Sectarianism and the Question of a General Strike

This article comprises of edited extracts from the book ‘Revolutionary-Humanism and the Anti-capitalist Struggle’ by Roy Ratcliffe. Roy now lives in Leigh and has been working with us recently. You can obtain a copy of the book direct from him by e-mailing:

Some SWP placards at the recent TUC March for the Alternative in Manchester coinciding with the start of the Tory Party Conference say: "Not One Cut, He's Got to Go, General Strike Now"

The recent question on how to ‘get a General Strike’ by the SWP is sadly a typically ill-thought out rhetorical enquiry reminiscent of the many proposals made by numerous sectarian Left groups in the 1990’s. And it probably stems from the same motivations.

1. The delusion that a few people, usually the leadership of a sectarian group, are capable of articulating the ‘correct’ strategies or ‘solution’ for every stage of struggle against Capital.

2. The attempt during a period of unrest to appear the most radical group in order to attract new members. Such reckless and premature schemes to instigate General Strikes did then (in the 90’s) and does now a great disservice to the actual struggle facing working people. In general there are lots of problems with inappropriately advocating this tactic for it trivialises the preparations necessary for the success of such an important class-wide action and ignores the actual social and economic circumstances which are necessary for its usefulness in the process of transforming the existing crisis-ridden Capitalist system.

The fact that to some people ‘it sounds like a good idea’ – is simply an insufficient reason to raise such a serious question, and particularly on the part of a small organisation, which according to a number of former members, is itself in something of an internal crisis.

In the case of the preparations for a General Strike in Britain by the Triple Alliance (1919 – 1921) despite the incredibly detailed planning (alternative money printed, local committees and food distribution networks formed, etc) fortuitous circumstance and extensive support among workers, the trade union leadership of the day were prepared to, and able to, sabotage the entire project. When the circumstances had changed and the previous preparations had atrophied, the eventual General Strike called in 1926 was easily defeated with momentous and long-lasting set-backs for working people.

The whole history of that struggle has been insufficiently studied, evaluated and disseminated among the Anti-capitalist Left, let alone sufficiently informing the broad movements of working people. Furthermore, the circumstances in Britain in 2011 I suggest, are still far from those which warrant the posing of such a serious and important question, which in any case should emerge from the actual development of the struggle itself, rather than from any individual sect’s urging.

Remember this? An obvious SWP member penned slogan on a UNISON placard in November 2010 saying: "Turn Wigan into Athens - General Strike Now!". The reality on the ground at the time however was the lack of any evidence of a similar willingness to engage in an all-out fight on the part of the vast majority of Wigan UNISON members, or indeed on the part of most other Trades Unionists across the country either, making the slogan little other than hollow Left posturing on the part of the SWP's local UNISON activists. Let's hope we can help change this mood in the run up to the 30th November public sector wide strikes over pension cuts!

The very question of such a momentous stage in the struggle against Capitalism, needs lengthy discussion and the clear presentation of the successes and failures such strikes have had. For if such an idea is not already being widely discussed and absorbed within and among the organised and unorganised workers it has little chance of occurring. Plus if it has not become widely obvious to all, that such a step and its subsequent implications to many, are not only possible, but millions are ready for it because nothing else has worked, then such calls are premature and can even be self-defeating!

Editor’s Note: e.g. if a General Strike is the only way anyone can ultimately win, why would anyone want to get involved in any action short of that and which must by definition fail? Surely it would be better just to call for the building of a mass popular movement to beat back the attacks we are facing, for more generalised strike action, occupations, demonstrations, rallies and actions which would help to generate such a mass movement? Those calling for a “General Strike Now” really do confuse the first month of pregnancy with the last and in so doing deliver nothing but a still born fetus!

This call by one or two, or maybe even several ‘Left’ groups and not others, also illustrates another crucial problem in the contemporary struggle against the system’s reactionary developments. It is the complete fragmentation of the Left into competing mini-organisations, each one of whom imagine they are the basis of some future leading vanguard which only needs augmenting by a sufficient infusion of militant workers.

