Nellist gives LSA go-ahead

Pat Strong of the Socialist Party

Readers of this paper may be tempted to feel sorry for Peter Taaffe, general secretary of the Socialist Party. It has been an extremely fraught and difficult period for the comrade.

Events have steadfastly refused to correspond to his predictions. Thus the last decade opened to the sound of falling dominoes across eastern Europe and the Soviet Union (the possibility of the collapse of the USSR, you may recall, was a "chimera" according to comrade Taaffe). Then there were the 'red 90s', not to mention the 'crisis of expectations' that would occur in the immediate aftermath of the election of a Labour government.

The same period has witnessed split after split: first the exit of guru Grant and his coterie, then the defection of Scotland, the expulsions of the Pakistan section and the former US minority, and lastly the cowardly departure of the liquidationist Merseyside Socialists and their Manchester based co-thinkers. All this set against the backdrop of a plummeting membership, the loss of Nick Wrack, editor of The Socialist, ex-MP Terry Fields, national organiser Mike Waddington and media stars Tony Mulhearn and Derek Hatton, and the disorientation of an already theoretically weak and thoroughly opportunist politics.

It would be absolutely right for our party to grasp the lifeline offered by the London Socialist Alliance. However, as I reported last week, the Taaffe-Mullins leadership fears being outnumbered and swamped by the SWP and out-polemicised by the LSA's other elements - not least the CPGB. Given the choice, it prefers to put in a bid for domination of the single-issue Campaign Against Tube Privatisation rather than working with others to build the embryonic, although healthy, unity currently expressing itself within the alliance.

But it is not quite so simple: it is comrade Dave Nellist who, as national chair of the Socialist Alliance network, holds the 'franchise' for the Socialist Alliance title. As the registered 'leader', only he is in a position to permit the LSA to use its own name under the terms of the Registration of Political Parties Act 1999. Comrade Nellist could have dissociated himself from the LSA and backed the CATP instead - at great cost. However, he has his own project. He sits on our leadership, but he is not one of Taaffe's creatures. It is welcome then that comrade Nellist has refused to indulge in a sectarian attack on the LSA and has instead given it the go-ahead.

On one level this certainly puts our general secretary squarely between a rock and a hard place. Although comrade Nellist has consistently pursued his own line locally in Coventry and nationally in the network, the party leadership seemed to have turned a blind eye to Dave's Socialist Alliance baby. The sudden revival of the LSA with the entry of the SWP makes that impossible. What was independence has now become passive rebellion.

As a result our general secretary has been forced to adopt what some comrades characterise as a Bonapartist form of rule. Inner strains and tensions have been working themselves out for some time now and it appears that a discernible hardening into two camps is taking place. On the one side, an undeclared but ever growing faction desperate to overcome our deepening isolation by turning towards socialist alliances and unity projects generally. On the other side, the sectarians and workerists typified by industrial organiser Bill Mullins remain inherently hostile to other left forces. Like captain Ahab of Moby Dick, it is "Steady as she goes, shipmates!" for comrade Mullins.

Increasingly comrade Taaffe has tried to raise himself above these proto-factions, first siding with the 'alliancists' and then the workerists, as he struggles to keep the two wings together. Like bureaucrats the world over, his main concern can be summed up in just three words: protect the machine.

The loyalist cadre are shell-shocked, resembling more and more a band of fundamentalist Jesuits. With closed minds and damaged political psyches they are simply incapable of seeing, never mind comprehending, what stands clearly before them.

A cursory examination of The Socialist reveals the blindly up-beat optimism of our Taaffeite regime. Instead of hard, concretised, political solutions we are given a "red month". Sadly though, such gestures are perfectly consistent. Glorying in our political poverty, the leadership would have them believe that we alone are the keepers of the faith. This attitude of course also informs the leadership's dealings with those of us that demand political solutions to political problems. Alas, where real politics are markedly absent, it is probably predictable that all we are offered is yet another organisational fix.

Comrade Nellist's principled blessing of the LSA has produced three schools of thought among rank and file party members. One trend speculates that the leadership will be forced to change horses in mid-stream and come 'on side' with the alliance. Another view is that here is the issue which will finally see Dave and the Socialist Party going their separate ways. The most prevalent, though, is sadly that of the majority of members, who, if they are aware at all of what is going on, do not seem to care.