For an SA paper

Besides a common Liaison Committee, common regional and local structures, a common programme, common rules and constitution, and common election candidates and manifestos, the Socialist Alliance requires in addition - as a matter of urgency - something else. In our opinion a common political paper.

True, the December 2 2000 meeting of the Liaison Committee dismissed the CPGB's motion on a Socialist Alliance paper out of hand - there was not even the show of debate. A sea of hands outvoted us. Nevertheless we are not downhearted. Nor are we going to give up.

Such a bold initiative tangibly meets the needs of the hour and is furthermore absolutely necessary to advance the Socialist Alliance project. Launching a Socialist Alliance political paper would certainly galvanise, unite and coordinate Socialist Alliance members in the run-up to the general election and beyond.

No one, I am sure, not least the SA's overburdened joint convenor, Pete McLaren, believes our pinched All Red and Green quarterly internal bulletin could do that or anything like it.

Equally germane here, instead of being almost totally reliant on leaflet shots and the uncanny ability of Anna Chen and her publicity team to sneak our politics into the establishment's bloated media, a Socialist Alliance paper brings with it another obvious advantage. Operating in tandem with and powering the SA website (for the pilot try http://www.andyhannah.net) we would have in our collective armoury a regular, uncensorable, unambiguous and independent voice.

The Socialist Alliance should not have to bank on the generosity, or gullibility, of The Mirror, the BBC and the Murdoch empire. Use them when we can. But let us primarily look to our own strength.

A Socialist Alliance paper would also surely act as an invaluable and ongoing vehicle to bring about the organisational and ideological con-vergence between the principal supporting groups. Those who write, sell, raise finances and carve out a bigger audience together stay together. In short such a political paper represents the starting point, the first step towards creating a genuinely effective socialist party in Britain. And that, not some united front or centrist halfway house, is the overriding goal to which everything else should be subordinated.

A Socialist Alliance paper would therefore not only send out a potent and inspiring message to our constituency amongst the politically advanced section of the working class. It would set in motion a logic which, if followed through, would enable us to steadily tighten, deepen and massively extend our organisational activity and political scope.

A political paper more than complements and enhances our electoral interventions. It gives us the means, which at present we lack, to make systematic propaganda and agitation on all issues - and that must be the permanent, and is at this moment in time the most challenging task facing the Socialist Alliance. Standing 100 candidates in a Westminster general election is in comparison mere child's play.

Without full and open debate, only possible with a frequent Socialist Alliance paper, there can be no consistency of principle on the 'big questions'. Nor can there be a speedy and generally agreed response to the countless new developments brought forth by the maelstrom of socio-economic, parliamentary and international events. For certain the trade unions, the anti-capitalist movement, the battle for the restoration of student grants, the ecological crisis, the burgeoning national questions in the United Kingdom, etc, all cry out for Socialist Alliance organisational and political answers.

The progress we have made over the last three or four years has been amazing. Not so long ago the mere suggestion of getting Britain's six principal left organisations working in unison under any sort of proto-party umbrella would have been dismissed a pure moonshine. But no revolutionary worth the name can afford to rest on their laurels. Much more needs to be done. Therefore much more must be done.

Conditions are ripe. It is not, as Socialist Worker editorialises, that Hague's Tories are at the moment nowhere in the polls. That, unlike with "previous Labour governments there always loomed the threat that the Tories would be able to cash in on the disillusionment with Labour" (January 20).

The revolutionary left in Britain had the duty throughout the 1960s and 70s to present a viable political alternative to the Wilson and Callaghan governments and thus the Labour Party in the field of elections. After all, way back in 1914 the Labour Party had institutionally solidified into a thoroughly bourgeois - ie, reactionary - workers' party. The famed introduction of clause four in 1918 was in actual fact no more than a bit of state socialist window-dressing. And, of course, Labour governments, every one of them, from MacDonald to Blair, grovellingly and undeviatingly served the interests of accumulated dead labour (capital), not living labour (workers).

If standing means a batch of Tory MPs slipping through because of the first-past-the-post (or any other) electoral system and a Tory majority, then so be it. The job of revolutionaries is not to choose between the butchers. We should be quite prepared to run the risk. A Tory government along with a million votes for revolutionary candidates is infinitely preferable to a Labour government with no revolutionary candidates and therefore no votes for revolutionaries. Under the former circumstances the working class is far better equipped, far more willing to fight, far more able to fight.

Nonetheless, whatever disagreement we have with our SWP allies about the past, whatever worries we have of them dropping the Socialist Alliance project once Tory fortunes revive, there can be no denying that there exists today an historic window of opportunity.

Blair's 'third way' infatuation with the market. The sop constitutional reforms designed to shore up the UK. The impeccable neo-liberal record of chancellor Brown. The dramatic shift in who pays for the Labour Party and therefore who calls the tune.

The maintenance of Tory anti-trade union legislation. The anti-capitalist sentiments thriving amongst a layer of radicalised young people. All that and more means the Socialist Alliance can begin to practically transform the political landscape in Britain ... if we manage to change ourselves and become an active agent.

The ideas of Marxism, revolutionary democracy and working class self-liberation can be made into a social force. However, that requires finding the audacity, energy and skill needed to raise ourselves from localist, trade unionist and sectarian concerns. We must become the political-organisational focus for the hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, who are deeply alienated from Labourism, the UK state and capitalism in general.

