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Jim Higgins

More Years for the Locust

Appendix 5

Get thee glass eyes;
And, like a scurvy politician, seem
To see things thou dost not.

Shakespeare, King Lear


The Way Ahead for IS
by Tony Cliff
(IS Internal Bulletin, May 1974)

Recent conflicts in the NC must appear to many comrades as simply petty squabbles. Alas as Lenin said, “No struggle over principles waged by groups within the Social Democratic movement anywhere in the world (Cliff’s emphasis) has managed to avoid a number of personal and organisational conflicts. Nasty types make it their business deliberately to pick on ‘conflict’ expressions. But only weak-nerved dilettanti from among ‘sympathizers’ can be embarrassed by these conflicts, can shrug them off in despair or in scorn, as if to say it is all a squabble!”

The quicker we clear the real political differences in the NC the better

The central issue we face is that of defining the workers’ audience to which IS relates and has to relate.

Already 30 years ago we formulated the proposition that the locus of reform had moved since the Second World War to the factory floor. (for an elaboration of this idea see M Kidron, International Socialism, No.7 and Incomes Policy Legislation and Shop Stewards). From this we drew the conclusion that a wide and deep fragmentation of the labour movement had taken place, that there had been a depoliticisation of the mass of the workers. At present there is no live revolutionary tradition in Britain (of course we have a tradition enshrined in books, but hardly any workers alive and active from the fighting years of the 1910s and 1920s).

Hence our audience is largely made up of young workers with very little political tradition, and quite often even with very little trade union experience.

Only in these terms can our policies of the last year be explained and justified the membership campaign, the building of factory branches, the building of rank and file organisation, the change in Socialist Worker.

If the workers we related to were mainly those with political tradition, even if ex-CP or left Labour the membership campaign would have been quite irrelevant if not damaging. People with long political tradition could not be recruited today in a campaign of a few months duration.

(The coolness of some of the members of the old EC towards the Membership Campaign was therefore basically rooted in a different evaluation of the audience we were talking to.)

The factory branches we built during the last year, that were part and parcel of our membership campaign, also confirm our definition of the audience. The big majority of the members of the factory branches are young workers with very few shop stewards among them. (Self-evidently, these comrades should fight for shop stewardship, and naturally have to learn politics and absorb revolutionary tradition).

Again if one watched the rank and file conference in Birmingham, one could easily see that it was composed of young workers, many of them very new indeed to socialist politics.

Again, when defining the nature of Socialist Worker, the question of the audience is central. If the audience is in the made up of Alan Watts, and Mickey Fenns, then the idea of the paper being largely written by workers is stupid. After all the above comrades would rather learn from the “experts”. However, if the main audience are the tens and hundreds of workers around Mickey or Alan, then the main writers should be those two and their ilk.

Now that about half our members are industrial workers, our main task is to transform IS into an organisation led by workers.

We have to bring to the fore workers not as a token, a decoration, but as actual leaders. This we can do only on condition that the workers that come to the fore are those who have a constituency in the working class – outside IS – and inside IS.

A worker who has no influence in his place of work and/or trade union, cannot fulfil the role of a workers’ leader in IS. On the other hand, a worker who has influence, but does not relate to any constituency in IS – whether a district, a fraction, etc – cannot really play a leading role either.

The coming few months prior to the conference should be used for involving all members in the issues the organisation is facing ... Making IS into a workers’ party should be the theme of the September National Conference.

Who Is Our Audience
by Ruth Nelson
(IS Internal Bulletin, June 1974)

Underlying the present dispute in IS is the question of our central orientation: who is our audience? to which workers does the organisation relate, and whom must it aim to recruit?

IS has always had a clear answer to these questions: We must relate to the thin layer of politically experienced and class conscious militants, primarily shop stewards and convenors, who can in turn relate our politics to broader layers of workers.

