real prospects. There are actually a number of initiatives in the labour movement trying to engage with this question, but they are still in their early stages. Unite's own Community section could start to play this sort of role. On London Underground, the RMT recently launched a 'contractors charter' to try and grow an active membership among the large numbers of workers on short-term contracts. Socialists should support and try to build processes like these.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Sussex staff and students fight back against privatisation.

Hannah Elsisi and Rich Trigg report from Sussex University:

Since May 2012 there has been a fight raging through Sussex University after the announcement that managers planned to 235 jobs, including porters, residential services, catering, security and many more. This is over 10% of all campus jobs and nearly 100% of all jobs in campus services. Since this Sussex Against Privatisation announcement, Sussex workers have been coming together to resist privatization, with open meetings and regular demonstrations.

On 3 February 2013, following a demonstration of over 300 staff and students in opposition to the privatisation of services at Sussex University; a large group of students occupied the conference centre on the top floor of Bramber House. The campaign soon picked up widespread national press coverage and messages of support from Students’ Unions, organisations and influential individuals including Noam Chomsky, Ken Loach and Owen Jones. Seven weeks later, after a host of guest lectures, further support and an Early Day Motion being tabled at parliament by Brighton MP and former leader of the Green Party Caroline Lucas, the Sussex occupation were ready for their first national demonstration.

From the earliest moments of the day the feeling on campus was electric and, using the hashtag #Mar25, it seemed that was same was felt across the twittersphere. As the sun rose upon the hills of Sussex university the day's first action, 'Paint the night yellow', was clear to all who passed as the colour now decorated the campus in the form of ribbons, swings and chalk slogans. By midday all cafés on campus had been occupied and shut down for the day, much to the delight of the workers who asked for the campaigns signature yellow squares (inspired by the red squares of the Quebec student movement) to wear in support. Shutting down the campus cafés also gave the staff the opportunity to join the demonstration as well as sending a clear message to Sodexo, the company Sussex wish to outsource services to, that they are not welcome on campus. Come the opening rally at 1pm coaches had arrived from London, and the University's Library Square was now filled with around 2,000 students, workers and supporters. They heard speeches from ULU President Michael Chessum, anti-cuts campaigner Alfie Meadows and University of Sussex staff member Greg Patterson, who announced the launch of a 'pop-up union'. This is an innovative, horizontally organised trade union, run by staff on campus in a bid to halt the outsourcing of 235 jobs on campus in a collaboration between the rank and file members of three unions on campus along with students.

The march began after a series of speeches, which were well received with the exception of Labour MP Katie Clarke who was criticised for being a member of the party that paved the way for such attacks to be made. Ironically Katie herself has an impressive record of voting against privatisation and cuts to education. Vibrant and vocal the demonstrators made their way around the campus armed with banners and chanting
'Management get out! We know what you're all about. Cuts, job losses, money for the bosses.' The route took them to Sussex House, the administrative building and home of the management offices, which had been given the addition of wooden barricades on the windows the night before. Here protesters were met by scores of riot police who attempted to disrupt the growing numbers. Their presence was not wanted, which was made clear by chants of 'cops off campus'. The militarisation of our campuses is already seen as an issue with students at the University of the West of England's attempt to pass a motion at their SU AGM for no guns on campus in response to the heavy presence of armed military personnel at their Freshers fair this year. As the police were forced to retreat anger returned to Sussex House and with the front doors being the only glass that hadn't been protected they didn't last long. Banners dropped, flares were lit and the building was theirs. But with police reported to have gained access via a back door the now barricaded and occupied management building was left and activists headed to reinforce Bramber House, the site of the original occupation.

Occupation spread throughout the Bramber House conference centre as police surrounded the management building to stop it being re-occupied. As things began to calm down it was time to discuss what had been achieved that day, 650 people packed out a large conference room on the top floor of Bramber House and representatives from other universities told of their own struggles against privatisation. During this discussion it was put forward that as privatisation is a real threat across the education sector students should take the fight back to their campuses in the way they had that day at Sussex. The success of Monday's demonstration was clear, shown even more by the reaction from university management who have been granted an injunction banning all forms of protest on campus not consented to by management. This injunction is meant to provide the university with a right to evict the occupiers in Bramber House. The court hearing for this was held on Wednesday 27 March, the hearing lasted two and a half hours and resulted in Mr Justice Sales granting the University of Sussex a possession order over the whole of campus, operative with immediate effect. This extended an order granted by a different judge previously which allowed the University to evict protesters from anywhere other than Bramber House.

Support for the occupiers remains strong. Following the court's decision messages of solidarity have been passed on by hundreds of faculty and several schools/departments. The Sussex occupiers where evicted on Tuesday, a brutal and violent day with four arrests, 80 policemen and 15 riot vans arrived to evict them from what had been their home for two months. But though this may be the end of the occupation, it is not the end of the fight. Campus trade unions have called a coordinated indicative ballot on strike action and the anti-privatisation has made a call-out for a national week of action in defence of the public university from 15-19 April.

Independent on industrial action

Week of Action - Facebook event

Friday, 5 April 2013

Party democracy in Lenin’s Comintern – and now

by John Riddell, 4 April 2013

How did Communist parties handle issues of internal discipline and democracy in Lenin’s time? The recent intense discussion within the British Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) and beyond has heard claims that the SWP rests on the traditions of democratic centralism inherited from the Bolsheviks.[1] It is thus useful to review the nature of internal democracy in the Communist International (Comintern) during 1919–23, the period of its first four congresses.

Like most Marxist groups today, the British SWP looks to the Bolshevik Party under Lenin as a guiding example of revolutionary party-building, and much discussion rests on this comparison. However, in seeking a model for a revolutionary party, it is also worth looking at the Communist parties in Lenin’s time outside Russia, which functioned in circumstances much closer to what we face today than those of tsarist Russia.

Four comparisons

In the course of editing and translating into English several books of documents on Communist history in Lenin’s time, I have studied debates among Communist party delegates at many international events. Here is my reading of what this record tells us regarding Comintern organisational norms on four issues that have arisen in the SWP discussion.

  • Factions and tendencies: There was no ban on factions in the Comintern. During its early years, its major parties were factionally divided most of the time.
  • Discussions: Disagreements within Communist parties were routinely argued out before the working class as a whole in the parties’ publications.
  • Executive Unity: Members of the Comintern Executive and its Small Bureau in Moscow frequently carried their disagreements to world congresses, as did members of national leaderships.
  • Leadership: Leaderships in the Comintern and its parties were elected, and where slates were presented, these were subject to amendment.

