Unity breaks out
London Socialist Alliance took a significant step forwards at its November 22 conference. As Anne Murphy, LSA convenor put it, the London meeting showed the “way forward” for the Alliance project as a whole. That is, towards constructing an environment of trust where all socialist views are openly debated - and not just grudgingly tolerated. Even more importantly, we saw that left unity - if based upon inclusive democracy - is possible, and not just an empty truism which is trotted out for form’s sake.
This hopeful and optimistic outlook was vividly demonstrated by comrade Toby Abse of the Independent Labour Network, a well known critic of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Comrade Abse had previously subscribed to the mistaken view that the CPGB’s draft rules for the LSA and the Network of Socialist Alliances were an attempt to impose a ‘central committee’ structure - if not democratic centralism itself. This is a view, incidentally, which is reiterated in the latest issue of The all red and green (winter 1998), which wrongly summarises the debate at the Rugby launch conference of the Network in September as one between “those who still want us to be a mass party with a central committee, based on the UK state”, and others who “want a looser federal structure, based on networking and mutual respect”.
Yet, after the debate, comrade Abse voted for the organisational structures being proposed by the CPGB. As did comrade Terry Liddle, secretary of Greenwich Green Party and convenor of the Greenwich SA, another former ‘opponent’ of the CPGB’s position. He rightly calls the proposed rules “good stuff”. The comrade from Socialist Outlook likewise said that the CPGB’s proposals were “fine” and that he “had no problems with the organisational structures”. A very interesting - and welcome - development, as Socialist Outlook recently featured a silly article from John Nicholson, joint covenor of the Network, fulminating against the CPGB’s supposed intention of voting in a “central committee”.
The real irony is of course that it is the CPGB’sproposals which are in reality flexible and inclusive - as opposed to the inflexible, bureaucratic and exclusionary model advocated by the unelected Liaison Group of John Nicholson, Dave Nellist, Dave Church and Pete McLaren.
As comrade Peter Manson of the CPGB pointed out in the London debate, the preamble to the proposed rules explicitly states they represent “arrangements … to work together under one loose federal structure in agreed common actions”. Unless you believe that the CPGB is involved in a peculiar plot to destroy the SAs from within, then it is clear where the dividing lines really stand - inclusive democracy or bureaucratic exclusion.
The Liaison Group’s original proposals were of course designed to exclude the CPGB. The CPGB’s rules are consciously designed to exclude nobody. “Indeed”, as comrade Manson emphasised, “this perspective is essential”. The left is in disarray. He cited the Socialist Labour Party which is now dominated by homophobes and ultra-Stalinites. The LSA is in its “initial stage” - and it requires an appropriate structure to reflect that. The LSA is composed of affiliated individuals, borough and workplace socialist alliances and political groups who have their “own minds” and perspectives. The inclusive democracy advocated by the CPGB also points to “some other kind of socialism” … rather than the bureaucratic horrors of ‘official communism’ and social democracy/Labourism.
Comrade Manson stated that the CPGB’s call for a federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales and for the unity of Ireland should be non-controversial. After all, it is always the task of socialists to “fight for the maximum democracy under existing social conditions”, as it said in the CPGB’s draft rules. Seeing how we live under a constitutional monarchy and there is a real national question in the shape of Scotland, Wales and Ireland this can only logically mean a federal republic.
As it so happened, the federal republic demand proved to be more contentious than perhaps it should be. Comrade Terry Liddle, wearing his Workers’ Republican Forum hat, put forward an amendment: he wanted to see the call for an English workers’ republic instead. Comrade Abse was worried about the position of SPEW and was therefore of the opinion that the federal republic demand was “not helpful”. Given the wide variety of opinions on this matter, such a formulation - if it appeared as one of the LSA’s objectives - might actually “alienate others”. Comrade Abse was particularly worried that a “strident” call for a united Ireland would “alienate” SPEW. Therefore, we should delete the “divisive” Clause 2 (2b). SO even thought that the words ‘federal republic’ were “indicative of an exclusionary mind” - suggesting that such a particular policy should not figure as part of the LSA’s rules. Naturally the AWL comrades believed that the call for a united Ireland was “anti-democratic”. Period.
