Executive committee Harnessing momentum
Past assessed. Plans laid. Politics still inadequate
There was a full attendance at Saturday?s meeting of the Socialist Alliance?s executive committee - apologies were received from Marcus Larsen, Cathy Wilson, Pete McLaren and Mike Marqusee. Main business centred on the June 7 general election and our immediate prospects.
SA chair Dave Nellist opened the discussion on the general election. He highlighted in particular the unprecedented number of people who abstained. The Labour Party lost huge swathes of working class votes, but in proportional terms made gains amongst the so-called As and Bs. Consequently Labour is increasingly perceived as a party of the middle classes. The Socialist Alliance ?suffered? from that dispiriting mood. The comrade also mentioned the negative role played by Arthur Scargill?s Socialist Labour Party. It deliberately sought out wrecking contests with SA candidates.
John Bridge of the Communist Party of Great Britain was the next speaker. Consolation should not be sought in the abstention, he said. Our total vote was disappointing, given the objective circumstances: the Labour Party?s victory being a dead certainty. Moreover there existed a paradox. Labour faced mass antipathy. The Tories were at rock bottom and beset with internal divisions. Under such circumstances more should have been expected.
How to explain the Socialist Alliance?s modest votes? Comrade Bridge emphasised two factors. Firstly, the SA concentrated on bread and butter issues. Services, the NHS, education, etc. A variation of the theme played by the mainstream bourgeois parties, albeit to their far left. High politics were to all intents and purposes ignored. Europe, national self-determination in Britain, Northern Ireland, the monarchy, House of Lords, son of star wars, Nato, etc.
Secondly, the failure to develop a serious, strategic, approach to the Labour Party. There exists a danger that the principal components supporting the Socialist Alliance will swap auto-Labourism for auto anti-Labourism. The Labour Party cannot be wished away.
Nevertheless, stressed comrade Bridge, the SA?s general election campaign had been an outstanding success. Unity between the principal supporting groups has deepened. It has broadened with the influx of recruits. Furthermore the Socialist Alliance is now firmly on the map.
John Rees spoke for the Socialist Workers Party. The key to understanding the 2001 election was that discontent did not find itself expressed in the alternative party of government, he said. The Tories were down. However, it would be foolish to dismiss them as finished. The ruling class would never allow that to happen.
Martin Thomas (Alliance for Workers? Liberty) and Mark Hoskisson (Workers Power) both expressed the view that our votes were somewhat disappointing. Comrade Hoskisson was though not disheartened. The case for proportional representation should be championed, he said. Comrade Thomas brought the meeting?s attention to the Rob Hoveman-Mike Marqusee-John Rees document urging Socialist Alliances to concentrate on leafleting, not canvassing. On the ground this found interpretation in the hands of SWP cadre as an edict against all canvassing. Comrade Thomas questioned the legitimacy of the document. He asked the SWP comrades why they had not raised their doubts over canvassing at the last executive.
John Rothery angrily denounced this implied attack on the SWP as an example of the bad old sectarianism. Despite that several other comrades took part in the canvassing versus leafleting debate, including Margaret Manning and Clive Heemskirk (Socialist Party in England and Wales). Both considered canvassing essential, taking into account considerations of time and personnel. Dave Nellist himself related how in Coventry his comrades organised flash canvassing sessions: ie, combining leafleting and quick discussions with those who answered their doors.
Nick Wrack was not disappointed by the results. Objective factors prevented anything much better. Also there had been substantial organisational gains. Rob Hoveman (SWP) in his turn spoke about the relative positions of the SLP and the Greens and repeated the indisputable fact that the Socialist Alliance had established itself as a national organisation.
Comrade Heemskirk echoed the view that objective circumstances worked against us. Yet a big economic downturn is on the way. Presumably that will change things for the better. The SA was not the party. It is though a framework. The comrade concluded by supporting the continuation of the Socialist Alliance as a federation.
SA treasurer Declan O?Neil was the final speaker in this session. He freely admitted he had been won over after the event to an extensive electoral challenge by the energy of the campaign itself. To begin with he had been in the minimalist camp. Local Socialist Alliances had formed themselves from nothing, chosen candidates and raised huge amounts of money. Now we must carry forward that success by upgrading and strengthening our structures.