A comment is in order on each of these points.

Factions: In the Bolshevik-Comintern tradition, factions were temporary formations, constituted around immediate issues. When an issue was resolved, factions that had been formed around it normally dispersed. For example, during the third Comintern congress in 1921, two factions in the German party, which seemed on the point of split, came together around a common political statement. Part of their agreement was that the factions would dissolve. They did so, but new factions quickly formed – around new issues and with new alignments.

Discussion: The Comintern took for granted that internal discussion should be shared with workers outside the party by conducting it in party newspapers. Sometimes, Communist publications presented a minority point of view; a prominent example was Kommunismus, the ultra-left organ published 1920-21.[2] Especially following the expulsion of German Marxist Paul Levi in 1921, the Comintern frowned on factional publications outside party control. However, each party had a great many publications, each with its own editorial structure, and this encouraged a diversity of opinions.

Executive Unity: In the Third World Congress (1921), the conflict between ultra-leftist and united front-oriented currents in Germany and other Central European countries divided the Bolshevik leaders and the Comintern Executive’s Small Bureau. In the end, the congress managed to adopt resolutions by general agreement, but conflict continued, in muted form, to the end of the congress and after.

Leadership: Initially, members of the Comintern Executive were delegated by its national parties. In 1922, for the first time, members of the Executive were elected by the congress as a whole. A nomination commission, made up of delegates chosen by the various parties, recommended a slate of candidates. When it was presented to the congress, amendments to change the slate’s composition were made and voted on.[3] Election procedures in the parties varied, and candidates were often proposed collectively in slates. As far as I can see, such slates were always subject to amendment and approval by vote by convention delegates.

Party, movement, and working class

I have seen little mention of these four issues in my reading of the early Comintern debates. Attention to organizational norms had a different focus, which flowed from the origin and character of the Comintern’s national sections.

Parties in the imperialist countries had tens or hundreds of thousands of members. They also had a broad periphery of sympathizers, many of whom worked with party members on specific issues, such as aid to Soviet Russia, the emancipation of women, or opposition to colonialism. The party functioned in close contact with a broad layer of revolutionary-minded workers. The party and its periphery exerted influence throughout the working class.

The Communist parties of Lenin’s time included a wide spectrum of revolutionary socialist traditions. Party members were diverse in background, coming from Social Democratic, syndicalist, or revolutionary-nationalist origins.

Translation at a Comintern congress (see note, below)
Translation at a Comintern congress (see note, below)

The International’s internal debates focused on issues of tactics and strategy and the significance of its policies for the broader mass of workers, on whom their actions had a major impact. Debates in its parties typically reflected social differentiation and contrasting opinions within the working class as a whole. Two axes of dissension within the working class dominated the Comintern’s internal life in the 1919–23 period.

First, workers steeped in the pre-war traditions of Social Democracy were challenged by a young, revolutionary generation thrown forward by the war. Later, as the post-war revolutionary wave began to decline, workers impatient to strike a decisive blow against capitalist power came into disagreement with those who had grown cautious and were concerned with the need for unity in action. Such disharmony in the working class made it harder to grapple with the obstacle posed by reformist Social Democratic parties and to achieve unity against the capitalist foe.

Disagreements along these axes dominated the Comintern’s inner life during its first years. Factions sprang up in member parties reflecting the moods of more impatient or more cautious layers of the working class. On the whole, the Comintern had reasonable success in coping with such disputes, but they would arise again, driven by events in the struggle and pressure from the working class. As a result, internal debates were marked by shifting alliances and frequent changes of leadership. The German Communist Party, for example, reorganized its leadership four times in 1921 and 1922.

The debates on tactics and strategy also served to define the breadth of the Comintern – that is, the line dividing the range of currents included in its ranks from reformists on one side and incurable ultra-leftists on the other. Where to draw that line was the main organizational issue in Comintern life.

In 1920–21, as the postwar revolutionary wave began to flag, a surge of impatience among revolutionary-minded workers led to forces attracted to ultra-leftism gaining dominance in some central European parties and even – during a crucial period – in the Comintern Executive. But this urge for a showdown was out of step with the class relationship of forces. As a result, in 1921, the Comintern suffered a grievous setback in Germany, which led to damaging splits. During that year, however, the Comintern moved to rectify its course through adoption of the united front policy, which engaged parties in a campaign for working class unity in action.[4]

Discipline in action

The Comintern and its parties sought to function according to the norms of “democratic centralism.” This term was understood to mean proletarian democracy in taking decisions and choosing leaders, combined with unity in carrying out a decided course of action. Marxists have much the same concept today. But in the early Comintern, the focus was different: its chief concern was grappling with bureaucratism and electoralism.

The main constituent units of Comintern parties outside Russia came out of the old Social Democratic movement. These component parties had shed their reformist wings but still preserved much of the old parties’ structures and habits. The parties from which they came had devoted their energy mainly to electoral campaigning and associated educational work. They were led by a bureaucratic layer of functionaries rooted above all in the parliamentary fraction, the journalistic apparatus, and allied trade union leaderships. The Comintern’s democratic centralism sought to break the grip of bureaucratism. It aimed to bring parliamentary, journalistic, and trade union work under party control; to unify leadership and ranks into a homogenous movement; and to equip the party to intervene in mass struggles.

The need to make this transition is the overriding theme of the Comintern’s 1921 resolution on organisation. The resolution’s section on democratic centralism denounces parties where “functionaries became estranged from members, a vibrant collaboration was replaced by the mere forms of democracy, and the organisations became split between active functionaries and passive masses.” The resolution stresses members’ obligation to be active and to organize along lines that would enable them to carry out party policy in mass workers’ organisations. It called for “living ties and interrelationships both within the party, between its leading bodies and the rest of the membership, and also between the party and the masses of proletarians outside its ranks.”[5]

The careful balance evident in this passage was not always present in Comintern congress discussions. Calls for iron discipline and centralization were frequent, and they were not always balanced by acknowledgement of the strength that flows from diversity and delegation of authority. Different approaches were evident. In the Fourth Congress, for example, the respected Bulgarian delegate Vasil Kolarov called for “a common conception regarding all great questions,” insisting that “deviating viewpoints will necessarily lead to indiscipline.” However, in another context, Leon Trotsky told the congress that the formation of factions in France had been a “necessary and healthy response” under the circumstances, while Gregory Zinoviev, in his closing summary, noted that “minorities exist on this or that question (that is always the case).”[6]

Meanwhile, the need for discipline was posed above all – just as it is today – in clashes between the working class and its capitalist opponents. When workers’ in Italy occupied their factories in September 1920, the Italian section of the Comintern did not carry its recommendations for the struggle into the unions, leaving the top union officials – members of the Comintern – unchallenged in their betrayal of the struggle. Meanwhile, in Germany, advanced revolutionary contingents repeatedly launched armed resistance to capitalist oppression in isolation from broader working-class forces. Such episodes led to defeats in January 1919, March 1920, and March 1921, and – each time – the Communist forces were divided.