The role of such groups in any future mass actions will in some cases be counter-productive for they will not only continue to confuse people with the use of ill-thought out slogans and terminology, but also serve to nurture separate solidarity actions in which they promote their own particular line, irrespective of its resonance or otherwise with the class movement as a whole. In some cases, as they have in the past, they will formally or informally boycott solidarity actions which they do not ‘lead’ or do not fully agree with. In one of many statements about this trend of anti-capitalist sectarianism, Marx noted:

“The sect sees its raison d’etre and its point of honour not, in what it has in common with the class movement, but in the particular shibboleth which distinguishes it from the movement.”

(Marx to Schweitzer 13/10/1868. Marx Engels, Selected Correspondence. Page 201.)

The date of the above letter is informative with regard to the longevity of sectarianism within the Left in general. Its continuance still plagues the Anti-capitalist movement as it did during Marx’s lifetime.

The effects of Sectarianism

1. It repels serious working people. (Trotsky)
2. Sectarianism is essentially reactionary. (Marx)
3. Sectarians do not create leaders among working people. (Lenin)
4. Where they exist they infect or adulterate the workers movement. (Engels.)
5. Sectarians transform theory into dogma. (Marx/Engels/Lenin.)
6. Sectarianism is a pernicious menace. (Lenin)

Sectarianism and sectarian practices on the part of significant sections on the political Left is actually one of the key factors holding back the development of a mass united anti-Capitalist movement right here and right now, and our failure to overcome its toxic, corrosive and debilitating influence, the biggest danger to our ever ultimately winning.

The causes of Sectarianism

1. The immaturity of the working class movement. (Marx)
2. Certain people become static and cannot advance. (Engels)
3. A downturn or an ebb in the revolutionary movement. (Trotsky)
4. The existence within the movement of people with force and ability who think themselves and their ideas as superior. (Marx/Engels/Trotsky.)

Editors’ Note: I would also add to this list Roy:

5. Primarily, the promoting of one’s own small group’s immediate or short term ‘party building interests’ before the needs of the movement as a whole.
6. The alien class influence of ‘bourgeois’ and petty-bourgeois middle class ideas in general on the Anti-capitalist movement and especially of those middle class layers within its ranks who think themselves and their ideas as inherently superior (i.e. not just those individuals of all class backgrounds with force and ability who may think likewise!)
7. The general persecution of Anti-capitalists and social revolutionaries all over the world which often leads to the creation of reactionary knee-jerk defensive mechanisms rather than throughly thought out responses to properly deal with that which do not manifest themselves in sectarianism or sectarian practices.
8. A general hostility to criticism, including self-criticism, by anyone else on the Anti-capitalist Left, and a misunderstanding of criticism, or the perpetuating of a thoroughly erroneous view of criticism by others on the Left as an expression of sectarianism on their part or even the definition of sectarianism, which it is not.

Despite any good intentions (or in some cases grandiose pretensions) the numerous ‘brands’ of ‘Left’ groups competitively struggling among the masses, for superior ‘product identity’, have in many ways become a distorted reflection of the capitalist ‘service sector’ – also limited only by their own niche-market customer base.

In addition, without continuous, careful identification and isolation, in the event of a successful, overthrow of the capitalist system, this same sectarianism will also become the main cause of any future post-capitalist degeneration – as it did so disastrously in the Soviet experiment 1917 – 1922, before Stalin and his clique took it to its logical conclusions.

There is an alternative to the sell-out merchant 'Primeval Tar Pit' of Labour and the Trades Unions' bureaucratic leadership and the 'Sectarianism' of most Left-wing groups and 'parties' currently. That alternative involves fighting on a daily basis for a genuine unity of all class conscious workers in the immediate class struggles we are all facing. It involves working with other Anti-capitalists in helping to build a mass popular unified movement to beat back the austerity offensive being waged against us by the present Coalition Government and its rich Capitalist backers. It involves working together with all those wanting to do the same on the Left to build a new pro-working class, pro-majority of the people alternative to Labour in our respective unions, communities and at the polls in order to better help facilitate the building of the mass movement. It involves fighting alongside other Anti-capitalists, Socialists and Greens in whatever Party or group they are currently in for a People's Government prepared to challenge the power of Capitalism and to transform society in the interests of the overwhelming majority."

