Unity and Socialism

17th century print cataloguing the religious sects and their “false and dangerous tenets”

This is an edited version of a talk given by Nick Wrack to the CPGB’s April 27 London Communist Forum entitled ‘What sort of mass party do we need?’

This discussion is part of a whole series of debates which are, in my opinion, quite rightly taking place in Britain and beyond. It concerns the question that is facing people who want to confront capitalism and the crisis, people who want to fight for a different kind of society, in which the mass of humanity is emancipated for the first time since the beginning of class society.

The discussion comes under the broad heading, ‘How do we get socialism?’ What is the vehicle, the method, for achieving this? Of course, this is a question that has confronted the working class for 200 years. It is a question that confronts us profoundly now, particularly when we see before us the nature of capitalism’s crisis, when the living and working conditions of generations to come are put at risk, economically, socially and politically. So the debates taking place on the left are of great importance.

And it is a matter of profound dismay for any serious thinker on the left to see the way in which we are compartmentalised into the panoply of organisations of Marxists and socialists, of people who want to fight this system and change it. It is an historical aberration that we have to overcome. Of course, there may well be, in certain circumstances, very good reasons for being in different organisations – when you are fighting for profoundly different things; when your approach is completely different. Possibly. But can there be any such reasons for people who base themselves on the method and the ideas of Marxism? Can there be any real reason why people in that category end up in different political organisations? Separate, split and segregated into smaller and smaller forces, which makes it ever more difficult to respond to the crisis.

In my opinion this legacy is something we have to overcome. Part of that is the belief held by too many people that if there is a difference then it means that you have to separate. It is a question of the nature of the differences that mean you have to have a separation, and the differences that allow you to stay in the same organisation.

For example, if we go back in history and we look at the differences between, say, Luxemburg and Lenin, as explained in various articles and speeches, and transpose them onto the left organisations of today, people would say that if they had those differences they could not possibly work with the equivalent of Luxemburg or Lenin, and that this would require them to be in different organisations. In my opinion this attitude is completely wrong. What we need to develop on the left is an attitude of healthy debate and discussion, critical appraisal, allowing dissent, so long as it is in the general direction of the struggle to change society.

Message and messenger

The ideas of socialism, in my opinion, are extremely simple. Most working class people can grasp intuitively, without a theoretical basis, the class nature of society. Most working class people know what class they are in. In a recent poll 60% of people self-identified as working class. They understand the hierarchy in society even if they do not understand specifically and precisely the categories and so on. But they understand that they are at the bottom of the heap; that they work. They understand that nothing happens, nothing is done without them, and the working class produce the wealth in society and, although this may be less clear, that this wealth is taken from them and is enjoyed by a different, separate class: those who rule, who represent capital, who they do not even see in the course of daily events. But they know that they exist and they benefit from the work of ordinary people.

And the idea of turning that society upside-down, of taking that wealth that is created by ordinary people and sharing it among the people who produce it, of allowing a new world to be built out of the surplus that is created by working class people – I think these are ideas that are easily comprehended. They are easily understood by the majority of people.

I think that too often the left, with its scholastic discussions, its scholastic debates, actually makes that simple message too complicated. Why can we not have the theoretical debates within the broad family of Marxism, whilst at the same time putting out the propaganda and the agitation for that strategic task: the inauguration of a new society, the abolition of classes, the end of exploitation? If we were to take those ideas out among the working class we would find a ready audience for them.

But look at the state of the left. I am sure people in this room have had the experience of selling your organisation’s paper on the street, when someone walks past and you offer them a copy. They say that they have already got one from someone selling it further up the street. Of course, we know that they are referring to a different group and a different paper and that person does not want to be hassled. The whole thing is complete lunacy.

I am here in a personal capacity only, so I am not speaking for the Independent Socialist Network. But the ISN is a group of socialists who want to see a party come into existence. We do not have any centralised positions; we are simply a space where socialists can come and discuss how they want to achieve socialism. What unifies us is the belief that we need a new socialist party.

At the moment when we draw into activity new people who do not like what is happening – perhaps they have supported, for example, a Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidate who is going to fight against the cuts, who is going to fight for local working class people – they soon realise that there are rival left groups. They ask, ‘Why aren’t you all in the same organisation?’ They wonder exactly what the big problem is.

In fact, among the different left groups and the people who are in none, there is a fantastic array of talent, of skills, of education, of learning, of ability. Yet what we have is an utterly unnecessary duplication – the replication of the same tasks being carried out by different groups. Every week you can read the same sort of article on this or that event or subject in several different papers. And you wonder why this duplication of effort is necessary.

Is the theory of state capitalism so fundamentally different from the idea of a deformed or degenerate workers’ state, or a society run by a bureaucratised caste, or whatever, that they must lead people to be in different organisations? I think this is something that we really have to try to overcome.

It is extremely important that socialists and Marxists look at the state of the existing organised left. But this is only a small part of it actually. I do not know how many organised Marxists there are in Britain – a couple of thousand? Three thousand? It is a tiny figure. On the other hand, there are probably several tens of thousand of people who would call themselves some sort of Marxist. Probably many times this figure would identify as some kind of socialist. So is there an audience for socialist or Marxist ideas beyond the ranks of the existing far left? I say that there is.

For me the question is twofold. It is not just a question of trying to get the existing left together, because, frankly, I think that is extremely problematic. That will happen out of the process of trying to develop something bigger, to which the existing socialist left can contribute. That process for me does not involve watering down your ideas. It does not mean arguing for reform rather than fundamental, revolutionary change. Nothing of the sort. It means trying to find a ready audience for the ideas of a break with capitalism. I think that is the task that faces us at the moment.