The Third Comintern Congress, in 1921, took up these dangers, both of which had been expressed in France. The French Communist Youth were chastised for having advocated that French workers individually refuse to report for duty during a crisis in French-German government relations. At the same time, a Communist Party leader, Marcel Cachin, was rebuked for having suggested in parliament that there was something positive in France’s imperialist alliance with Britain.[7]

Appeals to discipline were not a sufficient response to these strains. Lenin’s Comintern sought to counter such divisive tendencies by development of strategy and of united front policy, one aspect of which was the need for diverse working class forces to maintain discipline in united actions.

Such problems are not all that different from those we face today when, for example, a mass anti-cutbacks demonstration comes under threat from Black Bloc disruption on one side and the hesitations of trade-union officials on the other. The need for discipline in action is imposed not by party statutes but by the universally understood requirements of working-class struggle in every sphere.

Contemporary relevance

In the imperialist countries, today’s Marxist groups are orders of magnitude smaller than those of Lenin’s time. They function in a context where bourgeois democracy is more deeply rooted, revolution appears more distant, and the working class is more heterogeneous and diversified in its concerns. For all these reasons, one might expect Marxist groups today to be more open, flexible, and inclusive than in the years following the Russian revolution. In fact, the opposite is the case.

It is important here to avoid caricature and abusive generalization. Some Marxist groups show promise and have played significant roles in building mass movements and in innovative party building experiments – as the SWP has done in its best moments. Yet there is a model around which the majority of these groups, including the SWP, cluster, a pattern that we will call “small-group Marxism.” It contrasts sharply with that of the Lenin-era Comintern.

Typically, the membership of each group is limited to a single strand of Marxist political continuity. Groups tend to splinter over time. The competing groups increase in number, while engaging in a war of each against all. The links of such groups with the working class are not strong. Divisions in these groups typically flow from their inner dynamic rather than from class-struggle challenges. Internal democracy is typically less developed than in the early Comintern.

Programmatic differences between the groups are not great. Each rival current is defined chiefly by its political culture and traditions. This allegiance gives such groups a conservative cast, making it hard for them to learn from the changing struggle, correct their course, and unite with other currents.

Groups show little capacity to resolve differences harmoniously through experience. Leaderships are often isolated from effective membership control and tend to be self-perpetuating, unless the key players have a falling out. Discipline aims less at unity against the class enemy and more at keeping members in line and regulating what they say and do. Success is defined not so much by victories of the class as by the group’s ability to grow, accumulate resources, and get the better of its Marxist competitors.

These characteristics can best be explained as an evolutionary adaptation to conditions of small-group existence in difficult political conditions. Many groups resist this model with some success, but its pressure bears down on them all.

Certainly, conditions have changed vastly since Lenin’s time, and the early Comintern’s record in building revolutionary parties was uneven and flawed. Yet although Lenin’s Comintern does not provide a textbook, it should serve to stimulate our imagination. The SWP and other contemporary Marxist organisations need to surmount the limits of small-group existence and begin to acquire virtues of Communist parties of Lenin’s time. Otherwise, they cannot contribute significantly to building an effective revolutionary movement.

Explanation of photo: Translation was the lifeblood of discussion in the Communist International. Here, Angelica Balabanoff is translating for a group of English-speaking delegates at the Second Congress (1920). Behind her with arms folded is Louis Fraina (U.S.); behind her, writing, is John Murphy (UK); to his left is Abani Mukherji (India); left of Mukherji is John Quelch (UK); underneath them, writing, is William McLaine (UK).

John Riddell is the author of seven documentary volumes on revolutionary history in Lenin’s time. For information on these books and his other writings, go to Riddell resigned from the International Socialists (Canada) on March 20, 2013.


[1] For the position of the SWP leadership majority, see “Is Leninism Finished,” by Alex Callinicos. For the SWP opposition’s response, see “Is Zinovievism finished? A reply to Alex Callinicos” and other documents at International Socialism.

See also, among the many comments from outside the SWP, “The Crisis in the SWP-Britain,” Paul Le Blanc’s “Leninism Is Unfinished,” and Louis Proyect’s “Leninism is finished: a reply to Alex Callinicos.” For a response from Canada, see Paul Kellogg, “Reflections on the Crisis in the SWP,”

Pham Binh compares SWP organizational norms unfavourably to those of the Bolsheviks in “Slates, Factions, and the British SWP.”

[2] Lenin expressed his appraisal of Kommunismus tactfully but firmly: “This excellent journal, which is published in Vienna under the above title, contains a great deal of highly interesting material on the growth of the communist movement in Austria, Poland and other countries, together with a chronicle of the international movement, and articles on Hungary and Germany, on general tasks and tactics, etc. A shortcoming that strikes the eye even at a cursory examination cannot, however, be disregarded—the indubitable symptoms of the ‘infantile disorder of Left-wing Communism’ that has affected the journal, a subject on which I have written a short pamphlet that has just appeared in Petrograd.” See V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1960–71, vol. 31, pp. 165–7.

[3] John Riddell, Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922, Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2012, pp. 1104–9.

[4] In dealing with these issues, most historians of the Comintern stress the effect of shifts in Soviet Russian foreign policy, intervention by the Bolshevik leadership, and the personal role of Zinoviev, the Comintern’s president. These factors – especially Soviet foreign policy – were also cited at the time by the Comintern’s opponents, both left and right. In my opinion, their influence has been exaggerated.

[5] The translation is from the manuscript of my forthcoming edition of the Third Congress. The resolution’s full text is available at For Lenin’s subsequent reservations on this resolution, see Toward the United Front, pp. 303–5.

[6] Toward the United Front, p. 44.

[7] The Comintern Executive’s discussion of these issues, available in the Russian archive RGASPI under reference number 495/1/37, will be included in the forthcoming edition of the Third Congress proceedings.

All the hegemony you can eat

by Roobin

The way things have been if I don’t see another buttressing quote from either Lenin, Luxemburg or Tony Cliff for a long while I will be happy. So, in that spirit, let’s talk about Lenin!