The cures for Sectarianism

Of course there can be no hope of overcoming sectarianism within the Anti-capitalist and wider workers movement unless it is recognised that a serious problem of sectarianism exists, and the extent of the problem it has caused by the lack of sufficient analysis of its characteristics. We need to examine our own and others conduct in the continuing struggle against capital and take the necessary steps to oppose it where it exists. I suggest the following points as logical steps in that process.

1. A determination to get rid of sectarianism.
2. A refusal to allow different interpretations to prevent a positive unity of the Anti-capitalist movement.
3. The elevation of the needs of the Anti-capitalist workers movement above the needs of ones’ own group and questioning the reason for the groups’ separate existence.
4. A refusal to hero worship individuals.
5. A re-examination of the concept of leadership within the revolutionary struggle against Capital.
6. The identification of working-class men and women as non-sectarian facilitators among their class and the Anti-capitalist movement.

One of the things which escapes Left sectarians is how they are perceived by the wider working class movement and the general public. If their obsession with selling their own party's papers, and handing out their own party placards, leaflets and literature, etc, which outwardly would appear along with chanting ill-thought out slogans, to be the sole role of party members on demonstrations, picket lines and in some of our town centres most Saturdays, doesn't in itself put most ordinary people off ever joining. The thought of them ever having any kind of political power based on how they appear to currently operate and behave would look to most ordinary people as potentially a more dire and horrendous a prospect than what they face under the existing set up. Their top down 'commandist' structure and sectarian modus operandi has also helped, along with the practices of Stalinism and Stalinists over many decades, and other past and previously sizeable alleged 'Trotskyist' sectarian groupings (such as the SLL/WRP) in the recent past, in completely alienating many thousands of class conscious workers over several generations from actively engaging in the fight for Socialism in the belief that all those claiming to be Socialists and revolutionaries to be the same, and the entire Anti-capitalist Left a close resemblance to Monty Python's "Life of Brian".

We need only ask ourselves a few simple but searching questions at this point. What would be the result of giving such sectarian individuals considerable power? If Anti-capitalist (or religious) sectarians were ever to succeed in their quest to have the working class put them in power, what would happen? If, as a result of an Anti-capitalist or Anti-imperialist revolution they found at their disposal armed forces of coercion with the power and authority to implement their ideas, how would they go about it?

Men of arrogance and extreme bitterness – in control of weapons of oppression and destruction. Some sectarians even without state power can be dangerous enough in unleashing indiscriminate acts of vilification, character assassination, vengeance and even terror, it makes one shudder to contemplate their control of even greater forces. Can we really expect such people to lead humanity into a non-oppressive future?

To see the extreme effects of these political sectarian characteristics, when displayed by men with unlimited power to back them up, we need only examine reality as it unfolded in Cambodia under Pol Pot and in the Soviet Union under Stalin.

Once in existence sectarianism is divisive, corrosive and leads to disgust and disillusionment amongst working people and others in the Anti-capitalist struggle and in other struggles against oppression. It could not be otherwise in movements with a humanist purpose, because sectarianism so clearly contradicts that purpose. This much could perhaps have been established by a study of existing sectarian organisations and without recourse to the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin or Trotsky.

However, the response of sectarians, claiming orthodoxy with Marx, Engels, Lenin or Trotsky, may have led to attempts to rebuff such challenges. Many are often in what elsewhere, might be classified as – a psychological state of ‘denial’. Alternatively, many undoubtedly claim that their ready-made answers and ‘unshakeable beliefs’ derive from a superior knowledge of their originators thoughts.

Sectarianism can be defeated. But, to paraphrase Lenin, only the workers, the class-conscious workers themselves can do it—by stubborn and persistent effort. Nothing is easier for example than to write the word “unity” in yard-long letters, to promise it and to “proclaim” oneself an advocate of unity. In reality, however, unity can be furthered only by the efforts and organisation of the advanced workers, of all the class-conscious workers. "Unity without organisation is impossible. Organisation is impossible unless the minority bows to the majority."

Sectarian defensive rationalisation often attempts to represent its bitterness and poison as revolutionary zeal and political steel; their use of logical deductions and abstractions as flowing from their advanced theoretical grasp. Now at least, in order to rationalise any continued sectarianism, Anti-capitalist sectarians will have to take into account their own ideological forerunners.