Before turning to the prospects for the Socialist Alliance the committee dealt with a number of minor issues. A formal challenge to the BBC about its unfair coverage during the election campaign is to be mounted. We are to ask the BBC to prove how it complied with official guidelines. Letters are to be written to the Green Party and the SLP about electoral cooperation. The idea is to aim at the rank and file base by once again approaching their tops. Comrade Bridge put on record his objections about the Green Party. It was neither working class nor socialist. The letter to the Greens will be circulated to executive committee members for their approval. In addition there will be a separate letter to the Indian Workers Association, given the large number of their comrades standing for the SLP.
There was a division over the date of the forthcoming Liaison Committee. By one vote July 14 won over July 28. Most probably the venue will be Birmingham. The meeting is open to all members. Voting is, of course, restricted - one delegate per affiliated Socialist Alliance, one per supporting organisation plus the nine national officers. Those not yet affiliated should apply by e-mailing the national office on firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of the proposals from the executive is to maintain the executive. Technically as a general election committee it should now dissolve. Rightly, instead, it is seeking a mandate to continue.
John Rees began the discussion on the future of the Socialist Alliance. He had to leave by 3pm. A packed SWP national council took place in the adjoining room and that was to be followed by its national committee on Sunday. Comrade Rees is the SWP?s leading figure in the SA. Despite that the need for him to depart dead on time adds grist to rumours of SWP divisions or a generalised ?Scottish turn?, etc.
Comrade Rees urged us to go with the huge momentum created by the Socialist Alliance. Harness the energy and enthusiasm. Three fields of work were suggested in the short term. One, fighting privatisation. That would include participation on the demonstration outside the Labour Party?s Brighton conference in October. Two, opposition to son of star wars. George Bush is visiting Tony Blair at Chequers in the next few weeks just before he goes on to Genoa. Three, pursue initiatives over trade union political funds.
Subsequent contributors broadly supported these proposals. Comrade Hoskisson did, however, rightly point out that we need a correct strategy vis-?-vis trade union links with the Labour Party. The FBU did not, contrary to what has been widely reported, ?break? its link. The Socialist Alliance should be for the creation of new links by ?democratising? political funds, not setting up a damaging contest between ourselves and the Labour Party. Comrade Hoskisson reported that he had arranged a chat with Matt Wrack (FBU activist).
Dave Nellist thought that a Socialist Alliance day of action against privatisation should be organised. Support ought to be given to calls for a TUC-organised or, failing that, a trade union-led demonstration against racism. Target Oldham.
Overwhelmingly the mood was to capture the momentum created by the general election campaign. Suggestions to delay a conference until 2002 have been completely kicked out to touch. The message coming from SA meetings, in letters from members and countless e-mails is clear and unmistakable. Seize the moment and organise at a much higher level. No one dreamt of resisting. What we now need is pressure from below for a Socialist Alliance political paper.
Comrade Nellist was the most conservative voice. But not very. Perhaps there should be a delay till December in order to facilitate the fullest debate. Comrade John Nicholson said he was less concerned with the time than the process. Either way, differences were those of nuance, not substance. Comrades Terry Conway (International Socialist Group), John Bridge, Rob Hoveman, Nick Wrack, Declan O?Neil and Dave Church were all for proceeding quicker rather than slower. Comrade Conway expressed her preference for a two-day conference.
Alike comrades Bridge and Wrack argued that the Socialist Alliance ought to be secured at its base. Branches had to be made real. Members must feel that the Socialist Alliance is theirs by excising democratic control.
Comrade Bridge raised the necessity of maintaining our Wickham House office in Whitechapel. Comrade Bridge offered on behalf of CPGB members to finance a sixth of the rent and total running costs up to the conference. In addition we were prepared to second one full-timer to work in the office. He urged the five other principal supporting organisations to follow suit. No objection came forward. Indeed most executive committee members spoke about the office being essential. Comrade Wrack also said that in order to clear our accumulated central debts there should be a determined drive to recruit to national membership - there was quick agreement.
Comrade Bridge took up the suggestion mooted by comrade Nellist about producing a one-off discussion document about our future structures on the lines of our general election manifesto. Each principal supporting would make a 300-word contribution. Why not make it a monthly? Then there could be a genuine dialogue.
November 3 is the most likely date for the Socialist Alliance conference. A working party has been put together to prepare drafts about the structure and consider a bulletin and the CPGB proposals on financing the office. Apart from representatives of the principal six supporting organisations, it consists of comrades Declan O?Neil, Nick Wrack and Mike Marqusee.
A couple of other decisions. We added the Socialist Alliance name to a Globalise Resistance statement condemning police violence in Gothenburg. Our logo is to be modified by adding the words, ?Socialist Alliance?, to the red flag emblem.