The Socialist Party in England and Wales still pretends its electoral coalition will spawn a new workers' party, reports Mark Fischer
The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, whose unadvertised conference held on June 12 basically agreed that it should “continue in existence” and “remain registered with the electoral commission”, according to the document circulated for the occasion. However, Tusc does not look long for this world.
Sure, the general secretary of the RMT union, Bob Crow, addressed the gathering and its main component, the Socialist Party in England and Wales, talks Tusc up as “a coalition involving leaders of the most militant trade unions in Britain today” (The Socialist June 16), but in reality it consists of just SPEW, a half-hearted Socialist Workers Party and a handful of others. The union leaders The Socialist talks about are mainly SPEW members, and comrade Crow is not exactly confident his union will agree to back it in future elections: “I’m looking forward to having the argument with those who say the unions shouldn’t be involved with election campaigns that get small votes,” he told the June 12 conference.
Jenny Sutton, Tusc general election candidate for Tottenham, was one of the 30 or so comrades who attended. She told us that she and the other independents at the conference were all agreed that the coalition should have a future, as it was important that there should be an “electoral challenge to the left of Labour”. But this is a big problem. If the formation remains just a “loose coalition” acting as an “electoral umbrella” under which (carefully vetted) organisations and individuals contest the odd election, it will be viewed, quite rightly, as completely unviable.
Although comrade Sutton added that there had been “no disputes” at the gathering, the fact that the non-aligned comrades present felt it necessary to emphasise that Tusc should be “as open and inclusive as possible,” seems to us to stand as an implicit criticism of SPEW and to a lesser extent the SWP. Ludicrously, attendance was by invitation only, with SPEW ensuring that potentially awkward customers were not even informed that it was happening.
Our organisation only became aware of it through the non-SPEW Tusc candidate in Wellingborough who sent out details via his e-list, including to a group of CPGB comrades who had worked in his election campaign. We applied for observer status (nothing more - we had not, after all, been allowed to join Tusc) and on June 10 leading SPEW comrade and Tusc front man Clive Heemskerk phoned to explain why we were not to be allowed to attend the event in any capacity.
The gist of the comrade’s argument was this:
First, the meeting was exclusively for “Tusc candidates and campaign organisers”. In fact, this represented a shift in the attendance criteria. We know of non-aligned comrades who were initially invited to the meeting because of their work on the ground in the election campaign, not because they held some position as a ‘campaign organiser’.
It was slightly perverse that we even expected to come in the first place - after all, CPGB leadership meetings and aggregates were not open to him, comrade Heemskerk observed. This was dumb, I told him - he was not comparing like with like. In addition, if he and SPEW had participated in the work of an important campaign we were involved in, such as Hands Off the People of Iran, or had recommended an unconditional vote for and work with CPGB candidates in some national election, then an application for observer status from SPEW at a meeting that was deciding the fate of the campaign or future electoral challenges would be seriously considered at the very least.
However, that extremely unlikely scenario of convergence aside, Tusc was an electoral campaign for which the CPGB had recommended an unconditional vote and for which - where we were allowed - we had actually grafted. There was no question of our demanding delegate status or votes. We had simply applied to observe - what was the problem?
It was surprising that we were actually still interested in the project at all, as comrade Heemskerk assumed the CPGB would be “throwing all your resources behind Diane Abbott’s campaign for the leadership of the Labour Party” - a reference to our front page and an article in the newly published Weekly Worker. The comrade’s snide remark revealed two things. First, the rather infantile attitude SPEW has to developments in the Labour Party, spawned by its shallow and palpably false assertion that this is now simply a bourgeois organisation no different in substance to the Tories. Second, that - despite the fact that this edition of the paper had only been online for an hour or so that Thursday - the comrade had already looked it over. Indeed, in the course of our argument, he confessed to “reading you very carefully”. Also - it seems - promptly.
As we are an organisation routinely dismissed by the likes of comrade Heemskerk as ‘irrelevant’, one wonders why? As we admitted when we applied to join Tusc in the first place, like the rest of the left the CPGB has absolutely minimal “social weight” - the foolish criterion set by SPEW to exclude potentially troublesome left organisations smaller than itself. Our ‘weight’ consists of being a serious trend of thought in the workers’ movement, articulated through a widely read newspaper.
He thought that we were not actually interested in a campaign for a new mass workers’ party in general. I corrected him - we most certainly are. At its core, this is precisely what our organisation was in many ways. The difference is that we are clear the only genuine workers’ party is a Marxist party. Ah, he came back, but he and the Socialist Party in England and Wales were campaigning through initiatives like Tusc for a “new bourgeois workers’ party” (a remarkable admission). So, other than opportunities for mischief-making, why our continued interest?
I emphasised that our organisation was well aware that the road to a Marxist party might have to meander through many twists and turns and be fought for in all sorts of unconducive arenas before it was won. This explains our continued active engagement with the already existing bourgeois workers’ party - something he had referenced with his throwaway comment about Abbott.
As the conversation drew to a close, a thought occurred to me. Had the decision to deny the CPGB observer status actually been taken by the Tusc steering committee? Er, no, it hadn’t, Clive conceded after some evasion. He agreed to circulate our request to the committee - a tacit admission that the initial decision to exclude us had been taken by SPEW alone.
This underlines the importance of the concern of non-aligned comrades at the June 12 meeting, as reported to us by Jenny Sutton. To remind comrade Heemskerk, they were “keen that Tusc should be as open and inclusive as possible”.
An autumn Tusc conference is being mooted, although there are no detailed plans yet. We hope the SPEW comrades maximise its chances of success by ensuring the conference (if it actually happens) is “open and inclusive” - in stark contrast to how the project has been run so far.