Since its formation in January Portsmouth Socialist Network (PSN) has been meeting on roughly a fortnightly basis and doing our best to help build the left in the city. Organising meetings have generally varied between 8 and 14 attendees. We are mainly ex-SWP members; some had left after special conference, others in December 2013. We have members of ISN and rs21, and a comrade who had been in the IS in the 70s. At least half the regulars have no national affiliation. We have also been collaborating with Hampshire Feminist Collective and Portsmouth Antifascists (AFN) which has led to members of those groups coming to our meetings.
We were clear from that start that we can achieve very little working separately or in competition with each other. There was also a general recognition that our previous activity in the SWP was mainly self-generated propaganda activity that did little to build class consciousness or the fighting potential of the working class. We have decided that the best thing that we dozen or so activists can do is throw ourselves into struggles that arise in a non-sectarian way showing real solidarity by offering our time and resources to any campaigns or actions that defend the working class, public services and oppressed communities. We also want to help initiate campaigns and try to make them democratic and accountable to all who wish to be involved.
We have been very active in building an activist anti-fascist network by working with our anarchist comrades and other anti-fascists activists. Its early days but we have managed to co-ordinate to oppose racist activity several times. For years, despite complaints, the UAF branch in Portsmouth has been run as an extension of the SWP branch with no democratic structures. They will remain important for call outs and press related stuff but most non-SWP who are regular activists have voted with their feet and attend AFN meetings and/or are active on the facebook group.
We had an excellent public rally and joint meeting with Hampshire Feminist Collective for International Women’s Day. Around 40 attended the rally, 25 came to the meeting that immediately followed including women that have been central to the Unite Community branch in the town. An rs21 comrade from London was kind enough to come down and speak alongside local activists in an open debate around feminism, cuts, intersectionality and safe spaces. On the basis of this we have won real credit from a number of leading activists in the locality.
We have produced one issue of a free bulletin sheet in which we have tackled the issue of benefit cuts. Although it is a publication of PSN we tried to keep the focus on providing useful information to claimants and promoting working class and left wing activism in general.
We have very weak roots in the organised working class. We are generally aged from our early twenties to mid-thirties, so although a number of us are active union members we neither have the experience or confidence to be real workplace militants.
Although a number of us wish to be involved in Left Unity in more than a subs-paying capacity we have not managed to do that yet. A comrade contacted each person in the area who had signed the Ken Loach appeal and asked them if they wanted to be involved in regular meetings and activism, the response outside those we were already working with was poor. We will need to make some serious decisions of how to try to build Left Unity as the organisation progresses, it should be said that the not all of our own comrades are particularly enthused by the project.
Some of us feel while we are doing relatively well at the moment that not being formally connected to a national organisation could be a problem in the medium term, although given the size of all organisations other than the two larger bureaucratic centralist sects this is unlikely to be remedied by just joining one.
It is our view that common discussions around perspectives and strategic orientation that come with being in a national organisation or network would immeasurably help us in trying to build a democratic Marxist working class current in Portsmouth. A national organisations help with providing resources such as flyer templates and literature would also be a useful. However, the basis of any national organisation has to be a culture of real collaboration and debate, of experimentation and theoretical openness and, above all, a branch-led emphasis to activity.