Aug 05 2002

Which route for political, working class unity in Britain?

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 03RCN @ 12:24 pm

We are publishing the statement by Cymru Goch because it highlights some of the problems hampering the struggle for working class unity in Britain. Bob Goupillot outlines his personal reflections on these problems and suggests a possible way forward.

My view is that all individual socialists and socialist organisations should be inside the
SSP or the Socialist Alliances in England and Wales. As a member of the Republican Communist Platform within the SSP, I know how difficult it can be to operate as a minority faction inside a much larger organisation. It takes discipline and a clear eye on the strategic goal of working class unity. Hence, I believe that Cymru Goch should have stayed inside the Welsh Socialist Alliance, despite the frustrations that they have experienced. This is even more important given that Cymru Goch had taken a superb initiative in organising the best republican response to the Windsor jubilee in these islands. (This was a three day Stuff the Monarchy festival in Pontypridd, which was opened by a speech from Alan McCombes of the SSP.) This has given them a platform to challenge the opportunism of the SWP within the Welsh Socialist Alliance.

The Socialist Workers Party

At present the creation of a single, united, all-Britain working class party appears to be an unlikely prospect. The Socialist Alliances in England and Wales seem weak and disorganised. This is illustrated by some shocking by-election results and anecdotal evidence from Labour lefts in England and Wales who appear to be only vaguely aware of the SA’s existence. Even worse, the SWP, the largest organisation in the Sas, seems unwilling or unable to commit itself to seriously building the SAs or produce a strategy for class unity. Their characterisation of the Socialist Alliance as a united front of a special kind is a block to building a serious working class party (or parties). This is because it sees itself as already being The Party. It is just that the rest of us are too blind to see it.

In Scotland, with the already existing Scottish Socialist Party as an established political fact, such a claim is not credible. Here the SWP has evolved into a platform that never counter poses the independent socialist Scotland programmatic commitment of the
SSP with its own belief in organising on a British basis. As the largest socialist organisation in Britain, the SWP needs to recognise its responsibilities, stop its opportunism and explain to the wider working class (and I suspect its own members) where it stands on the national question and working class unity.

The Socialist Party

The Socialist Party of England and Wales has left the Socialist Alliances in England even though their co-thinkers, the CWI (Scotland), have remained in the SSP. The Socialist Party needs to bite the bullet and rejoin the SAs. A truly class conscious organisation would recognise this as a necessity. Blaming the SWP for everything is not a strategy for taking the class forward. If the SP did rejoin and proved itself serious about building the Socialist Alliances, this would be the strongest political challenge to the SWP that they could mount. Potentially it could win for them the leadership of the class conscious workers. They could repeatedly challenge the SWP on the grounds of Are you serious about working class unity? What’s your strategy? Of course, in order to pose these questions effectively they would have to produce credible answers of their own.

The Scottish Socialist Party

Inside the SSP, we have policies that trumpet our internationalism and we send representatives to conferences on European socialist unity. However, it is difficult to raise the issue of bringing about closer unity with comrades in England, Wales or Ireland. We have no concrete proposals for improving cooperation with socialists in England, Wales or Ireland and hence helping to unite the working class of these islands. There is simply an absence, a gap. Most, negative, responses refer to the weakness of the Socialist Alliances. However, the weakness of the
SAs makes it even more important that the
SSP, currently representing the most organised section of the working class in Britain, gives a lead in promoting unity amongst the working class. Given that the SSP is much further developed than the
SAs and, more importantly, has years of experience of making left unity work, I think that we have a political responsibility to aid pro-unity groupings out with Scotland. It seems to me that there are only three routes to political unity amongst the working class of Britain.

These are:

  1. (A single united party for all socialists in England, Scotland and Wales.
  2. A single party with a federal make-up based on separate sections based in Scotland, England and Wales with the SSP being the Scottish section.
  3. The creation of separate parties in Scotland, England and Wales (or England plus Wales). These separate parties would then need to work together as closely as possible. I will use the term Confederation to describe this structure to distinguish it from the tighter, federal structure of option 2.

Under this scenario, overtures could be made to pro-unity groups in Ireland. [I support all-Ireland Alliances, not those that accept partition. There are opportunities opening on the left, as the Good Friday Agreement and government/employer/trade union partnership deals fail to deliver for the working class and Sinn Fein continues to move to the right.] This Confederation would in turn seek to be part of a wider European and ultimately worldwide Socialist grouping.

Those who declare that they are for the unity of the working class yet reject the single party options, 1 & 2 must, if they wish to remain credible, produce a strategy based on option 3. Those who argue against an all-Britain party must come up with an alternative, practical proposal/plan/strategy. An abstract phrase like through struggle (particularly in the absence of major struggles) will not suffice To comrades in the SSP and the leadership in particular, I would say, let’s be more ambitious and less parochial. We need to be outward looking, even a bit evangelical. Most working class people instinctively strive for class unity. It is that emotion and thought that we need to connect with. There have always been sectarians and narrow nationalists and part of our role will be to expose them by our non-sectarian, internationalist practice. We do not have forever. Let’s have confidence in our experience and ourselves and get on with it. Remember borders are man-made constructs; let’s not turn them into insurmountable barriers.

I think that the following suggestions would move the whole process forward:

  1. That the SSP publicly declares, as one of its aims, that it will aid Socialist Unity in England, Wales and Ireland and to have a real debate within the SSP on how to do it.
  2. That the SSP, whether in the form of branches, platforms or individuals, makes every attempt to communicate directly with SA members down south, much as we did during the Poll Tax, when again Scotland was in the lead. Again using the experience of the Poll Tax, SSP branches could twin with SA branches and build up personal and political relationships.
  3. The SSP should take a lead in organising a conference of all those individuals and organisations that believe that building
    SSP – type parties in England, Wales and Ireland would be a step forward.

The important strategic goal is to bring about effective working class unity. The question of whether this is brought about by an all-Britain Party or cooperation between nationally based SSP type parties is a tactical one i.e. It depends on the circumstances in which we find ourselves and is not, repeat not, one of principle. At this point in history, I am not in favour of raising the slogan of an all- Britain party within the SSP. Our role is to help comrades down south and in Ireland to come together and then let us take it from there. Comrades, lets have a mature discussion without falling into the Brit left/Unionist vs nationalist slanging match (again). The rise of the BNP, Le Pen and the Anti-Agreement loyalist LVF/UDA shows that we have a responsibility to reflect soberly on the way forward. Without a credible and united Left the radical Right looks attractive to those desperate for change and those desperate to avoid change.

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2 Responses to “Which route for political, working class unity in Britain?”

  1. Emancipation & Liberation » SSP & Socialist Unity says:

    […] which means that it may not be debated at the conference. However, the resolution, together with Bob Goupillot’s article E&L 3, have started to stimulate […]

  2. Emancipation & Liberation » Letters says:

    […] disagree with much of what Bob Goupillot has written in his article, Which route for political working class unity in Britain E&L 3. I sympathise with the reasons given for Cymru Goch’s resignation from the Welsh Socialist […]

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