As a political tendency, 21st century sectarianism invariably repels serious working people and other potential Anti-capitalists, as it did in the 19th and 20th. Marx considered sectarianism as quite simply reactionary! There can be no greater verbal indictments than those encountered so far. The implications of these combined observations are clear. Sectarianism, within the ranks of those opposed to the Capitalist or Imperialist system, can undermine that opposition to such a degree that it becomes a significant factor – if not the most significant factor in the present period. A factor which is effective in preventing unity of the Anti-capitalist forces. In the 21st century it is not enough simply to be part of the Anti-capitalist struggle: in order to further that struggle, we need also to seriously combat sectarianism.

Editor’s Note: We can’t possibly do the latter without understanding what it is, how it manifests itself, and how to fight it effectively. Roy does us all a great service in addressing these issues in his book and will hopefully soon be joining us in the Wigan Borough Green Socialists who share a similar theoretical understanding and hatred of sectarianism. We are keen on stamping it out in our own practices, amongst our own membership and within the still embryonic but growing Anti-capitalist movement that exists within our area as well as farther afield. It is surely the only road to all our future political success in Wigan and everywhere else.

Check out Roy’s Blog at: Critical-Mass.Net – A site for non-sectarian anti-capitalist activists and free radicals

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5 Responses to Sectarianism and the Question of a General Strike

  1. Stephen Hall says:

    I think it might also be apt add another cause of sectarianism to Roy’s list above and those suggested by the Editor, namely:

    9. A failure to understand the contradictory social and political nature of the Labour Party, a party which arose out of the collaboration of the trades unions and several Socialist organisations such as our present day selves over a hundred years ago, and which once as a result of promoting the gradual reform of Capitalism on a more egalitarian basis, and the alleged ultimate aim of Socialism, based itself on mass working class support at the elections.

    Whilst it may be clear to most of those of us who have broke with Labour or who have always known what it is, which is now and for almost two decades merely another wing of the prevailing neo-Liberal bourgeois political and economic establishment, and for many years prior to that not what it says on the tin, it is patently obvious that a great many of those who still vote Labour clearly do not, or alternatively continue to vote Labour, or simply don’t bother to vote at all, because there is no coherent popular working class alternative to it.

    A failure grasp all these factors and draw the correct political and tactical conclusions from them might be said to be both the cause and effect of a one sided sectarian analysis and a sectarian approach to those, who unlike us, still have illusions in Labour as a party which represents the interests of ordinary working people, even though it might be pretty obvious to all of us that it is not.

    A study of the Theses of the 3rd & 4th Congresses of the Communist International in 1921 & 1922 is useful here from the standpoint of developing a present day non-sectarian approach to Social-Democracy and the broad masses in general. A key plank of the ‘United Front’ tactic, General Strike and Workers’ Government slogans developed at these Congresses by Trotsky himself, recognise that in so far as the revolutionary vanguard remains a minority, its key task before there can be any serious talk of seizing power and overthrowing Capitalism is the ‘conquest of the masses’.

    Such a modern day interpretation in my view, would recognise that the mere repeated denunciation of the Labour Party’s continued betrayals of the working class and the mass of people in general will not by themselves change this situation and succeed in winning many of these existing Labour voters over to the Anti-capitalist cause. What will do this as time goes on is both the latter’s increasingly growing number of grassroots activists, influence and social base in our various unions and communities COMBINED with a correct non-sectarian tactical approach to Labour and the wider working class movement in general both in between and at elections.

    The correct application of the ‘united front’ tactic here in relation to Labour, as our ability to affect such in a real sense becomes a possibility and the needs of the moment arise, is of paramount importance to the further successful development of the Anti-capitalist movement as a whole beyond this current point. A failure to understand this in my view, and to act accordingly in the unfolding struggles in keeping with such an approach, yet another manifestation of Leftist sectarianism which is not too dissimilar to that of the years known as “Third Period Stalinism” when Social-Democratic parties across Europe were denounced as Social-Fascist and those to their Left outside the Stalinised Communist Parties as “Left Social-Fascists”.

    Whilst what prevails as an approach towards Labour currently on the part of the Anti-capitalist Left nationally is as yet at least, not so obviously wildly ‘ultra-Left’ in its characterisation of Labour, and contradictorily sometimes even conciliatory, whereas what the Comintern Theses outline are clearly not, it is little different in essence in terms of its tactical engagement with Labour and its supporters, or rather lack of it, to that of the late 1920s and early 1930s Stalinists – a policy which led to so many a catastrophic defeats for our movement internationally during that time, including Hitler’s victory in Germany.

