Socialist Alliance Liaison Committee

The character of our Socialist Alliance election campaign will probably be decided at the Liaison Committee meeting this Saturday, January 13.

The character of our Socialist Alliance election campaign will probably be decided at the Liaison Committee meeting this Saturday, January 13.

At stake is our democratically decided election protocol, as agreed at the Socialist Alliance national conference on September 30 in Coventry. Also at stake is the type of campaign we run. Should it be as united and centralised as possible, or an anarcho-federalist, local and uncoordinated non-aggression pact?

At present, the main barrier preventing the necessary centralised coordination comes in the shape of the special pleading of the Socialist Party in England and Wales. It wants to run its own separate election campaign under the banner of the Socialist Alliance. In opposition to the Coventry protocol, the Socialist Party is demanding the right to select candidates in constituencies of its choosing, run local campaigns completely under its exclusive control and effectively exclude other socialist forces except as auxiliaries in those areas.

This is clearly unacceptable and runs counter to the growing unity of the Socialist Alliance movement. Originally claiming 18 seats for itself, the SP has now reduced this to 14 (not by way of compromise, but due to dwindling resources). The SP does not intend to build local alliances where none exists or put its candidates up before local selection meetings where they do (there are a few exceptions: eg, Lewisham and Greenwich, where Ian Page was adopted as the candidate for Lewisham Deptford). Further, the Socialist Party rejects out of hand the notion of unified election committees.

Such a stance is completely contrary to the Coventry protocol, which states: "To mount the most effective challenge as the Socialist Alliance, we believe that local Socialist Alliances should seek to build the broadest, most inclusive and united organisations possible." Further: "Local Socialist Alliances/groups in negotiation with affiliated political organisations will have responsibility for electing their own candidates." The announcement of candidates as a fait accompli by any one component organisation is clearly excluded by this clause - although the SP pretends that the phrase "in negotiation with political organisations" gives it carte blanche for its unilateral declarations.

For the Socialist Party, then, some affiliated organisations are more equal than others. Not one of the other organisations affiliated to the alliance is demanding the right to run separate campaigns in seats predetermined by them. It is only the Socialist Party.

The protocol calls for a united election campaign. Yet this does not suit the needs of SP general secretary Peter Taaffe's perspectives for a 'small mass workers' party' under the leadership of his crisis-ridden clique. The unity of the revolutionary left stands as a barrier to this sectarian perspective. Thus, in the SP bunker at PO Box 24697, any attempt to build a real, working unity between the different components of the alliance - either at the top or on the ground - must be fiercely resisted.

The election campaign nationally has been on hold as the SP digs in its heels. At the executive meeting of the Socialist Alliance on December 16, the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party were asked to enter into discussions to help the Liaison Committee come to a decision regarding the Socialist Party's claim on 14 constituencies. Those discussions have been taking place, with Dave Church of the Walsall Democratic Labour Party acting as observer. While there has been some development at the talks, no conclusions seem to have been drawn as yet. And of course, even if any recommendations were made, all final decisions rest with the Liaison Committee meeting.

It seems that, of the 14 seats the SP wishes to contest, the SWP believes there are three seats in which better, non-aligned candidates exist. These are in Leyton, Bootle and Tyne Bridge. Further, where other left forces are active on the ground, the SWP has correctly called for the SP to have its candidate endorsed by a newly created local alliance. For example in Wakefield, the SWP has stated that in any selection meeting it would support the SP's Mick Griffiths as the candidate. But, instead of treating this as a welcome step in the interests of left cooperation, the SP haughtily declares it would be tantamount to submitting its candidate to "SWP approval".

The position of the Communist Party of Great Britain is clear. We want the Socialist Alliance to develop step by step as an ever closer unity of the revolutionary left. Such unity would undoubtedly attract much wider elements from the Labour Party, as well as community and trade union activists, and radically shift them way to the left and towards Marxism. We therefore seek to build a democratic and centralised party around a revolutionary programme. A mass Communist Party.

A unified election campaign would mark a decisive step forward. Therefore, in the interests of unity, we believe that in the three seats mentioned it is not particularly important who the candidate is. What is important is unity and the implementation of the Coventry protocol. Therefore we would suggest that the Liaison Committee agrees to the Socialist Party candidates in all 14 seats, provided the SP agrees to local selection meetings and to unified election campaigns. Otherwise our democracy and all the votes taken at Coventry count for nothing.

We hope the SP can accept to such a position. However, this seems problematic at present. In an internal document, the executive committee of the SP claims that the SWP's "behaviour amounts to war rather than alliance and will lead to the end of the SAs as they are now if it continues" (Judy Beishon, SP national circular to branch secretaries, national committee, full-timers, appeals committee and auditors, December 21 2000).

Further, the circular contains a report of the SA executive meeting which is clearly aimed at engendering hostility toward the current direction of the Socialist Alliance. The attitude of the author (presumably Clive Heemskirk or Hannah Sell) is negative, to put it mildly. The report implies that unaffiliated comrades, such as Nick Wrack, Margaret Manning and Mike Marqusee, are not genuinely independent. It states: "The SWP, with the support of a handful of so-called independents, are consciously targeting the seats where we want to stand to set up new 'alliances'." Fancy trying to build Socialist Alliances in constituencies where the Socialist Alliance will be standing candidates!

The report also points out the 'negotiating' strategy of the SP in its talks with the SWP: "We will go to the meeting with a list of the seats we want to stand in. We will also run detailed points on how the election campaign will be run. However, the central issue of contention will undoubtedly be our insistence that we will control our own election campaigns. If the SWP and their supporters [sic] are unwilling to accede to this it will make it impossible for us to stand in the general election under the banner of the alliance" (emphasis added).

Just how is this compatible with the Coventry protocol that calls for "the broadest, most inclusive and united organisations as possible" for the general election? How does it match up to the protocol's stipulation that, "We must not limit the alliances to being electoral vehicles to be used only at election time for the benefit of the various organisations who make up the national network"?

The stance of the Socialist Party is not only counterposed to the Coventry protocol: it is counterposed to the objective needs of the working class. But it fits rather nicely with the doomed sectarian aim of comrade Peter Taaffe and co to miraculously transform the Socialist Party into a 'small mass workers' party'.

If the Socialist Party is not prepared to build genuine alliances where it intends to stand candidates, if it insists on running its own campaigns without the participation and democratic involvement of other local forces, then those candidates should not be considered Socialist Alliance candidates. This is quite clear and quite reasonable. We ran a perfectly good campaign for the Greater London Assembly elections with the SP sniping on the sidelines and even standing against us. We can run an excellent campaign for the Westminster elections, though the CPGB believes that it would be tactically mistaken to field rival candidates to those of the SP, or to view ant refusal of the SP to abide by the letter and the spirit of Coventry as akin to a split.

Let us hope it does not come to that. Hopefully wise counsels will prevail and the SP will join in with the rest of the left in building a truly powerful campaign for the general election.

Marcus Larsen