Status of World Socialist Party (US)

September 2021 Forums World Socialist Movement Status of World Socialist Party (US)

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  • #175747
    alanjjohnstone
    Participant

    There is always going to be resistance, ALB. The class struggle cannot be avoided. It is the never ceasing treadmill.

    There is no question as Buffet said, his class has been winning. But there are signs that workers are growing more combative after a period of subjugation. (Blindly, if we generously include the populists outbursts like the Yellow Vests)

    The issue we face is what role will our organization have in it, if any, at all.

    The socialist case is that we must transcend class struggle and establish a class-free society. Are our fellow-workers any closer to understanding and achieving the conditions for such a society?

    Or once more, are they placing their faith in trust in leaders and reforms? Now we have Elizabeth Warren and her radical shadow Alexandra Ocasio Cortez replacing Sanders as the media focus.

    “No saviour from on high delivers,
    No faith have we in prince or peer.
    Our own right hand the chains must shiver,
    Chains of hatred, greed and fear.”

    Surely after near on 105 years of much the same approach, we should start to  separate the wheat from the chaff, identify our (as one comrade said) Unique Selling Point, locate our target audience and start launching this message with all our resources. And I think for the first time in the Party’s history we have those resources at hand. Let’s not waste them.

    We understand that not every country’s political legacy is identical and that we need to adapt and adjust to those local specific conditions. We cannot just simply transport the SPGB to foreign lands. And let’s be honest – that is what we did during the British Empire, cloned the SPGB.

    We have the basis of a genuine world socialist movement that we should embrace in this epoch of global political ramifications, from migrants to climate change.

    Even currently within the Party we have many non-UK residents active in the committees and the running of it. Let’s build functioning WSM and not one that remains an aspiration.

    #175750
    alanjjohnstone
    Participant

    Robbo, political parties do not emerge from nowhere. They arise when they meet certain conditions and when the ground has been prepared in advance. They reflect the ideas people already hold in their heads, and rarely introduce new ones to them. The resurgence of the right and nationalism exists because these never went away, they simply didn’t have the suitable vehicles for expression.

    Baby-steps are not going to get us anywhere, Robbo. A look back at conference and ADM agendas and you’ll find an obsession with fine details but no Big Ideas.

    I am emphasizing that we make a formal transition from a national organization to a transnational one to kick-start the Party from its presently stalled progress and no where does that say regional and local activity halts. The content of the Standard is already the collaboration of worldwide members, as is the production of our pamphlets. We even have an assistant secretary able to perform duties from Eastern Europe. The internet and blog committees have “foreigners” doing much of the tasks.

    What is lacking is the fact that members of the companion parties are missing from this cooperation. We have no coordination. But various umbrella organisations such as Zeitgeist can operate at a global level and not be identified as simply a national political party.

    As for being a international political organization, I am sure our election committee will inform us that we face a number of administrative obstacles from the Electoral Commission rules. But let us be honest again. There has been voices within the Party that participation in elections should cease due to the lack of even the minimum level of exposure and publicity.

    Of course, naturally  we should be striving for credibility and be seen as a valid party of the working class. How do we take a party of a less than 200 who bother to vote in Party polls to one of several thousand? How do we transform branches that struggle to achieve a quorum into be local bases for action? How do we create a website, a forum , blogs, Twitter, Facebook presence that has significant traffic? These come with increased membership and the transfusion of new blood into our activities. But back to the question. Where do the new members come from?

    Relax our strict admittance. I think you refer to prospective members holding religious beliefs. I doubt there would be any marked difference in membership. But our attitude changing and relaxing to those active participants in the huge number of reform movement…then perhaps we might see a rise in members who would have an audience for the socialist message. This means explaining how we can individually work towards various reforms as we do within our trade unions but how our political organization must stand apart but act as an umbrella to muster under. But again we must offer the same supportive and solidarity as we do to unions. We recognize unions as existential bodies for our class, we need them for survival. I suggest there are many environmental and humanitarian groups that mirror that need which we should not be aloof towards because (like unions) remain within the parameters of capitalism.

     

    #175751
    vincentM
    Participant

    Alan

    I think there have been different reasons over the years for the failure of the SPGB to attract members but I think the main reason has to do with the so called ‘Hostility Clause’ or rather the interpretation of said clause. I think it is pretty obvious but that is perhaps something to be discussed elsewhere.

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 8 months ago by vincentM.
    #175753
    Matthew Culbert
    Keymaster

    It is one of my main reasons for joining after all the B.S. I had heard and believed prior to this.

