English Socialist Alliance?

There was controversy at the December meeting of the steering committee of Greater Manchester Socialist Alliance when the delegate from the Campaign for a Democratic Socialist Labour Party, John Pearson, proposed that the Steering Committee recommend the following resolution to the next full meeting of the GMSA:

“The Greater Manchester Socialist Alliance is concerned at the early direction of development of socialist alliance structures with separate English, Scottish and Welsh organisations. This is not only detrimental to working class unity, but is also a major concession to nationalism. Nationalism is antithetical to socialism and it should be vigorously combated by all socialist alliances.

“GMSA resolves to fight for an all-Britain Socialist Alliance federation. As a step in this direction it will propose that the Socialist Alliances Network Liaison Group be reconstituted with all-Britain representation.

“GMSA supports the democratic demand of the right of self-determination of the Scottish, Welsh and Irish people. However, in the cause of working class unity, it commits itself to campaign for self-determination to be exercised in favour of a federal republic of England, Wales and Scotland, and for a united Ireland.”

Reiterating the concern that he had expressed at the November Socialist Alliances Network meeting in Walsall, comrade Pearson protested that the national forum of Socialist Alliances, held in Coventry on June 7 1997, had never decided to restrict its work to building an English federation of Socialist Alliances. That Coventry meeting had agreed inter alia:

“To set up a liaison group (Pete Maclaren, Coventry and Warwickshire; John Nicholson, Greater Manchester; Dave Nellist, Socialist Party; and Dave Church, Walsall Democratic Labour Party; and link with Allan Green, Scottish Socialist Alliance). This would seek to raise the national profile of the Socialist Alliance Network and initiate efforts to establish Alliances in areas where these do not already exist.

“That the Liaison Group would gradually strengthen links with all known socialist groups and parties, nationally and locally, green/environmental activists and parties, trade union broad lefts, direct action groups, and all other progressive forces on the left; including individuals not in any organisation.

“That the Socialist Alliance Network should devise … a common programme - an absolute minimum basis for left unity supported as widely as possible - on which to campaign commonly across all Socialist Alliances.

“That the Socialist Alliance Network should work to seek agreement with every possible socialist organisation, left-green organisation, etc, to establish socialist unity to fight either by-elections or local government elections, probably from 1999 onwards.”

But, by the time of the subsequent Walsall meeting, the SA Network Liaison Group had decided that comrades from Socialist Alliances in Scotland and Wales were to be introduced as “international guests”, and that the statement to be recommended for adoption by the meeting should contain the following:

“The Network recognises that SAs exist in some areas but not in all. To assist campaigning throughout England, the Network supports the development of local groups and offers speakers to help initiate in areas without them...

“The Network recognises the importance of regional issues - in light of devolution possibilities in Scotland and Wales and in light of proportional representation for Euro elections - and encourages meetings of all socialists within regions of England to discuss regionally based campaigns, defence and development of regional public services, consideration of ‘regions’ as defined, and electoral unity for socialists on a regional basis - in addition to national links ...

“The Network is composed of SAs which are rightly internationalist in outlook. The Network resolves to encourage this and to continue to make practical links with socialists and socialist organisations in Scotland and Wales, Ireland, and throughout Europe, and to enlist the assistance of European elected representatives to develop this …”

Comrade Pearson sought to persuade the steering committee of the Greater Manchester Socialist Alliance that a serious error was being made in creating an ‘English Socialist Alliance’. He urged that GMSA should champion the building of an all-Britain Socialist Alliance federation. CPGB delegate Steve Riley seconded the motion, stressing the paramount need for working class unity in confronting the British capitalist state.

A forthright response to the motion came from GMSA conveyor John Nicholson, one of the SA Network Liaison Group members, who had chaired the Walsall meeting. He suggested that the motion was “out of order and irrelevant as Scottish and Welsh comrades have self-determined their own form of organisation and Alliances have recognised this”. The steering committee chair, Socialist Party member Noel Pine, whilst not upholding the “out of order” plea, argued that the motion contradicted the Charter for Socialist Change adopted by GMSA at its inaugural conference.

The scene was set for an interesting debate, which comrade Pine proposed should take place at the next meeting of the steering committee, until the GMSA treasurer, political independent Declan O’Neill, pointed out that the structure adopted at GMSA’s 1997 conference stipulated that policy decisions could only be made at the organisation’s annual conference. The steering committee majority duly invited comrade Pearson to re-submit the motion to the annual conference, which will be in July 1998.

I would urge comrades active in other Socialist Alliances to press for this crucial question - socialism or nationalism - to be discussed.

John Pearson