SA roundup

Cambridgeshire Vote against localism

Cambridgeshire Socialist Alliance steering committee met on Tuesday January 10 and sent a clear message to the Liaison Committee of the Socialist Alliance meeting this weekend. Evidently comrades felt that the national body had to sort itself out. Roughly an hour and a half was spent debating a motion, proposed by CPGB representatives, to abolish the local tier of membership in favour of joining the national body directly and the sending of all subscriptions, etc, to a national pool of finance.

The overwhelming feeling was that the current situation with regard to the national body and specifically the degree of organisation on a national level was not good enough. Only comrades from the Socialist Workers Party sought to defend the existing situation and structures (Socialist Party comrades have refused to take part from the outset). The SWP's opposition was mainly based on the view that any further move towards centralisation along the lines proposed would be "premature".

The reason was that the structures did not exist on a national level to provide for this. This of course is quite right. However, that was the whole point of the motion: to put these questions on the agenda of the national body. The very initial stages that we are at in the development of the alliance project poses the need for more, not less, intervention from and interaction with the national centre.

We need to start building links between the currently separated regional and local bodies, a separation which is encouraged by the centre and the way it structures itself. For example Cambridgeshire's initial application for affiliation to the Socialist Alliance was rejected, partially on the grounds that we did not have a membership.

As far as the Cambridgeshire SA steering committee is concerned, we do have a membership and we do have a base we could potentially recruit from, but we have clearly stated that we want to do that as members of the national Socialist Alliance, not merely the Cambridgeshire SA. We want to build locally as a part of a national framework.

The non-aligned comrades present felt that, in the words of comrade Donna, "We don't want to stand alone." The national body has a responsibility to those smaller alliances to work with them and develop the project in areas where the alliance is just being established and assist existing affiliates to continue the process of establishing firm roots. This also extends to finance: the fund-raising potential of Cambridgeshire is much below somewhere like London and so to develop the project in these types of areas the national body may have to shoulder some of the burden.

The SWP has generously agreed to donate £50 a month. However, this is nowhere near enough and a fighting fund should be established locally and nationally. This does not relieve the national body of its responsibility to its component parts.

As we attract comrades towards us who are new to politics, these cannot be organised by the existing political groups in an indirect way. Instead we will have to seriously consider establishing structures within which these comrades can develop and become part of an integrated whole.

The current structures do not develop and integrate comrades, who are left out on their own and basically expected to muddle along wherever in the country they happen to be situated. If this situation is not addressed quickly then there is a risk that the layer of supporters we attract during the general election will quickly become frustrated and demoralised by the lack of leadership and evaporate as quickly as it came. This would put the goal of establishing roots in the working class back on square one. The electoral campaign provides a potential springboard for the Socialist Alliance to begin to take on mass proportions, but only with a coherent leadership.

The poor state of the national structure was taken into account at our meeting, however. An amendment was carried ensuring that only a portion of the membership subscriptions are sent to the national body. The rest is to be held locally to provide finance for immediate expenses and for projects like a local bulletin. That in turn highlights the correctness of another centralised venture: that of a daily national political newspaper for the final stages of the campaign. The amended motion was passed unanimously. Of the two SWP comrades present, one voted for the motion and the other abstained.

The meeting then moved on to address some more organisational issues. Several observers will attend the January 13 Liaison Committee meeting and, if the affiliation of Cambridgeshire is recognised, then comrade Darrell Goodliffe will attend as the voting delegate, to begin with for this meeting only. The uncertainty of the current situation was illustrated when the majority agreed that there could be no stall as usual in Cambridge until among other things the issue of membership and membership forms has been resolved.

The national Socialist Alliance and its SWP leadership has to decide if it is going to take its responsibilities to itself and the class seriously and commit itself to a professional, centralised intervention in the forthcoming general election. Hopefully this Saturday will see a decisive turn in that direction - away from institutionalised localism and towards establishing our campaign on a national footing.

Darrell Goodliffe

Towards a Socialist Alliance party

In the absence of real class struggle, how can we measure the importance and success of socialists standing in elections? By the degree to which our establishment opponents and the police get upset about us. Or so it seems in Haringey, where Weyman Bennett and the local Socialist Alliance are being threatened with legal action by the council.

The Haringey Socialist Alliance was allegedly involved in illegal fly-posting during the recent by-election in Tottenham. Haringey council is now demanding £800 from the SA and the matter has been handed over to solicitors.

As if this were not ridiculous enough, comrade Bennett, a member of the Socialist Workers Party, received a phone call last week from a debt collection agency, pressurising him to pay the outstanding amount, which he refused, of course.

