A couple of years?
Mike Marqusee's comments on the idea of a Socialist Alliance newspaper are useful. They outline the arguments marshalled by a section of the SA leadership against this important initiative. Mike's first and third points are particularly weak. There is no question that the majority of the SA - namely the bloc in and around the Socialist Workers Party - will be "bounced" into having a paper against its wishes. How would that be possible? The publication being mooted would explicitly be a paper of the SA, not the paper. Yes, the SWP-dominated majority at the December 1 conference voted against the idea of an official publication of the alliance. But no prohibitions were put on the minority cooperating to produce a joint newspaper that fights to build the SA, defends and advances the political gains we have made through it, and reflects the true diversity of the alliance in debate and comradely controversy in its pages. Comrades from the majority are welcome to contribute if they wish - we would actively solicit articles and interviews with them. But charges that the minority were trying to falsely market the new publication as the official alliance newspaper would be impossible to sustain. Then there is the flimsy idea that newspapers have somehow been rendered obsolete by the development of new technology. This is flatly contradicted by the reality we see around us daily. Newspapers and other publications play a vital role for the ruling class. Can you name any serious political organisation which has closed down its publications and opted to exist exclusively in cyber-space? Of course, the development of the web is hugely important. But it is currently no substitute for a paper. Why? Precisely because writing for, editing, producing, distributing and selling a left newspaper requires organisation. It is a collective effort of a political entity united in a common endeavour. And it is precisely that fact which accounts for the reluctance of the SWP-coloured majority bloc to flow with the idea. The SWP's perspectives for the SA are extremely limited. This was underlined yet again by the local reports from 'indy' comrades at the January 19 conference. After the general election, the SWP's activity and interest in the SA dipped sharply. Despite some claims to the contrary, the alliance was effectively sidelined during the Afghan war. For the SWP leadership, the SA in its current manifestation plays the role of an electoral front, a 'turn on/turn off' campaign on a par with the Anti-Nazi League or Globalise Resistance. A move towards a regular paper would imply serious, ongoing SA work, including between elections. The paper would have to reflect SA reality - an alliance of different groups with different takes on major events and with different political traditions. In other words, it would have to be an open, democratic publication. At the moment, that is the problem for the SWP, of course. Mike's suggestion that the SA needs instead more "campaigning material" is not serious. Leaflets are no substitute for a campaigning newspaper. If we are to have more pamphlets on "specific issues" - eg, the political fund, the golden jubilee or racism - where can the membership discuss the politics of these SA publications? A national newspaper is indeed an "ambitious and difficult" undertaking in terms of logistics and finance. Ask any of the five organisations that currently run them in the alliance. We would call for other groups to follow the lead of the Communist Party in offering to close its press to provide financial and human resources to any SA paper that allowed the expression of differences. Lastly on this argument, any left organisation worth its salt will tell you that if you wait for your bank account to look rosy enough before launching a newspaper, you will wait forever. People contribute to something that exists, not to promises about what we may do in "a couple of years time". A good SA newspaper would generate enthusiasm, support, organisation - and financial commitment. A newspaper is actually the best fundraiser there is. Comrade Marqusee's interview - squeezed in immediately after the January 19 conference - is obviously only a thumbnail sketch of his thoughts on this important SA debate. We would welcome further elaboration from him in the Weekly Worker. There will be plenty of opportunity. The idea of an SA paper is not going to go away. Mark Fischer