Monday, 30 June 2008

The problem for the left? We just aren't sufficiently organised!

We know it really. We don't talk about it very often. It's something we whisper about, rather than shout. But we can't escape it: socialist politics is all about organisation, but organising is something people on the Labour left are traditionally pretty hopeless at!

It's not hard to see why. We're mavericks. If we weren't mavericks we'd have either somehow reconciled our principles with New Labour, or we'd have left and joined some sectlet. To borrow from Tony Benn, we dare to be Daniels. But Daniel wasn't overly organised!

But you can be a dissenting voice and be organised. That's the whole point of a labour movement and of trade unionism. Our dissenting voices only start to be heard if they are in chorus.

The extent of our disorganisation came to me in a flash today when I received my regular copy of 'Progress' Magazine. I assume I receive this because I am a CLP officer (I'm guessing not all party members receive it, though that's an interesting question!) It is clearly paid for by union sponsorship (the back page is a Unite advert) and slipped in the front cover is a flyer for the Labour First slate for the NEC elections.

For too many Labour Party members this is the voice of Labour. It comes just as the old Labour Party magazines used to arrive - as if this were the voice of the Party. Yet it is campaigning stuff: Alan Milburn on public sector reform, John Hutton on going beyond the small state/big state debate, Denis MacShane on pro-European politics since the Lisbon Treaty, and an editorial on the continued case for New Labour.

By contrast, how many Labour members see Socialist Campaign Group News or Labour Briefing? We couldn't even organise to link Labour Briefing clearly with the LRC, let alone get union funding to send it to every CLP (with a CLGA leaflet in the front cover)!

Yet, until we do, we continue to talk to ourselves and we maintain our position as a healthy minority in the party.

I believe that, on a huge number of issues, the left speaks the language of the membership in a way the right couldn't hope to. But too few members hear us speak.

The challenge is clear - how do we go about meeting it?


Robert said...

I'm afraid your right and it's a sad sad fact.

Curlew said...

We should talk to Unite and find out if they agree with the slant of the editorial and whether they would be interested in contributions that would add balance.

I can never really understand an organisation that spends money on promoting something that is already in place.

susan said...

Duncan, ever thought of attending LRC or Briefing AGMS??????? We lost the resolution to lonk Briefing to LRC directly by 1 vote......Armchair socialism is our biggest enemy

Duncan Hall said...

I take your point Susan, but I wouldn't describe myself as an armchair socialist! Rather a very busy one who lives in Yorkshire. Okay - I know the same applies to you, but far too many meetings are based in London - and I have got to a reasonable number of national LRC meetings, considering (I'm a very committed socialist, but time constraints mean sometimes the train is the only option, and paying over a hundred pounds before any registration fee is something I can't really consider - I get to things when I've the time luxury of being able to use the coach. It is also not always clear which meetings are open).

Anyway, I apologise if this post has been perceived as a criticism. It certainly wasn't intended to be one. Insofar as it was a criticism, it was self-criticism as much as being critical of anyone else. The truth is, in these days of the internet and email, etc. we should be able to organise nationally (and internationally) without asking anyone to pay hundreds of pounds to do so; with our strong union links, we should be able to get equivalent union sponsorship to Progress and we should be able to reach every CLP.

susan said...

Not meaning to carp Duncan but we do have meetings in Yorkshire,too. I can't afford hundreds of pounds either but rail tickets can be booked well in advance for much much less. The next meeting of the West Yorkshire LRC is on September 16 @ the Three Pigeons in Halifax and in September the LRC is contributing to the Convention Of The Left and organising fringe events @ LP Conference. Hope to see you there

Harry Barnes said...

Does it not depend upon what we organise for? It seems to me that the left with its weaknesses and disagreements isn't well placed to get lists of people elected to be movers and shakers, nor carry ranges of resolutions nor re-write policy documents. What socialism needs is socialists. So why don't we concentrate on knowing what we are about via meaningful discussions and also converting others to our (hopefully) growing understandings? The priority would seem to be "political education, political education, political education" - which like all good forms of education should also be self-questioning. I am doing my bit locally as I hold two posts in the Labour Party for the subversive roles of Political Education Officer!

Duncan Hall said...

Hi Harry - yes that's been the sort of role I've tended to go for in recent years too. And I agree we can do a lot of good in that role, but I suppose the point of my intial post was that, through organisation, we could reach a lot more people.

Susan, I don't want to have a disagreement with you via blog comments. Unfortunately I already know I can't make 16 September - it is part of the nature of my work, unfortunately. I will try and make a fringe event at conference (though I can't get to any of the rest of conference this year). I would like to get to local LRC meetings, and it has been really unfortunate that the dates have all been impossible for me so far.

Anyway, while I acknowledge me getting to a meeting might have made a significant difference on one occasion (though, it has to be said, it had never occurred to me that I could go to a Briefing AGM, and that can't just be a failing on my part) it rather misses the point: the issue isn't getting a handful more people to meetings, it's contacting the thousands of people who aren't going to go to those meetings.

susan said...

Suncan, I'm not disagreeing. I'm pointing out that we can't rely on e-mail contact with people. And that building an organisation like the LRC does rely on people on the ground. I would also argue that for the LRC to become signifucant we need that sense of solidarity you only really get by engaging face to face with people over a pint, actually meeting them, and getting actively involved when you can. This year's LRC rally in Manchester is an occasion when we really need people to turn up and show strength. If you can't make it, let others know.......the Convention of the Left will be taking place over September 20-24 -hope you can fit it in!

susan said...

.... And sorry about the typo....

Graham Day said...

No, we're not sufficiently organised.

We're not ruthless enough, either.

(I'm as guilty as anyone else...)

Renegade Eye said...

Really good blog.

In the US we have nothing resembling a labor party. A labor party in the US, will be our 1917.

Derek Wall said...

You have got Cynthia McKinney though, wish we had her in the political party I am a member of.

Miller 2.0 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Miller 2.0 said...

"No, we're not sufficiently organised.

We're not ruthless enough, either.

(I'm as guilty as anyone else...)"

My basic opinion on the post-Bennite left.