The crisis is bringing home on a daily basis to millions of working class people that there is something profoundly wrong with capitalism. You cannot go to work, be on benefits, a student or whatever without being affected by the idea that something is profoundly wrong. That gains we have taken for granted are being removed. That things we thought were permanent are not going to be there in the future. That the various safety nets are all being taken away. More and more people are questioning: what it is that is wrong.

Yet the response from the left has been pitiful. Since 2008 we have had five years of financial and economic crisis, including the bailouts that have cost trillions. We are now paying for this through anti-working class measures, whereby the ruling class is using the crisis to advance its assault on working class living standards. They are facing a crisis of profitability. A crisis where their returns are not at the expected level and so they are refusing to invest. Austerity is their strategic attempt to drive down living standards, to cut down the amount of surplus that goes into the state, to cut the social wage, to boost their profits. The intention is to destroy a whole section of outdated capital, preparing the ground for a new period of investment: a new period based on having a bigger reserve army of unemployed, on breaking the ability of the working class to resist through the anti-trade union laws, attacks on civil liberties, on the right to protest. All these things are done to weaken the ability of the working class to resist.

New layers

But in the process new layers of people are pulled into struggle. Whether it is in the workplace, whether it is unemployed people, those organising around the bedroom tax, the question of workfare, the question of student grants, pensions – all of these things are driving people to question what is wrong with society and what the alternative is.

How do Marxists, how do socialists, respond to this? Now, we can, in our small groups and small networks, keep on producing our papers and producing our arguments – and I do not seek to dismiss that at all. I do not read the Weekly Worker assiduously every week, but I do try to keep up with it. And it does perform a service in terms of analysing what is going on, in terms of taking up issues, including the ‘archaeological’ work, if I can call it that, of digging out past articles and past ideas and applying them in the modern period, I think it is very important. And there is other work done by others on the left that is also very important.

So we need to try and find a way where Marxists can work together, but also a way by which the ideas of Marxism, the ideas of socialism, are taken out to more and more people, not just the existing far left. For me its not a question of a person being recruited from one far left group to another, which frankly would be akin to rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

The far left has been in a period of retreat for some time, yet our ideas should be becoming more and more common currency, now we are facing this crisis. But what is significant is the interest being shown in the ideas of Marx; the sales of Capital, the views of online videos, the blog posts and so on, a lot of which does not come through the organised far left. Actually, much of it can be explained by the fact that people look at the existing far left and are put off. Sometimes it is like walking in on a child’s birthday party where there are children screaming, there is cake on the floor and kids throwing things at each other. So I think it is incumbent on all of us to maintain a sense of proportion and a sense of perspective.

We must overcome these internecine squabbles. We have to look at how this crisis is affecting not just our class, but humanity. Whether it is the ecological disaster that could develop on the basis of the unplanned exploitation of the resources of the planet. Whether it is the vast wasteland of humanity, with people having no access to proper healthcare, education and pensions when they are elderly. This crisis should give the Marxists – the people who are meant to be the most serious thinkers – cause for thought.

I do not want to be misunderstood. I think that theory is very important – the clash of ideas generates thought and clarity, and it progresses those ideas. So a debate is absolutely necessary. But I see no need why a socialist party, a Marxist party, cannot share an understanding of class society, the method of Marx and Engels, and then accommodate the clash of ideas within that organisation.

Let us take an example from the realm of economics. There are some Marxists who would argue that the fundamental problem for capitalism is the tendency for the rate of profit to fall. There are other comrades who say it is the anarchy of capitalist production, underconsumption or whatever that causes crisis. I do not see why those arguments cannot be undertaken and developed in the same organisation. A disagreement over such questions is not a reason to split. In fact you could, and should, have within the same party articles expressing all such disagreements and taking up the different ideas. People love a good debate and a good controversy and that could help draw people into the party.

Now, it may be that most people on the left would not disagree with that in principle. But too often what passes for debate on the left is, to put it mildly, simply name-calling. It is not serious. Quite often you hear someone on the left say something perfectly reasonable, but it ends up being opposed – not because of their actual statement, but because of the organisation to which they belong. Supporting the idea may strengthen a rival group. We really do have to overcome such pettiness.


The first thing that we can agree on, I think, is that this is not a crisis that can be resolved by going back to a former type of capitalism. It is a fundamental crisis that is inherent in the system itself. We must reject the idea that somehow we can achieve what people want by reforming capitalism. We have to replace it by something completely new.

There are those who talk about the ‘crisis of neoliberalism’, as if somehow if we went back to the period where capitalism was a bit more regulated then things would be different. What we have to get across is that this assault on working class living standards has arisen precisely out of structural crisis within capitalism. If they could the capitalists would like to take us back to a time before the post-war settlement and the welfare state. It was not just the social democratic parties that attained that: the ruling class itself was petrified of what would happen if they did not make those concessions. Then there was the post-war economic upswing that came to an end in the 1970s and capitalism has been trying to deal with this ever since.

Many people in Britain have traditionally looked to the Labour Party to defend them from the attacks of the ruling class. Communists, Marxists, socialists would generally have a shared understanding about the Labour Party and its inability to fundamentally resolve crises. In my view the Labour Party has never been a socialist party – it has always been a strange mixture of liberalism and some variants of socialism. Some would call this mix ‘Labourism’, which upholds constitutionality, a reluctance to endorse activity outside of parliament.

Many people are brought up in the tradition whereby if you are working class then you vote Labour and there is something sensible and something serious in that. Working class people are not stupid: they are very practical. And they know that a Labour government, generally speaking, will be better than a Tory government. So in the next general election I think we are most likely to get a Labour victory. The many leftwing candidates, of the type I have supported in the past, who will stand in elections, will not pick up many votes at this stage, with people wanting to kick out the Tory-Liberal Democrat government and put Labour into power. But at the same time people do not expect things to really change much for the better even once this has happened. This results in a cycle where Labour gets voted out, but then it is: ‘Don’t rock the boat: we must get Labour back in’.

I know that Marxists are involved in the Labour Party, including, I am sure, people in this room. There is Socialist Appeal and others who would call themselves Marxists. And this is an important debate – where should Marxists be?

I think that we must create a party that is new and is not Labour. I have been involved in several attempts to do this. And these projects have failed for numerous different reasons. I am not arguing that we should attempt to jump over history, to achieve something before it is possible. I do not want to see a party trying to become electable by being popular, if that means watering down what it believes in. As I have said, the ideas of socialism can be popular. They strike a chord with working class people who want to see their lives change for the better. I think that socialists have a duty to take out these ideas in a popular form and draw people into discussions as to how society can be changed, how working people can run it themselves, how the product of their labour can benefit all, not just the few.

If socialists, together, organised to produce and popularise the propaganda, to deliver the agitation in combination with the activity, I believe we could build a significant socialist organisation in Britain, numbering in a very short space of time several thousands of people.

Left Unity

Now, the latest of these attempts is the call by Ken Loach for a new party of the left. I have read the articles in the Weekly Worker about this and I think I preferred Peter Manson’s to Paul Demarty’s, but my approach is that this is something that socialists should engage with. The Left Unity website has featured many articles written by people putting themselves forwards as points of contact for this project and describing themselves as socialists. There are articles arguing that there should be a new socialist, class-struggle organisation. And so far around 8,000 people have responded. Now, I do not know what is going to happen, but I will be arguing within it that Left Unity should adopt a socialist programme, that it should commit itself to the transformation of society. That is what I think all Marxists, all socialists should do.

Of course, there are all sorts of differences that will arise. What should its attitude to the Labour Party be? How do you relate to the trade unions, to the question of elections? What sort of activity should be organised? And so on. One thing that I am absolutely convinced about is that a new socialist party cannot emerge fully formed and fully armed like Athena from the head of Zeus. Zeus, of course, got a terrible headache, his forehead split open and out sprung Athena. That is not how a new party will emerge.

We have the headache, if you like, of how we construct this new party, and it may be that at the end of the Left Unity process we do not end up where most of us in this room would want to be. But what we can be absolutely certain of is that if those 8,000 people – and I think there are many more – have for one reason or another turned there back on the Labour Party, have not looked to the far left, have not looked to the Greens, then something is missing that we Marxists can help to deliver, bringing clarity of thought and ideas, ideas on the construction of a programme. I am not going to say what that programme should or should not contain – that is a question of debate.

There will be a process of debate and discussion over whether there should be a new party, and if so what sort of new party it should be. I will be arguing that this new party cannot just be a mildly more leftwing version of the politics that the 8,000 people rejected and I will be putting forward four basic proposals.

1. It should fundamentally be a party that proclaims the need to supersede capitalism with socialism. It should proclaim openly on its banner that it is a socialist organisation.

2. It should be an organisation that fights tooth and nail to defend working class living standards – in the workplace, at home, in all aspects of working class life. All the existing parties accept the logic of the market, of the profit system. By contrast we will have to argue that the root problem we are facing is the profit system, which needs to be replaced by socialism, through active class struggle.

3. We should fight wherever possible not only to defend, but to extend, working class rights, working class living standards and working class conditions. Any improvement under this system can only be obtained through struggle. It is never going to be conceded. Whereas democratic rights are being rolled back, we have to fight to extend them. If you want proportional representation, if you want to repeal the anti-union laws and restore the right to protest, you have to struggle for it.

4. The new party should be democratic. That for me means an individual-membership organisation, with everyone having equal rights and obligations. On disagreement and dissent, I hope the far-left approach is not carried over – whereby closed groups debate policy in secret, resulting in new lines appearing as if from nowhere; even if you are a participant in the debate, you are not allowed to say which side you are on. I do not think that in the tradition we look to this was ever how things worked in the past, but, even if it was, the conditions do not exist to justify such undemocratic practices today. The notion that somehow you can hide your differences is ridiculous. Through Facebook, the social media and so on, these are instantaneously spread around the world. This is a good thing! Thought progresses through the clash of ideas and, so long as they fit within the general line of march of the organisation, differences and dissent are no problem.

Party and strategy

The far left has become too used to working in isolation – maybe coming together reluctantly at a meeting someone has called and then handing out their separate leaflets. It reminds me of the finches observed by Darwin on the Galapagos islands – they underwent different mutations as a result of their separation on different islands, but they all remained finches. Whilst the idiosyncrasies of the far left may drive us to distraction, a period of working together in the same organisation would remove most of those idiosyncrasies and the rough edges would be smoothed over. Most of the differences that typically lead to splits are not matters of principle. Often they are purely tactical or analytical.

For me a party is needed in order to change society. How does the working class become the ruling class? I think all Marxists would agree that the emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class itself – though many only pay lip service to this. It will not be an elite, a bureaucracy or a parliamentary majority acting on its own. It will be the working class through its own activity. I do not know the exact proportion made up by the working class in Britain today, but it must be 70% or 80% of the population. There is also a smaller, petty bourgeois class that looks both ways, and then a tiny ruling class at the top. So for socialism to come about requires a democratic transformation of society – the act of the majority.

So how does that majority act to become the ruling class? It has the numbers, so technically it could happen tomorrow. But the working class must become conscious that a fundamental breach with capitalism is necessary. To achieve that, to go from where we are with a myriad of competing sects and atomised individuals with no party, to a mass movement mobilising 30-40 million people is a monumental task. So it is a question of organising those people who agree now to become agitators for our ideas and persuade other people, and of those people then constituting a party.

The party exists to change society and the programme of the party outlines the strategy we need to carry through when we gain power. The working class, we need to explain, must become the power in society and implement its programme to begin to change society – beginnings which will lay the basis for a completely different form of society, without exploitation and classes.

I will finish on this point – why is it that the NHS is held by most people in such reverence and affection? I think it is because it encapsulates in a certain way the embryo of the future society, of what it could be. Everyone pays in according to what they earn and then they take out what they need. You may have been on benefits and have paid very little in terms of national insurance, but if you have cancer you get treatment. The NHS exists in in the here and now, and people understand that the needs of society are much more important than the profits of the few. The NHS presages, if you like, that society that we define with the well known aphorism: “From each according to their ability; to each according to their needs.”

This article first appeared in the Weekly Worker, issue 960, 2 May 2013


22 responses to “Unity and Socialism”

  1. Micky D says:

    Unless and until left parties actually offer working class people a better standard of living ( as opposed to trendy green/’ socialist ‘ doomsterism which espouses rationing and identifies consumption and production as problems rather than essential and fantastic progress) we will never gain the support of those people ..its that simple … Socialism used to be about creating and having more wealth for everyone …these days a lot of it just seems to be anti production and consumption ..a kind of ” ere be dragons ” luddite approach …which in the end is only preaching a different form of austerity in the form of ‘ sustainability ‘ …

    • Ray G says:

      Sorry Micky D but I don’t think working long hours in a factory producing pointless consumerist rubbish that the entire world can’t afford or properly dispose of is much of a future for ‘the workers’. You need to realise that its working people who will suffer from environmental destruction. They are suffering all ready in fact in the majority world. The rich will always look after themselves, even if they have to live in isolated bubble cities.

      Let’s work less. Let’s produce high quality stuff that lasts. Let’s achieve real equality and increase the standard of life for the majority at the expense of the exploiting, wealthy minority. The people of the world want decent housing, good healthcare, and a higher quality of life in safe and secure communities. This is just not the same as possessing more STUFF.

    • John Penney says:

      A very valid point, Micky D. There is no necessary incompatibility between the objective of a dynamic, productive, socialist economy delivering a high standard of living to all citizens, and pursuing sensible production and consumption/waste management, energy conservation, techniques and strategies.

      However the “anti growth” mantra of too many sections of the “Green” movement fits far too conveniently in with the bogus rationalisations for the Austerity Offensive. The capitalist class’s journalistic lackeys are always nowadays banging on about the 2008 Crash being the result “of us all having it too good” – as if Austerity is some sort of penance for past excesses by everyone – when it is of course exactly the superrich whose speculative excesses acrtually caused the world economic crisis who are doing no “belt tightening” whatsoever !

      I don’t think we should in any way junk sensible environmental policies as a key component of our objectives , but as you say, unless we as socialists are committing ourselves to securing a better standard of living for the majority (not the rich of course – major belt tightening times would be a major part of our wealth and income redistributive programme for them !), then we essentially have no meaningful “offer” on which to build a mass party at all.

      • Ben McCall says:

        No, John P, not a valid point. Micky D seems to be making a habit of crudely sectarian and ignorant comments about Greens and sustainability on this site.

        I agree with Ray G, but you are too comradely Ray.

        So Micky you think ‘socialists’ should argue for ‘growth’, which means ‘our’ capitalists out-competing ‘their’ exploiters, with ‘our’ working class the (temporary) beneficiaries? Meanwhile, murder, torture and rape of ‘non-working class’ people in, for example, central Africa, in the theft of natural resources, destruction and pollution of their environment, is of no concern of ours, as socialists have to fight to improve the material conditions of our working class.

        Nick, is Micky D an example of the working class person who “intuitively, without a theoretical basis, the class nature of society”? I think we need to do a little more work on him and his crude ‘understanding’, that is only a couple of notches above “British jobs for British workers’, or ‘I’m not racist but these immigrants are coming in, undermining the terms and conditions of …’ etc.

        The woeful record – in theory and practice – of most ‘Marxist’ parties, on the environment, let alone feminism, racism, homophobia, etc. is not touched upon by Nick; which is a major flaw in this otherwise welcome call for unity of purpose. Thus the ‘common goal’ is called into question.

  2. Ray G says:


    This a good refreshing analysis which gladdens my heart to read, from someone who served his time in one of the most undemocratic and sectarian groups (Militant/Socialist Party). I was in the same ‘revolutionary party’ for eleven years from 1974-1985, until political differences, but truthfully the unbearable internal regime and rigid refusal to meaningfully unite with any other socialists, forced me to walk away.Having political differences, in that kind of party, left only two options – total capitulation or leaving. If you stayed you were not actually expelled (strangely), just frozen out, slighted, ignored and made increasingly to feel like a non-person. Even then, I still hung around Militant for a couple more years before I finally could not stand it any more (I ended up, briefly, in the Green Party, and then nothing).

    The miners strike of 84-85 was a watershed for me. If the left could not work together on that issue, then we were all doomed.I remember well a discussion in my local branch in London working out which street corner we could collect for the miners on that avoided all the other groups collecting on different corners! We were the revolutionary vanguard,the only hope for the working class, you see, while the other groups were ‘the sects!’.

    At the same time, and completely unofficially, in terms of party tasks, I was one of the founding members of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. LGSM was a hugely significant organisation that is still having ripples of influence even today. It gave the lie to the assumptions of the time that ‘real workers’ would have no time for issues connected to sexuality, which were current in Militant at the time, but I am happy to see have now totally changed. It also strongly brought class politics into the Gay Scene as never before, and led to a miners brass band leading off the 1985 Lesbian and Gay Pride March in 1985, and subsequent gay rights resolutions at the NUM, then the TUC and then the Labour Party.

    The important thing about LGSM for this debate, however, is that I was working with a group of people from about five different Trotskyist parties, the old Communist Party, some Labour party loyalists, old timers from the Gay Liberation Front of the 70’s and a whole raft of generally working class young people who just instinctively recognised that the miners’ struggle was their struggle too. We all just GOT it. And, you know, it worked! I had close political comrades and close friends among all the groups above, and even after so many years and a bit of drifting, I still feel incredibly close to them, as well as to the miners themselves, of course.

    This can happen again. It is vital. There will be differences. I personally am not sure about tying ourselves absolutely to Marxism with a capital M, let alone Leninism. Things have moved on – other perspectives have proved valuable, and have enriched our experience, while the old jargon words of the left have been tarnished by the actual experience of working class people.

    I still support, Nick, however in the recognition that the main levers of economic power have to be taken away from those that control them now, and that this will not be done simply or even mainly by an act of Parliament. The people/the workers will have to do this for themselves. Let’s and learn from them and assist them by getting our act together, forgetting the trivia, and uniting properly.

    Thrilled to be on the same side, Nick, after all those years!!

  3. arranjames says:

    ‘It should proclaim openly on its banner that it is a socialist organisation’.

    This is something I have put forward before and been rebutted, quite rightly, by people who have simply reminded me that socialism is still a dirty word. I don’t like the idea of cowering away from the names that name a history, a tradition, multiple though it is, but I think these are different approaches to this. While we can defend the name of socialism or communism, we ought not to make it a selling point; and I do mean a selling point. The entire terrain of public relations is corrupt and leaves a bad taste in the mouth, yet it is a useful tool and weapon that the right (including Labour) has dominated, wedded itself to, and become expert in. We ought not to leave a weapon that has been so potent in the hands of those who are leading us further away from socialism, further into the economic and ecological disasters that loom on the horizon.

    Put simply, if you want to reach a mass audience, if you want to communicate with the mass of the working class, of the people, then it isn’t enough to have an intuitively correct argument, with sophisticated theoretical underpinning for those with the time and the inclination to understand it (part of our struggle should be over the absence of such time for some, too much of it for others); it is also about being able to present it. Time and again I have been at public debates where the socialist speaker has presented a substantial argument only to be defeated by well presented sophist. Standing on the street corner with a newspaper in hand, a little stall, a group of comrades who all know each other, is precisely part of the problem. People see that image and they don’t think much besides “losers”. I am not arguing for becoming a well oiled media machine but for a kind of self-reflexivity of presentation.

    To echo the above comment, we also require a platform of better standards of living. It might be possible to put forward some kind of idea of what minimum living standards should consists of- the minimum standards that a human body needs. This might sound like it would lead to a purely defensive position but, on the contrary, it would require radical demands. A body obviously needs food, water, housing, but it also requires the full hierarchy of needs. We ought to be reminding people, as this article does in places, that capitalism is a system of massive wealth production, that it already produces the wealth that could be used to address those needs and that, although not easy, it is possible that that wealth can be liberated from the hands of a plutocratic capitalist class.

    On the point of democracy, plurality, and disagreement; there should be a willingness and an attempt to let groups and spontaneous factions outside of any party formation to be aided without seeking to bring them into any established party. The desire to insult goes beyond Marxist sects and can be seen as endemic to the far left. On this point, I mean referring to anarchists as somehow separate from the “real” movement and of workers as lacking “consciousness”. The focus on a lack of consciousness (or a false consciousness) is itself a hangover from times gone that might be questioned on pragmatic grounds. The question of the theory’s truth is almost an irrelevance; instead we should ask what thinking that way does to our practice, what ways of working and communicating it opens or closes down. If the mass of people haven’t come on board with the left, it might not be because they lack consciousness…it might be because capitalism is a potent captivator of desires and that we aren’t. The question of desire doesn’t entail that we produce elaborate libidinal theories…it simply asks us to attend to what it is people actually want and have a willingness not to dismiss desires that we see as not compatible to socialism.

    As ever, I’m happy to be corrected were I’m in error :-)

  4. Lloyd Berriman says:

    What happens to socialism when the work is done by robots? Time to accept that middle-class will largely benefit too, and enpower “ordinary people”. Benefit from the 99% publicity. Dump anachronistic labels that will never gain widespread support. Accept that old questions will result in old answers. Time to stop asking “what do we want?”, and learn to ask “What do we want to be able to do?”. This way local/diferent solutions to similar needs are encouraged. The world as it is was not dreamed of by Marx. We cannot pretend to pander to wants in the old way. eg I want a swimming pool. Answer, not enough resources for everyone to have one. I want to be able to swim. Sure. Transport to coast, build swimming baths, facilities at reservoirs, etc. I see the main obsticle being the amount of people who vote contrary to their best interest through bigotry, religion, fantasy (low tax when I win lotto!), despiration, etc. It cannot be said that this isn’t true for many on the left too.

    • arran james says:

      I really like this distinction between “what do we want” and “what do we want to be able to do”; this kind of practical, action-oriented thinking should lie behind any kind of pragmatic approach. It shouldn’t be limited to this either.

      Some of us have been saying that the left needs to appeal to people on the ground of wealth and abundance, while others have seen this as somehow falling for consumerism and capitalist production. Yet to think that wealth=individual accumulation of material goods is already to fall into the market logic. This is why I have stated that a good orienting question might be that of ‘what does a body need?’ This would begin at the very basics, such as (clean) air to breath, and extend to forms of sociality and meaning. Yet it would be a pragmatic question to because it really asks what is it that a body does. This is the essence of a kind of pragmatic approach; to enquire what a thing, a practice, a claim to knowledge does- how does it affect others and how is it affected. In this way a body might need to swim, but it doesn’t follow that a body requires its own swimming pool. A body might need a way of being connected with the world, so we look at ways of providing that feeling of connection that don’t necessary mean continuing to produce billions of flatscreen TVs, etc. This might seem a distant question, but it isn’t…and the question of what a body needs isn’t one that can be concluded on without prior assessment. That is to say, ideological answers to what the left should be doing can’t be privileged. What do bodies want?

      A point of disagreement, or caution: the question of automation is one that some workers will take badly, having lost their jobs to machines. It is also a promise that has been repeated since as the 1950s; tomorrow, all that toil and drudgery will be done by machines. Is this a possibility today? It might well be, but what do we do after automation? How many jobs are already socially unnecessary even to the point of absurdity? That is to say, while the question of automation is certainly one way of asking the question, the real question is about how labour should be organised and whether there is anything within the current situation that can be informed by that. At the moment, the idea of a reduction in the working week may appeal to some people but to others, the un(der)employed, it definitely won’t.

      • Ben McCall says:

        Well said Lloyd.

        Arran: “At the moment, the idea of a reduction in the working week may appeal to some people but to others, the un(der)employed, it definitely won’t.” Can’t you raise your sights a bit? Anything done in isolation is either useless tinkering (what we are frustrated about with Labour!) or doomed to failure as other things will adjust in favour of capital/ists. That is why a reduction in the working week must happen as part of a process, an alternative social, economic and cultural strategy – or of course people are going to laugh at it as utopian drivel.

        New Economics Foundation have done some great work on this, see: http://www.neweconomics.org/publications/entry/21-hours and http://www.neweconomics.org/publications/entry/the-great-transition
        The trouble is, their work is only semi-linked to movements that would be able to debate it, amend and add to it and struggle for its achievment. That should be part of LU’s agenda.

      • Justin says:

        “At the moment, the idea of a reduction in the working week may appeal to some people but to others, the un(der)employed, it definitely won’t.”

        Patronising much? Is that based on presumption or your own projected feeling onto us? I would rather relish the opportunity given through work sharing! What would you suggest? Left-Keynesianism?(read left-nationalism) The majority of the ruling class won’t allow that as it would reduce the bargaining power of the employer, (the reserve army of the unemployed is used to discipline the working class). As Mark Mazower pointed out,

        ‘Where avoiding communist revolution was the priority, the politicians were willing to give a growing share of national income to labour, curb potentially destabalilising capital flows, use the state as a guarantor of social peace, and equalise wealth and opportunities by expanding the tax base and bank rolling welfare.'(Mark Mazower, ‘The Great Reckoning’ New Statesman essay). His essay also raises the point of the need to work beyond the national level and onto the European level.

        A very good reason to peruse work sharing is not just because communism is no longer a threat to our rulers, but the fact that, as I implied earlier, it is something that can be administered internationally!

  5. Jenny S says:

    The trouble with the left is that it is too bloody clever for its own good! Hence the endless hairsplitting arguments, faction forming and inevitable splits. If we want to achieve wider appeal within the current voting system, we need to keep our complicated theories to ourselves and campaign on a simple platform of hammering the rich and supporting the poor -Robin Hood style! If we can’t do this in the current climate of antipathy towards the financial sector and non tax paying corporations, then we are too feeble to be taken seriously.
    Look at what happened to UKIP today – no stated policies just an enthusiastic spokesperson hammering out a simple message of Out of Europe, No Bulgarians and No Same Sex Marriage! My faith in humanity tells me there must be at least an equal and opposite number of people with a different mindset. But for God’s sake don’t scare ’em off with the word ‘Marxism’

    • Glynn Smith says:

      I took a while to post my comment that coincidentally agrees with yours Jenny.

    • arran james says:

      There is a difference between keeping our theories to ourselves and forgetting our theories in favour of quick gains. The point is to communicate our ideas clearly and in a way that appeals to people. I’m largely in agreement about the issue of names… but we have to be very careful about the issue with UKIP. We need to be popular, not populist. A policy of socialist populism doesn’t necessarily entail socialist ends.

  6. Glynn Smith says:

    A very large proportion of potential voters don’t want to contribute anything more than their vote. They will gladly give that vote to the ‘party’ that seems most likely to protect their lives and their culture.
    I use the word potential because of the vast swathe of people who choose not to vote, some due to disillusionment, some due to apathy in varying degrees.

    A -There needs to be a new party that can gather together the minds that will responsibly spell out the most efficient social policies.

    B -There needs to be a supporting process which can instill into the populace that they have the collective power to win back their destiny.

    This needs to be acheived in a way that can simply demonstrate it’s common sense and demonstrate it’s need for the good of all without fancy jargon or excessive wordiness.
    The party should avoid the common tricks of politics. They aren’t attracted to people that demonstrate how tediously verbose they are. They want to cut straight to the chase and discover how they escape the clutches of the puppet masters.
    We all know that socialism is derived from the word social. Unfortunately over time the capitalist teams have managed to create a negative aura pertaining to all things ‘socialist’. They’ve managed to paper over the social connotation and have replaced it with the stigma of ‘loonyism’. That’s what they do. It now matters more that the new party has an acceptable name that even the most disillusioned can grasp as meaning them, their party who will use their vote to empower them.
    Forget all the left/centre/right poppycock and tripwires.. Be ‘Above’ traditional political antics.

  7. Tom says:

    What Glynn says is nonsense from start to finish. This new organisation is has been put together to challenge the betrayals of Ed Miliband and previous right wing traitors in the labour movement. This movement is called Left Unity for a reason, Glynn. Your insistence that we unite of left, right and centre shows we are simply not on the same page you. That explains why when you tell us about our potential voters, you are not making a single helpful suggestion.
    You talk about people’s lives and culture. Which people, Glynn? Whose culture exactly? The culture of the Miners Support groups of 1984-85 or the culture of Margaret Thatcher’s thugs in blue who flaunted their overstuffed wage packets as they broke the solidarity of working people, the laws of the land?
    You demand responsibility and most efficient social policies? In what way does that differentiate your proposals from those of Margaret Thatcher? Or Nigel Farage? Your talk about people winning back their destiny is the language of right-wing populists. If it means anything at all, it is deeply reactionary.
    You talk about the collective power of the populace? That, again, is the language of the petty bourgeoisie. It is the rhetoric of the right-wing extra-parliamentary groups who flourish amongst the petty bourgeoisie during periods of chaos in the capitalist economy. It most certainly is not the language of Left Unity, but of Right Unity, including Nigel Farage’s UKIP!
    Glynn’s enthusiasm for dumping the word ‘socialism’ is hardly surprising. Left Unity has to become the vehicle for anti-capitalists, and that means socialists. Real socialists are the tribunes of all the oppressed. We defend these victims of capitalist scapegoating in defiance of the mass media owned by the richest one percent. Left Unity has to relate to the class with radical chains And it has to acknowledge that trade unions are the core organisations of our class.
    Those who want an above class politics already have the Tories, the Liberal Democrats, Ed Miliband’s One Nation Blairism, Nigel Farage’s ultra-Thatcherite xenophobes, and the Scottish and Welsh nationalists as well, by the way.
    Left Unity has to unite all socialists, as best it can. We have to see to it that our class has at least one party capable of scraping through the lost-deposit thresh-hold, piling up the votes during by-elections the way UKIP has, securing seats under proportional representation to Holyrood, EU parliament, etc. That will get us access to the airwaves. And the progress of socialists is going to be very limited indeed until we can secure regular access to the airwaves.

  8. Ben McCall says:

    Tom, I have said elsewhere on the site that you need help. Ray G was too kind. You attack Glynn and others in robust terms, so I feel OK to say: please get some help and return, as my huggable comrade said, “…not to teach, but to learn”.

    Nick, while I agree with your basic points about the need for unity:

    “Message and messenger: …They understand that nothing happens, nothing is done without them, and the working class produce the wealth in society” – if only this were true. There is an obvious lack of understanding of this. Most people see themselves as tiny cogs in a big machine that is owned and controlled by ‘clever’ and/or ‘lucky’ people, whom deserve to benefit from the ‘wealth’ (although this is perceived as an abstract concept for reasons to numerous to elaborate here) it generates.

    (Weberian conflict theory is useful in this respect, with its inculcation of respect for ‘credentials’, to which much of the left falls prey and that positions in society are ‘earned’/’fate’/the result of one’s family’s current or previous hard work, etc.)

    The other thing that is in need of some educational work is a common understanding of “working class”. Many people on the left, even those that call themselves Marxists, refer to “the working class” in the narrowest way; differentiating, for example, between it and “the middle class” in quaint English-tribal terms; Nick calls it “petty bourgeois class that looks both ways”. This is mostly never challenged, which it should be, vigorously.

    Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, etc. – all petit bourgeois (pb). Amilcar Cabral developed the concept of ‘class suicide’ to deal with the dangers of pb liberation leaders becoming oppressors. The point in our context – of neoliberal globalisation – is that the overwhelming majority of the population of the UK (far more than 80%) have interests that are not in common with the ruling class. Obviously some people are more conscious of this than others, who may think exactly the opposite; but in our theory and practice, we should explain the strata within capitalism, and promote unity of all people who have to work to live “…by hand or by brain”; which would make relative benefits now, of owning stuff individually, increasingly irrelevant as quality rather than quantity is valued (as Ray says above and many people have realised over the decades; Micky D, part of the work of the left should be to argue this, not ‘if you can’t beat em join em’ capitulation to capitalist consumerism).

    One of the saddest examples, of the opposite of this, I witnessed at an anti-cuts meeting, when a very well known lefty academic – in a pathetic gesture of self-depreciation to other speakers (who were using the usual, narrow definition) and his assumptions about the audience – described himself as a “posh boy”; thereby capitulating to the tragic divide-and-rule, which is one reason why the anti-cuts struggle, in its current form, was doomed from the start and has remained a relative minority pursuit, rather than the mass movement it could and should have been – and could still be with a better strategy.

    The crude self-divide-and-rule by class strata, was one of the things that did for the feminist movement and in different ways, progressive Black politics. That is not to say any of this is simple or easy to describe, let alone resolve, but that, for example, as many have recently said, Thatcher may have inspired some women as the first UK woman PM, but she did nothing for women as a whole but make their lives worse. The same could be said of Obama.

    You don’t even mention race, gender or other areas of oppression that have ‘muddied’ the clear waters of class struggle or the socialist cause, Nick – which may say something about where you are coming from? I remember reading Angela Davis’ ‘Women, Race and Class’; Heidi Hartman’s ‘The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism: towards a more progressive union’; Bea Campbell & Anna Coote’s ‘Sweet Freedom’ and others, for the first time, early in my lefty learning: part of the history, ideas and practice that we must learn from and makes it all a little more complex than you are suggesting Nick.

    I don’t know how old you are, or what you’ve been doing in the left before Nick, but “If we were to take those ideas out among the working class we would find a ready audience for them” has been done for over 100 years, in many forms and in Fordist times; when the ‘working class’ knew (relative to today) what it was and was organised in collective workplaces and organisations, on a mass scale, that we can only dream of now.

    I hope what you mean is: it is complicated, there is no getting away from that and needs an investment of time and concentration to fully understand the situation we are in, how to change it and what a better way of living would be like in order to move towards it; but to begin that conversation with people, it needs to be articulated in clear and simple terms – and they are at the same time utopian (inspiring but hard to believe it will ever exist in reality – how socialism is often dismissed), very practical and achievable. Peace, equality, solidarity, freedom and sustainabilty.

    As Gramsci (a rare example of a working class Marxist revolutionary leader, if this difference matters? Stalin was also one…) and others have said, ‘intelligence’ and the mess of detail and complexity, can often get in the way, make us pessimistic and lead to inertia; as the only obstacle to our achieving a better society, is individual then collective will – human, political will.

  9. pete b says:

    Read Nick Wrack in weekly worker this week. Thinks its a good contribution to debate from and am relieved to hear that TUSC people are flexible enough to support left unity. Don’t know Sp’s position though.

    Don’t like the comparison between building the left and UKIP.
    Opposed to reactionary, nationalist, homophobic bilge, surely the left has to build in a different, almost opposite way.
    It has to educate, politicise, enlighten and be a sounding board about taking action.
    A left populism in response to the right populism is not the way.
    I’m, trying to get involved with Birmingham left unity and lets see how these local groups develop.

    all the best

  10. Ray G says:

    Tom ,

    I really am trying to stay on united, comradely terms with you but the way you simply savage, and attempt to demean contributions, like Glynn’s, that you feel are not pure enough for you, together with your inability to move beyond the cliches of a socialist movement that was designed for a different world are really starting to p**s me off.

    Please get some humility, will you. Many people who have come to Left Unity have had a lifetime of being spoken down to by people like you and we are sick of it.

    If just putting the Marxist mantra to the workers was enough we could have had socialism a century ago. The industrial proletariat, so to speak, is a clear minority of modern, partly de-industrialised day, 21st century Britain, although the new proletariat in the emerging, developing economies is another thing. On the other hand many service sector and office jobs are barely distinguishable from ‘working class’ jobs. Many middle class occupations have been proletarianised. Of the ones that haven’t, a large layer of society that does not necessarily see itself as working class, such as self-employed people, small businessmen and traders and some professional occupations have no objective interest in having their lives ruined by the banking crisis. We may not win them all over, but our potential appeal is very wide indeed.

    • Ray G says:

      Further, Tom,

      Actually, savaging your opponents is not the worst thing you do. Your biggest fault is deliberatly misrepresenting the views of your opponents BEFORE you savage them.

      Given that you feel that your views are the only legitimate ones, and that LU belongs only to you and your co-thinkers, is is remarkable how few people comment to support you. Think about that.

      If you really can’t cope with the range of opinions on this site without getting tetchy, I seriously recommend that you do not try to communicate with working class people in factories, offices, shops, or in the pub, playing football/aerobics etc or door to door. Your heart may not stand it.

      Love and peace

  11. IanConvery says:

    Lordy, if there was ever a reason not to take an interest jn politics, it’s this bullshit. Have some respect for each other or we are dead in the water.

  12. arran james says:

    BEN: “At the moment, the idea of a reduction in the working week may appeal to some people but to others, the un(der)employed, it definitely won’t.” Can’t you raise your sights a bit? Anything done in isolation is either useless tinkering (what we are frustrated about with Labour!) or doomed to failure as other things will adjust in favour of capital/ists. That is why a reduction in the working week must happen as part of a process, an alternative social, economic and cultural strategy – or of course people are going to laugh at it as utopian drivel.”

    I see the reduction of the working week as part of a broader movement of the reorganisation of labour and the abolition of the wage system. My point wasn’t that LU should or shouldn’t pursue a post-work politics but that it needs to be aware of how this will play with people when there is so much unemployment. Its not a question of my vision (resolutely communist) but of the way LU would present itself to the rest of the class. If the class is laughing at us as utopians (although a more likely reaction would be indignation) then we are no building mass support. So I return again to the point that whatever our strategy is we need to be aware of the representation of ourselves in our tactical choice, and deciding how to speak and what to emphasise at a given moment is part of such tactical thinking. A better tack might then be something like what the Italian Metropolitan Indians did, using slogans like “More churches, Fewer houses!” and “We want to work harder and get paid less!” to make the point in a humorous way.

    • Ben McCall says:

      Arran, yes we need more humour! But we also need honesty. Transitional demands and tactical slogans – that we do not believe in – do not work. The older I get and the less time I have, the more I am convinced that we need to be long term, patient, honest and determined.

      As Mao might have said (but I’m sure he didn’t because he was a ****, but nevertheless pithier) “he [sic] who rushes at the locked 3 foot thick door – shouts and beats his fists against it, in what he calls revolutionary fury, then collapses in exhaustion, only to then try another tactic: shouting revolutionary slogans at it, in the belief it will be blasted away by the force of his revolutionary zeal – is a fool. The wiser man lights a fire against the door and shouts “Thank you for the firewood, comrades!”

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