At present the Clubs are basically centres for discussion. They are collections of people more or less active in politics who gather to talk over contemporary issues from a broadly common standpoint. The discussion at times reaches a profound level and is accompanied by some research (as with study groups), but the great majority of Clubs do no more than talk. Almost invariably the talk is private—its contents are not communicated beyond the membership.
This state of affairs is not good enough. While desirable and necessary, discussion alone does not guarantee a healthy future. It is even possible that the reverse is true: when the controversial subjects have been exhausted, when the novelty of the new approach has worn off, it may be that attendances begin to fall away, that stagnation is imminent.
If not just discussion, then what? Any answer must firstly, lie within the potentialities of the Clubs and, secondly, respond to the contemporary needs of the labour movement.
(l) The Clubs should play an active part in the construction of a New Left “house of theory”. There is a desperate need in British labour for a new and comprehensive statement of socialist principles and their application, a statement that is neither Gaitskellite nor Stalinist. The journals of the New Left, and Out of Apathy, have made considerable progress in this direction, but it is no longer sufficient that the provision and elaboration of new ideas should be the exclusive task of some intellectual centre or some small group of “thinkers”.
Too often a speaker addresses a Club on some subject, is followed by fruitful discussion, replies, and that is all. There is no attempt to follow up the issues raised with research or further discussion and clarification; once the evening is over the subject is buried. The views expressed in the discussion are not recorded and certainly not passed on for the consideration of other Clubs. This means that the ideas of ordinary Club members, based on political experience in their own towns, do not reach beyond the confines of the meeting, so that a vast potential source of creative thought remains unheard.
(2) The Clubs should become active centres of Socialism. Our labour movement has an abundance of vote-seekers on the one hand and agitators on the other, but very scant attention is paid to the basic work of socialist education. It is a critical weakness in the political activity of the left that the case for socialism both as an ideal and as a practical alternative to welfare-state capitalism is not being put.
The New Left has the possibility of presenting this case and, in the process, of making socialists, but in such activity the Clubs must play a dominant role. If transition to socialism is to be more than a ballot-box affair, then it presupposes an assault on the prevailing capitalist-consciousness of the voters. This implies local action to meet local conditions, not merely by individuals as members of wards or CND branches, but planned and organised by the Clubs as such. Whatever the appropriate means—lectures, debates, pamphlets, personal or group contacts, etc.—the Clubs should set out to permeate their environs with the arguments for socialism. In this way not only can a powerful impact be made on the surrounding community, but also the frustrations to which a Club’s introversion gives rise can be avoided.