Nellist hides as SWP is purged

The leadership of the Leeds Left Alliance - an affiliate of the Socialist Alliance - has won its rigged postal ballot banning the Socialist Workers Party.

The leadership of the Leeds Left Alliance - an affiliate of the Socialist Alliance - has won its rigged postal ballot banning the Socialist Workers Party.

Mike Davies, the ex-Labour leader of the LLA, framed the ballot question in such a manner as to ensure the atomised members voted the 'right' way. Nevertheless, the narrow margin (39 votes to 34) demonstrates clearly that nearly half the Leeds comrades saw through his divisive, bureaucratic manoeuvre. Indeed it is a Pyrrhic victory. LLA is in deep crisis.

Unbelievably, the Socialist Party's Dave Nellist, the SA's national chair, has refused to condemn Davies's antics. His signature is conspicuous by its absence from the SA officers' statement calling on the LLA to abandon its "inappropriate" ballot. Comrade Nellist was apparently "too busy" to attend the officers' meeting, having expressed disagreement with an earlier draft.

Peter Taaffe's crisis-ridden SP has been posing as the defender of the rights of local alliances, who are allegedly "not ready" to move towards a deeper unity, in order to conceal its own thinly disguised hostility to the SA project. So it champions the Leeds Left Alliance even as its unrecallable leadership clique takes steps which in effect mark its end as a genuine alliance. True, after an initial localist wobble SP comrades opposed the ballot and (presumably) voted against the ban. But they continue to hold up the LLA as an example of a local group alienated by SWP heavy-handed "centralisation".

All over the country the SP is engaging in sectarian acts of obstruction and downright sabotage in order to hold back the development of the SA. For the SP it is one thing to parrot the call for Taaffe's "mass workers' party", but taking even one small step towards it in the here and now is quite another. In this abstract schema, as workers breaking from Labour spontaneously move towards predetermined forms, the SP will be there, constituting itself as the 'revolutionary' wing and eventually winning the leadership of the entire movement.

In reality such groups as the LLA are being used as a cover for the SP's own go-it-alone plans. It has earmarked 18 constituencies where it will be standing candidates in the general election - irrespective of the intentions in those seats of any other SA components or the majority of local activists. As Hannah Sell stated at the September 30 conference in Coventry, "We want to stand as Socialist Alliance". But, quite clearly, if the rest of us do not bow down before their every ultimatum, the SP will abandon that hard-won collective unity at the drop of a hat.

An example of what we can expect to see nationally was played out in Lewisham, south London, earlier this week. Three weeks ago Greenwich and Lewisham SA agreed unanimously that the SP's Ian Page should be our general election candidate for Lewisham Deptford. The local SP, unbeknown to the October 3 meeting that took the decision, was already aware of an impending council by-election in Pepys ward - where comrade Page was last year elected as an SP councillor. They were keeping this to themselves for a very good reason: they hoped to sneak in the nomination forms for one of their own members before comrades from the SWP, the Alliance for Workers' Liberty and the CPGB realised what was happening.

Mick Suter, acting chair of Greenwich and Lewisham SA and a leading Lewisham SPer, was forced to call an alliance meeting when several comrades rang him suggesting the SA stand a candidate. But at the October 24 meeting the SP stubbornly insisted that its member, Sam Dias, would be the Socialist Party candidate and would appear on the ballot paper as 'Socialist Alternative'.

In an outrageous display of sectarian hypocrisy, comrade Suter said that the Pepys contest would provide "a test for left unity". The SWP, CPGB and AWL - not to mention the independents - ought to be judged by the degree of support they gave to comrade Dias! Every one of the 25 comrades present who spoke stressed that she seemed to be an excellent candidate, but most implored her to stand as Socialist Alliance. Nobody apart from the SP comrades backed the use of 'Socialist Alternative'.

Toby Abse, the only comrade present who was not a member of one of the main groups, pointed out that, as the SP is banned from standing under its own name under electoral law, there was no advantage to it in using 'Socialist Alternative' as opposed to 'Socialist Alliance'. CPGB, SWP and AWL comrades bent over backwards to recognise the SP's "12 years' hard work", culminating in the election of comrade Page. We stated that we would be prepared to back an SP-driven campaign, using an election address written by SP comrades - if only comrade Dias would agree to be our candidate. Guy Taylor of the SWP said: "All we're asking is for one word to be changed."