     

    • That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.
    • Political parties of the left, right and centre, claim to be working for the betterment of society. Because society functions in the interests of the capitalist class, it is clear that these parties are then supporting the interests of the capitalist class. History shows us that no matter what these parties say, when elected they administer capitalism in the only way it can be administered – in the interests of the capitalist class.Each of them has their own idea of how to run capitalism, often stealing the ideas of their supposed political opposites. The reforms that they implement must reflect economic reality. If they do not, they will not get re-elected – until the next party fails to reflect that reality. There is no way that capitalism can meet the needs of the majority, but all of these parties pretend it can if only they find the right plan. None of them have any really new ideas, only rehashed reforms that have failed in the past. Voting for any of these parties is voting for capitalism, forever.

      Socialists are therefore hostile, not in the sense of committing violent acts against other parties or their members, but to the ideas of those parties which support capitalism.

     

    #175755
    alanjjohnstone
    Participant

    The WSPUS I believe had an existence as the Socialist Educational Society. Perhaps this is what it should revert back to and drop the pretence of being a functional socialist party. People don’t appreciate being mis-led by appearances and grandiose claims.

    Perhaps our own SPGB branches should become Socialist Standard Reading Groups if they can find no other productive constructive political role.

    Vinnie, I have made my view clear on the hostility clause elsewhere. But it takes two to tango. I have been disappointed with some who are part of what I consider to be on the Thin Red Line having their own unspoken hostility clause. At least we are up front about it. But I agree, it is not a blunderbuss against all non-SPGBers.

    None of us have all the answers to everything (unless the answer is 42)

    #175756
    robbo203
    Participant

    Robbo, political parties do not emerge from nowhere. They arise when they meet certain conditions and when the ground has been prepared in advance. They reflect the ideas people already hold in their heads, and rarely introduce new ones to them.

     

    Yes I go along with that Alan but the point I am trying to make is that you cannot predict the particular constellation of conditions that might come together to permit a breakthrough as far as the socialist movement is concerned.   Negatively harping on the fact that after 105 years the SPGB has made no progress – as if we didn’t all know! – not only demoralises and serves no useful purpose  but seems to imply that the future is something predictable or preordained   when what I am trying to say is that it is not and  that our fate is not entirely all in our hands.    We just dont know what the future will being and that, if anything, is reason for hope, not despair.

     

    Baby-steps are not going to get us anywhere, Robbo. A look back at conference and ADM agendas and you’ll find an obsession with fine details but no Big Ideas.

     

    But you cannot separate these things,  ‘Baby Steps’ and the ‘Big Picture’ go together. One without the other makes no sense

     

    What is lacking is the fact that members of the companion parties are missing from this cooperation. We have no coordination.

     

    Yes I entirely agree,  There should be MUCH more in the way of practical coordination.  At the very least there should also be a world socialist journal for all the companion parties alongside journals such as the SS and Imagine.   What I am implacably against, though, is dissolving all the companion parties and merging them into one single global entity.   I think this will be a retrograde step which will actually matters much worse.  It will reduce the sense of involvement by individual members on the ground

    Relax our strict admittance. I think you refer to prospective members holding religious beliefs. I doubt there would be any marked difference in membership. But our attitude changing and relaxing to those active participants in the huge number of reform movement…then perhaps we might see a rise in members who would have an audience for the socialist message. This means explaining how we can individually work towards various reforms as we do within our trade unions but how our political organization must stand apart but act as an umbrella to muster under

     

    Yes, softening our approach to applicants with religious beliefs is certainly one of the things I had in mind – for instance,  by simply requiring applicants not to belong to any organised  religion and not to propagate religious ideas in the context of promoting socialism.   As you know this has long been, and continues to be, my position,  It may not make  a “marked “difference but it will certainly make some difference and  ANY difference in membership uptake is something to be welcomed.  Anyway, I dont see how holding religious beliefs per se prevents one from endorsing a materialist conception of history,  In practice,  many religious historians do precisely that and that’s all that matters

     

    On reforms I probably take a more hard-line than you Alan,  but again I think a persistent problem with  the Party (as is perhaps illustrated by your comments above) is the lack of a clear definition of reformism,   How many times does it need to be explained that trade union activism is NOT reformism and that the latter is essentially a form of political activity requiring implementation of policies by the state to address those problems that arise from the workings of capitalism itself.  So for instance challenging racist or sexist ideas is not reformist in itself   Nor is  expressing concern about climate change.  Rather reformism has to do with way in which you propose to deal with climate change

     

    I do agree, though, that a blanket application of the hostility clause to all-comers is problematic and that a more subtle and nuanced approach that differentiates between political organisations is needed.    It would be preposterous to bracket together, say,  a libertarian communist and a conservative  group.  In practice I think the SPGB is moving in the direction of a more nuanced approach  even  if it has not yet reached a formalised position  on the matter.  I would not agree with Vin though that the hostility clause is the main reason why the SPGB remains small,  In fact, in  some ways,  had there not been a hostility clause it is questionable whether the SPGB would have even remained in existence at all.  Quite likely we would have disappeared into the bowels of the Labour Party or some other such capitalist outfit,

