The choice is clear

There is no reason why activists moving towards the Socialist Alliance from Labour cannot be won now to revolutionary politics, argues Martin Blum

Sparked by this paper?s consistent campaigning for a single, united party of the left and the whole forward momentum of the Socialist Alliance, debate on the kind of organisation we need has become increasingly concrete within our ranks.

After Lindsay German?s contribution - yes to a party, but not now - on the future of the Socialist Alliance (Socialist Worker May 5), Mark Hoskisson put forward his pro-party reply (Workers Power election special 2001). And in the pages of the usually unanimated Socialist Outlook there has been a useful two-way discussion around what sort of programme a Socialist Alliance party should adopt (May). The Alliance for Workers? Liberty too has come out for a Socialist Alliance party - with a serious orientation towards the labour movement. Even The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, has been making unusually positive noises. Our semi-detached comrades propose a federal party - in order to bring on board backward forces.

Clearly we already inhabit a partyist environment. The language comrades use makes this all too apparent. Even in the introduction to our election manifesto we find: ?Instead of voting for a ?lesser evil? working people will be able to vote for a party that represents and fights for their interests? (my emphasis, Socialist Alliance manifesto, p3). And, of course, the activists leaving the Labour Party for the SA are not interested in constituting a mere transmission belt for the SWP - a ?united front of a special kind?. They want a party. But what kind of party?

The overwhelming majority in the Socialist Alliance are revolutionaries. That fact is undisputed. It is therefore surprising that the public face comrades have presented to the electorate is left reformist. At the Birmingham policy conference in February, the SWP used its majority to block amendments that even hinted at going beyond trade union-type reformism. To do so would scare off the people we are trying to attract, runs this weak argument. British workers have reformism in their political DNA.

In Socialist Outlook, Veronica Fagan responds to an article in the same issue by Jason Travis of the Greater Manchester Socialist Alliance. Comrade Travis argues for a Socialist Alliance party to adopt a revolutionary programme. Her fundamental error - underlying the confusion of those revolutionaries who consciously argue for old Labour policies - arises from an elementary misunderstanding of programme. As a result they cannot distinguish demands for reforms from  reformism.

Our comrades in the International Socialist Group - and the SWP - believe that the revolutionary programme is a private credo for the anointed, not a strategic guide for the working class to take state power. They are determined to ensure that our Socialist Alliance stays on a left reformist footing due to a basic lack of confidence. They attempt to win left reformists away from the Labour Party, but only as left reformists. Their sterile schema does not allow for movement. This is despite what Chris Bambery says in his recent article: ?In this situation people breaking with Labour can keep moving to the left? (Socialist Worker June 7). Yet comrade Bambery himself fails to draw the necessary conclusions. Keep the alliance a reformist halfway house, so that these people can ?keep moving? ? into the SWP perhaps? The schema is either stupid or sectarian. Or both.

Experience is showing us that those leaving the Labour Party to join the Socialist Alliance are extremely fluid and winnable to far-reaching conclusions, but do not want to join a confessional sect such as the SWP. In his interview with this paper, Neil Thompson - our excellent candidate in St Helen - said that he could ?accept the point of view of revolutionaries ? It?s like you had to accept the right wing in the Labour Party? (Weekly Worker May 24). He would be happy, it seems, to be part of a minority in an organisation predominantly made up of revolutionaries. So long as he could fight his corner.

Veronica Fagan counterposes the revolutionary programme to a bridge which can win the masses to socialist conclusions. This is not only pessimistic: it is wrong. A revolutionary programme is just such a bridge. It reveals just what her view of a revolutionary programme is - not a fighting document for pro-working class reforms and extreme democracy under present socio-economic conditions, but a ?storm the barricades now? fantasy. That is why she believes that adopting a revolutionary programme and founding a revolutionary party is only relevant in a pre-revolutionary situation!

She quotes the amendment to the Socialist Alliance manifesto proposed by the CPGB at the Birmingham policy conference: ?The Socialist Alliance is against the standing army and for the armed people.? And she mentions Workers Power?s amendment to disband the police. Of these she says: ?If this isn?t a maximum programme, then I don?t know what one is.? Well, comrade Fagan, you certainly don?t know what one is. The maximum programme, leading to global communism, comes into effect after the revolution. Calling for the end of the standing army is part of the minimum programme. It is both possible and necessary to enact such a measure before the ending of capitalism. The American revolution of 1776 embodied this principle ? one continued and defended by all principled revolutionaries - Marx, Engels, Lenin ? and, yes, most emphatically, Trotsky too.

Without such an approach the alliance cannot respond effectively to events such as the Oldham or Leeds uprisings. The need for integrated workers? defence squads is palpable. Comrade Marqusee?s position, expressed and won with the backing of the SWP in Birmingham, of merely opposing current ?policing policies? is totally inadequate. We need to oppose the police and organise our own class to fight against fascists as well as crime and other anti-social behaviour.

Frankly, many of our comrades are afraid of their own shadows. If they think that the revolutionary programme is not relevant today in every sphere of life - trade union demands, the unemployed, women, youth, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, war, peace, the rights of prisoners, culture, the arts, etc, etc, then there is something wrong with their revolutionary programme. The only other conclusion you could draw is that, at the end of it all, they are simply left reformists who in private - ie, in their factional press and sparsely attended meetings - like to indulge in revolutionary posturing.