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A new workers' party


Derek McMillan
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I always felt the problem with the SPGB (as it then was) was that their pure version of socialism could not come into direct contact with the realities of life.

And I am amused by the idea of them calling anyone elitist.....or sectarian....or sad for that matter.

The situation is that somebody has to challenge New Labour electorally and the (imperfect) trade unions and (imperfect) community campaigns against hospital closures or privatisation are probably the best starting point for creating such an alternative.

The conference is on 12 May and you can get tickets online

http://www.cnwp.org.uk/

Let us deal in reality here Degsy

Leninist ideology IS elitist and thus the antithesis of socialism. All the Leninist/Trotskyite parties I have ever had the misfortune to encounter have been just a little more than "imperfect" – in fact rule by any of those the spotty bourgeois "vanguards" would be infinitely far worse potentially than the elites they pretend to oppose.

If you want to oppose privatization do so with intelligence vision and theory - that would be a good starting point

One of the many interesting things about the SPGB is it's remarkable longevity. It is the oldest extant Marxist party in Britain as far as I know and predates the Bolshevik revolution. Therefore it is possible to see what they believed about the Russian revolution at the time.

I did that, many years ago, and found it fascinating. As I recall, they rejected the Bolshevik's siezure of power and predicted the eventual demise of the Leninist experiment, arguing that genuine socialism could not be centrally imposed.

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....arguing that genuine socialism could not be centrally imposed.

You have stumbled across the thing that so infuriates Trots and Leninists about the SPGB analysis viz. socialism will be achieved when a sufficient number of people believe in and understand socialism - no need for "vanguards" or dictatorship.

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....arguing that genuine socialism could not be centrally imposed.

You have stumbled across the thing that so infuriates Trots and Leninists about the SPGB analysis viz. socialism will be achieved when a sufficient number of people believe in and understand socialism - no need for "vanguards" or dictatorship.

Yes, it does infuriate them.

I remember seeing Corin Redgrave speaking at a function years ago. I asked for his views about the viability of a moneyless economy. He took it as an opportunity to lambast the SPGB. Rather odd, I thought, as no-one brought up SPGB by name.

To hear him excoriate this tiny party, you'd think that it alone stood between the working class and earthly redemption.

On the other hand, the idea that the masses will vote for socialism once they properly understand it, and that the SPGB need only keep offering this 'solution', while in many ways appealing, does not seem to have developed any traction. The SPGB started, a hundred years ago, as a tiny group dedicated to a unique approach to realizing their dream - and that's exactly how they remain, 100 years on.

I must lack the patience of a true believer.

100 years seems to me like an awful long time in politics.

Edited by Sid Walker
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....arguing that genuine socialism could not be centrally imposed.

You have stumbled across the thing that so infuriates Trots and Leninists about the SPGB analysis viz. socialism will be achieved when a sufficient number of people believe in and understand socialism - no need for "vanguards" or dictatorship.

Yes, it does infuriate them.

I remember seeing Corin Redgrave speaking at a function years ago. I asked for his views about the viability of a moneyless economy. He took it as an opportunity to lambast the SPGB. Rather odd, I thought, as no-one brought up SPGB by name.

To hear him excoriate this tiny party, you'd think that it alone stood between the working class and earthly redemption.

On the other hand, the idea that the masses will vote for socialism once they properly understand it, and that the SPGB need only keep offering this 'solution', while in many ways appealing, does not seem to have developed any traction. The SPGB started, a hundred years ago, as a tiny group dedicated to a unique approach to realizing their dream - and that's exactly how they remain, 100 years on.

I must lack the impatience of a true believer.

100 years seems to me like an awful long time in politics.

I do not speak for the SPGB. I wouldn't want to. However one thing is for certain we won't inch anywhere nearer a fairer and more equitable world without a clear understanding of the nature of capitalism and its alternatives. Those who wish to impose such a world from above, establish a dictatorship of the proletariat, or reform capitalism in gradual steps do not in my view have a clear idea of what they purport to believe in.

