TUSC conference – a modestly encouraging day

29 Jan

The TUSC election conference met yesterday in Central London. It was a meeting of leading local and national activists in the main, necessarily quite small as TUSC does not have the membership structure in place to make for anything liable to draw more people to a conference. I would estimate the attendance as around 40, maybe a few more.

There were two sessions, the earlier one being on the broad political situation and the politics of the election campaign, and a later afternoon session discussing some of the practicalities. There has actually been something of a positive shift in the atmosphere around TUSC, previously the project has seemed becalmed in the post-general election environment and the vaguely soft-left aura generated around the election of Ed Miliband as leader of the Labour Party.

Miliband and Balls’ statements supporting the government’s public sector wage freeze, in fact a brutal pay-cut for millions of workers, and pledge to keep all the coalition’s cuts, has changed all that. It appears that the SWP, who previously were formally in the TUSC project but barely engaged in it, in verbal terms at least, have  shifted to a more positive position. It remains to be seen whether this translates into real mobilisation of SWP activists on the ground to build TUSC around the country, but the negativity that surrounded the SWP’s involvement previously was not present at this conference.

It was noted that the implications of the Miliband/Balls complete capitulation to the Tories could in time have enormous consequences, implying as it does a possible break with much more strategic, big unions that until now have been loyal and supportive to the Labour Party. Just because the Tories are in government now, the question of working class representation, independent of the Labour Party, has not gone off the agenda. Miliband and Balls have now put this question back centre stage, and I think it highly likely that in the medium term, perhaps the next three years, there could be another attempt to create a working-class alternative to the Labour Party, this time with much more union support.

It is this that seems to have brought the SWP back to what hopefully is a more serious commitment to TUSC as a project. Dave Church of the Independent Socialist Network spoke strongly on the need for a proper working class political party that the numerous independent socalists and trade unionists could join. TUSC of course is a federal body that stands in elections, runs campaigns, and aspires to do more. But it does not have a proper membership structure. Unfortunately, this crying need was not addressed by the responses from the SWP or the Socialist Party comrades, hardly surprisingly given the contradiction between their shared model that posits their own respective organisations as the core of the future party, and the obvious crying need for a genuine broad party which would commend the primary loyalty of its members. This was not resolved, and will take time to overcome.

The possible solution to this is the Independent Socialist Network. In fact,of the now thousands of people who are in contact with TUSC and read its newsletters etc, it is likely that most are not in the SWP or the SP. If the Independent Socialist Network, which is an official component of TUSC, can reach and draw these people in to organise, then a de-facto party membership could emerge and add to the impetus for such a unity. That is the best hope for TUSC. There was a get-together of ISN people after the conference that discussed some elementary steps to draw more people in.

One highlight of the day was when Alex Gordon of the RMT spoke very emotionally during the afternoon session about a visit he had made to Portugal. So emotionally that he was nearly in tears in fact – about the development of the Left Bloc party in Portugal and their struggle to defend the working class there, and indeed democracy itself, against the ferocious austerity attacks that are being dictated by the EU without even lip-service to democracy. For all we know the Left Bloc party may have lots of problems, however in Portugal there is at least a party that can unify opposition to austerity in a way that nothing presently existing in the UK has been able to.

The basic five-point election platform was adopted for use in the upcoming May elections. TUSC election prodecures for endorsing candidates were distributed; the first to apply was Michael Lavallete of Preston, former Socialist Alliance and Respect councillor from 2003-2011 who will be fighting to become a TUSC councillor again in May.

There was discussion of the situation in London, with differences having existed about whether or not to challenge Johnson and Livingstone for the Mayor’s position. To maintain unity among the various unions and others, it had been decided not to do this at this point, though this is still open for review in the light of fast-moving events regarding the Labour Party and the upcoming further public-sector strikes in March. In any case, we have an impressive array of trade unionists standing for TUSC in London, and there will be a strong effort to translate that into winning a seat on the proportional representation list.

