Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

READERS’ LETTER: Communist East Germany & British Socialism Today pt.2

In A.Graham, C.Spiby, Readers on January 3, 2012 at 1:15 pm

WORKING FOR SOCIALISM: outside the Labour Party – or in?

Dear the Clarion

Tyler Chinnick sets out an inspiring programme in his “What Next for Labour” article. Sadly, at the present time it is no more ace than the Socialist Party programme. Indeed, much of what he says would sit happily within it.

It would seem that most people on the left share the same aims. We want a fairer, safer world, one in which resources are used wisely, shared more equitably, and where the culture is co-operation not conflict. And that is just about where consensus ends. The gap between being IN the Labour Party and OUT is wide.

If, like me, you choose to work within a minority party you are “sectarian”. Carl Spiby rightly ridicules my show of indignation at being packaged together with the Socialist Workers Party. If one as politically educated as he is does not know the fundamental difference between their way of working and the methods of the Socialist Party, it is unlikely that 99 per cent of the population would either know or care. But of course it matters to me.

Politics are global, national and also highly personal. Being an activist can be tedious and time consuming. It can take you away from your families and friends and hinder careers and other more simple pleasures. It is, then, important to align yourself to a group that makes all this worthwhile. You do have to believe in the vision and the programme and you do have to trust the ethics of the executive and the paid party workers. And how is it any longer possible to do this where the Labour Party is concerned? I believe that the culture of careerism and deception is too deeply embedded to be routed and that this applies to both local councils and national government. Presumably, the local councillors who have impressed Carl do not come from the Forest of Dean. Our own have either given support or kept resolutely silent whilst our health provision has been under attack. Once again, the campaign to retain services within the NHS came from outside of the mainstream political parties.

Carl is of course right (or almost right) when he says that the SP etc., will never win a seat in Parliaments, but he’s off the mark when he equates Parliamentary seats with “reflecting the aspirations of the mass of working people”. Voting figures are woeful and many of us who go to the polling stations mark a cross with a heavy heart. We have been taking part in the only democratic process available to us.

As I said in my response to Carl’s original article, the Labour Party offers nothing to people who are desperate for change. The fact that the trade unions preferred Ed to David has not filled the poor with joy. How many of the young Jarrow marchers or the anti-capitalist campaigners will be rushing to vote Labour? The once great party has had its day. Yes, we do need a mass party but a new one. And to quote the Socialist Party’s “what we stand for”:

“For a new mass workers’ party drawing together workers, young people and activists from workplace, community, environmental and anti-war campaigns, to provide a fighting political alternative to the pro big business parties. Trades Unions to disaffiliate from the Labour Party now and aid the building of a new workers’ party.”

Hopefully, not too sectarian!

DIANA GASH

And an insider’s view:

I have some sympathy with Diana’s view of the Labour Party – though that doesn’t mean that I share it. To some extent it mirrors the disillusion by many on the left, particularly during the bleak Blair years, when party membership plummeted, and those members who remained found themselves increasingly out in the cold when it came to policy.

But significantly, this fallout didn’t result in any increase in support for those Left parties operating outside Labour. These parties remained marginalised, operating outside the mainstream. What did increase, though, was the level of support for “single issue” campaigns, and, under the Cameron-Clegg coalition, these have continued to increase. And long may they continue to do so. The activities of groups like UKuncut, the “Occupy” anti-capitalist camps, and resistance by the public sector unions are all healthy signs of democratic protest.

Now, I hesitate to use the word “sectarian”. After all, its use is a value judgement. Neither would I like to lump together such parties as the SP, the SWP, the SLP, etc. But what they tend to have in common is a prescriptive approach to politics and action which inhibits any major political breakthrough.

Tony Benn once described the Labour Party as a “broad church”. Despite the stifling impact of the Blair regime, it still is today. It is a (comparatively) mass party, representing a range of views and groups (including the trade unions and the co-operative movement). And this has long been its strength. Hopefully in the future we will be able to look back on “New Labour” as an aberration.

As for Diana’s strictures on our local councillors, I think this needs to be taken in the context of the steady emasculation of local government since the days of Thatcher. Local authorities have in effect become commissioners of local services rather than providers, and few nowadays have much control over their destinies or those of the people who vote for them.  And, I suspect, this has narrowed the vision of many hard working councillors who, at heart, still want to serve the communities they represent.

I can also sympathise with Diana’s point that being a political activist can be tedious and take one away from family, friends, etc. But this, of course, is the consequence of the marginalisation of politics. Once it could be inclusive, but not these days – for which the politicians are to blame!

ALISTAIR GRAHAM

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