Minority rights

Dave Craig of the Revolutionary Democratic Group criticises the slogan, ?For a democratic and effective Socialist Alliance?

I welcome the publication of the statement, ?For a democratic and effective Socialist Alliance? (Weekly Worker September 13). The easiest thing to do would be to sign the statement, which at first reading seems relatively uncontroversial. However, as Marxists, one of our responsibilities is to subject such statements to criticism. Then we will see where that leads.

Certainly the statement is a shift from the CPGB?s original position that the SA should become a Communist Party. We have made no secret that we considered this position to be at best propagandist and at worst ultra-left. But the new statement does not even call for a Socialist Alliance party. The latter is at least the basis for a united front between the CPGB and the RDG, which favours the Scottish Socialist Party model, and other pro-party organisations and individuals.

This new statement for a ?democratic and effective? SA even dilutes the CPGB?s secondary or lower level ?SA party? slogan, and more importantly muddies the water. It does not deal with the most important question facing the Socialist Alliance (England). This is not to deny the positive aspect of the CPGB talking to and seeking an alliance with other, non-communist, components of the SA, which is the basis of a successful move to a party.

To begin with, the SA is an alliance of socialists and communists, not a party. But during the last two years, and especially in the election campaign, the SA became more like a party. Reforming the structures and constitution can continue the process. But we should not have illusions in reform, which could be used to build a new barrier to a party. Blair, for example, is reforming the constitutional monarchy - not to make a republic, but to prevent it.

We can contrast two ways of becoming a party. First the SA national leadership could decide to become a party by a series of reforms carried out from above, without the implications being understood or agreed by the SA membership. This ?bureaucratic road? would mean a party constructed over the heads or behind the backs of the membership. We would become a bureaucratic centralist party in practice, whilst continuing to be called an alliance. The name ?Socialist Alliance? would merely serve to perpetuate the ambiguity - party or alliance?

The democratic method, by contrast, means that the membership makes a conscious decision to become a party. Open debate for or against a party, even if we lost the vote, would do more to advance the case for genuine partyism than any bureaucratic method of sneaking the party in by the back door.

The bureaucratic method is more likely to produce a split. Current ?anti-party? forces will soon be aware that they are being led into something they have not consciously agreed to. Many ?independent? rank and file members who have joined the SA on the basis of ?democracy from below? will not accept what they see as ?bureaucratic manoeuvring? towards a de facto party. This will only create cynicism and disillusion.

We seek to place ourselves firmly on the democratic road. We have proposed two practical steps. First the December SA conference votes in principle to become a party, at some unspecified time in the future. Such a vote will shift the trajectory of the SA. We will remain a Socialist Alliance, but an alliance with a clearer purpose. Debating and voting will yield invaluable information about who wants to go in what direction. But it is not a decision that would cause a split. Both pro- and anti-party comrades and organisations can continue working in the alliance. Whoever is the minority still has time to convince the majority to change their minds.

The second democratic step is to hold a special conference - that is, a founding conference - of the new party. Such a conference is a clear and democratic mandate for a party. The name, programme and constitution of the new party can be debated and adopted. If a minority of the SA remained resolutely opposed to the new party, this would be the moment at which they could separate. The minority would have the option of continuing as a Socialist Alliance. The new party and the SA minority could continue to work in alliance.

However, the aim of a founding conference is not to have such a parting of the ways. On the contrary, our aim is to win 100% backing of the current membership and to win new forces to the party. Timing of such a conference is crucial. We need to wait until we have decisively won the argument. It is a matter of winning the hearts and minds of the whole of the SA. We want to march steadily in the direction of a party, not rush headlong into a split.

Concretely this means the December 1 conference should have a session or a motion in which we decide whether to take the first democratic step towards a party. We need a debate and vote to ascertain whether there is a pro-party majority or minority and its relative size. If we do not have such a debate then either we are not moving towards a party or we are being bureaucratically frogmarched into one without our democratic consent.

We assess the political significance of the statement ?For a democratic and effective Socialist Alliance? from the angle of the democratic road to a party. We are certainly in favour of a united front or bloc of all individuals and organisations in favour of a Socialist Alliance party. But it is not clear that this statement fits with that objective.

First the statement says, ?We are now a registered political party.? This is the only reference to party in the whole statement. Yet it is ambiguous. It might mean that the signatories believe that the SA is a party already. In which case there is no need to become one or launch one. On the other hand, it might be an observation that, since bourgeois law recognises us as a party, why not become one soon? Comrades, either we are a party already, or we still need to become one.

Second, this ambiguity is maintained by the fact that the statement does not argue for a Socialist Alliance party. It merely calls for a ?democratic and effective? SA. Even the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party, who are not currently in favour of a new party, could sign up to calls for ?democracy? and ?effectiveness?. Whilst we may expect many to be opposed to a new party, we would not expect a large queue of comrades arguing against democracy and effectiveness.

Although the statement does not say ?For an SA party?, comrades may say this is implicit. We just need to read between the lines, in order to find the hidden agenda! But if a ?democratic and effective SA? is the code word for ?party?, then we are on the bureaucratic, not the democratic road. We are being manoeuvred into a party. Otherwise the statement would openly call on the December conference to decide to work towards launching a new party.

A worse interpretation is that a ?democratic and effective SA? is the alternative to an SA party. It could simply mean a continuation of an alliance, albeit reformed. It is conceivable that the anti-party forces could adopt such a slogan to coalesce their bloc. Whilst we know that the pro-party CPGB is the prime mover behind this statement, we should not let this blind us to the fact that an anti-party bloc could incorporate this into their position. In which case, our only defence is to stand foursquare in favour of the democratic road to a party.

Finally the statement s