Socialist Party fails to split Nottingham SA

The Socialist Party's attempt to win a majority in Nottinghamshire SA to reject the Socialist Alliance's new constitution and set up a rival alliance was resoundingly defeated at our first meeting of the new year on January 21. The splitting motion was moved by Gary Freeman. This comrade parroted Peter Taaffe's oft-repeated line that the SA is now little more than a Socialist Workers Party electoral front - added to the SWP's collection of Globalise Resistance, the Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers, the Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Defend Council Housing and the Anti-Nazi League. He argued that the non-SWP members of the national executive were only there by the grace and favour of the SWP. This was described by an SWP comrade as an insult to Liz Davies and every other 'non-party' member of the executive. After all, comrade Davies had spent 20 years campaigning in the Labour Party before fighting the Blairites on the party's NEC. The SP ludicrously compared the SA to Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party, claiming the reason the SLP is today a dying sect is the centralist structure it adopted. This is a travesty of the truth. What is wrong with the SLP is not its centralism, but its complete lack of democracy. The SLP is run by one man, while the Socialist Alliance is run by the majority. It is true that, since the SWP constitutes that majority current, it will be able to get its way for the time being. But that would apply no matter what constitution we adopted. If the SWP had cast its votes on December 1 for the SP's federal constitution, then all affiliated groups would have had automatic representation on the executive - by 'grace and favour' of the SWP comrades who voted for that right! The SP's motion would have committed Notts Socialist Alliance to "contact other alliances that wish to retain a federal structure with a view to establishing a genuine alliance nationally". Does the Socialist Party really believe it can set up a "genuine alliance" to match a formation that stood 98 candidates in the general election? The British left has a long history of splits, leaving us with dozens of sects. With the SA an important step has been taken to end that disastrous situation. The last thing the working class needs is a split to form a rival 'unity initiative'. A comrade from the Alliance for Workers' Liberty put forward an amendment to the SP's motion stating that the NSA was disappointed by the decision to adopt the new constitution, but still willing to work within and abide by the new structure. Along with the motion as a whole, I voted against this amendment. The SWP is the majority in the Socialist Alliance and majorities have rights. The amendment was defeated, receiving just eight votes. The splitting motion as a whole was defeated with only the four Socialist Party comrades in favour, and the rest - SWP, AWL, CPGB and a handful of independents, a couple of dozen in all - voting against. Following this resounding defeat, the SP comrades declared that, although they could no longer work within the Nottinghamshire Socialist Alliance, they were still prepared to cooperate with us in various campaigns and to reach electoral agreements. What is needed in the Socialist Alliance is not the SP's paralysing bureaucratic federalism, with its weighted votes and vetoes, but the right of minorities to be able to win the majority to their positions - ie, to become the majority - in a centralised, effective organisation. All the more reason why we need a Socialist Alliance paper, where every section can express its views without being gagged or censored. A paper would also serve as an organ for recruitment, enabling the SWP majority to be challenged democratically, as opposed to the Socialist Party's attempts to turn a majority into a minority by limiting the votes of any group to 30%. Earlier we had heard a speaker from the Robert Hamill Justice Campaign. The NSA voted to formally support the campaign and also pledged a donation. This was followed by a brief but important discussion on the situation in Ireland. The Robert Hamill speakers were surprised that the Socialist Alliance has no formal position on Ireland and suggested that it is important that we should adopt one as soon as possible. They are correct, but, as many speakers correctly pointed out, the situation is vastly complicated and a 'Troops out now!' approach is certainly not sufficient. The issue needs lengthy debate and discussion, not just a conference vote. Secretary Tim Cooper urged comrades to renew their membership as soon as possible - the NSA is a large alliance and could raise significant funds. Liam Hughes