It has taken me a long time to be in the right headspace to write publicly again about my experiences of the Socialist Party but, having been able to heal thanks to time and distance, I now feel compelled to write given the new political situation following the election of Corbyn last summer, as well as the impending EU referendum in a toxic climate of growing racism, poverty and mass suffering directly resulting from the ongoing capitalist economic crisis.
In part 1, I promised to address the following points:
- Why I left the Socialist Party in 2013 (you can also read my resignation letter – still with the original typos – elsewhere on my blog: https://wordpress.com/post/sakollantai.wordpress.com/322). I want to write about this experience in the light of the knowledge I have gained as a socialist feminist activist since then.
- Why Michael Crick is right about the cultic and atheistic religious practices of the party, drawing on both my own and many other ex members’ experiences, and, more importantly, why these organisational features are directly detrimental to the task of building a real mass working-class revolutionary organisation.
- What mass socialist party / organisation I advocate instead and how I imagine such an organisation might work with present Socialist Party members.
I am very concerned about the situation facing our class today and I think the left is singularly failing to develop a serious, well thought out strategy on how we can take on the system with the class behind us and with us, without relying on our own narrow networks of activists as if this can substitute itself for a real mass movement. The left is short termist in the extreme and incredibly shallow in its enthusiasm for populist soft left characters, who usually get there because they have the loudest mouths. Politics is a dirty business.Whilst it is true that a big part of Corbyn’s appeal is that he comes across as humble and sincere, Corbyn is relying on these sharks.
It’s important to remember the lessons of Syriza in Greece, a left-wing government that tries to work within the capitalist paradigm without building on a mass working class movements to take on the bosses and the capitalist class in its entirety. In government, they have proved themselves impotent whilst the Greek working class is starved and punished by the bosses’ institutions in the E.U. and elsewhere. It’s important to recognise that neither right-wing nationalists nor the E.U are the friends of working class people. Both sides loathe the masses and have nothing but contempt for us. This is why I don’t want to vote for either side in the upcoming EU referendum. I reject both but funnily enough, European socialism and unity against the bosses (no matter their flag) is not on offer on the ballot. Like millions of others in Britain, I am totally disenfranchised by the capitalist system.
Nor do I share Peter Taaffe and the SP’s optimism about what a ‘leave’ result on June 23rd would entail. They see it as a chance to bring down Cameron and imagine that it will led to some kind of mass movement to overthrow the government – a profound misreading of the situation in Britain today in my view. The labour movement is weak and class struggle here is possibly the lowest it’s ever been whilst the far and populist racist right are in the ascendancy, as a result of the historic failure of the left to offer a credible alternative to the right in the first place. Whilst it is true that some genuine and very long standing socialists and trade unionists support Corbyn in South Wales and certainly not all of them are careerists and are instead principled working class fighters in South Wales, the right in Labour remain in charge in Wales and are determined to implement the Tories cuts and accept the logic of the market and maintain the status quo and their inflated, removed lifestyles of MPs, AMs, councillors and union officials alike whilst ruling out strike action and defiance of the anti-union laws.
Whilst there are strikes taking place in Britain, the overall level of struggle is very low. Life is just getting worse for most of us, clinging desperately to day to day survival as we are. I don’t think the working class here has the class consciousness and confidence RIGHT NOW to unite in mass struggle against capitalism and reject the evil of racism against immigrants. British nationalism is dividing the working class here extremely effectively. This is the danger we are in and it’s vital that we are able to make a realistic assessment of where we are if we as a movement are ever able to develop an effective strategy to build a mass movement against capitalism on an international basis.
Although working class people are correct in rejecting the European Union as an elitist, bureaucratic club of the European bosses (dominated by Germany and France), it is equally mistaken to fall for the divide and rule tactics of the racist UKIP and the Brexit Tories led by Boris Johnston. We need working-class unity against both sections of the capitalist club fighting it out for power in this referendum of no choice. The so-called democratic parliamentary system which gives us this referendum is based on lies on all sides and ensures that working class people will always remain powerless and exploited whilst the rich stay in charge, whatever the results. Plus people outside of England (Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) might as well sit the thing out for all the impact their votes will have.