All in all a modestly encouraging day


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10 responses to “TUSC conference – a modestly encouraging day

  1. David Ellis

    January 29, 2012 at 11:49 am

    TUSC I’m afraid is a sectarian’s wet dream. It sets the `socialists’ against the wider movement in a way that Marx explicitly warned against in the CM. Not only that but the five point programme is demagogic in that it promises to provide stuff rather than lead the struggle for it and also stuff that cannot possibly be provided by a bankrupt system and there is no sign that this is pointed out to the people whose votes you are seeking. Further, the programme is subordinate to the party question which is completely the wrong way round showing that this particular piece of sectarianism is for opportunist reasons (growing a small base that can then be used for lash ups that ignore programmatic ends).

    Programme first. Develop a serious socialist programme and win the vanguard to it and develop tactics from that strategy.

  2. redscribe

    January 29, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    I think you are being too rigid about this. Respect actually started in a similar way to some extent. Indeed Lavalette embodies an element of continuity, formally he was a Socialist Alliance councillor when he was elected in 2003, but in practice he was elected in an alliance with Muslim activists that really was the proto-Respect. You could say he was the first Respect councillor in that sense. If he wins in May that would be a recovery of some lost ground.

    There is a huge problem of working class people feeling disenfranchised, which has just been put to the fore again by the Miliband/Balls statements supporting the public sector freeze and keeping all the cuts.

    TUSC is an expression of the Labour Party’s trade union base fragmenting. The split of the RMT and FBU from the Labour Party for instance, was not the result of any sectarian scheme but the organic political life of the trade unions. In the medium term, i think bigger unions will follow, judging by the depth of the antagonism of the last few weeks.

    Any such thing will be messy and have lots of problems, and reflect reformist illusions. But Marxists can work within such a thing as a yeast to try to improve things politically. To quote Marx, “one step forward for a real movement is worth a dozen programmes”. That does not mean that Marxism and programme is unimportant. It does mean that to be effective, it has to have a working class political movement to swim in.

    Anyway, we might have to agree to disagree on that for the moment.

    Just on Newman, his blog is now a tool of Socialist Action. i should probably have not been surprised at the shift away from relative openness to this kind of bureaucratic nonsense. We do have to have forums where the left can debate fraternally and openly, and we all have responsibilites to create a situation where that can bear fruit. This blog is part of that, but it is a personal blog and reflects my own foibles to some extent.

    We need wider forums that can draw in more people who are not necessarily experienced left activists. I’m hoping that the ISN website will become that when some technical problems are resolved, but people are understandably wary of some of the fireworks that go on on other blogs. Its a very difficult balance to strike, but one point is that flame wars between experienced activists drive the newer people away and should be avoided.

    The biggest problem with Newman’s blog is his tolerance for reactionaries and intolerance for those to his left. As he moved to the right, that became more and more pronounced. But we do need to change the culture of debate on the left web-sphere, and get away from the flaws of the kind of debates that have happened in the past.

  3. David Ellis

    January 29, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    Respect started with programme first: opposition to the war. Galloway was expelled for it and discovered that low and behold there was a massive constituency in the hard-pressed Muslim communities who had little choice but to break from the New Labour government not just because they opposed the war but because the war and New Labour’s prosecution of it was driving up anti-Muslim hatred. Respect wasn’t just some sectarian declaration. In any case is anybody remotely aware of the programmatic differences between New Labour and the revolutionary socialists? Do the revolutionary socialist have any programmatic differences with New Labour? Look at the SNP. Not a workers’ party at all but it was their distinctive programmatic stand for Scottish independence that allowed them to break the New Labour, Tory, Lib Dem stanglehold on Scottish politics. The radical left were either madly sectarian and propagandist or offered more or less the same thing as the Blairites with a tiny bit more Keynesian mumbo jumbo thrown in. Where are the class struggle demands that can both mobilise the class and be credible in elections? End the bail out; state monopoly of credit; share the work for full employment; socialise the monopolies under workers’ control; defend public spending and balance the budget through fair tax system; federal Britain; socialist EU;

