Towards a republican socialist party
Dave Craig introduces the Revolutionary Democratic Group?s proposals for the December 1 conference
It is extremely unlikely that the Socialist Alliance will become a party at the forthcoming conference on December 1. Apart from the obvious fact that the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party, with the bulk of votes between them, are not in favour of a party, the conference is not billed as a founding conference of a new party. Nevertheless a number of political questions must be answered by conference votes.
Last week the RDG gave in part A of our conference submission to the SA executive. It identifies what we think the conference should consider. We certainly want a debate and hopefully a decision in principle that we are intending to launch a new party at some time in the future. But we would need a special conference convened for that purpose. If such a decision is taken in principle, we would not need to decide a date now. It is a matter of adequate political preparation, not only of the SA cadre, but of the broader working class movement. If we vote to move towards a party, we could probably achieve a consensus that it should be launched before the next general election.
Whether we should become a party is inseparable from what type of party we should become. We can identify three broad options. First, there is the revolutionary Marxist or revolutionary communist party, whose aim is the dictatorship of the proletariat or workers? state. Second, there is the Scottish Socialist Party model (ie, a republican socialist party), which contains reformists and revolutionaries. We will refer to this as the SSP/RSP model. This type of party sees the struggle for a republic as the opening for radical socialist or social change. Third, there is the socialist Labour Party model, whose long term aim is ?clause four? socialism under parliamentary democracy. The minimum programme is old Labour?s redistributive taxation, restoring pensions, improving the NHS, renationalising the railways and a higher minimum wage, etc.
We could call these three options the ?pure revolutionary?, the ?mix of reformism and revolutionism?, and ?pure reformism?. The conference should discuss which of these strategic party options we should adopt. At the recent CPGB summer school, Mark Hoskisson (Workers Power) said that his organisation wanted a pure revolutionary party around a Trotskyist transitional programme. But he said their fallback position was an SSP-type party.
Is the CPGB?s position the same as Workers Power? Does the CPGB have a fallback position? Is it revolutionary party or bust? Would the CPGB be prepared to work as a minority in an SSP/RSP-type party? Would the CPGB prefer an economist-reformist Labour Party mark two? If the real choice was between an old Labour-type party and an SSP/RSP model, where would the CPGB stand? Peter Manson?s rejection of republican socialism in the Weekly Worker (July 12) might mean that the CPGB prefers to be a minority in an old Labour economist party.
An alternative to an abstract discussion about the future party is a concrete analysis of the SA as it exists. A rough guide to the nature of the future party is the character of the SA now. From the acorn comes the oak tree. So can the current SA be described as a revolutionary (democratic) communist alliance, a republican socialist alliance or a socialist-Labour alliance? This must be based on an analysis of official policy/programme decisions. The Birmingham conference did not agree to a revolutionary communist programme. The SA programme is firmly within the tramlines of parliamentary democracy. This is one reason why a revolutionary communist party is a non-starter. An acorn will not grow into a pear tree.
The real and official politics of the SA is contradictory and confusing. On the one hand the SA produced a republican socialist manifesto which called for the abolition of the monarchy, the House of Lords and proportional representation and a range of other democratic measures. On the other hand the SA excluded all political demands by means of the priority pledges which were put on all official propaganda. The priority pledges were confined to basic economic and social reforms. The implication of these priorities was that the SA was seeking a reformed constitutional monarchy with a better distribution of income and extended state capitalism.
The contradiction between the SA manifesto and priority pledges point to the different political directions which the SA will have to take. We must base ourselves not on abstract schema, but on the struggle to resolve these inner contradictions. The manifesto points to a republican Socialist Alliance. The priority pledges suggest an economistic or pure reformist alliance of the old Labour type.
The December conference must decide whether the manifesto or priority pledges are the real politics of the SA. Otherwise the political contradictions and confusions will eventually lead to splits and/or expulsions. The alarm bells were already sounded in the struggle fought out in the Bedfordshire SA. Here the battle lines were drawn between those who wanted to follow a republican socialist line and those who wanted socialist-Labour reformism and claimed that republicanism would put people off.
The biggest danger for the December conference is that these big strategic issues will be kept or manoeuvred off the agenda by those who want to promote economistic Labourism. We would then be confined to debating the constitutional minutiae of centralism versus federalism. It is not in the interests of the SA or the working class that we should be limited to that. Let us see what the executive?s conference arrangements committee comes up with. Will the agenda highlight these differences or sweep them under the carpet?
Dave Craig (RDG)
RDG position paper
Preamble - moving forward
Over the last year the SA has taken a major step from a loose alliance to a semi-party formation. These advances must be consolidated and built upon. This means making further progress towards a party. However, we are not proposing that the SA formally becomes a party on December 1 2001. This would be premature. But we think that there should be a decision taken in principle to move towards a party.
We would like to see the creation of a genuine revolutionary Communist Party when the conditions are right. They are not. In the present circumstances of the class struggle in the UK, we are in favour of the left (socialist-Labour and communists) uniting in a republican socialist party, along the lines of the Scottish Socialist Party. Such a party can and should be set up before the next general election.
A republican socialist party (RSP) is a workers? party which places democratic political change at the forefront of the struggle for radical social change. It is a party containing both ?reformists? and ?revolutionaries?. We believe such a party should be organised on an all-UK (or all-Britain) basis.
