Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Why I (re)joined the Socialist Party(*)

I suppose I never really blogged on my adventures into reformism. Partly, I think, because some of the issues were background personal ones rather than political theoretical. Partly because I don't think it involved that much of a change of position for me. That much. Anyway, here goes to try and explain my reversion of the masthead of this blog, and my re-application to join the Socialist Party.

OK, my basic political principles are that I am a democrat, and believe that the minimum requirement is to "just get involved" - the mere involvement of millions changes politics. That's important. Involvement plus objective circumstance is what makes things move.

As a democrat, I have to accept when I am outvoted, and argue to change the view of the majority. What difference, thinks I, does it make if I do that from within or without the Labour Party, recognising, as a basic, that it is a part of the workers' movement, and that it does contain socialists (albeit ones of a different tradition). Either way, I will be outvoted.

I suppose, what I missed, or underestimated, was the role of a political party in reinforcing ideology/identity in an organised and communal sense. I tried joining various strands of Labour organisation, but tended to find that unless you were prepared to be a hyperactivist who won your spurs through performative acts of loyalty (leafletting and phone canvassing), you were going to get no-where. How, though, could I canvass when I was profoundly at odds with the thrust of the party's policies (though believing that, at worst, they were better than the Tory/Liberal alternatives).

To stretch an anology, early on, Labour surrendered to the symbollic hegemonic conservative values on entering their first period in office, they won their spurs by demonstrating a loyalty to the existing ordering (including Ruritanian privy council costumes). They pegged for small wins, without overly rocking the boat.

My still small voice was as drowned in the Labour party as it is without it. Except, the problem of politics is how to square the big picture with the day-to-day. Ramsay MacDonald - who can be described as the real ideological founder of the Labour Party, much as he is reviled as its great traitor - Oedipus Rex, anyone? - proposed a tripartite structure - Trade Unions, Parliamentary Labour Party, Independent Labour Party. The latter was to function as an almost purely propaganda vehicle for Socialism, leaving day to day legislation to the PLP, workplace struggles to the Unions. He would chide the ILP for getting too involved in government policy, rather than promoting socialism.

The reality is, that, for many in the Labour Party, there isn't time for a big picture, they hae councils to run and opponents to chivvy and chide. Big politics is scary and a gift to the opposition. But we need the big picture.

Except, for much of the left, the big picture has been a sort of fantastic support, a utopia which make the present possible and bearable - the lunatic derangement of the impossiblist is to think the fantasy can somehow become real and thus pursues it. We're trying to climb up to our castles in the air. But, this willful, instranigent belief in faerie tales breaks the Labour compact, the idea that taking care of the pennies now will win us pounds in heaven.

So, we return to the other vexing question, what does the revolutionary minority do in a time of class peace and majority support for capitalism? They get outvoted, and get themselves seen to be outvoted.

(*)If they'll have me, that is.

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Blogger Darren said...


If it's true, welcome back. ;-)

4:26 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

Well, I thought if Darren can come back...

4:37 PM  
Blogger Darren said...

Nah, I got you sussed. Three possible reasons for your Churchillian moment.

1) You're a contrary bugger who loves a row. You feel you've missed out. (See Spitecom for further details.)
2) Those four extra pages in the Standard every month. You've already got them covered.
3) My spirited defence of Aliadiere in my latest post to the blog. It tipped the scales.

Joking aside. Fair play to you. I'm sure it's not the same experience to your own but I do remember, when canvassing on the doorstep for the Labour Party (and their mini-me's, the AWL) in the '97 General Election, the slow realisation that I just wasn't happy arguing for the politics of electing a Labour Government, and the bottom line was that I was still an SPGBer in heart and mind.

With regards to your post itself, interesting your anecdote about MacDonald chiding the ILP for getting too involved in Government policy.

It may be a half remembered anecdote - and thus embellished beyond recognition - but i seem to remember reading that the Glasgow ILPers who were part of the 1922 Parliamentary intake - Maxton, Wheatley, Kirkwood, Stephen etc - did more than chide themselves because they were convinced in later years that it was their votes that swung the leadership contest MacDonald's way against Clynes in '22.

If what they felt was true, then they contributed far more to Labour in Government then MacDonald ever thought imaginable.

4:58 PM  
Blogger BHUVAN CHAND JUYAL said...

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6:17 PM  
Blogger ajohnstone said...

Let me add my welcome and look forward to reading your always excellent contributions to the Standard again

7:49 PM  
Anonymous a very public sociologist said...

What I want to know is whether you'll have to retake the exam? ;)

4:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great, now I won't feel so lonely Sunday mornings in the park.
Nice one Bill


1:37 PM  

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