    Re: Socialist Unity: The culture of debate was set by Newman’s little coeterie of groupie trolls. They never argued politically but were allowed to troll discussions and crank up the ill-feeling. They were never pulled up but those who reacted to them were. It is a nasty little operation he is running there and he isn’t doing it for charity either. I’m pretty sure he thinks he can do a job on the Marxist left and neutralise it on behalf of the trade union bureaucrats. There may be a safe seat in it for him at some point in the sort of Kim Howells tradition. Ironic, I’ve been banned from Shiraz Socialist for anti-semitism and now from Socialist Unity for the same thing. Both these pro-zionist but non-Jewish blogs support the properly anti-semitic demand for a Jewish state.

  4. redscribe

    January 29, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    Respect was a process, Galloway’s expulsion was crucial of course, but actually its programme was not just about opposition to the war. It also had a programme of reforms, in some ways similar to TUSC actually, and its still true that the first real indication of the potential for generating the Muslim mass base came with Lavalette’s election in Preston. The same problems beset Respect in the early days as with the SA and TUSC, it was not a party but a coalition. Ironically after the SWP left it became more of a party, but also because it simply did not have a firm cadre (and enough of them), it slowly decayed and lost a lot of its mass base.

    I don’t agree with you about people not knowing the difference between Blair and the left. I think a good deal of Blair’s appeal was to ‘ex’-Tory voters on the basis of his junking old Labour and embracing overt neo-liberalism. He marginalised the left completely and had problably the longest ‘honeymoon’ of any goverment since records began – his entire first term bar the petrol protests.

    The early 2000s were a period of trade union quiescance, but radicalisation outside of that over the war on terror. Now is rather different, but I think that conditions are maturing again where TUSC, or something like it, can tap into something equally big but with roots in a wider layer of the class, through the unions. But is all estimation really, you can argue long and hard about what might happen and still not really know. Marxism is not an exact science, prognoses even from the best of them can be proved wrong because the possibilities are so many. Sometimes you have to get stuck in and see what happens.

    i can certainly imagine Andy Newman ending up like Kim Howells though. Agree with much of the last para.

  5. David Ellis

    January 30, 2012 at 8:42 am

    I had forgotten that Newman was part of the socialist action 21st Century Stalinist lot. It all comes together a bit more obviously now. Not only is this a witch hunt against those who refuse to support Fatah’s betrayal within PSC but also the Ken for London campaign preparing the blog ready for his campaign so that they can get their £100K salaries back. Tony Collins must be on secondment from the campaign and the blog has been given a grant to upgrade so that Newman has the technical capacity to realise his arbitrary bans. They don’t want any pesky criticisms from the left of Ken when he runs his crappy campaign and calling everybody a Holocaust Denier seems like a good way of getting rid of the opposition without having to deal with the politics.

    Re Respect. The SWP tried to destroy it and failed. In the end it was the right wing (Newman’s Stalinist controllers again) that called time on the project not Galloway. Fear that Respect was making good headway in London and that again did not suit Livingston. We can have the discussion about TUSC sectarianism a bit later I suppose but believe me you cannot just declare a new party without a distinct programmatic basis for it and it takes considerable work to formulate that programme and get a hearing for it first.

    Kim Howelles got rewarded for coming up with the formula that ended the miners strike in a humiliating return to work. He became the most right wing Labour MP of them all. He wanted to break the link with the trade unions and liquidate into the Lib Dems. He supported the war 110%. Newman is not in that league but no doubt he is expecting something for his efforts to cleanse the internet of left wing criticism.