One thing I have been adamant about for some time is that the revolutionary party was not Lenin’s key innovation. Firstly, even if he intended to found “The Bolsheviks” he did not intend his party to be a new party. He was trying to found a Russian SPD. Later, when the International was trying to found new parties many Communist Parties were not made brand new but founded out of Socialist Party majorities. Despite instants of political hardship (not least of which was Hitler’s invasion of Europe) from the mid-twenties onward the CP was a realistic means for a political career. Lenin intended for the Third International to consist of revolutionary parties, but being in this case is only the same as doing.

Lenin’s real innovation was his discussion of nationalities. The 20th century was in many ways the story of revolutionary nationalism. Lenin was so perceptive he was couple of decades ahead of everybody else, including the actual movements. This is important though, what we are talking about here is Lenin the ‘autonomist’, the man who pointed to an expanded revolutionary subject. His particular concern was linking the workers movement in the Russian heartland with the national movements in the outlying countries of the Tsar’s empire. But there are broader applications.

Firstly we are discussing the matter of hegemony. How do movements against aspects of capitalism become movements against capitalism itself? We’re talking not just movements against occupation or imperialism but for civil rights, women’s liberation, LGBT liberation and so on.

But, more importantly, we’re talking about how we build a working class movement in the first place. Wage labour and subsequent exploitation is based on the separation of workers from the means of production. This is an excellent founding fact but too abstract as a basis for day to day politics. People’s living and working conditions are defined by much more than this, by gender, nationality, sexuality, race and so on. We look both for weaknesses in the current capitalist set up but also potential strengths on the part of the working class. An example, in Lenin’s time whole villages would send their sons off to work in particular factories. There was often a pre-existing sense of solidarity, imported from the countryside. This, added to the concentrating effect of Russia’s huge factories, made the turn of the century Russian working class a force to be reckoned with.

It’s this kind of confluence that we should be looking for today.

Steven Simpson’s death should not be dismissed

Content Warning: Contains description of an ableist/homophobic killing.

by Maxi B

In the early hours of the 23rd of June, Steven Simpson was set on fire by 20 year old Jordan Sheard, who had gate-crashed his house party in Cudworth, near Barnsley. He had been verbally abused, stripped of his clothes and had phrases like “I love dick” and “gay boy” scrawled across his body. He was then doused in tanning oil and Sheard lit his crotch with a cigarette lighter, and the flames engulfed his body. Those involved fled as Simpson’s neighbour tried desperately to put out the flames. Simpson died the next day after enduring 60% burns to his body.

Steven Simpson’s brutal killing was the result of the hatred and humiliation caused to him because of his sexuality, and his disability. He was bullied, de-humanised and then killed. It follows the format of many killings of LGBTQ people world wide.

Sheffield Crown Court’s view on the matter has been frankly disgusting. Judge Roger Keen dismissed the crime as a ‘good-natured horseplay’ that had gone too far, and sentenced him to a unusually short sentence of three and a half years in prison. Sheard’s defence lawyer called what happened to Simpson as a ‘stupid prank that went wrong in a bad way’.

This was clearly a hate crime. Simpson was being taunted for his sexuality and his disability. He was devalued so much in the eyes of those involved, that they thought setting him on fire was somehow acceptable. He was a bright young man studying at Barnsley College, but his last moments alive on this earth must have been dehumanising, painful and terrifying.

How Judge Roger Keen can dismiss this so flippantly as “horseplay” is beyond me. He is re-enforcing the same notions that lead to Steven’s death: that homophobic bullying is fun, rather than a crime against LGBTQ people, that it is okay to mock or take advantage of someone’s disability, rather than looking out for them and treating them with respect, that setting someone on fire and burning them to death is “a joke too far”, rather than one of the inevitable consequences of the way we still treat people like Steven in our society.

It makes me sick to the stomach to think someone so young has been killed because he was different – and the frightening fact is that could have been any one of us that lives with a disability, or who is LGBTQ. Many have commented on the lenient sentencing of Steven’s killer, however I think this misses the point. The point here is the criminal justice system is complicit in the oppression of LGBTQ people and disabled people, when it makes comments like those of Judge Keen’s. It is churning out the very same ideas that lead to hate-crime.

It is not a joke, funny, or horseplay to treat someone in the way Steven was and we should not condone it as such. If we do condone this behaviour we are sending out the message that LGBTQ people and disabled people are fair game to be bullied and preyed upon. We are sending out the message that this okay for other young people to do what was done to Steven. It appears it is all okay with Judge Keen, just as long as you don’t kill someone.

But the point is, the way Steven was killed, was precisely a result of how he was treated. If he had just been treated like any other young person, with a bit of decency or respect, it would never have happened.

This is the message that Sheffield Crown Court should have put out. We should condemn Judge Keen’s remarks, call for him to make an apology, and call for Sheffield Crown Court to recognise the daily battle people like Steven face because of their sexuality and their disability. Sign the petition against Judge Keen’s remarks here:

Steven’s death should serve as a reminder of what our LGBTQ and disabled youth face today.

This article first appeared at Marxist Queen.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The actuality of a successful capitalist offensive

We've been waiting five years for a coherent left-wing response to the recession. We've been waiting three years for a coherent left-wing response to the cuts. Two years ago, I was asked at a talk how we could communicate the socialist solution to the crisis; I said it would be nice if we had one. It would still be a step forward today. If the extant strategies, groups or alliances were sufficient to deliver this, we would have it by now.

As it is, the only interruption to our "pervading dysphoria and utter perplexity" was brief, if giddy - followed by the briefer tumult of the riots and the panicked reaction from the Party of Order. The trade union movement fought, not an expansive struggle allowing it to hegemonise a wider movement against the cuts, but a typically narrow 'economic-corporatist' battle for a pensions deal roughly equivalent to what a Labour government would have offered. The last year was one of uninterrupted, quiet defeat for the most part. Labour continued to adapt to forces to its right. The government promised more cuts. The left-of-Labour forces remained fragmented, with each group championing its own 'united front' project. As for a left electoral project, a look at TUSC is enough to die a little inside.


Why have things been so bleak? We continually hear that the system is in 'crisis'. This should be great news for us, surely? We hate the system. This should be the moment when the Left advances and begins to prise open the integument...?

We have a number of apparently self-serving, but ultimately self-defeating, consolatory lines about this. For example: the Left is weak, yes, but the system is weak, and so is the ruling class and its governments: their hesitating, divided response to the crisis shows us this. However, the Euro-American ruling classes, whatever divisions and uncertainties have inhibited them in their short-term, tactical orientations, have displayed extraordinary unity on the long-term strategy of 'austerity'. And such has been their success in colonising the dominant parties, that parliamentary opposition to this objective is negligible, and almost entirely provisional and technocratic in articulation. And as much as the resources of the bourgeoisie have been tested, they have yet to a lose a serious fight.