We see the SA (England) as having a central role in achieving this objective. In this paper we will refer to the party model as the ?SSP/RSP model?. When we are referring to the Scottish Socialist Party as such, we will simply use SSP. We propose the following practical steps:
1. Consolidating the Socialist Alliance semi-party
- Publishing a regular SA newspaper.
- Confirming the 2001 SA (republican socialist) manifesto People before profit as the interim programme for the SA.
- A new democratic constitution for the SA in a single document.
- Taking a decision in principle to work towards setting up a new party, on the SSP/RSP model, before the next election.
- A programme commission should be established as a standing committee with the aim of drafting a programme for the new party and in the interim assisting in the process of discussing and updating the 2001 manifesto.
2. A new UK-wide Socialist Alliance
We should not restrict ourselves to uniting the SA (England) into a party. We should seek to consolidate the existing broader alliance with the SA (Wales) and the SSP. We should seek to extend this to include the Socialist Labour Party and the Communist Party of Britain.
3. Campaigning for a new workers? party
The SA should make 2002 a year of campaigning for a new workers? party.
(a) Campaign for left unity against the Blair government and its policies. We should form united fronts - for example, in defence of the public sector - with other socialist forces inside and outside the Labour Party and in the trade union movement. Within these united fronts we should call for a new party.
(b) Conduct this campaign inside the wider trade union movement. We should organise SA trade union fractions and rank and file groups. SA fractions should campaign to democratise union political funds and link this with calls for a new party.
(c) Fully utilise the opportunities presented by 2002 Golden Jubilee year. Republicanism can unite the left. We should aim to make 2002 a year in which there is significant growth in republican sympathies. The SA (England) should position itself as the most serious and militant republicans, who recognise that abolishing the monarchy requires a republican party supported by the working class movement.
- Organise a major national rally or festival in June 2002 to celebrate republican history and culture since the 17th century. Similar local events should be organised.
- Organise a national protest demonstration in October/November 2002 to protest against 50 years of ?Elizabethan? parasitism, lack of democracy and imperialism.
- To organise these events we will seek to build a united campaign committee involving the SA (Wales), the SSP, SLP, CPB, Sinn F?in, Arthur Scargill, Tony Benn and others from the Labour left. We should seek maximum unity and coordination.
(d) A Socialist Alliance press to be developed within one year, including a paper published at least weekly. All members to be encouraged to subscribe to and required to sell the Socialist Alliance press. In the meantime Socialist Alliance pages (under SA editorial control) to be published immediately in all papers published by affiliated organisations (ie, Socialist Worker, The Socialist, Weekly Worker, Socialist Outlook, Workers Power, etc).
4. SA constitution - strengthening democratic aims and methods
We intend to submit a draft constitution to indicate how we think democracy and accountability should be strengthened. Meanwhile we are submitting the following indicative points, and are open to consider and support other constructive democratic proposals from whatever source. In general we want to make national organisations more democratic and accountable, whilst at the same time devolving decision-making and initiative to the lowest appropriate level of the alliance.
We submit the following points for consideration:
(i) An alliance/party structure based on locality and function. Authority in this structure to reside at the lowest appropriate level.
(ii) A membership organisation with a single membership. All members recruited to a local or functional Socialist Alliance to be automatically registered and their national subscription paid to the Socialist Alliance network. Membership to be available nationally where no appropriate local or functional group is available.
(iii) Membership fees to be based upon a division of no less than 50% of membership subscription being retained locally. National fees to be decided by annual conference, but to be set for 2002 at a monthly rate of ?2 waged, ?1 unwaged (?24 and ?12 annually respectively). Members to be encouraged to pay by standing order and to pay additional voluntary amounts when personal circumstance allow it.
(iv) Membership to be open to all United Kingdom (sic) residents.
(v) A published political programme that members accept (rather than agree to) on joining. For 2002 the agreed election manifesto be accepted as the programme and a conference to be called in autumn 2002 to agree a full programmatic statement and final constitution.
(vi) The right for individual Socialist Alliances to have their own programmes compatible with the principles set out in the national programme.
(vii) The right to form distinct political platforms within the alliance. Platforms to have the right to distribute their own literature and publications with the Socialist Alliance and to call platform meetings.
(viii) A national structure of Socialist Alliances generally based upon local and functional organisation. Local Socialist Alliances/branches based upon:
- County council boundaries (eg, London, Merseyside, Tyne and Wear, Bedfordshire, Essex).
- Smaller local areas as appropriate, including borough, constituency and ward.
- Regional bodies to be formed based upon European electoral boundaries and the evolving regional government structures to coordinate local activities.
- Socialist Alliance fractions in trades unions and, where possible in workplaces, industrial or workplace groups.
(ix) The Socialist Alliance will accept affiliation of groups that accept the political programme of the Socialist Alliance. Affiliate groups will have rights of representation on national and local bodies with speaking but no voting rights. Affiliate groups may include political affiliates and industrial affiliates.
Each affiliate will be required to encourage individual members of the affiliating body to take up full membership of the Socialist Alliance. Minimum membership requirements shall be set for affiliate bodies and a financial commitment based upon membership size.
(x) A national leadership consisting of (?) elected by annual conference. The annual conference should remain open to all members.
(xi) A national office with a remit to provide support for campaigning work, press relations and intervention in national organisations.
(xii) An elected editorial committee for all party publications.