So there is a pressing need to augment the dispersed, often parochial and invariably mundane agitation which we presently conduct, usually in the form of election flyers, with the generalised and systematic agitation and propaganda that can only be conducted in a common Socialist Alliance political paper. Indeed to the extent that we publish frequently, develop the sinews and muscles needed to quickly deliver to newsagents, bookshops and into the hands of activists in the workplaces, colleges and on the estates, and thereby build our day-by-day influence, we will be able to judge our real strength. Getting votes is vitally important and provides a momentary snapshot. But organising, sustaining and directing a living network of members and active sympathisers across the whole country is an altogether higher and more exacting form of engagement.

Doubtless it will be argued within those blocs wedded to the concept of the Socialist Alliance as a united front or a loose federation that one can already get rounded agitation and propaganda in exchange for a 50p coin. How many times have you been in effect told by the seller of x, y or z that while every rival is a load of rubbish, x, y or z is everything the working class needs for a balanced political diet? Such carefully inculcated and deeply ingrained attitudes reek of complacency and are thankfully increasingly out of tune with the spirit of comradeship and high ambition implicit in the Socialist Alliance.

At this phase of development there can be no doubt that the Socialist Alliance contains within its ranks an overwhelming majority of members who loyally back, write for and circulate a medley of one-sided but often fiercely competing, factional publications. Attend any all-London or national gathering and you will be overwhelmed by choice. There must be well over two dozen papers and periodicals inhabiting our SA ecological space.

As well as this up and coming paper there are two well entrenched weeklies - Socialist Worker and The Socialist. The Alliance for Workers' Liberty's Action for Solidarity is a fortnightly. The above clutch of factions also publish Socialist Review, International Socialism, Socialism Today and Workers' Liberty as offshoots or leftovers.

Then, slipping down the evolutionary ladder, come the cold-blooded monthlies Socialist Outlook and Workers Power and their slow moving auxiliaries. And in the murky depths the explorer will find Red Action, Workers International, Red Shift and a host of other equally worthy publications whose names do not spring to mind or still remain to be discovered by science.

Frankly we expect stubborn factional centres to exist within the Socialist Alliance for some considerable length of time. And that goes for factional publications too. Expecting anything else is to indulge in simple-minded or bureaucratic utopianism. After a few initial wobbles the Socialist Alliance is right then to have taken a firm stand against any hint of bans or curbs on disseminating minority viewpoints; not least when it comes to hard hitting and controversial publications such as the Weekly Worker.

However, we earnestly hope for, and will strive towards, a situation where factional differences are, stage by stage, resolved into little more than the differences of shade or nuance that are inevitable and healthy in any vibrant party of the working class. A first qualitative step in that mutually beneficial direction must be a regular and frequent Socialist Alliance political paper.

The sum of the whole is much greater than the parts, including when it comes to publications. Herculean financial, journalistic and logistical efforts undoubtedly go into maintaining our present divisions.

Pooling resources and talents is surely guaranteed to produce results way beyond the dreams of any existing circulation department. Just think of the stable of writers we have at our disposal - Paul Foot, John Pilger, Lindsey German, Alan Thornett, Peter Taaffe, Mike Marqusee, Sean Matgamna, etc, etc.

There is another aspect to our political paper. The revolutionary proletariat, as Marx and Engels famously declared, has no country. But we do face an enemy that exists on two mutually reinforcing but mismatched levels: the global and the state. Doggedly and unflinchingly we must therefore continue to fight for an all-UK perspective.

The UK state exists - a simple statement of fact. And the biggest contribution to the universal supersession of world capitalism that the working class movement within the UK can make is to overthrow that state. The corollary is clear and straightforward: one state, one party.

So our political paper must be all-UK. Let us combine all efforts. Certainly the nationalist fragmentation we have inadvertently legitimised and thereby allowed to fester must be overcome. Nationalism blunts common efforts and sours relations between socialists. Eg, Allan Green, Scottish Socialist Party secretary, indignantly writes in tartan nationalist mode, as if Scotland were an independent class state: the Socialist Alliance and the SSP, he protests, "operate in different countries" (Weekly Worker January 18). Not that that stops the SSP having a branch in London!

The hand of friendship must be held out to comrades in the kingdom of Scotland, the principality of Wales and the province of Northern Ireland. Our common enemy is the UK state and every revolutionary socialist and militant worker has an elementary internationalist duty to unite against it. To perpetuate fragmentation is to invite defeat.

Stressed throughout this short article is the term political: ie, the Socialist Alliance needs a political paper. The Socialist Alliance project is not only fragmented by nationalism, but held back by economism. By that Marxists primarily mean the downplaying of democratic questions and leaving to others initiatives on high politics.

The vast majority of Socialist Alliance activities do not rise above the cramped horizons of local work and narrow issues which concern the workers as a slave class. That is why we advocate a political paper (naturally in which all the main strands in the Socialist Alliance have an editorial seat and find journalistic expression).

We must train our membership in the politics of all classes and make our paper the tribune of the oppressed. Without such an approach the Socialist Alliance is doomed to tailism. That can mean voting Labour as the lesser evil, welcoming Blair's constitutional sops for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, aping anarchists in the anti-capitalist movement, pandering to routine trade unionism and so on and so forth. Whatever its form, tailism remains tailism.

Entering the field of elections was a decisive step. Now the Socialist Alliance must take another decisive step. Launching a political paper - perhaps to begin with as a monthly, but as soon as is technically and financially feasible weekly, and on special occasions and intense periods daily. That would take everyone and everything to a new plane of readiness and combativity.

Jack Conrad