Another, subsidiary, example: an underlying weakness on the part of the ruling class may be inferred from the fact that 'they' attack us in such a ferocious and indiscriminate manner. The logic here is that if the government and employers have to launch a sweeping, frontal attack on the living standards of the whole working class, this itself proves that the system is losing its ability to support the traditional bases of consent. Okay: there is an element of truth in this. But a prima facie ground for distrusting this logic is that if and when 'they' attack us with anything less than full, sweeping force, that too is interpreted as a sign of weakness. The government's early complacency led many of us to underestimate its technical virtuosity. Yet there is no sign of a simple, indiscriminate attack. In fact, the attack is not so frontal; it is a phased assault, deploying a diverse array of techniques which affect layers of the population in an uneven fashion. This is more sophisticated than simply 'salami-slicing' the working class, and defeating one section then the next, and so on. It involves mobilising residual and active elements of discourse to constitute new social categories, who are targeted in discrete ways. Consider, in addition to the greedy union member with gold-plated pensions, and the skiving benefit scrounger, the new phenomenon of the bedroom scrounger, the welfare recipient who is under-using space in her flat and should be removed to a pebble-dashed cupboard in Thamesmead. There are also, let us not forget, 'our people', 'the strivers' who are opposed to 'the skivers', and who are being offered certain material incentives even as their overall standard of living stagnates or declines.

A third example is the idea that because the cuts "can't work", the project will begin to collapse. In a sense, this is true. If the objective is GDP growth, then in the short run, austerity will just keep undercutting investment and growth. And of course it is also true that, in the long run, even if a new source of dynamism is found, these measures will just store up further pathologies. As a result, we can presume that both Marxists and left-Keynesians are 'proven right' in a different way every time the economy starts to dip again: the cuts 'aren't working'. This will undermine the authority of elected governments, just as much as unelected central bankers. It will produce incredibly bitter class struggles which it would be prudent to anticipate in our strategies. Yet, we find that the government actually benefits, to an extent, from a 'crisis' mindset - linked to a set of articulations about deficit, overspending, living beyond our means, etc etc. We find that by invoking the crisis, blaming the scroungers and systematically lowering expectations - they aren't promising us high times, but years of grim belt-tightening before the good old days return - the government gives itself a very long leash. Like Mrs Thatcher, the coalition government says 'iron times', 'backs to the wall', etc., and achieves a degree of quiescence as a result.


All of this is hardly to deny that the system is in crisis, or that this crisis will continue to produce bitter class struggles. I have defined the current situation as one dominated by an 'organic crisis', meaning a long-term, structural, multi-layered crisis that calls into question the ability of the whole system to reproduce itself. However, it is to say that this much over-used term 'crisis' has been doing a lot of covert intellectual and propaganda leg-work, which obscures what is really happening. Let us dissect it a bit. What exactly do we mean by a 'crisis'? In terms of the capitalist system, the dominant image from mainstream economics and bourgeois social science is of a state system that more or less efficiently reproduces itself until some imbalance or bad behaviour causes it to have a temporary rupture. In most cases, this is plausible, because the recession passes, and dynamism resumes. But in periods like the present, it loses even this surface resonance. That is why attempts to conserve the status quo end up having to be projects for its fundamental overhaul and renovation.

There is an obverse view which is not much more useful. This is the 'fundamentalist' catastrophism according to which capitalism is always progressively moving toward its worst crisis yet. At the base of this is a valid marxist insight, which is that the elements of a capitalist crisis are not exogenous or heteroclite, but actually integral to the reproduction of the system itself. That is, the system is reproduced through class struggle and intra-capitalist competition, which are the basic antagonisms that, through various mediations, tend to result in crises. These are the antagonisms behind the so-called 'law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall', through which marxists explain the most basic drive toward crisis: put crudely, capitalists in competition with one another strive to cut labour costs and reduce prices; they overaccumulate capital in doing so; they also reduce the total pool of potential profit, so that while individually they might hope to maximise their market share and thus profits, in the long-run they tend to create a crisis of profitability across the system. In the 'fundamentalist' version of this theory, the successive stages of capitalist development show a marked tendency to 'sharpen' crisis tendencies; the 'resolution' of each crisis, unless it involves a truly cataclysmic destruction of capital, merely stores up more pathologies. At last, the concept of 'crisis' is stretched so that it comes to cover a certain stage of capitalist development. The whole system, since a certain threshold, has been in a permanent state of crisis.

Such an approach occludes what is truly relevatory in Marx's account of crisis, which is that permanent crisis tendencies are part of the system's health and its dynamism. Of course there will be symptoms of ongoing crisis while the system is booming! Of course it will be rotting away in parts even while it is engorged, hypertrophic, in others! Subsuming long periods of reproduction and growth into the concept of crisis erases its specificity. Linked to this approach, sometimes, is an economistic reflex according to which the resulting class struggles erupt first on the terrain of industry, the direct capital-labour relation, which then results in a straightforward feedback from an economic crisis into a generalised political crisis of the system. The result of such an approach is that, when a real crisis does occur, far from preparing one adequately to act on it, it produces an apocalyptic complacency: this is, if not the final crisis of capitalism, certainly one of the last death convulsions, which will produce many symptoms along the way. We can tick them off as they arrive: industrial militancy, political instability, the revival of left reformism, the rise of fascism, etc. Eventually, the 'contradictions' will be sharpened to the extent of producing a revolutionary situation. The task of marxists in such circumstances will be to assist in this sharpening, through propaganda and interventions, while trying to provide the political leadership workers will need as they progress to that final battle.

If you don't recognise the above (only slightly caricatured) sketch, by the way, you could conclude that it isn't aimed at you. But I assert that such fatal tendencies do exist and are discernible in the way that revolutionaries have responded to the current crisis.


