Whose Party Is It?
During the recent general election I heard several enthusiastic Labour Party supporters, when confronted with the war crimes of the last Labour government, state that Blair and ‘New Labour’ were never a part of the ‘real’ Labour movement. It struck me as a very weak defence of the Labour Party’s actions when in government as opposed to the promises they make whilst out of power. If one is to regard this statement as anything other than hypocritical then what does it say about the identity of any social organisation? Can we ever conveniently disregard the recent activities of a group that we support, or belong to, in the name of a desperate optimism that it ‘will be different next time’?
Despite the prediction that the ‘cyber age’ we live in will increasingly alienate us from each other socially we see a continuing need for people to join social groups of almost infinite variety: Sports clubs, support groups, literary societies, orchestras, bands, churches, pressure groups, historical re-enactment societies, etc. Then there are so-called ‘secret societies’ like the Freemasons, Illuminati, Knights of Pythias, Mafia etc. Somewhere between these two variants we find the political parties. What they all have in common is something we might call ‘factionalism’. This occurs when individuals within the group find themselves in disagreement with an element of the majority consensus and so gravitate toward each other, thus forming a faction within the movement. Despite being a minority within the group they can use certain justifications for opposing ‘from within’ the policies or even objectives of the majority in terms of a departure from authenticity or betrayed values. Some years ago I joined a literary society and found myself almost immediately in a minority when I attempted to defend the literary merits of science fiction. I was joined by another member and we found ourselves evangelising the genre at every opportunity (and not just because it was fun to bait the ‘high-brows’).
The question arises concerning the inevitability of dissension within any social grouping. Disentangling what might be thought of as justifiable ideological dissent from an egotistical power play is sometimes extremely difficult. Occasionally it may be purely a matter of individuals disliking each other, as happened in a philosophical group I occasionally attended when one ‘queen bee’ was displaced by another via a ‘coup d’état’. Many organisations have what might be described as authoritarian social structures where individuals or groups acquire, legitimately in terms of their rules, more power than other members which, also inevitably, leads to conflict. Given all of these internal pressures it is surprising that such groups survive at all (and, of course, many don’t) but if they do they acquire a history which becomes a definitive element in terms of the group’s identity.
Political parties are ‘nothing but the expression of class interests’ according to Marx. We might modify this statement by adding that they are also the expression of perceived class interests which, in the case of the Labour Party, results in them acting directly against the interests of the class that they claim to represent. Once the reformist route to the establishment of socialism is taken class consciousness becomes blurred and eventually disappears entirely in the fruitless and endless struggle to control capitalism and make it beneficial for all within the community. But this anti-revolutionary (and so therefore anti-socialist) dogma and its persistent failures seem immune to a logical critique especially when the working class are confronted by the realities of the morally and socially degenerate Tory Party.
Of course the Conservative Party is also divided by factionalism which, together with the other elements already mentioned, is driven by the same misconceptions that are present in Labour; ignorance of how capitalism, stripped of its ideological mythology, actually operates in reality. It is a great irony that only its great enemy (Marxism) has a clear understanding of capitalism. Given all of these pressures and divisions it has become a necessity that the Labour Party, in particular, must deny its own history; a clear example of this is the attempt to disassociate itself from New Labour and the warmonger Tony Blair. That this can be done is testament to the power of ideology (the need to believe) which has enabled such Leftist idiocies as the support of Bolshevism and even for the likes of Stalin in the past. How then, one might ask, does any political party avoid the consequences of the internal social dynamics outlined above?
The Socialist Party has built-in structures specifically designed to counteract the tendencies we have defined. We are the only political party to insist on an ‘entrance test’ so we can be certain that any prospective member has a sound understanding of our political analysis and the actions that this implies. That we do this also emphasises our rejection of elitism because our case relies on the belief that fundamental political consciousness is available to all and not just a minority. We have no leaders or group of mandarins to ‘guide us’. Every important action is subject to democratic debate and vote. Above all we demand of ourselves and each other that we constantly critically review what is believed to be true, so avoiding the intellectual dead-end of ideological dogma. These are the building blocks of a revolutionary socialist organisation which contrasts starkly with the idealism and elitism continually expressed by the Left and the so-called ‘labour movement’ with their ‘behind closed doors’ deals and compromises.
Has the Socialist Party ever experienced serious internal dissent in its over one hundred year existence? There have been the same sort of factionalist pressures as in other organisations but the very fact of our continued existence together with the consistency of our analysis and values illustrates the strength of a thoroughly democratic organisation that restricts membership to those who share its revolutionary perspective; our political structure and the coherence of our case has meant that the attempted subversion or hijacking of our revolutionary identity has always failed. The possibility that we would ever have to deny our own history (which, after all, is an essential element in any group’s identity) is as ludicrous as an individual denying responsibility for his actions on the basis that he promises to do better next time.