This futile attempt by the council to intimidate socialists will produce the opposite effect: it shows that the LSA is actually on the right track and is using the right methods to get its message across. All over Tottenham there were hundreds of posters, none of them actually fly-posted in the 'traditional' and illegal way (i.e., stuck on walls or covering adverts). Two placards are stapled together back to back around lamp posts and pushed up high so that opponents could not easily reach them. Very effective, and an example other Socialist Alliances will no doubt follow in the forthcoming general election.

The HSA also successfully contested the recent by-election in White Hart Lane, where SWP member Gary MacFarlane got 6.9% after a hard fought election campaign. Local SWP cadres are however pretty disappointed with the result, as only 61 people came out to vote for the LSA, despite almost 300 pledges. I hope a local SWP member did not actually mean it when she said that the lesson of this campaign for the SWP was "not to contest another by-election". By-elections can be a brilliant way of putting down our marker, learning how to work together in a non-sectarian and democratic way and building the local SA. And 6.9% is not a bad result.

I guess the rank and file SWP members still have to come to terms with the fact that the Socialist Alliance will not automatically draw in thousands of workers (from which the SWP will be able to recruit en masse). It is important to understand that the Socialist Alliance was born out of the weakness of the existing left in a period of reaction. The 'red 90s' of Peter Taaffe and the Socialist Party were as far removed from reality as the SWP's constant excitement over small strikes.

Candy Udwin's tired phrase, "This is the best time to be a socialist", trotted out during the GLA election campaign sums up the fantasy world of the SWP - as if class struggle had reached some unprecedented pinnacle. It might help to keep your middle and lower cadre keyed up, but can lead to rapid disillusionment when comrades come face to face with reality (such as only getting 61 votes).

Campaigning for the Socialist Alliance is hard work. True, there have been small shifts to the left in the consciousness of some workers, but things had previously been moving to the right for such a long time that the working class does not exist as an independent political force. SA work is therefore not always rewarding in an immediate sense and as a consequence the SWP has trouble motivating its members to come out campaigning.

There seems to be a hard core of a few hundred, maybe a thousand SWP members who are fully committed to the Socialist Alliance. But we know that a substantial active minority inside the SWP was originally opposed to this turn, perhaps fearing exactly this outcome. This minority seems to have been roundly defeated. Some have changed their opinion, but quite a large number have become significantly less active or will have dropped out altogether. Active opposition has become passive opposition.

The SWP leadership, however, has made up its mind and is now fully for the project: "We in the SWP would hope that the alliances develop at least into an organisation like the Scottish Socialist Party," declared leading local SWPer Simon Hester at an HSA committee meeting earlier this week. A bold and welcome statement that points in the right and necessary direction. Of course such a party should actually include the SSP and not be divided along petty nationalist lines.

Surely the best way to fight the British state is by building a united, democratic centralist party of the entire working class throughout Britain, not by fighting for an "independent socialist Scotland". The forthcoming general elections will provide us with a fantastic practical opportunity to move towards such a united organisation.

Haringey SA decided last month to contest both seats in the borough. Weyman Bennett has already been selected as the obvious choice for Tottenham, but up till now there is no agreed candidate for the Hornsey and Wood Green constituency, although a number of names have been put forward, including the CPGB's Anne Murphy.

Tina Becker
Secretary, Haringey Socialist Alliance (personal capacity)

Hustings to select the SA candidate for Hornsey and Wood Green: Wednesday February 7, 7.30pm, Wood Green Labour Club, Stuart Crescent, N22

Lewisham and Greenwich
Five campaigns or one?

At an enlarged meeting of the Greenwich and Lewisham Socialist Alliance steering committee held on Monday January 8, pensioner, tenant activist and former Transport and General Workers Union militant Bob Gardiner was endorsed as the candidate for the forthcoming Lewisham by-election in Marlowe ward. Since the by-election, due on February 8, was exactly one month away, it was unanimously agreed that election material must be produced immediately and campaigning must begin as soon as possible.

There was therefore no time for a full members' selection meeting, as had previously been suggested. However, the 15-strong steering committee meeting was highly representative, with comrades from the Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Party, Alliance for Workers' Liberty and the CPGB, as well as prominent non-aligned comrades Nick Long, Toby Abse, and Jean Kysow, all in attendance.

Bob Gardiner himself addressed the meeting, assuring comrades that he was now a committed member of the Socialist Alliance despite his recent connection with the rightwing UK Independence Party, from which he resigned in December. He had joined the UKIP purely on the basis of his opposition to the European Union, and was happy to campaign on the localist platform agreed by the SA - opposition to privatisation and council cuts, etc. Answering a question from the CPGB's Marcus Larsen, he confirmed that he did not share all of the UKIP's nationalist politics - for example, he was not opposed to the London Socialist Alliance's position against immigration controls and would fight for all Lewisham residents, whatever their country of origin.