I have argued in a previous post that the ruling classes are usually best situated to respond proactively to a crisis, and to take advantage of it. The obvious corollary of this is that the institutions of the working class, and the Left, are usually not so well situated. Stathis Kouvelakis made the point that a real crisis of capitalism is also a crisis of the Left, both revolutionary and reformist. This is only logical. For while reformist parties get comfortable with governing in a particular way - maintaining a client base in office; cultivating their popular base by mobilising them against the government when out of office; sustaining their links with the trade union bureaucracy at all times - revolutionary parties get used to a certain method of self-reproduction, a certain routine, a certain balancing operation between different components of the party, and a certain set of perspectives that either guide their concrete actions or (as is often the case) soothe the symptoms of aimless drift and sharp, barely explained turns, with a general theoretical anaesthetic. A crisis upends all of that. The reformist party has to re-define its base, as traditional constituencies and political identities are shaken up; old methods of governance, be they welfare-capitalist or neoliberal, must be radicalised or abandoned. The revolutionary party likewise finds itself in need of new perspectives, a new base, a break with routines and entrenched dogma.

This brings us to the SWP. Must we? Yes, we must, and not for the last time. I have no desire to spend the rest of my political life writing about the party I have just left, but there is a necessary process of political clarification following such a break. I have until now defended the party's general lines and strategies, notwithstanding my Syriza heresy. But in the course of an acute crisis triggered by an unbelievable and unforgiveable rape cover-up, the contours of a chronic crisis linked to the lack of democracy, congealed dogma and strategic vapidity became clear(er). An accounting of this is called for, if the right decisions are to be taken now.

'It is no accident', as we used to say, that the SWP's protracted crisis has overlapped to an extent with the capitalist crisis since 2007. The credit crunch coincided with the manifest failure of an old method of leadership, and an old set of perspectives, and with a degree of turbulence in the party's base. The cuts are also going to exert a long-term impact on the party's means of self-reproduction. The SWP has one part of its base in an ageing public sector workforce, and another in an increasingly class-divided student body: austerity in practice has meant that the public sector workforce is going to be decimated, while a larger part of the student body is going to be made poorer and chained to debt. Given that the party didn't grow at all during the years of antiwar radicalism and constant discontent with New Labour, this is serious. An obvious response, supposing we are unable to prevent the cuts to massive neoliberal cull of the public sector, might be to ask how one builds in the unorganised working class, which is the overwhelming majority of it - indeed, it is one of the few growth sectors in capitalism right now.

However, austerity poses the more immediate dilemma: what do we need in order to reverse, halt or at least slow the cuts, and what can a revolutionary socialist party contribute to that? The current SWP leadership vaunts a 'rank and file' strategy in response to the cuts - although on inspection, one finds neither a 'rank and file', nor a strategy. The idea of a 'rank and file' strategy is based on the simple insight that, there needs to be a fight; the public sector unions have the means to lead the fight, but are always going to be betrayed by union bosses; and therefore we need to build a 'rank and file' network of militants capable of acting independently of and against the bureaucracy where necessary. In reality, what this amounts to is the creation of a party front that seeks to build influence over the left union bureaucracy in order to hopefully generate strike action, thus substituting (hopefully temporarily) for the initiative of the non-existent 'rank and file'. In theory, one could say that the appeals for action are formally directed at the union bureaucracy, but are actually addressed to rank and file workers, whom it is hoped will pressure the bureaucracy for action. In practice, it's probably more the other way about. Insofar as this produces results, one can cynically overlook the problematic character of relying on such operations. And indeed, some averagely intelligent people seem to have convinced themselves that the bureaucratic mass strikes of 2011 were effectively a fight between the SWP and the Tory government, in which the party was a tiny cog turning the massive cogs of the union bureaucracy. (I assure you, it's true.) All cynicism aside, SWP members played an important role in building support for such strike action as did occur - but as footsoldiers in a program of controlled confrontation devised by the trade union general secretaries, whose aim was to get the Tories to offer them roughly what Labour would on the pensions issue.

Aside from being a substitutionist strategy based on influence-peddling, which placed a ridiculous amount of prestige and authority on the shoulders of the man who could peddle such influence, the 'rank and file' strategy had other demerits. First, it left the leadership shrugging and mumbling vacuous generalities when it came to answering how the strategy hadn't delivered. After the sell-out of the pensions dispute, there was a long period of sobering defeat. But the CC's contributions to 2013 preconference bulletins offered no analysis of why. Of course, if the implicit answer was "the SWP isn't remotely the decisive factor in these struggles and cannot determine how the bureaucracy will behave", that would be true and sober: but such an answer would also sit uneasily next to the earlier triumphalism, and would evade the real question of why the strategy yielded nothing.

Second, aside from being substitutionist and elitist, the strategy was also an alibi of sectarianism. It was obvious early on that a unified anti-cuts movement was needed - a point I'll come back to. Many of the most effective challenges to the government were coming, not from the industrial coalface, but from the social movements, and it made sense to coordinate them sustain them beyond the immediate upsurge of rebellious frenzy. The party leadership knew this, and indeed claimed to be interested in helping build it. But, pursuing the 'rank and file' strategy, it actually preferred to maintain an ineffectual party front which could fill out a London meeting hall, but achieved little else. Partly this is reflects the pathology of splits: the party leadership obsessively avoiding the 'movementism' of the recently departed groups, and anything that smacked of it.

It was also obvious that there would be a space for some sort of radical left party, as Labour councils implemented the cuts and Ed Miliband shifted to the right. The party leadership sounded sensible notes on this. It responded appropriately to George Galloway's victory in Bradford, and lauded the Front de gauche. I recall the national secretary admitting, in a meeting set up by Socialist Resistance, that it wasn't enough to bang on about the struggle as if everything would be resolved on the picket line - we need a form of political representation, he said. It is true that the party newspaper reflected a sectarian line on Syriza, but not with any real conviction on the part of the leadership as far as I could tell. Even when I was lightly bollocked over coffee by Bishop Brennan and Father Jessup for my strident Facebook missives on the issue, they seemed far more worried about the offence to the Greek comrades than the argument itself, which I was permitted to spell out in more measured terms for the ISJ. Despite all this, the height our exertions on this terrain was TUSC - a misleading moniker insofar as it evokes anything other than a blunt instrument, and apt only so far as it recalls 'husk', as in 'chaff'.

Why did the party leadership plump for this hardly ideal situation, as if TUSC was the basis for anything? In part, I suspect this is because sections of the leadership opposed the whole idea of left realignment. But I suspect it is also because, to actually contribute to the process of realignment, the leadership of the SWP would have to deal with a massive lingering burden of mistrust. This pall resulted from our disastrously nuclear response to criticisms within Respect, some of which were obviously well-founded in retrospect, and the sectarian logic of our behaviour in the subsequent Respect break-up. It would have to be capable of demonstrating remarkable humility and good faith, which it was not. The party's official stance remained that George Galloway was overwhelmingly responsible, and we had at most made some regrettable errors in responding to reformist treachery. And it hadn't really broken with the 'punching above our weight' modus operandi that had led to the party's mistakes in Respect, the assumption that we should try to be in charge of everything. It wasn't capable of abandoning the dreary lash-up with the Socialist Party that was going nowhere, and striking out for something better, because that might involve accepting a subordinate position in a much wider formation, in coalition with forces that we would be unable to control.

