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.