SWP: main barrier
Steve Freeman of the Revolutionary Democratic Group put forward his case for a ?mixed party? with these opening remarks
At an average vote of 1.75% the Socialist Alliance did not achieve a good vote by any stretch of the imagination.
Yet the SA made a huge step forward from where it was in the previous six months. A possible 20 or 30 candidates ended up as 92 candidates. Many new branches were set up and the SA ran an enthusiastic election campaign. In six months the SA moved from a loose alliance of many groups and individuals to become semi-party.
It is not the vote that is important here. Of course that confirms reality, brings home our weakness and lack of real base in the working class. We knew that anyway. But the significant fact is that we became a more unified organisation.
How did semi-party unification come about? First, and completely underestimated by the Socialist Workers Party, was the Birmingham policy conference. From this point on, the new or reborn SA had an independent set of policies. With the manifesto the SA found itself as an independent organisation that could be distinguished politically from the SWP, Alliance for Workers? Liberty, International Socialist Group, etc. Liz Davies mentioned the importance of the manifesto when she spoke in Southwark. The SA gained its own political identity.
Second was the election campaign itself. A motley and disparate crew worked together and fought together around the manifesto. A programme plus activity on the ground combined to forge our semi-party. Almost, but not quite.
At the heart of this stands a contradiction. The SA manifesto is a republican socialist manifesto. It has a social agenda to improve welfare, housing, pensions, the health service and the minimum wage. But it also asks, ?How democratic is Britain?? and puts forward a programme of radical democratic reforms, which include the abolition of the monarchy and the House of Lords, proportional representation, fixed-term parliaments, self-determination for Wales and Scotland, etc.
Taken together, these demands constitute a democratic republic. They would certainly increase the political weight of the working class within the system of government.
However, in practice the SWP excluded all these democratic demands from the SA?s election campaign through the device of the priority pledges. These pledges include only economic and social demands. The priority of the SA was thus reforming the constitutional monarchy, not abolishing it. The priority of the SA is taxing the monarchy, not abolishing it.
The SA had a republican socialist manifesto, but did not run a republican socialist campaign. It is within this contradiction that the seeds of the future political evolution of the SA can be found. On one side stood republicanism and on the opposite was the policy of old Labour of reforming the constitutional monarchy.
This was exactly the contradiction that Trotsky seized upon in his writings on Britain in the 1920s. Trotsky drew the contrast between Oliver Cromwell and Ramsey McDonald. Both represented bourgeois politics. But for Trotsky Cromwell was far superior because he represented a revolutionary republican tradition, not the corrupt, fawning, bowing and scraping to the royalty, represented by Labourism.
Into this contradiction the Revolutionary Democratic Group raises the slogan of a ?republican socialist party?. Three words and three arguments. First, we are in favour of a party which must be fully democratically organised with a wide degree of autonomy. Second, the SA is already ?socialist? so there is no dispute here. ?Socialist? here means ?left?, not just revolutionary Marxist or communist. We are in favour of a mixed party containing both traditions of Labourism and communism.
Third - last, but by no means least - is the question of republicanism. By raising the issue of republicanism, we are raising the banner of democracy. We will fight for democracy at work in the trade unions, in social life, in local and national government. In contrast the monarchy is the symbol of the existing democracy. It is a powerful symbol of the ruling class which unites all loyal political parties: the Tories, Liberal Democrats and Labour. Republicanism means ?not loyal?, ?not part of the existing system?, and ?alternative to the existing system?.
The election has shown the profound failure of British democracy. When 45% of the electorate do not vote there is real alienation. We live in a parliamentary dictatorship. Whether we are dealing with the poll tax, the nationalisation of railways or the privatisation of the tube, the demands of the majority are ignored. British democracy has been corrupted by corporate power and wealth. It has failed the people.
British democracy should be under sustained attack from the right and the left. Certainly the right is playing the race card to mobilise a reactionary anti-democratic movement by those who have been neglected and ignored by ?democracy?. Equally British ?democracy? should be under attack from the left, playing the republican card. This is why we need a republican socialist party. It is a party committed to stirring up the democratic instincts and democratic aspirations of the working class and the people.
We need a republican socialist party. But it is not something that can be created overnight. This is not simply about changing the name of the SA. A republican socialist party should unite the Scottish Socialist Party, the Labour left, the Socialist Labour Party and the SA. The SA should be out campaigning for such a party. We have will have to win some ideological and programmatic battles before it can come about.
We know the main problem. It is the SWP. They are main barrier to a republican socialist party in the UK. That is where the future challenge must lie.