This litany of complaint may seem overly harsh. In truth, when a struggle broke out in the last few years, the party acquitted itself reasonably well within its modest means. It did a good job of 'relating to' (a phrase for the stale cliches amnesty, perhaps) the student revolt. It was helpful in building support for mass strike action. It was also important that the party continued to take the right stance on the Arab Spring as it spread to countries that were the targets of US imperialism; but it also threw itself into the Gaza protests, for example. It stood up against a certain leftist moralism about the English riots. It has continued to take a hard line against Islamophobia, when some sections of the Left would be happy to capitulate to the Muslim-baiting under the rubric of a vulgar, idealist 'atheism'. And it carried out important work in UAF: in my opinion taking the right line on how to most effectively defeat the EDL in Tower Hamlets and elsewhere. And I think the paper struck a good line on Assange in a piece written by Tom Walker, who is now despised by the hacks more than I am. But generally insofar as the SWP proactively sought to shape the response to austerity, it largely failed, and instead succumbed to delusions of grandeur. Members of other parties and groupuscules can explain their own failure, of course - they have to, if they want to participate in this discussion. But I can only speak of the SWP.


We need to change course, badly. To be more specific, I think we need:

i) an anti-austerity movement capable of mobilising a hegemonic majority against the cuts. The 'crisis' will not do our work for us. It will affect people and relations in all sorts of ways, but our opponents will be working hard to construct a particular 'lived relationship' to the crisis that favours them. There is an article in a recent issue of the thrilling Parliamentary Affairs about the 'Winter of Discontent', which you might want to read in order to see how this is done. It demonstrates how the Right operated on lived experiences of hardship, violence and social breakdown in order to produce the imagined experience of a crisis produced by union power, nanny-statism and tax-and-spend 'socialism'. Remember that this in an era when workers were suffering massive de facto pay cuts and the Labour government was cutting spending and embracing monetarism to appease the IMF. Many workers were won to the Tories on the basis of this mythology. The point is that the alignment of forces can by no means be taken for granted because of the assumed historical pattern of capitalist crisis: political subjectivities have to be constructed, assiduously, along the main lines of antagonism. In the UK at the moment, there is no generalised political, cultural, social or industrial counterpoint to the Right's efforts. That's one reason why it was so easy to demonise the riots: there was only a weakly entrenched narrative that the cuts were probably going a bit too far, but a far more deeply rooted narrative that there was not enough discipline in schools, too much immigration, too much easy welfare for 'chavs', and too much freedom for 'feral youths'. That's why the most dynamically growing force at the moment is UKIP. We need a campaign that prepares the terrain around existing struggles and ahead of coming struggles and outbursts, that explains them in advance as responses to unbelievable class aggression and brutal state violence, not as the criminal actions of social deviants.

I think we need a generalised, 'nationwide' campaign encompassing various levels of initiative. We presently have a series of localised fights, such as the impressive struggle in Lewisham over the hospital closure, and the heroic fight by Sussex students and staff against privatization, but by themselves these are not sufficient. The 'unevenness' of these campaigns reflects the unevenness of the effects of austerity, as well as the way in which the coalition is trying to isolate certain groups. This is obviously not good for us. Strategically, its a priority that we overcome it. Of course, we do not need a nationwide campaign with little or no democracy, where a general strategy is set by a small steering committee, and local campaigns have to accommodate it. The point of a nationwide campaign should be to federate existing struggles in a democratic way that is led by the grassroots. Any general 'line' that emerges has to come from concrete experiences of activism not from a coffee-flogging cognoscenti. For that reason, any such campaign probably needs a broad elected national leadership composed mainly of people who have earned the right to lead in campaigns, and a relatively federal structure with a great deal of autonomy for local groups. The slightest whiff of hectoring phone calls, back-room lobbying, finger-wagging from the lectern, presenting fait accomplis worked up behind closed doors, etc., will be the ruin of any organisation aspiring to be the institutional basis for an anti-cuts movement.

ii) a realignment of the left-of-Labour left. I think in this case we need a narrower form of organisation that is capable of concentrating the experiences and perspectives of anti-cuts activism in a way that a broader movement could not. An anti-cuts movement would probably have to be open to participation from right-wing Labourites who favour prudent, slower cuts, as well as anarchists who want to picket the offices of those same Labourites; as such its line could not be too defined. We need to popularise not just a moralistic rejection of the cuts, but an alternative analysis of the crisis and a serious, detailed set of solutions. These solutions wouldn't be based on a 'neutral' measure like how effectively they contribute to GDP growth. There is no socially neutral way of resolving a crisis. Not only do such solutions have costs which must be borne differentially according to class, race, gender, etc. They typically involve transforming, attacking, inventing, reorganising, or annihilating the institutional and relational bases of particular types of class power. A left-of-Labour party would have to identify a number of in principle achievable measures that would a) plausibly gain mass support, and b) alter the balance of class forces if implemented. For example, nationalising the banks and turning them into public utilities, would be a popular measure and it would also hit at an institutional nerve centre of the dominant form of ruling class power today. It would also, in principle, give any government tremendous leverage over the economy, a resource with which to plan green investment, job creation, etc. We do not have to kid ourselves that an elected government could just wave a wand and make this happen; the point is to develop an analysis and a set of concrete objectives would help the sorts of social struggles that would make it possible.

Now even if it were once possible, it is no longer realistic to expect the Labour Left to fulfil this role. It is recovering a bit, and will continue to do so for a while, but it is far too weak relative to the dominant forces in the party to be able to take a leading role in articulating a radical left response to austerity. As for the Greens, they have made it clear: they oppose austerity in principle, but will do nothing stop it if given control of a budget. Something else is needed. So, is this a recommendation for a 'British Syriza' or, worse, a 'Seymouriza' (as some bastards have suggested) or 'Sino-Seymouriza'? Yes and no, in that order. I am not in favour of abandoning the project of independent revolutionary organisation, as I'll explain momentarily. Further, as I favour Scottish independence, the 'Syriza' I propose wouldn't exactly be British. Nor would it look very much like Syriza, as the social and political forces available for such a project in the UK are totally different and reflect different historical experiences and different immediate challenges - we don't have to address the problem of the eurozone, for example, in a population that has generally been pro-euro. But everyone notices that the SNP, the Greens, George Galloway and any plausible alternative can take big chunks of Labour's base away at a moment's notice. We all know that Labour's electoral recovery is extremely tentative. It's obvious that the break-up and break-down of its base is part of a secular process in the neoliberal period that is also affecting European social democracy. So, if we're as smart as all that, we should be doing something about it.

