What SCSTF did in the election, and what to do now

Submitted by martin on 7 May, 2010 - 1:49 Author: Martin Thomas

The Socialist Campaign to Stop the Tories and Fascists strove to create a socialist voice and presence within the Labour election campaign.

The campaign's leaflets criticised the New Labour record unsparingly. They called for labour-movement resistance to the cuts and other pro-capitalist policies promised if New Labour won the election. They agitated for the unions to campaign within the Labour Party to regain a democratic voice there and replace its policy and leadership by working-class alternatives.

On the ground, we organised street stalls to distribute our leaflets, attract attention, and make contact.

Like the Labour Representation Committee, we organised volunteers to go to constituencies where left Labour candidates were standing, like John McDonnell in Hayes and Harlington and Katy Clark in North Ayrshire and Arran. SCSTF volunteers came to help in the campaigning, but also to distribute our own leaflets.

We produced a special anti-BNP leaflet. It was the only leaflet in circulation during the election campaign, as far as we know, that argued against the BNP by offering working-class answers on the social issues on which the BNP feeds.

It was also the only one, as far as we know, to tackle head-on the anti-immigrant demagogy which was pushed in the election not only by the BNP but also by papers like the Mail, the Express, and the Sun.

The demagogy got a wide hearing - as we know from countless arguments on street-stalls - and all the major parties, including Labour, pandered to it.

We took that leaflet everywhere, but especially to BNP target constituencies like Barking in East London and Sheffield Brightside.

Even if the campaign had done nothing but produce and distribute that leaflet, that alone, in our view, would have made it worthwhile.

In fact it did much more. In Islington, north London, for example, SCSTF organised nine street stalls or leafleting sessions, in the few weeks before 6 May, some on its own and one in collaboration with a group of local Climate Camp activists who had independently decided to go onto the streets with an SCSTF-type message.

We had not only SCSTF's basic broadsheet and the anti-BNP leaflet, but much other material. We had a poster, used to decorate and draw attention to the stalls; six other SCSTF leaflets, on other big issues; and the anti-cuts petition initiated by the National Pensioners' Convention and endorsed by many trade unions.

At many of the stalls, there was an almost constant flow of people stopping to talk.

With that material, we had hundreds of conversations, and collected contact details from dozens of people interested in socialist ideas for campaigning after 6 May.

Workers' Liberty activists on those stalls also sold the socialist fortnightly Solidarity, just as the Climate Camp activists in Islington also put out their own literature, and other socialist groups supporting the stalls would have been welcome to do.

Sales were higher than usual. At one regular patch in Islington, for example, Solidarity sellers broke a record for sales at the site previously set at the height of the miners' strike in 1984.

In addition to organising the street stalls, SCSTF volunteers also mailed, phoned, and buttonholed labour movement activists to urge them to endorse the SCSTF statement and take a few copies to put around in their workplace, union branch, or constituency.

Some of those whom we asked refused: they wanted something more "Labour-loyal". Some fobbed us off - "I'll think about it". A large proportion said yes.

In those ways we discharged the basic duty of socialists - to agitate, to educate, to organise, for socialist ideas - in the best way available.

The campaign filled a political space which would otherwise have been left empty, or almost empty. Since politics knows no vacuums, that space would otherwise have been filled by grin-and-bear-it Labour loyalism or passive resignation ("it's all rubbish, nothing to be done about it").

The Labour Representation Committee made a useful effort to organise volunteers for left Labour candidates, but had no real autonomous presence in the campaign for the LRC as such, other than a little pamphlet unfortunately entitled not "A Workers' Agenda", or "A Socialist Agenda", but "A People's Agenda".

Some socialists merged into the Labour campaign with only a private "I-told-you-so" message to distinguish them politically: "The main responsibity for Labour not having... a good lead over the Tories, is down to the Labour leadership and their programme in office. Had they carried out socialist policies in the interests of working people then the result would not have ever been in doubt".

Some focused on their own separate candidacies to the extent of making their main message at election time the call (effectively) to make their minority vote in a few constituencies 2% rather than 1% or 0.5%. They shouted about that to the exclusion of saying anything much (or, in some cases, anything at all) about the governmental alternatives and about what to do in the vast majority of constituencies, where they weren't standing.

Some socialists reckoned that a "protest vote" for Greens or Respect was the best option. Some talked of voting Lib-Dem as the only hope for any change all, and presumably some voted that way, though not as many as once looked possible.

SCSTF did something that none of those efforts attempted - taking a socialist message direct to working-class voters and activists in every area where there were volunteers available to do it.

To compare SCSTF with the Socialist Campaign for Labour Victory in 1978-9 is of limited value, since the political situations are so different.

In 1978-9 there was a relatively lively Labour left, about to erupt into full-scale rebellion after the 1979 election. That gave the SCLV a resonance unavailable to SCSTF.

SCLV had much longer to prepare that SCSTF - almost a year of campaigning before the general election.

Still, in cold fact even the work of the 1978-9 SCLV was largely symbolic. Just four constituency Labour Parties backed it and took its literature, and most of those four used the SCLV leaflets only marginally.

But the symbol set a marker. The SCSTF has done that too.

After the 1979 election, the SCLV was active in initiating alliances and campaigns to try to fit the labour movement for the struggle against Thatcher. Many things are different now. But the SCSTF, too, should be a stepping-stone for campaigns against the new government which seems almost certain to be Tory or Tory-led.

We will be discussing how at "After the Election" meetings organised by SCSTF (sometimes jointly with local LRC groups) round the country.

Click here for the SCSTF website.


Submitted by Jason on Wed, 12/05/2010 - 20:46

I think there is something in what Alby says though don't agree on everything.

The core though of the argument seems to be that many activists want to see a party unafraid to say that the solution to the deficit is tax the rich, nationalise the banks, don't make the working class pay for the crimes of the billionnaires.

We certainly need to get organising NOW in communities, workplaces, unions for the fight back against the inevitable and swingeing cuts from the two toffs government of Clegg and Cameron.

I'm not though against a full and wide ranging debate about politics including the aspiration for a egnuinely socialist society based on maximum democracy for the working class and about where the revolution in Russia went wrong. I'm not for in and of itself just saying Old Labour which is based on managing capitalism e.g. Whitehall bureacrats runnign our services rather than local working class communities. Of course when the choice is between Whitehall bureacrats and pritateers the choice is clear as between radical reforming Labour and open Tories (or the slightly disguised orange variety under Clegg)- but why settle for something stale and old when we can fight for a politics based on people genuinely participating oin struggles and making decisions about their lives- what socialism can and should be.

I'd say we should continue with anti-cuts alliances and campaigns against service cuts where they exist, form ones where they don't and challege the left in the Labour party and those organising outside it to join the campaign and sign a pledge to oppose any cuts on the public services. This shouldn't primarily be about the next election but that is also part of the bigger picture- may be fight for Labour candidates to have a clear anti-cuts agenda and where they won't consider standing against them or certainly if an anticuts candidate is selcted locally but removed centrally ask him or her to stand as Real Labour or some such name.

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