Pat Strong of the Socialist Party

Breaking up the SA

The September 30 gathering in Coventry of the Socialist Alliance network should prove to be very contentious, if reports of the Socialist Party's September 9-10 national committee meeting have any substance. Not that the 'Party news' story in The Socialist tells us anything - except that there is to be a £40,000 appeal for funds that "are needed" for the "next general election" (September 15).

However, in its submission to the Socialist Alliance, our leadership not only writes of standing 18 candidates - but, as Dave Nellist's minority report of the SA's officers makes clear, the intention is to field them under the title of Socialist Alternative, with only the loosest relationship with any centralised structure.

Allegedly the ever more sectarian SP leadership took the decision to field its own exclusive candidates and to present Coventry with a fait accompli. Obviously this will put in jeopardy the fragile unity slowly coalescing amongst the component parts of the UK's revolutionary left. Comrade Nellist himself warns that opposition to this sectarian stance could "severely undermine, or even break up, the Socialist Alliance general electoral challenge" (minority officers' report).

We can only hope that this line causes a storm of internal protests and forces general secretary Peter Taaffe and the national committee to change course before September 30. Certainly, given the proven track record of the SP and its forerunner, Militant, in the electoral arena, it would be criminal to deny the Socialist Alliance the benefit of that experience in favour of yet another surly, ill-fated sectarian adventure.

Surely the Taaffe leadership ought to have learned some sharp lessons following the disastrous and frankly humiliating intervention in the recent GLA elections?

We had one London Socialist Alliance candidate in the shape of Ian Page, while Arwyn Thomas stood for the rival Campaign against Tube Privatisation list. Not only that, but elsewhere the SP more or less boycotted the whole campaign. There can be no doubt that the most effective electoral intervention would be one conducted under an expanded SA Liaison Committee - including comrades in Wales and the Scottish Socialist Party - which elects its own recallable officers and conducts the general election campaign on the basis of maximising its impact. Given the recent polemical exchange between the SSP's Francis Curran and Peter Taaffe in the CWI Members Bulletin, it is, alas, not difficult to see our leadership resisting such moves. This, though, would be a mistake.

The SP's irrational and foolish response to political criticism continues to undermine positive rapprochement amongst those of us with a genuine desire for principled unity. Equally such churlish sectarianism does absolutely nothing to offset the decline of the once formidable SP/Militant organisation. Let us hope that at the 11th hour the comrades put the interests of the whole movement before their own narrow concerns.

Also, one cannot help but wonder what this all means for comrade Dave Nellist. After all, he was elected party leader of the Socialist Alliance network at the last AGM, and such a go-it-alone attitude by the SP would surely place the comrade in an untenable position.

Given that the SA turned down proposals from the CPGB, amongst others, for elected and recallable officers (subject not to AGMs, but to the Liaison Committee), the Alliance has saddled itself with rules that would require a full blown conference to replace the comrade if need be.

Alternatively, resistance to the line puts comrade Nellist on a direct collision course with our general secretary. Considering the commitment that the comrade has shown thus far to the Socialist Alliance project, it is surely unlikely that he would jettison the fruits of that labour to participate in another disaster masterminded by that organiser of defeats, Peter Taaffe.

Well, we will soon see. To those layers in the SP that still retain their militant traditions, the best advice must be: act boldly, comrades.