     

    I think by far the most important reason why the SPGB remains small is precisely the “small party syndrome” explained above  which keeps us small,   That is why we urgently think about what is required to bring us to that critical threshold where we have achieved a critical mass to fuel a momentum of growth.  We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be overawed and depressed about the all too dauting prospect of building a movement of millions.   Even just an organisaton of one or two thousand would do wonders at this point,  And to get there, to realise the bigger picture, Alan,  we seriously do need those “baby steps” that you seem to have all too readily dismissed

     

    #175757
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    The SPGB has sometimes been accused of living in an ivory tower but it nevertheless bears no resemblance to Colditz; those who wish to leave are free to do so at any time!

     

    I did my windows shopping and I have not found anything better yet, and I have known many political organizations in my whole life, but nothing can be compared to the Socialist Party. I wish I had encountered the Socialist Party 45 years ago. As someone wrote: The world has not known socialism or Marxism, yet,  we have known  a distortion known as Leninism-Bolshevism

    #175758
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    Vincent wrote:

    I think there have been different reasons over the years for the failure of the SPGB to attract members but I think the main reason has to do with the so-called ‘Hostility Clause’ or rather the interpretation of the said clause. I think it is pretty obvious but that is perhaps something to be discussed elsewhere.

     

    I do not think that the hostility clause is the cause of our low membership Our main problem is that we are not Leninists, leftists or reformists. Still, many peoples believe that there is an intimate relationship between Marxism, Socialism and Leninism, and it takes time to understand that this is not true,

    #175785
    alanjjohnstone
    Participant

    I think the issue is not WHAT we say but HOW we say it and secondly TO WHO we say it to.

    Yes we have a problem of being a relatively minuscule organization, Robbo, one that has no audience and no voice and no presence. Without those we are fated to remain small.

    However, why is it that individual thinkers and writers can make an impact and be influential? Sometimes they are saying much the same as we are so why does a particular person resonate with the wider workers’ movement yet a political party like us fails to achieve a hearing?

    I again say that no one member has the solution and that we require to rely on our collective knowledge and experience to come up with some strategy for the future. We require a dedicated themed discussion leading to a conference where we bring our companion party members to either physically or more likely through the Skype-type video meetings. We also invite non-SPGBers as observers with opportunity to speak as guests (but not to vote, obviously)

    Perhaps it is negativism and bad for morale, Robbo, to say that if we continue as we are, doing moreorless the same things as we always have, then the prospect of growth is bleak. We won’t accomplish that transition to even what the SWP was called , the smallest mass party.

    There is truth in the aphorism that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is insanity. But equally we cannot engage in self-harming actions just to be seen doing something. Merging with reformists would be self-destructive as has been said. But there is a state of relationship between being aloof and being absorbed.

    Let us identify the baby-steps that require to be taken to get us on the way as you advise. I’m happy with that being a start. From those we can gauge success and progress and build on. But if none is detected then we may require to consider  a more radical change option.

    We cannot even get members, even office holders and committee member,  to frequent this forum and it isn’t because of the recent tech snags it has been having, the old forum similarly lacked engagement. So what does that say? Well, it appears we aren’t willing to talk to one another. Which brings me to a crucial question  just how many talk socialism to those outside the Party? Are we simply a club?

     

     

    #175791
    Wez
    Participant

    ‘However, why is it that individual thinkers and writers can make an impact and be influential?’

    Who have you in mind here? There have been many writers who burn brightly for a while, courtesy mainly to marketing, but their ‘impact’ and ‘influence’ have changed nothing. Rarely , if ever, do these writers possess anything approaching socialist consciousness – which is presumably partly why they become popular (for a while). There is so much ‘reinventing the wheel’ out there that is marketed as something important and new. I agree it is not what we say but how we say it and who we say it to. I’ve always thought it a mistake to assume that those on the left are more likely to hear us since they too can represent reactionary authoritarianism just as much as the right. I believe our contempt for leaders is an important barrier for most people because of their political immaturity. What to do about this has obsessed socialists for a hundred years without a consensus emerging.

    #175792
    alanjjohnstone
    Participant

    Wez, what about Murray Bookchin as a classic example of what sort of writer I had in mind.

    Chris Hedges would be someone contemporary who has created an audience we cannot expect 100% adherence to a Declaration of Principles that he has never ever heard about.

    As for approaching socialist consciousness, we tend to set the bar very high and apply our own standard. As I tried to say in another post, people travel towards socialism by different routes depending on culture and traditions and legacy. It means they bring their own baggage with them. Most folk are reticent to discard that baggage. They require to be eased into dropping language, terms and practices.