  6. redscribe

    January 30, 2012 at 10:27 am

    Are Socialist Action and 21st Century Socialism the same group? I’m not sure, but I don’t think so. They are close I’m sure but I think there is some difference. SA is very shadowy, 21st is more openly Stalinist and seems to be a personal project of a couple of guys – Noah and Calvin. I do think SA entered Respect when the SWP left with the aim of steering it back into the Labour, and particularly Ken L, camp, and they more or less succeeded. George went along with this, mainly because he needed someone to run the organisation, but it really did not do him much good as he ended up without much of an organisation left because of it. I don’t know if Newman is a member of SA, he might not want to subordinate himself to their discipline, but he is undoubtedly close to them.

    Regarding the SWP, it is true that they tried to wreck Respect in a fit of pique once they lost control of it. On the other hand, they split afterwards and those configurations have now broken up. Its not entirely clear to me either who really was the prime mover in some of the stupid things they did. I also think they have moved to the right on some questions since the split – the Atzmon thing is indicative as with their refusal to defend Julian Assange. Interesting that Stop the War, led by Lindsay German/Counterfire did defend Assange but the SWP did not (come to think of it, Andy Newman defended Assange, so on that issue even Newman was to the left of the SWP!). But on other hand, the current SWP leadership, now that Rees, German, Bambery, Martin Smith, have gone are not the people who tried to wreck Respect. It would be naive to think they are a fundamental break from that method, but you can’t just assume in advance that they are the same.

    I agree that you can’t just declare a party, its emergence is likely to be a complex, drawn out process and indeed programmatic development has to be an ongoing process. But I do think you have to take practical steps to begin to create the conditions for that also, and TUSC I think is part of that.

  7. David Ellis

    January 30, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    Agree with your first para completely. They are the most repulsively self-serving bunch you’ll ever come across. Political guns for hire always ready with that piece of sophistry you need to justify this or that betrayal or otherwise inexplicable turn. They make me laugh. At the moment they are celebrating the convicted perjurer Sheridan on their blog and bewhaling the way he has been `silenced’ by the `establishment’ (he hasn’t he’s just been told that if he goes around pretending to be innocent he’ll have to serve the rest of his sentence). Newman’s sole interest in the matter is to ratchet up the divisions in the Scottish left. There can be no other reason to defend Sheridan. But the laughable bit is they are the lot silencing discussion not the establishment.

  8. redscribe

    January 30, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    I think we have differences on Sheridan. I think he was stitched up by Murdoch. Newman has actually changed his mind on this 180 degrees – he originally argued the opposite, but I always thought TS was the victim of a frame up.

    Mind you, Newman seems to change his mind about things like that according to who his allies are and what they think, so you have a point about him being a gun for hire.

  9. David Ellis

    January 30, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    Yes we’ll agree to disagree on Sheridan as on TUSC. He was a man on the make as far as I was concerned and he did more damage on the Scottish left than if they’d dropped a neutron bomb on Glasgow. Newman’s volte face was entirely out of political expediency. Realised more damage could be done to the rev left (his sole raison d’etre) by taking the opposite position and that most of his allies were on the other side.

  10. David Ellis

    February 4, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    Glad to hear that TUSC will not be standing against the deeply repulsive Livingston in the mayoral elections but that they will be standing candidates for the Assembly. Livingston it was who corruptly sold central london to the developers (something even Thatcher couldn’t swing which is why she had to develop Canary Wharf) so that now it is smothered in unsightly and useless sky scrapers which no doubt politicians and developers have made a lot of bucks out of. His programme is the epitomy of vacuuous rubbish but in solidarity with all those workers who want to defeat Boris and have illusions in Kendo it is right to call for a vote for him. At the same time the TUSC candidates should use the election as a platform for a radical socialist programme. If they simply use the election to promise things they cannot deliver for Londoners and major on running a campaign simply about the minutiae of running the capital like good little capitalists then it will have been an utter waste of time particularly as their percentages will be low in any case.


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