In the first part of this article, I promised to elaborate on why I left the party when it would appear – despite the differences I have outlined so far – that we are roughly on the same side. If I were a member of the Socialist Party now, I would be unable to express any differences of opinion that I have with the leadership regarding their analysis of current events, their programmatic demands and campaigns on say the European Union, for instance. The leadership argue that debate must be internal but when a decision agreed then everyone must publicly advocate that position publicly. Countless ex-Militant and Socialist Party members have fallen victim to this policy of ‘democratic centralism’not only in Britain but wherever their international organisation, the Committee for a Workers’ International, has or has had a presence.
For example, In the last 2 years, comrades have been forced out for daring to contradict the leadership’s analysis of the causes of the capitalist economic crisis and putting forward their own Marxian analysis; for this, they have been denounced for seeking factional rights in the organisation as is their right to do so according to the party constitution. It is an absurd situation, and indicates the level of control and censorship the leadership maintains over its members in order to maintain their positions. What is valued most in the organisation is unquestioning and unthinking loyalty to the leadership around Taaffe at all costs. Loyal members parrot the Executive Committee (E.C.) arguments and refuse to consider any of the evidence staring right in front of them that indicates that the E.C. MIGHT NOT BE 100 PERCENT RIGHT about something (say choosing to defend known domestic abusers in their organisation rather than supporting the survivors – in the sincere and honest opinions of a number of former members and independent activists from around the world) because they are ‘busy’ organising the ‘revolution’. Newer members of the organisation are duped and brainwashed, just as I was for the many years I stayed in the organisation.
Many of the older and more experienced members – often otherwise good socialist campaigners – are afraid of change and do not want to be forced out of their little socialist church where everything is safe and the leaders do the thinking for you. Unfortunately group delusion on this scale does not prepare you well for actual events, for life is not black and white and socialists are as weak, fallible and flawed as anyone else. Our movement has the right and the duty to admit mistakes; we must also do our best to make our organisations as inclusive of the most oppressed sections of the working class, not least women and people of colour as possible and open up to the working class – after all, this is Britain in 2016, not Russia in 1905!
I’m keenly aware that this is not just about my own particular story in Militant / Socialist Party history; there are many former members who lived and breathed this way of life and have their own stories to tell. My direct experience is of an organisation in decline, well past the heyday of Militant. I was a small child in the early 80s, so everything I know about the organisation from that time comes second-hand. When I joined as a student at Swansea University in 2000 I was recruited by Alec Thraves, the local full timer, at the time the Welsh Secretary of the Party and to do this day a member of the International Executive Committee of the CWI (Alec is named as one of the leaders in the appendices of Crick’s book). Alec impressed me with his impassioned defence of Militant’s record and as a devoted member I immersed myself in the Militant folklore from the older comrades who had made the headlines back in the day. I also remember Alec denouncing Crick’s book as a right-wing hatchet job – I never bothered reading it as a member.
Then, when I left the party in despair and disgust in 2013 I made contact with a number of the former leaders, full timers and former rank-and-file members from the 1980s up to the present day from around the world (including Scotland, Germany, Sweden, the U.S., France and Ireland). These comrades – many still active as socialists in the movement to different degrees – helped me begin to re-educate myself by sharing their own experiences of the organisation. This allowing me to better understand how my own experience of sexism, bureaucratic centralism (always misrepresented by the SP as ‘democratic’ centralism) and political ostracism resulting from my dissidence was part of a much wider and deeply rooted long-term malaise in the organisation, a malaise that comes from treating Marxism as a religious doctrine, exerting cultic control over members’ lives and according the leadership high priest-like status.