    And of course we too are not immune, clinging to our own expressions. “Free access” for instance is basically just SPGB short-hand. But this goes deeper than only our organization. “Resource based economy”, for example, instead of production for use. While Parecon is a name of an organisation, “participatory economics” is not. But this has a long history. I like to use the description “cooperative commonwealth” and “industrial democracy” but these are archaic definitions these days. So yes there is a lot of re-inventing the wheel. Oh and how I detest the manner in how we repetitively say “wages or salary” at every turn.

    It has now become a challenge even to define the left today. And as you say when you look at Maduro and Ortega, these left populists are authoritarian. Some feel we should be interacting more with the ecology movement rather than the political left – but there does exist an overlap – the eco-socialists. From my reading the only difference between them is the reform demands.

    Your reference to leaders and political immaturity needs clarifying. When people recognize great orators, great writers, great educators, great debaters, those possessing such talents become the focus of the media, turning them into “leaders” because of the interviews and attention. A election candidate will receive more credence than a branch member. We all tend to defer to the authority of knowledge and communication skills. Isn’t this the case with ourselves even today. A core of public speakers. Wasn’t there periods in our history we had to deal with the Party being identified with  individuals  – “Turners Party”.

    We debate this issue regularly…its the case not the face, but we know the media and the public demand something else. It isn’t so much immaturity but our failure to explain what we ourselves mean by leaders and leadership, a leader-free Party and a party of equals, delegates and representatives. The differences is not beyond understanding as we had a long period of religious history which was centred on the very topic – the Reformation and the creation of Presbyterianism where churches were ran by elected elders appointing ministers. The concept of democracy has not always been so abstract.

    #175795
    Matthew Culbert
    Keymaster

    A.J. Baby-steps are not going to get us anywhere, Robbo. A look back at conference and ADM agendas and you’ll find an obsession with fine details but no Big Ideas.

    R.C. But you cannot separate these things,  ‘Baby Steps’ and the ‘Big Picture’ go together. One without the other makes no sense


    I don’t see any of our speakers coming accross as ‘hostile’ in any of the pejorative senses in our videos. https://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/video/

    As an aside, everytime I see ‘babysteps’ being advocated in a political sense I want to throw a childish tantrum.

    That was Peter Tatchell’s pitch (previously I had some time for him as a human rights activist but he really blew it here) to us when Clifford Slapper debated him. Comrade Slapper could scarcely hide his exasperation at him and I for one identified with Clifford.

    https://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/video/debate-what-are-we-going-do-about-capitalism/

    I don’t think we should be discussing the WSPUS in their absence from this Forum either.

     

     

    #175800
    Wez
    Participant

    ‘ When people recognize great orators, great writers, great educators, great debaters, those possessing such talents become the focus of the media, turning them into “leaders” because of the interviews and attention. A election candidate will receive more credence than a branch member. We all tend to defer to the authority of knowledge and communication skills.’

    Primarily leaders are those who do your thinking for you – a kind of parental substitute, which is why the need for them is a sign of political immaturity. The talents of oratory, knowledge in certain areas and writing skills are just that – they are not ‘leaders’ in the political sense. We may defer to such people for inspiration and information but they do not make our decisions for us as that’s what democracy is for. People quite often confuse such talents with supposed ‘leadership skills’ but if they really know what they’re talking about they themselves will reject any such description.

    #175803
    vincentM
    Participant

     

    Marcus wrote:

    “I do not think that the hostility clause is the cause of our low membership “

     

    Opposing all other political parties is not the problem, no,  but the present interpretation (and not all members interpret it this way) gives the impression that we oppose all those workers speaking out against capitalism.

    We appear hostile to all workers taking an interest in their social surroundings.

    We all know that the concept of ‘Socialism’ is again becoming popular and acceptable. For example, there is a #socialistsunday hashtag on twitter, mostly Labour party members but not all. This would be a good place for the SPGB to become known amongst people who believe that they are socialists and are seeking solutions. Some are very close to the SPGB position

    Can you see the obvious problem?  Hostility to all these workers? Refuse to follow or retweet even though we agree with most of what they are saying?  The SPGB is  immediately alienated

    This is why the party is unattractive.

    This quote from Albert Einstein is often used against reformism but it applies also to the SPGB

    “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” 

     

    #175806
    Matthew Culbert
    Keymaster

    For example, there is a #socialistsunday hashtag on twitter, mostly Labour party members but not all. This would be a good place for the SPGB to become known amongst people who believe that they are socialists and are seeking solutions. Some are very close to the SPGB position

    But I am always in these things. I don’t see enough comrades its true. This one I now have bookmarked for when I have some downtime, but I confidently expect a lot of hositility coming my way once I start disputing St Jeremy’s gospel.

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