For these reasons I believe Derek's mission to create "a new worker's party" from the ramshackle and ideologically confused bunch of ex-trots, leninists and labourites will put the prospects for socialism back a great deal longer than 100 years. B)

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" A witty German Social-Democrat of the seventies of the last century called the postal service an example of the socialist economic system. This is very true. At the present the postal service is a business organized on the lines of state-capitalist monopoly. Imperialism is gradually transforming all trusts into organizations of a similar type, in which, standing over the “common” people, who are overworked and starved, one has the same bourgeois bureaucracy. But the mechanism of social management is here already to hand. Once we have overthrown the capitalists, crushed the resistance of these exploiters with the iron hand of the armed workers, and smashed the bureaucratic machinery of the modern state, we shall have a splendidly-equipped mechanism, freed from the “parasite”, a mechanism which can very well be set going by the united workers themselves, who will hire technicians, foremen and accountants, and pay them all, as indeed all “state” officials in general, workmen's wages. Here is a concrete, practical task which can immediately be fulfilled in relation to all trusts, a task whose fulfilment will rid the working people of exploitation, a task which takes account of what the Commune had already begun to practice (particularly in building up the state).

"To organize the whole economy on the lines of the postal service so that the technicians, foremen and accountants, as well as all officials, shall receive salaries no higher than "a workman's wage", all under the control and leadership of the armed proletariat--that is our immediate aim. This is what will bring about the abolition of parliamentarism and the preservation of representative institutions. This is what will rid the laboring classes of the bourgeoisie's prostitution of these institutions. "

(State and Revolution)

Doesn't sound all that elitist to me. Certainly a lot less elitist than the present-day politicians and a lot less elitist than the SPGB.

And in any case the trade unions are the only serious opposition to privatisation at the moment but trade unionism is not enough to defeat privatisation - they need to develop a political voice and they need to free their funds from New Labour who are the champions of privatisation.

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For example:

In the Unison elections taking place at the moment there are candidates who are supporting the link with Labour and arguing that only by giving money to the party of privatisation will they be able to influence its policy.

There are other candidates who are supporting the idea of not giving any union money to new Labour but using the political fund to campaign against privatisation and the consequent worsening of wages and conditions.

Panorama showed a very good example of privatisation in a surprising arena when they went inside a privatised prison and showed that the staffing was below that in a state prison, the wages were lower and the conditions in the prison deteriorated as a result.

This is a real political battle taking place now and there is a growing hostility to privatisation as more and more people find out how if affects their conditions.

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  • 4 weeks later...

The conference was opened by CNWP Chair Dave Nellist, who pointed out that it was apposite to be meeting in the same week that Tony Blair announced his departure from power. But when Blair leaves office on 27 June, “unfortunately he won’t be taking the entire cabinet with him”.

The world is a less safe place as a result of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and in Britain, young people now face massive debts consisting of loans and payments equivalent to “three mortgages”: the first for a house, the second for rising pension contributions and the third for university fees. However, house prices are so high now, that workers such as fire-fighters, teachers and health workers are unable to afford a house at all in many parts of the country.

Voters in elections are not faced with “three competing parties” because “the Tories, New Labour and the Liberal Democrats agree on all the essential issues – at least between elections.” The CNWP needs to build further on the 2,500 signatories it has so far, by sinking deep roots in local communities and trade unions to help create the conditions as soon as possible for the existence of a new party.

Chris Baugh, Assistant general secretary of the civil service trade union PCS addressed the conference in a personal capacity and expressed his support for the CNWP. He condemned Gordon Brown’s “arbitrary and swingeing” 100,000 job cuts plan in the civil service and said such cuts will inevitably damage vital services. He also condemned Brown as the chief architect of the NHS funding crisis, the huge privatisation programme being forced on 20,000 workers in the Ministry of Defence, and the vicious spending limits across the public sector. “PCS members will take some convincing that there is any material difference between Blair and Brown” he concluded. He reminded the conference that three million public sector workers had threatened strike action in the run-up to the last general election over the government’s plan to increase the pension age, and that this forced a significant government climb down. More recently, on May Day this month, successful PCS strike action shocked the government and was a warning of further action if cuts continue.