In truth comrade Gardiner has very little by the way of politics. First and foremost he is a 'community activist' - just the sort of candidate that the SWP, AWL and SP would choose any time for the alliance, in preference to one who shares their own professed revolutionary politics and could therefore be viewed as a working class political leader.

Nevertheless, in this crucial pre-election period it is essential to promote the Socialist Alliance and the campaign in Marlowe, coming as it does so soon after the victory of the SP's Sam Dias in the neighbouring ward of Pepys.

While the SP comrades' participation in an SA selection meeting and backing for the candidate selected were welcome, the nature of the campaign they envisaged was not.

They eagerly jumped at the suggestion put forward by comrade Long, the election agent, that each of the four political groups be allocated one of the ward's five electoral districts, and would be solely responsible for campaigning in their own territory, with the remaining district being covered by the 'independents'.

In practice that would mean that two-fifths of this large ward would get saturation coverage from SWP and SP comrades, while the sections assigned to the CPGB, AWL and the handful of non-aligned comrades would suffer by comparison. Hardly the most efficient use of resources. This proposal for, in effect, five separate campaigns was rejected out of hand by everybody apart from the SP and comrade Long.

It turns out that the area the SP comrades had in mind for themselves was an estate which is likely to be transferred to Pepys under boundary changes in the near future. Perhaps they have a scheme for socialism in one borough, using Pepys as their base and involving the SP colonisation of adjacent areas, gradually painting the map of Lewisham red.

Urgent decisions on an SA general election challenge in Woolwich and Greenwich constituency were unfortunately once again put off because of the council by-election. The SP's Ian Page has already been selected by a full SA members' meeting to contest Lewisham Deptford.

Peter Manson

To help with the campaign contact: Nick Long (0976-368906 or Bob Gardiner (0207 639 1923)

Saturday January 13, 11am - stall outside New Cross Road post office (nearest tube New Cross Gate). From Monday January 15 the campaign will be run from Bob's flat - 3 Heydon House, Kender Street, New Cross, SE14 5JB.

Donations welcome - made out to 'Greenwich and Lewisham SA'

SWP and SP
Unity on programme, disagreement over seats

Merseyside Socialist Alliance met on Sunday January 7 to discuss its draft platform or programme, the location of target general election seats and the procedure for selecting parliamentary candidates. The meeting decided to revise the draft that had previously been discussed. Many amendments were minor changes or additions to the draft, but one proposal was to radically restructure the order of points.

This produced an interesting political alignment. The Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party lined up together on one side. On the other was practically everybody else, including independent socialists and the Revolutionary Democratic Group. The SP and SWP did not like the order in which issues appeared in the original draft, which began with the question of democracy, the constitution and how the system of government might be changed. The SP and SWP did not try to get rid of this. But they wanted to move it further down and put the question of the health service first, followed by education and pensions.

The draft programme was not simply a list of policies, but an ordered agenda and the SP and SWP did not like the underlying politics. The two major organisations had the combined voting strength to carry the day. Against Tony Blair's 'education, education, education' the majority of Merseyside SA want to say 'health service, education, pensions'.

This is no surprise to the readers of the Weekly Worker. We have, on numerous occasions, accused these giants of British Marxism of plain old economism. This theory encourages them to see politics in terms of economic and social reforms. Political struggle for political aims and political power is considered a secondary issue.

Chris Jones (RDG) defended the original order on the grounds that the issue of political power was the thread that linked all the separate issues. He went on to say that the question of rebuilding the working class as a political class with its own programme was the key issue of the day. However, what was interesting was that the independents took up the democratic question forcefully. They began arguing for democracy and an emphasis on politics with the kind of arguments previously heard virtually only from RDG and CPGB comrades or in the pages of the Weekly Worker.

After the change of order, the meeting then accepted by consensus the am-ended draft, which included the demand for a federal republic. The CPGB, RDG and AWL have backed this demand. It shows something about the political change that is taking place when Merseyside SWP and SP members accept this too. At its last meeting the London Socialist Alliance, including SWP and SP members, voted to get rid of the monarchy. Yet in Luton, the SWP full-timer wanted to delete the abolition of the monarchy from the local programme! I do not know what argument was put forward, but perhaps the SWP did not want to alienate royalist voters.

