Haringey Ex-SLP members support SA
A packed rally marked the official launch of the election campaign of Haringey Socialist Alliance on March 20. Over 200 people, including Socialist Workers Party leaders John Rees and Julie Waterson, were present to hear Imran Khan, Tariq Ali, Delroy Lindo, Paul Foot and the two prospective parliamentary candidates, Louise Christian (Hornsey and Wood Green) and Weyman Bennett (Tottenham).
Bob Crow, maybe the most eagerly awaited of the speakers, had to give his apologies, because "he is in Russia campaigning against the introduction of the railways there", as chair Anna Gluckstein announced (hopefully incorrectly). Comrade Crow, who is endorsing Louise Christian, but not yet the SA as a whole, is a member of the Socialist Labour Party's national executive.
Had he attended along with comrades Christian and Khan, the rally would have heard three prominent current or former members of the SLP - now a shell of its former self. But that seems to have escaped the notice of the SWP comrades who sent out a press release publicising the rally. They described him as "Bob Crow, who has now turned his back on New Labour".
Let us be generous with the comrades and assume that they got carried away in their desire to chase the nebulous Labour left and got comrade Crow's former allegiance wrong (before he joined the SLP he had been a member of the Morning Star's Communist Party of Britain). But comrade Christian played her part in portraying the kind of recruit the SWP likes to pretend is flocking into the SA, referring only to her time in the Labour Party. Imran Khan, however, confessed that he was not fresh from the Labour Party: "I stood myself for a socialist party in the last general election - no names mentioned."
It is obviously not a good idea to keep these things secret. Not only would any half-decent journalist know about the comrades' history anyway and be able to dig up their past in a potentially harmful way. But the main question is: what is wrong with being honest? How can we hope to raise the working class to run the world if we cannot even tell them that really we are all lefties?
Tariq Ali, the first speaker, launched a verbal volley against New Labour, accusing the government of "cowardice" and "abandoning policies". He then went on to outline what he felt was an area of particular importance for the Socialist Alliance: the activities of what he insisted were "CIA-sponsored guerrilla groups" in the Balkans. The comrade's foreign policy ideas, which were well received by the audience, seemed to consist of denying the right of nations and nationalities to self-determination.
It was of course natural, said comrade Ali, that after various imperialisms had promoted rival nationalisms "the genie has escaped from the bottle" and that the Albanians would want their own state. "We in the Socialist Alliance can argue against the Albanians wanting their own little statelets, but New Labour can't, because they have encouraged the break-up of Yugoslavia," the comrade concluded, to the cheers of the SWP-dominated audience.
Without a doubt this represents the position of the numerical majority in the alliances - i.e., the SWP. During bomber Blair's air assault on Serbia the comrades did not once uphold the right of the Albanian Kosovars to self-determination. Their only slogan was 'Stop the bombing', which dovetailed with pro-Milosevic Serbian nationalists, who marched alongside them at various demonstrations.
Comrade Ali made the banal observation that "socialists are not nationalists". But socialists are democrats. And as such we support the struggle of an oppressed people against their oppressors. We are for the voluntary unity of peoples, not their enforced incorporation within oppressor states. We draw out the democratic content of the struggle of the oppressed and make that an integral part of the working class struggle against capitalism.
Following a humorous and cutting attack on New Labour by Paul Foot, the meeting heard from comrade Christian, who is quickly becoming the jewel in the alliance crown for the SWP. Comrade Christian took up a theme that was prevalent throughout the evening: that of asylum-seekers. What was notably absent from comrade Christian's speech was the SA's policy, which is for the scrapping of all immigration controls.
The SWP's reticence to push this, at least 'on the doorstep', seems to have rubbed off on comrade Christian. The comrade did ask: "How can it be that capital can move freely but people can't?" But she preferred talking about the need for establishing "a caring, human society" rather than offering political solutions that could lead towards such a society.
Weyman Bennett also neglected to mention this policy commitment. Rather strange, one might think, as his comrades in the SWP correctly fought tooth and nail against the attempt by the Socialist Party to remove it from the SA's national policy document at the Birmingham conference on March 10.
It just shows how the SWP leadership is trying to balance on the one side its formally revolutionary politics and on the other side the belief that the alliance has to dumb down its policies in order to appeal to the "masses who are desperately looking for an alternative to New Labour, who let us all down in 1997", as comrade Bennett put it.
A belief of course shared by the likes of Louise Christian and Tariq Ali. According to comrade Ali, "Everybody is now looking back again" to the good old days when Labour apparently was the party that best represented the working class. "Isn't it funny that Labour doesn't recognise this, although it is supposed to decide everything according to their numerous opinion polls?" Comrade Christian went head over heels in praising Weyman Bennett "as the person who can carry on the tradition of Bernie Grant, a comrade I supported in the Labour Party until the end".