    The key to our success in winning over broader layers of Labour voters and supporters, as well of the mass of people in general, will lie not so much in the actual creation of such a united front against the ruling classes’ offensive ‘from above’ since we are currently far from being in a position of being able to affect such, but in the general thrust of our propaganda and agitation for it and our fight for it ‘from below’ COMBINED with Labour’s stubborn refusal perhaps even to budge and its continued support for cuts and privatisation only slower and not as deep as the Tories’ and Lib-Dem’s.

    Our Wigan BGS banner’s call for a ‘People’s Coalition’ of our class, involving all political parties and organisations who claim to stand up for and fight for the mass of the people (i.e. including Labour in so far as it says it does that) “ beat back and defeat the Tory/Lib-Dem Coalition of the Bankers and the ultra rich” points the way forwards. To it should also be added the call for a fight for “a Workers’ and/or “People’s Government” prepared to tackle the Capitalist crisis from the standpoint of the needs of the mass of the people and which would works towards the creation of a sustainable future for us all.

    Both these ideas need to be seen as the key centralising slogans of any serious Anti-Capitalist orientation in the next period in my view followed by criticism of Labour’s refusal to do almost anything bar hold the creation of such a Coalition back and to fail us at every level, and flowing from that the necessity of the working class and the mass of the people in general to create a new political party to represent them.

    The sectarians, precisely because they are sectarians will baulk at such a thought and the tasks that go with it, instead promoting their own schemes and projects which would have themselves in the driving seat and the masses cheering them on from the passenger seats. It might also help to better show them in the eyes of broader layers for precisely what they are – both as cause and effect.

  2. Ian Heyes says:

    We need to ask ourselves what would happen if, these sectarian left parties were to gain power. The result would be a bureaucratic government with all the characteristics of a Stalinist party. Within these sectarian leftish parties there are people who believe that they have all the answers and when the opportunity arises they will lead the class to socialism, let me enlighten them they do not humility is needed here not arrogance, they need to listen a bit more.I have a saying ” they who do not listen will learn nothing” Their version, would i am sure lead to a catastrophe for the working class. They can only work with other left groups if their ideas prevail. Democracy does not operate within these organization’s being ruled from the top it cannot be democratic by its very nature if the ruling clique decides on a policy the members are expected to carry it out. No different from all the bourgeois parties. What we need is a party that is ruled from the bottom up a truly workers party

  3. Hannah says:

    I agree with what Ian has to say here. A repeat of Stalinism or East German communism would be a disavowal for the democracy in which we are supposed to live in today. As someone who has lived in former East Germany as an exchange student in the past year,I have found the Socialist movement there similar to the British one,if not more militant. The organisations themselves need a strong,resolute leader who can defeat the said bureaucracy by being realistic about their goals and how they can be achieved through persistence,as Stephen has said. Through sectarianism comes the danger of a schism in the foundation of a party through the wants and needs of an individual eg paper sales,fighting funds etc-self imposed targets and deadlines which only serve to anger the individual if these are not fulfilled by its members. With this attitude,a left wing party cannot function as it needs class consciousness to appeal to the masses.
    On one point however I must disagree,or rather question on two things. As a young socialist I believe that there is no right or wrong answer. With such black and white thinking it can furthermore bring down the infrastructure of an organisation and conflict can arise. On the other side I do agree with humility-if you don’t know something,you’d normally read the party paper. It is experience alone that brought me to where I am today,and through educating yourself you form your own opinion,which gives you the capability to debate soundly with individuals and their views. The second thing is more of a question-to what extent do you feel that a workers’ party would be a benefit to the left?

    • Stephen Hall says:

      Thanks for your comments Hannah. Concerning a few of the points you raise:

      i) The need to be realistic about goals and how they can be achieved through persistence
      ii) Through sectarianism comes the danger of a schism in the foundation of a party
      iii) A left wing party cannot function or appeal to the masses without class consciousness
      iv) There is no right or wrong answer and such black and white thinking can bring down the infrastructure of an organisation and cause conflict.
      v) The importance of experience and educating ourselves to be able to form our own opinion, which gives us the ability to debate soundly with other individuals and their views.
      vi) To what extent do we feel that a workers’ party would be a benefit to the left?

