Socialist Alliances and rapprochement

Party notes

The Communist Party wholeheartedly welcomes the successful launch of the London Socialist Alliance on February 3 as a step forward in the fight to win working class unity.

This is not to suggest that everything was sweetness and light in the meeting. The sectarianism of the sects still blights our movement. While there was a near general consensus that the initiative from Brent SA to create coordination across the capital was a good one, what was on display on the night from certain quarters was the rather sterile restatement of fossilised political positions.

This is to be expected in the present period, of course. In our opinion, the LSA is unlikely in the first cycle of its existence to draw in a mass working class audience. Given the abysmal state of the class struggle, it is pretty unrealistic to expect anything different. No, characteristically its meetings will probably be, like this first one, gatherings of leftwing activists and the politi­cally committed.

This is not to condemn the LSA to a life on the periphery before it even begins its work. Far from it. Our Party believes that what characterises the left throughout the country is a fatal lack of ambition, a timid paralysis in the face of the task of challeng­ing Labour and bourgeois politics in general for the allegiance of our class.

Organised on a militant platform of independent working class politics, the left has the possibility to start to exercise hegemony over far wider sections of society than simply itself. We think this is a realistic opportunity for the LSA and one we will be agitating for it to seize with both hands.

Nevertheless it must be recognised that we are passing through a profound period of reaction. This expresses itself primarily in ideological form at the moment and is thus quite a fragile phe­nomenon. It is very real for all that. It means that our approach to politics at the present must be twin-tracked. On the one side we must seek to articulate and organise working class discontent with Blair and the New Labour government. Through experi­ence, through bodies such as the SAs, lessons will be learnt, one step at a time, and the working class remade into a class with some sense of itself and its place in society and history. On the other side, we must seek to unite all existing partisans and frac­tions of communism into a single whole, a reforged Communist Party. Of course, for this to happen it is essential to gain wide recognition that no existing fragment can by itself constitute the vanguard, that in our own different ways all the groups and ‘parties’ on the left are a product of defeat.

This is the sense in which we speak about developments such as the Socialist Alliances or the Socialist Labour Party. As we have underlined repeatedly, the fluidity we are today seeing on the left is a result of the huge setbacks that our class has suf­fered and the resultant GBH that has been inflicted on the me­chanically sanguine perspectives of much of the left.

It is sad therefore to read Richard Brenner in Workers Power (February 1998) taking the Communist Party to task for fighting for revolutionary unity - “Why focus everything on small groups ... worn down and tired out by defeats and whose previous per­spectives have collapsed ...?” he asks us (as if Workers Power was a socially significant organisation at the head of a layer of working class leaders, not a tiny group whose project of Labour Party entryism collapsed in ignominy).

I will be answering comrade Brenner’s scrappy and disappoint­ing polemic against us in next week’s paper, but frankly his case falls apart even when we look at the practice of WP itself, which has at least on occasions had the merit of taking groups such as the SLP seriously.

Soon after the SLP was launched, WP quite correctly charac­terised it as a result of defeat and a product far more of the 1992 Scargill debacle-campaign against pit closures than the titanic 1984-5 conflict. Despite this, WP characterised the SLP as a “sig­nificant entity on the left and not something that will quickly come and go ...” (WP December 1996).

Indeed, WP even speculated that “the release of pent-up frus­tration among large sections of trade unionists at some stage during a Blair administration could find the SLP well placed to grow dramatically” (Trotskyist International June-September 1996).

This assessment flowed not from Scargill’s programmatic con­sistency or anything like it, but from Scargill as the personifica­tion of post-World War II militancy. It noted that “the ... advantage the SLP would enjoy in any competition for new recruits is Scargill and his still substantial media profile ... millions will have heard of Arthur Scargill”.

The SLP is a product of exactly the same crisis that has pro­duced fluidity in other sections of the left. The proliferation of “tiny groups” that comrade Brenner snottily refers to are a re­flection of a much wider process. This is inevitably affecting - in its own way - the main organisations of the British left outside the Labour Party: the Socialist Party and increasingly the Social­ist Workers Party.

The time is ripe for Socialist Alliances and communist rap­prochement. The two separate processes both point in the di­rection of the reforged CPGB - the weapon our class needs to make history and to liberate itself.

Mark Fischer
national organiser