The 2015 election and the next steps for Republican Socialism

 

Introduction

 

This paper will not address the important question of what is ‘Republican Socialism’ beyond identifying it as the “republican road to socialism” which puts the issue of democracy at the heart of working class politics. This stands in contrast to the dominant idea in the UK and especially England of a “British road to Socialism”. The next steps here are mainly focused on London and do not address how Republican Socialists in the rest of the UK can use our election campaign to advance our common cause.

 

The Scottish referendum

 

The 2014 Scottish referendum was a major turning point in working class opposition to Austerity and in the development of Republican Socialist politics. In Scotland the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) combined republican demands with social justice and internationalism. In England we organised a united front “London Says Yes” rally.

 

Republican Socialism showed its politics was relevant to a growing mass democratic movement in Scotland. Had Scotland voted ‘Yes’ it would have broken with the Tory constitution, ended the Cameron led Coalition, and set Scotland directly on the road of constitutional change. In this case Republican Socialism would become even more important and relevant.

 

Republican Socialism had no effective political organisation. There is no republican socialist party in Scotland or England. After the defeat of the Yes campaign, the next major class confrontation would be with Cameron in the general election. How would RIC or the “London Says Yes” carry forward their agitation into the election battle ground?

 

So whilst the SNP was able to advance its cause in the general election, neither RIC nor ‘London Says Yes’, could continue because both were united fronts and not political organisations. The general election exposed a political vacuum where RIC and “London Says Yes” had stood. There was no party of republican socialism and Anti-Unionism.

 

Republican Socialism would thus be in retreat from the high point of the referendum or it would be standing its first candidates in Scotland, England, Wales (and Ireland). This means building political organisation with class politics distinct from the Labour Party or the SNP. Yet to pose the question of candidates in the general election is to highlight the very weakness of Republican Socialism.

 

The real choice for Republican Socialism in the post referendum general election was either to take a time out and become a bystander or simply support the nationalists in Scotland and Left Unionism in England. The importance of standing candidates was in rejecting the easy options and showing that Republican Socialism, no matter how weak, intends to fight for an alternative politics in response to the national democratic revolution.

 

Republican Socialism in the general election

 

The general election was an extension of the Scottish referendum. A battle between Sturgeon and Cameron, between the SNP and the Tories, left Labour in the squeezed middle. The SNP took Scotland and Cameron won a majority in England. The political situation moved beyond ‘normal’ traditional politics.

 

The changing situation in post-referendum Scotland convinced a few of us to stand the first Republican Socialist and Anti-Unionist candidate in England in co-operation with co-thinkers in Scotland. It was vital to begin building an alliance between the left in Scotland and England, and if possible Wales and Ireland.

 

The Republican Socialist election campaign did not confine itself to general propaganda for republicanism, socialism and internationalism. It conducted political agitation on more immediate issues summarised in the ‘Manifesto for Democracy’ launched in Parliament Square on May Day 2015. We highlighted the following points.

 

1. First we raised the issue of Scotland and opposed the English chauvinist reaction exploited by the Tories. We sought to ‘flip’ the national question arguing that “Another England in Possible” and called for a social republic in the name of the Commonwealth of England. We made the point that Anti-Unionism must be central the politics of the new left in England compared to the British Unionist politics of the old left.

 

2. Second we promoted the call for a democratic revolution not as an abstract theory (although there are questions of theory involved) but as a living process involving the Scottish people. The referendum became a focal point and transitional moment in an unfolding process of democratic revolution.

 

3. Third we conducted Anti-Westminster agitation [“Westmonster” as named by ATD] about the decayed state of the UK parliament both as a building and a fake democracy. We used the slogan “Close It Down” and raised the question of whether the Palace of Westminster should be converted into Flats or a Museum.

 

4. Fourth we connected ‘Westminster’ with the constitutional and political idea of the “Crown-in-Parliament” and thus made the link with the demand for a democratic and social republic. We called for a new people’s parliament to be set up in Birmingham (or the Midlands) in conjunction with the abolition of the Commons, Lords, Monarchy and the Acts of Union.

 

5. Fifth we made Anti-Austerity arguments (as did TUSC, Left Unity SSP etc) and linked this with the “Great Bankster Robbery” and the domination of the City and the Crown, in the redistribution of income and wealth to the rich. The major weakness of the Anti-Austerity movement was in its refusal to fight against the ‘Crown in Parliament’. There is little understanding of the link between the fight against Austerity and the fight for Political Democracy.

 

6. Last and not least we highlighted the absence of a republican socialist party. Without party organisation there was no possibility of winning support or anything other than minimal votes. The aim of our campaign was to make propaganda for a new party with an alternative democratic programme to the Labour Party and the SNP.

 

The lesson of the general election

 

The 2015 general election highlighted Republican Socialist ideas, strategy, policies and slogans which stood up to the stress test. We had the confidence to put our ideas on the public platform and contest the politics of all the Westminster parties. We did not fail the test. However we lacked the key element of organisation.

 

Our election organisation was cobbled together from scratch and was not much more than the efforts of very few people. In Bermondsey we had no organisation before election. No political work was done in the constituency before the election began. Without organisation a good case will not translate into good votes.

 

The central lesson from the election campaign is the massive gap between the level of our politics and the level of organisation. Republican Socialism cannot advance further without sustained effort to create real collective organisation. Without this we have hit a glass ceiling and the election will be the high point of our achievement rather than the launch pad for further progress.

 

Organising Republican Socialists

 

First we have the RSA. The RSA is an email list for exchange of views and information and has occasionally organised educational events. It has about eighty comrades on the list. The RSA has no membership subs and no elected officers or bank account – an ad hoc committee based in London meets occasionally. We recently supported an RSA (Scotland) which is yet to organise itself.

 

The election campaign was not conducted by the RSA not least because it was set up as a non-party alliance with members of different parties and none. The election campaign meant acting in a party like fashion, not least because we had to have a party registration to act in the name ‘Republican Socialist’. The RSA could be better organised and hold more educational events but it is not an interventionist organisation.

 

The proposal here is to build a local political organisation out of the election campaign. The purpose is to intervene in class struggle events. At present London is only one place in England where there are enough comrades to form a local organisation. Scotland is different and before the election we took the first steps to set up an RSA (Scotland).

 

Building Republican Socialists (London)

 

A Republican Socialist organisation in London would be a real advance. First we can and should organise regular political education on both practical and theoretical issues all of which is vital to strengthen the confidence and vitality of our politics. Second by becoming more organised we can intervene and win broader support. Third we can build a democratic organisation able to raise money and use it for the cause.

 

All comrades currently involved through RSA list are active in various campaigns and initiatives, for example Occupy Democracy, Greek Solidarity, Assemblies for Democracy, trade union activity, other political organisations such as the Labour Party and Left Unity etc. The Republican Socialists (London) is not an alternative to this work. Through organisation, co-operation and planning we can support these activities more effectively for mutual benefit.

 

The Republican Socialists (London) would not be a party. It is a political organisation. Unlike a party we can have dual membership, that is, being members of more than one organisation. A member of Republican Socialists (London) branch could be a card carrying member of the Labour Party. We need a republican socialist party but are open-minded about how and when it could be formed, for example from existing parties or by launching a new party.

 

23 June 2015

 

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