Narrow party? No thanks

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I've become more and more bewildered as I've read each of Adam Baker's articles in Alliance Voices. Adam says the Socialist Alliance is too broad and a narrow “Marxist vanguard” party would be better. But I think it's great SA is nothing like the narrow party Adam wants.

SA does not and should not exist to “give” anyone an identity. But this is what concerns Adam the most. He says in his most recent piece, "the best thing that we can do for those seeking a better world is to give them an identity” or “another set of beliefs, another set of values”.

Consider how patronising this is. Adam says there are all these people wandering about with the wrong set of values “crying out for something to identify with”. So “the best thing we can possibly do for them” is “give” them a “socialist identity”, like pouring water into an empty vessel perhaps. Adam describes this is as a noble, selfless duty: it's “not for our own sake, but for their sake and the sake of the future of all”.

Adam says this humble gift of an “individual identity of a socialist [is] inextricably intertwined with the collective identity”, which means “we don't accept the idea of individuals being 'independent Marxists' or 'non-party Marxists'”. By this measure people such as John Bellamy Foster, David Harvey and Marta Harnecker are not Marxists. We can also rule out Karl Marx in the years when he wrote Das Kapital. Can I suggest a “socialist identity” that excludes even Marx is very narrow indeed.

Marxism is not an identity. Marxism is not a revealed truth. It is not a “path” to “find oneself” or a way to impart wisdom into the minds of the uninitiated. It is not, for goodness sake, about using certain “words, names and phrases [as] part of [our] day to day vernacular”. There is English, French and Mandarin Chinese, but there is no such thing as "Marxist language". If Adam is looking to the Socialist Alliance for these things I'm glad to say he is looking in the wrong place. Marx said its not enough to interpret the world, the point is to change it.

A good way to think of Marxism is as a guide to action. It's a way of trying to understand politics, history, nature and culture in terms of their motion, movement, development and change. Marxists are at their best when they put their ideas into practice, test them against reality and are open to learning new things from the process.

In another article, Adam says members should assess the Socialist Alliance's positions and activity on the basis of “whether or not they are a correct application of Marxism”. But I'd prefer the Socialist Alliance stick to assessing its role on the basis of whether or not it matches reality, as Marx intended. Marxism is not an instruction manual. Nor is it a ready-made product to be “correctly applied” to new political developments.

Adam worries some Socialist Alliance members use “defeatist rhetoric” and say “we don't have all the answers”. I freely admit to this sin: I don't have all the answers. But shouldn't this go without saying? Yet Adam asks: “If we say to workers 'We don't have all the answers', why should they believe ANY of our answers?” Call me a man of little faith, but this worker won't believe anyone who thinks they have all the answers, no matter how much they insist otherwise – actually, especially if they insist otherwise.

Adam's narrow party would certainly exclude me (unless, I suppose, I was willing to accept a new, improved identity and pretend to know more than I do). I'm an ecosocialist, which Adam says is a “liberal fantasy”. Actually, I'm an ecosocialist and a Marxist at the same time — but I know for Adam that concept simply does not compute.

Adam's argument for the Socialist Alliance to adopt a program is also very unconvincing — especially as he wants a program that helps us all get to his so-called socialist identity. But he says the stakes are high — about as high as they can get: “A socialist party cannot deny or disregard a program, unless it denies and disregards the entire history of the socialist movement, the entire history of class society, and indeed the evolution of life on earth.” It's heady stuff, but the liberal fantasist in me says “The evolution of life on Earth” can be safely affirmed and accepted without a Socialist Alliance program.