An interesting discussion is taking place in left wing circles within Britain’s largest trade union, Unite, concerning the fortcoming general election.
Graham Stevenson, until recently a national officer of the Union, formerly president of the European Transport Workers Federation, and currently head of the Communist Party’s trade union department, has entered the fray after controversy was sparked by a letter from the United Left within the union to the Socialist Party criticising its strategy of standing a large number of candidiates in the election with the avowed aim of defeating the Labour candidiates.
The SP is perhaps the most serious of Britain’s many trotskyite groups and certtainly the only one that can claim much more than a passing connection with the working class. For many years it was buried deep inside the Labour Party (a fact which sometimes surprises some of its more recent adherents) but once its main leaders were expelled it concluded that its objectives could be more easily achieved as a stand-alone organisation.
For some years it has attempted to create an electoral vehicle – the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition – as an alternative to the Labour Party and, on occaisions, had secured respecable votes and some support from sections of the trade union activist milieu.
Taking issue with a leading Socialist Party activist – who had seized upon the decision by the Communist Party to stand in Sheffield Central constituency – Graham Stevenson argues thus:
“Rob Williams, in seeking to defend the decision to stand a large number of candidates against Labour in the coming general election only does so by virtue of a very considerable financial legacy (many hundreds of thousands of pounds) left to Socialist Alliance, one of the many failed attempts to create an electoral base to the left of Labour.
This group says that their main motivation is that, despite Labour’s commitment to neo-liberalism, “many workers may still vote Labour as a defensive measure against the feared Tory attacks”. Extrordinarily, therefore, they “conclude that it is vital for socialists to stand together and make the largest possible impact on the General Election”. Further, that since the purpose of SA has been consistently to aid a “process of creating a new left party …. some of the legacy be used to … support the largest ever co-ordinated left challenge in the 2015 General Election”.
As a result of this, it is clear that something like 100 candidates are standing for TUSC in the general election
and very many hundreds in local elections. Adherents of this policy have already decided that an attempt to reclaim Labour, or to reclaim the working class, failing this, must also fail and that the refounding of a new workers’ party that aims to be a mass electoral vehicle is what is needed.
It is legimate in a democracy to put such a point of view but it is not one that the Communist Party shares. Rather, all the lessons of history are that it is to the extent that a united working class enagages in mass action to defend and extend working peoples’ rights that a party like Labour will be potentially emboldened and even driven to the left. It is the CPB view that the ConDem government can only be electorally beaten by Labour and that a Labour government offers more of a chance for trades unionists and working people to make progress. To work to damage that chance is to give comfort to the class enemy in our view.
Of course, all independent political parties have the right to engage in independent electoral activity in the absence of an agreed formal electoral front. But how we conduct ourselves in this process is critical. As a longstanding member of the Communit Party, I have no problem with the decision of the CPB EC to contest 8 seats in the coming general election, contests such as we have chosen to do consistently throughout the 95 years of our existence.
Of course, such an intervention on our part is to fly the flag, publicise our party, and generally recruit and promote. Each contest has been carefully chosen so that left-wing candidates for Labour (of whom there are significantly larger numbers this time) and no winnable seats for parties other than Labour are contested. The Labour candidates we are standing against are people who should never be Labour candidates.
To justify the extraordinary scale and high purpose of the SP/TUSC electoral intervention – of replacing Labour as the electoral vehicle of the working class – by attacking others in an attempt to cloud unjustifiable disunity, as Rob does by pointing to one Communist Party of Britain contest, is clearly uncomradely.
It is also inaccurate. The seat I will be working in – Birmingham Hodge Hill – has been selected for contest by the CPB precisely because it is held by Liam Byrne and it is his appalling record in politics we will slate: Liam Byrne – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. His majority is over 10,000. This is par for the course with all CPB contests.
It is not a mark of integrity, in criticising us to defend the SP/TUSC position, to isolate one single contest – Sheffield Central – to claim that the CPB is in the same character as TUSC/SP. The so-called slim majority inherited from 2010 is because the Liberal Democrats then polled 40.3% of the poll. “Sheffield Central has the highest proportion of students of any seat in the country, it includes Sheffield University just to the west of the city centre and both campuses of Sheffield Hallam University – around a quarter of the population are in full time education.” [UK polling report] This student factor was critical in 2010 arising from the issue of student loans. It is widely understood that this is no longer a marginal, as the LibDem vote has collapsed almost entirely due to their stance on this issue in government, and while the Greens will pick up some voters very many will simply return to Labour.
It is only for this reason that our leadership sanctioned the contest at the last minute since we are sure that this is not in reality a marginal constituency.
I would prefer that comrades seeking to justify their own stance look to their own house rather than knocking the quality of others.