Workers' Liberty #55  


A tale of organisational jealousy by Cathy Nugent
Resigning from, not resigned to, Labour by Nick Rogers

A tale of organisational jealousy

I would like to make a few additional points to Jill Mountford's comments on Socialist Outlook's withdrawal from the Welfare State Network. I write both as an AWL member and as an editor of Action.

  1. For over four years the WSN has been a collaborative effort of different groups, campaigns and individuals. That is a fairly unique experience on the British left.

  2. Outlook have never been excluded, bureaucratically or otherwise, from the campaign or from the campaign's paper, Action.

  3. Outlook's viewpoint has never been censored. From the point of view of developing political discussion and trying to shape a healthier left we felt, and still feel, that is a good thing to have political pluralism in the WSN's paper. As Action did, and Action for Solidarity will continue to do, we publish the views of Socialist Outlook on different, including contentious, subjects. The only obstacle to this is Outlook refusing to provide an opinion, as they did, for example, for the forum on left unity in the Euro-elections in Action 48, to which the SWP, Socialist Party, Scottish Socialist Party, the AWL and John Palmer contributed.

  4. Outlook have always had to the opportunity to contribute to, sell and distribute Action.

  5. However for nearly four years Outlook, as an organisation, have not taken any copies of Action to sell. From September 1998 John Lister's involvement in the production and editing of Action has been minimal. To this extent Outlook have excluded themselves from the campaign and from its paper.

  6. The WSN democratically agreed by a majority vote to publish Action fortnightly. We were able to so why shouldn't we? Socialist Outlook have gone off in a huff, complaining that decisions have been "rammed through". They have withdrawn from practical collaboration as a means of protest. They simply lost the vote!

  7. Outlook knew the direction the AWL wanted to take with Action - making it a broad socialist newspaper. They have known what our thoughts and plans are all along, because we have debated and discussed these things!

  8. The truth is Outlook did not want the AWL to be able to develop Action as a political paper for the labour movement, because they feared that if we did that the AWL would be able to use it as a political tool - not because the paper would be a closed AWL affair in any way, but because AWL activists would be the most energetic in promoting a broad socialist paper. If Outlook did not have the energy to sell both their tendency paper and Action they were damned if the AWL were going to be allowed to. Outlook were never able to create good political objections for Action developing politically. They have proceeded on the basis of organisational jealously and that is terrible political practice. That is the top and bottom of this sorry business.

One final point. Some people on the left have called the AWL's decision to put a lot of effort into campaigning around the idea of "rebuilding the welfare state" as low-grade politics, not the stuff Trotskyists should be concerning themselves with. This is snobbishness. It is also very near-sighted.

The AWL bases its political practice on the idea of transitional demands, i.e., we think demands such as "for state of the art health care free at the point of need, can mobilise our class, help strengthen the movement and educate workers about the need for socialism. Politics for us can be about making agitation around what Marx called "the political economy of the working class". It isn't just about intra-left polemics, however important those may be.

Right now we are getting on with the job of producing Action for Solidarity. We invite anyone on the left, including Socialist Outlook, to write for, and provide debate for, its pages.

Cathy Nugent

Resigning from, not resigned to, Labour

We received from a disillusioned Scottish Labour Party supporter a resignation letter to his CLP Secretary. Extracts:

"Having been a member for 23 years and having worked at the Walworth Road head office for three years, leaving the Labour Party is a big wrench for me.

The New Labour Government has disappointed, confused and demoralised Party members and supporters pretty much across the spectrum of policy areas. "Welfare reform" seems to be a euphemism for destroying the principles of universality which have underpinned the postwar welfare state. The state provides a safetynet only for the poorest.

The Government claims to be providing tens of billions of pounds of new funding for health and education. The claim is a major public relations con. During its first two years this Government imposed an unprecedented squeeze on public spending.

New Labour is committed to not increasing borrowing for current expenditure, to not increasing taxes (even on the rich) and they have cut corporation tax. I suppose this explains why Glasgow City Council is set to impose another round of service cuts and redundancies in order to fund Labour's election year commitment to a zero increase in the council tax.

The final breaking point for me has been the realisation that in Glasgow the Labour Party will fight a large part of its campaign for the City Council on two issues that reveal just how far New Labour is pursuing a Thatcherite agenda - the handing over of all Glasgow's secondary school buildings to be run by private consortia and the transfer of all Glasgow's council housing stock to a quango.

The policies will weaken democratic accountability, expose new groups of council workers to private employers seeking to worsen pay and conditions - and, over time, will lead to deteriorating services as commercial considerations take precedence over the needs of the people of Glasgow.

The only rationale for New Labour's determination to use PFIs as widely as possible to fund public investment is that they accept the Thatcherite argument that the private sector is inherently more efficient than the public sector. New Labour's conversion to a belief in the efficacy of private enterprise and free markets also explains why we have heard so little about "stakeholding", which once was to be Tony Blair's "big idea".

As a socialist I cannot campaign and urge the public to vote for policies which extend the role of the free market. I believe in building a society and economy ordered on the completely different principles of co-operation, mutuality, accountability, and democratic planning.

It is true that the Government is carrying out a fairly extensive programme of constitutional reform. However New Labour is demonstrating that modernising the antiquated British constitution is not incompatible with working within a Thatcherite consensus on economic and social matters.

Many socialists in the Labour Party share my analysis of New Labour in government, but have decided to fight on within the Labour Party. I have certainly remained a Labour Party member for more than two decades because the party's links with the wider labour movement and the electoral support it receives from working people led me to the conclusion that any realistic hopes for changing British society in a socialist direction would have to be realised through the Labour Party.

But New Labour have also torn the democracy out of the Party's constitution to make their position within the Party virtually impregnable.

The attitude of the trade union leaderships to recent developments has been a disappointment. Only with trade union support, for instance, has New Labour been able to get away with neutering internal Party democracy.

Many in Scotland place their hopes for the future in the Scottish Parliament and anticipate a growing independence for the Scottish Labour Party. Yet every Labour MSP will have been elected on a New Labour Manifesto that endorses PFIs and fiscal prudence - a manifesto to the right of their main challengers.

Moreover the first administration in Holyrood is likely to be put together by a Labour/Lib Dem coalition. This scenario will see Scotland as a testingground for the next stage of the New Labour project, which seeks to reunite the Labour and Liberal traditions - an objective perhaps made easier by Labour's adoption of the nineteenth century Liberal Party's ideology of free market capitalism. All of which will, no doubt, throw up many uncomfortable parallels as the centenary of the Labour Party's foundation quickly approaches.

Forced to hit the electoral campaign trail in support of policies that are effectively antisocialist, socialists in the Party are unable to stand up to be counted against cutbacks and privatisations. Surely socialists should be engaging with workers and communities struggling against the impact of a rampant capitalist offensive. Labour Party membership makes that option increasingly difficult.

A socialist alternative to the current free market and procapitalist consensus can only be built outside the Labour Party. I do not suppose there will be any shortcuts. The process of rebuilding a socialist movement is likely to be slow and difficult, but we can make a start only once we escape New Labour's prison guards.

I have decided the Scottish Socialist Party is the best available vehicle for taking the first steps in constructing a socialist alternative. Its leaders seem open to bringing on board those from a range of political traditions and to building broad-based alliances. Only by advocating the case for socialism from an independent platform and standing shoulder to shoulder with those seeking to defend and improve their conditions of life can the socialist tradition be kept alive."

Nick Rogers

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