I mention this because the West Midlands region of the Socialist Party has undergone a flurry of recruitment of late. And Stoke branch is continuing to benefit from this upturn in the fortunes of our party too. I'm not breaking any confidences to say things have been slow over the last 18 months but these last two months recruitment has really taken off. Contacts have been coming in and a pleasing proportion have turned into active members, which has made a nice change. Plus we've just held stalls at the Staffs and Keele freshers' fairs. So it seems a precipitous time to reflect a little bit on recruitment, the recruitment process and the experience of recruiting people to a revolutionary socialist organisation.
For anyone with a passing familiarity with the far left, they will be aware recruitment is always a key priority. There cannot be an active leftist in Britain who hasn't, at some stage in their activist career, been asked to 'join the socialists/communists/revolutionaries by one or more of the varieties of British Trotskyism. And it is understandable. When I think about the range of activities Stoke SP has been involved in since I joined, the mind truly boggles. Solidarity activities, election campaigns, mass leafleting, organising, helping organise and taking part in demonstrations, broad-based campaigning, public meetings, student interventions come on top of the staples of street stalls, paper sales and contact visits. And I'm sure there's plenty I've missed out. We have been able to do these things because we have a stable number of core activists. But there's only so much we can do. More members enable us to extend the scope of our work and better make the socialist case more widely.
Unfortunately, here lies the first problem with recruiting to the SP, and I'm sure it's something leftists from other backgrounds are familiar with too. Earlier on in the first Keele Socialist Students meeting of the semester, one question that was asked was what do we do? I rattled off our record for the last year and talked a bit about the things the local SP branch has done as well. What I didn't realise, on reflection, was how daunting this may sound to a first year student who's just left home. And I should know - I remember how scary the prospect of doing stuff was for me when I first got involved with the left. But on the other hand there were other younger comrades who were champing at the bit.
How do you strike the balance? It's a tricky question. You don't want to scare prospective members away, but you have to be honest about what membership can entail. In recruitment discussions, I've always encouraged new people to do as much as they feel comfortable doing. I do not push people into situations and actions, but neither am I afraid to ask. Generally we find as new comrades get used to the branch they gradually assume some sort of role. It is better to allow people to grow organically into activism than foisting it upon them. Because of this I've known no one overcommit themselves and burn out.
Recruitment may be difficult but it can be very gratifying. To get someone involved, or, to turn up to branch meetings and see new faces, can give you and the rest of the group a real lift. More than money raised and papers sold it can boost morale as much as a particularly successful action or campaign the party has been involved in. It goes without saying that in the absence of the latter, new members help boost confidence even more, especially when a relatively large number join within a very short space of time. When you know a steady stream of people are joining up and getting active, it certainly helps keep you going on those rainy, windy stalls ...
Locally, regionally and nationally the SP is on the up again. The difficulties of the nineties are well behind us and our reputation as a small, but serious force for independent working class politics has grown in recent years. So if you're a socialist without a home or new to left wing politics, why not join up?