The creation of a radical left party has been slower and more hampered in the UK than elsewhere in Europe. I do not believe this is because of the mistakes of the SWP. If you look at the constituents of some of the successful groups, I suspect you'll find a lot worse by way of authoritarianism, sectarianism and opportunism. Rather, as I've said in a previous post, it is because of the greater difficulties in generating a significant split in social democracy due to the serious defeats inflicted on the Left in the UK, and particularly the defeat of the militant wing of the labour movement. No other Western European labour movement experienced defeats like this. The result was Labour's wholesale capitulation to neoliberalism well before any other European social democratic party. After this, there was simply no general political basis from which the remaining rump of the Labour Left could mount a challenge to the leadership: they could oppose the policy consequences to New Labour's neoliberalism, but had no plausible alternative political-economic basis for their opposition, much less to lead a split as did Oskar Lafontaine in Germany, or Jean-Luc Melenchon in France. Only the 'war on terror' produced such a split in the UK, and that was too small and narrow.

Nonetheless, it remains a compelling fact that Respect didn't have to crash and burn in the fashion that it did; and that, even after the launching and crash-landing of previous left formations, small, committed and talented groups of people with sometimes gaping flaws seem to have been able to surprise Labour in its former heartlands. All it takes is a name, or a local campaign with resonance. Now, if left at that, they would simply be vanishing, 'last gasp' blips of resistance to the further neoliberal takeover of politics. But the current conjuncture is one that will be formative of a generation or so. Whatever stable political forces can be forged now are likely to last.

iii) a realignment of the forces of the revolutionary left, which are hardly in an optimal state of organisation. There is no historical or conjunctural need for the 57 varieties of revolutionary socialism to be distributed in twice as many sects, groupuscules and minorities of one. But to unite them in an effective organisation has never been a simple matter of stitching together the existing fragments. They are too committed to their trademarked orthodoxies, their turf, their routines, their hierarchies and their internal cultures. Any serious new party or formation would have to be heterogenous, open to heterodoxy and far less bureaucratically centralised than the existing revolutionary sects. Realignment requires the old fragments to be shaken up and, in a sense, radicalised: this is the potentially productive aspect of the crisis.

But let's be honest: such realignment will also require a discursive process akin to a Truth and Reconciliation commission. If we need realignment, it's because there has been a general failure. To a large extent, and self-righteous protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, I think what is wrong with the SWP is also wrong with much of the wider left. It's not good enough for a bunch of revolutionary socialists to try to unite around the lowest common denominator of agreeing about the SWP's latter day treachery. Every participant, particularly if they come from an existing sect, would have to be capable of a minimum of honesty about why their own political tradition did at best no better in practical terms than the SWP. Those who aren't capable of that much honesty probably wouldn't get us very far anyway, whereas those who simply want to strip the carrion from the carcass may as well stay away.

Shall I start the ball rolling? What mistakes did I personally make as an SWP member? Not making my objections to our hosting of the antisemitic crank Atzmon, and the preposterous rationale for doing so, explicit - particularly when it was made clear to me that the paper wouldn't host a letter on the subject. Party members can attest that I and others took this up within the party, and that I trolled Atzmon's talk at Bookmarks, but it really wasn't enough. Next? Defending our stance on Sheridan uncritically, which meant defending Sheridan uncritically. I still think it was right to defend him against the state and News of the World, and wrong to cheer his being imprisoned. But surely by now we can admit it was wrong, whatever you think of the SSP leadership, to defend his right to bring this disastrous case in the first place? And then let him off the hook for lying his arse off, hanging Katrine Trolle out to dry, and contributing to fucking up the Scottish far left for years? Can we at least admit to an element of bad faith in taking such a stance, and then pretending to be strictly extraneous to the subsequent meltdown of the SSP? For my part, I was wrong to rationalise all this, wrong to defer facing up to it, wrong to cop out when the truth of the matter was obvious. What else? Defending the party uncritically during the Respect debacle on the basis of who I trusted, circulating unhelpful gossip, allowing myself to be a conduit for lies and misdirections coming from Rees's office, and living in denial when the latter started circulating slimy rhetoric about Muslim 'communalism'. Then only tentatively and gradually facing up to the truth once it dawned.

That will do for now: ball = rolling = now in your court. Also, to mix this metaphor in a properly Cliffite fashion, that court = surrounded by a glass house. If you have never, as a socialist activist, found yourself defending a line you later regretted, kept quiet about something you shouldn't have, rationalised away a feeling of unease, then you're either still deluded or a fucking liar. I know that sounds harsh, but this is the terrain. And the point of facing up to this stuff now, is that you don't want to repeat that situation.


Grim though this analysis may seem, there are three possible causes for optimism in the next year. First, a horrible scandal is also the occasion of a form of radicalisation on the left, particularly the revolutionary left, in which many people are literally re-evaluating their root assumptions. This percolation is itself indicative that people are wrong to simply assume this is yet another stage in the ongoing mitosis of revolutionary groupuscules. There's a feeling - don't you share it? - that as nasty and depressing and shaming as this crisis has been, something has been unblocked by it, and new possibilities have been created. Second, is the People's Assembly idea, which has achieved a lot of media coverage and has the support of sections of the Labour Left, the trade unions, celebrities, and obviously Counterfire. The People's Assembly is attracting some criticism for the fact that its big 'arrival' is marked by a celeb-driven rally in a swish Westminster venue at a cost of £25000, rather than a democratic conference where actually existing campaigns participate in decision-making. But it would be churlish not to get involved and try to change it in a democratic direction. And third, is the Left Unity initiative for a new left party, which I think has achieved 6,000 signatures thus far. (I have signed and, for what it's worth, I think you should too.) The fact is that if half of that many people joined a new party right now, you would have the basis of a reasonable sized radical left party. Clearly, there's a lot still to work out. It's still a nebulous initiative, and the basis for individual and group affiliation is not yet clear. Nonetheless, local Left Unity groups are springing up with plenty of support after just a couple of weeks or so. This suggests a degree of initiative and energy that hasn't been seen on the Left for a while.

There is your hope, if you like. It's about as far from bland, upbeat can-do puffery as it's possible to be, but it is hope.