      Realism and Persistence: The methodology of the Transitional Programme starts from where the masses are – not where the revolutionaries are in terms of consciousness. It starts from their immediate demands which are often of a limited nature, also with their proposals for practical reforms to meet their longer term needs. Even the fight for such limited demands and reforms, which nowadays the so-called reformist parties often fail or refuse to fight for, can sometimes grow over into major class battles. They key thing is to raise alongside these more limited demands, more generalised slogans and practical organisational proposals which both point they way forwards in terms of a political answer, and which help build up the entire movements’ fighting capacity. In this we process we need to stand just ahead of the consciousness of the masses not a million miles in front of it. Unity on the part of the Left and the wider working class movement can only achieved by the stubborn and persistent effort of all the most advanced workers in every community group, union or political organisation. It will not be brought about merely as a result of some accord by a number of unions and/or political organisations although that might obviously be helpful.

      Sectarianism and Schisms: Who is and who isn’t sectarian will reveal itself ever more so as the fight for a broader unity in the day to day class struggle, and for a new broad party, unfolds. The sectarians will generally oppose the idea of such a party, the serious Left will be supportive of it. Who stands where will become increasingly obvious to everyone as time goes on, whether they are aware of it currently or not. Any schisms which will emerge therefore in my view will do so prior to the founding of a new broad party rather than after it. Indeed the emergence of a new broad party which is significantly larger and more influential than all the existing forces to the Left of the Labour Party currently are combined, will not in my opinion, take place until a clear majority of those same forces overcome those schisms and inflict a decisive defeat on the sectarian elements within the movement. Or to put more bluntly those who promote schisms and have a sectarian mode of operating won’t be involved in the foundation of a new party precisely by their own doing.

      Class Consciousness and Mass Appeal: The Marxist wing of the movement certainly needs at all times to be seeking to raise the class consciousness of the movement and point out the class basis of our society. The fact that the Green Party doesn’t do this explicitly and many in it think it is possible to have such a thing as Green Capitalism is in my view likely to lead to a split in its own ranks at some stage. This is likely to happen all the sooner as a result of the general united front, class against class offensive Green Socialists should be at the forefront of advocating and promoting in relation to the entire movement of the working class and the oppressed in the face of the Government’s and Employers’ offensive, i.e in relation to the overwhelming mass of the people, and not just those on the political Left, towards whom it goes without saying we should be promoting a more consistent unity and the idea of a new broad party of the masses to challenge Labour at all levels including the polls.

      Our banner slogan “Build a People’s Coalition to beat back and defeat the Tory/Lib-Dem Coalition of the Bankers and the ultra rich” sums up this approach well. The Left, the working class and wider movement of the people as whole can only go forwards by building such a broad coalition and the Left especially will grow by championing it. It will also grow as a result of the increasing pressure from below forcing the existing leaders of the Unions and the Labour Party to act decisively rather than continue with their present ditherings and/or anti-majority of the people, pro-Banker and ultra-rich policies.

      The entire movement will also grow if the Left can get itself organised and start to present itself as serious and coherent political alternative to those leaders, and increasingly so as a result of the latter’s growing reluctance to fight, if not to attempt to sabotage the developing mass movement. A unified pole of political attraction on the part of the serious Left under such circumstances cannot but fill the already existing and growing political vacuum. Under these circumstances to quote Tony Mulhearn only recently, “…for every one person who might join the SP, ten might join a broader party?” If this is so why isn’t the SP therefore, alongside those of us in the Wigan BGS and many others on the Left across the country, currently directing a great deal of its efforts towards the fight for the creation of such a new broad party, but instead energetically promoting itself, building its own narrow party-building orientated projects, and helping amongst other things to maintain the current division, along with the SWP and other groups on the Left in this country, of the anti-cuts and privatisation movement nationally, represented by the NSSN Anti-Cuts Campaign, Right to Work Campaign, Coalition of Resistance and the more recent Unite the Resistance Campaigns. I’m not trying to single the SP out here BTW Hannah, merely trying to point out its easy for anyone to say one thing and then effectively do the opposite.

