Like a hole in the head?

Over 80 people came together for the post-election rally of Haringey Socialist Alliance on June 19. We did relatively well locally, with our candidates, Weyman Bennett of the Socialist Workers Party and Louise Christian (non-aligned), winning respectively 1,162 votes (3.68%) in Tottenham and 1,106 (2.51%) in Hornsey and Wood Green after a lively and hard-fought campaign.

The meeting was titled ?Where now for the Socialist Alliance?? - a vital debate in the aftermath of our positive experience of working together, despite our differences. However, it was a pity that the diverse range of opinions on the way forward was not reflected on the platform.

The speakers were Lindsey German of the SWP, Liz Davies and Louise Christian, with Weyman Bennett chairing proceedings. Comrades advocating an SA ?partyist? perspective had to make their point in interventions from the floor.

This was a weakness of the meeting. When Tina Becker spoke for the Communist Party, her call for the launch of an SA party was greeted with vigorous nods from many of the independents in the audience. Clearly there is a substantial body of opinion within the SA that believes this move is now imperative. As the majority organisation in the bloc, the SWP would do well to ensure that this viewpoint is given the chance to express itself - we do not want to sour the comradely relations we have built up with charges of SWP gerrymandering and manipulation.

Unfortunately, there were rumblings of this from the audience, with some independents demanding, ?Who?s running this organisation?? and one complaining that the meeting was being choreographed by the SWP?s north London organiser via surreptitious hand signals to comrade Bennett in the chair - vigorously denied by Weyman. This is precisely what we do not want in the alliance. The way to ensure that suspicions are overcome and that comrades engage fully in the project is to demonstrate the greatest democratic inclusiveness at every stage.

Despite the narrowness of the platform, the debate itself revealed some interesting positions. Comrade German suggested that the SA needed a paper ?like a hole in the head? - not a position she will find much sympathy for outside the ranks of the SWP, I think. Similarly, she and comrades Davies and Christian revealed their mental templates for ?party? actually equate with ?sect? when they responded to comrade Becker. Comrade Christian in particular did not want the political scene cluttered up with yet another ?lefty paper?, for instance.

If we were advocating one more narrow publication with rival views excluded in favour of dull, anecdotal pap, then I see her point. We are not, because that is not the type of party we are advocating. We want a paper that democratically reflects the diversity of opinion and energetic debate within our organisation.

Comrade German did not want to see the SA turn into a ?rigid? party. (Who does?) The comrade was only interested in a party project if the SWP were joining something ?much bigger?. That is, the comrades are determined to be a revolutionary minority in a larger social democratic formation - even if the massed ranks of social democrats are still nowhere to be seen.

Comrades Christian and Davies concurred that we did not need a party - in truth reflecting an opposition to joining an SWP writ large. Understandably. As an alternative, comrade German rather lamely suggested that we needed to become a properly constituted ?membership organisation?, with more structure, more inclusion and more openness.

So we will have a national membership, a national leadership, national finances and national conferences with democratic procedures for debating national policy. Members will remain affiliated to the groups that express their particular political point of view, but - as in the election campaigns we have fought so far - we will unite despite our differences to engage in common action. Sorry, comrades, you might still be frightened of the word ?party?, but everyone else can see that a party is already half-formed, whatever its formal title.

The other interesting debate concerned the Green Party. While comrade German was far more critical of its politics than the two other panel speakers, she seemed to indicate that it would be permissible to vote Green against Labour in the context of a ?non-aggression pact?. If true, this is another example of the crude auto anti-Labourism comrades in the SA have flipped into - a malady actually worse than the auto pro-Labourism that afflicted them for so many years.

Ian Mahoney