Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Candidate 5: Socialism is like the "Life of Brian"

Candidate 5 - representing the Socialist Party of Great Britain - seemed like a nice chap and because I didn't know any better, I wasn't unnerved by the deep historical knowledge required to distiguish his party from other socialist entities on offer. I didn't know about the freaky far left.

Candidate 5, formerly a resident of Lambeth who now lives in Camden, told me that the socialist scene was so riven with schisms that it put Monty Python’s Life of Brian in the shade. (“Excuse me. Are you the Judean People’s Front?”)

This discussion thread snippet about the SPGB - on Dave Osler’s blog - might provide an idea of the kind of intricacies a voter faces:

Stephen Marks: “It is said that the highest vote ever recorded for the SPGB was 500 in a by-election. The candidate was promptly expelled for opportunism, on the grounds that there could not possibly have been 500 voters in the constituency who had fully understood the theoretical Marxist case for socialism as expounded by the SPGB - so the candidate must have been guilty of reformist vote-cadging.”

The response from Dr Paul: “I've heard that story retailed by Stephen Marks, but in the version I was told (by the late Walter Kendall, one of Britain's handful of Kautskians) it referred to the Socialist Labour Party, a group that followed the ideas of Daniel De Leon.”

If it’s a joke its well researched! Karl Kautsky and Daniel De Leon are not figments of anyone's imaginations.

Having read the SPGB's reasonably recent comments on whose votes they want - easiest to read on Dave Osler's blog again - I know I don't understand it, but I like the idea that a person voting has to be totally dedicated to what their voting for or their vote is not wanted.

All the other parties just want my vote and don't seem to care if I understand what my vote means to me. I don't know what I'm supposed to do with my vote so the SPGB tell me its worthless. At least until I get educated. And this sounds true. My vote is worthless to me if I don't understand it. It doesn't empower me, just the people I give it to.

No doubt Candidate 5 would have been as expert at hair-splitting as his comrades but we chatted about other things. He was happier than most of the others to discuss local economies and how the man, or woman, on the street can find out about them. He said a great deal of good information was available on council websites, at least for those with the will to look hard enough.

He provided a couple of examples: “I remember people complaining about how unfair it was that ‘they’ had dumped so many Vietnamese in their area. So I looked up Hampstead and saw that there had been a huge jump in diversity between 1991 and 2001, a 10 per cent increase in migrants and so (unexpected places) have seen big demographic changes too.”

He said: “There are things like a ward-by-ward breakdown of life expectancy. In one Camden ward, Somers Town, the life expectancy is 69 years, in Hampstead it is 79 so you have a 10 year life expectancy gap in the same borough. That is the sort of thing that tells you what a borough is like. Other key indicators that I think you can find fairly easily for Hackney is free school meal entitlement.”

Other issues we discussed were:

Education gap: that statistics for London borough’s show a huge gap between people with degrees or qualifications in general and those who have none. He said that residents should be aware that a significant chunk of the education was imported – professionals moving into areas – and that if these statistics changed it said very little about home grown education.

On Employment: Before discussing the idea that the problem with capitalism was that it required a pool of unemployment, he gave his view on why Hackney residents should not take any comfort from improved employment figures in deprived areas. Particularly when whole economies were shifting into reverse.

He said: “Areas like Hackney are like Teeside where, over the last decade, employment has improved but only when the economy as whole economy grows. When the tide changes, these are the areas that will see the biggest reverses in the shortest space of time. I go back to Teeside now and even the pound shops are shut or having half-price sales.”

He says you can’t have capitalism without unemployment. It needs a pool of unemployment and in areas like Hackney this means grinding poverty for some people and a situation from which it is hard to escape. For single mothers it is almost impossible to escape.

He didn't like the idea of hereditary council housing and sub-letting. It is a problem which he says is endemic (I wasn't sure what this meant).

In terms of the near future for Hackney, as it deals with the knock on effects of the financial crisis, he said: “The effects of massive unemployment – so far we’ve been spared – last time we had Tottenham riots and Brixton riots.” He described this as a form of “collective bargaining by rioting".

Another issue he talked about briefly, which seems to be a concern for some within the mainstream Labour Party in Hackney and London, is an onslaught by militants or Trotskyists/ites if discontent within Labour grows: swap Liverpool for Hackney. Former Hackney Labour whip Luke Akehurst was happy when one of their leaders died. More recently he wrote "Those who cannot learn from History are doomed to repeat it" for both Labourlist and on his own blog, both of which sparked some comment.

Writing in March 2009, Akehurst said: "Insurgency from the left has afflicted Labour during every major period in opposition - the 1930s, the 1950s and the 1980s. In every case it has been necessary to wage a long and bitter internal struggle to smash the left and purge entryists who are not democratic socialists in order to make the party electable again."

Candidate 5 said that the way that these takeovers generally start and gain power is by having the discipline to have a few militants at important but “boring meetings” that no one else can be bothered to attend - and then move toward the final aim of a socialist revolution.

It probably wouldn’t take much for me to find out who Candidate 5 is, but I haven't. You can read his blog on the event here:

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