Due to unforeseen family commitments the actor and Shrewsbury Two campaigner Ricky Tomlinson was unable to attend the conference, but just 48 hours before hand recorded a video address. In his ‘virtual’ appearance, Ricky outlined the campaign still running over the jailing of 24 construction workers for picketing in 1972. He went on to he express his anger at the way New Labour has made things “worse and worse” for workers in Britain. He went on to say: “I don’t think there will be a difference between Blair and Brown because they’ve worked so closely together.. New Labour doesn’t represent working class people.. I call on workers to unite to form a left wing socialist party to represent the working class. There’s no shortcuts, no easy fix.” He closed his comments by stating: “New Labour, my arse!” This video will be posted on the CNWP website within the next two days.

Charter debate

The first conference debate was on the CNWP’s charter. In proposing an updated charter, CNWP assistant secretary and Socialist Party (SP) member, Hannah Sell, explained that its wording needed to cover the period up until the next conference, so it deliberately concentrated on the most enduring issues and government attacks.

Hannah argued that it is preferable to keep a clause stating the need for socialism in the charter. But she argued against resolutions being put to the conference by Workers’ Power (WP) and the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) wanting clauses for the ‘revolutionary overthrow’ of capitalism and how it could be achieved, because: “It is not our job to sound as left and radical as possible. We need a programme that is readily taken up by workers.., one that they can identify with. Most of these workers have not yet drawn conclusions on how socialism will be achieved”.

In the debate that followed, four organisations– the Socialist Alliance (SA), WP, the Campaign for a Marxist Party and the CPGB moved four resolutions and amendments. The debate also included contributions from conference delegates, including from Onay Kasab of Greenwich Unison, who spoke on the battle against pay cuts by employees of Greenwich council and from Alec Thraves, a Socialist Party candidate in the Wales Assembly election, who concluded: “In Wales many people voted for the party most likely to defeat New Labour because there is no mass workers’ party. They need a voice”.

In the voting at the end of the debate, the CNWP officers’ proposed updated charter was overwhelmingly carried, along with the amendment from the SA. The three other amendments and resolutions were defeated.

Debating the way forward

The second conference debate was on the way forward for the CNWP. Secretary of the CNWP and Unison NEC member, Roger Bannister, moved a resolution from the CNWP officers, which called for the CNWP to “vigorously campaign to popularise the idea of a new mass workers’ party over the coming year” and outlined a number of steps towards doing this. The debate that followed was opened by the moving of three resolutions, from Berkshire CNWP (subsequently carried), the SA (defeated) and Workers’ Power (defeated).

In moving the Berkshire resolution, Terry Pearce reported on a “spirited” campaign in his area to defend council housing, and called for a regular CNWP newsletter to be produced that can report on all campaigns around the country.

Vanessa from the health service campaign PUSH spoke in this session on the need to build for a protest against NHS cuts and privatisation in Parliament Square on 5 July. She expressed her frustration with the union leaders’ delay of a national demonstration to save the NHS – now called for 13 October – by asking “will October ever come?”

Burslem postal worker, Jane, explained why she and other local postal workers had been forced to take nine days of strike action. During the second strike, 400 managers had been drafted in to do the work of 100 workers! Darfur refugee Sadiq Abakar, made a moving appeal for help with his campaign for asylum, and that of other Darfur refugees whose lives are in danger.

Pete McClaren, a member of the SA, said to the conference that his press releases went out without any unwelcome political edits by other CNWP officers, in this way making it clear that he was happy with the working relationship that exists within the campaign. There was however a difference at the conference between the SP and SA on the present structure of the CNWP, with the SA calling for individual membership to be introduced now and there to be a right of representation on the steering committee regardless of the size of affiliated organisations. These issues should be discussed further in the coming period to attempt to reach agreement.

Following commissions and the election of a new steering committee, the conference was closed with an inspiring speech by Tony Mulhearn, who was president of the Liverpool District Labour Party (DLP) during the 1980s battles of Liverpool council against the then Tory government. In summing up what he described as “a great conference”, he said that the politics of the mainstream parties today is to “make promises, get elected and then to break promises”, but that in Liverpool in the 1980s the Marxist and other leaders of the DLP carried out their promises. By building a firm basis in local communities, we can again “be absolutely positive that we can build a mass movement”.