Comrade Ian Donavon, editor of Revolution and Truth - “agreed with the CPGB’s general thrust on organisation” - but proposed the wording of Clause “ (2b) be altered to, ‘for Scotland and Wales to have the right to self-determination and an immediate end to British rule in Ireland’. Comrade Mark Fischer for the CPGB accepted and seconded comrade Donovan’s amendments. Comrade Liddle promptly withdrew his amendment. Unity broke out. The Donovan-Fischer amendment was passed almost unanimously, with only one comrade from the Revolutionary Democratic Group voting against it. The motion as a whole - on the CPGB’s draft rules for the LSA - was passed unanimously, with the meeting accepting an amendment by comrade Hyam Frankel of the Left Green Network of the Democratic Left to the effect that the LSA will support “all campaigns that seek to advance interests of the people - economically, politically and environmentally”.
The debate on the proposed Network of Socialist Alliances rules was equally encouraging. It is vital that membership of the Network “be open to all within the United Kingdom” (Clause 3 ), as this counters one of the “major prejudices of the left” (comrade Manson) - ie, a compulsive pandering to petty nationalism. Now that the Scottish Socialist Alliance is no more - replaced by the nationalist Scottish Socialist Party - we must ensure that the Network is open to non-SSP comrades (and even the SSP itself of course). Otherwise talk of inclusiveness would be empty chatter if comrades from Scotland and Wales are automatically excluded from it - and the struggle against the United Kingdom state. And, as comrade Manson stressed, what about comrades from the Six Counties?
By supporting the CPGB’s proposed rules for the Network - especially Clause 3 (2) - it would be sending a powerful message to comrades in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It would also challenge the economism and localism which is so rampant on the left at this juncture in time. The draft rules were passed unanimously, with some minor amendments (see below). The LSA now has an ‘inclusive’ mandate to take to the next Network conference.
The November 22 conference also debated the crucial role of election work. At this juncture, the left should prioritise such activity as a way to challenge Blair’s constitutional revolution from above. As comrade John Bridge emphasised, the working class needs to “take on the idea of democracy and state”. For the SA to be a real alliance it has fight Blair and the constitutional monarchy system.
An Alliance for Workers’ Liberty comrade - strangely - had problems with the SA’s supposed anti-Labourism, as embodied in clause 6. He mentioned the example of Lambeth SA, whose activity decreased soon after the local elections. Lambeth SA was united only by anti-Labourism, complained the comrade. Will the SAs stand against Tony Benn, Jeremy Corbyn or Ken Livingstone?
Comrade Bridge replied by saying - first - that the AWL should join the SA. Second, the SAs were being asked to campaign for socialist candidates - not against Labour Party members. It could be perfectly principled to support Livingstone - despite his vile opportunism - if he rebelled against Blair and stood for London mayor. Unfortunately the AWL is deeply divided over Labour - its recent debates on Ireland in the pages of its journal have been a debate on Labour by proxy.
On this question of the London mayor it was pointed out that the comedian Mark Steel - a member of the SWP - announced on Radio Four that “the left’s” candidate for the London mayor was going to be Paul Foot. If of course Livingstone decides not to stand. Comrade Bridge denounced this as “disgraceful sectarianism”, as did many at the meeting.
It is also disgraceful hypocrisy as well - the SWP comrades are talking ‘unity’ to the SSA/SSP while presenting everybody in London with a fait accompli. The left should come to an agreement on who the candidate in London should be. We should have a forum to question and agree Paul Foot or someone else as the left’s candidate.
But it is healthy at least, as comrade Abse and others correctly pointed out, that the SWP is attending United Socialists meetings - along with SPEW, CPGB, SO, ILN, AWL, etc - and is beginning to talk to others on the left and is gradually distancing itself from auto-Labourism. The legacy of decades of sectarianism will take some time to break down. We remain hopeful.
The meeting - which included representatives of six borough Alliances and nine national political organisations - also unanimously passed a motion that “pledges” the LSA to “full support to the Indonesian revolution”.
Taking a firm political stance on issues not immediately connected to London - or even the UK itself - is essential.
Draft rules for the Network of Socialist Alliances
The following represents arrangements to allow socialists and socialist organisations to work together under one loose federal structure in agreed common actions. It is recognised that differences will exist. This should not be a barrier to electoral arrangements, campaigning or open and frank exchange of views. The Network will encourage and facilitate debate and the process of clarification. Our principle is inclusion, not exclusion. Through joint work and no-holds-barred discussions genuine trust can develop. It is therefore hoped that the individuals and groups involved will move closer and towards a higher organisational structure.
Clause 1. Name
Network of Socialist Alliances (hereinafter called the Network)
Clause 2. Objectives
1. To bring together through affiliation, national, regional and local political organisations and individuals for the purpose of establishing a socialist society. The Network considers:
a) Socialism and democracy are inseparable.
b) Socialism is conquered by the working class. It cannot be delivered from on high.
c) Socialism is international or it is nothing.
2. The Network will fight for the maximum democracy under existing social conditions - ie capitalism. In particular:
- Abolition of the monarchy, the House of Lords and all constitutional hereditary privileges.
- For an immediate end to British rule in Ireland. For the right of Scotland and Wales to self-determination.
- For the closest political and organisational unity of the working class.
- Support for all campaigns that seek to advance the interests of the people - economically, politically and environmentally.
3. To work with other national or international organisations in pursuit of these objectives.
Clause 3. Membership and membership conditions:
1. Membership of the Network shall consist of:
- Affiliated national organisations
- Affiliated local, regional and single-issue organisations
- Local or regional Socialist Alliances
- Individual members
2. Membership shall be open to all within the United Kingdom who agree to the rules and accept the objectives of the Network.
Clause 4. Subscriptions
1. Annual membership subscription shall be as follows:
- Affiliated national organisation £50
- Other affiliated organisations and Socialist Alliances £10
- Individual member £6, £3 (unwaged), to include annual subscription to The all red and green.
2. When an organisation or individual fails to renew their annual subscription their membership shall be deemed to have lapsed after two months.
Clause 5. Organisation
1. There shall be an annual conference called by the Network Liaison Committee or a special conference at the demand of a third of affiliated Socialist Alliances.
2. Conferences of the Network shall be open to individual members and individual members of affiliated organisations, but voting delegates shall be on the following basis:
- Affiliated national organisations: two delegates.
- Affiliated local, regional or single-issue organisations: one delegate.
- Local Socialist Alliances: one delegate per 10 members.
- Regional or metropolitan Socialist Alliances: one delegate per 100 members.
3. Voting shall be by a simple majority. The role of the annual conference shall be to:
- Debate and express a view of political questions.
- Change the rules and objectives of the Network.
4. The Liaison Committee shall be responsible for the administration and day to day running and promotion of the Network. The Liaison Committee shall elect and remove officers as it so chooses. The Liaison Committee shall consist of elected and recallable delegates on the following basis:
- Affiliated national organisations: one delegate (plus one observer with speaking rights).
- Regional, metropolitan and local Socialist Alliances: one delegate per 20 members.
5. The Liaison Committee shall present audited accounts to the annual conference.
6. Standing orders for the purpose of conducting conferences of the Network and the Liaison Committee may be adopted by resolution of a conference of the Network.
Clause 6: Electoral arrangement
The Network shall facilitate and coordinate the electoral work or regional and local Socialist Alliances. It shall encourage the biggest possible socialist challenge in local, regional, national and European elections.