Because I critique Peter Taaffe and his ruling clique for their unwillingness to admit their human fallibility, it is only fair to admit my own fallibility (which anyone who has ever known me can tell you about). Hopefully most people who know me though generally think well of me and that does seem to be the case. When I was challenging the leadership both internally and then later externally in early 2013, I made my own mistakes and no doubt I make mistakes now. Possibly my negative view of the strength of the working class to unite in mass struggle, as a result of the many mistakes of the left, including the Socialist Party, is too one-sided. I just know our people are suffering more than ever before and it’s always been shit under capitalism; but right now the left are just not up to the tasks and responsibilities facing us and are not learning any of the main lessons of working class history so far – socialism can not be achieved through parliament. Nor have we learnt the lessons of the repeated and unfortunately predictable betrayals of all the main so-called workers’ parties, including the Labour Party, the Communist Party and the two main Trotksyist organisations in Britain – both the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party and whilst it was still around, the Workers Revolutionary Party.
As a class, we are by no means in a position to take on the bosses’ class properly when the majority of the left in all its many guises to this day has massive illusions in capitalism and its main institutions including the U.K. parliamentary system, the legal system including the police and the courts and the European Union. Unfortunately, the Socialist Party is part of this process, despite their absurd claim to be ‘the’ revolutionary party. There is no open or public recognition that a major reason why we are in the shit today is because social democracy – the Labour Party and the trade unions – were made part of the capitalist state when they chose to support World War One and their ‘own’ capitalist class in that war over a hundred years ago, betraying workers’ internationalism in the struggle to unite to overthrow capitalism! The Labour Party and trade union bureaucracy have been consistent ever since in maintaining the rule of capitalism, as can be demonstrated by all the major historical events of the last century including, alongside the Communist Party, selling out the 1926 General Strike, a defeat our class here has never recovered from. We haven’t had a general strike in Britain ever since and that is the minimum which is required if we are ever to get off our knees again as a class and stop these Tory bastards, let alone have an opportunity to consider how we can fundamentally change society in our collective interests.
We live in communities crushed by the Labour, trade union and CP led defeat of the miners in 84/5 and the children and the grandchildren and the great, great grandchildren of the fantastic working class fighters of both the 1980s generation, and all our foremothers and forefathers before it, are examples of mass-working class struggle that today’s generation and all those youngsters coming up behind us need to learn from ASAP if we are ever going to have a chance to survive and live halfway-decent lives again. Whilst it is great that soft left ideas are gaining mass support around Corbyn it is not because Labour will save the working class but because the class struggle is not over despite what the Blairite right would have us think. The Corbyn phenomenon is just an early, in fact babyish, phase of the movement trying to rebuild itself again under this ferocious attack from the ruling class. To have any chance of actual success, we need to rediscover our revolutionary history and dig deeper than the official Labour movement narrative. We need to remember that these are the people who helped Crick try and smash working class socialist resistance to their system in Liverpool. For all the flaws of Militant / the Socialist Party, that doesn’t detract from the heroism of EVERY WORKING-CLASS PERSON in Liverpool who fought the Tory government’s funding cuts and built jobs, homes and services in that legendary city in the early 80s.
But now let’s get to the heart of why I had to finally leave the Socialist Party – sexism on the male-dominated left of which unfortunately the SP is but just one example. I’m going to be blunt for brevity. All three of the Trotskyist organisations have (or in the WRP’s case, had) major problems with women members in particular reporting experiences of sexism, abuse and cover-ups by powerful male leaders. So many voices – and there are many of us, although not all of us have gone public yet – can’t be discounted the way an individual can be. I will always stand with my sisters including Caroline Leneghan (please read her International Women’s Day statement from 2013 as well as my resignation letter from the SP) and many other female comrades I know personally who have shared their experiences of abuse from members of the Socialist Party with me but at this stage do not want to be named. Encouragingly, other women are starting to come forward (and long may this continue). Recently, the CWI has been rocked by domestic violence and rape cover up scandals, leading to very public splits in Sweden and in Australia ( get links).
I know that I promised to write about what working class revolutionary organisation I would like to see develop and how independent socialists, anarchists and working-class revolutionaries might / could / possibly work with present day Socialist Party members who are willing to engage in a dialogue about the health of their organisation, acknowledge that problems do indeed exist and recognise the contributions of the rest of us, not least their ever-growing list of ex-members. I will do so in part 3, where I will also return in more detail about the sexist culture of the Socialist Party and its various other unfortunate organisational characteristics, to put it far more politely than they deserve.
So, until Part 3 then,
Viva La Revolution