Build the pro-party bloc

Mike Marqusee has done the Socialist Alliance a great service by making a contribution to the much needed debate on the future of the SA (Weekly Worker July 12). In the weeks leading up to our November conference, as many authoritative voices as possible need to be heard concerning what sort of structure best suits the needs of the organisation and, more importantly, the needs of our class. The process is underway to clarify the differing approaches: continued federalism, a united front (sui generis, of course) to serve the interests of the Socialist Workers ?Party? or a single, united and democratic organisation.

In broad terms, I agree with the outline comrade Marqusee has drawn. While I disagree with him about the nature of what programme the Socialist Alliance needs, I actually think that what has passed as r-r-revolutionary politics from the left sects is a parody of Leninism and tends to express itself as a combination of ultra-left sloganeering (?Fuck capitalism?) alongside humdrum, low-level economic palliatives and tailing of the liberal bourgeoisie on democratic issues. However the nature of a revolutionary approach to fighting for reforms (in the current non-revolutionary situation) is not the discussion I wish to take up here.

The time has come for the alliance to move to radically upgrade its structure. We need to create the climate whereby the current left organisations become schools of thoughts or trends within a broad organisation which unites the best activists of our class on the basis of the highest theory and an independent working class programme. Therefore I again agree with Mike?s call for the SA to ?be a single, national membership organisation - ie, you pay a sub and you acquire the basic rights of membership and participation?. In short, we need a unified, central structure, with local and regional units exercising autonomy.

As well as centralised unity, we need democracy. As comrade Marqusee says, ?We need to demarcate ourselves from the top-down bureaucratism of the Labour Party (?old? and ?new?) and the sometimes authoritarian antics of groups to the left of Labour.?

Of course, this is not a recipe for ?classic? democratic centralism, but it is a call for central organisation and for democracy. Essential elements to transform the alliance into a united party.       

The CPGB favours the Socialist Alliance adopting the following structure:

  1. A united, single national membership, open to all who accept the policies of the Socialist Alliance as the basis for united activity. Subscriptions should be paid nationally and distributed downwards. Membership gives you full rights.
  2. The CPGB supports Mike Marqusee?s draft ?Charter of member?s rights? (see this page) as a basis for discussion. In addition to these rights we recommend that the principle of recallability of all elected positions within the alliance be adopted. Also, we suggest that this ?charter? includes the right to form distinct political platforms within the alliance.
  3. There should be an annual conference which decides policy and elects a leading committee. For the forthcoming conference, we favour the continuation of one member, one vote. In the future, a delegate structure of some kind may be adopted.
  4. The leadership should be elected as a bloc from conference. Its composition should include the principal minority political trends of the alliance and ensure a reasonable geographical balance. A ?recommended? list should be drawn up by a conference elections preparations committee to facilitate this.
  5. The leadership committee should elect its own officers who shall be accountable to and immediately recallable by that committee. Sub-committees may be formed as necessary. Sub-committees should also include the principal minority political trends of the alliance.
  6. There should be SA regional committees. Regional bodies should be autonomous in implementing agreed alliance policies and free to develop their own where they do not conflict with national policy. Regional committees should be elected in the manner of the national committee, their officers recallable.
  7. We recommend that the national committee be empowered to call consultative meetings between annual conference; that one quarter of local and regional SAs or 10% of the membership may demand a national conference.
  8. Recognised platforms within the Socialist Alliance with more than 20 members may send a non-voting observer to the national committee with speaking rights and the right to submit conference motions.
  9. There will be an elected editorial committee for the Socialist Alliance newspaper. Its composition will include the principal minority trends.

This is the kind of structure the CPGB believes we need to adopt. We have come to the point where the principal  supporting organisations need to put the narrow interests of their groups second to the needs of unity in the alliance. In his article, comrade Marqusee calls for the national committee to be elected by a number of methods: directly by conference, indirectly by regional colleges and via the automatic representation of political groups. We believe that this is unnecessary and will hamper the development of a united political culture. The time for federalism is past. As Mike says himself, ?A federal structure may end up maximising disunity, and obscuring the real processes of debate and decision-making.?

A final point on Mike?s proposals. The CPGB supports his formulation that members of the Socialist Alliance shall support SA candidates at elections. Second, we agree with the spirit of his call that ?racist, sexist, homophobic or other discriminatory forms of behaviour will not be permitted?. However, we believe it should be amended along the lines of ?? discriminatory forms of behaviour will be fought within the alliance.? In an organisation of the working class, we are bound to win layers of people with contradictory consciousness and all manner of backward ideas. A thought police attitude will just send them underground. Such ideas need to be fought out in the open.

Exactly where the SWP wants to go in terms of structure is unclear. So long as it views itself as the party, rather than as one school of thought on the revolutionary left, it will have a problem. Its internal reorganisation, based on recruitment to and building ?the party?, reflects a flawed understanding of the needs of the moment.

The SWP is on record as favouring a loose and informal structure for the alliance so that it can maintain its SWP project. It views the alliance as the ?electoral front?. Take a look at the organisation page of Socialist Worker. Where it once listed local SWP meetings, there are now mobile phone numbers for SWP regional organisers. Under this is a ?campaigns directory?. This lists the Socialist Alliance, CND, ANL, Campaign to Defend Asylum-Seekers, Globalise Resistance, etc. For the SWP, all are transmission belts feeding into the party: ie, the SWP.

This is unhelpful. Those joining the Socialist Alliance do not want to be a mere spoke in the SWP?s imaginary conveyor belt. Activists want a democratic party. They want unity. Nothing less than full accountability and transparency is acceptable. The notion of loose local alliances run by tight SWP caucuses is not the culture we should encourage.

The actual approach we adopt at the November conference will need fleshing out. Draft rules will be drawn up. Concrete amendments will be made by local alliances and supporting organisations. Obviously there will need to be some form of grievance procedure, rights of appeal, etc. Trade unions will need to be able to become supporting organisations, etc.

The CPGB will be supporting a petition supporting Socialist Alliance unity on a proper democratic footing. The need to form a pro-party bloc around the need for a united structure and democratic rights and transparency is essential. Those pursuing a federalist line (the Socialist Party et al) and those pursuing the ?united front? (the SWP) need to be won over to consistent democracy and working class unity.

Marcus Larsen
Socialist Alliance national executive member

Draft charter of member?s rights

?All members of the Socialist Alliance shall enjoy:

Mike Marqusee

In addition the CPGB recommends including: