Thursday, April 24, 2008

Husting in Southwark

Yesterday morning the Socialist candidate ventured into Southwark to speak at a hustings meeting organised by the Southwark Pensioners Action Group at their offices in Camberwell Road. On approaching the office we could see someone handing out leaflets. We were surprised to find that it was someone from the Left List since we hadn't come across them before in the constituency. We were even more surprised on entering to see that their representative was their mayoral candidate herself, Lindsey German.

Also present were the outgoing Assembly member for Lambeth and Southwark (Val Shawcross), Southwark Councillor Caroline Pidgeon (the Liberal candidate), Southwark Councillor Kim Humphries (standing in for the Tory candidate) and Shane Collins for the Greens. Apologies were received from the animal rights candidate, the Eng-dems and the Respect George Galloway party.

The Socialist candidate, because he was sitting at one end, spoke first. Danny explained that the problems discussed at these and other elections were caused by the existing system of the private ownership of the means of production by rich people and their use to produce things for profit. There was no use tinkering about with this system as, despite the promises and pledges of the politicians, it could never work, or be made to work, in the interest of the vast majority of people, who depended on having to work for a wage or salary to live. The alternative was socialism, a system based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production where things would no longer be produced for profit but directly to satisfy people's needs and where the principle "from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs" would apply. Danny's 2 minutes were up while he was in the middle of explaining the waste capitalism's need for a money system involved.

Assemblywoman Shawcross spoke next. She outlined what the GLA under Ken had done. She also appeared to say that CCTV cameras on buses allowed bus drivers who behaved badly to be disciplined. Maybe this was a slip of the tongue but it's the sort of thing Labour politicians say these days.

Councillor Pidgeon said that one of the advantages of extending the tram system into Southwark and across the Thames would be that there would be public toilets at the stations.

Councillor Humphries was surprisingly honest. He was against having a quota of "affordable housing" in all new housing developments as this could sabotage such schemes. In other words, would reduce the profits of the developers who would take their money and invest it somewhere else where they could make a bigger profit.

SWP Central Committee member German was pathetic. She talked just like the other three, tacitly accepting the present system and proposing minor changes to it.

Green candidate Shane Collins introduced the big picture again saying that with global warming the site of the 2012 Olympics would be flooded (not then but a decade or so later). He was not afraid to offer unpopular reforms such as a 20 mph speed limit on side roads and the legalisation of heroin. (He is a legalise cannabis campaigner and was once caught with 19 plants in his house. It turned out that Danny and him had in fact met each other a few years back at Glastonbury.)

Question time proved interesting. We noticed that Councillor Pidgeon (Liberal) and Councillor Humphries (Tory) refrained from criticising each other and in fact put on a double act when Southwark Council was criticised. This struck us as strange but then the penny dropped. As in Bill's Camden Southwark Council is run by a Liberal-Tory coalition. The shape of things to come perhaps after the next election? Though the Liberals would also be prepared to do a deal with Labour if they get a better offer. Not that it would make a difference either way.

You wouldn't know that Lindsey German is a leading theoretician of the SWP, the author of articles and pamphlets on feminism, war, etc including one entitled Why We Need a Revolutionary Party. There was nothing revolutionary about what she said. Even on reforms she came across as less radical than the Green candidate. The one thing she got really passionate about was bendy buses. They should be taken out of service and replaced by new Routemaster buses (the ones you can fall off) with a conductor; that, she said, would stop the fare-dodging that now goes on on the overcrowded bendy buses. The Tory representative immediately jumped up to say "yes, that's what Boris wants too". That about sums it up.

Actually, the clue to her behaviour is to be found in that pamphlet of hers. It's pure Leninism. The workers are so thick that they can't understand the case for socialism if put to them directly (as we do and as Danny was doing at the meeting). They are only capable of developing a trade union consciousness:

"That is why building a principled revolutionary party is important today. It is also why the Socialist Workers Party takes so much of its theory of the party from the experience of Lenin and the Bolsheviks".
"That is why all those who want fundamental change in society have to be part of a Leninist organisation".
"Socialism in the 1990s means rebuilding the real Leninist tradition".

So it's all a front. She's only pretending that reforms of capitalism are possible, offering them as bait to get workers to follow her and the rest of the vanguard in the SWP. She doesn't really believe that bendy buses should be replaced by Routemasters. That's just a ploy to get a working class following. Or is it? We got the impression that opposition to bendy buses was really what got her going. In any event, it was the only thing she spoke about with passion at the meeting.

Sorry about this digression. Back to the surprisingly honest Tory representative. He made it clear that the problem for local councillors was money. What they were doing was allocating a finite amount of money which was never enough to allow them to do what they'd like to. Danny jumped in to explain why: under capitalism the priority is profit and any money given to local councillors to spend on the public services for which they have responsibilty (most comes from the central government which also regulates how much they can raise through the rates) has to come in the end from profits. There's no way out. That's the way the system works and must work and why the politicians can never deliver on their promises. Profits must come first and always will as long as capitalism lasts.

Danny's exposition of the case for socialism brought him two direct questions from the 20 or so assembled pensioners. "Why do you want to go back to barter?" and "What about human nature?" And the basement of the Southwark Pensioners Action Group was transformed for a few minutes into Hyde Park Speakers Corner.

In closing the meeting the chairman said that he too was a socialist but felt that something could be done now. He was probably an old CPer.

We had planned to leaflet the surrounding area in Southwark after the meeting but the place was full of high-rise flats you can't get into. So we got a 35 (non bendy) bus back to Clapham. On the way who should we pass going the other way down Brixton Road but George Galloway atop his campaign bus. It was festooned with red and green balloons -- green for Islam not the environment. We couldn't hear what he was saying through his loadspeaker but it sounded like "Vote for Me".


Anonymous said...

"green for Islam not the environment"

You call yourself a socialist and yet you come out with this shit?


Londonsocialist said...

What's your problem? I thought everyone knew that green is the colour of Islam. I don't think Respect denies that this is why it has adopted it as one of its colours.

Anonymous said...

I know you've laboured this point already (pardon the pun), but don't you find it pathetic that people place so much reliance on 'leaders' - be they Assembly candidates, candidates for Parliament, or whatever? It's almost as if there is this mass emotional weakness, that we are all children and we need parents to take care of our business for us. Galloway, for example, and his 'Vote For Me'. No wonder politicians increasingly talk to us like we are children. What people really need is a slogan that says: 'Vote For You'. I note that is effectively the SPGB's slogan. You are calling for the establishment of socialism, which would be a truly democratic system, without leaders. A principled stand - and also, may I say, the correct one. Good for you.

a very public sociologist said...

You gave up far too easily on the high rises. I got into three yesterday just by randomly calling people and explaining I wanted to leaflet. Give it a try.