The message of the main speakers was clear: in order to be successful at the polls and offer an alternative to the Labour Party, the Socialist Alliance has to become ... the Labour Party, or at least old Labour. Opinions may vary as to which stage in the Labour Party's history comrades want to take us back to, but they agree on one unfortunate point. Although "there has never been a better time to be a socialist", as comrade Bennett put it, it seems we have to do all in our power to disguise who we are: socialists fighting for independent working class politics.
Tina Becker and Darrell Goodliffe
Hackney council is mired in further scandal this week after the news that two councillors have been found guilty of vote-rigging. Isaac Leibowitz (Conservative) and Zev Lieberman (Liberal Democrat) were convicted by a jury at Wood Green Crown Court of what has been termed the "the largest attempt to subvert the democratic process Britain has seen" (Hackney Gazette March 15).
Using a technique now known as "granny farming", they created 240 votes by deceiving housebound pensioners into signing proxy forms without telling them they would be voting for the Liberal Democrats. The duo came up with a further 125 votes for the Liberal Democrats by registering fictitious voters - some apparently lived in a shed at the bottom of councillor Liebowitz's garden. The scam appears to have cost Labour control in the 1998 elections and paved the way for the present Labour-Tory coalition.
The sentencing of Leibowitz and Lieberman will take place on April 6 and it is now almost certain that there will be by-elections to follow. Hackney SA members have been petitioning not only for the two corrupt councillors to resign immediately, but for the whole council to go. The SA is committed to stand in any vacant seats.
This corruption case is just the tip of the iceberg. None of the parties represented on the council have shown the slightest regard for the needs of the working class. The Liberal Democrats are posing to the left, but the Lib Dem administration in Islington shows them in their true light. The Greens voted against the draconian cuts imposed by the Labour-Tory alliance, but refused to support the workers on strike, calling instead for workers and management to work together to overcome the crisis.
With massive council tax and rent rises just announced, the cuts continue. Several community centres have been told they are to close and charges for nursery provision are being pushed up to an astronomical £150 per child for working families. As the rubbish continues to pile up in the streets, Hackney's crisis is deepening. Community groups are calling weekly protest rallies and demonstrations. Recent strike action by council workers resulted in a demonstration at the town hall, where they burnt the new contracts that are being pushed through - contracts that mean a cut in pay and a loss of holiday and other entitlements.
While the fight continues there is a real need for politics to be put at the forefront of the struggle. The Socialist Alliance could transform the situation in the coming weeks if it prioritises the need to organise those that are now campaigning. There are dangers that the anger in the working class can go in a different direction if just simply left to community politics.
A new organisation calling itself Hackney First has pledged to stand if by-elections are called. It says it is committed to fighting corruption and stands for "decent services for Hackney". It may have some very dubious politics on issues like asylum-seekers and contain a hotchpotch of 'left' and right supporters, but it also has dynamism. Unless we argue for the bigger picture, for distinct working class answers to the democratic questions that face the borough, then we could become indistinguishable from localists who remain tied to the system.
The Socialist Alliance is planning weekly public meetings in the run-up to the election. All those involved in the struggle against the council are being asked to come along and speak. But we need to do far more than provide a platform for a myriad of campaigns. We need to urge these organisations and individuals to join the alliance and commit themselves to the struggle for socialism.
There is a real tendency in the left to bow down to community groups - to treat them as the people with the answers who we just cheer on. Obviously the economistic mindset that we have been arguing against provides the backdrop for such an approach - which in the current climate in Hackney will take the working class nowhere - just round and round in circles, if not up the garden path to Hackney First.
We have an opportunity here - let's not waste it.
There were two political issues which stood out at the East London Socialist Alliance (Elsa) officers' meeting this week.
To begin with, there was controversy over whether political discussion should be removed from the Elsa 'e-group', currently organised to highlight both political and organisational/technical questions. A number of SWP members argued that the current arrangement "put a number of individuals off" from gaining information, as issues had been posted which people were simply "not interested" in. They argued that it would be far better to have a separate political e-group, where individuals can join in debate if they wish.
The CPGB, Workers Power and an independent officer argued against this proposal on the grounds that it would discourage political debate. Such debate was, unfortunately, already limited and, given the rise in practical activities in the run-up to election day, forming a separate discussion e-group would not be good enough to highlight pressing political questions - important issues which should be discussed by as many as possible may thus get overlooked. Five votes to three in favour of the proposal meant, however, that Elsa will now have two separate e-groups.
Our attitude to the British National Party also raised its head again after Anti-Fascist Action had publicly criticised the decision of Elsa not to stand against the BNP in a local by-election. Readers will recall that I had highlighted this decision earlier and that I argued for the need to stand against the BNP and against calling for a vote for Labour (Weekly Worker March 8).
At this officers' meeting I pressed for a formal reply to Afa, as important points had again been raised and the need for wider debate was thus necessary. Despite the fact that individuals from the SWP were angered by what they termed "factual inaccuracies" and were clearly upset by some of Afa's allegations, it was decided that no formal reply be given. I was the only one who voted that there should.