SWP in or out?
The October 6 meeting of the London Socialist Alliance produced few surprises. Around 15 comrades representing 10 organisations attended the central London meeting, convened to discuss the common platform for the alliance’s putative challenge in next year’s Greater London Assembly elections. The woefully economistic manifesto agreed for the abortive joint left challenge in June’s European elections served as the basis for discussions.
In fact, documents that amounted to full text alternatives had been submitted by two organisations before the meeting - Workers Power and the Socialist Party. The Communist Party confined itself to attempting to introduce amendments to the Euro-platform, producing a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster in the process. In hindsight, it would have aided clarity if we had actually produced a full alternative. In recognition of this, our representative on the night withdrew our amendments and supported the Workers Power draft, with the understanding that we would re-introduce versions of them to whatever substantive text that was passed - including the confused and left economistic Workers Power piece, should it be passed.
On the night, Socialist Outlook gave us a document that attempted to “amalgamate the best bits” of these WP and SP drafts, although the former recognised little enough of the final version and voted against it.
After an ill-structured and pretty desultory discussion, the SP/SO documents were adopted as the collective drafts to be further amended and hacked about. Additional political amendments and editorial work will be conducted through a sub-committee which will hopefully facilitate more fruitful and better shaped discussions. The defeat of its draft will of course place a question mark over the further participation of Workers Power. This group’s method of political intervention in such blocs appears to be to issue a programmatic ultimatum along the lines of ‘agree with this, or we vote Labour’.
Given the defeat of its proposal, the WP rep was very reluctant to commit himself beyond a ‘we’ll see’ response, when questioned about his group’s further participation. Yet one would have thought that critical support to an LSA bloc in the GLA elections would have been the ideal opportunity to make general propaganda for socialism - which is, it seems, all it does nowadays, judging from its abstract monthly newspaper.
The far more interesting aspect of the meeting concerned the half-hearted participation of the Socialist Workers Party. I reported that the SWP was conspicuous by its absence at the last LSA meeting (see Weekly Worker September 16) - a worrying development, given the concern of every other constituent part of the alliance for what is dubbed “viability”. Perhaps the presence of the SWP’s two representatives on October 6 reassured some, but their pronounced reticence should have sounded a warning.
The SWP comrades have clearly been briefed not to commit themselves or their organisation to anything. They argued against the adoption at the meeting - even by indicative vote - of drafts to be worked on collectively for our electoral platform. This, they warned, may “frighten away others”. We needed to maintain openness and a flexible approach rather than present newcomers with a ‘programmatic’ fait accompli.
Correctly, comrades argued that adopting “principled” politics now (or rather what passes for principled politics in these circles) did nothing to preclude flexibility if serious forces came our way later. Pressed for details of these “others”, the SWP comrades mentioned names such as Paul Foot and Tariq Ali, prominent individuals who may be persuaded to challenge. They also cited reports of stirrings amongst the London Fire Brigades Union, Jubilee Line electricians (more unlikely) and the London region of the Rail Maritime and Transport union (who actually sent a rep to the meeting). But whether the SWP has the prospect in its mind’s eye of such forces standing under the auspices of the LSA as presently constituted, or as part of an SWP-centred alternative initiative, is a moot point.
It has been confirmed to me by a comrade who took a leading role in convening the Euro-election meetings that one condition the SWP sought for their full participation then was the total exclusion of the Communist Party and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. It is dubious whether it will find the revamped LSA much more to its taste. Indeed, an SWP comrade at the October 6 meeting set alarm bells ringing when he showed what seemed to some to be an overly-detailed interest in the mechanics of registering new political formations in time for the GLA elections.
Is the SWP in or out? And will the other parts of this still fragile bloc hold if it splits and calls into question the ‘viability’ of the chasing pack? The possibilities for a principled, united left challenge to Blair’s Labour in the capital still remain tentative.