Monday, July 17, 2006

Tribute to the martyrs

Well. I am just back from camping at Tolpuddle. We took a delegation down from Swindon Stop the war Coalition, and for the third year running we had the only peace movement banner on the march, which is a shame.
What an excellent event the Tolpuddle festival is. Around 10000 people there, nearly all of whom are trade union or left activists. There were also delegations from the Woodcraft Folk. I had my six year old son with me so I was unable to go to any of the political talks, but there were session on climate change and Latin America, and music by David Rovics.
We did a tally of the 40 odd peoplewho came down from Swindon, half of them on the GMB coach, and only 2 of the 40 are in the Labour Party. So although the Tolpuddle march on Saturday is one of the few places where Labour Party banners are out in strength, it is an illusion. The activists in the movement are no longer automatically Labour.
Indeed the huge response to the Cuba Solidarity Campaign stall, and the growing number of Hugo Chavez T-shirts shows that most of the people there are very off message from new labour.

On Sunday I attended the moving wreath laying ceremony at the grave of martyr James Hammett. Peter Hain laid a wreath on behalf of the labour party, and Tony Benn laid a wreath on behalf of socialists. That seemed to sum it up. The red note choir, who are a first class socialist singing group from Bristol, then sang, finishing with a moving version of the red flag. They had adapted the last verse, so it now says Tony has turned our flag blue. This was rapturously received, but understandably there was also a little argument from Labour loyalists.

So this is the conundrum. Those 10000 people are exactly the people who would be the core of any new party to challenge Labour. The Labour Party has driven out or alienated the very people who gave it any meaning. Yet we are as far as we have ever been from offering any alternative that they might identify with. (It is significant for example that there were no Green Party or Respect banners there).


stroppybird said...

"So this is the conundrum. Those 10000 people are exactly the people who would be the core of any new party to challenge Labour. The Labour Party has driven out or alienated the very people who gave it any meaning. Yet we are as far as we have ever been from offering any alternative that they might identify with. (It is significant for example that there were no Green Party or Respect banners there)."

Exactly!! The left is to busy arguing with itself and making alliances with less than progressive forces.

mikem said...

There were certainly Respect members there, I had a phone call from one this morning telling me about Tolpuddle.

I don't know what the solution to the unwillingness of different socialist groups to show more solidarity with each other.

The war woke me up again and I joined Respect (after much hesitation) because I hoped the non-Labour left would cohere together. Naive dream! I'm not sectarian - I don't know what differences make the groups dislike each other so. Mostly I think it is unwillingness to be in a minority - too many people with an inflated opinion about their own political perspicacity and correctness, I fear. I'm staying in Respect because it has made some progress and I want something like Respect to succeed. I know the SWP is the biggest part and that, fundamentally they make the decisions about political direction, but so far, I support their leadership. I think they've done a good job, based on good strategy and tactics.

I think we should seek unity in action through what already exists. I think we should all buy and support the Morning Star, we should all encourage the LP comrades working in LRC and for the McDonnell campaign, we should all campaign, or at least vote, for each others groups where we can. I don't think other groups are 'wrong' or wasting their time. I think we need to make progress on all fronts and that in spreading out from our own relative isolation by gaining greater influence in the working class, we will, in the end come closer together.

I think we have to accept that the various leaderships on the left are not going to bury their differences. They aren't going to form a broad Labour party replacement for us all just to fit in (though I originally thought that constructing the machinery wouldn't be a bad start and might preempt their mutual distrust). I'm no longer even sure that the left should be looking for unity. It would have been nice to have it now, but we should have done it two to three years ago. We have to each expand separately now and prepare a general mood for socialism, regardless of not having a unified party.

AN said...

Thanks for that Mike - yes you are correct there were Respect members there, and people handing out leaflets for the Respect trade union conference.

I largely agree with what you are saying, which you have put very well.

It seems at the moment all we can do is seek to work together over practical initiatives, and build up a network of friends and comrades for the future, while trying not to fal out with one another, especily over silly things. ;o)

Ed said...

Mike - I think you are completely right. If there isn't a broad unsectarian organisation out there we feel totally happy with then we'll just have to do the best we can and act as a network of individuals in a broad left, unsectarian way until something develops if at all.

Andy - where do I get a Chavez T-shirt?

Matt said...

These people may be the core, which is why John McDonnell is asking for them to come back

AN said...

I bought an excellent one from the Hands of venezuela stall at the last Stop the war march, and the Venezuela Information centre was selling T-shirts at Tolpuddle, but i don't know of an on-line source. Last year there was little sign of any venezuelan solidarity at tolpuddle, this year there was a discernable number of people wearing Venezuea hats or T-shirts

Actually, it is worth emphasising the point that the Cuba Solidairty Stall seems to have by far the biggest political resonance of all the stalls (Ok - equal with palestine) judging by the long queues always round, it and the number of people wearing Cuba merchandise as the weekend goes on.

Interest in events in latin America have i think broken out of left political circles, and it is beginning to start a real debate that maybe a socialist governement is possible, that events don't need to be a repeat of 1917 in Russia.

Liam Mac Uaid said...

This point about the 10000 is an important one. Respect's leadership has consistently refused to engage with them. These are people who take their politics seriously and have expectations of democracy and discussion on top of their activism. There is a strand of thinking in the leadership's method of building the organisation that sees the two as mutually contradictory. "You have to be out there talking to real people instead of the same old faces." The problem is that the presence of a big number of these old faces is indispensable to the building of a new mass working class party.

There is a debate to be had about method but it's not always easy to find the place to do it.

I got my Chavez t shirt in Caracas. Doesn't everyone?

AN said...

On the issue of the 10000 - maybe it was 9000 maybe it was 11000, but it is a fair estimate.
The event is mainly attended by the southern and western regions, with only a relative few travelling there foron up North or London for instance.

This means that when we are talking about this layer of people - who you might broadly call left Labour in exile - it is much bigger than 10000.

And Liam is exactly right. The old faces provide continuinty, and know how the levers in the movement and society work. And if my observation about the increasing infleunce of Latin America is true, many of them are adopting much broader and more progressive positions than the narrow anti-war image that respect currently limits itself to.

AN said...

And your point is importnat as well mattehew. The McDonnell campaign is extremely significant, particularly given the huge issue of Gordon Brown backing a Trdient replacement.

I really don't know what I think about it yet. But certainly a big issue is that McDonnell's core support is now probably outside the Labour Party. Can they (we?) be tempted back in?
But I think that we on the left should do everything we can to promote McDonnell's campaign, but at the same time be honest about the nature of the labour party now, and his real prsopects.

Renegade Eye said...

Sounds like fun.

This week I have a commemoration to go to, related to 1934 Minneapolis Teamsters Strike. Picture Trots running Minneapolis.

Martin Wicks said...

John McDonnell's campaign certainly won't tempt me back into the Labour Party. However, what I would be in favour of is demanding that the affiliated unions should support his campaign. Many will no doubt say that his is not a serious candidacy - he has no chance of winning. However, are these 'critics' of Blair going to support Brown. Let the union's show they are serious about a complete break with the agenda of Blair and Brown. If the trade union leaders were serious they would support McDonnell's campaign. It seems unlikely there will be another candidate who is posing a political break with the whole New labour agenda. Let them call for a 'reverse gear' oe the members will draw the conclusion that their criticisms of the government are mere words.