So comrades may have been surprised to find in the May Internal Bulletin an alternative answer provided by Tony Cliff: “Our audience is largely made up of young workers with very little political tradition and quite often with very little trade union experience ... only in these terms can our policies of the last year be justified ...”

But no amount of retrospective rationalisation can alter the fact that Cliff’s position is a radical departure from our traditional one. Look at the Perspectives documents for the 1973 Conference:

Over the last 18 months we have witnessed a whole number of battles of national significance which the working class had the determination and the power to win. But these were lost, or at best had an inconclusive outcome, because that determination was not matched by the existing leadership of the organisation. A revolutionary organisation with a few hundred militants of some standing [All emphasis in the original] in each of the major industries could have produced a different conclusion in these struggles, putting forward strategies and tactics that would have tipped the balance of defeat towards victory ....
For revolutionaries a key part of the task of penetrating the advanced layer of militants is through engaging in joint activity with those militants who are in the CP or still look to it for guidance. We have to be prepared to offer them programmes of action with which they can agree, but which lead them into opposition to the vacillations of the left trade union leadership and its backers in the CP ...
In the present situation the revolutionary organisation can draw to it a few thousand workers – large compared to the present size of the organisation but small compared to the class as a whole, or even compared to the number of shop stewards (300,000). But a few thousand militants can affect decisively the outcome of a number of key disputes. They can begin to prove in practice the relevance of our ideas to broad layers of workers whose own experience is already driving them to the left of the Scanlon-Jones elements ...

Why have we traditionally taken this position? The answer is clear: for some years now IS has argued that the trade union bureaucracy, including the “left” leaders, would become increasingly unable to deliver even the traditional goods, in terms of trade union militancy and the significant gains it can win. In the face of this failure, we have said that the objective need of the class is clear: a national organisation of rank and file militants and this means mainly shop stewards and convenors, because these are the people who are so situated in the class struggle that they can offer leadership on the shop floor, at the point of production.

Of course, this does not mean that we cannot or do not recruit young, inexperienced workers. Indeed, we recruit them somewhat more easily than we recruit seasoned militants. And they play a vital role in that, through joining or working with IS (instead of the CP or LP), and agitating for IS policies younger workers act as an important pressure on their elected representatives, forcing them to question their social-democratic allegiances and ultimately to join IS themselves. But we cannot see the recruitment of these young workers as the main task.

At a meeting recently in East London, Chris Harman attempted to answer this last point by saying that our perspective was to train these younger comrades to replace their shop stewards and convenors. This of course can and does happen, particularly in the traditionally less militant industries, but yet again, as a central perspective, it is just not on – for two reasons:

Firstly, we must take very seriously the length of time it takes to become an experienced, credible leader of workers, a “militant of some standing” to quote the Perspectives document. Many young IS members, catapulted to positions of leadership in the course of one or another dispute, have shown an impressive flair and talent for filling that role without much previous experience. But flair and talent, essential as those qualities are, do not equal and cannot replace trade union and political experience and the credibility and trust of workers who know a comrade has, through many struggles, argued and fought in their interests. If we are seriously considering a perspective of replacing militants, this means replacing not just their positions, but their standing amongst those they represent. Clearly the groundwork needed to do this would necessitate setting back our perspective for building the party by a further 10-15 years.

But there is a far more positive reason for concentrating on the advanced militants: it isn’t just that we cannot replace them, it is that they are in fact the people we wish and need to recruit. Among the current effective leadership of the working class, these militants are the most advanced, the most class conscious; they consider themselves socialists of one sort or another. And it is because of this that we can recruit them ... It is a long, arduous process but there is no substitute for this work ... we must now put all our resources into building the rank and file movement in the only way it can be built, by the setting up of local groups; by the production of local and national bulletins which begin now to capitalise on the serious contacts made at the first Rank and File Conference; and by the active attempt to attract to the Rank and File movement the advanced militants with a view to recruiting as many as possible into IS.

Ruth Nelson
Hackney IS

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Last updated on 31.1.2003