I note that Unite members are being treated to visits from assorted socialist groups looking to support left-leaning leadership candidate Jerry Hicks.
Jerry is no doubt a breath of fresh air for Britain’s largest union. Shockingly enough, he actually has principles involving things like accountability, transparency and for the leadership to only draw the average wage of the members they represent.
This stands in stark contrast to the standard fare of overweight union bigwigs viewing their organisations as little more than a career orientated networking centre. No doubt Jerry will knock a few heads together, but will the far left aid his grab for power or hinder it?
Trade Unionists do not trust the left, and with good reason. Nothing could be worse than turning up to a meeting only to be hindered by a deluge of alleged Marxists seeking to sell you an assortment of newspapers telling you how bad capitalism is. Well, thanks for that, I really had no idea.
These gangs of rather eccentric and alienated looking youngster can be seen manning stalls at varying events and entertaining the notion of being revolutionaries. Every paper sold and every leaflet handed out contributes to the all important development of the class, a class that would do well to fall in line behind whatever tiny group has good grace to tell them they need higher wages.
Sarcasm aside, there are a number of important factors to bear in mind here. For my sins I am actually a member of one of these aforementioned groups, and have handed out more than my share of leaflets.
I like to think I stand out from most activists in that it is actually possible to have a beer with me without constantly being interrupted in mid-sentence. Neither will I draw you into an intellectual ego-fest where everyone else who does not have the same party card as me is and always has been utterly wrong on all points. I criticize my leadership, and think Marx was something of a pedant and certainly a poor organizer. Lenin was wrong when he banned factions in 1921. Trotsky’s failure to develop leading cadres outside of his own study is also partly responsible for the degeneration of the Fourth International and the narcissistic insanity of his would-be-disciples today. Heresy.
What has this got to do with anything? A fair amount I think. In Jerry’s own words, he believes in “elections by the members with officers answerable and accountable to the members”. So far so good. But it would be nice if leaders of the far left had the same attitude. It has probably not escaped the notice of a fair few union comrades that whilst our Marxist vanguard agitates for greater democracy within the unions – in particular via the demand for elected full timers – it’s a completely different story when it comes to their own groups.
A revolutionary party is not a trade union. Sure. But if our vaunted comrades actually studied Lenin instead of just wanting to be him they would learn a few things. For one, agitating for the election and recall of union full timers whilst maintaining the most undemocratic and outright vicious regimes in their 50 to 100 man sectlets is more than a little hypocritical. In fact it’s outright destructive.
Workers are not stupid. Even if they cannot quote Marx’s more pointed objections to the Gotha Program or calculate the current rate of exploitation they are subject to does not mean they are fools. If some 20-something in a tweed jacket with a bundle of papers approaches them to explain to them the merits of elected and recallable leaders whilst ignoring the most outrageous bureaucracy in his own party they will smell something fishy.
Perhaps some kind of rethink is in order. Perhaps it may just be the case that actually getting to grips with the notion of democratic centralism means just a little more than patently un-Bolshevik practices such as banning factions, stopping internal and external discussion, and having a self-perpetuating leadership that advocates itself and itself alone for election year in year out.
Maybe then some might be more willing to listen to the arguments of the left when they dive into our unions for the sake of educating, agitating and organising us. Maybe then, if we honestly engage in a study of internal organisation and realize that just maybe we do not live under conditions of Tsarist autocracy (and even then the Bolsheviks were far far more democratic than the British far left) we would not look like a bunch of obnoxious hypocrites, oddballs and egotists.
Maybe then there will be a genuine merger of the practical movement with the allegedly revolutionary. Heck, maybe then the far left will actually be made up of workers. Now there’s a thought.