      There is no right or wrong answer and such black and white thinking can bring down the infrastructure of an organisation and cause conflict. I don’t know that anyone has said or is saying its simply black or white. It obviously isn’t. However, I think we might say based on our experience what doesn’t work and perhaps as a consequence of that, is possibly, even probably, the wrong way to go about things and even in some cases downright harmful and entirely counterproductive. To understand that of course doesn’t mean you necessarily have the right answer. However, what the Wigan BGS are advocating is not really too dissimilar from what many on the Left have been arguing across Europe and which has led to the formation of new broader Left parties and alliances (still not genuinely mass parties of the people) uniting the majority of the existing forces to the Left of Social-Democracy and Stalinism and broader layers. Flawed though they may yet be, they offer a glimmer of hope, that a majority of the Left can overcome the disease of sectarianism that infects the working class movement. For example, In the case of Denmark recently, which has PR, this has resulted in the Red-Green Alliance winning seats in the Danish Parliament as have similar parties and alliances in other European Countries. Whilst our politics are obviously not just about elections and the Left’s electoral showing, how we do in elections is not an insignificant issue, for the greater electoral support we get, the more political credibility we will build for ourselves. That electoral support we do get will also not be won by simply presenting to the people a programme containing all the ‘right’ Socialist policies and slogans, but by the grassroots graft on the part of the Left in our communities around even the most basic of issues, and obviously the more important local and national ones as well.

      The importance of experience and educating ourselves to be able to form our own opinion, which gives us the ability to debate soundly with other individuals and their views. Absolutely Hannah! I agree 100% That’s exactly what we need, people on the Left capable of thinking for themselves and who don’t just slavishly carry out a ‘line’ handed down to them. Self-education has got to be a big component of what we’re doing so that more and more people are capable of speaking up for themselves with the confidence and capable of becoming true ‘tribunes of the people’. The Wigan BGS are wanting to help educate its members to the highest possible level. So much so in fact that a couple of us recently came up with the idea, toyed with by Peter Bratsis at Salford, and other academics elsewhere, of establishing a Free University – in our case a Gerrard Winstanley Free ‘Memorial’ University which might take place predominantly over the summer months in Wigan (ideally in the weeks running up to the Diggers’ Festival), hold lectures, seminars and small group tutorials, and maybe a few film showings, all for free, on the history or ordinary people and the organised working class movement, The Diggers & The Levellers, the development of Capitalism and Scientific Socialism, environmental sustainability & climate change, The Capitalist Crisis and strategies for change. It’s only an idea at this stage but I’m sure we could make it happen if we put our minds and action to it. If we can’t do it, what chance our ever beating Labour in Wigan, what chance of our ever overthrowing Capitalism?

      To what extent do we feel that a workers’ party would be a benefit to the left? I think this question is incorrectly put. The creation of a general broad party of, for and by the mass of the people is the benefit of everyone not just the Left whose interests according to Marx at least, are the same as those of the working class as a whole. It would benefit the Left in my view in terms of building more popular support for what they are advocating, and in winning more active members, simply as a result of it being a unified, non sectarian, credible alternative pole of attraction, rather than the Life of Brian sectarian brawl it currently, predominantly is.

      • Ian Heyes says:

        Hi Hanna thanks for your reply. This is exactly what is needed discussion, In the sectarian left groups discussion is limited. In my opinion it is the duty of left groups to educate their members in marxist ideas. Some people may say that it is ridged, i agree with that view, but it is necessary because we are fed bourgeois propaganda 24-7. We have been fed this for 200 years. To counter this we have to arm people with socialist ideas. Marxism arms the individual with the ability to work things out in a logical an systematic way. If we are to win over the working people then it is vital that all the members can articulate our ideas. These ideas are not the ideas of the leaders but the result of discussions with all the membership. As lifelong member of the working class i have to say that the political consciousness of my class is low. The reasons are many, i would be writing for a week about the subject, i cannot deal with it here. however the whole of the media is geared to entertain keep bad news to a minimum do not give to much information, short articles in newspapers, plenty gossip, sport, cheap booze, all these thing do a good job of keeping my class in their place, and to raise them up above that is a very big task for us. To counter this we need a clear program which the masses can relate too, a clear alternative to this chaotic system we live under

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