Why won't the SWP and Socialist Party join the SCSTF?

Submitted by Matthew on 16 April, 2010 - 4:48 Author: Martin Thomas

Why won’t the SWP and the Socialist Party join the Socialist Campaign to Stop the Tories and Fascists? The SCSTF links a Labour vote, to keep out the Tories, with a fight for the labour movement to assert itself for working-class policies against the New Labour gang.

SCSTF says plainly that we want Labour to win this election, but we also want the unions and working-class activists to fight Brown and create the basis for a government which will be accountable to the labour movement and serve the working class as the Tories and New Labour have served the rich.

Don’t the SP and the SWP agree?

The candidates they are running cannot be a good reason for not backing SCSTF. The “Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition” run by the SP has announced just 30 candidates in England and Wales, and 10 in Scotland. The Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) has hesitantly put a toe in, with two SWP members in England and two in Scotland under the TUSC umbrella.

TUSC will do anti-cuts campaigning, with ballot papers, in 40 constituencies. As Dave Nellist of the Socialist Party said at TUSC’s national rally on 25 March, they know they will get “modest scores”. Success “won’t be measured by the votes TUSC will get but by the contribution to the fight back after 6 May”. In other words, they have no hope of a vote big enough to be a useful political demonstration. The ballot-paper feature of their anti-cuts campaigning will not add much to it.

What about the other 606 constituencies? Don’t those areas need a “contribution to the fight back after 6 May” too? Shouldn’t SP and SWP join SCSTF there?

Although Labour has shifted hugely towards the “bourgeois pole” in the old Marxist formula for it, “bourgeois workers’ party”, it remains tied to the trade unions. That fact gives the SCSTF points of leverage.

But the SP denies it. It says that the Labour Party is essentially the same as the Tories. Its message to almost all voters for 6 May is: stay at home. Let it pass. Look elsewhere.

And even in the few constituencies where the SP has candidates, those candidates do not argue for the labour movement to mobilise for a different sort of government. The AWL’s candidate for 6 May, Jill Mountford in Camberwell and Peckham, has the call for a workers’ government central to her agitation. The SP calls only for workers to back the SP candidates as a gesture of protest against cuts.

The SP’s election campaign falls short of being political in the sense of proposing a programme, linked to today’s conditions, for the overall running of society. It is an anti-cuts propaganda campaign, with ballot papers, in a few constituencies.

The SWP agrees Labour is still a “bourgeois workers’ party”. The SWP, unlike the SP, is for a Labour vote in the constituencies where there is no left candidate. But to find that out, you have to dig deep in its formal statements.

Was Socialist Worker of 10 April calling for a Labour vote? You tell me.

This is the nearest it came: “If the Tories win, it will be because working people can’t bring themselves to vote for Labour”.

The issue of 3 April had an editorial denouncing the Lib-Dems, but, again, only hinted that SW was recommending a Labour vote in almost all constituencies. The issue of 27 March had nothing at all of substance about the election, not even about TUSC.

The SWP line comes down to the same as the SP’s, only more shamefaced. Even the SP admits (in the TUSC policy statement) that there is a difference between Labour and the Tories. “The likelihood is that a Tory government will make earlier and deeper cuts in public spending than a New Labour one. A Labour government may also be more vulnerable to trade union pressure not to outlaw industrial action in ‘essential’ services”.

But both SP and SWP advise workers to do nothing about it — the SP because of its dogma about Labour having become a straight bourgeois party, the SWP because of more diffuse disarray. It as if the SP and SWP do not know the one thing everyone else knows about the election: that it is to elect a government for the next several years.

Are the TUSC candidates lighting a beacon so bright that all these problems are cast into shade? No.

The contempt for the trade unions which was ostentatiously displayed by the Blair government after 1997, and the modest shift to the left in union opinion shown by union elections in the following six years or so (the “awkward squad”), imposed on the activist left a duty to try to use those events to regroup and crystallise some serious labour-movement forces in opposition to Blair.

AWL played a central initiating part in the Socialist Alliance — uniting SWP, SP, us, and other groups — which ran 98 candidates in the 2001 general election. If the Socialist Alliance had done better in 2001, and had been maintained, built on, and improved since then, we would have something now, though we would still need something like the SCSTF to complement it in this 2010 election.

In fact the SWP and the SP wrecked the Socialist Alliance. The SP walked out in December 2001. The SWP used the big majority which it had after the SP’s exit to liquidate the Socialist Alliance in 2003 in favour of its abortive Respect coalition with George Galloway MP and segments of Islamic clerical fascism from the Muslim Association of Britain.

The opportunities to galvanise the left were squandered. In a sordid and unsuccessful scramble for electoral short-cuts, the SWP ended up with a coalition presenting itself to the electorate as “fighters for Muslims”, the SP with No2EU. The SWP and SP also gave Tommy Sheridan the backing he needed to split and wreck the Scottish Socialist Party. New Labour was allowed to survive its misdeeds in government with the major polarisation of working-class opinion against it being to the right (UKIP and BNP) or to the camp of passive disillusion, rather than to the left.

Compared to the Socialist Alliance of 2001 — which was only a weak start — the TUSC of 2010 is a desultory, half-hearted caricature.

The best it can build as an input to the struggles after 6 May is a strengthening of the SP or SWP in the areas where they are running — and whether that is a positive contribution depends on whether the SP or SWP is adequate politically.

Even if non-SP/SWP socialists in those areas vote SP or SWP as a gesture of protest against New Labour, TUSC is nowhere near being a beacon, a means of focusing a broad perspective for the labour movement.

The most thoughtful SP and SWP members will be aware of that. They should join SCSTF.

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