Welsh socialist alliance

Gearing up for assembly contest

The Swansea branch of the Welsh Socialist Alliance has selected a candidate for the national assembly by-election in Swansea East, likely to take place on September 27. This follows the death of the sitting Labour AM.

The WSA?s candidate will be Alan Thomson, a member of the Socialist Workers Party. He is also a founder member of the Stop the Incinerator Campaign, which has campaigned vigorously to prevent an incinerator being built in Crymlyn Burrows, between Swansea and Neath, to burn domestic waste. On Monday, comrade Thomson dangled on a tripod at the entrance of the site - a protest, not an attempt at revolutionary suicide.

The election campaign will be important for several reasons. To begin with, it will be the first by-election for an AM since the national assembly elections in 1999 and represents the first major test for the New Labour administration (in coalition with the Liberal Democrats), as well as a barometer of Plaid Cymru?s support in South Wales.

Yet the campaign also offers the opportunity for the various tendencies and local branches within the WSA to come together to achieve a higher level of unity than has so far been realised. Swansea WSA has put out an appeal to the whole of the organisation to actively campaign for comrade Thomson, whilst the national officers of the WSA have called for mass campaigning on Sunday September 16 and Sunday September 23.

As has previously been reported in the Weekly Worker, the WSA has so far proved, to use the words of the infamous Anne Robinson, the ?weakest link? in the Socialist Alliance project. Chiefly this has resulted from the obstinacy of the Socialist Party in Wales, but also in part from the indifference of the SWP central committee, apparently focused more on England and the ?Scottish turn?, to the detriment of its Welsh comrades. Our lack of impact was highlighted in the recent general election when the puny forces of Arthur Scargill?s Socialist Labour Party outpolled the WSA, in stark contrast not only to Scotland, but England too.

Encouragingly, comrade Thomson is a staunch advocate of deepening the unity of the WSA. Despite the partial retreat of the SWP since June 7 from the SA project into its various front organisations, as recently as July comrade Thomson made a call for WSA members to prioritise the building of the alliance over the short-term interests of their own organisations, explicitly recognising the potential which a single, united organisation has. It is hoped that he will continue building upon this theme throughout the election campaign.

Of some interest is the fact that the SWP in Wales has called on WSA members to combine mass leafleting with canvassing, the latter having been heresy to many SWPers in the general election. This is, perhaps, the first tacit admission from the SWP that its leafleting-only approach was a mistake and signifies a more mature attitude to election campaigning.

It is also to be hoped that other components of the WSA rise to the challenge. Perhaps the non-participation of the left nationalist Cymru Goch in the general election fight will be rectified, now that it has the opportunity to campaign around a specifically Welsh institution. CG has made a call for a Welsh Socialist Party, although it seems doubtful whether it thinks the WSA would be central to this (see below). It also remains to be seen how the SP will relate to the campaign, given that its comrades will not have the dominant role or perceived sectarian advantage the SP demands before officially throwing its weight behind an election campaign.

Moreover, the campaign would be powerfully invigorated if comrades from England lent a hand. Financial support would be more than welcome, but so would their physical presence alongside comrades in Wales. So far the Socialist Alliance has adopted an attitude to the WSA that mixes inverted national chauvinism in theory (?Of course you should have your own separate organisation?) with a couldn?t-care-less approach in practice.

Unity in action between the different national components could serve to help break down this division and bring to the fore the need for a principled approach to the national question in Britain. So far it has been ignored in England, whilst in Wales and Scotland the SWP and SP have proved more than happy to ride the ?nationalist tiger? (with unfortunate consequences for Peter Taaffe), whatever their protestations to the contrary. Unfortunately, the politics of the national question are unlikely to figure much in the WSA?s campaign in Swansea East, which will probably shy away from high politics and concentrate on low-level bread and butter issues.

The WSA officially adopts a curious position on the national question. In its document, Towards a socialist Wales, agnosticism on the national question (there is no recognition of the right of the people of Wales to self-determination) intertwines with a nationalist-reformist set of practical policies which totally ignore the fact that Wales is part of the UK state: for example, the demand for ?free travel on all Welsh trains, buses and ferries for pensioners?. Taken altogether, this amounts to a political concession to nationalism - neither the SP nor the SWP are prepared to openly and honestly argue for unity. Nor are they prepared to challenge the damaging division of socialists in Britain into national/royal units. For a start the WSA should take up the Socialist Alliance?s offer of a representative on its leadership.

Unless the politics of the national question are brought out into the open, the WSA will remain at sea and risk paralysis. Undoubtedly, the struggle itself will decide. Communists must champion the right of self-determination for Wales and Scotland, but we will, at the same time, argue and work for the closest political unity of revolutionaries and socialists in Wales, Scotland and England against the UK state.

Our slogan, whether we be in the kingdom of England, kingdom of Scotland or the principality of Wales, should be: ?One state, one Socialist Alliance party?.

Cameron Richards