There seems to be some programmatic confusion in the SWP. Or perhaps the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. Clearly the SWP needs to clarify its programme or, to put it another way, its political priorities. The old position seemed to be that the SWP did not need a programme, because they had got Tony Cliff. Cliff was able to tell everybody what the programme was at any given moment. Now it should be more obvious that the SWP needs something more open and democratic to help its members on the ground.

Whilst the SWP was isolating itself from other socialist forces, the party did not talk to other Marxists and did not get asked any tricky questions. But this attitude was always short-sighted. With the Socialist Alliance entering a period when programmes are in flux, this is sure to create problems and cause embarrassment for the SWP.

Merseyside also discussed the parliamentary candidature for the Bootle constituency. The Socialist Party claim the seat and Scargill's SLP intends to stand. The SP have done considerable preparation and have a good ward vote in the constituency. A leading local SWP figure, Unison rep Nigel Flanagan, has tried to launch himself as a prospective candidate. He was projected as the choice of Unison in Sefton. This was later clarified, and it transpired that he was supported by some stewards in Sefton Unison.

The Socialist Party quite naturally saw Nigel's candidacy as an attempt by the SWP to 'steal' the seat. So, fearing this, the SP declared its candidate. This has caused a great deal of friction between the SP and SWP on Merseyside, though this did not stop them joining together on programme. During the discussion about the seats the MSA might contest in the general election it became obvious that in the whole of Merseyside, the SWP have no candidates or seats prepared beyond Bootle.

Overall they propose 'local' selection or endorsement of candidates from 'open' meetings (i.e., not restricted to MSA members). They have not declared any specific commitment to funding candidates and it would seem they are trying to get Merseyside SA to work for them, with little or no political or financial cost.

A leading member of the Merseyside SA commented that, "This all made the SWP Bootle intervention look extremely sectarian or clumsy." The Socialist Party says it will submit to local SA selection for Bootle, and suggested if the SWP were serious then Nigel could stand in the adjoining Labour-held seat of Crosby, also part of Sefton. The attendance by a considerable contingent of SP members at this meeting was a welcome change from previous attendances, which have been at best limited.

Bootle is one of the three seats still under dispute between the SWP and the SP. The other two under discussion are Tyne Bridge, and Leyton and Wanstead. In all, the Socialist Party has laid claim to 14 seats. Eleven have now been agreed. Hopefully the three outstanding will be resolved by the Liaison Committee meeting on January 13.

This problem was discussed in the Weekly Worker before Christmas (December 21). The RDG put forward our view in a submission to the December SA Liaison Executive. This week, the RDG wrote to the six principal organisations (SWP, SP, Alliance for Workers' Liberty, CPGB, Workers Power and International Socialist Group).

In this letter we said: "We are very concerned about the conflict between the SWP and the SP over the distribution of seats. The SWP say that the SP is acting in a high-handed fashion by declaring its candidature in seats without Socialist Alliance members having a democratic selection procedure. The SP say they have only declared for 14 seats and that the SWP is trying to stitch them up by demanding that everything should be decided at local level. Here the SWP will or could mobilise to oust two or three SP candidates. The SP would be damaged if this happened.

"This situation has an inevitable logic that will damage the whole Socialist Alliance project and the prospect for a united working class fightback in the forthcoming general election. All SA members need to be absolutely clear as to whether the problem stems from the policy of the SWP or the SP. This is not a matter of who we trust most, but of definite policy. Since the SWP is the largest organisation in the SAs, it is correct that we should address the policy of the SWP first.

"We are requesting that the SWP make an unequivocal declaration before and at the January 13 meeting that it will not contest any of the 14 seats which the SP wishes to stand in. The SWP will not put forward any candidates of its own in these seats, nor will it sponsor alternative candidates. Since our information is that agreement has been reached on 11 of these, we would urge the SWP to concede on the remaining three seats, thus demonstrating its continued commitment to working class and Alliance unity.

"Second, we are requesting that the SP give an undertaking that, on the basis of the SWP declaration, they will submit their candidates to democratic selection or democratic endorsement by the relevant local SA. Where no such local SAs exist, the SP will agree to assist in setting up a genuine local alliance involving as many local working class activists as possible outside its own ranks. In this way the SP will be able to show that its policy is also based on a clear commitment to working class and alliance unity."

Quite simply, we want the SWP to remove any barriers to SP candidates. If they do that nobody can say anything against the SWP.

Then the central question becomes the attitude of the SP to other non-aligned working class militants. Unfortunately, whilst the SWP tries to lay claim to these three seats, they are open to the accusation that it is they who are playing games.

When we look at the importance of the whole Socialist Alliance project for the left, then three seats are simply not worth squabbling over.

Revolutionary Democratic Group