But the SP comrades were unmoveable. Jim Horton, one of its representatives on the London Socialist Alliance steering committee, had been sent along to ensure they did not waver. In an intervention so twisted it was worthy of Arthur Scargill himself, he used the LSA's ban (now redundant after Coventry) on promoting partisan literature while canvassing as an excuse - brushing aside our assurances that SP material could be used and implying we were not upholding the discredited LSA protocol. Clearly a disciple of the SP's ultra-sectarian wing, he also stated that it was "not certain" that his organisation would use the SA name in the general election. This was in direct contradiction to what his Lewisham comrades had undertaken when they were seeking our endorsement of comrade Page.

The CPGB's Marcus Larsen had proposed a motion calling on comrade Dias to stand as SA. However, when the SP comrades made it clear they would simply ignore such a motion, it was not put to a vote. Comrade Larsen asked for it to be noted that a clear majority of the meeting had spoken in favour of a united Socialist Alliance intervention.

Peter Manson



Statement from the Socialist Alliance officers

Earlier this week, the SWP, as an affiliated organisation of the Socialist Alliance, formally asked the SA national officers to take note of decisions reached by the executive of the Leeds Left Alliance, also an affiliated organisation of the Socialist Alliance, in relation to the holding of a postal ballot of LLA members to deprive SWP members of the LLA of their right to vote in the LLA. The SWP also requested that the national officers issue a statement taking a view on the holding of the ballot and the manner in which it is being conducted. The SWP argued that the holding of this ballot, and the way it is being conducted, violate fundamental democratic principles. The officers have now discussed this informally and agree with the concerns raised by the SWP.

The structure of the National Network of Socialist Alliances, to which LLA is an affiliated part, was agreed by vote at national conference in March 1999. It clearly states that we are broad, open, pluralistic and inclusive. It commits affiliates to anti-sectarian and cooperative ways of working, looking to build unity rather than create discord. If the LLA decides to restrict the SWP, or any other organisation, to non-voting rights, the LLA will be contravening these principles.

We have seen no evidence at all from the LLA that the SWP has behaved in a way which could be considered contrary to our agreed cooperative way of working. Indeed, the affiliation of the largest socialist party/group in this country has had a positive effect on the network and, alongside the affiliation of all serious left groups, it has helped significantly in our development.

We have received a copy of the LLA executive resolution. It contains a number of serious inaccuracies. The SWP has not "sought to impose on the Socialist Alliance any top-down, centralist approach", let alone "forced through an approach to the forthcoming general election which is centralist, closed and directed from the top". The SWP certainly does not "dominate the Socialist Alliance". The truth is that there were numerous discussions between political groups and amongst the national officers in the lead-up to the elections conference in Coventry on September 30. There were a variety of opinions.

Two different officers' reports were circulated. Compromise was reached when the national officers drew up a revised general election protocol less than 48 hours before the conference. That protocol had the support of all seven national officers, just one of whom was a member of the SWP. The conference then voted on and amended the protocol. No one political group saw all they wanted passed by the conference: but all groups, and every single individual/independent we have heard from since, believe the conference provided the basis for working towards the general election together in unity.

No particular organisation or party brought large numbers to join on the day. No group dominated, as voting results showed: these varied, when amendments were not clearly carried or defeated, from 224-175 to 193-196. The final outcome was generally a victory for those opposed to a centralised, top-down approach: the Socialist Alliance will be contesting the election by coordinating "the widest possible number of socialist and other anti-cuts candidates", whether or not local alliances and groups want to stand as Socialist Alliance (although all will be invited to do so if they accept the programme to be agreed at a recall conference in February).

The protocol, of which the LLA executive has copies, goes on to encourage local alliances to be campaigning as well as electoral bodies, "to build the broadest, most inclusive and united campaigns possible". Local socialist alliances/groups (clearly including the LLA) in negotiation with political organisations will have "responsibility for electing their own candidates and agents, be responsible for their own election campaign, including raising finance and the production of election material". This will all be coordinated by a national election committee - the liaison meeting, as presently constructed, being the officers and one representative from every affiliated alliance and organisation. This represents local autonomy, not centralisation, with the sort of national coordination needed for a national campaign, in liaison with the Scottish Socialist Party and the Welsh Socialist Alliance.

The LLA, like the national network, agrees that we should be "inclusive and participatory locally" (first line of the LLA membership card): that does not fit with excluding any group from decision-making unless that group is acting in an inappropriate way according to our national structure or local guidelines - and clearly neither is the case.

National officers of the Socialist Alliance have contacted members of the Leeds Left Alliance executive to inform them of the above facts.

We urge the executive to abandon this undemocratic ballot.

Pete McLaren, Joint convenor
John Nicholson, Joint convenor
Dave Church, Joint convenor
Declan O'Neill, Treasurer
Cathy Wilson, Vice-chair
Rob Hoveman, Vice-chair