SA executive

Put alliance in forefront

Tense, but productive. That sums up the emergency executive committee meeting of the Socialist Alliance held on September 20. Called to discuss the SA?s response to the imperialist declaration of ?war on terrorism?, the meeting revealed some sharp differences among the revolutionary left. Worryingly, some comrades seem to have reverted to old methods of working as this war crisis unfolds.

This is highlighted by the approach of the Socialist Workers Party. Rather than seeking to involve the SA from the beginning, the SWP is unilaterally taking initiatives and informing the alliance afterwards. But the problem extends beyond the SWP. Instead of building on the unity so far achieved to engage with each other, deepen our understanding of the war and attempt to arrive at a common position, the sects have reverted to type and are engaging in polemic at 10 paces. The AWL, for example, appears to be using the opportunity to differentiate itself from the SWP and not fight for its position as part of the alliance.

These divisions were palpable at the emergency executive. Yet despite this we managed to outline a busy and broad programme of anti-war work. We agreed the statement issued by the press committee as a basis for work. Comrades will recall that, while the SWP acquiesced to the document drafted by Mike Marqusee, it distanced itself from one of its core elements: the condemnation of the terror attacks on the US.

Other decisions taken were: support for the SWP-organised anti-war meeting on September 21 in London; support for the CND demonstration on September 22 at Downing Street; the drafting of an SA anti-war leaflet based on the executive statement; and the drawing up of a trade union motion against the war.

We agreed three slogans for our anti-war activity: ?Stop Blair and Bush?s drive to war?; ?Defend civil liberties? and ?No racist scapegoating?. Here there was debate. I proposed adding the subheading, ?The main enemy is at home?, to counter the anti-Americanism of the CND. This was rejected as either ultra-left (by Alan Thornett of the ISG) or too abstract. John Rees of the SWP, while expressing his ?sympathy? with the slogan, thought that most people would interpret it to mean that the main problem was a domestic, family one! A slogan in solidarity with the victims of terrorism, supported by myself and Martin Thomas of the Alliance for Workers? Liberty, was also rejected as not specific enough. These reveal a weakness in the political basis of our current slogans.

The executive also called on all local alliances to hold emergency meetings to discuss imperialism?s drive to war, as well as to support and initiate the formation of broad anti-war committees. It was here that one of the main controversies arose. All those present apart from the SWP comrades (Mike Marqusee, Nick Wrack plus representatives of the CPGB, AWL, Socialist Party, ISG and Workers Power) roundly criticised the SWP for the way the September 21 rally against the war had been organised. There had been no consultation with alliance partners.

Indeed, Liz Davies was approached by the SWP?s John Rees to be the Socialist Alliance speaker on the platform. This is the wrong way round. It is not up to one component part of the SA to decide who will speak for the whole. The SWP should have approached the SA executive. Comrade Rees actively defended the way he had organised the meeting, claiming that as a ?relatively homogenous revolutionary organisation? it was the task of the SWP to take swift action first. This is a disturbing step back from the unity achieved in the general election.

Clive Heemskerk of the SP argued that Dave Nellist as SA national chair should be on the platform - not to replace Liz Davies as a speaker, but as an addition. This was opposed by John Rees on the grounds that there were too many speakers already. (At the rally itself comrade Will Self was brought up from the audience to join the platform speakers. This showed that the number of speakers was not the problem. Comrade Rees just did not want to back down on the deal he had made with CND behind the back of his alliance partners.) The question was put to a vote. Unfortunately, comrades Wrack, Marqusee and the ISG voted with the two SWP representatives against myself, comrades Heemskerk, Thomas and Workers Power?s Mark Hoskisson.

Similar patterns are appearing wherever anti-war committees are being built. The SWP is not even bothering to consult with alliance partners; instead unilaterally approaching individual SA comrades to speak at meetings. This is no way to treat valued partners - or the serious national force that the SWP itself has helped to put on the map. By downplaying the role of the SA, the SWP is abrogating its responsibilities as the leading force within it.

It is clear to all now that the SWP is not treating the Socialist Alliance as a new, potentially hegemonic force in left politics, but as its electoral front - alongside its Anti Nazi League anti-fascist front, its Globalise Resistance anti-capitalist front and its CND-tailing anti-war activity.

What the SWP is forgetting is that the hundreds of non-aligned comrades in the alliance do treat the SA seriously . They will not peddle SWP petitions, or move from this front to that at the convenience of the SWP. The Socialist Alliance needs to become a party of the working class, not an electoral recruiting agent for the SWP.

The imperialist war drive has provoked our first potential crisis. I trust we will have the maturity and foresight to overcome it positively.

Marcus Larsen
SA executive committee