SWP evades argument
The events of the past week and the attitude of the Socialist Alliance will be discussed at this week?s members meeting of Hackney SA. Hopefully the meeting will agree action against the imminent war drive.
An initiative to draft a petition calling for the launch of an anti-war coalition was proposed to SA officers on Tuesday by secretary Will McMahon and chair Anne Mc Shane. There were no objections and it was circulated at a public meeting held that night by Hackney Fightback, the anti-cuts organisation. The petition condemns both the September 11 attacks and the warmongering of Bush and Blair. It received the support of the majority of the Hackney Fightback meeting and hopefully can become the basis for a principled anti-war movement with the Socialist Alliance at its core.
Also being circulated at the meeting was a petition from the Hackney branch of the Committee Against the War. This, I was informed, is a national Socialist Workers Party initiative, re-forming the coalition originally brought into being to oppose Nato?s bombing of Serbia. Unfortunately it was set up in Hackney without any consultation with the SA. However, SWP members have now stated their backing for the officers? action in launching the petition and say they will not try to pursue a separate campaign. This is welcome and hopefully is at least a partial recognition of the need for the SA to put itself at the forefront of the campaign. The unprecedented unity of the left must not be undermined or damaged by the creation of a myriad of different fronts.
A proposal to discuss the whole issue at the members? meeting was put to an officers? meeting last week by Janine Booth of the Alliance for Workers? Liberty. It received, shall we say, an unenthusiastic response from some SWPers present. Leading Hackney SWP member Mike Arrowsmith argued, incredibly, that the SA should not take a position on international issues. He also claimed that he feared the discussion would descend into a ?sectarian battle?. He was backed up by another SWP member, Claire Fermont, who argued that the SA was an election front and should not get involved in these questions.
Independents, Workers Power and CPGB members argued that it was vital to take a position on the war and that the SA should be and is already far more than an electoral bloc. Indeed this is a point made by Lindsay German in the debate on the way forward for the SA last June - that the SA was not just about elections.
It was clear that the SWP members were fearful about the implications of the SA taking a position and initiating action around this question. However, they were won over by the meeting - but at the price of an agreement to limit the discussion to just half an hour. The time limit was opposed by the chair, as it is clearly totally inadequate. Hopefully the members? meeting itself will agree to extend the discussion to allow a full and frank exchange of views.
Subsequently the fears expressed by those comrades have been echoed by other SWP members, who have raised the question of the AWL?s perceived ?first campism?. However, my view is that the real problem lies in the fact that the SWP leadership is unwilling to condemn the New York terrorists and in the event of war will perhaps defend the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. They do not want to argue that position out in the SA and would rather set up their own campaign, within which they can constitute the left wing, and avoid any ?wrangling? with their alliance partners. Also of course there is the issue of what the SA will become if it begins to lead such struggles - clearly much more than an electoral ?united front?.
However, the fact that the debate will now take place and that an anti-war coalition will be set up by the SA in Hackney is positive. While recognising the continuing problem of sectarianism and that of resolving different attitudes to imperialist war, we must at the same time fight for the highest possible degree of unity. We need to reassure comrades that having sharp differences does not mean splitting and that a majority position on a specific action can be taken at the end of the discussion and accepted by the minority - as long as the minority retains the right to a open hearing and thus the right to become a majority.
The press statement prepared by Mike Marqusee and agreed by the SA executive (see p7) can be used as the basis of discussion and action. Although there are parts of that statement that all component parts can find disagreement with, it is a principled stand and can be used to build an effective campaign.
Meanwhile, Hackney council?s assault on public services and its workers? jobs continues unabated. With the latest announcement of yet more financial restraints to be imposed by the government, the working class in Hackney is facing a new round of attacks. The public meeting held by Hackney Fightback with Tony Benn was well attended and heard fiery speeches and messages of support from unions all over London. The general view was that if they can get away with such attacks in Hackney they will do it everywhere. Resistance and a hegemonic programme is vital on all fronts.
An anti-privatisation event has been organised by the SA for Saturday September 22 in the Town Hall Square, Mare Street. There will be a mixture of politics and fun - stalls and speeches, combined with music, art and children?s entertainment. The event will take place between 1pm and 3pm.
Anne Mc Shane
chair, Hackney SA