Pete Smith - Democratic Labour Party councillor

The second conference session was addressed by newly elected Democratic Labour Party (DLP) councillor Pete Smith from Walsall. He explained that since he and others in the DLP had been “kicked out of the Labour Party” they had refused to be silent. He said that during the election campaign he had been “so busy in the cul de sacs and streets of Walsall that I have not had time to work out if I am a revisionist, a radical or a revolutionary” and that in the DLP they “work with local people, starting at the level they’re at – otherwise we’d be nothing but a talking shop. We have gained increasing respect in our communities. Since leaving the Labour Party, we have remained clear to our consciences; no pillow is more comfortable than a clear conscience. We need a nationwide party to oppose New Labour. A large tapestry to link in the views of working class people in our towns. I hope this conference takes us closer to a new party, a truly democratic party, in the interests of workers and their families”.

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  • 11 months later...
The conference was opened by CNWP Chair Dave Nellist, who pointed out that it was apposite to be meeting in the same week that Tony Blair announced his departure from power. But when Blair leaves office on 27 June, “unfortunately he won’t be taking the entire cabinet with him”.

The world is a less safe place as a result of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and in Britain, young people now face massive debts consisting of loans and payments equivalent to “three mortgages”: the first for a house, the second for rising pension contributions and the third for university fees. However, house prices are so high now, that workers such as fire-fighters, teachers and health workers are unable to afford a house at all in many parts of the country.

Voters in elections are not faced with “three competing parties” because “the Tories, New Labour and the Liberal Democrats agree on all the essential issues – at least between elections.” The CNWP needs to build further on the 2,500 signatories it has so far, by sinking deep roots in local communities and trade unions to help create the conditions as soon as possible for the existence of a new party.

Chris Baugh, Assistant general secretary of the civil service trade union PCS addressed the conference in a personal capacity and expressed his support for the CNWP. He condemned Gordon Brown’s “arbitrary and swingeing” 100,000 job cuts plan in the civil service and said such cuts will inevitably damage vital services. He also condemned Brown as the chief architect of the NHS funding crisis, the huge privatisation programme being forced on 20,000 workers in the Ministry of Defence, and the vicious spending limits across the public sector. “PCS members will take some convincing that there is any material difference between Blair and Brown” he concluded. He reminded the conference that three million public sector workers had threatened strike action in the run-up to the last general election over the government’s plan to increase the pension age, and that this forced a significant government climb down. More recently, on May Day this month, successful PCS strike action shocked the government and was a warning of further action if cuts continue.

Due to unforeseen family commitments the actor and Shrewsbury Two campaigner Ricky Tomlinson was unable to attend the conference, but just 48 hours before hand recorded a video address. In his ‘virtual’ appearance, Ricky outlined the campaign still running over the jailing of 24 construction workers for picketing in 1972. He went on to he express his anger at the way New Labour has made things “worse and worse” for workers in Britain. He went on to say: “I don’t think there will be a difference between Blair and Brown because they’ve worked so closely together.. New Labour doesn’t represent working class people.. I call on workers to unite to form a left wing socialist party to represent the working class. There’s no shortcuts, no easy fix.” He closed his comments by stating: “New Labour, my arse!” This video will be posted on the CNWP website within the next two days.

Charter debate

The first conference debate was on the CNWP’s charter. In proposing an updated charter, CNWP assistant secretary and Socialist Party (SP) member, Hannah Sell, explained that its wording needed to cover the period up until the next conference, so it deliberately concentrated on the most enduring issues and government attacks.

Hannah argued that it is preferable to keep a clause stating the need for socialism in the charter. But she argued against resolutions being put to the conference by Workers’ Power (WP) and the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) wanting clauses for the ‘revolutionary overthrow’ of capitalism and how it could be achieved, because: “It is not our job to sound as left and radical as possible. We need a programme that is readily taken up by workers.., one that they can identify with. Most of these workers have not yet drawn conclusions on how socialism will be achieved”.

In the debate that followed, four organisations– the Socialist Alliance (SA), WP, the Campaign for a Marxist Party and the CPGB moved four resolutions and amendments. The debate also included contributions from conference delegates, including from Onay Kasab of Greenwich Unison, who spoke on the battle against pay cuts by employees of Greenwich council and from Alec Thraves, a Socialist Party candidate in the Wales Assembly election, who concluded: “In Wales many people voted for the party most likely to defeat New Labour because there is no mass workers’ party. They need a voice”.

In the voting at the end of the debate, the CNWP officers’ proposed updated charter was overwhelmingly carried, along with the amendment from the SA. The three other amendments and resolutions were defeated.

Debating the way forward

The second conference debate was on the way forward for the CNWP. Secretary of the CNWP and Unison NEC member, Roger Bannister, moved a resolution from the CNWP officers, which called for the CNWP to “vigorously campaign to popularise the idea of a new mass workers’ party over the coming year” and outlined a number of steps towards doing this. The debate that followed was opened by the moving of three resolutions, from Berkshire CNWP (subsequently carried), the SA (defeated) and Workers’ Power (defeated).

In moving the Berkshire resolution, Terry Pearce reported on a “spirited” campaign in his area to defend council housing, and called for a regular CNWP newsletter to be produced that can report on all campaigns around the country.

Vanessa from the health service campaign PUSH spoke in this session on the need to build for a protest against NHS cuts and privatisation in Parliament Square on 5 July. She expressed her frustration with the union leaders’ delay of a national demonstration to save the NHS – now called for 13 October – by asking “will October ever come?”

Burslem postal worker, Jane, explained why she and other local postal workers had been forced to take nine days of strike action. During the second strike, 400 managers had been drafted in to do the work of 100 workers! Darfur refugee Sadiq Abakar, made a moving appeal for help with his campaign for asylum, and that of other Darfur refugees whose lives are in danger.

Pete McClaren, a member of the SA, said to the conference that his press releases went out without any unwelcome political edits by other CNWP officers, in this way making it clear that he was happy with the working relationship that exists within the campaign. There was however a difference at the conference between the SP and SA on the present structure of the CNWP, with the SA calling for individual membership to be introduced now and there to be a right of representation on the steering committee regardless of the size of affiliated organisations. These issues should be discussed further in the coming period to attempt to reach agreement.

Following commissions and the election of a new steering committee, the conference was closed with an inspiring speech by Tony Mulhearn, who was president of the Liverpool District Labour Party (DLP) during the 1980s battles of Liverpool council against the then Tory government. In summing up what he described as “a great conference”, he said that the politics of the mainstream parties today is to “make promises, get elected and then to break promises”, but that in Liverpool in the 1980s the Marxist and other leaders of the DLP carried out their promises. By building a firm basis in local communities, we can again “be absolutely positive that we can build a mass movement”.

Pete Smith - Democratic Labour Party councillor

The second conference session was addressed by newly elected Democratic Labour Party (DLP) councillor Pete Smith from Walsall. He explained that since he and others in the DLP had been “kicked out of the Labour Party” they had refused to be silent. He said that during the election campaign he had been “so busy in the cul de sacs and streets of Walsall that I have not had time to work out if I am a revisionist, a radical or a revolutionary” and that in the DLP they “work with local people, starting at the level they’re at – otherwise we’d be nothing but a talking shop. We have gained increasing respect in our communities. Since leaving the Labour Party, we have remained clear to our consciences; no pillow is more comfortable than a clear conscience. We need a nationwide party to oppose New Labour. A large tapestry to link in the views of working class people in our towns. I hope this conference takes us closer to a new party, a truly democratic party, in the interests of workers and their families”.

Soon we may see the unedifying spectacle of a rush of workers moving into Labour Party activity (as P Taaffe always said would happen) but being wooed out by the same P Taaffe to form a miniscule sectarian fringe party.

You couldn’t write it!

Edited by Bernie Laverick
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