Greenwich and Woolwich

Enthusiasm and amateurism

At its previous meeting Greenwich and Woolwich Socialist Alliance had taken steps toward a more professional approach - we elected a secretary and agreed that the officers meet half an hour before meetings to deal with technical matters. We had had a good political discussion that lifted spirits, with more arranged for future meetings. There was a definite forward movement.

Then we arrive at our May 10 meeting. Our newly empowered committee, having just met, were ready - and off we went. But what?s this? - have we stopped already? No, we are going backwards! With our scheduled speaker ready to start his political discussion (having twice been cancelled), the item is not on the agenda - no explanation. The whole meeting is turned over to the purely technical: leaflets, stalls and activities. The committee seems to think that it decides and we do. The decisions of previous meetings are not so much overruled by the committee as disregarded. No minutes - no mention that there are no minutes.

We were supposed to have brought designs for a banner - but someone has already made the banner - a good but individual effort. Ideas for future political discussions is off the agenda. I get it back on the agenda - the secretary, without reference to the meeting, takes it off again!

Selection of a council by-election candidate is not on the agenda - I get it put on. In the midst of reporting activities Paul Richardson (Socialist Workers Party) announces that he is our by-election candidate. He explains that he had asked a number of local people to stand, but they had all suggested him as the candidate and in order not to miss the deadline his name was submitted - OK, I thought, we can endorse him - but we start to pass on to other business. I remind the meeting to do things properly and endorse comrade Richardson as our candidate.

A political stunt to be staged at Nick Raynsford?s election launch is announced by the committee - as a fait accompli. Then the meeting descends to pure farce - a dispute erupts: leafleting versus canvassing! Comrade Richardson suggests we should start canvassing - good idea, but not the official SWP line. SWP full-timer Hannah Dee reminds everyone that we should leaflet. I suggest we should now emphasise canvassing and start talking to people - we had already done a large proportion of leafleting. Comrade Dee insists on leafleting. Tony Aldis (SWP) points out there are not enough leaflets: ?We might as well canvass.? Full-timer Dee is irritated: ?We can photocopy them.? Two SWP members say, ?We can?t photocopy that many?; and ?Photocopies are not good enough?. Full-timer Dee, not to be undone, decides for the meeting (!): ?We?ll print some more?.

Had comrade Dee not come up with her ?print more? brainwave, I fully expected her to start thumping the table to drive home the message to those practical SWPers - ?Leaflet, not canvass; leaflet, leaflet, leaflet?.

This adoration of purely technical aspects of struggle, this amateurism, this disregard for, or even ignorance of, democratic norms - all this is rooted in political weakness. By way of balance it is necessary to admit that the enthusiasm and practical effort of SWP comrades in particular has invigorated the Socialist Alliance. We can also admit that CPGB comrades are thinly spread - our numerical weakness is a problem. Thankfully though, we are growing.

Alan Stevens